Student Exchange to Europe- Journey of a Lifetime- Part 3!

This is the third part of a three-part series covering my student exchange journey to Europe in my MBA at IIM Calcutta. Here are Part 1 and Part 2

Trip 5: The Hidden Beauties- Italy

So off we went to our second last trip! We had made a packed itinerary for this one squeezing in as many places as possible. Alas, the plans went haywire right at the beginning :/. Holidays were on in full swing in France which meant that almost all the TGV’s (trains) were fully booked. Luckily a lady at the reservation desk in Paris train station was kind enough to help us sketch out a schedule via regional trains and we finally reached Venice a day later than scheduled. We reached Venice in the evening and were again mesmerized by the beautiful place complemented by the cobbled canals. No doubt it is considered to be the most beautiful city in the world due to its atypical urban design and artistic heritage.

Looks even prettier in the night!

The next day was spent exploring the unusual ‘Truli’ shaped houses at Alborobello. It was a Sunday here and it was delightful to see young kids around 6–8 years playing soccer, volleyball, basketball, painting, and what not in the entire street. You could soak in the happiness in this lively town! There was also a marathon taking place which was a mix of running and bicycling.

Such a cute bunch!

Post that we had to reach Salerno but again tragedy struck and one of my friends' bag got stolen at Caserta Railway Station early morning while we were waiting for our train. It was however shocking to see the attitude of the Italy police there who remarked that if your passport and important documents had not been stolen; you should be glad and smirked. Later our Airbnb host at Salerno remarked that Caserta is one of the most dangerous places in Italy infamous for such kind of thefts (future travelers beware!). Wish we had known that earlier since our entire plan was set back by a day again! At Salerno, we had a lovely room with a wonderful view of the town.

We next traveled to Amalfi which is splendid with its breath-taking beauty. The view from the top resembles a painting and is surreal. Went for ‘Path of Gods’ trail, got lost on our way and then realized that the next bus down was really late. Hitched a ride till a nearby village and then walked down for a good 30 mins to Amalfi. Although painful it gave us the chance to explore it extensively due to the walk down and will definitely remember it as one of the most scenic walks in life! On the way from Amalfi, stopped at Naples- a place famous for the best pizza in the world.

Amalfi: Superb scenery possible to marvel for long!

Our next stop was at Rome and I really loved this place for its sheer architecture, its deep legacy, and awe-inspiring history. Almost all the shops have a person of Asian origin here and there was an abundance of Indian restaurants (Gulab Jamun for 70 cents :p) Visited Colosseum an epic place where gladiator fights used to happen.

Rome’s passion for fitness against the legacy backdrop- Colosseum

Next up was Vatican City but due to the sheer rush to enter it and the huge queue we had to skip it. We also visited Civita Da Bagnoregio, a town scooped out of a hill where anywhere from 20 to 50 people live depending on the weather. It was a unique place noted for its striking position on top of a volcanic tuff.

Fancy living in a place with a max population of 50?!
Inside the town, countless beauties as this

Visited the much acclaimed Cinque Terra next and the 5 villages which were a big let down. Was expecting quite a lot from this place especially after having seen the stunning pictures earlier. On reaching however found it not to be so great and there was an absolute rush in the small villages. Moreover, the trail walk was closed due to a landslide and hence could visit only 2 of the 5 villages.

We next visited Florence which will be remembered for the ‘apertivo’ which we had and the brilliant service offered by the owners there (the place had apparently opened only a month back and hence got the best of service at the best of prices!). Our last stop was at Milan. The cathedral here was mesmerizing and amazing. What added a cherry to the cake was the surrounding area- Piazza del Duomo the most luxurious place to shop at Milan with all the high-end brands. Its architecture and the stylish buildings were again a sight to marvel.

Milan Cathedral: Wonder Beauty

Things missed out on: Leaning Tower of Pisa

Trip 6: ZNMD 2- Spain and Portugal

The final trip which was the most happening, the most expensive, and the best one :)

So we started our final trip with a friend from another college joining us. We started with Barcelona and booked Kabul Party Hostel to experience Barca’s night life. In the day took the walking tour to experience the unusual building designs and architectural marvels of Antoni Gaudi, a Spanish architect and the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. Saw La Sagrada Familia which was huge and unusual. Also went to Park Guell primarily motivated by its stunning pictures. Kabul Party did not disappoint and we went for an awesome pub crawl here! Mr. Mehta’s antics to remember here!

One of Gaudi’s architecture. Each design had a story linked to it!

The next day we picked our car Audi A1 to start the Road Trip classic ZNMD style! The entire view travelling through car is superb and the roads in Spain are awesome to drive on. We kept on exploring different cities in Spain.

The best highlight of the trip was the Skydiving experience in Algarve, Portugal! Jumping from a plane is something which needs to be experienced to understand the rush, excitement and the sheer thrill and it simply can’t be put in words. The initial 70 seconds feels as if your skin is about to burn due to the air pressure. Luckily when the parachute opens and you experience the enthralling view down it is pure adrenaline rush and ecstasy! Took the video and photos of the dive and hope to be back here to take the one week sky diving course here!

When posing is more important than breathing!
Captain steers while I take a good click :p

Next day went for Kayaking and explored the beautiful river caves. Some of them had narrow entrances but as you went inside it was stunning to witness nature’s beauty at its best with shining blue or green water. Wish pictures could have been taken here. Post the Kayak had a really nice Indian meal in Portugal after a long time. Only after you are deprived of Indian food for a long time do you realize its real worth!!

Our kayak adventures!
Yum Yum!

Went to Cabo Da Roca next which is the west most point in Europe. Saw the sunset there which is till date the best I have seen. With the entire Atlantic Ocean on the right side, it appeared as if the sun just melted into the ocean giving a golden glow and again it was an unforgettable moment.

Picture does not do justice to this stunning moment!

Things missed out on: Flamenco Show, Scuba Diving at Costa Brava

Conclusion:

All in all it was a delightful experience. Despite all the initial apprehensions on whether I will go for STEP, I am glad that I continued and made it to France. Travelling teaches you so much about new places, new culture, new nationalities and offers newer perspectives that it is hard to pen all of it down. It is one of the best teachers and I now plan to explore a new place at least once every 4 months! Let’s see how it goes with professional life now!

The time spent at Kedge Business School was pretty delightful. Although the studies were extremely easy by Indian standards, it did expose me to an entirely different spectrum of operations where group work and team building activities are emphasized way more for students and mindless rote learning and the chase to bag the best grades takes a backseat.

The best thing was to discover that there do exist places on Earth especially France where people chill out and relax more, have long lunches (at least 2 hours), sit out at cafes to catch up with friends and families in the evenings and simply enjoy life more and worry less :). This probably will not happen anytime in India soon (considering we rank 14th among the most stressed countries in the world) but I do hope to come back to Europe to further explore its marvels and hidden delights, to soak in the awesomeness of staying in a hostel and being treated like family, to the walking tours and the wealth of knowledge and legacy learned, to the hosts of Airbnb who treat you ever so warmly and affectionately, to the superb adventure activities and the adrenaline rush, to exploring, getting lost and marveling the sheer beauty of nature and finally to the joy of making new friends and creating some fantastic memories to treasure for life!

Till we meet again Cheerios and Au revoir. Here is to the good old days and many more to come!!

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Venture Capital, Blogger, Travel Enthusiast, Ex- Goldman Sachs