Sailing across the seas to find “Peace in Greece”

There is a quote: “Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea” And sailing across the Aegean sea to reach Greek islands is certainly one of those checklist stuff we read everywhere “100 things to do before you die”

We were in group of three and have been backing across Europe from last 40 days. Divided continent in 4 phases: Northern Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark), Central (Germany, Czech, Hungary, SLovenia, Slovakia, Crotia), Southern (Italy and Greece), Iberian (Spain). We were in our 3rd phase i.e. Italy and 3 Alexanders were in full preparation to invade Greece.

DAY 1

We had Eurail passes for 3 months which also included almost free Ferry services(10 euros) from Bari (Italy) to Patras (Greece). Had overnight journey from Milan to Bari. After 45 days, we were quite used to such long journeys. We also gained expertise in several odd things like eating McD burgers at the slowest pace to pass around our nights at stations in cold European weather.

Reached Bari around 8 am and first usual thing we did – Find a McD or McCafe (Savior or 4th friend). Necessities done (Nice feeling) and Cornetti plus Cappuccino (Heavenly feeling)

Photos of Bari, Italy 1/1 by Ankit Garg
DAY 2

There are certain ferries available but we boarded “Superfast Ferries” as it was in collaboration with Eurail pass. Advised to book your tickets 15 days in advance. Whenever I used to see my globe, my eyes used to get stuck at Mediterranean sea and today I had to spend my night amidst the roaring waves of Mediterranean. Certainly Thoughts become things

Photos of Mediterranean Sea 1/2 by Ankit Garg
Photos of Mediterranean Sea 2/2 by Ankit Garg
DAY 3

Reached Patras after a night’s journey. Via Taxi reached Patras bus stand where we booked tickets for Athens. Across coastline, it was a beautiful journey. And It was mathematics all around as P is written as π ; A as @, B as Beta β; it was fun to judge my secondary school knowledge

Spent 3 days in Athens and visited Acropolis, Parthenon, Syntagma Square, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Police station (as my friend lost his wallet and we had to lodge complaint). Europe (Greece, Turkey) with an Asian feeling starts as you sail across Mediterranean as I could see the street vendors culture selling spices etc. across Athens.

Photos of Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece 1/1 by Ankit Garg
DAY 6

Its time to make move towards Greek Islands. We zeroed on to Santorini being the most picturesque island. Booked Bluestar ferry tickets through some random agent in Athens. Advise: Prefer to book at the port itself, you will land up saving around 20 euros.

Ferries towards islands start from Piraeus which is around 14 kms from Athens (easily accessible via metro). Boarded around 6 am in the morning and sailed across Aegean sea for 8 hours to reach the blue and white heaven named Santorini.

Photos of Aegean Sea 1/1 by Ankit Garg
DAY 7

Santorini is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the town of Thira and naturally its very own active volcano. We stayed in Fira, cliff perched town featuring all that Oia offers.

Photos of Oia, Thira, Greece 1/1 by Ankit Garg

Took a self drive car on rent. It was cheap (around 24 euros for 24 hours) if you have credit card and passport. Only issue I faced – Its left hand drive in Europe unlike right hand in India but could manage due to roads being driver’s paradise (beautiful, silent running in parallel to the blue coastlines)

Photos of Santorini, Thira, Greece 1/1 by Ankit Garg

There are naturally fantastic beaches such as the beach of Perissa, maybe the best beach in Santorini, the black pebble beach of Kamari, white beach and red beach.

Photos of Perissa, Thira, Greece 1/1 by Ankit Garg

And in the end I will say.. We are Indians and emotions, feelings, soul searching , peace matter a lot to us. Somebody has said in perfect words – “To travel is to take a journey into yourself”

Public Display of Peace
DAY 9

Spent three days there in Santorini and then took ferry back towards Italy and its time to switch moods from peace to party. Boarded flight from Pescara (Italy) to Spain and 4th/last phase of our journey begins.

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Unraveling the Happiness Quotient of Bhutan

MBA over… Needed a break. It was much needed after such a long study odyssey and specially when one is surrounded by so called logical, rational, reasonable minds of society

But I always believe: If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed. Fortunately I have two friends who also believe in the same quote.

So, we decided to unravel Northeast part of country including Bhutan.

Day 1: Boarded Kanchkanya express from Kolkata to Hasimara. Hasimara to Jaigaon via auto (15 Kms). Jaigon is the last point in India while going towards Phuentsholing (Bhutan). Anybody can increase his country count by 1 as it is free to roam within 6kms of Phuentsholing without any entry pass. Bhutan and India are separated by a gate .. I name it as Gate to Peace as I could see the stark difference on two sides of gate. Heads and Tails. Indian side was usual chaos.. Random animals, Autos, horns while Bhutanese side was peaceful.. silence..even monks.

Photos of Unraveling the Happiness Quotient of Bhutan 1/8 by Ankit Garg

Day 2 &3 : We planned to take entry pass for Bhutan on Day 1. But unfortunately we made plan in haste and forgot to check that entry pass office was closed on weekends. So, Day 1 & 2 nights were spent in Pheuntsholing only.

DAY 3

Received passes on Day 3 .. hired a cab and reached Thimpu. Roads were smooth ..driver’s paradise… Zero traffic .. Was fun.

Photos of Thimphu, Bhutan 1/1 by Ankit Garg

Thimpu ..city surrounded by mountains .. Traditional buildings; people wearing traditional dresses.. spirituality all around..

Photos of  1/1 by Ankit Garg

Hired the same driver for sightseeing around Thimpu and beyond. Places visites are – Buddha Dordenma; Thimpu Chorten; Dochula pass; Clock tower square and Thimpu Dzong

Photos of  1/2 by Ankit Garg
Photos of  2/2 by Ankit Garg
DAY 4

Day 4: On our way to Paro. 2nd important city and in fact only city with airport in Bhutan.. 1.5 hr ride from Thimpu .. 50 kms.

Bhutan major attraction – Tiger nest.. Have always been enticed by its wallpaper like pics.. Time to turn imaginations into reality..

Taktsang, or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, is one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. one of the most challenging monasteries to get to. Located at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Taktsang is the birthplace of Bhutanese Buddhism.

Tiger’s Nest

Challenging trek.. but one step at a time or two miles outline.. slowly gradually moved.. could see far glimpse of monastery.. was sure its worth climbing in .. The hike starts with a gentle forest climb among prayer flags. After passing a creek and water powered prayer wheels the trail starts getting steeper.

Photos of Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan 1/1 by Ankit Garg

About half way up the climb is a nice tea house with great views of Tiger’s Nest that makes a welcome stopping point. You can get a tea and food here on your way up or on your way down.

Photos of  1/1 by Ankit Garg

After the teahouse you’ll continue climbing to the viewpoint that overlooks Tiger’s Nest. The viewpoint is the BEST place to take photos of Taktsang.From here you’ll walk down a series of steep stairs to a waterfall before making your final ascent to the entrance. Here you’ll be required to leave your backpacks, cameras, and phones. There are lockers to leave your things and it’s a good idea to bring a small lock.

Photos of  1/1 by Ankit Garg
DAY 5

Day 5: Time to leave peaceful country… Happiness in Bhutan comes from Spritiuality.. People are not concerned about petty matters.. Have unwavering faith in power of Buddha.. Finding God is the main purpose of life.. Even the oldest of faces had pretty smiles…

Came back to Pheuntsholing .. this time from Jaigaon took bus for Cooch behar .. boarded train for Guwahati .. and Unraveling the myst of North east begins….

Split – The Adriatic Queen

I have backpacked across Europe, India and Bhutan and so will share my travel experiences in series which may be of help to readers and can also motivate them to travel & unravel beauties of our world. As in the words of Supertramp – “Happiness exists only when shared

 

Split, a place where you split from your fear

Where Adriatic Sea, wind and Croat flag wave with cheer

Where a feeling of exuberance bring out a very happy creature

As not just sky meets the sea, but you too be the one with mighty nature

I along with two of my friends was on a backpacking trip in Europe and Croatia was not very high on our list. We were on the top of Budapest, had some photographs with the statue of liberty there and sat nearby looking over the beautiful city. We had to plan our next move of travelling either to Poland or to Croatia. Poland is known for its parties there in Krakow but we had already been to several crazy party nights in Europe and we didn’t know much about Croatia. I was not able to decide and then I looked back to the statue of Liberty. Suddenly some energy flowed inside me and I

shrieked out loud “Let it be Croatia”. I had an intuition that this place could further intensify our feeling of freedom, our feeling of Liberty.

Next day, we reached Budapest Keleti and boarded the train for Zagreb (thanks to Eurail Pass and App, we never reached departure stations 15 mins before time). It was an expected journey of 6 hrs but extended by 2 more hours due to unusual stoppage and passport control check at Koprivnica (last station in Hungary). A tall and stern officer asked for our documents and verified passports of both of my friends. But in my case, he seemed confused. I looked different as I appeared thinner than in my passport picture. He seemed joyful as he thought he got a fish here. “Is it really you” – he playfully remarked and then consulted with two of his similar looking friends. I started getting dizzy and began to lament on my decision of moving to this less developed part of Europe. But soon I realized – “Big, stern, mysterious, or solid may be a Croat, but God has blessed them with a sweet throat”. He came back to me and before I could say anything, magic words were out loud –

“Welcome to Croatia”

Where are you heading to after Zagreb?

I sighed in relief and doubtlessly told – To Split

Officer recited – Bože (O God) Split, you are in for a lovely treat

We reached Zagreb by 8 PM, checked in at the hostel and soon leaped into our “Socrates Mode” or the planning mode. We had time crunch (3 days for Croatia) and there were several options in mind for next day – Travel across Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Zadar or go directly to Split (and then Dubrovnik). We assessed our budget, time constraint and then ultimately Socrates inside us got confused. And then next mode after such a long day is sleep mode (even if you are Socrates).

Next morning, I woke up at 6.50 AM and immediately checked Eurail app. There was a train at 7.32 for Split and the next one after this was around 4 in the evening. I did not want to waste this day and suddenly again I felt the touch of intuition and could listen the voice inside me calling Split again and again. Immediately I woke up my friends, convinced them and then we were on the train at 7.34. Thanks to the Croatian standard time (CST) for trains as they generally depart there for journeys 5-10 mins late.

Now, in spite of having Eurail passes with us, we had to buy a reservation for the train but in haste we could not. Although the train was empty but we could be charged a fine for this. But then I could relate with Croats now as they were somewhere like Indians back home who could find a way out in any situation. The ticket checker, a short and a fat man with a frowning wrinkled face, wobbled towards us and asked for tickets. I told him the story and he answered as expected. Actually he didn’t answer, he recited as we now know Croats have a sweet throat-

“O, you a traveler, you need not worry my friend

 Pay me here, certain rules for you we can mend”

The journey was 6 hrs long. Initially I enjoyed it as it was a kind of roller coaster and we were traveling through the torturous path surrounded by huge ice capped mountains. “OH! Beauty” were two most used words in first two hours of journey. Every time there was a stoppage, I could not see any being but just one man dressed in uniform with a pen and a register. He wrote something, saluted back to the train and then only train could move. These men reminded of kings who gave permission to the outsiders to visit their territories.

But then my sense of appreciation started fading. These mountains were followed by lot more mountains and there was no sign of life there. It had been 4 long hours now and we were hungry. “OH! What the shit” were the four most used words in last 4 hours of journey. And now these uniform men reminded me of kings’ servants who had to salute the king (train in this case) every time he passes by.

Then out of nowhere, there came the most marvelous sight I have ever seen in my life. There was a vast, better say infinite water body surrounded by red topped buildings and huge mountains. The Split has arrived. This majestic scenery energized me and made tiredness disappear like it never existed.

After having a pizza, a coke and a snickers, both Napoleon and Columbus woke up inside me as I was now an explorer who could not wait to invade Split. I along with my friends strolled across the pavements along the Adriatic shores for an hour and then I saw a small off route road. We went in there to find a steep path followed by stairs. Out of curiosity, I asked a lady with a child coming down – “Where do we go from here?”

She seemed a local resident to me and was well versed in English too. But the way (may be unconsciously) she answered built the rhythm for me –

 “Up, Up, Up you go, don’t think just move with the flow

   If tired don’t lose the hope, you will have your reward when you reach the top”  

She rushed downstairs and we were certainly looking forward to our trail.

Our mind and body came in unison as we moved ahead holding target of reaching to the top in our eyes. I love such phases of my life where both my heart and mind sing the same tone and all energy in universe guides me to achieve what I really want. Else in most of the cases, my mind and heart had been engaged in conflicting views.

The natural beauty was unfolding itself as we moved upwards. After climbing upstairs for 15 mins, we reached a point where we could have a clear view of the city. The skies were clear, water was silent, and a ferry was cruising (may be to Hvar

Island). The view had everything to be categorized as “Absolute Beauty”. But as it is rightly said “Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder” and beholders here knew it was definitely not the treasure we were seeking. We rested for 10 mins and then we again started moving up as if Columbus would have stopped at Indies, he would never have reached further to the Americas.

One of my friends stopped after 5 mins and asked me whether I did hear a sound. I concentrated to hear a dim voice but could not deduce anything out of it. We kept moving but the sound intensified. Now we were scared as it could be a danger and the last person we saw on this journey was the lady who talked about reward at the top. But as lady came to my mind, so did the word “Hope” in her sentence. We kept moving as hope did not let us stop.

After walking for some time now, I saw a majestic Croatian flag and it was roaring with heavy wind waves. That sound was of waving flag which seemed to welcome the explorers. With every wave of flag, I could sense strength in me and feeling of freedom again awakened with its all might. I could not help but remind the song – “They call me freedom, just like a waving flag and then it goes back and then it goes back”. Within next 5 minutes, as we entered the top of Split, all our fears swept away and emotions burst out. We shrieked in joy as beauty lied all around us and beholder received treasure much valuable than he expected.

The word describing the moment was Blue

What was sky, what was sea, I did not have a clue

With every flash, bond size between me and nature grew

I thank God for rewarding me with such a majestic view

We spent a lot of time there till it started raining. We rushed to a big tree there and stood under it. But then a guilt struck me as kings are not supposed to leave their territory in trouble times. We came out facing straight in the eyes of thunder storm. The lightning seemed omnipresent in the sky and the calm Adriatic Sea was not silent anymore as the powerful waves were threatening the sea front. After sometime, it stopped temporarily and we found ourselves completely wet. But this rainfall brought us another spectacular scenery, I would rather say, another magic of nature unfolded before us. So, I found harmony with the storm as only friends not enemies can do such favors.

Then we started coming down but through a different path. It was a long, winding and torturous path and it took us 3 hours to come down. It was a less traveled road but then coming to Croatia and further in Split was not even in our list when we embarked our Euro trip.

I would quote Robert Frost here –

“Two road diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”

 

The rise of sharing economy

Sharing economy is rising as it offers peer to peer platforms where renters can generate extra income while recipients can get things at much cheaper rates

LAST night 40,000 people rented accommodation from a service that offers 250,000 rooms in 30,000 cities in 192 countries. They chose their rooms and paid for everything online. But their beds were provided by private individuals, rather than a hotel chain. Hosts and guests were matched up by Airbnb, a firm based in San Francisco. Since its launch in 2008 more than 4m people have used it—2.5m of them in 2012 alone. It is the most prominent example of a huge new “sharing economy”, in which people rent beds, cars, boats and other assets directly from each other, co-ordinated via the internet.

You might think this is no different from running a bed-and-breakfast, owning a timeshare or participating in a car pool. But technology has reduced transaction costs, making sharing assets cheaper and easier than ever—and therefore possible on a much larger scale. The big change is the availability of more data about people and things, which allows physical assets to be disaggregated and consumed as services. Before the internet, renting a surfboard, a power tool or a parking space from someone else was feasible, but was usually more trouble than it was worth. Now websites such as Airbnb, RelayRides and SnapGoods match up owners and renters; smartphones with GPS let people see where the nearest rentable car is parked; social networks provide a way to check up on people and build trust; and online payment systems handle the billing.

What’s mine is yours, for a fee

Just as peer-to-peer businesses like eBay allow anyone to become a retailer, sharing sites let individuals act as an ad hoc taxi service, car-hire firm or boutique hotel as and when it suits them. Just go online or download an app. The model works for items that are expensive to buy and are widely owned by people who do not make full use of them. Bedrooms and cars are the most obvious examples, but you can also rent camping spaces in Sweden, fields in Australia and washing machines in France. As proponents of the sharing economy like to put it, access trumps ownership.