Friday, January 28, 2011

Trenitalia to Genova (May 22, 2010)

Crossed the italian border a hour back and purchased the tickets at Ventimiglia to the ride into Genove and Pisa from there on. Mangesh should be waiting for me at Pisa to pick us up.

Nice was heaven again. A city built on the pebbled beach of the mediterranean it has hills to both sides and is nestled in between them. To its east is the state of Monaco and an extremely rich city in Monte Carlo.

We landed here on Thursday evening and checked in to Nice Home Sweet Home which is a bed and breakfast I had booked by dropping an email to the owner Genevine. Out of all the places I stayed on this trip so far, this was the best by a far margin, as we got a huge room with a TV, a balcony overlooking the street, two good beds and it was very clean. After dropping our bags we headed off to the beach, and took a stroll on Promenade de Anglis. This is a strip of pavment which runs parallel to the beach and one can walk or sit on the benches and view the people or the sunset.

Also this beach too has loads of topless women seated around. We went on the promenade, and then took a stroll through the gardens out of which the Jardain Anglais is a must see. Finally a stroll through the old city and the port and we were tired.

There was one more destination on our walking trip which we decided to undertake as the sun had not yet set. We walked up a hill in Nice to the Le Chateau to get some good views of the city and the French Riviera itself. We reached at 7.30 and took many photos until we were told that it closes at 7. So we had to get out of there through some side gate and make it back to the B&B.

That night I had the urge to dance and Nice is known to have some good nightlife we went out on Rue Massena and the old town at 10pm. We saw many many bars with a lot of people eating till even 11 in the night, but no dance clubs. Tired we decided to head back and drink the bottle of wine which had been purchased in Toulouse.

The next day after a hearty french breakfast we set off to lie on the beach. The beach is good but very pebbled. As it was still not summer the water was cold, and not many people ventured into the water. This beach drops off quite fast and it is quite deep.

In the afternoon we went to the Musee Massena to see a very well maintained old house. As the next day we were planning of heading to Monte Carlo we decided to get some information at the tourism office. Luckily we came to know that there are no luggage lockers in Monte Carlo, and we changed our plan and decided to head to Monaco that afternoon itself.

The bus to Monaco costs a flat 1 Euro and takes 45 minutes. We got off at the Place de Armes, went uphill to the palace and walked the old town checking out the Cathedral and the stunning views.

After that was my favourite part – we walked the F1 street circuit of the Monte Carlo GP, and as it had just happened last weekend there were still some stands, tires and traces left over from the weekend. It was fun walking one of the greatest circuits of racing, and along with that we also took in the Monte Carlo casino. This roughly took us two hours, but we pretty much ran about. A better suggestion is a half day visit here.

Looking at the casino and the people around you can see the richness of this place. Even the cabs are Mercedes brands, and we saw every type of car – from porsches to lamborginis in a matter of 5 minutes.

That night we headed back and ventured out again. This time we found a neo rock place called tapas something. This was pretty cool with two live bands, some decently priced drinks and a cover of only 2 euro. Also, listening to english songs which I had never heard of before made me realise how much I have lost touch with music in general and rock in particular.

Today morning was more of the same with a visit to the beach, and an interesting museum in the Contemporary art museum which I would recommend. It is a look at the newer age of art and is quite fascinating. Plus it is free.

That ended our france part of the trip and we bought tickets on the regional to Ventimiglia from Nice for 6.30 euros to head across the border and into Italy.

Nice – again highly recommended.

TGV to Nice (May 20, 2010)

Marseille is a mix of cultures. It seems Alexander Dumas called it the meeting place of the world, and it sure does look like it. The surprising part was that we two and maybe another two Indians were seen during our entire stay here. Hmmm...i wonder where they all went!

Coming back to Marseille, the moment you exit out of the station you feel like you are in some video game set in the middle ages. The streets are small, and from the top of the stone staircase in front of the St Charles station you can see a basilica overloooking the city.

We dropped our bags at the Hotel Vertigo which doubles as a hostel and headed off to explore this city. The itinerary was simple Рwalk to the Vieux Port along La Canebi̬re and then head off into one of the most ancient district in Europe called Quartier du Panier. Just taking in the sights is so mind blowing, and the view of the forts from the port and also the meditteranean sea beyond is something to behold.

We fell in love with this place almost immediately and were repenting staying here for a shorter time than in Toulouse. Exploring the small nooks and crannies of Quartier du Panier could have taken two days by themself. These streets are not very safe in the night but as the sun seemed to go down only at 9pm we had loads of time to explore.

As we were hungry we dropped into a small grocery corner on one of these streets, and the propreitor along with one more dude tried to chat with us. We understood that he said 'Indian' and the next thing out of his mouth was 'Amithhaa Bachhan'. We were amazed that he knew Amitabh, and it was such a honour to see that people here too enjoyed good cinema. And even more amazed when they said that he is an Artist. Amitabh – if you are reading this, you have some huge fans of yours in Marseille.

Let me interrupt here as I look out at the countyside flowing outside oin this train. It is beautttifuulll – the French Riviera looks stunning. I assume heaven looks like this!

Coming back to Marseille. Our last stop of the day was a hike up Rue Notre-Dame to the basilica with the same name. The basilica is quite grand but nothing beats the view from top. The port, the sea and the mountains are exquisitely laid out and there are so many photo ops – I dont know which to upload on facebook!

After spending about an hour we walked down to take a look at the Abbey and then to the hostel.

Our dinner was at a restaurant called 'Ivoire Restaurant' and it is a must eat place if you want to try African cuisine. The lady is called Mama Africa and she is from Cote d Ivory, and it is a different experience. Try the jus de gingembre, a refreshingly spicy ginger drink while you are here.

That night was the first night this trip we slept before midnight and it was a good decision as we woke up before 7 to head down to the beach. We had to check out early as you cannot check out after 10 and we were not sure we would return by then. After dropping our luggage at the hostel storage we headed off to catch the bus #83 at the Vieux Port.

The bus costs 1.5 euro one way and a 30 minute ride takes you to sort of a beach and park rolled into one. It is nothing great but there are some good views of the water and the mountains in the background. A pretty good end to a different experience in Marseille. This is a suggested journey for anyone wanting to check out the French Provence region, and even if not a place one should go to for something different.

CORAIL to Marseille (May 19, 2010)

Stepped on to France soil at around 8pm on the 17th(Monday). Along the way we got a glimpse of the medittaranean sea beating along the Spanish mountain coastline. Also called as the Costa Brava it reminds me of things which I have still planned to see, and the beauty of these places.

The ticketmaster at the counter here at Cerbere spoke English, and we quickly got our tickets which we had booked through the internet on tgv-europe by handing over the credit card and the confirmation number. Then onto our first French train to Toulouse. These trains I must say are really fast and my experience was superb.

We checked in to the Residence Jolimont at midnight. This place cannot be booked online, and one has to drop them an email. We got a double bedroom for 33Euros a night which was quite a good deal. That night saw us sleep early.

The next day we headed off to The Capitole which is a prominent building in Toulouse, and right in front of it is a huge square with outdoor eateries and small markets. After romaing here for a bit we headed off to the Saint Sernin cathedral, the biggest in Europe. Also there is another cathedral – the name of which I forget and a gothic cathedral called Jacobin which is also worth a visit. Most of these are free to enter.

We walked along the river along the promenade and spent some time lying on the grass along the shores. Finally before heading home we got a shot of coffee in one of the cafes, and although quite good was really really small. Chawarma and Kebab was our take out for the evening.

That night we headed back around the general area of the Capitole. In the afternoon while we were shopping around the Capitole, which has quite a few pedestrian friendly shopping stores lined along, we had been to a puma store where the guy at the counter had told us about a place called 'The Wallace'.

Although a bit expensive, we had a good time sipping a Kir Royal and a bottle of 1492 argentinian red wine, and sitting outside under the stars.

This was quite a relaxing pleasent outing in what is pretty much a hectic trip and it felt good to get it. Toulouse is not a must see city by any stretch of the imagination but if you have to think of a day trip or are passing by, this city is worth visiting. And as an added bonus it is quite inexpensive for France.

Today morning we caught the train out to Marseille and as I am seated in this wonderful train, I look up at the french wine bottle in my bag and think of the places still out there waiting for me. Me and Nik were talking about our next trip already and with so many continents, so many countries and even the current countries still having lots to see – it sure is going to be a long journey ahead.

RENFE to Cerbere (May 17, 2010)

The two days spent in Barcelona were two of the most wonderful of my life. Barcelona is a huge city and it is so easy to get lost in its winding streets and alleys.

The architecture too is out of this world and nothing symbolises this better than the still unfinished La Sagrada Familia by the maestro Gaudi. This forms one of the tallest skyscrapper in Barcelona and is a sight to behold.

To get from the airport to the city there is a bus service (4+ EUR), and also a RENFE train service (3 EUR). The bus is more convenient and takes you to Catalunya square, while the train is inexpensive, but has more stops including the Sants train station.

The hostel we stayed in is the Sant Jordi on Arago. It is a wonderful party hostel and I would recommend it to someone who wants to have wild nights of drinking and partying. We landed on Saturday night and went out for a few drinks at La Oveja Negra just off Las Ramblas were i got a pitcher full of Sangria and that was friggin' awesome. After this tapas at a nearby bar and finally sleep took over at around 2.

Next day we were off for a quick walk through Las Ramblas to the beach. Las Ramblas is a popular pedestrian street with lots and lots of people about. Be wary of pickpockets as it has a reputation for it. Nearby is Catalunya Square which is also a recommended location to be at.

The beach is nice, but not lots of people venture into the water. Looked like a lot of people were sunbathing topless, and I have to say that this beach had a lot of topless women.

After our time in the sun we roamed about in the old streets of Barcelona near the Cathedral and various museums. It was wonderful to get lost here and the streets were even more stunning as we walked through them.

After 3pm on Sunday entrance is free to the Musee Picasso, and we entered to take a look at the masters work. Being not too into art we liked it, but couldnt understand it. It is a worthwhile experience especially when it is for free.

Finally our last stop was the Sagrada Familia, and along the way we also took in the Arc de Triomf. Gaudis masterpiece is worth taking a look at, even from the outside it is a stunning vision of one who could only be said is a mad man, but it is beautiful. The cross, the way he potrays the disciples, the words written on it – its a cathedral fit for a big budget hollywood movie.

Tired we returned home, and the soccer game was on at 7.30, and if FC Barcelona won against Vallajedo they would win the La Liga. They duly did it 4-0 while we drank sangrias, and that blew the entire city apart. There was dancing on the streets, and not to be outdone pretty much the entire hostel was out screaming and dancing on the roads and Catalunya square. This experience will rate very highly in my memories of this trip.

After lots of dancing and drinking and a bit of singing at a Karaoke bar nearby me and Nik headed home for some well deserved sleep.

Monday morning saw us take the Funicular to Mount Montjuic which has a castle at the top. This provides some stunning views of the entire city of Barcelona and for me is a trip worth taking. There is a cable car which takes you from this funicular to the castle but at 10 EUR i would advise that one just walks the 20 minutes to the top for a really wonderful sight.

Nik enjoyed this and I have to say I was very excited to see how much we had walked laid out in front of us. And when I bid goodbye to Sophie at the front desk of the hostel I did feel emotional to leave this city too. I want to come back here again and spend more than 2 days – maybe a week, or a month or a year. This isnt going to happen – I know that, but one can always wish!

My next stop is Toulouse, and our trip involved buying a train ticket at the Sants station for a regional train to Cerbere, and once we get there we already have a ticket booked to Toulouse on the french site tgv-europe. We will be back in Spain in June at the end of our trip, but for now its Adios Spain and Bon Jour France.

Geneva Airport (May 15, 2010)

Finally I am on the trip which already is turning out to be the highlight of all my trips so far – Backpacking through Europe.

This will be quite a extensive and a very quick run through a few of the most beautiful and historic cities in Europe. My flight is a Swiss Air flight from New York – JFK to Barcelona. In between I got a lengthy stopover in Geneva, Switzerland and me and bro headed off to discover this city.

Since Switzerland is now part of the Schengen it is easy to visit on a stopover and no need of another visa.

The currency is the Swiss Frank (CHF) which is currently pretty even to the USD. There are UBS cash machines at the airport when you exit baggage claim and we had no problems in withdrwaing a few CHF.

Geneva is a beautiful city hedged in between mountains and is quite picturesque. It is easy to get from the Airport to the city and the bus #10 takes you directly. Also while exiting out of baggage claim there is a machine which dispenses free tickets for 80 minutes. So we were able to ride into town for free, and paid 3 CHF each when getting back.

There is a tourist information center right next to Gare Cornavin, and from there just walk on the Mont Royal bridge with the backdrop of the huge fountain Jet d'Eau to reach the English Garden, where there is a photo op with the huge clock on the garden. Today was a bad day as it was cloudy, cold and breezy because of which the fountain was not operating and we missed on one of the sights of Geneva.

A short walk takes one into the old town, and the huge Cathedral St Pierre. Entrance is free, and to get to the tower one has to shell out an extra 4 CHF which is worth it. The view from top is breathtaking with the city of Geneva showing against the Alps.

Right in front of it is Rue du Marche, with a lot of window shopping to be done here. We found inexpensive and a huge collection of swiss chocolates at Manor, a supermarket near the train station . I would have loved to spend a day more in this city, but my proper trip is calling and I leave Geneva hoping I will return one day when I make a tour of this beautiful country.

LaGuardia Central Terminal (May 1, 2010)

I am on my way to Columbus, Ohio. This is sort of an unusual trip as Columbus is not renowned to be a very touristy city.

It was in my fave book – 501 Must Visit Cities, and the tickets on American were for just 99USD roundtrip, except that they were from NYC, which is okay with me as I fly more from New York rather than Boston anyway. The last factor which prompted me to do this trip was that it was a very leisurely sort of trip which is rather different for me, and also will get me in travel mode before I go on the big bang European sojourn.

My place of stay after a long time will be a proper hotel – The Ramada to the east of the Columbus airport. So you may call it more of a proper weekend getaway rather than a backpacking cheapass trip (frugal would be the better word). Looking forward to the college crowd, and a good Saturday night out at a dance club.

Will keep you updated on places of interest as I go about, which as far as I can see are not too many

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Union Station Hartford (Apr 3, 2010)

On my way to New Haven again to meet Meg, and had the time to pen down a few more thoughts.

Last post was about how to obtain an visa to Europe – the Schengen. This post I will try to cover a few train sites and how to book tickets on them.

Booking tickets on European Train/Rail sites:

My first country is Spain, but I did not use the train site to book my tickets, as the tickets between Madrid and Barcelona are cheaper if I fly. There are lots of airlines on these two routes which are low cost – Veuling and Air Europa being two examples, and hence I booked on them. For schedules and prices on trains in Spain you can refer to which is in Spanish. I read somewhere that there is an english component to it too.

Next up – France. This is an extremely easy site to book on and after hearing complaints that stuff is in French, you realise though that they have really cheap rates for tickets especially if you book 60 to 90 days in advance. The rates go up later. You cannot also book more than 90 days before your journey.

The French rail site is, which is in French, but there are useful tips on how to navigate on this on seat61, and also I read an article on

There is an english version called, which is exactly the same, and even though I have heard that their prices are more than voyages-sncf, for me I was able to find the same rate. Only difference was that the french site gives online ticket options on more routes, and also there is an option to hold tickets on the french language site.

This should not be an issue if you already know your dates, and also if you can pick up your tickets at the ticket counter. They say that non chip-and-pin cards like american credit cards do not work on automatic machines in France, but do so at the ticket counter. On any of the two sites mentioned above, they work fine and you should not have any issue booking tickets.

Do not book on or as their rates are insanely high, and also the routes displayed are lesser. By default if you pick your country as America or UK on tgv-europe you are directed to them. So select France and you can then pick up your tickets at the counter or online. For me there was India and no issues popped up.

After France, the next destination is Italy on the calendar, and although ticket bookings are open 90 days in advance, and there are cheaper tickets till 15 days before the journey, you will most probably not be able to book them unless you have an Italian or maybe european card.

All international credit cards have stopped working since March of this year, and even before that they said that the barely 20% of the cards used to work. The suggestion given is to check the schedules and try to book as early as possible when you land in Italy from the train station.

The trains are very very rarely full, and the Italian ticket machines accept the credit cards unlike their french counterparts. Also, you may be eligible for an Amica fare if booked 24 hours in advance which may cut the rate by 20% on certain trains.

If you want to try your luck at the Italian site (like I did and failed), the url is, and this has an english language option.

The Austrian site is the best site I have seen for booking tickets. Absolutely no hassles, and they always give you online tickets which is so easy to handle. They also start from 30 to 90 days before, and every route usually has a few tickets at cheap rates.

For example Salzburg to Prague is 64 Euros for 2nd class on their site, but they have 8 seats for 39 euros which is a huge saving. These tickets are only valid for those times, so if you miss your train then you are out of luck. But for planners like me this helps a lot.

The Austrian site is, and this too has options for english.

Last site I tried for booking tickets was for the Munich-Salzburg leg of my trip and the german site was If you are a planner this is the best resource for schedules. Every site has schedules for cities they serve, but displays almost all cities. You can plan a trip from Madrid to Prague on this site, and it will display you all the routes for a day. In this regard this is an essential site to any Euro rail plan.

They display prices for the tickets they sell, and for me as I booked in advance I got a cheap fare from Munich to Salzburg. This site too is hassle free to book from, except that they may not offer online options on their site for all routes they sell.

Now that I have laid the options out for the countries I am visiting it should make it a bit more easier to book tickets.

I am not a fan of the rail passes as they cost around 600USD and are not for planners like me. If you plan and check the schedules and prices, the search may be tiresome, but the gains are huge. I pretty mcuh will be doing this trip for half the Rail Pass cost, by booking early and also avoiding the supplements which travellers using the Rail Passes have to pay.

A bit of research always help whether you be flexible of fixed in you planning!