April 25th, 2002…..finally, we were on our way to Chennai, from where we would be embarking upon a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe! We reached Chennai in the wee hours of the 26th, and had to reach the airport by 6 in the morning….our first flight was to Dubai, from where we were to take a connecting flight to London…this wasn’t the first time I was flying abroad, but was definitely my first time on an international airline! Emirates was truly rocking, with a small tv screen in front of each seat, and extremely pretty air-hostesses 🙂 …we reached Dubai in the afternoon, and spent another 4 hours at the airport, which was nothing less than a 5-star hotel!
After a long wait, we were on our way to London 🙂 ….it was really exciting to cross so many countries, which I had previously seen only on tv or in my geography textbook….after 9 hours of experiencing some royal treatment on the flight, we reached London at around 7 pm on the same day (thanks to the time difference)..I was really excited to see the London eye and the Big Ben from above, and also a football stadium with fireworks, probably because of a team’s victory! An hour’s drive from the Heathrow airport, and we were at our hotel, Novotel, in Hammersmith.
The next day, i.e 27th, was reserved for a city tour. We got to meet the other people in our team who had arrived slightly earlier than us…..the bus-tour began with a visit to the famous Hyde Park, followed by Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey, and the historical Big Ben, on the banks of the river Thames….this was followed up by the famous wax museum Madame Tussauds, where we got to click photos with all the world-famous personalities 😀 …..a ride on the marvellous London Eye, followed by an experience on the local tube rails ended our story for the day!
We were to leave to Paris on the 28th, and so we arrived at the Waterloo station, where we had to catch the Euro-Star…man, it was such an exhilarating feeling to be crossing the English Channel through a dark tunnel! Before entering into the tunnel, we were in England, and after coming out of it, we were in France! 😀 ….we reached the Gare du Nord station at Paris in the afternoon, and we were immediately taken to an Indian restaurant for an excellent lunch! The evening was beautified by a cruise on the river Seinne, after a visit to the Notre Dame and the mind-boggling Eiffel Tower, with a light drizzle adding to the charm…..The following day was reserved for a visit to Euro-Disney, which was pretty exciting for most people (not for me though, as I am not too fond of amusement parks, especially when its freezing outside and I don’t have a sweater on 😛 )….this was followed up by dinner at another excellent Indian restaurant (in BROAD DAYLIGHT! The sun set at 10 pm 🙂 ), followed by the Lido show at midnight, in the Champs Elysee….Paris looked more beautiful by night than by day 🙂 ……30th was kept mainly for shopping, and for a visit to the Louvre Museum, which houses the world famous Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci!
Come May 1st, and we were off to Belgium. This was our first long road-trip on European land, and we spent time playing Antakshari on the bus 🙂 ….we reached Brussels, the capital of Belgium, in the evening, where we visited the famous Atomium (an atom-like monument), the pissing statue( 😛 ) and mini-Europe. We also saw the NATO headquarters on the way to Antwerp, our destination for the night.
On the 2nd, we set off to the Netherlands, to watch the beautiful Floriade, an international exhibition of flowers and gardening , held every 10 years. It was like paradise on earth 🙂 ….this was followed by a visit to Madurodam, which is is a miniature city located in Scheveningen, The Hague, and is a model of a Dutch town. It was very funny to see small trains and aircrafts moving around (not to forget, small models of people too 😛 ), and I felt like Godzilla among them 😀
Now to the black forests of Germany! Battling rain and a lot of noise in the bus, we reached Cologne, famous for its huge cathedral…after lunch at McDonalds, we visited the Heidelberg Castle, followed by an extremely romantic cruise at Boppard 🙂 …on 4th, we made a visit to Drubba, which is a place famous for its cuckoo clocks in the black-forest region…this was followed by the enthralling Rhine Falls, which is a spectacular showpiece of nature’s beauty.
Here’s where we said goodbye to Germany, and entered the land famous for its chocolates, snow-capped mountains, and bank accounts 😛 ….and what a welcome we got! Thin snow falling slowly, as if it was nature’s welcome gift. We stayed at Hotel Europe in Engelberg. The next two days were spent in exploring the Swiss Alps, with a cable-car ride to Jungfroujoch, which is often called as “The Top Of Europe” …There, we went to a museum, where all carvings were made out of ice! It was brilliant! In the end, we also saw the lake in Interlaken, where many Bollywood songs have been shot 🙂
The next day, we were out of Switzerland, and on the way, we came to a small town called Vaduz. This was the capital of Liechtenstein, a tiny neighbour of Switzerland. Our guide told us that it was the only state in the world which did not have an army! Here, we had a cute little train ride around the city, after which we headed to Austria. We were taken to a place where the famous Swarovski crystals originated. After this, we landed at Innsbruck, our final destination for the day, and we were shown around the sleepy town…
Continuing with our dream journey, we now set out for Italy on the 8th of May. We saw the Statue Of David in Florence, the Leaning tower of Pisa and the museum adjacent to it; but the best place was Venice….this is one of the most romantic places in the world 🙂 ….a gondola ride on the canals of Venice was really spell-binding! We were also shown the St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is an architectural beauty…
Our last destination in Italy was the capital, Rome….here, we were shown many historical monuments of Julius Caesar’s time….the Tiber river, which is the heart of the city, looked very beautiful. We also visited the Trevi fountain, where, people believe that a coin thrown into it will ensure that you visit Rome again….I threw one, so lets see if I get to visit Rome again 😀 ….A visit to the Vatican City was what I was really waiting for! St. Peter’s Cathedral looked much more beautiful than what I had seen in my history textbook…we went to the Sistine Chapel, where we got to see the works of the legendary Michaelangelo, and also the bodies of the previous Popes embalmed….our guide told us that every Christmas, the Pope comes out and wishes the people in 50 different languages! Finally, we made our way to the Marco Simone Golf Resort, our stay for the night….we had an amazing gala dinner that night, as it was our last day in Europe 🙂
On the 10th of May, we boarded a flight back to Dubai, where we spent a day, shopping at the City Center mall, and exploring the extravagant city! On the evening of 11th, the group dispersed to their various destinations in India, and we landed back in Chennai during the early hours of 12th.
I can safely say that this was the best fortnight ever in my life! I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to explore so many places again, but all these memories will be rooted in my mind forever 🙂