Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Parody of European Errors

How to tail tourists with a twist in the tale

I take pride in my obscurity and penchant for going boldly into places most men or women have never gone before. I take this occupation of mine rather seriously and stick to it to the best of my inabilities. My friends constantly rebuff me as to the complete uselessness of my sordid life since I know nothing about the finest dine and wine or bars and night clubs of Paris or Milan. And when I tell them that I know of places that are not mentioned in atlases, somehow that doesn’t impress them much.

Cut in to the year 2011, months of October to November and I am headed for Europe for around 40 days. Where are you climbing, which new routes are you eyeing, would we see you in Zermatt, Grindelwald or Chamonix or the Dolomites or in the Bavarian Alps, my friends and fans throw at me to which I only smile mysteriously letting them steam in their curiosity. But to tell you the truth through this post, even I can’t believe where all I am headed for this time. I have a major agenda to this trip.

I want to prove my friends wrong that I do indeed walk on tourist trails and yet prove them that these trails can be done, even when I am tailing large groups of bending Japanese tourists or burger gulping Americans or even bushwalking Australians, in a manner never done before. Like my mountains, to these tourist sites too there are many routes and trails around and new ways of using the camera, pen and intellect. So while I might be lazing around on Champ Elyse sipping a cup of cappuccino I could still be romancing Paris in a way never conjured before.

This is a teaser post as a curtain raiser to my European sojourn about to begin in less than a week. I am not sure if I would be able to update my trip regularly from there (and you will realize the reason when you read my itinerary below) but when I am back again into civilized civilization (well my Roman brother is certain to kill me if I term Rome as uncivilized) I would pick up the tails of the tales. In short I am already certain that my forthcoming trip would be a parody of errors and comedy of terrors with bits and pieces of tails and tales thrown in for good measure to make this a heady brew that I am going to serve you all over the next few months or so.

Life in reality doesn’t have any purpose so I don’t even try to find one for my existence or occupation, of which I am not yet certain. But curiosity is my prime mover and therefore I travel and that’s where all my nonsensical paradoxes emerge. I am curious to find out what people find out when they travel to places that I have avoided like plague till today. So here’s my itinerary in the same chronological order I hope would happen, though in my life whenever I have attempted some semblance to order complete mayhem has ensued. So be it!


Zurich: My first stop, where I actually stay for four days. My earlier Zurich encounter was to change train at its HB station en route to the Rhine Valley. I am sure Zurich will zap me in more ways than zapping is possible in our galaxy. My main reason for being there is to deliver two lectures, one at TEDX Zurich where the organizers are already feeling the difficulty of dealing with someone like me who doesn’t stick to any laid down norms or written words. I am really sorry for giving them a hard time, but what can I do, I am like this only. And I am sure by the end of my talk I would be able to impress upon them that my complete disorder is indeed endearing and inspiring as to how not to do things. But Swiss are Swiss and they, like the Japanese, prefer to have everything written, managed, organized, spelt out, timed and rehearsed several times before the curtain raiser. This sure loses originality since that’s what I prefer, to not know even to myself, second before I open my mouth on the stage and flash my first picture that what’s going to come out of my lips. And therefore surprising not only the audience but the speaker as well. This will be followed by another talk at a corporate leaders meet. I have been told that the collective wealth of my audience at this venue would be worth above a billion Euro or CHF take or leave few millions in loose change. They have kindly accepted all my eccentric conditions and are actually looking forward to it. That will leave me time enough to walk along the Limmat River, cycle around the old city, attend two dinners (in one I am supposed to wear an Indian dress) climb Fraumunster Cathedral, do window eating in Niederdorfstrasse (cafes), and swim in the eponymous lake, besides of course meeting two very charming friends, one on the right side of thirty and the other exactly on the fence.

Klosters / Davos / wherever the trains would take me: Armed with a GA pass for a day at 35 CHF I plan to take full advantage of Swiss public transport system, which according to me is the finest of its kind in the entire solar system, including those in our neighbouring galaxies and get my moneys full worth. I mean spending 20 hrs in Swiss Public transports is not a bad way to spend a day at all and I do have a day to do just that. Neither I nor any soothsayer has any idea what will or can happen on a day on wheels and water. So I shall leave it to that. Klosters as you all would know is one of the finest ski resorts of Europe with never ending slopes and non-existent chaos and I have an offer of a free apartment from a friend right in the heart of this enchanting valley. Now that’s an offer that simply can’t be refused aka Godfather. I have heard of Davos so much that I just want to go there to see why do world’s richest and most powerful people gather in this tiny Swiss town to decide the planet’s fate and future in reverse order... thank God they haven’t succeeded yet and there lies Davos’ secret, to give the sense of power and destiny yet coat it with cream, cheese and caramel to deny. I wish to unravel that secret.

Geneva – this is anarchy since I would be going to another country before returning back into Swiss and head for Geneva to catch my flight out, but I thought it prudent to group it here under the Swiss nation. En route to Geneva again I wish to hop off and on public transports till I check in for the flight.


Schaan and Vaduz: This country is so tiny that the two main towns of this nation must be clubbed as one. I am visiting these two places to do the famous Vaduz Castle, Triesenberg, and the Furstensteig trail (which is an absolute must for all hiking buffs). I have a lovely home here with friends and offer of fine dine, beautiful sights, charming company in exchange of chopping and cutting and doing the dishes (no I am seriously joking here). The two dainty ladies would never want me to do anything like that. I guess I would earn my hospitality by staying out of trouble of any kind.


Paris: I have transited through Paris like a Parisian parson so many times in the past that I have lost count. For all that I have only one trip to Louvre and one kiss under the Eiffel and another beneath the Arch De Triumph to boast, and one wet experience into Seine. Paris to me has always been the city that I must leave in order to catch another train, flight or any means of departure into the Alps or the sea. This time though I plan to spend four full days within the precincts of this city that many describe as magnificent, oh so romantic and enchanting. I fail to see the reasons though. I still remember Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (or was it someone else), looking deep into each other’s eyes and uttering, ‘we will always have Paris’ and uppity girls all around swooning in sheer delight including the one I had in my arms who I desperately wanted to stay alive. Even the notion that I could be confined within Paris for more than few hours is an absurdity yet I am there for over 100 hours. Fifty of those would be spent with a very dear friend with whom I have serious communication issues and who wants me to stop climbing forthwith and find someone nice to settle down with and wants me to take complete rest at her house where she is going to feed me everything fat and oily with copious amount of wine of my choice. Thank God, she lives in the countryside far from the obnoxious air of Paris. After that I intend spending another two days with two male friends (that is most unusual for me) but then, they are nice people and have offered me a lovely flat and some other temptations I am not allowed to reveal. In between I must share a cup of coffee beneath the shadow of that abominable tower with another friend who is so captivating that I am willing to face all the Parisian gobbledegook in exchange of her company. I have no idea if I am going to go to any other place besides Paris but then my friends are always surprising me!


Riga: The only reason or rather the primary reason why I am visiting this country and this UNESCO world heritage city is that I have never been here before and it is supposedly the most touristy city and nation in the whole of Baltic. During my Russian days I had often sailed past its magnificent harbour always wondering what it would be like to be rigged in Riga. I shall find out this time. Besides that, I do have few friends here, again of the fairer variety who has offered me shelter, sustenance and sanity. Here I intend doing Riga cathedral, St Peters Church, central market, old city, Laima Clock and Bastejkalns Park. My friend says impossible and I say we shall see.

Liepaja: This is Latvia’s most famous beach town with a musical history and also a Russian infamous prison. It is in the west Baltic staring across at Sweden. A young friend is providing me shelter and food I hope and I am not yet sure what am I going to do there in just one day other than gallivanting in the beach.

Sigulda: The Switzerland of Latvia is a place that I must go, not only for the streams, waterfalls, castles, forests but for the walks through the trails littered with red, ochre and brown autumn leaves. Latvia tourism actually sells walk through Sigulda as the highlight of autumn itinerary. I have found a kind climbing couple here to host me for a night and then to show me around.


Amsterdam: Why would I go to a country whose mean average height is sea level and highest spot lies around 320 meters above? Precisely for that reason that I have never been here before! So how can I avoid Amsterdam that city of drugs, damsels and endless canals? Being one of the most touristic cities in the world, it is a must visit in my list this time. I have two friends to stay with, one of whom has offered me an all expense paid guided trip through this tiny nation. So an entire biking day through Amsterdam is in the itinerary and I have been cautioned that more bikes get stolen in Amsterdam than are manufactured in Germany. I know what you all are thinking; I will give the widest berth to the drug joints, sex museum and the red light street. I am there for something that tourists don’t do like smell the flowers, dive into the canals, sleep beneath the stars and climb every step possible. I am also going to dig into my family tree and find out if the heart of Amsterdam, the Dam Square takes its name from one of my buccaneering forefathers.

Haarlem – Leiden – Den Haag – Delft – Rotterdam: Starting at five in the morning, on the day I visit all these five places and return to Amsterdam before the clock strikes twelve would be one of endurance and mindboggling vistas. So now that she knows, my friend may withdraw her offer to chauffer me around NL over the weekend. But never mind, NL Railway is fantastic and for less than 30 Euros I would be able to accomplish all the above.

Vaalserberg: My last day in NL and if I know myself then certainly the last day in NL for my entire life I would go hiking up to the summit of the nation where three nations meet. I believe octogenarians can walk backwards from the base of this mighty mountain and take no more than forty minutes to race to the top so I am not sure which route would I be taking or if I would need to strap on my crampons and ice axes but I am sure going to find out. From the other side I plan to hop into Aachen in Germany and then loop back into Belgium for another climb the same day before lunch. And that would conclude my NL adventure that I might name as being naughty in Netherlands.


Eupen /Melmedy: Ask any well travelled Belgian or anyone claiming to know Belgium well where these two cities are and it is likely that they won’t know for sure. My sole reason to be here would be to climb the highest spot of Belgium, which isn’t so much of a climb since buses go there but I will foot it for sure.

Brussels: Often described by snobbish travel writers as a city to nowhere with an eternal layer of gloom and moisture hanging from its urban architecture the only saving grace for Brussels seems to be its infinite gourmet and night life. I am going to find out for sure. I have a very dear friend here who would be my host in this city of international connections where people fly in so that they can fly out instantly. My intended itinerary as of now is the highly predictable trio of Grand Place Central Square, Galeries St Hubert, Manneken Pis (the peeing boy). Though I have left it to my friend to plan something to her liking.

Bruges: For its old charm and impeccably maintained antiquity, for its grand placid canals and for the 366 steps to the top of Belfort, Bruges would be an adventure I am sure to like. Half a day in this town followed by the sea.

Oostende: The best known sea resort of Belgium is actually nothing to write home about since it opens into the bleak Northern Sea with UK and ferries filling up the horizon but I am going there as I have never been there before and also to click pictures of the setting sun since it’s only from here that we can see the sun finally set upon the British Empire.

Dinant & Villers: For the castle and Abbey respectively. Again places I haven’t been before and described in the tourist guide an absolute Belgian delight much like the chocolate and cheese.

Ghent: For being the best kept Belgian secret that is yet out of the tourist circuit, which might change once I return and publish my Ghent travelogues.

Antwerp: Since everyone goes there, I have been there too, but then I didn’t have a DSLR, which I now have and that would make all the difference I presume.


Luxembourg City: A tiny city in a tiny country and another first for me so I would go there in the morning and return to Brussels by the late night train, sandwiching in between what I am not sure. I have no idea what it has to offer, or if it has anything to offer at all. I will go there like a blind bat colliding and conspiring with the unknown and hopefully would return as ignorant as before. I have intentionally not Googled this city or nation and neither have I dipped into any Luxembourg guidebook.


With my brother taking care of my itinerary for Italy it would be a whirlwind trip down the lanes I hadn’t ventured into yet. Italy to me has always been the land of Alps and Dolomites and the beautiful girls, gelatos and the olives and pizzas, with St Peter’s Cathedral, Rome and Milan as an afterthought. But this trip promises to be different.

Verona – Molveno – Trent: Verona because my flight lands there and my brother promises it’s an artistic city with lovely promenades, Molveno I have been before and wish to visit again since it is one of the prettiest villages in all of Europe and Trent being the heart of Dolomites help. I would be leading my brother up on a little hike into the mountains.

Pisa – Florence: I must be the only person on Earth who has traversed through Italy nearly half a dozen times and never set foot in these two provinces. I mean come on, who could resist the picture of holding up the leaning tower or whispering in the bar, ‘you know when I was in Florence...’ This time I intend correcting this abominable gap in my travel career. Since my brother who knows almost everything Italian and Roman that there is to know, is the guide and tour manager I am not even guessing where all I would find myself but then like a true adventurer I await for them to discover me.

Rome: finally to the centre of our civilization, the beginning and end of all, or so says my brother. I might be ruthless in Rome, but not roofless since my brother lives in a sizeable casa, so I might opt to romance in Rome or be rootless or random. Armed only with my camera and my smile and smooth composure I intend walking up and down, in and around the eternal city that has spawned more literature and art than the rest of the world put together. My brother has also promised me a wine trip through Tuscany with a sommelier and a dip off the coast of Capri over the weekend.

With that my trip would be concluded and I would be back home chewing upon my thoughts and words trying to decipher what I hadn’t learnt. I have no idea what such a popular itinerary would do to my constitution but I am eager to discover. With that my friends I hang up my pen, my paper and my notebook for this month for sure.

Goodnight and God Bless (please translate it into Swiss, German, French, Spanish, Belgian, Hollandish, Latvian, Russian, Italian and English if you wish to).


  1. Now i am totally green with envy, S!!!

    Dam square, you really are a laugh!!!

    Stay rootless and random and be footloose and fancy and romance your travels ;-) and come back with stories to fill up our ears and more sexy photo's to turn me green! hugs always.

  2. Respected sir,
    I beg of you.please lets do a trek together to SINGHAR PASS and TALANG PASS,the two never used passes of DHAULADHARS.The time to do them is very right now.Respected sir,
    I beg of you.please lets do a trek together to SINGHAR PASS and TALANG PASS,the two never used passes of DHAULADHARS.The time to do them is very right now.

  3. Thank you so much for your inspirational speech at TEDxZurich!!!

    I just came back to the city from three days of rock climbing - and seeing what you did was so impressive. nevermind if one does mind-blowing things like you or if one is just a 'plaisir'-climber like me - your words apply anyway. i just could feel your words, it's so so true! :-)

    I wish you a pleasant stay here. And please go on and disturb everyone with disorder and the unconventional - people over here actually need this... :-D