Wednesday, May 13, 2015

To BE...

To BE... Well there's no question of "not to be" when you are in BE, i.e., Belgium.


There are many benefits of traveling. The first and the most obvious is, of course, that you get to see new places. You get to admire true beauty. To me, true beauty is always nature, but it also means art and architecture. You get to experience and appreciate foreign cultures. You get challenged in new ways, unless your idea of travel is visiting Disney Land. Last but not the least, you get to meet some very fascinating people. During my current backpacking trip in Europe also I have had the opportunity to interact with some such people. Here's a few who stood out:

The friendly appraiser

There used to be a time when you spoke a lot with your co-passengers on a journey. These days though people are almost always buried in their devices, and conversations, if any, seem to get restricted to exchange of pleasantries. So it was a pleasant surprise to start my journey from Fort Wayne with an affable co-passenger. We both were carrying books to read on the flight, but as we exchanged pleasantries, we both realized that it may perhaps be more fun and educative to chat with each other, My co-passenger was an appraiser traveling to Atlanta for a conference. We spoke for the entire one and half hours that we were on the flight. The nice thing was that our conversation didn't seem forced, and we enjoyed learning the nitty-gritties of each other's profession and philosophies.

The woman who showed me the missing man

I met her while I was taking pictures around the Brussels Grand Palace. She must have been standing next to me, but I didn't notice her until she asked me, "Did you notice the missing man?" 

"No," I responded, a little puzzled what missing man she was talking about. Was I supposed to notice the absence of some man among the crowd of tourists? Sure. I was missing my childhood friend, Sandeep, who was supposed to accompany me on this trip, but had to cancel his travel plans at the last minute due to some personal exigencies. However, a stranger could not be referring to my missing friend in action.

Then she pointed up towards the array of statues on the wall of the monument in front of us. Lo and behold, there was one statue missing.

"Wow! How did I miss that? I was looking just there and still..." I wondered aloud.

"Oh, I missed it too. My husband pointed it out to me. He notices things well." Her husband nodded in acknowledgment.

"What do you think that man must have done?" she then asked me with a mischievous smile. 

The serious me responded, "I think the statue must have just fallen off."

"No, I think that man must have done something bad, something really really baaad," she replied broadening her mischievous smile.

"What do you think he must have done?" And our light-hearted conversation continued...

There is perhaps no point sharing our entire conversation, but the lesson I learnt from my conversation with this beautiful woman was the importance of always being playful and jovial.

"Don't take life too seriously, Paresh!"

"Well, I'm trying. That's why I am traveling, ain't I?"

The serious travelers

The "serious" travelers I am talking about here are not necessarily temperamentally serious, but they were definitely serious about their need to travel.

1) At Brussels, one my roommates was an Argentinian guy. It was his second day in Brussels, so I thought of taking some advice from him about the places I should visit. As we conversed, I learnt that he walked everywhere on his trips within cities.

"That's my kind of guy!" I thought. I love walking too, and avoid public transport unless a place is really far. What is really far, of course, varies, but so far in a day I have walked upto 15 miles (25 kilometers) in cities and 30 miles (close to 50 kilometers) in nature. My problem is that I had often felt apologetic about my walking, especially in cities, as if I was doing it just to save some money. Sure, I saved some money by walking, but I didn't need to feel apologetic about my walking. Rather I ought to feel proud of my ability and will to walk. My Argentinian roommate taught me that.

2) At Brussels, one my other roommates was an Indian. He was a doctoral student who had just completed his first year at Vanderbilt University, and decided to take three weeks off to travel across Europe before getting busy again in his doctoral program. I thought, "Smart guy! Why didn't I do that on my summer vacations as a doctoral student?"

Instead of traveling around the world, I always traveled across half-the-world to India to spend time with my parents. Not that I was a home-sick. I never was. In fact, I wasn't even home-sick when I left home for the first time after finishing my high school. However, I always saw it my responsibility to visit my parents during my vacations. Of course, I enjoyed my time at home, but now I think I could have also engaged in some backpacking during my earlier years. But then as they say, "Better late than never."

3) At Bruges, my roommate was a young Korean who had been traveling continuously for the last two years. Now here was a man I envied! He shared that the most expensive part of his travel was in USA, and that's because he splurged by watching two NBA games live. I asked him, if he ever felt unsafe during his two years of travel around the world. He said it was in Nepal. He was in Nepal during the recent earthquake that killed about 10,000 people. That he said was the scariest thing he had ever experienced in life. He also added, "Leaving the earthquake aside, Nepal is the most beautiful country I have visited so far in my life." There was no reason to not believe him, but the scientist in me also wondered if recency bias and the Von Restorff effect were at play here.

But what I wondered most about was how did this young man finance his travels. So I asked. He said that he worked in Australia for 8 months, and that gave him the money to travel around the world. I wasn't sure how just 8 months of working helped him cover his travel expenses over the last two years, but I decided to not probe further. "If he says so, it must be true," I thought. One just needs to have the will to travel. I remembered once reading in the news about an old couple from India who were just owners of a small tea-stall in Kerela, and still succeeded to save enough money to travel around the world, primarily because of their determination to do so.

Did you notice the missing man?

The Atomium, Brussels

The Atomium from Mini Europe

I had seen this picture before somewhere on the internet. Glad I found it.

City Center, Brussels

Belgium without Tintin, no way!

The famous statue of the peeing kid. A very small statue though. I couldn't understand why it was so famous. I had seen a much larger statue of a naked kid in Prague last year.

Comics on the wall to celebrate pride in LGBT 

This is now becoming a common sight in most European cities, and I love it.

"The Concrete Truck" by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye

More comics on the wall

Looks like the Belgians sure love their comics

Brave rabbits in Bruges who let me take their picture from a close distance 

Loved the color combination

Race can't divide us: Love in the air!

The locals are smart!

Reached Bruges, Belgium

One of the several wooden windmills in Bruges

Look what I noticed in Bruges!

Can't disagree with that!
My friends know that well about me.

A walk to the city center of Bruges again in the night.

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