Saturday, July 29, 2006

back in londonistan

It's been awhile, and the truth is, I couldn't be asked. But other than a few things, it's been a slow 2 weeks.

GRADUATION || My chance at getting on that stage, shaking the hand of some random woman, and having to pose for waaay too many photos. My dad went a little trigger happy with the camera... Only at a SOAS graduation though, do you have white students performing traditional Indonesian gamalan (sp?) music, with lyrics like, "Oeey...aaah!". I must say though graduation day is one big RIP-OFF. The amount of money they make from that day, charging for gowns, tickets, photos, yearbook. Although when sending off the money for the tickets, I thought to myself, what's the point of going to a ceremony? I'm glad I ended up going. It kind of creates closure. Seeing all your classmates from over the years, realising we all made it (somehow).

FREAKY || Our little disabled fish died. RIP. The fish tank has resumed to being the most boring form of keeping a pet. (Who is Freaky?)

DRIVING LESSONS || Drove a car for the very first time in my life (literally), at the ripe old age of 22. Where the excitement of turning 17 and waiting to get my license disappeared during the last 5 years, I have no clue, but I'm proud to say, as of this week, I actually know how to start a car and go! Nevermind that it scares the SHIT out of me. I have this recurrent dream going, where I'm in the drivers seat, and I just cant control the damn beast! And its shit scary. And whaddya know, my instructor tells me my steering is absolutely miserable (ok to be fair I've only had 6 hours of lessons), and I don't where this came from, that I'm too aggressive. He asked me why I was so hyper, and if I always veer between extremes instead of settling in the middle path (cuz I'm either going too fast and when he tells me to slow down, too slow). How the hell does he know all this just from my driving?!? It's all true! Creepy... I asked if I had a lifetime of speeding tickets ahead of me, and very worryingly...he didn't reply.

HUGHES PARRY || So a little birdy told me I've been banned from Hughes Parry for writing that article about them in London Student, so they've put my picture and name up behind the desk warning receptionists not to let me in...LOL! What a bunch of babies!

BOSTON FLIGHTS || On holiday in Europe, and BA starts giving away flights to NY on sale for practically 150 quid less than what I bought mine for. I am not a happy bunny :|

AND FINALLY || Holiday pictures! I'm slowly putting them up! Just check under Photo Albums on the left there to see what's up.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Catch it while you can?

"Yeah, Venice doesn't seem to be ALL THAT, next time let's try Singapore" - An American in Venice

Location: Venice, Italy

It's possible to wander around Venice for hours on end exploring little alleyways. Every turned corner brings new surprises and delights. And when you're tired, there's always a little cafe serving scrumptious pastries and smooth cappuccinos. It's almost like one big theme park, that's how I see Venice. Not many residents, only those serving the multitudes of tourists who come in for the day, week, fortnight. Everyone does the rides, pays the eye-popping 100 euros for a gondola ride (which I must admit was worth it, there's nothing more musical than gliding through Venice's many hidden canals on a traditional gondola). Yes, Venice is a tourist city, nothing more, the residents are leaving, the city is sinking, and the walls are decaying. In a way though, it is this that makes it even more alluring. Catch it while you can?

With Venice, it was love at first sight

We really kept the best for the last. After trudging through alot of monotonous Europe....Venice was a fresh breath of air. Literally. Not a single car in sight, the city hums with the sound of people walking everywhere. I didn't think it could be possible, but the roads in Venice really are made of water. The only 2 forms of transport avilable are walking and by boat. Even bicycles are banned! It can't be denied however, this place is swarming with tourists. I have never seen anywhere as congested with tourists, not even London. But for some reason, it doesn't affect the charm of Venice. It's like we're all sitting back, relaxing and absorbing the wonder that is this city, together. I warn you however, I tend to exaggerate things when I like don't blame me for raising your hopes unfairly....just do what I did. Dispel all expectations. Get off the train at S. Lucia, go to Platform 9, turn around and walk straight out of the station, and into water. You wont be disappointed.

I am so relieved now to be here for another reason. It's the final chapter of this long journey. No more waking up, packing, checking out of the hotel, rushing to catch trains. We are here for a good 3 nights, and for that I am grateful. Everyone got up at the unusually late hour of 11.45am today (gasp!). We've rented a very cute apartment near Rialto. In the morning, woke up, cooked omelets and watch Baywatch in italian.

A meal in the Jewish Ghetto

Location: Venice, Italy

My family only eats halal meat. We also eat kosher meat, because we approve of the way Jews slaughter their animals, and we see them as People of the Book.. So we head down to a very well recommended kosher restaurant one evening for dinner. Every single patron in the restaurant, other than us, is Jewish. A man on the table on our right looks at us as we enter, starts shaking his head as if in disapproval and looks down with a grimace. The table on our left watches us in fascination, and I can't help staring back at the gentleman as he smiles at us, so I smile back, and he gives us a good-natured, 'Hello'. We sit down, we order. Throughout our meal a woman from the first table continuously stares at us eating, making me uncomfortable. The second table also constantly checks us out, except not as grimly. At one point, they do a whole fiasco of taking photos, with the woman leaning so far out from their table, it was quite obvious they were taking photos of us. I found that hilarious! We were like circus acts...token Muslims in a Jewish restaurant.."Must send pictures of THIS back home!"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Overnight trains

Writing from Florence, Italy! Waiting for much needed laundry to be done. We arrived here yesterday, with much relief, this being our last country stop.No more long distance travel, no more overnights on trains. Our last experience kind of killed our enthusiasm for them....We spent it with a very nasty, drunk, racist British guy. He was about 60 at least and even though he was relatively decent to us, he was shouting at the two Koreans sharing the cabin with us, saying, "I dont wanna talk to that idiot...bloody Japanese, Korean..." and the Korean guy meekly replies, "I am Korean...". Mum and I were arguing over whether they were too polite to tell the guy off or (according to me) they just dont have any backbone. Cuz all the Korean could say back was, "Shut up" at the same decibel level of someone perhaps saying, "I like potatoes. Yes I do." :S

Tonight we head to Venice and from there HOOOME!!! My sister and brother in law have also joined us here in Florence, so im really enjoying their company and especially, my brother in laws fascinating knowledge of food and travel. I am currently on a strict diet of coffee, pizza and spaghetti bolognaise. Anyway, Ciao!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

European Rail

Location: Zurich, Switzerland

Aaah...welcome to the civilised world. Where train stations have escalators. Where the trains have rounded sofas. Where the travel offices speak perfect English, advising you on your next course of action.

The Grammy Awards of EU Rail:
Best toilet in train: Slovenia (Ljubljana-Sezana)
Worst train seats: Romania (Sinaia-Brasov)
Best Seats on train: Switzerland (Zurich-Interlaken)
Best tourist aid in station: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Best views from train: Slovenia (whole country)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Adventures of crossing the Slovenia-Italy border

2.5 h train from Ljubljana to a small border town, Nova Gorica. Take a cab for 5 euros across town and cross immigration sitting down. Go to Gorizia station on the Italian side and get on a train to Venice. Admire the view from the train, the beautiful Adriatic sea. Wonder slightly why its on our right hand side when it should really be on our left, while heading west. Realise we missed our connecting stop and are heading, instead for Trieste!! Ooops!!!

(Get off at Trieste and take train back to Venice!)


Location: Trieste, Italy

Finally reached Italy, and we are confronted with a station info guy who doesnt speak English. SO I let out some Spanish, figuring what the heck, might as well give it a shot. And whaddya know, he lets out some Italian in response and we communicate. What a country! Im already a fan.


Usually my coffee drinking is limited to Starbucks Mocha Frappucino (i.e overloaded with sugar and chocolate). The bitter coffee taste just isnt my cup of tea....But now that I am in Italy, in fact Trieste, the home of Italian coffee, I had to get myself a cup of the real thing. Without chocolate. So I did. One caffe latte at Trieste train station. Shockingly, with only 2 sugars. (I usually take 3-4 with tea). And what i tasted was pure aroma and smoothness. I sense the start of a love affair

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Its Loob-li-yana, not Luh-joob-li-jana

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

So from Romania, we took an overnight train back to Budapest, and then took a direct train to the South of Hungary, to a small town called Pecs. Spent a night there, and next morning we got up at the ungodly hour of 5.45am and left for the train station to begin our journey across to Croatia. Pecs is actually at the border, making the trip quite short, except that we had to wait for 3 hours in this random village, at the station waiting for our connection to Zagreb. It was so in the middle of nowhere the village didnt even have INTERNET. Even villages in Bangladesh have internet!!

Anyway, I didnt get to see much of Zagreb, I was so exhausted from 3 nights lack of sleep that I went to bed pretty early after a quick look around. Also, results came out that day, so was a bit stressed. Gulp. No comment. Zagreb seemed very hip though, lots of young, trendy people, and Croatian girls are definitely very very pretty. Its the first city on this trip where I have thought, hmm i wouldnt mind returning here with my mates. Anyway, the only thing of interest was staying in a private room accomodation. Seems to be common around these parts, but we got this creaky old flat in a big mansion, and it was a bit spooky coming home at night, even sleeping there.

So this morning, we took a train to Slovenia, and here we are! Ljubljana has impressed me, it has had the best tourist support i have seen so far, and you definitely start appreciating these things when you are moving between 7 countries in 11 days. Slovenia has also had the most scenic train ride in so far. Beautiful mountain lined rivers as we entered the country and approached the city.

We leave tomorrow to cross over to italy.

So far....

I realised I should add in an itinerary, to prevent any confusion as to where we have been so far. This is also in aid of my generally crap memory.

30th June - London to Bruges, Belgium

1st July - Frankfurt, Germany (overnight to Vienna)

2nd July - Vienna, Austria

3rd July - Salzburg, Austria

4th July - Gyor, Hungary

5th - 6th July - Budapest, Hungary (overnight to Romania)

7th July - Sighisoara, Transylvania, Romania

8th July - Brasov & Sinaia, Translyvania (overnight to Budapest)

9th July - Pecs, Hungary

10th July - Zagreb, Croatia

11th July - Ljubljana, Slovenia

12th July - Cross border into Italy - Venice (transit) - Overnight train to Zurich

13th July - Zurich - Interlaken - Stresa, Italy

14th July - Florence, Italy

15th July - Venice, Italy

17th July - Flying to Liverpool, England

18th July - Train back to London (sigh of relief)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

With love, kisses and bites from Translyvania

Location Transylvania, Romania

Yup. Thats right. We were in Dracula country. Technically my title is incorrect, because I am writing this having left Romania but I couldnt resist using the name Transylvania. Ha.

So basically, from Budapest we took an overnight train to Romania. I wouldnt recommend this because you will find the immigration officials waking you up several times during the night, wanting to see your passport. An unusual way of experiencing customs, for sure. However, Ive realised I really like overnight trains. I feel adventurous whenever we get on one. Definitely, the fact that your covering so much distance, and the smooth rocking of the train putting you to sleep is an experience if any.

So Transylvania. As much as Id like to say dark, gloomy and full of eerie castles, its not really. We stayed in Sighisoara, where Vlad Tepes the inspiration behind Dracula lived, but the dracula cartoons and figures everywhere merely add comical effect to an otherwise very beautiful countryside. We spend 2 days in Sighisoara, Brasov, and Sinaia, a ski resort. Amazing green forests covering big sharped edged mountains, really beautiful to watch as our train chugged through such landscapes decorated with clouds...we were that high up.

Definitely a huge difference when moving from Hungary to Romania. Romania is so much poorer. For the first time we notice beggars, mainly Romas, and the water here is not drinkable. The train station wasnt even paved. We seem to be progressing from poor to poorer as we continue on our trip. The people are also more unused to foreigners. We got ALOT of staring, even in Hungary, which makes me think not many South Asians visit these parts. We only came across hijabi Muslims twice and each time they greeted us and waved excitedly at the sight of other Muslims. Ha. Also, our food situation is so dismal here. Mountain landscapes dont really produce much we are surviving on potatoes and the odd pizza. Im definitely liking Romania though. Only here do you pass by a Roman Orthodox Church and here the sound of grown men in robes singing hymns in beautiful deep voices. The language barrier is also proving much harder here. We had a little mishap while trying to leave our luggage at the station lockers. The old grandad working there, I think suffering from amnesia, made us pay him 3 bucks twice, 2 seconds apart, and we just couldnt get it through to him that we had just paid him. Ah well lol. Doesnt help that Romanian currency runs in 2 kinds, the old and the new, and we are constantly lost wondering if 10,000 lei is equal to 1 lei...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pictures: Budapest, Hungary

huh? That can't be right...

gorgeous turkish meal for 4 quid total!

budapest rail station

very old buildings in budapest

my pretty mummy

supposedly the oldest underground line in the world?

great market, budapest


With love from Budapest

Location Budapest, Hungary

I am knackered. Today has been a bit of a low, dont feel like walking around, looking for interesting places anymore. And to think only a third of this holiday is over. Eek. I think I'm just a little sore because I really wanted to try a thermal spa but its men-only today. And its hot. And everything has pork in it. Oof. Sorry I sound like a brat lol.

We've been in Hungary for the last 2 days now. On Tuesday night we went from Salzburg via Vienna to Gyor, Hungary. You wouldn't believe how much our plans have changed. We're lucky we can be so flexible. Tuesday night we realised we'd be reaching Budapest very late so we got off early in Gyor, a small university town near the border, and spent the night there. Also, we are no longer going to Greece and Bulgaria, we are going to try Croatia-Slovenia-Bosnia instead!

The train ride was hilarious. The Austrian immigration officer came by to check passports, and before leaving, the guy (who was quite good looking, ahem) says, "The Hungarians are coming...don't be afraid..." and we were like, "Huh?", and then the Hungarian DID come, and I was a bit hyper because all this train immigration stuff is so new and exciting for me (ok i am easily pleased), and he told me to "Sit down" quite gruffly! :S

I like Hungary for several reasons:

  • They put a stamp in my passport.
  • The hotel had window shutters. This in my books, makes the whole country holy, just like Espana dearest.
  • The people seem incredibly helpful, unlike Austrians. On so many occasions people physically got up to help us find our way.
  • No dog poop to be seen here. In fact, I saw a woman walk all the way to a drain just to throw some water away.
  • So cheap! Dinner for 4 quid last night!
When you enter Hungary from Austria, the differences are stark. The train stations change from swanky, shiny electronic board-filled terminals to....well, old-school. All this leaving and arriving in different cities and countries so quickly is making our heads spin. Trying to figure out a fresh map every day, learning what the local word for "road" is, having to adjust to the new languages, scripts and orientation, is exhausting. One thing that has remained constant, all the way from Salzburg....the Danube River. It has been following us all the way here.....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Images from Vienna and Salzburg


Mexican natives gettin political in Vienna (ok i think, i couldnt really understand their slogan)

Yes i know lots of food pictures....I have a strange obsession with it.


In case you felt hungry?



With love from Austria

Location: Salzburg, Austria

The Brazil and France game ended with me having to watch the 2nd half while rushing about in the train station. We had to catch an overnight train to Vienna, which I must say was...interesting. 6 ppl packed into a tiny cabin with just enough space to sleep, not enough to sit up. We literally got on, said our hellos to the fellow travellers and turned off the lights and went to sleep. We were sharing with an Alabaman family of 3, mother, son and daughter. Luckily i slept quite well, altho it ws probably because I was shattered from the last 2 nights.

Vienna turned out to be a disapointment. Boring, dull, too many big soulless buildings and too much shit on the streets. You literally have to do a dance walking on the pavement trying to avoid the brown goo. We stayed in a HI Hostel, proper dorm style but we got a 4 bed to ourselves. Austrians seem a bit reserved and moody at best, and no offence intended but German is one uh-gly language.....makes me appreciate travelling in Spain so much more, listening to their gorgeous language. It makes such a difference. Perhaps I'm judging Vienna unfairly though, we did arrive there on Sunday, which meant the entire city was d-e-a-d, but we did catch a glimpse of the Vienna film festival, but just as dad and I sat down to watch something, it started drizzling so we legged it! One good thing though is this seafood restaurant we have discovered, Nord word: divine. Dont miss chicken at all.

From Vienna we headed for Salzburg, but on the way stopped at Linz to visit the Mauthausen concentration camp. We took an hours bus ride there, however, only to discover we'd have to walk 2km with all our luggage to get there. We were forced to head back to the station, superbly disappointed. What a waste of a whole day and 24 euros. But things improved vastly upon arriving in Salzburg......birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the Sound of Music! This city is so picturesque, we quickly fell in love with it. So we decided to forego our Switzerland plans and spend the extra day here.

Tonight we head to Budapest!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Brazilian city in Germany

Location: Frankfurt Germany

Guess where we are! Frankfurt, Germany, HOME OF THE WORLD CUP! This wasn't a planned stop, but we decided to change the itinerary at the last minute....we couldnt pass up the opportunity to be here on such a momentous occasion!The air here is absolutely buzzing. Scores of football fans everywhere, and all you see is the colour YELLOW!! The Brazilians have really brought Brazil to this city. Everyone is partying all day, and obviously its a very significant day....


Funnily enough, you dont see as many France supporters, maybe the colour blue is just hard to notice. Even though im usually quite indifferent to football, i must say the excitement in the air is contagious! We went down to the stadium, but obviously were let nowhere near it! :(

Anway, we are currently on Day 2 of 19. Took an 8 hour bus from London to Brugges, a quaint little Belgian town, yesterday morning. We arrived quite late though, meaning the shops closed before I got to buy my Belgian chocolates, which is really the only thing i was looking forward to in Brugges, cuz I've been there before.

But anyway, we stayed the night there, and this morning set off for Germany. We literally trained it right across Belgium, from Brugge to Brussels, Liege, then crossed the border onto Achen, Germany. Stopped over in Cologne for a bit...where the excitement had already started...

and we got to Frankfurt at around 2 pm today. And tonight, we set off on an overnight train to Vienna, Austria. I'm quite excited, never been on an overnight sleeper train. I'm absolutely shattered by the way, have slept a total of 5 hours last 2 nights. So I hope the train is comfy tonight. Visions of a massage and a hot tub keep drifting in my imagination. Have some very cool pics, but will have to upload them another time. I have only 10mins before the Brazil game starts.

I must say i'm liking the whole train thing. It's very romantic, especially because I have my sisters iPod to set the mood I want :D You get to walk around, and they are so smooth here you can do alot, read, sleep, write in your journal...put on kajol without worrying it'll get all over your forehead :P However, keeping to strict time limits, making it in time for trains which need to be booked beforehand is proving to be slightly stressful. Plus, it doesnt help that we havent booked any hotels...we really are trying to be flexible!

Pictures: Frankfurt, Germany

Brasil supporters at the train station

Brasil everywhere really....from the women...

to the food.......

big screen erected on the river for supporters to watch from both river-banks!

lucky ticket holders make their way to the game, while some hopefuls hold up placards asking for tickets