I was whizzing past the countryside at breakneck speed. It was early afternoon and the sky was clear. Lush green farmlands stretched out as far as the eye could see. Lone cottages were scattered amidst the fields. It was a scene to be soaked in at leisure. I was on the highway heading from Reims to Paris, a 140 kms. odd ride on impeccable roads. A delayed train meant hopping onto the next available Mercedes Benz taxi, which had even our driver stare at us in disbelief. And thus began my European journey and I had already become a pauper.
My travels took me from the Parisian streets to the medieval squares of Bruges to the quaint city of Strasbourg to the Swiss Alps. The one major change this travel brought in me was a new found appreciation for architecture, more so because I always thought that I was a nature person and that man – made wonders wouldn’t really fascinate me.
Right from the jaw droppingly beautiful cathedrals of Notre Dame in France to the impressive squares of Brussels and Bruges to the Grand Centraal railway station in Amsterdam, it was an architectural extravaganza all the way.
Silhouetted against clear skies, walking along these structures was akin to living postcards in reality. If they captivated you during the day, adorned by lights, they assumed a beauty of different proportion at night. You could spend hours sitting at these places just watching people go about their business.
The atmosphere at night was livelier, with the city being lit up and giant christmas trees popping up at every corner. The streets were teeming with christmas markets selling enticing souvenirs’. Despite my dislike for shopping, I did fall prey to these charming little shops.
When I wanted to take a break from the bustling European cities, I took refuge in towns like Bruges and Strasbourg. Ever since I saw the movie “In Bruges”, I have wanted to walk by its pretty canals. I was a student then, and naturally locked this dream in some recesses of my wandering mind.
Little did I know that one day I would end up walking through this timeless town. With its cobbled lanes, winding canals, soaring towers and ancient churches, a place doesn’t get more medieval than Bruges.
Strasbourg was a transit stop for me while coming from Switzerland by train, but I wish I could have spent more time walking around its winding alleys. Like Bruges, it’s the simplicity of the town and its old world charm that made it so appealing.
If I was bowled over by these quaint European towns, the scenic landscapes of Switzerland had me enamored even more. The Swiss rail experience was by far the best train journey that I had ever taken in my life.
The entire rail route meandered around lush green mountains dotted with pine trees, crystal clear lakes and provided a view of the Alps in the distance. All i did during these journeys was listen to music and gaze outside. I was lost.
While the Swiss rail pass can cost a bomb, it is still value for money given the numerous benefits that it offers.
Our Airbnb stay in Switzerland was the best thing that happened to us by chance. It was a house nestled in the hills providing breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks by the day and a sky blanketed by stars in the night.
And every day, when you are having your morning cup of coffee on the porch of a vintage farmhouse in the hills and waiting for the first rays of the sun to illuminate the snow-capped peaks, you know you are living in the moment.
The overwhelming hospitality of our hosts only made the experience even more beautiful.
Last but not the least, I found the people of Europe to be very warm and friendly, right from random strangers whom we asked for directions to our Airbnb hosts who made us feel at home and without these people, it would not have been such a fulfilling experience.
In retrospect, I wish I had more time to immerse myself in each of these cities. Nevertheless, this European sojourn has only managed to further stoke my insatiable appetite for travel and I am sure i will be going back for more.