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European Escapades: Of Cobbled Streets and Picturesque Landscapes! - Kaleidoscope of My Life
For most of the Indians a trip to Europe is something you do when you reach your middle ages. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime event for which you generally use up a handsome part of your savings. So you can imagine how unbelievable it would be for someone like me – who is struggling with the quarter life crisis like every other person in their late 20s – when I was presented with yet another opportunity of going on a trip to Europe, almost within a year of the first trip! It was something absolutely unthinkable. I was yet to get over with my excitement of visiting London, Paris and Amsterdam when I started dreaming about these new exciting places. But a quick look at my bank balance was enough to put an end to my dreams. Obviously after using up most of my savings in the last year’s trip, there were hardly any left for this one. I had given up and almost decided against going when my parents and sister sat me down and made me plan out my finances. So after a lot of planning, I finally found a way to materialise the dream yet again. (Well, planning is a cute word…crying would be more like it) Managing the finances turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg of problems that were yet to present themselves. I spent more than a month convincing my work place to give me the Leave Approval letter that was necessary for the Visa application. Then my visa appointment got rescheduled a couple of times, after that there was the Visa interview itself and when everything was finally said and done, my passport hadn’t arrived right up till the eve of our departure. So I was unconvinced of me going on this trip until I was fastening my seat-belt on the flight, quite literally. Amongst all these charades, I found out what it really meant “to be on tenterhooks”. (So much for learning idioms and phrases in school) Landing in Paris everything fell into reality and our long awaited trip kicked off. The students of Alpha Arts Academy, Economics Club Mumbai, and SM Shetty College had a wonderful opportunity of crossing the borders and travelling miles for a study tour that was to be a life changing experience for many! We embarked on the trip of our lifetime on 15th of May 2019, an Indian delegation of 37 students and 4 professors (I was one! J), to visit some of the top universities and beautiful historical places of the world. As a part of our 14-day educational tour, we visited the University of Milan, Bocconi University, University of Bologna and the School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University (SAIS Europe, Bologna Campus), interacting with the Faculty Members, eminent Professors, Research Scholars and Students. And the rest of the days we strolled through the picturesque cities of the French Riviera, the cobbled by-lanes of dreamy Italian towns and the awe-inspiring historical landscapes of Greece! French Riviera: Marseille: After arriving in Paris, we rushed off to catch a TGV (train) to Marseille, our first destination of the tour. Located in the Cote D’Azur region in southern part of France, Marseille has an antiquity that dates back to the ancient Greek times. It is also the “oldest city in France” and hence is one of the oldest in Western Europe. Getting out at a very pretty railway station, the rocky seashore, beautiful blue waters and breezy Mediterranean weather of this coastal town welcomed us. Ever since I had started learning French as a second language, I had wanted to travel to France, specifically to the sparkling cities of the Provence and Cote D’Azur (French Riviera). So in spite of a long travel, I was enthusiastic to join our guide for a 3 hour long walking tour of the city. The tour took us around some historic buildings, museums, alleys, birth place of the French National Anthem “La Marseillaise”, Greek and Roman era ruins of the city, churches and many other places of historical importance. The remaining part of the day was free and my friends and I spent it exploring the Vieux Port (Old Port) which is known for its lively marina, seafront cafes and centuries old forts. Sitting on a wooden dock with friends, munching on chips while watching the sun set beyond the moored yachts is what I call a perfect way to end a long long day… Cannes: Next morning we left to explore the most glamorous resort town of the French Riviera, Cannes. And we were lucky enough to visit this “Film City” right when it was hosting the famous Cannes Film Festival! The whole town was buzzing with colours and excitement. We spent a better part of the morning strolling through the luxury streets, admiring the palatial hotels, and top-end boutiques whilst trying to catch a glimpse of a familiar celebrity face on the ‘red carpets’. The breezy Promenade de la Croisette, a waterfront avenue with palm trees, along with its sandy beaches was a sight to behold. Nice: Continuing our journey through the Riviera we arrived at Nice, yet another Mediterranean town of coastal France. Nice sits on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges. Founded by the Greeks and later a retreat for 19th-century European elite, Nice has a grace that attracts people from all over the world. The only way to get to know the real Nice is by strolling through the ochre coloured streets listening to the “Nicois” speaking their own language (Nissart) and by tasting their savoury cooking. And that’s exactly what we did. A city tour with a local guide took us to The Place Massena (a bustling city square with magnificent fountains and gardens), the famous flower market, and medieval streets and forts of the city. A carefree stroll along the picturesque Promenade des Anglais was a different experience all together. It’s arguably the most gorgeous of promenades along with a few pebbled beaches! Our tour ended with the famous Roman Catholic Cathedral in Vielle Ville (old town) and we spent the rest of the evening eating funky flavoured ice-creams, shopping and just idling around in cosy cafes. Monaco: Monte-Carlo: Next on our list was a tiny independent city-state on France’s Mediterranean coastline known for its upscale casinos, yacht-lined harbour and prestigious Grand Prix Motor Race. Yes you guessed it right, Monaco! We arrived at Monte-Carlo, its major district, and were blown away by the elegant belle-époque casino complex and ornate Salle Garnier Opera House. Monte-Carlo has many luxury hotels, boutiques, nightclubs and restaurants. A walking city tour took us to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco and many other luxurious places. We were lucky a second time; We visited Monte-Carlo just a few days ahead of the famous Formula 1 race and hence we could walked through the streets as they were being made ready as the racing tracks for the Grand Prix! Post a leisurely lunch we proceeded to the Fragonard Perfumery factory in the idyllic town of Eze and discovered the manufacturing secrets of perfumes, soaps and cosmetics (I wish we had gone into the Eze village as well). After an eventful day in Monaco and Eze, we returned to Nice and my friends and I ventured out again to see the beautiful town of Nice in its night’s glory! Italy at its best: Milan: Leaving the golden beaches behind, we arrived in Italy. Italy has a slice of everything to offer, from history to fashion, from beaches to rolling mountains, from art and architecture to finger licking good food! Our first stop in this country was at the Fashion capital of the World, Milan! At Milan we visited the Milan Cathedral, called as the Duomo di Milano in Italian. It is one of the world’s largest Gothic cathedrals and is located in the heart of the city. It took almost 600 years to build this architectural masterpiece. Our guide then took us to the Piazza della Scala, a pedestrian central square in Milan which houses the famous and luxurious Opera House. After a city tour we strolled through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It is Italy’s oldest active shopping mall and a major landmark of Milan. The evening was free for shopping but I spent it inside this glass-vaulted arcade sipping hot coffee with my friends in a coffee shop that was more than a century old! It’s for moments like this that I like to travel. The next day was our first University visit of the tour. We visited the University of Milano. The University of Milan is a public teaching and research university which – with 8 faculties and 2 schools and a teaching staff of more than 2000 professors – is distinguished by its wide variety of disciplinary fields. We were welcomed by a host of Professors and a few PhD students who made a presentation on Studying in Italy with emphasis on the admission process, courses available and job opportunities for Indian students. We toured around the university campus and admired the old architecture. Our next stop was at yet another university, the Bocconi University which is a private university in Milan, Italy. Bocconi provides undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education in the fields of economics, management, finance, law, political science and public administration. SDA Bocconi, the university’s business school, offers MBA and Executive MBA programs. Here we interacted with professors and met with 2 Indian students studying there. It was an informative visit. Bologna: After a day full of studies and career prospects, we journeyed further into Italy and found a peaceful retreat in the Emilia-Romagna region. Reaching Tole’, a small village in the province of Bologna, we retired after a long and tiresome day. The next morning we all woke up to chilly winds and a bit of rains. But our day’s itinerary held places of such romantic warmth that we hardly noticed the biting cold. Venice: Today our first stop was at Venice, the dreamy floating city full of canals! Situated in the Veneto region of Italy, one of the northernmost states, Venice is place that has to be on every person’s travel bucket list. The city comprises of more than 100 small islands and has absolutely no roads, just canals! Our guide took us around the city – across the cute bridges on the canals – explaining the intriguing history of the place and pointing out some really beautiful buildings and architectural details along the way. A trip to the glass blowing factory blew us away with its artistic finesse and style. And yet again my friends and I found a cosy little café and sipped on our hot beverages as the chilly breeze began to pick up again. On our way back we visited another romantic town of northern Italy, famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Any guesses? Well, it’s Verona: Verona is a medieval old town which houses a 14th-century residence with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard that is said be “Juliet’s House”. This small town is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, because of its artistic heritage. The city tour took us around the breath-taking medieval forts, draw bridges and lovely cobbled streets. My favourite place was the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra built in the first century. It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances. It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind! Tired but happy we retired for the day and prepared ourselves for the university visits that were to follow on the next day. Bologna: Today we visited the University of Bologna. It is the oldest surviving university in modern...