Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Trip Diaries - Part 1

After a brief detour, I am now back to travel blogging. I had a wonderful trip to Europe on the pretext of a conference in Charlotte, USA. I wasn't in a correct frame of mind when I left for the trip. In fact, I was in a pathetic state. Many of my friends have stuck by me during this in spite of me acting like an idiot, and I won’t be able to forget any of their help, direct or indirect. But during this trip, I have had time to reassess my priorities and now have re-charted my future plans. I think the previous blog posts would well have indicated as to the general direction that I want to take!!

So now to the trip. I spent a few days in Charlotte for the conference. I did not do much in Charlotte other than attend the conference. Then in the Europe leg of the tour I attempted to cover 5 cities; Paris, Brugges, Ghent, Madrid and Barcelona. All this in a span of ten days. I stayed in Europe through couch surfing, stayed with some wonderful hosts, made some new friends, experienced new cities, appreciated different cultures and had loads of fun. Like I said before, meeting and talking to new people gives you a much better perspective on your own life as well.

Although the entire trip would forever be etched in my memory, I need to pen down this trip, atleast the highlights, because it was full of random incidents and events that made the trip much more memorable!! Missed buses, plenty of near misses and lots more!! Insteda of a travelogue on what I did and all during that trip, I would like to recount the memorable incidents on the trip.

The drop that nearly broke my heart:

I did not do much in US other than attend the conference. Somehow US has never caught my fancy. Still on the third day I decided to see around Charlotte. When I asked the hotel receptionist about the must-dos in Charlotte, he was flummoxed. He finally managed to pull out a pamphlet about Charlotte. On my last day in US, I decided to to try and have a small walking tour on my own. But it was raining (perfectly predicted as per the USA Met department). I didnot lose heart and went ahead with the plan. As I was waiting for the light rail to go to downtown Charlotte, my backpack strap gave away. Two of my most important travel items were in the backpack; my Samsung Galaxy Tab and my Nikon DSLR. The tablet was fine but I could see some internals of the camera. Not at all a good sign for anyone, leave alone a serious amateur photographer. I had immediate flashbacks to my Agra trip a few years back when my compact digital camera was stolen in the train while I was enoute to Agra (and missed photographing the Taj Mahal). After a few anxious moments, I questioned random passersby about a Nikon service center nearby(my flight to Paris was on the next day) only to get a negative reply. I got into the light rail with plans of going to the downtown area and searching for a service center. After a few more deep breaths, I regained my composure and took the camera out to reassess the damage. Fortunately, only the lens had broken and not the camera. I got down from the rail in between and went back to my hotel to check if the camera was working fine with the other lens. Luckily, it was !!

Now I was confronted with a newer problem; of trying to get my hands on another lens. In India,we always saw that lenses were cheaper in USA. But Murphys law always sticks by me!! The lens that I wanted was cheaper in India. The next few hours went in a frantic search for used lenses on ebay, craigslist. When I did not get any reply from anyone by evening, I even began searching for lens rental companies in Paris !!! Finally, late at night, I was contacted by Martha, a willing seller from New Jersey. And after a short detour on my way from New Jersey to NewYork (to leave for Paris) and parting with 95 dollars, I finally had the lens!! And the shutterbug was now fully armed for the Europe tour!!

Con attempt once? ok. Twice? Maybe. But thrice ???

After I landed in Paris, I was too late to get to the walking tour (plus I didnot know where it started, poor research ... things improved in this respect later on !!). So I decided to take my own walking tour with the help of an app on my trusted tablet. As I was walking along the River Seine, a gentleman walking towards me, suddenly reached down to the ground and picked up a "gold" ring. He then walked towards me and asked me if it was mine. He then proceeded to "try" the ring on his fingers and tell that its not his, and then tried to fit the ring on my fingers and say that I am lucky. I was stuck with a ring in my hand !! He then acted as if he was walking away but turned after a couple of paces for the catch, "As you are so lucky, would you mind giving me money for lunch?" !! I just left the ring on the parapet and walked off, thinking that for a guy walking around with a camera in Paris, this must be quie common.

The same incident happened to me again .. two more times on the same day. Whenever the person would ask "Sir, is this ring yours?", I would reply even without looking at him, "NO" !!!

Guess one day overseaes wasn't long enough for me to shed my touristy image !!

Thats it for this post. I will post more such incidents that happened during the trip.