Posts filed under ‘Germany’

Alles Gut {All is Good}

In a new country where you get the chance to experience a different lifestyle and assimilate new ideas, I had so much to write about my short stay here. I even kept jotting things on & off, but could not shape them into something “postable”. Now that I am already returning, I thought it would be better to chronicle half-baked thoughts than lose them completely, so am posting one of the whatever state post I had started writing…

The past month in Germany has been quite a pleasant one and as has been apparent from the past few experiences I shared, I like the place & whatever it brought with it. However, a single puny incident is enough to make you long for home – that is the power of India.

Shops in Bonn close at 8:00 PM, and I don’t need to add “sharp” here. And to top it all, the whole market place is closed (save for some eateries) on Sundays as well as holidays. So for someone in IT, it might just mean, you never find a shop open except on a Saturday. Not that I can’t plan to leave office early, but there are days when you simply lose track of time or forget the fact that you have such deadlines to live with. Today was one such day…

Though I left office early, I was with some colleagues & spent some time gadding about before arriving at the station some 20 minutes before 8. The train was due in some 7 minutes; it would take 6 minutes to reach my destination station and 4 minutes more in walking to this superstore. Don’t be surprised… this is how your mind starts functioning when you spend some time in Germany – I’ve starting planning & calculating down to the very minute! I knew already, it was a losing battle, but decided to give it a shot by running to the store, laptop in tow, as soon as I got down from the train.

I was surely at the store before 8 PM, a couple of minutes to spare, and saw this lady ushering out another woman and her daughter out of the door. Of course, they had been able to shop as was evident from the shopping bags they carried. Off the track, but another inconvenience in shopping at these stores is you need to carry your own shopping bags or buy one from the counter! I have had to buy the bags on most instances, as I forget to carry them and the only time I acted money-wise, I regretted it all the way home while literally doing the balancing act.

Anyway, back to my story, I peeped in to see there were still some customers inside and tried to make my way inside. The store lady persistently kept closing the door indicating that I could not enter now.

I frowned.

I smiled.

And gently requested “Zwei Minuten, pleaseee!” {Two minutes, please}

The lady retaliated with a bigger smile and said “Nein.” {NO}, before pushing the door shut.

I was hurt & turned back home; it was no use trying further.

Funnily, my initial thought was if I had used “Bitte” {German for please} in place of its English counterpart, she would have relented. But then I knew this was wishful thinking, Germans are ruthless when it comes to time.

When all these days I have been all praise for the punctuality of transportation services & other things in general, I wonder what made me so bitter this time. There have been multiple instances when I have rushed to reach just in time for a bus/train and even missed it on a couple of occasions.

Maybe, sometimes, you miss the litheness back home – where everything can be twisted, turned and made-to-work when it wouldn’t have under “normal” circumstances.

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December 6, 2006 at 9:24 pm 9 comments

PARisTrip 3: Eye-filling Eiffel!

The start to the next day was not a great one as we overslept and had to axe “Notre Dame” off our itinerary. No one was keen on a touch-and-run visit to the cathedral, so we decided to devote the rest of our trip (read less than half a day) to Eiffel Tower. So we packed our stuff (or so I thought) and checked out of the hotel to take the metro to Trocadéro. Half an hour later, as we approached the station I felt for my camera & a flash of thoughts made me realize I had left my camera cell batteries (4 of them) and the charger in the hotel room! I couldn’t believe I had committed such a blunder when I had supposedly checked & re-checked to see if I had collected all my belongings before leaving the room. But alas, the charger was plugged in a snug corner & hidden from view, so indeed I had missed picking it up.

Trusting the metro & a slight buffer of time that we had, I decided to dash back to the hotel to pick up the supplies of my camera. One of my colleagues accompanied me and we did manage to get back my batteries & charger but in turn out lost out a precious one hour & our other travel mates. Back to Trocadéro, we caught some sumptuous views of Eiffel Tower & Seine.

Tip: Trocadéro is the best place to shoot pictures with Eiffel Tower as you can capture it in its entirety but do NOT visit this place in the mornings. Sunlight plays spoil sport before noon; late afternoons should be the perfect time to photograph Eiffel from this spot as the sun will not be glaring right in your camera lens at that hour.

The magnitude of “Tour de Eiffel” struck me at its foot. This metal structure, riveted together to form one of the tallest human endeavours in the world, left me speechless as I arched my neck up towards the sky to fit it all into my vision. Like every other place in Paris, it was thronged by huge crowds which I, for once, was not happy to see. Looking at the long queues it was evident we had to abandon the ascent up the tower as we barely had an hour to spare. I was aware paucity of time would make us compromise on a number of things on this trip. However, not being able to climb the Eiffel Tower, hit hardest.

Leaning Tower of Paris

Before leaving to catch our bus, we tried some weird camera shots & watched a hip-hop dance performance by a bunch of ebullient teenagers. We reunited with our colleagues at a connecting station (by chance; we had planned but were unable to find one another at the Eiffel pillars) and reached the bus meeting point on time. As we waited for some females from our tour to finish their Paris shopping, I once again felt frustrated with this whole package tour thing. We moved out of Paris in broad daylight, with me thinking of what all we could have done in this scintillating city if we had another half day at our disposal…

November 17, 2006 at 11:17 pm 3 comments

PARisTrip 2: An Evening with Paris!

It was from “Grande Arche” that I sighted an “India Gate”-like structure far in the distance. Thanks to the knowledge sharing I had had with my colleagues, who visited Paris just few weeks before us, I instantly knew that it was “Arc de Triomphe” that I was looking at. At that moment, a sudden realization dawned upon us that we had still much to explore & the afternoon was already fading.

The obelisk, like others from Dan Brown’s parlance, had intrigued me and though this was no Rome I wanted to visit “Concorde” next. It was a good decision, as not only did we get to see Paris’ earliest erection surrounded by magnificent palaces & buzzing with people, we also caught the first clear glimpses of “Tour de Eiffel” in daylight. As we got closer to the Egyptian obelisk, we saw “Arc de Triomphe” (slightly closer than before) awaiting us at the end of world’s most famous esplanade – “Champs Elysées”. Standing at “Place de La Concorde” at twilight hour, we felt being right in the centre of all the Paris action – a Joie de Vivre Moment!

Concorde

I had so far managed without food, but could sense weariness setting in & knew to enjoy the rest of the evening I should eat something. So at a sidewalk kiosk on Champs, I grabbed of what simply put was a tomato cheese sandwich and sauntered along the tree-lined promenade towards “French Gate”. On both sides of the Avenue, not only lay loads of historical monuments but also stores of world famous brands. Of course, we didn’t have the time to shop (or even window shop) around here. It was beginning to drizzle, fortunately a hesitant shower, & so we hurried for our planned Seine Cruise.

Arc de Triomphe

At the rendezvous, our tour guide handed over the tickets & asked us to wait a while before he would escort us to the ferry. Wanting to make most of whatever time was spare, we walked to the buildings nearby. I tried & failed miserably (yet again) trying to capture those splendid palaces (which I think were Grand Palais & Petit Palais), washed fresh from the drizzle, using my archaic camera’s night mode. After a while, we followed the tour guide on foot wondering if Seine was that close to us. Just a turn around one monument and it was as if we were transported into another land.

As the grove of trees cleared from view, we knew it was time to wish Diwali! Right in front of us arose a dazzling Eiffel Tower – shimmering against the Paris night sky – with flashing lights, spectacular than any fireworks show! I was told, what we witnessed was a 10-minute special light show which happened after every one hour at night. Tranfixed, we tried our best not to take our eyes off this sparkling beauty even for a second, as we settled on the top deck of the boat.

Paris isn’t called “City of Lights” for nothing; the cruise over Seine River showcased the city lights at their absolute best! Every building, every bridge was illuminated enhancing its opulence. Even the birds fluttering over the Seine seemed aglow in the lights reflecting on them.  Layers and layers of history shone in full splendour on both sides of the Seine as we cruised through under the exquisite bridges. The Louvre at night had an enigma of its own, its incandescent ramparts telling a tale of eras bygone. Soon “Cathedrale Notre Dame” emerged into view and we stood ogling at this beaming citadel-like cathedral.

I am not very keen on history, yet ironically I traveled to this city, glutted in history, with “City of Djinns – A Year in Delhi” as my travel companion. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think how we have let Delhi’s glorious past decay in ruins, when it could have been showcased in as enthralling a manner as what lay before us here. In the book, Dalrymple mentioned that Red Fort once stood on the banks of Yamuna but the river was diverted during British rule. On this cruise, I could imagine what a sight it would have been to watch the Red Fort, while sailing through the Yamuna!

As soon as we had boarded the cruise we could feel the night beginning to get cold, it was only after the ship steered back that the chill sank in. The air was freezing and we quivered as we turned past the miniature replica of “Statue of Liberty”. It was a welcome respite to be back in the bus, now ready to traverse the city roads at night.

The cold and a full day of incessant gallivanting had taken its toll on us & a couple of us took this opportunity to doze off. Even the chance for a night portrait with a lit-up Eiffel Tower in the background was turned down by most passengers in the bus. It was just the three of us, in a semi-drowsy state albeit still excited, who ventured out in the cold to pose in front of the Eiffel Tower. When both the photographer and his subject are shivering, you can well imagine the end result of photographs – perfectly hazy Lazy! I don’t even recall correctly how one of us bargained with this guy selling these small Tower figures, but it was later in the bus we discovered that the tip was broken for each of the three pieces we had bought. The German commentary was not helpful anyway, and I witnessed Paris streets and monuments as if in a state of trance.

Paris had indeed cast a mesmerising spell on me, as I sleep-walked to my hotel room, and dozed off even before I could close my eyes!

November 3, 2006 at 2:39 pm 4 comments

PARisTrip 1: An Evening with Paris! – Prelude

One of the biggest advantages of being in Germany (in general, most of Europe) is that, you get a chance not just to visit other cities nearby, but you even get to travel to other countries. So when I was told I could be in Paris in just about six hours by bus, I obviously jumped at the opportunity! It is another matter that switching travel mates last-minute, took the flexibility of planning the tour out of my hand & I had to be content with a package tour, but what the heck – I was still going to spend the Diwali weekend in Paris!!!

We started off an hour later than scheduled due to bus arriving late – quite unlike what I had so far observed about Germany. Our tour-guide could converse in English, but would not oblige as throughout the bus journey, he made his announcements only in German. At first, his words made no sense to us and after a while we just stopped caring about it. For me bus journeys are the least comfortable of all the modes of transport, yet I did manage to sleep intermittently.

Thanks to the Schengen treaty, there weren’t even any “Welcome to France” or similar signs as the bus silently made its way from Germany into France. On the advice of friends & colleagues, we opted out of package sightseeing trip for the day & decided to explore the city on our own. Back in office, when my colleague had showed me the labyrinthine Metro Map of Paris, I was skeptical if we would be able to make our way through these criss-crossing lines all over the city. However, a single ride through the Metro that morning was enough to clear all doubts & we were ready to take on Paris with the confidence of a local.

Traveling through the Metro is extremely simple…

We got ourselves a Day Pass for Zone 1-2 (this is where most known tourist spots in Paris are)… at 5.50 € it couldn’t have got any cheaper to travel! We also armed ourselves with a map of Paris Metro (picked up from the ticket counter), which proved to be our survival weapon.

Tip: There are 14 Metro lines within Paris, each intersecting the others at a number of stations; “M” inside a circle is the sign to look out for when searching for a station. Mark out the source & destination stations on the map and see how they are connected. In case they are not on the same line, find out the shortest way through multiple lines noting the transit station(s) where they meet. In case, you are switching trains you don’t have to leave the station. All metro stations are marked with directions to platforms based on Line Number & Last Destination, so follow them. Before boarding any metro, you should be aware of the following:

  • Metro Line (1-14) (Route Number, different coloured lines on the map)
  • Final Destination of Line (This will give you the direction in which that metro is headed; you don’t want to be boarding the correct line but traveling in the opposite direction!)
  • Station Name where you are supposed to get down (transit or your final); some metro have PA systems, others don’t so keep track of the stations lest you skip the one you want to get down on.
  • Train timings are usually not a consideration as Metro trains ply with an amazing frequency. The maximum we had to wait for a metro was 9 minutes, average waiting time is 3-4 minutes. But it is still better to avoid hopping more than two lines in a single trip and instead plan your itinerary such a way that you see places in sequence.

    “Sortie” is French for “Exit”, so if you have reached your destination station, head in this direction!

    Given that we had less than 1.5 days to tour the city, in which we had to squeeze the still-pending hotel check-in et al, we headed straight for “Musée du Louvre”. Like most of the world, I was smitten by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” & to be able to walk through his adventure trail was a dream. The very majestic façade of the Louvre greeted us as we took the stairs out of Metropolitan station. Even before we entered the portals of the museum, we were awed by the whole panorama of opulent buildings around us – all replete with carvings & splendid balustrades. Inside, the Pyramids struck us! They didn’t belong there, yet somehow their austerity gave them a befitting place in the heart of Louvre.

    Though every second was ticking fast, we wanted to at least have a date with Mona Lisa – the world’s most famous painting and descended inside Pyramid to get the tickets. Walking inside the Denon Wing, we witnessed millennia of history before us in the form of huge sculptures, murals, artifacts and priceless paintings. It shattered us when we were told no cameras were allowed inside The Grand Galerie. No wonder, I had never seen anyone click a photograph alongside “La Joconde” or “Madonna on The Rocks”! Yet to see Da Vinci’s masterwork, the Florentine lady with the mysterious smile, with just a glass sheet (bullet-proof, I might add) between us was a moment to cherish. I am hardly the one to appreciate art as it is meant to be, but I salute the geniuses whose strokes deftly captured a radiant countenance, an innocent smile, full curves of human body and even folds of a drape, lifelike…

    The biggest grouse I had against these tour operators was that after we had strained every bit of our time to be punctual for the tour bus, we were made to sit idle inside the bus before proceeding. We kept pulling one another from every place we visited lest we missed our bus, only to be wasting precious minutes twiddling our thumbs, hoping for the bus to move, later. Paris is so full of people and too from disparate nationalities that it is difficult to point out a single diaspora – it, in essence, seemed a multi-cultural city!

    Quickly freshening up at the hotel (which, as expected, was nothing home to write about); we were back in the Metro, this time moving towards “Sacré Coeur”. Cafés & shops selling souvenirs dotted the street that took us up the Montmartre Hill to “Basilique du Sacré Coeur”. This place surely gave us a glimpse of local Parisian life and along the way I couldn’t help buying a few black-n-white prints of Paris monuments. Though there were a number of bistros lined up here, I couldn’t find anything worthwhile to satiate my vegetarian stomach.

    Sacré Coeur

    We, for a change, strolled up flight of steps to the main cathedral stopping every few steps to slake our narcissistic urges by getting our pictures taken against the towering white cupolas. The panoramic view of Paris from atop the hill was astounding & we gave us time to soak in the sanguine ambience. While on one side we had an impromptu guitar rendition, on the other a brilliant composition by a street performer playing an accordion was commencing.  Inside it was as calm as a few hundred people can get; the glowing candles and exquisite frescoes lending the pristine interior of “Sacré Coeur” a peaceful aura.

    Grande Arche

    Our next stop was “Grande Arche” – the business face of Paris. Now that I think about it, I feel we could have given this place a skip. We spent more time reaching here (and back) than looking at the glass high-rises all around this mammoth structure. Even though I found nothing “Paris” or special about it except for its sheer size, (thankfully) my travel mates enjoyed the environs. Perhaps, this was the only time when I felt we had enough time to tour Paris & due to this assumption our pace slackened.

    P.S. This is the first of a three-part travelogue on Paris.

    October 30, 2006 at 7:47 pm 6 comments

    Lights… Music… Water!!!

    How can you make Johann Strauss II’s “An der schönen blauen Donau” (Blue Danube) or Vivaldi’s “Le quattro stagioni” (The Four Seasons) sound even better?

    Well, have water fountains & laser waltz to their tunes!

    There can be no words to describe the Musical Fountain Show that I witnessed here in Bonn… It is one of those rare moments in life which one can only experience – water taking altogether new forms, as if life has been breathed into it. Sometimes it is a mist in glowing colours, sometimes a fountain in a frothing gambol and at others a powerful spout sashaying to the brilliant classical compositions as if trying to reach the night skies…

    Some clips from the magical night, though obviously it comes nowhere near the real experience, where you could feel the micro sprays of water on you as you stood gaping at this ethereal synergy of colour, music, laser & water!

    October 20, 2006 at 7:01 pm 2 comments

    Bonn Voyage

    As I huffed & panted, I realized it was not some gruelling jogging routine I had just accomplished but a quick dash to the Haltestelle lest I miss my train which had already arrived on the platform. Trains & buses are always on time here!

    And why do these buses have automated doors which remained closed & only open at the bus stops??? The ruthless driver won’t even open them at the traffic lights where he halts the bus. Had there been no doors, at least I could have jumped down there & saved on the 50 metres walk back to office!

    Well jokes apart…

    Travelling around Bonn (in fact all of Germany) is a cakewalk, if you put the language problem aside. Even a small city like Bonn has an extensive network of buses, trams & trains which connects its every nook & corner.  No wonder, commuting through public transport is the preferred mode of transport here, unlike USA where one would be handicapped without a car. It makes a lot of sense to get yourself a daily, weekly or monthly pass depending on the region of your commute & then you are a free bird with unlimited access to that region. You can explore the whole city, by getting off a train & hopping onto a tram & then another – all with the same pass.

    What makes matters simpler is that every Haltestelle (bus/tram stop) displays the route of buses that ply through that stop along with their timings & duration. So even the most deserted of bus stops would tell you which bus you can catch at what minute of the day but again one has to be careful as buses timetables vary depending on the day of the week. It might not be as intuitive the first time, but once you get a hang of this system, commuting is almost hassle-free.

    It is amazing to see the whole system work with clockwork precision, punctual to the actual minute, enabling one to plan their commute based on the link timings of buses, trams/trains. Of all the places that I have been around here, there is always a bus/train stop at walking distance. Indeed it is a well connected city from where I see it.

    Such intricate is this whole web that some buses travel through some very narrow streets. The first time I was on such a ride, I almost was in disbelief at the bus entering this puny road, something I’d be scared manoeuvring even my car into! But the bus driver drove effortlessly through these lanes, halting at places to let the other vehicles, cyclists, even pedestrians pass. Germans deserve full marks for their traffic sense; in fact, except for India every other country in the world seems to respect the others and traffic rules on the road (another rant some other day).

    October 16, 2006 at 9:40 pm 2 comments

    Layzlump (sic) in Deutschland…

    Though I had better things to write about my trip than to begin this with cribbing about the keyboard, I cannot help but feel piqued at the number of times I have had to use the backspace key in typing just a simple sentence properly. Typing just a few sentences, I can say that ‘Y’ is a much underrated alphabet. Not just are the alphabets ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ swapped there are some more (otherwise seemingly innocuous) differences on the German keyboard, which are sure to irk one (at least) for the first dew days.

    Anyway, let me start from where it all began…

    I barely had a day and a half before I was confirmed to fly to Germany. Under normal circumstances, it would have been manageable; but the fact that I had to vacate my room, move all the stuff over to a friend’s place (who stayed on the 4th floor of an apartment without an elevator), pack my luggage while constantly following-up about my travel tickets & accommodation details plus a whole lot of official formalities, I wasn’t sure if I could make it through all this. Though I did manage to plonk my luggage into the cab on time, it obviously left me with no time to let many of my friends know about my travel. So on my way to the airport I was frantically making calls & letting people know that I was on my way to Bonn for a couple of months.

    Fortunately for me, this time round I had colleagues travelling with me for most part of the journey. So the nearly three hours at I.G.I. Airport, thanks to an early check-in, passed off without much trouble. As Delhi metamorphosed into a sea of tiny lights, I could then sense that MVY – III had begun! This time round I was too tired to even sit through a single movie & as soon as I had some food, I dozed off. Though sleep was intermittent, I do think I am managing to nap more than I could during my travels before.

    Flight take-offs are always captivating! Be it day or night, just after the plane takes off from the ground, the view from the window holds in it something special, every time. It was early morning and Vienna was enshrouded in a blanket of grey when we took off for Frankfurt. However in a couple of minutes, the airplane was making its way through the clouds, as if tenderly caressing them with its wings. It soon rose above what now seemed like a cotton landscape – hills & valleys of cotton clouds, glistening tufts spread across infinite miles.

    The flight was short & soon I was at Frankfurt Flughafen (Airport) looking for an immigration counter. Though I had my passport stamped at the Austrian capital, I was expecting an immigration stamp in Frankfurt, proving my arrival at my final destination country. But it was not to be, I was asked to head straight for my baggage. Hesitatingly, I picked my bags (which surprisingly came very quick) & inquired from some more people at the airport which resulted in only partially allaying my fears. It was here that I also realized that I was going to be a rank outsider in Germany with me not knowing their language & them, not any good at the one I knew!

    My last minute travel plans had ensured that I do not get confirmed tickets through the Köln Airport (which was the closest one to Bonn). So, a train journey from Frankfurt to Bonn was still in order. Wearily as I trudged my trolley outside the airport, I now looked for directions to the Bahnhof (Station). Thanks to some broken advice from the locals & directions, I somehow found my way to Fernbahnhof (Long-distance Train Station). I was amazed (and eternally grateful to Deutsch Airport Authority) that I could take the trolley with my baggage up & down the escalators till the platform from where I was to board the train. Though initially I did not have the confidence of goading the trolley onto those moving stairs, I knew there was no way I could haul my check-in & hand baggage, totalling to some 40 odd kg of don’t-ask-me-what, around this terrain. The illustrations helped & with a prayer that I don’t trip my luggage or myself, I carefully pushed the trolley… I survived… and so did the bags… and the trolley too!

    Knocking down some more language barriers, I got myself a ticket & settled myself on a bench at the platform, while waiting for the train to arrive. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but notice the broken window of the station’s dome or some odd pieces of litter. I sensed Germany wasn’t perfect (a word which I somehow associated with USA, at least when it came to cleanliness). Even though it wasn’t such a big deal, my belief firmed up when the train (Die Bahn) arrived 10 minutes late. It seemed quite like saddi-Dilli’s Metro; no wonder it made me feel proud. Peeping out of the window, I noticed over-bridges with posters & graffiti – it was not an isolated stretch, this seemed to be a recurring feature with many public walls being sprayed with incoherent writings & patterns.

    After a while, I sighted River Rhein flowing parallel to the rail tracks. It was a picturesque sight, with streamers cruising through the river and verdant hills forming the perfect backdrop. Unfortunately, the train was speeding too fast for my archaic camera to do justice to this serene setup, so I just let my eyes savour these moments.

    All these hours of travel & lugging my bags had exhausted me and I arrived at my hotel dead tired. At that moment, all I could think of was a warm water shower to soothe my crumbling body. Even food was not a consideration, as slumber pulled me into its arms soon after…

    P.S. I just realized (after a week) that I can swap Windows’s keyboard to an English (U.S.) layout! Though now I have the keys in the place I expect them to be, I don’t necessarily see it saying what I want to type!!!

    October 4, 2006 at 9:29 pm 5 comments


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