Thursday, May 31, 2012

Helsinki

Helisnki is stylish, understated chic. The city doesn't try to awe you with a profusion of overpowering cathedrals and mansions,  like London and Paris. Instead, the city manages to be sleek and elegant without too much of a fuss. Walk around its broad streets, spot an impressive neo-Gothic structure and quietly let the city work its charm on you. 






The city has the feel of a slightly large port town, the kind where everyone knows everyone else. Helsinki's jewel is its harbour. Sparkling crystal blue waters, cradled by a lush, green and incredibly well maintained gardens. On a misty day, the fog on the nearby islands creates a magical, Middle-world feel. It was surreal. 





Finalnd is shockingly expensive. Cheap eats don't seem to exist and a tiny train ride can cost you upto 34 euros! My carefully planned budget took a beating. No wonder people in Helsinki seemed soo happy. They must be ridiculously rich to be able to live here. 

I loved Helsinki. It had a beguiling, unpretentious charm about it. I wish I had had more time to explore. If only I had known how charming the city  would be, I would have planned to spend more time there. On second thought, I probably would not have been able to afford it. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Berlin Love: Part I

To tell you the truth, I didn't have very high expectations from Berlin. After all, I was coming here after visiting London, Paris and Switzerland. Sure, Berlin's nightlife was legendary but that's not really my scene. So, I came to Berlin ready to be underwhelmed.

I am happy to report that I was monumentally wrong. In fact, Berlin may even edge out London and Paris. My first night here I went to the East End Galleries to view paintings on the remnants of the Berlin Wall. In many ways, this experience summed up Berlin for me: it is historical, beautiful, terrible, open, seedy, artistic and downright bizarre. Berlin has the one thing that is becoming increasingly rare in a McDonalds dominated world: atmosphere. And lots of it. 








There is graffiti everywhere in Berlin. This in large contributes to its artsy, dingy feel, I think. Sometimes its obvious that the person who has sprayed it is a drunk fool, sometimes its so moving you wonder if the Dalai Lama was wandering the streets of Berlin. Berlin also has bars everywhere: in tumbling old buildings, subway stations, museums, you name a flat surface and they have a bar there. I love it!





If you want to see more fabulous Berlin street art, visit http://berlinstreetart.blog.de/

I did walking tours, visited the Holocaust Memorial and various museums (which I shall talk about it in a different post). The one thing that struck me about Germans was how wonderfully honest they were. There was no covering up or dilution of the country's terrible past. They didn't pin the blame for past state crimes on someone else or blame it on media propaganda (which believe you me would have been the case in India). They were honest, contrite, apologetic, cautious and in my books that is the only way to move forward. 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Museums

Berlin also has some incredible street food. Here's a list of my top 3 places:

a) Mustafa : I adore this place. Their Gemuse kababs are tasty, filling and easy on the wallet. Meatlovers must try their donor kebabs. 




It tastes fabulous

Brave the long queues at Mustafa

b) Burgerweister: I have never been a huge fan of burgers but theirs made me a convert : Huge, juicy and with an explosion of flavours. Vegetarians need not despair. They have a pretty good veggie burger with an interesting mango sauce. 


c) Curry 36: Famed for its Berliner Currywurster, this place is perenially plagued with long queues. There was too much ketchup in it for me to really enjoy the dish but it is something you must try when you are here. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Switzerland

Switzerland is all kinds of beautiful. Lush, green meadows; clear, sparkling streams; virgin, snow-capped mountains - the picturesque beauty stretches on for miles and miles and miles. I don't think there are any wrong turns in this country. Each region has its own distinct charm and I found very little to complain about in my week long stay here. Use the scarily efficient Swiss rail system to get around.








If you can visit only one place in the country, then I highly recommend Montreux. The sight of the towering Alps suddenly giving way to calm sparkling waters is breathtaking. If there is one thing I will be taking away from this trip, it is that image.

        
   






I will also be taking away the many layers of fat I have acquired due to a gluttonous indulgence in chocolates, baked goods and cheese.

However, all of this comes at a price, a very high price. Switzerland is mindblowingly expensive. It's not expensive in a cute, "Oh! I overshot my budget" kind of way. It's expensive in an alarming "Holy cow! I am going to have to get a second job once I get home" kind of way.

If you do have the money or delusionally think you do (like me), then Switzerland is the way to go. The tourist infrastructure is truly amazing, the people are kind, friendly and always willing to help. 

Everything in Switzerland borders on perfection and when you are here, it's really easy to believe that life is a little perfect too. I suggest you go there and indulge in a little day-dreaming but be ready to loosen those purse strings.