"Its all relative",  Travel dairies

European Escapades: Of Cobbled Streets and Picturesque Landscapes!

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 history. We were warmly welcomed by students who made presentations followed by discussions on opportunities for our students. The programme was organised by the Department of Economics, University of Bologna. Later we had a guided tour of The Museum of PILLAZO POGGI, University of Bologna. Such an amazing museum it was! I could have spent days touring it but as we pressed for time, we looked around some wonderful sections of the museums and proceeded for our next university visit.

 

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We had a wonderful interactive session at Johns Hopkins Campus in Bologna. The Director of Admissions Dr Daniela Coleman spoke about studying at SAIS Europe, gave an insight into Scholarships, Career opportunities and life in Bologna in her inspiring presentation.

SAIS Europe is characterized by its international faculty and close-knit community of approximately 200 students, representing over 40 countries. Later we were showed around the campus by Mr.Vinayak Chuni and Ms Minaz who are PhD students and Tutors at the department of Statistics, University of Bologna. We shared a hearty lunch of pizzas (it was late in the afternoon, so we really gobbled them up in no time) in the cosy by-lanes of Bologna as we discussed the potentials and benefits of studying at the University of Bologna.

Post lunch the reminder of the day was at leisure and we spent an eventful time shopping, touring around the city centre and yet again found a small coffee shop where we passed our time singing and laughing till our bellies ached.

 

Pisa:

I need not say anything more about this town or the monument that we saw. Obviously famous worldwide for its Leaning Tower, Pisa is a beautiful town in Italy’s Tuscany region.

We visited the Piazza dei Miracoli where lies the Romanesque, striped-marble cathedral to which the Leaning Tower is the bell tower. Also in the piazza is the Baptistery which is renowned for its acoustics. The piazza also houses the Caposanto Monumentale cemetery. This cemetery contained a huge collection of Roman sarcophagi with Roman and Etruscan sculptures and urns. The city is home of the University of Pisa, which has a history going back to the 12th century and also has the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, founded by Napoleon in 1810.  We visited the campuses and were inspired by their grandeur.

 

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Florence:

Tired yet intrigued by the historical town of Pisa we continued our journey further and arrived into the birth place of renaissance. Florence was everything that I had imagined and more.

The Duomo: Florence Cathedral and its famous cathedral dome, dominates the skyline of Florence with its eight white ribs against a background of terracotta tiles. Florence’s cathedral stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, with the baptistery right across. The cathedral is named in honour of Santa Maria del Fiore and is a vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt. The equally mesmerising bell tower of the church is built by Giotto’s Campanile.

Walking around these beautiful buildings, our guide took us to the famous Piazza della Signoria. This place has been the centre of political life in Florence since the 14th century with the prominent Palazzo Vecchio overlooking the square. It was the scene of great triumphs in the history of the city.

The square has “The David” (the original is in the Galleria dell’Accademia) by Michelangelo, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1534) to the right of the David, The Nettuno (1575) by Ammannati and Giambologna’s equestrian statue of Duke Cosimo I (1595) is an elegant portrait of the man who brought all of Tuscany under Medici military rule.

The Loggia dei Lanzi to the right of Palazzo Vecchio functions as an open-air sculpture gallery. It was designed by Orcagna in 1376 and its curved arches foretell Renaissance classicism. The gallery exhibits a few amazing specimens of art such as the statue of Perseo holding Medusa’s head, by Benvenuto Cellini (1554), and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines.

Right behind this open art gallery is the Galleria degli Uffizi, Italy’s top art museum. This gallery houses Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and lots of other works, including works by the early Renaissance pioneers Fra Angelico and Masaccio, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (we couldn’t visit we museum unfortunately, it had an unending queue).

Completely in awe with the architecture around us we stumbled upon the picturesque and an everlasting symbol of Florence, the Ponte Vecchio or the Old Bridge. Ponte Vecchio is a very romantic spot in Florence, with its great views over the river and of the bridge itself. As we had an hour to kill, we found a small and cosy coffee shop yet again and sipped hot coffee while watching the sunset on the most “picture perfect” bridge in the world!

In hindsight, it was a great way to say goodbye to this beautiful country. And of course a 4 course authentic Italian dinner just perfected the day in every way possible…totally in love with this day! sigh

 

Mesmerising Greece:

 

Greece has been on my travel bucket list since the times I studied about its ancient civilisations in school. So obviously I was super excited to travel to this land of fantastic beaches, spotless sands, centuries of history, and traditional towns. And while embarked on this dream of my lifetime, the mode of transport that took me towards it was by far the most exhilarating form of travel. We took a Cruise to Greece!

 

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We arrived at the Italian port of Ancona to board our cruise that took to us to Patras in Greece. Our 22 hours long cruise journey was an out-of-this-world experience for me. It was calming and serene to be surrounded by the seemingly limitless Adriatic Sea. The sparkling blue waters, cold breeze and the awesome company of my friends and students was enough to get me high on life. We trooped around the cruise, exploring its various decks, drinking hot coffee, staring off into the horizons and catching up on some much needed solitude. It was a journey I wished never ended. But the destination was enticing too…

 

Delphi:

Arriving in Patras, we proceed to Delphi. Delphi is one of the most famous historic sites in Greece. Situated on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, Delphi (formerly called as Pytho), is an ancient town and seat of the most important Greek temple and oracle of Apollo. It was also known as the navel of the world by ancient Greeks. The ancient site at Delphi is a UNESCO-listed monument.

We had a few minutes to spare before our local guide joined us and so we found a cosy little coffee shop yet again and had our first tasting of authentic Greece coffee. With our guide we toured around the Delphi Archaeological Museum which displays a fascinating collection of finds from the site, including friezes, statues, votive offerings, and stele. Studying these beautiful exhibits and their history, we soaked in the ancient ways of the Greeks before we took the “Sacred Path” through the Sanctuary of Apollo, leading from the gateway uphill to the Temple of Apollo.

Famous for the “Oracles of Apollo”, it was here that Pythia (the Priestess) would sit and utter the words of the Oracle, sent to her by Apollo. The sanctuary was a very important place and most of the political decisions were taken only after consultation with ‘Oracles of Delphi’ which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals.

 

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We also saw the unique 6th century BC Polygonal wall which supports the platform of the Temple of Apollo and the Treasury of the Athenians which is a Doric style temple that housed the offerings made to Apollo.

We saw the beautiful Sanctuary of Athena, the Tholos (regarded as a masterpiece of Classical architecture, it is a circular platform consisting of a combination of Doric and Corinthian pillars), and the Castalian Springs (two fountain springs where the priestess, Pythia, and the devotees came to bathe and purify themselves before entering the Temple of Apollo) from afar and descended the ancient pathway, overwhelmed.

 

Athens:

If Delphi was overwhelming, Athens was a step ahead. I can write another full length blog on the history of Athens, its archaeological importance and the story of one of the world’s oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years!

This capital city of Greece is sprinkled with its heritage peeking through every nook and corner of it. Athens sports a lot of ancient monuments and works of art – the most famous of all being the Parthenon – Roman, Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of Ottoman monuments. This beautiful city is almost like a chronicle depicting the architectural history from ancient times to modern.

Meeting up with our guide we visited the Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological museum that houses all the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. Then we proceeded to see the most iconic monument of Western civilisation, the Parthenon. This imposing structure, the Temple of Athena, is one of the wonders of the ancient world, a spectacular building that symbolizes some of the highest achievements of mankind in architecture. The Parthenon temple that dominates the hill of the Acropolis at Athens was built in the mid-5th century BCE.

 

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After strolling through the other important structures of the Acropolis, we went to tour the city of Athens and admired the Neo-classical and Hellenic architectural buildings and the Olympic Athletic Centre of Athens “Spiros Louis”.

After grabbing a quick bite we had the reminder of the day free to explore the streets. So we headed to the oldest neighbourhood in Athens, the Plaka. There were hundreds of small local shops and restaurants with several ancient Greek and Roman ruins scattered around as well as some beautiful 19th century and older buildings and several Byzantine churches. It was a feast for our eyes, taste buds and our pockets! Mingling with the Athenians there, we danced to the songs of our heart and spent a very agreeable evening in the nearby Monastiraki Flea Market.

The last night of our tour had to be a bonanza of everything. We attended a ‘Greece Cultural Night’ in Taverna Plaka where engrossed in live Greek music and dance concert we fell in love with this country and its people all over again…

The next day we had a good number of hours to kill before set off for the airport. So we headed to ‘The Mall Athens’ and spent our few last hours in Greece shopping and munching on Greek cookies and pizzas.

 

However reluctant, we all arrived at the airport and checking in for our flight back home we bid a goodbye to all these beautiful cities. We made great memories and new friends. All the University visits and educational city tours have inspired us. This unique and inspiring initiative was taken by The Economics Club Mumbai in association with Alpha Arts Academy along with Mumbai’s top educational tour company ‘Happy Miles’.

 

“I am not the same having seen the moon on the other side of the world”

 

 

Indeed a great experience it was!

 

© 2019 Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
All Rights Reserved

Hi, I'm a nature lover, a trekker and an ardent reader from Mumbai, India. After playing Lawyer for a time, I shifted to my passion and love – History! A 9 to 6 job as a Senior Executive: Research, Content Writer and Editor helps me earn by bread and butter which is ultimately spent on travel and food :)

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