A Trip to The Western Edge Of Eastern Europe – Chapter 1: There

Let us begin, as most things do, at the beginning. I took off from the new terminal of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai on the 8th of July and took a Swiss air flight landing first in Zurich and then a connecting flight took me to Frankfurt.

Oh wait, that is not the beginning.

It all started sometime in January, when my friends from Germany descended upon Pune to get married. Naturally, we all got drunk thereafter. One of these friends (Aadinath – hereafter referred to as Enthu[1]) told me of a plan he had to go to Central Europe. He is the types who would have gone for this trip irrespective of whether I joined or not. My joining just gave him a sense of comfort that if he does drink himself to death / gets killed after inadvertently insulting some local deity – someone will be around to transport his corpse back home.

Anyway, this idea being in my head happily coincided with the time where I was realising (the hard way) the absolute futility of trying to plan a holiday with 2 married couples. So one ghastly summer day in April, I thought “Fuck it, let’s go to Europe” and mailed Enthu asking him to count me in. In a week, I had taken leave and booked my flight tickets. In a month we had chalked out an itinerary and booked all our accommodation. My visa process was a breeze and before I knew it, Gupta and Korni[2] were driving me to the airport through mad pouring rain (or what Bombay people call “a light drizzle”) to take my flight.

Now coming back to where I left the first paragraph off. My adventures started as soon as I landed in Frankfurt with Swiss Air forgetting to put my bag onto the Zurich – Frankfurt flight. The lady smiled and said “Your change- over was only 40 mins[3] so while you can run, your bag can’t. Makes sense right?”. Of course my first thought was to shout “THEN WHY THE FUCK ARE YOUR CHANGE OVER TIMES SO TIGHT?” – But I settled with “Fine, when will I get my bag and how”.  Some polite cursing later, I gave her the address of the friend[4] I was staying with in Germany and took my train.

The train journey was a new experience to someone like me used to travelling Indian Railways and expecting delays, random stops and eunuchs demanding money. For starters, when the Germans say the train’s 2nd class compartment will arrive at 10:23am in the E section of the Frankfurt station, come hell or high water the train’s 2nd class compartment will arrive at 10:23am in the E section of the Frankfurt station. Also in the Frankfurt – Cologne stretch, no other trains allowed to run, which also meant the train I was in had the freedom to rip it. So I was actually travelling at over 300 kmph in this stretch. A short 2 hour journey later, I was at the other end of Germany – right on the Western border, literally the last city in Germany – Aachen.

My time in Aachen was not touristy at all. Friends had come from Stuttgart just to meet me and I already had several other friends there. I indulged in typical German things to do such as drinking beer at home, eating döner kebabs, drinking beer on the streets, eating Lebanese food, drinking beer in bars, taking Lebanese food from local shop to bar and eating it along with beer, watching football while drinking beer and coming home and closing the day with a glass of beer. This is also where I saw Germany thrash Brazil 7-1, but that match was so eventful that it was boring and the celebration was fun but subdued. German laws don’t allow drivers to honk, play loud music or drive while drunk – all this happened after the match. Of course, all of them were still driving in lanes and would have moved aside for an ambulance in a jiffy – just shows that Europeans are spoilt with success and have no idea how to celebrate it Indian style by fucking up life for everyone else. Hmph. N00bs.

The next day was spent in chilling and cursing the rain (while my friends were cursing me in the background because I apparently got bad weather to Germany) and booking the last few bus tickets and arranging for some last minute changes in plans.

The next day, Enthu went for his Master’s thesis defense while I went to Cologne to see the city. I loved the fact that you literally walk out of the Railway station into the main square which also houses the stunning Cologne Cathedral. Most of my time was spent in ogling the spectacular cathedral, one of the largest in Western Europe – a magnificent structure that took close to 600 years to complete, from all angles. It took a while for me to completely wrap my mind around the fact that there were literally hundreds of years of history to explore in this one building. After spending about an hour in the cathedral, I took a very stupid decision and proceeded to climb the main tower. When you see pictures of the cathedral you will realise that the tower is very tall – and has over 500 steps. Also if you know me, you will know that I am not fit by any stretch of imagination. Also the charges to climb up to the top are 3 Euros. Long story short – I paid 3 Euros to climb up a medieval tower and almost gave myself a heart attack. To makes things worse, the view at the top was slightly underwhelming. However, this climb was important for one major cultural learning. People from all over the world have vandalised the top of the tower – with “Ian & Jennie from New York were here in 1998” type messages. This is a theme that would come back to us several times in our journey – sometimes we give our own countrymen a little too hard a time for lack of civic sense and discipline but the truth is that these idiots exist everywhere[5]

After nearly dying of exhaustion, I went for a walk around the city centre and relaxed (with Lime juice – because beer after nearly dying didn’t seem like the best idea at the time) and waited for KB to show up. Once KB got there, he took me to get one of more prized souvenirs of my trip – the original “No. 4711” Eau de Cologne named so because the original shop was at 4711, Glockengasse. After this we went to a local brewery and had some delectable Rhineland food – Himmel und Ääd (a blood sausage with apple and potatoes)[6] and Sweinbratten (grilled pork) with the local beer (called Kölsch) served in the traditional manner in thin long glasses of 200ml each. After this we spent some time on the promenade watching the Rhine go by before going to Papa Joe’s Jazzlokal – a local Jazz club with Rhinelandish uncles singing in the dialect of the region (also called Kölsch) – which is so odd that even other Germans don’t understand it.

At the end of the day, after much needless exertion, I proceeded to treat my body to some needless sleep deprivation to catch our 3:45 am train to Nuremberg from where we would take a bus to Prague. Enthu had not slept for 2 days prepping for his presentation and as you can imagine, we hardly slept in the journey and reached Prague nearly dead.

[1] We started with calling this guy Enthu Fresher in 2007. Over the last few years, we have realized the need to drop “Fresher” from the name

[2] May or may not be one of the aforementioned married couples

[3] This was true, I had to run for my life just to make the flight.

[4] A character named Kaustubh Bhat (aka KB) – a freakishly intelligent anti-social creature (much like me, well, except for the freakishly intelligent bit) who disdainfully agreed to come in contact with another human to collect my bag.

[5] Our exact words were “Saale, sab chutiye hain.”

[6] Incidentally, the name means “Heaven and Earth” to depict the contrast of the sauce ingredients used – potatoes which grow under the ground and apples which grow on tall trees

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