Sunday, June 15, 2014

What I liked the most of my Europe trip?

It's weekend again, which means it's time for a new weekend post. My previous two posts have been on travel, and today’s post continues that theme.

Writing about travel is not easy. The famous Scottish explorer, David Livingstone wrote in the introduction to his book, Missionary Travels in South Africa (1857), “It is far easier to travel than to write about it.” As I sat to write about my current travel experiences, I too struggled to summarize my rich and varied experiences of three weeks into a short blog post. After some deliberation, I decided to not write about the breathtaking landscapes of Alpine Austria, or the elegance of European medieval architecture, or for that matter even the captivating beauty that the majority of Eastern European women seem to possess. Surely they were all great but they are not what I'm deeply grateful for; they were eye-catching but not necessarily heart touching. In my experience, what really touches the heart is not simply beauty but the generosity of spirit. So below are some of the many experiences I had on my current trip that were very moving and uplifting to me:
  • What I appreciated the most on my trip is the warmth and excitement with which I was received by my hosts in Austria. I felt welcomed right from the very moment I approached the exit out of the baggage claim area. I could see my friend, Elisabeth, waiting for me with an eager anticipation in her eyes. When our eyes met, she shouted out my name with an unbridled excitement that could have come only from genuine delight in seeing me or from drinking too much coffee while driving to pick me up from the airport. Whatever the case, I was equally pleased to see my friend, and was touched that she had chosen to wake up early in the morning to drive for over three hours from her hometown in Austria to pick me up from Munich. On our conversation over Skype couple of days before my trip I had offered to take the train to her place, but she had insisted on picking me up from the airport. You may say that this is what friends do for each other. I won’t disagree, but I’m still very grateful to have such wonderful friends in my life.
Let me now move the focus to my friend's mom. We had never met before but the openness and joy with which she welcomed me into her home is indescribable. Also, I continued to receive a lot of warmth and affection from her throughout the 9 days that I stayed at my friend's place. In today's age of Atithi, tum kab jaoge? which means "Dear guest, when are you going to leave?" my hosts insisted that I stayed with them longer. I had the implicit belief that only the sentimental Indians were capable of being caring and hospitable hosts; I was glad to be proven wrong.

  • The next experience that I would like to share about happened in Prague. At Prague, I was staying at an economical hostel called The Golden Bridge Hostel. Although very economical, the hostel was clean, offered free breakfast, and was situated in one of those old historical buildings right in the heart of the old town square. It's owned and managed by a really nice guy of Moroccan origin named Redo. We chatted quite a bit in the evenings after I got back from my sightseeing walks around the city. When I returned to the hostel on my second evening in Prague, I found Redo sitting all excited in front of the television to watch the first 2014 soccer world cup match between Brazil and Croatia. Being a soccer fan myself, I joined in. Redo offered me the exotic drink that he was drinking, Becherovka. He said it was a special of Czech Republic. I first declined because I'm not fond of drinking alcohol. Also given how little I was paying for the hostel, I didn't want to take more just because it was being offered free. But then as Redo went on to describe more about the drink (that it is made out of herbs, used as a digestive aid, etc.), I got curious and decided to taste the drink. The drink was truly exquisite, the best alcoholic drink I had ever tasted. However, what moved me was not the spirit per se, but the generosity with which I was offered the spirit. The bigheartedness of Redo was again visible when I was ready to leave Prague. He had a nice little memento for me (picture above). He had earlier asked me if I had bought any mementos from Prague, and I had told him that I found it silly to buy tourist mementos. If I had actually gone and bought tourist mementos, it would have been truly frivolous, but a personal memento like the one I got from this new friend was worthy to be cherished.
I had many other experiences that demonstrates the inherent goodness of heart in people. It would not be feasible to list them out all here, but I'm still grateful for all those experiences. For example, how can you not be grateful to those random strangers who helped you with directions despite their difficulty in expressing themselves in English, or those who didn't know the directions themselves but readily pulled out their smartphones to help you with the directions? One old gentleman who spoke absolutely no English and failed to communicate the directions readily walked me to my destination before going his way. The truth is that you won't experience such beautiful side of humanity if you never venture beyond the major tourist attractions and if you rely more on electronic gadgets than on human beings to find your way. The difference between tourism and travel then is how vulnerable you are ready to make yourself and how much faith you have in humanity to help you with your needs. I by no means claim to be a genuine traveler but I am gradually opening myself to it, and that itself is a journey worth taking.

On the way to the largest ice caves in the world

Zell am See -- A popular tourist destination in Austria

Zell am See, Austria
Zell am See, Austria
In Salzburg with Elisabeth

Some beautiful windows in Salzburg

The city of Salzburg

Woods where I got lost on my first day of solo hiking

Beautiful wild flowers: On the way to one of the mountains in Austria
A beautiful log cabin on my hike up a mountain
There were no visible trails towards the top of the mountain, but it was exhilarating when I finally found my way to the top
Another view from the top
For part of this hike, it rained heavily soaking me wet (my jacket with hoody was only water resistant, not water proof). But once the clouds cleared up I was treated with this beautiful rainbow
Not everything was beautiful. I was upset to see massive deforestation in some places. I only hope that they are replenishing the forests
Wild flowers amid grass: Aren't they so much more beautiful than mowed and "weed" ridden lawns?
Eating Kaesepressknoedel, a traditional Austrian dish.
Ate many other delicious, vegetarian Austrian dishes. Some notable ones are Kaiserschmarrn, Apfelstrudel, Erdeermuas, Gemuesesuppe and Karfiolsuppe. The Apfelstrudel was definitely the best, but try it at a good restaurant if you don't get to taste a homemade one.
Egg salad prepared by Elisabeth
I had quit eating eggs but couldn't resist these delicious eggs from well cared, home raised hens
On the way to the Krimmler Wasserfaelle, Austria
The Krimmler Wasserfaelle in the background

View from my hostel's window in Prague

In the middle of old town square in Prague
Note: The cities of Salzburg, Vienna, Munich and Prague were all very beautiful, but I'm personally biased towards nature than architecture. That's the reason I have mostly posted nature photographs here.

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