Exploring the Dalmatian coast
A visit to Europe was a dream and even now sometimes I am still in disbelief whether it’s really been fulfilled or if it was some beautiful dream. The plan started almost six months back. Finally the day arrived on Dussehra early morning. After a long wait at Delhi airport, we boarded the plane to Helsinki, Finland. I, husband and sonny were smiling ear to ear as all through we have been very hush-hush about the plan; we were very superstitious, in case it gets cancelled.
I was little unwell but the moment I landed, I forgot everything. The surroundings outside was like a painting. We had a long wait at the airport for our next flight to Budapest, Hungary. Now we feel we could have spent some time at Helsinki city, but we will definitely do it next time. What’s the harm in dreaming?
We reached Budapest at midnight and our hotel car was waiting for us at the airport. On our way to the hotel, we had a night view of the city — glittering in what looked like tiny sparkling lights from a distance. We were already in love with the city and were just waiting for the sun to rise so that we could explore the beautiful place. So excited we were that we had no signs of jetlag.
We had an elaborate breakfast in the hotel and the first thing we experienced was a cruise on the Danube River on a chilly, windy but sunny morning, which gave us a river’s eye glimpse of the city from the blue waters. Though the city was new to us, it was not at all tough to locate a hop-on hop-off tourist bus and we went around the city admiring the picturesque locations. The best part was we could avail of the bus facility the next day too with the same tickets as they were valid for 48 hours. For lunch, we opted for Hungarian cuisine and we loved it.
As the day turned dusky, and we were just strolling in the markets, we heard a familiar tune. As we turned, we saw a group of ISKCON followers singing and dancing Hare Krishna Hare Rama that too in Indian attire — saris and dhoti kurtas. Mini India in Hungary! We had a smile on our faces and I felt like dancing with them but then stopped myself, thinking not to experiment too much in a foreign land. Nobody was bothered about what others were doing and that is what I liked the most. In two days, we saw the Danube River, Parliament, Chain Bridge, Synagogue (Jewish worship place), Heroes’ Square, City Park, Citadella at Gellert Hill, Buda Castle (from a distance), Szechenyi Burda (thermal bath), St. Stephens Basilica, et al.
Just in two days, the city had become familiar to us and we already knew where to catch bus, where to find food and how to take a taxi back to the hotel. But it was time to bid adieu to the city as the next day we had a flight to Split, Croatia, via Bonn, Germany. As we waited at the Cologne Bonne airport, we observed different people of different nationalities all moving from one country to another, and the thought that came to my mind was — wow the world is so small.
As we flew to Split, we could view the beautiful Swiss Alps from above. We were mesmerised by the snow-clad mountains and started planning our Switzerland visit already — at least once in this lifetime. As we neared our destination, we could see perfectly blue seas and green islands and the view was breath-taking — just like a picture postcard. My sonny was kind enough to give me the window seat for some time as he saw I was busy clicking pictures from the middle seat itself, and maybe he was disturbed by mommy too. I was so occupied looking down for quite long that I started feeling dizzy but luckily the plane landed soon and all went well. At the Split airport, we had a long interview with the immigration officials as we were on a Schengen visa and Croatia didn’t fall under it, though it allowed entry on that visa. One of the questions was, “Is this your beba (son or maybe baby she meant)?”, pointing at our son. I and my husband almost echoed together, “Yes”. Of course, didn’t want to lose sonny, never. She said, “Sorry, part of our job” at the end, with a smile. It was finally over and by the time we reached the conveyer’s belt, only our luggage was left. Our apartment driver, a young girl, was waiting for us outside and seemed little restless but was okay when she got to know the reason behind the delay. She was quite friendly and I found her face familiar with our Bollywood’s Kalki Koechlin.
The drive was long and we discussed various topics, even India’s population and the job scenario as she felt there were not many industries in Split so there was not much scope for growth. We felt, ‘wow no industry’ and that is what we wanted to enjoy, no industrial pollution — away from the choked air of Delhi. After about half an hour, we reached our apartment and there was a smile on my son’s face as it was a duplex and there was a narrow staircase inside to reach the bedroom. It was a cosy apartment and we loved it. Our host, after giving a description of the apartment and the map of the place, left us on our own and the apartment was ours for the next three days. The feeling was good to have a temporary home in an alien country. We had hot coffee and some readymade snacks we had carried from India, got ready and was outside to explore the new place.
Our apartment was at a slope and we had to go down to reach the main market and the sea. We were lucky to have got an apartment in the old town; the moment we saw the dark blue seas, we were all smiles. There were tourists from different countries — some were strolling, some just sitting and enjoying the sunset. And we did what we loved the most, clicked pictures. We got to know that a one-hour cruise-like-boat ride was available and our itinerary for the next day was fixed. Saw multiples of sea ducks and sea gulls flying down on the sea for a good meal of sea fishes. We found a small food joint and packed our dinner which we customised with some familiar ingredients of veggies and chicken. We shopped some breakfast essentials from a neighbourhood shop.
After a good night sleep, the next day the first thing we did in the morning was to go for the boat ride. We went to the top of the boat and took the seats that had been tied with ropes to the iron grille. After some time, we got to know the secret of the ropes. The sea was choppy. Some parts of the ride were scary because of the huge waves. But we forgot everything as the view was spectacular — blue sea, blue sky, green and brown hills. The guide gave us a description of the places and also told us how at regular intervals the sea water is taken to test how clean it is. On way, we saw some daredevil climbers negotiating the flat rocks on the shore with bare hands. Others were kayaking amid the dancing waves.
In the evening, we had a round of the local market and found a bakery. After a pizza lunch, we were really hungry and relished on pastries and potato pie. My husband found the potato filling similar to our samosa. What else do we need to survive? We would settle ourselves on a bench and observe how tourists came to holiday with their dogs of different breeds as they were like their family; many aged people even came on wheelchairs to relax, after all if one is a traveller at heart, age is no bar. We still remember the camaraderie of a white couple who adopted three Asian girls. We also saw a lot of couples of different nationalities. The next morning, we decided we should look for a beach as till that time we could not get down on the water. And after 3-4km walk, we found one. And what beach it was. Spotlessly clean. White sand. Just a couple of tourists. A cool breeze. Bright sun. Green and white mountains in the backdrop. The Adriatic Sea looking just pristine — Italy on the other side. Giant ship liners cruising at a far distance. Felt like settling there forever. I even thought of a business idea. Selling coffee and snacks to tourists. But life is not so easy. Since it was quite far from the old town, there were very few people there, only a few mad ones like us who are always on a lookout for an exclusive place. We got down, walked on the water but it was chilly so decided to sit on the shore. Even my 10-year-old kept on looking at the sea blankly like a philosopher. There was a park nearby and he played to his heart’s content as there were very few kids to fight for the rides. In three days, we felt we belonged to that city but every good thing comes to an end and it was time for us to visit our next place — Dubrovnik.
We took a bus to Dubrovnik and on our way crossed Neum, a tiny town of around 4,000 people in Bosnia, nestled beside an inland extension of the Adriatic Sea. The landscape was equally beautiful, especially the orange orchards, orange-roofed similar-looking even houses and the blue sea moving with us all the way. We thought if the bus stopped for some time, we could have a closer look. It did, but only for passport check and a snack break and we had to click pictures from inside. By late afternoon, we reached Dubrovnik — the gigantic cabled-stayed Franjo Tuđman bridge, similar to the one inaugurated in Delhi sometime back, and massive cruise liners, welcoming us to the mystical hilly town that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.
From the bus stand, we took a taxi to our apartment, a short distance. As we got down and were looking for our apartment number, I heard a very welcoming voice, “Please come, I am waiting for you!” She was our new host. And I would say, this apartment was better and bigger. In the back lawns behind the kitchen window, there were pomegranates, lemons, oranges hanging from the trees. Felt like plucking but just like the forbidden apple, we stopped ourselves. The host offered some handmade snacks and they were yummy. By then, it was evening and we asked our host if it was safe to roam out and she was like, “of course”. After a short chat, she left us on our own for the next three days. We ventured out and opted to walk to the old town as our host told us it was just 10-minute walk. But it was not so near as we found out. After about half an hour of walking through neat roads and beautiful houses, we reached the fortress housing the castle town, the place where parts of Game of Thrones were shot. Quite a few musicians were playing different instruments on the sideways — projecting a touch and feel of a Bollywood background score as we were exploring the new city, almost like giving us a royal welcome.
We were starved after the long walk and started looking out for some good food. By then we were already missing our rice and roti and Indian food. Where ever we looked, there was bread, pizza, burger, pasta and we were like “NO.” And somewhere in between, I had a glimpse of a poster that said, ‘Incredible India’. We were in disbelief. A few Bollywood dialogues instantly came to my mind: ‘If you want something from heart, you definitely get it.’ We ordered butter chicken and roti and we almost devoured it like we hadn’t eaten in ages. Though the food was not that good, there was a feeling of content.
Next morning, we went for the famous Zicara, the ropeway/cable-car point to climb to the top of a hill from where we could have a panoramic view of the city and it was worth visiting. By then, we had become veteran walkers, including our 10-year-old. In fact he took the lead to show off that he knows the way quite well. We again visited the old castle and this time on the side of the sea. We saw huge boats waiting for passengers and without any second thought; we took the ride to the Lokrum Island — a Nature Reserve and a Special Forest Vegetation Reserve, which is home to a variety of flora and fauna and castles. We would have missed an experience if we hadn’t visited the island. There was loads of greenery with multiple green species, peacocks, rabbits, all roaming here and there. We also passed a graveyard but left the ghosts undisturbed, if any still there. We sat on the rocks admiring the sea leisurely as the last boat to return to the mainland was 5 pm and we had ample time in hand. We were on biscuits and chocolates almost the whole day but we were okay as it was a lifetime experience.
After coming back to the old town, my husband was adventurous enough to climb to the top of the castle and walked the entire city wall, which must be about 2-4 km. I and sonny waited down watching multiple tourists and listening to them. Though we didn’t understand what they said, the excitement was clear in their voice, specially the Japanese tourists.
We had dinner at 6pm, which was evening snacks time back home, and this time we went for an Italian restaurant. The chicken risotto, chicken salad and grilled chicken were luscious. I would say chicken just saved us as most of the dishes had beef on it, so we were very choosy. Though my husband was ready to experiment, I and my sonny were happy with our chicken delicacies. On our way back home, my husband went to a department store and bought eggs, milk, bread, cheese for breakfast the next day.
My husband was too excited to cook something in the beautiful kitchen and served us some hot spaghetti, cheese scrambled eggs with coffee and bread. We started a little late and went in search for a beach location and found one after a half-an-hour walk. I and sonny get mad to soak our feet in water but my husband needs a little push. After some time, we made ourselves comfortable on a wooden platform and let sonny play in the water. We saw a couple, must be 60 plus. They went for a swim and it was too cute to watch them romancing in the water and teasing each other. Ageing together in love! We went inside the castle city again in search for food. We also had the opportunity to see a wedding inside. And most tourists like us were waiting to see the bride and the groom and the moment they came outside hand in hand, everybody started clapping. After all, it’s always a treat to see newlyweds and everybody says ‘God bless’ automatically in their minds. These things are the same everywhere, and what a wonderful feeling. One day, the newlyweds will share their story of marriage to their grandchildren that they got married at the same location where Game of Thrones was shot.
The next morning was October 28, when we would fly to capital Zagreb in the afternoon. My husband started waking me up as it was 7 am. But when I checked my mobile, it was 6 am. The confusion ended when we searched the internet and found that from that day, every year, the clocks are set back by an hour in Europe as winter had set in. Thank God, we didn’t have any flight to catch in the morning. The weather was very windy and chilly and later we got to know that a very bad storm had hit the other side of the sea in Italy. We spent some time beside the old town, having a last glimpse of the sea. God knows if we would ever return. We hurried back to the apartment as we didn’t want to be stuck in rain and storm. Our host requested us to take her neighbour’s car and we readily agreed and understood the reason when we saw the old man who drove us to the airport — maybe she wanted him to earn a few bucks.
It was raining heavily and the flight got late by over an hour. By the time we reached the hotel in Zagreb, it was quite late and after a quick dinner at a fine dine restaurant in the Capitol Square, we went to bed. The next morning we went to explore the nearby places as we had a flight to Vienna in the evening. What we loved most was the local market with lot of flowers, cheese, fresh vegetables, fruits, et al. The old town with gigantic churches and buildings with Gothic architecture and tram lines running somewhat resembled Budapest. We would have loved to explore more but it started raining. We had a quick snack lunch and hurried back. We had shopping bags in our hand and we covered our heads with them. Though a few kids laughed at us, after some time we saw people copying us as they also had no umbrellas — this is called Indian jugaad.
Our return flight to Delhi was via Vienna, where we had a four-hour stopover. We were surprised to see the size of the tiny two-by-two seater plane to Vienna and doubted if it would take off. But it did and we reached safely after a short flight. When we were about to land in Vienna, the dazzling city looked beautiful from above. Again we regretted, thinking that we could have stayed there for a day at least. But we had a flight to catch at night for Delhi. When we were waiting at the airport, we saw a lot of Indian faces after days and felt good. It was a jumbo plane — the Air India dream liner — and boarding started almost one and half hours early. I saw a group of European tourists who seemed a little worried as their guide was scaring them by telling not-so-good things about India. Though I didn’t understand their language, I could clearly read the fear in their faces. On board, I killed time by watching two Bollywood new movies. And finally the next morning, we reached our very own Delhi. Everything seemed familiar now. Suddenly I saw the same European tourists standing in a corner of the airport. I approached them and said, “Welcome to India. India is a beautiful country and the people are good. Don’t be scared. Enjoy!” And they smiled at me. I felt I am just back from their place and had a beautiful experience and this was the least I could do to bring a smile on their faces. After all, we belong to incredible India and there are lot of good things here too.