[If you haven’t read the previous article in this series, check out Intern Ignition]
In the weekends of my internship, and in the days that followed, I got to tour Europe a bit. What follows is a small travelogue of my experiences in these two months1,
Optiver gave us a goodie bag when we arrived, and among other things, it contained a box of Stroopwaffel!
Stroopwaffel are really thin waffles filled with caramel, and they taste amazing! The bag was also filled with other things to see and do in Amsterdam, and in typical college student fashion, I did none of those.
All but one of my IITD batchmates got away to see the Tulips when they landed, and for good reason: Sunday was the last day Keukenhof would be open! Unfortunately my flight was delayed by an hour and even ignoring the jetlag and fatigue, it was not something I wanted to do after a 9-hour flight.
The first thing that hits you is that Amsterdam is windy. I don’t mean ‘stiff breeze’ windy, I mean upturn-your-umbrella windy. And chilly. The only way to stay warm is to have a good jacket or stay in the sunlight. Which there’s a lot of, considering sunset happens at 9:30-10:00 PM in the summers.
The first thing I did was walk down for lunch. Europe is beautiful as long as your eyes don’t look at the ground: beautiful trees, lot of greenery, very walkable roads with wide sidewalks for both cycles and people and large well-marked crosswalks. Looking down, you’re greeted with the umpteen butts of cigarettes people stamp out. It’s truly a luxury to be able to smoke: if breathing the air doesn’t eventually kill you, why don’t you do it a favour and speeden up the process?
Another beautiful thing about Europe is the road rules. The first three crossings I waited at all had the cars come to a stop and gesture me to cross. It was only at the fourth crossing, a small cycle-lane that this sweet old grandma slowed down and said in English, “You have the way!”. Wow, I didn’t know that! Thank you, kind granny!
Only after getting back to my room and googling did I realize that pedestrians have the way everywhere: pedestrians > cycles > cars in Amsterdam. Amazing. The only bad thing about this is that I would have to unlearn this in India, and not doing so would be fatal. Quite literally.
But enough about rules. Let’s go somewhere!
The first weekend getaway was The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch), and it seemed like a quieter, less crowded version of Amsterdam. The Netherlands is a tiny country, and insanely well-connected by rail: you can go from one end to another in less than 2 hours, and the trains themselves are incredible.
After arriving, We grabbed an early-morning sausage roll from the Albert Heijn at the station and strolled aimlessly through the streets early in the morning, deciding where to go. The first stop was Madurodam. How tourist-y!
I would have assumed Madurodam is an amusement park, if not for the infographic about it being a war memorial at the start. It was made in memory of George Maduro, a Dutch war hero. It’s an amazing park, and even at 9 AM in the morning, it was overrun by Gujarati tourists. An interesting distinction I noticed was that the Gujarati tourists would take pictures of anything and everything, including themselves while the European tourists were just chilling with their partners and children.
Madurodam also reminded me of the Doraemon episode where Suneo went to Holland
on a tour, and boasted about it to everyone. He also unfortunately lost his
camcorder there. Nobita goes to Doraemon and says that he wants a Holland tour
too. Doraemon comes up with a gadget that shows them scenes of any place in the
world live, and he invites all his friends to his home. As Doraemon shows them
the scenes in Holland (Madurodam, canals etc), Suniyo sulks while Nobita is
very happy. Soon, they come across a bench with a camcorder on it and they zoom
in, and it turns out it’s Suneo’s camcorder. Suneo leaps at the camcorder, only
to punch a hole through Nobita’s sliding door and break the gadget, and not get
his camcorder back.
If you know this episode’s name and have a link to it,
please let me know; Google is clueless and ChatGPT hallucinates
EDIT: This is Season 6, Episode 34 (No. 778), The Sight Seeing Window. The original Japanese version is here, while a dubbed Hindi version can be found here :)
The next stop after Madurodam was the Beach! We didn’t step into the water because it was super cold for May, and the beach was mostly empty as well. We walked around (under?) the pier, took some pictures and enjoyed the breeze.
Cold water, colder wind
Next stop after that was Escher in het Paleis (Escher in the Palace). An interesting thing about European culture is that they believe you when you tell them you’re students: I wasn’t asked to prove this explicitly (ok, maybe at the Antwerp museum and the Vatican Museum). Everywhere else, it was basically a free pass. Back on topic: Escher in the Palace was definetly the highlight of this trip, and probably the best museum experience I’ve had. It was slow-moving, you could take your time with the portraits, get as close as you wanted to and most of them were originals! My first brush with Escher was on the screensavers of the nook I used to own back when I was a kid, and it was amazing to finally see all of his work up close.
Eye (M.C. Escher, 1946)
Mobius strip II (M.C. Escher, 1963)
Circle limit III (M.C. Escher, 1959). Inspired by the structure of Coxeter Groups
Soon after, we dropped down to the city center for lunch and took the train to our next stop that evening
Rotterdam is the more modern cousin of Amsterdam, who always wears trackpants and mirrored sunglasses. Rotterdam is filled with skyscrapers that you need to crane your neck to look at, and amazing bridges. It’s a shame, then, that their metro system doesn’t support using credit cards, and that you need to buy a ticket using WiFi. Since we had exhausted our mobile data and my battery was near-dead, we totally did not travel on that tram without a ticket. Believe me.
The only places we got a chance to visit here were Erasmusbrug and Euromast. We dropped down to a bar just below Erasmusbrug and asked them for a glass of tap water, and they obliged :) refreshed, we then walked across Erasmusbrug and back. There was a small section of the bridge that was filled with locks: couples would add a lock to a rung to signify their love wouldn’t break until the lock did. Cute concept <3
After walking back, we took the tram to Euromast. There were two tickets: one that took you to the observation deck, and one that would seat you in a torus and take you all the way up the mast. Going up to the observation deck is good enough, because there’s a huge line that loops all the way around for going up.
The view from the observation deck
After Euromast, since everything was closing down, we sat in the park next to it in the setting sun for 30 minutes, enjoying the breeze and nature. Soon after, we boarded the train back to Amsterdam.
After the Belgium weekend, sometime in June when the sun was more abundant with it’s gifts, we visited Zandvoort beach to surf. With high hopes, we entered the surf shack to rent some equipment, only to find out that their instructor had just come out of the water because of no waves. We were advised to pass till there were more waves or come back on a later day :(
So we did the next best thing: went and waded in the water :) after half an hour of wading in the waves (the water was too shallow to swim), we came out and lay on the beach, soaking in the sun2. Then we had some ice-cream, dried up and set off for the circuit. The circuit had a Classic Car Grand Prix underway, and the roars of the engines could be heard all the way from the beach. Since it was almost over, we managed to get in without tickets (like the amateur backpackers we were), and when we reached, it was truly a sight to see and hear. What followed was ten minutes of our ears being ripped off our head. Classic cars = Big roaring V12’s and V10’s = Lots of sound. It was pure petrolhead bliss to sit there and hear those beasts roar around the circuit.
The post-race podium featured a procession of the cars that participated, and there were also some classic beauties parked around the paddock.
Henri Toivonen’s Lancia 037
Wolfgang von Trips’ Ferrari 156 ‘sharknose’
We then took the train back to Haarlem, then the bus from Haarlem back to Amsterdam. I had marinated some Chicken with the hopes of making Tandoori, and the other folks bought some pizza/pasta from the nearby store. We then chilled in my room, watching F1 Qualifying and cooking / eating Tandoori Chicken.
Amsterdam itself is an amazing city, and like every city-dweller, I didn’t visit the tourist spots in the city itself. I’ve heard that the Rijksmuseum is very good, as is the Van Gogh Museum. Several other interns also went to the Heineken Experience, but I don’t drink so that was off the cards.
My routine in Amsterdam mostly boiled down to cycling to work, working, cycling back and then going for a stroll along the canal nearby. I stayed at Wibautstraat, and I would walk a kilometre or two along the canal most days, enjoying the breeze and the scenic beauty.
The parks are also great places to visit, and most weekends were spent either staying in and working on something fun, cooking and enjoying the sun in the park nearby. We also took a Mokumboot on the canals one day with a bunch of snacks for a couple of hours, and it was great.
We visited Belgium on one of the weekends: the plan was to stay over at Antwerp for a night, but our BnB host had a water infiltration and we got to know of this only after we had already boarded the bus to Antwerp. In typical undergrad fashion, we decided to take things as they come and deal with this later.
The Bus dropped us off close to the city center, and the first thing we did was grab some waffles and stroll along the coast. We came across a small fort on the coast. Then realizing the Museum Aan de Stroom was close by, we continued to walk along that street, reaching MAS in 10 minutes.
Museum aan de Stroom
The MAS is beautifully constructed; the windows are along the staircase / floors internally that take you up the building, and every floor is dedicated to one aspect of Antwerp: the port, the people, Belgium, and so on. It feels very much like a classical museum, but this also makes it a bit boring to be inside of. The MAS is capped off with an observation deck, which gives you a 360-degree view of Antwerp.
Antwerp from the top of MAS
We left MAS and then decided to visit the Port authority building. Not realizing that it’s huge, and that it’s farther than it looks, our strategy of walking in the direction of the building was a) exhausting, and b) frusturating. We finally opened Google maps to see that it was a decently long walk (~3 km) to the building. Not giving up, we started walking and finally made it!
Only to find out that it’s closed on Saturdays. It’s anyway a government building, so they wouldn’t have let us in. Sour grapes.
Port Authority Building. Designed by Zaha Hadid.
After this walk, we had little time to spend, and the prospects of rooming up with the other group visiting Brussels were also growing slim, so we decided to take the afternoon bus back to Amsterdam. We then came back to the city centre and looked around the Cathedral and Grotemarkt.
This was followed by Lunch and some Belgian chocolate shopping, after which we took the subway to the bus stop and took the bus back to Amsterdam.
I had booked my return flight on sixth noon, which gave me four and a half days to backpack across Europe. This was as close to Zindagi na Milegi Dobara as I’ll get to in my life: being a young twentysomething in Europe, with enough money to backpack across it, and having friends to do it with won’t happen every year, after all :)
I had to take care of my luggage first. Fortunately, Schiphol Airport will store your luggage for you at a reasonable cost of €9 per 24 hours per bag. After lugging my one suitcase down to the luggage hold with a friend, all we had to do was board the night bus to Paris!
Paris smells sweetly smoky. It’s the same smell as the scented cigarettes everyone smokes so fashionably, just softer. Paris Bercy-Seine bus stop, however, smells of pee as well. It’s worse than an Indian train station when it comes to sanitation. It was also raining when we arrived at 6 AM, and having to wait there for an hour and twenty minutes for a friend to arrive was the most romantic introduction to the city of romance a romantic could dream about.
After regrouping, we went to the Metro. I won’t launch into a full-fledged rant about the metro (have saved that for later), but Paris uses these arcane ticket- checking machines that won’t accept your card. We took a day-pass for the metro, and then had breakfast at McDonalds (the quantity wasn’t great).
Since it was still drizzling, the first plan of action was to get out at Charles de Gaulle and roam around Central Paris a bit. We visited the Tuilleries Gardens first, then since the Louvre was close by, we saw it from the outside.
Louvre from outside. The line to go in had a one hour delay, and needed tickets.
I don’t remember what the plan after that was, but our bags were too heavy and the rain was as well, so we went to the nearest metro station and checked in our luggage at the hotel. The hotel was in a nice spot, so we left and strolled through the streets of Paris. They were quite narrow, and uphill at times. With the help of Google maps, we finally managed to come to this beautiful building
After that we dropped down to a Japanese place nearby for lunch, and then went back to strolling. We walked across some bridges on the Seine, and then past the Notre-Dame, which was still being reconstructed. Then we went to the Palais Garnier via metro.
Palais Garnier, Ballroom
The Palais Garnier was… Palatial, for lack of a better adjective. It adjoined the Opera, and had these amazing balconies where people were mostly clicking pictures. There was also an Opera Exhibit nearby, where they showed costumes that the actors at the Opera wore. It’s a very short trip around the palace, and well worth the time we spent.
The first thing we had done after arriving was book tickets to the Palace of Versailles for 4:30 PM, and after getting out of the Palais Garnier and going to the station in a rush, we scrambled to find and board the train to Versailles. Surprisingly it wasn’t very crowded, and we made it in time.
Upon reaching the train station at Versailles, the palace itself isn’t very far. It’s about a 10-minute walk. Going in was seamless, although the crowds are quite thick. What followed was a walkthrough of the palace which was completed in around half an hour. People were also shuffling forward at a decently fast pace, not stopping for too long to examine the art, but I did manage to get some pictures of the ceilings.
Mural on the ceiling
The hall of mirrors was probably the only thing I really remember. Not only because of the historical significance of the room, but also because the mirrors seemed slightly oxidized and not too bright.
Can confirm, the hall of mirrors does have mirrors
We soon got out, and wanted to see the Gardens of Versailles. First of all, the ticket to the palace does not give you entry to the gardens: those need a separate €10 ticket. Secondly, we came out around 5:05 PM, and when we got in the queue, the attendant repeately told us that the gardens close at 5:30, and that taking the ticket was not worth it. Quite a few people left the queue at that point, but we stuck around because we weren’t going to come back.
Was it worth it?
Hell yes. We speedran the gardens, which were probably more impressive than the palace itself. They’re absolutely enormous, occupying about twice or thrice the area of the palace (if you couldn’t make out from the picture above). They’re also immaculately maintained. There was also a fountain show, but it ended soon after we reached. After taking some more pictures, we left for the station, making it out of the gardens on time. A short dinner at the KFC near the station followed, after which we took the train back to Paris.
Pah-ree at night
We soon got off the train at Paris and had to take a metro with a switch-over to reach our hotel. Paris has the worst metro system of any city I have been to. It’s a bunch of matchboxes on tyres (yes, rubber tyres) hurtling at insane speeds through metre-wide tracks strewn across the city like a kitty that clawed through it’s ball of yarn. You can’t even go from one matchbox to the other, because the carriages are not connected internally. Buses and trams were also closed when we were in the city because of the riots, and the entire populace decided to use the metro on Saturday Night. It was breathtaking, as in my breath was literally taken away after being squeezed among people. Peak Delhi Metro rush has got nothing on this.
We finally made it to the Eiffel Tower in one piece. There was a woman who had married the Eiffel Tower3, and it’s easy to see why. It’s truly a thing of beauty, especially at night when it’s lit up. It lights up slowly at sunset, going from a dull red to a bright yellow, almost as if the cast iron beams were put in an induction furnace. And if it couldn’t get any better, It bursts into sparkles at 11 PM in the night,
The Eiffel tower viewing was followed by Crepes at a store nearby: The crepe maker took his time with the crepes, pouring the dough only when they were ordered and never making them en masse. He used a thin squeegee, the kind used to wash windows to make them. While the crepes were amazing, I still think my mother makes better and flatter dosas with her ultana than the crepe maker made with his sophisticated tooling :)
The following day, we had to set off to the airport for our flight to Napoli. Breakfast at the hotel was just 3 euros, but it was the best croissant I’ve eaten in my life. It was super soft, and the pastry was not flaky at all. It was also very hollow on the inside, so you could tear it in half and stuff it with butter and jam. It’s a shame I realized on the last day just how good Parisian Croissants are, and I would’ve loved to try out a boulangerie if I had more time4.
To Paris, with Love
I did notice a few things while in Paris: The person from whom we brought the Eiffel tower souvenir was Black, the person whose cart we approached first to grab a crepe was Turkish, and the person serving breakfast at our hotel was Indian. This makes Paris seem like a very diverse city, but when you notice that every single person selling Eiffel tower souvenirs was black and every single cart-owner was Turkish, things look a bit darker (no pun intended). It’s the sort of thing that won’t strike you, until you have friends and family tell you that Paris was being rocked by the most violent riots since 2005, after a policeman shot dead a boy of color for a traffic offence. Then, the invisible walls between people become all too clear, and the homogenity breaks down. I was fortunately unaffected by the riots, but I pray that things change for the better as soon as possible, and that the people of the city of love learn to love each other for who they are rather than how they look.
Soon after Paris, we flew down to Napoli. We had booked a room here for three nights, and I was looking forward to warmer climates and more beaches.
The area around Napoli Centrale is very well-maintained. It’s only when you walk down a few steps do you come to the suburbs, and find the dumpsters piled full of trash, plaster peeling off buildings and both the police and the army stationed opposite the bus stop across the street. Yikes.
Napoli reminded me of North Delhi. Kind people, not-so-great infra, and crossing roads by waving your hand in front of cars (A skill I’ve mastered). There’s a little spark of life behind every street corner: the children playing, the old men and women sitting at the cafe, the wives drying clothes on the small balconies. It almost felt like I was transported back.
Public transportation in Napoli is a mess, the steets are wide, car-centric and prone to traffic jams, so we walked 2.5 kilometers to get to the bay. We then dropped down to a pizza joint nearby to grab some Pizza, and this was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, no question. It felt homely, lively, not overloaded with cheese or toppings and with just enough crunch on the base. I finished that pizza entirely, having skipped lunch.
The plan for the next day was to head to Pompeii in the morning, and the beach in the afternoon. We took the train to Pompeii from Napoli, and after a short walk reached the ruins. Do book your tickets in advance, as there are a lot of tour guides asking for high prices. And don’t buy any hats or trinkets; they’re very overpriced.
Pompeii. I guess people… bathed here?
Walking through the ruins reminded me of Ozymandias: Here stood a nation, once the ruler of most of Europe, and all that remains around are ruins. Ruins that were buried as a consequence of the wrath of nature, not even ruins that fell into ruin via conquest. Sure, I guess people bathed here and slept there 2000 years ago, but there was no sense of grandeur looking at them. Or maybe I’m not an archaeology / history buff. There were very pretty flowers at a few spots though, and there was a lovely courtyard garden in one of the uptown villas. Roman homies had amazing cribs.
One of the cleaner panos, if you can ignore my finger
After Pompeii, the plan was to hop down to Sorrento and take the bus that goes along the Amalfi coast, covering all the coastal towns. After getting on the train, Vedang said that if we got off at Meta, had lunch and then took the bus from Meta itself to Positano rather than going all the way to Sorrento, we’d be good.
So we got off at Meta, and started looking for a place to eat. Google Maps led us to a supermarket, and we wanted to eat at a proper place. The only issue is that in a small sleepy hill-town, most of the places are not open for lunch. Walking along, we came across a futsal-bar which had a bunch of kids inside, probably celebrating someone’s birthday.
Us: Are you open for Lunch?
Person: I don’t think so
Person: Hold on I’ll call the owner
more waiting in awkward silence
Grandpa: O come-a in! come-a in!
We were ushered in by Grandpa (who probably owned the place) and asked to make ourselves comfortable. He informed us that they only had pasta for lunch, as the oven was off. Soon, Granddaughter (I assume) came to take our orders, and we ordered two pastas. We were given some bread and breadsticks to start, and soon the drinks (two coca-colas) arrived too, so we weren’t left hungry for long. They even offered to let us take the bread on the way!
What followed though was the best pasta I’ve eaten in my life. Undoubtedly. Perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. In the middle of a small town, when they’re supposed to be closed, they invited us in and served lunch. I come from a land that believes in Athithi Devo Bhava, but even our restaurants wouldn’t go this far. Truly amazing, and if you do visit Meta ever, check out Covent Garden Pub.
After paying for the meal and taking the train down to Sorrento, we finally arrived around 2 PM. We then had two options: visit Bagni Regina Giovanna (The secret bathing place of Queen Joanna I of Naples, basically a natural cove) which would take up to three hours, or we wait an hour for the bus that takes us to Positano. The bus that would take us up to Regina Giovanna would also take 45 minutes, so we decided to walk.
And so we set off uphill. The views were breathtaking and many a photo was taken, but after walking uphill for 1.5 km, we were drenched in sweat. The walk after that point went something like this
Me: What are you doing
Vedang: Asking for a lift
Me: lmao do you think someone will give us a lift here? It’s all tourist buses and cars
Vedang: Yeah if I get one you can walk chuckles
A car pulls up
Stranger: Do you want a lift?
Us: :o :o
Long story short: Someone gave us a lift to Bagni Regina Giovanna. Goodwill, unlike lightning, struck the same spot twice in the span of 24 hours. I have no words to describe what happened after. A twisting series of steps led to a beach which truly took my breath away. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.
~ John Steinbeck
After getting out of Bagni Regina Giovanna at around 4, we had two options: Go to Positano, or go back to Naples. Going to Positano was what we wanted to do, but the bus and train schedules were not in our favour. Dejected, we went to a shop near the beach and got some energy drinks to rehydrate.
Until a bus dropped by, and we hurriedly rushed on to it. The bus took us back down to the station, and we had reached just in time to make the bus to Positano. The only issue was that there were 5 buses all around. Walking around and asking the bus drivers which one went to Positano, one of them said ‘This one’. We hurriedly hopped on, and this dream place suddenly became all too real.
There are no roads in Positano. It is a mishmash of small buildings tied together by steps, cobbled paths and the millions of dollars of the super-rich who come to vacation here. We did see a superyacht or two around the bay, and a huge number of people. Very few backpackers. It seems like the vacation spot of choice for those who own a private yacht, or those who are in their mid-thirties and are going on a moderately affluent vacation. Places to live are quite expensive, as is food. In spite of the prices, the beach here is as crowded as it gets. Surprising.
The scarcity and remoteness does ensure one thing: The water in Positano is clear blue. Clear, like freshly-made crystal glass. I would provide a hex code being a programmer, but no hex code can come close to expressing how blue the water really is. It’s something you’d have to see for yourself. Hopefully some of these pictures capture it.
After frolicking on the beach, we had to get back. Taking the bus would mean
that we would have to wait for thirty minutes, and also climb all the way back
up the hill. Instead, we took the ferry. And that completes the gauntlet of
infinity stones means of travel, all in the span of a week:
car, bus, train, boat, plane. The ferry ride was well worth it, even though we
reached Sorrento by around 7:30 PM and had to take the train that was a bit
late. The seas were as blue as the water on the beach, and with the wind
running through your hair and the sun shining on your face, there is little else
that can make you as relaxed and happy as a ferry ride.
Sistine Chapel, as seen from Castel Sant’Angelo
The next day was to be spent in Rome, with plans of seeing the Vatican and other things nearby. We travelled down to Rome quite early with one of the Italo high-speed trains, zipping through the Roman countryside at 300 km/h.
The first thing we did was have breakfast at Roma Termini, and regroup with a friend who was at Rome. We then took the metro down to Vatican. After bargaining with a tour guide for only skip-the-queue entry tickets to the museum and sistine chapel (the ones on the website were all sold out), we finally got some for a decent price with a student discount. The tickets were for 1:30, and we had to regroup at their office for entry.
After that, St. Peter’s square was a short hop away. It’s much bigger than what Angels and Demons would lead you to believe, and it took a long time to circumnavigate the entire square. The catacombs are adjacent to the square and after asking two very serious swiss guards about them, we were told it was invite-only.
Soon after making some more plans, we hopped out of the Vatican, and decided to walk down to Castel Sant’Angelo. There was a Gelato store near the Vatican, and for €3 we got the most gigantic two scoops of Gelato I’ve ever had. It was so comically big that the cone almost disappeared under it, and I had to constantly lick the edges to keep the melting Gelato from dripping down. Mmmmmmmm.
Castel Sant’Angelo was a proper Renaissance castle, originally made as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian. Also made famous by Angels and Demons, and the path to Illumination. The castle itself was okay, but the real takeaways were the memories we made with our friends roaming the place :) It had an observation deck from where you could see most of Rome, and also get very good views of the Sistine Chapel (see the title picture)
After Castel Sant’Angelo, we went for Lunch. I don’t know if we ate in the Vatican or in Rome, but we were stuck with a huge tax overhead and a very large bill, so we probably ate in the Vatican. Also, word of advice from a friend: an Aperol Spritz sucks. It looks and tastes like cough syrup.
EDIT: There are no restaurants in the Vatican, so we did eat in Rome.
I don’t have many pictures of the inside of the Vatican Museum, but what I saw truly moved me. Every single surface was either gilded, marbled or intricately painted. Marble statues from thousands of years ago were strewn across the entire museum like pots and plates in a kitchen. It was not the detail in the art there that took my breath away (It was the most detailed, intricate art I’ve seen), but rather the sheer magnitude of art. Room after room, Chamber after Chamber filled with priceless artifacts and wall-to-wall frescoes and paintings. It is said that the Holy See was the most powerful entity in the middle ages, and I wouldn’t doubt it. No wonder the western world fought crusades for Jerusalem and conquered more than half of the planet. If the sheer opulence and the magnitude of wealth here wouldn’t convince Christians that their religion is better than others, it would definetly convince a heathen that the Christian god is wealthier than their god.
Battle of the Milvian Bridge
If you told me this was Gold, I’d believe you
I doubt the tacky paragraph and pictures above capture the essence of the Vatican. It’s something that has to be seen to be believed. Each of the ceilings would have taken atleast a thousand man-hours to construct, and after a point my neck would hurt from continuously staring up. There was so much sensory overload that even the extraordinary became commonplace. So much that I stopped taking pictures after the first few frescoes, and just shuffled through the halls, agape at the scenes surrounding me. Versailles looked like a summer fair in comparision to the Vatican Museum.
Finally, after going through the myriad chambers and ensemble of museums, we made it to the Sistine Chapel. No photography was allowed, but everyone knows what The Agony and The Ecstasy looks like. My only misconception was that I thought it would fill up the entire ceiling. Not so. It was this tiny painting right in the centre amidst this huge ceiling filled with other paintings, so it was a bit underwhelming to see. Religious significance aside, The chapel felt a bit overhyped to me, mostly because of the poor lighting and the huge throng inside. I think some of the museums were more ornate and more intricate than the Chapel, but I may be wrong.
After this whirlwind experience, we were back where we started. There wasn’t enough time to visit another place, so we decided to take a bus to a park that was near Termini. We ambled in the park for around half an hour, wondering about where life was to take us after the internship and what awaited us when we returned back to College for our final year. The time passed quicker than I wanted it to, and in the blink of an eye, we were seated in the train back to Napoli.
Warm weather, warmer people
Just like that, the vacation was over, and we had our flight scheduled to Netherlands the following day. The stay was quite comfortable: our BnB had an amazing shower, was very well-stocked with neccessities and nothing really felt lacking. It’s the spark of life that sets Italy apart: people care. Even if they don’t, people exist. The occasional broken turnstile was replaced by a Guard, the checkout at the cornerstore was operated by a Granny, the shops are run by people who see tourists daily and speak English, and an attendant would help you if you couldn’t book tickets at the kiosk. There is just enough chaos to make life interesting, but not uncomfortable. Again, I’ve not stayed there at length so this may be the idealistic tourist in me speaking, but I would if given the chance.
Since we had an early flight, we packed up, left the keys to the room on the table and went out to the airport. Only to be greeted with a red alert warning for the Netherlands because of Storm Poly.
I’d like to dock points from Napoli Airport here: our flight timings came and went, without any information about what was happening to our flight. The flight crew came to the gate, and then were told that the flight was delayed. Resigned to the fate of nature, they sat some distance from us and ordered their lunch. It was both hilarious and sad to see. Fortunately, looking at the Schiphol app, all the AirFrance-KLM flights were postponed to after 5 PM, and all other flights (including EasyJet and other budget carries) were cancelled. Guess which airplane a backpacking college student was flying on?
KLM. Not EasyJet.
Thank god. I bought the expensive ticket on the advice of Vedang (after his EasyJet out of Geneva was cancelled), and I have never been happier to buy a more expensive ticket than I was once we touched down at Schiphol safe and sound, as my flight back to India was scheduled just the following day.
All was still not well, as we were made to stand in queues for multiple hours and once we boarded the flight, we sat on the runway for a good forty-five minutes before going airborne. Missed out on a proper lunch, and had to make do with the snacks onboard the flight.
The Last Supper
After landing in the Netherlands and hauling my luggage down to the room (which was tiny), my roomie went to Centraal. I had decided that I’d stuff myself full after the long morning and skipping lunch. There weren’t many good options to eat living near the airport, but there was a Correndon hotel down the road from where I put up near Schiphol, with very decent reviews on Google, and a quoted price of €10-€20. I decided to walk down in my jeans and black hoodie. This place had a 747 before the entrance, and after giving it a good look I swaggered through the revolving doors, super hungry.
Me: Hi, I’d like a table for one
Desk: Sure, would you like me to bill it to your room
Me, living in the Ibis down the road: No, I’d pay by card
Desk: Okay, that would come to €33.98
Me, in my mind: OMGWTFML can’t back down now
Me: Gulps Sure, here you go
And just like that, I spent >60% of what I spent to live for a night here, on food. Surrounded by all these old, fancy business execs whose companies were paying for their food and lodging, and me in my hoodie and jeans :P You’re only young and dumb once, I guess.
But hey, atleast the food was good. And it was an all-you-can-eat. I’d like to say no regrets, but that was the most money I’ve ever spent for a single meal on myself.
My flight back was uneventful, but the drive from Mumbai to Pune in the lashing rain at 3 AM in the night was something to remember. The comforts of home are so numerous so as to be unenumerable, and I enjoyed the two and a half weeks at home doing absolutely nothing but waking up late and having good food. Oh, and trekking to Visapur fort with my friends!
That’s been it. I know this is not the latest edition of Conde Nast Traveller, so I’ll refrain from writing a cheesy editor’s note, but I’m quite pleased with how this article turned out. This is one of, if not the biggest article I’ve written (6000+ words!). After reconsidering fleshing out the different sections multiple times, I’m glad I took the effort to finally do so. However, this will be my first and last travelogue, because it takes a disproportionate amount of effort to both recollect and document every single minutiae of your trip Sam Kapasi style, and I don’t want to do this while on the trip.
Touring the world while young is a good way to break your assumptions, curb your impulsivity and increase your tolerance. And travelling doesn’t imply zipping around town in an air-conditioned bus, stopping at only the tourist attractions. Travelling implies using the public transport, drinking water from the public fountains and finding your own path amongst the crowds thronging the streets. If you do this, you’ll soon realize that the world around is not as everyone’s Instagram stories tell you: there’s a lot more to it than pretty lights and beautiful sights.
The previous article is private for good reasons: I’m not allowed to speak much about my work during the internship due to various IP clauses, but if you want a general vibe, or want to know about the kind of work we did, you can check out Chinmay’s Official Interview.
If you really want to give the previous article a read, please reach out to me. No guarantees on providing access though!
1 Because I’m a Luddite from the 90’s who doesn’t post his whereabouts 24/7 on Instagram
2 We did some other things as well, but I’ll omit them for now. Those who know, know ;)
3 Apparently she divorced them (it?) and is now happily married to a fence
4 And if they spoke English.