I have had my share of France when I visited Pondicherry (now, Puducherry) two years back. I remember being fascinated by anything French: from cuisine to the architecture to the literature, probably fascinated more by its European roots as, to me, European, was French. What foreign language do you know? French. What was eight grade history all about? The French Revolution. Where is Simone de Beauvoir from? France. French feminism. French kiss. French fries. France was the quintessential representative of anything European. I thought I had experienced all the French-ness that I could when I visited Pondi, completely convinced that this was my best bet of experiencing Europe in India. I think I spoke too soon.
I began my affair with France by landing in its capital city, Paris. The city that I had heard so many rumours about that it became almost necessary to go there to verify them. I was told that it is one of the most unsafe cities in the world. I haven’t been everywhere but I can vouch that it is as safe and/or unsafe as Mumbai or Delhi. There is nothing in Paris that stands out as peculiarly threatening to life. I may be wrong. But I am alive to tell the story without having been robbed, mugged or groped. And I have been on the streets of Paris during all times of the day. Well, mostly. I was also told that France is the most romantic country in the world with Paris being oh-so-mushy. Again, nothing in Paris stood out as particularly romantic. The couples I saw making love at the underground railway station were no different from the elderly couple giving each other a good night kiss at an Italian coffee shop.
But, Paris felt loud. Its glamour, its fashion and its people. They seemed to scream their existence. Not in an irritating fashion but in a hey-you-can’t-help-but-give-us-a-second-look way. And you would. You would look at the Eiffel Tower twice. Thrice maybe if you go in the night and feel awed at its glitter and extra-ordinariness. The farther you look at it, the more it mesmerizes you. The closer you go, the tinier you feel. You would look at Da Vinci’s painting twice when you visit the Louvre Museum. You would wonder at Mona Lisa’s painting and wonder what the heck is her expression all about and why is the world so obsessed with it. You would stare at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and muse over its architecture and sculpture even if you don’t understand it. Paris is all about wondering why is it so famous. And by the time you leave the city, you wouldn’t know why but you would agree with those who campaign about the Parisian way of life and nod at what Hemingway had to say about the city: “But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
From Paris, I ventured into French Riveria, wanting to experience more about the country than just its capital. I explored Cannes and Nice (pronounced as niece, mind you), while also visiting Monte Carlo, Monaco, ending up having the best time in these wonderful coastal cities. With the Mediterranean Sea following you along the way as you travel from one city to another, the sea literally never leaves you. Its magnanimity follows you like a shadow presenting itself in different ways in different cities. Cannes, with its red carpets, fashion brands and private yachts. Nice with its feel of French countryside, the postcard picture perfect sunrise and sunset at the beach and Monte Carlo with its richness of people and culture. Each of these was an experience of its own.
With so much France in my system, I had pretty high expectations with my next destination: Italy. I was greedy for more as I neared my next stop and Italy did nothing to disappoint me. One of the most visually appealing cities, Rome, was my first stop. On first look, it looks like an abandoned city where civilization once flourished and is now just a crucial chapter in history textbooks. Rocks. Ruins. And rust. That’s Rome, in a nutshell. Unforgettable, though. With its wonderous Colosseum and the popular Trevi Fountain. Rome stays with you. Even after you have forgotten all your memory, Rome remains. And never dies.
From Rome, I left for Pisa to admire yet another wonder of the world: The Leaning Tower. I have been fortunate enough to have seen at least three other wonders (the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower). But the tower that leans wins my vote hands down. Its simplicity, its perfection in it imperfection and its serenity is enough to knock your socks away. There is pretty much nothing else in Pisa city except the leaning tower. But that is enough a reason to lure you there. I ended my innings at Italy with yet another oft-spoken of romantic destination: Venice. It’s easier to understand why Venice is touted as romantic (as compared to Paris and the mystery surrounding it). There is water everywhere; the city thrives on it. Paintings. Fresco. Gondola. Touring the city on water. Well, there is a noticeable charm about it all. You can smell and feel love everywhere. In the air. In the waters. In the paintings. In the painter’s brush. In the painter eyeing his muse. In the gondolier’s oar’s strokes. Venice is for the lover. And for everyone who aspires to be one. Also, I had one of the best pastas I have ever had in my life there (in case, you aren’t convinced just as yet).
My last European stop was Spain. I could only go to Barcelona as Spain was my last destination and by the end of it all, I was physically, mentally and monetarily spent. Yet, I couldn’t erase Spain out of my To-go list even if it meant only one city. I choose Barcelona as I could fly there for cheap. Also, I wanted to visit a city other than the capital. Barcelona fit my bill and gave me all the Spain and Spanish-ness I could have possibly wanted. And more than just that. Apart from discovering Gaudi‘s spectacular architecture in the city and hitting the local beach, I also walked along the lanes of Catalonia, a historical lesson I had completely missed and ignored during my school days. A trip to Barcelona was easily one of the most informative ones I ever took in Europe and I came back filled with enough information to last a lifetime.
The beginning of Spain meant the end of my mammoth European tour. And I was already apprehensive of that happening. I began my trip to Barcelona with the constant feeling that this is possibly my last destination and I ought to soak up as much of sun as I can. Literally. And figuratively. And that’s what I did. I probably enjoyed Barcelona a tad more than the others. Just as I enjoyed Prague a little more than the last, both being memorable owing to the fact that they were my first and last stops. If the story is good, you always remember the beginning and the end, no matter how it turns out. And for me, it was all good. Nay, ¡Magnífico! 🙂