February 24th 2008
It was carnival day in Arlon. It was time for everyone to get on to the streets and make one hell of a mess. The carnival is being held for the past 30 years and it is quite a sight. K, M and I decided to walk the streets of the city in the morning to just take in the pre-carnival atmosphere. The carnival procession was to start in the afternoon. We saw the preparations for the procession, people dressed in weird clothes, bands playing. The whole town was in frenzy. We ate French fries and bought a balloon for M that cost a whopping 5 Euros. Wow!!
Soon it was carnival procession time. We found ourselves a nice place to stand and watch the procession. The parade started with so many troupes of dancers, performers, bands, weird dressed up people, people throwing sweets and confetti.
Carnival at Arlon
Kids throwing confetti at each other at Arlon
The whole sight was so colorful and so full of life. We really had a great time being a part of this carnival. Late in the evening, there was a tradition of burning an effigy to get rid of evil. There was a lot of drinking and dancing involved. We watched all of this from our apartment window. End of a very memorable and fun-filled day.
February 25th 2008
An early start to the day as I had to reach Luxembourg’s Gare Centrale in time to catch the 08:10 hours CET TGV to Paris-Est. Took the 20 minute train journey from Arlon to Luxembourg and was in time to get on the TGV. The journey to Paris was really comfortable but for the two long stops at the stations in Thionville and Metz.
After a two hour journey, I arrived at Paris-Est station. My next job was to find a place where I could get a printout of my hotel reservation and then, find the hotel itself. Thankfully, I found a place near the station, got the printout and found the hotel quite easily. I had booked a single room for two nights at this place called Bel Oranger nearby the Paris-Est station. The room costs 95 euro per night but since I had booked it online through a website, I got it for 55 euro for a night. Good bargain indeed.
I settled down in the room and freshened up. Called up my friend K2 (another name starting with K. So, I shall call her K2) and decided upon meeting her in the evening. I then headed out with a map of Paris in my hand (available at the hotel reception). I walked on the Boulevard De Magenta towards the Place De La Republique. Don’t we all love French names? From there, I decided to explore ‘The Louvre’ museum. I headed towards ‘Rue Rivoli’ and the sight of the Louvre took my breath away. The immense size of the structure just hits you. It is incredible. I got in to the museum and decided to explore the sections housing Greek sculptures, Italian paintings and the Egyptian gallery. It was quite an amazing display of art but there was one painting that was a big disappointment.
Virgin on the Rocks
All art lovers will hate me for this but I felt the Monalisa was not worth the hype. I expected it to be much bigger than it actually turned out to be. The Egyptian section was wonderful with the sarcophagus of Ramses and other artifacts. I was so immersed in checking out every item displayed that I did not realize how time flew by. It was nearly evening by then and I had just managed to cover a third of the museum. I headed out to meet my friend K2. We had decided to meet up at a place on the Champs Elysees.
I walked towards that from the Louvre, went past jardin des tuileries, place de la concorde and finally reached Champs Elysees. The road is an incredible buzz of activity with lots of people, designer fashion stores, eat outs, and some well known theatres like The Lido. K2 reached the place about the same time as I did and it was wonderful to see her after quite a long time. She and I were in the same batch that joined Infosys and we had become good friends. She showed me the various stores and then, we went in to one of them since I had some perfume purchasing to be done. Enter the perfume store and you get attacked by girls with perfume strips. ‘Try this!! Try that!! What kind of fragrance do you prefer?’ These are the things one has to deal with in such stores. After smelling about a hundred fragrances, K2 and I both finished our perfume shopping and got out. It was so good to smell the clean non fragrant air once again.
We then took the Paris metro to the Eiffel Tower and spent the evening viewing the lovely Paris city view from up top.
After a bit of souvenir shopping, it was time to head back home for her and I got back to my hotel.
February 26th 2008
Breakfast in the hotel and then, I was off to see the Sacre Coeur, Montmarte. It was quite close to my hotel and I made it there on foot. Since the church is situated on a hill, there are a few steps to be climbed. The church is an incredible sight. Quite different in terms of the style to other churches one sees in Europe, this one with its massive width and domes looks spectacular. The view of Paris from Sacre Coeur is also wonderful. The church has a every tranquil feel to it on the inside and the choir is great. I then climbed down the hill and went through the numerous narrow streets in Montmarte. These are a lot of small shops selling souvenirs, t-shirts and various other goods. After a while of exploring around, I headed back to the hotel for lunch.
After lunch, I called up K2 and we decided to meet up in a café near Notre Dame. Paris road side cafes are lovely but the traffic really gets on your nerves. I actually found the traffic similar to the traffic in Bangalore (a bit of an exaggeration but Paris traffic is bad). We then headed to see the Notre Dame cathedral.
I have always been a big fan of this cathedral mainly because of the gargoyles and the place is a wonderful sight once it gets dark and the lights come on. A bit of light drizzle wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits. We then headed off to an area filled with restaurants of international cuisine. French, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Thai… you name it, and there’s a restaurant catering to your taste buds. K2 and I decided on a Mexican place and the food was wonderful although the quantity was just too much for us to finish. K2 and I then said our goodbyes and I returned to my room for the night.
February 27th 2008
The day to leave Paris and get back to Brussels. The Thalis train from Paris-Nord to Brussels-Midi was scheduled to leave at 10:30 hours CET and I was at the station well before the departure time. The journey itself was very good with no stops in between and I reached Brussels-Midi in 1 hour. Caught the metro from Brussels-Midi to Rogier and met up with AP to collect the apartment keys from him. We had a light brunch and he got back to his work whereas I went to the apartment. After freshening up, I called up a distant relative (my third cousin) who was in Brussels with his family. He invited me over for dinner that night at his place and I was longing for home food. So, it was going to work out really well!!
Spent a bit of the evening walking around the Madou and Rogier area and then met up with my cousin. He took me to his apartment where he stayed with his wife and two kids. The Leonidas chocolates I had bought for the kids made me an instant hit with them 😉 Dinner was a typical south Indian affair and lip smacking. Time to head back and call it a day.
February 28th 2008
Last day in Brussels before my flight back home and I had some shopping to be done. Mainly Belgian chocolates. I visited some malls in the shopping district of Brussels, observing the style and trends of people In Brussels. As in every part Europe, style is very important to the people of Brussels and it shows. The girls with their boots, the fake fur, the long overcoats, the fragrances, the accessories… I can go on and on. Had lunch at an Indian restaurant (was bored of sandwiches and salads) and purchased a whole lot of Leonidas chocolates to take back to India. Choosing the right kind of chocolate to buy is quite an ordeal in itself because of the variety and choice on offer. Tasting every thing and deciding whether to take it or not… I wish someone would pay me to do this job =D
Came back home in the evening and did my packing to return back home the next day.
February 29th 2008
Leap year bonus day would be my travelling-back day. After saying my farewells to my friend and his roommates, I proceeded to Madou metro station and caught the metrorail to Rogier. Walking from Rogier station to Brussels-Nord train station with my luggage wasn’t very comforting but I had no other choice. A cab from Brussels-Nord to Brussels International airport would cost me 50 Euros. I think I have better usage for that much money. A train departs from Brussels-Nord every 20 minutes to the airport and I took the one leaving at 09:00 hours CET. The travel time is about 15 minutes and it costs just 2 Euros. Brussels International airport is amongst the top airports in Europe and it shows. The facilities and the arrangement are really good and well setup. I got my check in done proceeded to the departure lounge. Brussels International airport has great shopping and it houses the largest chocolate store in Belgium. Although I had no further chocolate shopping to be done, I did a bit of tasting. Yes!! I can never get enough of eating chocolates. Also, I wanted to buy something for my dad and my eyes fell on an optics store. I really liked a pair of RayBan sunglasses there and decided to get that for my dad. A 106 Euro purchase which was well worth it. Time to board my flight which was a comfortable journey with good food and drinks. The flight departed Brussels at 11:30 hours CET and reached Chennai at 01:40 hours IST.
March 1st 2008
Since I had done a through check in, I did not have to collect my baggage and after passing customs check, I walked over to the domestic section of the airport. After 2 weeks in Europe, the humidity in Chennai really hit me. I had my flight to Bangalore at 05:55 hours IST which meant that I had a little more than 4 hours to spend there and it was unbearable. I wasn’t able to sleep much during this time and all I did was trying to read a book I was carrying. After an agony filled 4 hours, I boarded my flight to Bangalore. The flight left Chennai at 05:55 hours IST and reached Bangalore at 06:40 hours IST. I got my baggage out pretty quickly and saw my parents waiting outside the airport. I reached Mysore a few hours that day by car.
A lovely experience lasting for 2 weeks had come to an end. Four countries in Europe, meeting friends, new experiences, new food, new environment… I relish every moment of it. My first trip to Europe might have come to an end but I will definitely be going back again for more.
P.S: Names of friends have been referred to with initials/short form to maintain anonymity.
Thanks AP, Sam, P, K, M, Lara and K2 for making my trip a very wonderful experience.
Number of countries visited: 4
Name of countries visited: Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France
Cities visited: Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Brussels, Brugge, Arlon, Luxembourg and Paris
Mode of travel: To and fro from India by air, intra-Europe via rail