Introduction

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portugese flag

 

I will be spending three weeks in Portugal this December, including Christmas and New Year.

This section of my blog is dedicated to my expedition and exploration of the Iberian Peninsula. Through the course of my travel, I will visit multiple places around, experience local culture, taste different food and work on a topic.

My topic is “What makes you feel welcome in a city?“. This is a blog series for a project sponsored by Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe. The organization is funding a part of travel.

I will keep writing as I go through the country. My first destination is the picturesque, loyal city of Lisbon.

Watch out this section for the updates.

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The Lady from Lahore – a short story.

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I met a lady from Lahore there. She was visiting her son, he studies in Amsterdam.

I met them at a coffee shop. Coffee shops in Amsterdam are not to be confused with cafe.

A cafe serves coffee and bagel and breakfast and croissant.

A coffee shop is a place you go to get marijuana and other stuff.

The son, Arslan was teaching his mom how to smoke weed XD

I told her that she might be the coolest mom ever. They clicked a picture together and uploaded it with this caption XD

Amsterdam is so full of happy stories, I love the city.

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Being from India, we have a sense that Pakistan is a closed and reserved society. I was pleasantly surprised rather delighted to meet this lady. She mentioned, that she had relatives in Delhi used to visit before the visa norms. I parted by inviting her to Delhi and requested to visit me next time when she’s in town.

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam.

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Last week, I was in Amsterdam for a conference and it was an eventful experience. Being there for the first, I was excited and prepared to experience “the sins” XD. Surprisingly, I was charmed by better parts of the city and not the tourist ones. Smoking openly is a pleasing experience but the people of the city impressed me the most. Sitting beside the canals and the water floating beneath you, the tourist waving and snapping their cameras from the boats passing is a pretty picture. But the locals are care free and embracing warm and polite. Being a major attraction, and having a low crime rate speaks itself Amsterdam. There is a special charm in the city cannot be put together in words. One has to be there to experience it, to soak and absorb it all. You can sit idle silently, just pause and reflect. At the same time a different side of the city would go wild and party crazy, so calm yet so energetic, so composed yet so wild. I feel it has a lot for everyone, whether you’re an artist or a scientist or a no one. There’s something about this city you feel connected to, its hard to find sorrows and sadness in this city. I’m sure there must be failures, misery and pain, like every other place. But there’s a different way to experience and express it. It’s very mature and simplistic. It has been the best city I’ve been to so far and Amsterdam has a special spot in my heart.

Cycles & Canals

Cycles and Canals, Amsterdam’s favorite love story.

Vienna-Prague-Budapest

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Recently, some of my friends and me had a short vacation down to the central Europe. I needed some time off and a break, and so we decided to travel Vienna-Prague-Budapest. Bought a week long tickets to Budapest and the idea was to land in ‘Pest and ride to Vienna first.

We landed in Budapest around midday and boarded a bus from the airport to the center. The weather was hot (of course, I live in Finland) and I was constantly looking outside the window, reading the billboards, trying to grasp words as much as possible and making assumptions of their meanings. Budapest reminds me a lot of my city in terms of lifestyle and people. Finally we arrived at the central bus station and boarded our bus to Vienna.

I was sleep deprived and half dead by the time we were seated. The announcements and messages in the bus was in German, it sounded familiar. I was happy inside, finally my all those German lessons were being used. It was almost a 3 hour ride to Vienna and I noticed farm lands and windmills through the way. The bus passed through Slovakia and one could notice the difference in landscapes, the super markets from Hungarian side. We arrived in Vienna around evening and it took us awhile to figure out our way through the metro. Our hostel, Wombats, was one of the coolest I’ve seen, yes I know I said it even for the one in Tallinn, but this one equally good. A bit expensive and fancy but good. The reception desk had a huge living room kinda space around and bookshelves and couches and beanbags around. A Bar next to with pool table and games, a kitchen above, green jungle like themed. The place was full of young backpackers- loud, yet friendly. Our rooms was designed to accommodate 4 people with its own bathroom and closet. After settling in and freshening up, we went out for dinner with an old friend. It was a bit late to go out by the time we finished, so we decided to end our night few drinks. Next morning we went out to see the city, in the daylight, everything looked so grand and majestic. Schönbrunn palace was the biggest and most awesome palace, I’ve ever seen. Sprawled across acres with big gardens, obelisk fountains, horse carts and inside the rooms were huge with high ceilings with artistry all over it. Apparently Mozart played there when he was 6, it was truly a great exhibition of grandeur. Through the day, we visited lot of places, the Hofburg palace, Stadtsoper, St Stephen’s Cathedral, the museums (many of them). At the end of the day, were tired of roaming in the city, we went to try some authentic (supposedly) Austrian beers and crashed and passed out at the hostel. Next morning was our final in Vienna and after a heavy breakfast we went to roam around the city more before boarding our bus to Prague for the weekend. Vienna is an amazing historical city connected well with the metro line and it was easier for us to commute.

 

It was almost evening on Friday when we arrived in Prague. The sun had almost set and a thin blanket of twilight covered the sky. I was staying over some friends in Prague and locating their apartment was relatively easy (usually I’m terrible with directions). The apartment was in an old building, the walls, stairs and floors were a living proof of that. The kitchen had the gas stove with fire light to cook, unlike the heating plates in Finland and bathroom had a electric heater, where the water was stored and heated before you could use it. I was escorted into my small guest room with a fluffy bed. Apartment walls had drawings and graffiti like art scribbled over them, one could make out the residents were budding artists. After a delightful conversation over dinner and few shots, I was ready to go out on the Friday night. With a pound of “herb” in my pocket I walked towards the metro station. The metro, especially the underground ones were built surprisingly deep, like deep deep in the ground. Prague is very lively with lots of hustle and bustle, I could notice a lot of chattering, laughing, talking and hear the buzz of the city. Eventually, we crashed a factory themed, “Cross Club” amongst a bunch of stoned crazy and happy people. With psychedelic trance beating hard in my ears I was in a different state, can’t remember much from the night. I found one of the “Use-it Europe Maps” for Prague, it was extremely helpful. Apart from all the touristy places, it had a list of all the local spots to hang out and things to experience. I would highly recommend it, especially for young travelers. The whole day Saturday I spent visiting the regular tourist spots (Charles Bridge, Astronomical Clock, Prague Castle, Old Town etc etc). But what beats all is the “Franz Kafka Museum”, its the best I’ve ever seen. It was how a museum should be, black & white, dark, mild lights, the entrance itself had a Kafkasque atmosphere. A collection of Kafka’s letters to his bosses, lovers, government, to himself. The visuals of light and in chronological order, the events in Kafka’s life. The factors affected Kafka and his writings were beautifully visualized on projection with pictures, audios and videos. The place will keep you occupied and leave you absolutely spell bound. Its a must visit place if you’re a Kafka fan. Opposite the museum is a souvenir  shop with Kafka’s notes and diaries compiled and printed. It was already evening by then, we had our meal and went to the Lennon wall for while. Though there is nothing special about the wall, it had a special vibe and atmosphere about it. Being a Saturday evening, I was expecting heaps of tourists there but was pleasantly surprised. We spent the rest of the evening and night, making a pub-crawl in the old town and befriending other backpackers. Next morning I woke top with a terrible hangover, it was our last day in Prague and it started late after lunch. Museum of Communism was our highlight of the day. Its was informative, fascinating yet disappointing to know the atrocities on the people during the Communist era. We explored some local restaurants, more Kafka theme cafes 😀 and green vegans ones. The map was our guide and by the evening we were on the bus for our overnight journey to Budapest. Overall Prague gives me an impression of a liberal city. The best thing about it are its people, open bold positive extrovert and creative.

After spending a 6 hour overnight journey in bus, we arrived early morning in Budapest, sleep deprived, restless, hungry, cranky and had to wait for an hour before our AirBnB host could hand over the keys. The apartment was really colorful, small cozy with all the basic necessities needed. A wooden brown stairs led us to the second floor with a jumpy elastic bed. We freshened up, fetched some groceries cooked ourselves a brunch and laid lazy for a while. It took a lot of effort to kick out the laziness in us and we started our Budapest chapter in the late afternoon. Jewish Synagogue was the first monument we walked up to, it looked impressive form the outside but none of us were interested enough to pay for a tour inside. Close to the synagogue was the iconic St.Stephen’s Basilica, the weather bright and sunny in a blue sky added to its splendor. We relaxed in the square had an ice cream and headed to the Buda side of the city. For the aloof ones, the city is divided by river Danube into two – Buda & Pest. Walking over the historic chain bridge we could see the imposing castle up the hill Buda. Up the hill, from the Royal Place the view of the city was absolutely magnificent. We explored other landmarks on the Buda side of the hill, Mattius Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and by the evening walked back to Pest. Close of the symbolic Parliament are an assembly of old shoes kept inline with the river and are called “Shoes on Danube”. It honors the people killed during the war. Right opposite those shoes was the Parliament very old, very royal. We went back to the our apartment, relaxed a bit and started again to experience the night life in Budapest. Apparently, the city is famous for its “Ruin Pubs”, and on reaching there we weren’t disappointed. Never have I seen a such long queue of people waiting outside pubs on Mondays. The old factories destroyed in the wars are turned into pubs, with cool music, bars, pool, dark dingy corners and lots and lots of people. It was like walking in a shopping mall, only way cooler. After a few drinks there, we went dancing in a club, where we met a bunch of crazy Italians, shouting, jumping, dancing recklessly. Dancing drained us and we were tired to do more, so we went back for a good night sleep. Day 2 started with hiking on the hill Buda in a sunny weather. We walked and walked and walked through the white bridge, up the Gellert hill till the Statue of Liberty. The palace on one side in the distant and the city, the Pest side skyscrapers, on the other looked splendid. We stayed there for a few hours and went to venture far off in the Pest side after lunch. Later that evening we went to this beautiful book cafe restaurant, with chandeliers, high roofs with paintings and art all over, melodious piano playing, perfect place to enjoy a read. Next we stopped at a place called the Noir chocolate Bar, with gazillion flavors and cuisines of chocolates and quiet atmosphere. I would highly recommend this place if you have a sweet tooth. Finally, we went to the Budapest’s oldest baths, the place I felt was made more to attract tourists, and I wasn’t particularly impressed by it, though it took me a while to get out of the bath, so relaxing it was. Close to the bath was a big park and the Hero’s Square. It was illuminated and looked pretty, we sat there for a while before finally returning to the apartment.

Next morning we packed and flew back to Finland.

 

The Estonian Experience.

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It took a bit of discussions, disagreements and debate to finally set off on our “Crazy trip to Tallinn” (that’s what we called it). Our group, very versatile – observant creative astute budding architects, Filip and Lubos, uptight paranoid calculative Christoph, chirpy Veronika, quiet yet friendly Tiago, crazy insane Itaians, Paolo and Andrea, and me eh! just me.
It was a task in itself to board the morning bus timely after a long party the night before. Apart from drawing caricatures of everyone, I spent most of my journey till Helsinki pretty much sleeping and learning to speak a bit of German by the end of it. Helsinki greeted us with a wet and windy weather, and we headed for a coffee place. It was good to stroll around the city, stopping for a bite and then to set out exploring the capital. Temppeliaukio Church, thats what they call it, an exhibition of skilled craftsmanship. Magnificently carved inside rocks, with a circular copper roof, and soft music running in the background, quite peaceful. There should have been something admirable about the university library, for which we walked around 3 kilometers in the wet snow, but to me it was nothing more than white, quite and busy. That was all for us to see in Helsinki and then we set out to the harbor for the cruise. On reaching the harbor, we failed to spot our cruise, only to learn later that we were at the wrong harbor. Barely thirty minutes for our cruise to depart, we headed out for the correct harbor station. Should we walk? bus? taxi? tram? it was a big commotion, finally we just followed Filip, Italian complaining and whining all the way.

 

We were already tired before we set our foot on the cruise. We found a comfortable place, dumped our bags, and some of us decided to wander around the cruise. The top deck, was the most popular spot, we could hear the chilly winds, see the cruise pierce through the soft floating ice and the port in the moving farther from us in the horizon. I got tired after a while and dozed off in the cruise only to wake up in TALLINN!! 😀
It was dark in Tallinn, and we were already looking for alcohol :D. After getting some to fuel for the night, we reached, Red Emperor Hostel. I am not mincing words here, it was the coolest hostel to dwell. Fancy graffiti all over the walls, quirky posters, colorful kitchen, with a silent reading corner in the common area. The rooms and the beds had gaudy names too. They owned a bar next door and had a different event running there every day. Bands performing, beer pong, Foosball competitions, and lot other things to keep you busy. The hostel official at the desk offered his advice on the city tourist spots and eating joints. III Drakon, a dingy dark old medieval looking restaurant, where the waitresses served authentic Estonian food on wood log like tables. The beer draining from the drums, served in small pots, it surely was a dose of certified Estonian experience. We had a few rounds drinking games with fucking Italians, Czech bastards, ssstooopeeed Indian, which was enough to set the tone for the night. The nightlife of Tallinn was more lively, vibrant and colorful than what I was used to in Tampere. An hour later and we were in a fancy pub, called Labor, which bore the theme of the a laboratory. The highlights, “Chemical Shots”, green, red, white, blue, test tubes injected moonlight :D. Too many shots in too less time, and blackout!!

 

 
Next morning we were scheduled for the City Tour, Captain Filip leading the way for us. Clouds, drizzle and winds, didn’t dampen our spirits and we strolled through, around, in and out of the whole city. The old town of Tallinn looked very scenic and serene, and it bore a special charisma to it. The new town had a bit of contrast, but was surely worth the walk. Neat, tidy, organized, it was an experience to explore the city, libraries, cathedrals, schools, town halls, shopping malls, it had anything and everything. The light was fading, we were heading back to our den, laughing and joking throughout. The Italians treated us with pasta for dinner, and a game of pictionary followed the meal. It was fun to see the creative side of us :D, wavy structures, funny descriptions, and alcohol added more joy to it. The game never got over, but we were all ready for the Night Out 2, Club Hollywood, the destination, a fancy looking uptight, club. It was a Saturday night, and the club was packed full. We stayed there for a while and realized, we were too tired for more, so got back dozed off and prepared for the ferry next morning.
 
That pretty much sums up our Tallinn trip.