The European Dream {On a Budget} by Manali Debroy

The bridge between a dream and the reality can only be crossed if the desire for the dream to come true is strong enough. They say, “Travellers are dreamers, who make their dream a reality.” Visiting Europe is one of those dreams that every traveler thinks about. History, architecture, literature, flora and fauna, the nightlife, shopping and the food – every bit of these, entices you towards Europe. And, I am definitely one of those travellers who is charmed by Europe. Traveling is one of the very few experiences, where you go on a journey of adventuring beautiful landscapes, and end up discovering a new and a better you every time. Europe just gives you that – a humble abode offering a plethora of beautiful places and an experience of a lifetime. Ten days of European escapade and you have a whole lifetime of memories to take away. Before starting on the beautiful Central European voyage, let’s talk about the most important thing – the Schengen visa. Having said that, you need to apply a Schengen visa for the European country where you are spending most of your time, irrespective of the port of entry. In my case, my port of entry was Venice, but my itinerary had the maximum number of days in Switzerland and Austria. Hence, I had to apply for Switzerland Schengen visa, because that was the first country where I was spending most of my time. With this piece of information, let’s start with the enthralling and mesmerising European vacation.

Venice – Gondo-like it, Venezia!

The Grand Canal and the famous gondola ride – does that already mesmerises you? Well, mesmerising is an understatement, when the city you are visiting literally floats on waters of the Grand Canal. And the only means of commute is by water. So, after an approximately ten-hour flight to Venice from Mumbai, without wasting any time, I took the water taxi and headed towards San Marco – the heart of Venice. The journey from the airport to San Marco was through the Grand Canal, going past some ancient historical buildings and under some magnificent bridges. After reaching my hotel, which was not very far from the taxi station, I took a hot water bath and refreshed myself with a coffee. In the evening, I head out to the St. Mark’s square, which is a must visit as they say. Surrounded by an air filled with Italian classics playing on the violin and the whole place lit up beautifully, you feel no less than a movie star, standing in the center of the place. The walk from the St. Mark’s square to the magnificent Rialto bridge is through the narrow Venetian lanes, filled with local artisan shops and good Italian food. And then you meet the Rialto bridge, which literally looks like ‘The Wall’ (if you are a fan of GOT, you will get it) – strong, spectacular and yet so gorgeous. With its white marble structure, glowing with those night lamps hung at each corner of the sculpture, it was nothing less than a treat to the eyes of the commoners. Post this beautiful evening, morning held more surprises for me than I could think of. The sun kind of plays hide and seek, but mostly it is beautiful. You can take a gondola ride and see Venice through the eyes of the gondolier. You can also do a one-day visit to Murano, which is a beautiful island in Venice, mostly known for its glass making tradition, but I loved the colorful buildings more; or you can walk around the whole Venice, which will not take you more than two to three hours. After all, it’s a city of ancient and gorgeous architecture. Some of the must-visit among the bridges are Rialto, Ponte dell’Accademia, Ponte degli Scalzi, Ponte dell Guglie; while among the churches, The Basilica of St. Mark and Church of Santa Maria della. If you are lucky, as I was, you even experience, a flash flood in Venice (October – January), where the water from the canal enters the city and you walk around with ankle length water, wearing colorful plastic boots. With this first amazing destination ticked off my bucket list, it was time to visit the beautiful country of Switzerland.

Switzerland – For the love of nature

The next stop was the breathtakingly beautiful Switzerland. I took a train from Venice to Lucerne, in Switzerland, via Milan. Trains are super comfortable and convenient. I would recommend booking the tickets while you plan your travel, as that will be cheaper and hassle-free. You can get the tickets online at the Euro rail website. Arriving at Lucerne and stepping out of the station, what your eyes experience is nothing short of a paradise. A city enveloped by the gigantic and gorgeous alps, and the station overlooking the amazingly clean Lucerne lake, it was quite a sight; dreamy I must say. Before we take a tour of this lovely country, some things to note. Swiss travel is totally worth the burn in your wallet, but it will be better to plan and book Swiss pass before you travel, as that will make your commute and much other sightseeing much cheaper and way easier. For four days, the Swiss pass costs EUR 256 approximately for one person, which includes public transport like buses, trains, cable cars, and even cruise for free, and you also get good discounts to visit the major destinations of the country. Also, do not forget, to get your warm clothes. The first of my four-day visit in Switzerland was the Jungfrau, known as ‘The Top of Europe’. The information center in Lucerne station is quite good, and they guide you well on how to reach the destinations. After reaching the Kleine Scheidegg railway station, you need to buy tickets to Jungfrau. You reach there by riding on a cogwheel train, which itself is an experience. It’s at a very high altitude, so people with motion sickness should carry precautions. On the journey to the top of Europe, you are actually passing through the Alps. Surrounded by the beautiful white snowy mountains, it is nothing short of a paradise. Reaching that place, you actually feel like being at the top of Europe. Though it was freezing up there, the view was gorgeous. At the right season like June – September, you can do multiple adventures, but since I went in October, I had to be content with snowball fights, which I don’t regret at all. Taking a piece of that place with me, the next day I went to Mt. Titlis. A little history about this place is that the film DDLJ was shot here and Bollywood fans should be more thrilled to visit here, especially if you are a Shah Rukh Khan fan. You will start your mount from the base station by a cable car that will take you all the way up to a place called Trübse. With the sunshine on the white mountains, overlooking a lake and a small wooden house in between the waters, is just something you only would have dreamt of. So, enjoy the place for a little while, and then take the Rotair and proceed to Mt. Titlis. The temperature here is not that low as Jungfrau, but it is still cold to freeze your fluids. I stayed there for some time, out in the open, surrounded by the beautiful Alps and soaking in the valley view. These took me two days to cover, and the rest two days, I visited places like Rheinfall and Interlaken. Interlaken is picturesque and very heavenly. So, if you feel like singing the Coldplay song, ‘Paradise’, I would say, don’t hold your breath. The last day, I spent most of my time in Lucerne. I visited the ‘Lion Monument’, cruised on the Lucerne lake and took a walk on the oldest wooden bridge of Europe, ‘The Chapel Bridge’ (Kapellbrücke) – which is decorated beautifully with pink flowers all around. It was hard to say goodbye to Switzerland, but it was time to visit the final destination for my Europe trip.

Austria – Arrive and Revive

My final destination took me to Vienna – the capital of Austria. An amazingly well-built city to look around and explore. I was staying at Stephansplatz, one of the most important squares of the city and the whole place is so urban, yet historical. You have pubs and open-air restaurants at the center, while still surrounded by historical monuments- St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Hofburg Palace, MuseumsQuartier. Take a walk and visit these places. I also went to the historical and cultural heart of the city – The Vienna State Opera house, that gives you a theatrical feel in its own authentic way. Also, definitely do the Vienna ring tram sightseeing, which will take you around the city, passing by the city’s most important sights like the Parliament, Opera house, Vienna Museum, Natural History Museum, Imperial Palace, City Hall, etc. The city has many Palaces to visit, hence, do not miss the beautiful and unique architecture of these monuments, especially, the gorgeous green dome. I went to see two magnificent and charming Palaces in Vienna – The Schönbrunn Palace and The Belvedere Palace. Both are unique in their own way. The Schönbrunn Palace has an amazing panoramic view from the top, and if you have a heart to trek a bit uphill to capture some amazing pictures, then go with your heart. The gardens here are breathtaking and you wouldn’t want to miss taking a stroll in those lush green landscape. The Belvedere Palace is equally beautiful with amazing gardens and fountains. You wouldn’t want to miss clicking pictures with those yellow and green trees, and spring flowers all around. Even if history is not your flavor, these palaces will still attract you for their sculptures and refreshing aura. The palace tours tired me a little, and hence, a relaxing evening near the Danübe river was my next stop. Relax and sit by the bank side, sipping your bottle of wine or feeding the ducks with bread crumbs, or just read a book. If you are an amusement park person, then don’t miss out the Praterstern. It’s amazing and lively in the evening.

The city of Salzburg – the birthplace of the famous composer Mozart, was my next stop. It is a day trip from Vienna to Salzburg, so you don’t have to change hotels/hostels and go through the hassle of carrying your luggage around. So, take the train from Vienna, and reach there in an hour. The first place I visited there was the Hellbrunn Palace. For this, you have to trek up to a high point, where you can see the Austrian Alps and a panoramic view of the whole city along with the Palace. You get to see some beautiful forest uphill as well. Do not miss out the trek here. The next on my bucket list was the Salzburg fortress – Festung Hohensalzburg. You need to take a funicular ride to reach the top of the fortress for the city view. The ride is one of a kind and you just have to pay Euro 8. Also, take a walk around the nearby places near the fortress. There are little magical places nearby, not really marked anywhere in the maps but they give you what your soul needs the most – tranquillity. These are those quiet, peaceful and soul searching places, where you would just want to stand and look at the nature around you; sink yourself in it and enjoy till the moment lasts. Post this, I went to see Mozart’s birthplace. It is a building and the whole area is quite lively – the music of the greatest artist being played everywhere, local artisan shops, and some local food to devour. If you have some more time at hand and you are a musical person, then try the ‘Sound of Music Tour’ as well. I had a next day flight to catch and hence, I headed back to Vienna.

After this amazing country, my Euro trip for 2018 came to an end and it was time to go back to my home – India. The budget of the whole trip might go a little less than two lakhs for one person* (Switzerland taking a big chunk of the pie), but at the end, you will be satisfied and come back rejuvenated. The experience that you take away from this trip, would be invaluable and cherished moments for life. So, all my travel buddies, do not think much, plan it and make the Euro trip happen.

As for me, the trip taught me to be a lot more independent as well as happier; and more than anything, respect the nature and the people with whom you live, that together form the community you reside in.

*Your budget will definitely come down, if you are backpacking and living in hostels/dorms rather than hotels like I did.