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A Traveler's Saga

Photo taken at Plitvice National Park, Croatia by Vibhor Dhote Oh! What are these days I have found myself in! The bagpacks I carry n...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Week 1 At Aarhus – A few mistakes and chasing “Goons” away

I have always been a loner; I have embraced living alone, visiting places on my own, eating to my heart’s content alone. However, when I reached my flat at Aarhus I didn’t feel as liberated as I usually do- mostly because I don’t enjoy cooking. There was no food in the house; I missed the coffee Harsh made for all of us in his apartment at Copenhagen, I missed Vinay’s home-made Theplas. That night I don’t remember doing anything else than just sleeping with my jeans on – something I couldn’t imagine doing back in India.

Aarhus is a lovely place. It doesn’t have a lot of people and there are only a few places where you’d find crowd in the late evenings. The three major buildings that help you with your directions if you don’t have GPS are – AroS museum, DOKK1 building and another building called Garrison F. I am not a fan of using GPS and hence, I enjoyed getting lost and finding my way back to my house using some buildings and streets as landmarks.

I remember my journey from Copenhagen to Aarhus was not that easy. I had confirmed from the app RailPlanner that a train was there at 8:55am. I checked the time and platform again on the display screens at Copenhagen Central Station. To be double sure, I asked the train information centre who confirmed that the platform was 7 and the time was 8:55am. And before boarding the train I also asked a security person there who confirmed that this was the train leaving to Aarhus. When I was aboard I had to stand for half an hour to let others sit since they had reservation and also since it was not a Mumbai local train where you could scold others to get your way out. People waited here patiently to let others settle in their seats.

The train went to the exact stations mentioned on the app. But when I got ready to get down with all my bags I see that the station was different. I recall there was a Danish announcement and 90% people got down at Vejle; I couldn’t find out if it was something I needed to know. After waiting for three more stations to pass I realized next station was Brande, 95kms away from Aarhus. I got down from the train to an empty station; Brande is a small railway town with a population of 7000 and only two buildings from where I could see.

I missed the next train to Aarhus from Brande which was just 12mins away only because I was on the wrong platform this time. There were only two platforms and I didn’t check the display screen this time. I just assumed that the platform I got down on wouldn’t be the one for a train going in the opposite direction – wrong. The next train arrived on the same platform and I missed it.

It’s been a year staying in Gurgaon and all I know is to not talk to strangers, not disclosing too much information. So, when I was finally about to reach Aarhus from Herning (I took a train from Brande to Herning) I remember being scared when an old man in tattered clothes and a colourful necklace made of beads, kept staring at my luggage. He finally said, “It’s too heavy, isn’t it? Where are you traveling to?”

I said I am going to study in Aarhus BSS, so I am here to stay for a year, and my friends would be here to help me with the luggage – I lied. He then spoke to another man in the train in Danish and they both started laughing. He kept reading my name tags on my bags without looking away for a second; I was uncomfortable. When we reached the station, the other Danish guy just went in front of me while the old man was behind me. Without asking, the guy in front of me just pulls my luggage and then I leave no second in between to say,”No. That’s okay. I brought it all the way here anyway.”
He then says pointing at the old man, “Yeah, I told him the same, you need to take it to your house yourself anyway.”

I am pretty sure he was trying to help but the old man did give me the jitters- the fearful paranoid woman that I am. When I had to go from the station to my apartment in Aarhus, I made sure he didn’t see me alone. Before I left I caught a glimpse of him walking leisurely in the station, observing people, observing things.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Day 2 and 3: 30,000 steps in the Search for the Unknown

Sometimes it’s great to wake up in the morning and be ignorant about the proceedings of the day. You sit and enjoy your cup of tea while someone else plans the entire day for you. Day 2 at Copenhagen demanded only one thing from me – to get ready for the day. While Harsh’s acquaintance, who we became friends with by the end of the day, Isa Oli had the day planned out for us, while our only job was to meet her at the Copenhagen Station.

Isa brought her friend and ex-colleague Stephanie along, and we went to see the famous bronze statue of The Little Mermaid. This iconic statue is more than a 100 years old, and it sits on a rock symbolizing Denmark – you may find its picture on many souvenirs in gift shops. Isa told us that the statue’s original head was once sawn off and a replacement was required to be made.

It was a great day for us - although every place in the city is beautiful, right from trivial things like the traffic to the greenery around, we visited some really important places. I saw windmills from a distance which made me all cheered up since I had always wanted to see one. Then there was the Amalionborg Palace where the Danish royal family lives, the Danish Embassy, the Opera House, and of course, great food at Papiroen. We not only crossed a bridge that was capable of opening up to let ships pass by but we also saw one opening and closing.

But apart from all the sight-seeing I was amazed also by how helpful Isa and Stephanie were in showing us around. I fail to understand why I see greatness amidst strangers and not amidst people I know really well. Is it that I take them for granted? They say we know the value of a person only when they’re gone, and I often understand people more in retrospect then when I am actually with them. I apologize too late; I realize the reasons too late. I am a difficult person when it comes to “dealing” with people. When it comes to places, most of the spellings of the places mentioned here in the blog are wrong because I just failed to find the Danish O easily and I am too sleepy to make an effort for the same.

Yesterday (Day 2) made us walk for 30000 steps; when in MDI, the maximum I walk is 12000 steps in a day and my average is 8000. By the end of the day I was tired by all the walking and needed a bed soon. Somehow, Vinay was not at all tired even by midnight and he wished we weren’t too. Thankfully Harsh’s shoes hurt (as evil as it sounds for me to be thankful about it) and we decided we were done for the day.

If you have taken an ISIC card for your Euro trip or are planning to take one, I might want to inform you that we could not avail any discount yet – not at Tivoli Gardens, not at Rosenborg Castle, not at Studenthuset.

The best Danish word I learnt is Tak that stands for “Thank You” – an utterly cute and simple word for conveying a simple meaning which we make so complex, so less said, so less heard. Today (Day 3) we just walked around the Central part of the city, mostly because I didn’t have enough energy left, and enjoyed some hot chocolate in the evening in one of the TGIFs. I tried some Danish cuisines like Smørrebrod (an open sandwich) and Kløbenboller both involved bread, while the former was bread with vegetables and topped with fillet fish, pickle herring or vegetables and mashed potatoes, the latter is embedded with raisins and cherries.

It’s a beautiful place and the best thing for a person like me who can’t cross a road in India without disturbing at least one more soul, is the traffic rules that are followed by the book. The days are long and nights are silent- so silent that it’s almost creepy to sit alone at home doing nothing. Today it rained all day, churning out various thoughts and emotions in me. While yesterday was a happy day, today was more of a conversational one.

A disappointment I created for myself was of assuming, which I remember discussing with a college-mate Gautam, that things are going to change – I’d get more time to think, I’d get more time alone, it would be transformational. I was disappointed to find that my thoughts and behaviour are still the same; well, I can’t expect things to change overnight anyway. Probably this trip can still turn out to be transformational or maybe this would be nothing but another long vacation full of various experiences – my assumptions will only put a lot of pressure on Europe, ain’t it?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Day 1: The Semi-solo Journey to Denmark

I have a lot to talk about – enough to not be allowed by the international calling charges to communicate over phone to my friends what I have to tell, enough that when I return to India there would probably be a lot more to talk about than the spare time I will get to do so.
So here I am, for those who are traveling solo or with friends to a new country; here I am, for my friends and family who would like to know my story.

I remember returning from Budge Budge, West Bengal to Guwahati, Assam alone once and then telling the entire story to a bunch of my friends while they sat in the hostel room listening to it patiently. That’s the exact way I usually like to narrate the events that happen to or around me.
Anyway, I start this journey at Delhi International Airport waving good-bye to my friend Shikha’s parents as they hug her and me. Since my Visa arrived a little late, I had to manage all the packing, Eurail pass, cards and cash in a duration of a couple of days. My parents left the day the Visa was received, which was actually supposed to be one day after my previous traveling date that had to be cancelled.

We enter the Airport to find another friend, Digvijay waiting there already. Both Digvijay and Shikha are my batchmates at MDI Gurgaon and are travelling to Hungary for their student exchange program. I, on the other hand, am supposed to report at Aarhus University, Denmark. Our flight was common till Doha, from where I was to go to Copenhagen (because let’s face it, flights to Copenhagen are cheaper than those to Aarhus) and then to Budapest.

Just after my boarding pass was taken I find a security personnel calling me only to find that I had left my wallet (that had all the important stuffs from my cards to ID card to cash) and my phone which I had just bought a day ago (with Insurance, mind you :-P) at the counter itself. Shocked by my own carelessness and the aware about the fact that I had to travel alone to Copenhagen and then to Aarhus by train, carrying all the luggage of three months, I decided, influenced by the duo with me, to buy a travel bag which is worn like a belt at the Airport. I ended up spending 1700 rupees on a bag that had a lot of slots to put various stuffs including my eurail pass (you find it for 600 outside Airport). I later realized it was just too big for me to manage and the belt was too long for my waist.
Anyway, the travel bag has been of great help as of now. Shikha calls it “code red”, that “you may lose anything but this”.  The clumsy absent-minded person that I am, I made a few mistakes like forgetting in which slot I kept my passport and letting my other phone fall to the ground while someone else gave it to me (yeah, I did that) but once I was all by myself at Doha I took great care of my belongings. Sometimes when you’re alone you turn out to be more responsible than when you are with people who care for you. My ex-colleague and friend Rahul Ghosh used to call it – “putting your guard down when you’re with family.”

It was when I was on the flight to Copenhagen that I realized how much I was going to miss my family and a handful of my friends – the comfort and luxury of being around them. I went all emotional and it was then that I decided to write this. Because I tend to not show them how much I care, but I hope they know, I hope they read this.

The flight from Doha to Copenhagen was of 6 hours’ duration and was spent watching movies like The Intern (I absolutely loved this) and Mothers’ Day (which is not a great movie but it got me all emotional).

Once I reached Copenhagen I realized the counter to get my Eurail pass activated gets closed at 8:00pm while I was there at 9:00pm. One of the ladies working there who was helping others get their tickets automatically on the machines, checked out my Eurail pass as if she saw it for the first time. After a few questions she said she could activate it for me. So, she reopened the counter and did the same – God bless her.

Once I reached the metro station, there is a map to check out the routes which helped me realize that I couldn’t take the 9:15pm train to Osterport since Hellerup stands beyond that station. I waited for the next one at 9:24pm to Helsinger that would cross by Hellerup. I had no idea if it stops in each station mentioned but I got in anyway after asking a stranger.

The train was supposed to reach Hellerup at 9:53pm, so by 9:50pm I was standing near the exit door, alone, with my rucksack on my back, my laptop bag on my front, my travel bag on my waist, and one hand carrying a airbag sitting on my VIP bag and the other hand free to open the door by pressing the button.

I almost panicked when at 9:53pm the train stopped but the doors did not open. It was dark outside and I didn’t know if I reached the station and the windows are tinted or if I reached a halt before the station. At 9:54pm the train moved while the screen showed the next station. I panicked and asked the only person who was in the coach. She said that one of the doors doesn’t open and I wondered if it was the one I was waiting near. I exclaimed, “I think I missed my station – Hellerup”. She smiled and patiently said,” No, the train stops and then slowly goes to the station. We haven’t reached it yet.”
At 9:55pm the train reaches the station and at the click of a button the door thankfully opens. I have seen rush in the Delhi metro even at 10pm, I have seen a crowded local train station in Mumbai at all times; I was taken aback when I found that the platform was devoid of people. “Are we at a sub-urb? Is it too late to be traveling alone?”

I waited for my classmates Harsh and Vinay, who would be attending their studex program at Copenhagen Business School. It was when we met that I realized Hellerup is actually a safe residential area – an “upscale area” to use their house owner’s words.

When I was packing my bags and getting prepared for my Euro trip I was haunted by the fact that two Indians from IIM Calcutta lost their laptops, passports and eurail pass in Copenhagen. It was a relief to realize that I reached the Copenhagen residence of my friends with my entire luggage intact. Well there are two more journeys to cover with no one but myself and my luggage – I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.