Istanbul to Paris by
THE most convenient way to visit places in Europe is by air. But it is not the most economical. Air journey costs Rs 40,000 with a return ticket. But we wanted the trip to cost not more than Rs 35,000 each between the four of us.
The train journey from New Delhi to Mumbai was by Rajdhani Express. The cargo ship which was going to take us as paid passengers in officer class was bound for the Black Sea via the Suez Canal with a cargo of iron ore for Romania.
On my advice, my colleagues exchanged their currency into US dollars only and not into Turkish liras, Euro or French currency as they were undertaking the journey by sea and a foreign train for the first time. We took the minimum of personal baggage with us, with only six small gifts of cultural significance.
My three colleagues
were excited while passing through the Suez Canal. Despite temptation,
they refrained from buying camel leather goods, available cheap at the
ports of Ismalia and Port Said, where our ship stopped for fuelling.
During the voyage from Port Said to Istanbul we sailed close to the
coast of Israel, Lebanon and Turkey.
The train journey from Istanbul to Belgrade via Sofia is picturesque and exciting, passing through hills of oak and pine trees. We arrived at Vienna without stopping at Belgrade, where we had a sight-seeing break of four hours while changing trains.
Vienna is the life and soul of Austria. Located in the lap of the Alps, it is the home of Mozart and Beethoven. The Danube river is to Austrians what the Ganga is to Indians. The train had arrived early in the morning and we had time to visit cathedrals and churches as we walked along. The central public library had the vedas in German language. In the streets, everyone seemed to speak and understand German.
One of our colleagues, Sachin, was a guitarist and so when we visited the famous Philharmonic Orchestra in the afternoon, we decided to greet the Austrian audience by playing the 5th symphony of Beethoven. He borrowed a guitar from a willing orchestra guitarist on the central stage and started playing — first slowly and then rapidly. The audience was indifferent when Sachin first appeared on the stage, but as he started playing, there was silence for a while and then a loud and sustained applause as Sachin had struck a chord with the Austrian people by singing what Beethoven was famous for all over the world. Before leaving the opera, the conductor of the orchestra presented each of us with a crystal beer mug , with the insignia of the Philharmonic Orchestra engraved on it. As a token of thanks, we presented the conductor a 6-inch copper replica of the Nataraj statue.
We used to have fresh cottage cheese sandwiches and a glass of milk with a banana for breakfast. For lunch, we used to have a roll of brown bread, salad, a vegetarian pizza, fresh orange juice and boiled potatoes with sauce. During the evening, we used to have milk, vegetable cutlets, salad, soup of tomato, leek or asparagus and brown bread.
The next day we spent on the banks of the Danube and the vineyards located nearby. We did not accept the free wine bottles offered by the vineries, so we were offered packed bunches of the choicest, jumbo-sized Austrian white grape. We readily accepted the basket of grapes although it was inconvenient to carry. This supplemented our diet during the next 10 days of our journey to Paris via Venice.
On the second evening, we started on our journey to Venice through the historic city of Trieste. The industrial port of Marghera is the shipping port for Venice. My old friend, Capt Totorizzo, was the harbour master of the port and had offered to place his gondola at our disposal to see Venice for two days.
The Venice lagoon is a jewel of the Adriatic Sea. There are a total of 118 islands on which Venice city has taken roots. Most houses have landing stairs lined with marble for motor boats and gondolas to come alongside and pass mooring lines. There are about 400 gondolas in the city besides motor boats for speedy transportation. Nothing was more magical than the moonlit ride in the gondola brushed with mist by waterside restaurant to be served with host spaghetti, cheese and vegetable salad washed down with fresh orange juice while the gondola driver, Alberto Mario, had his wine break.
There is a famous saying, "See Venice before you die". As our gondola moves towards the city centre, we notice the imposing equestrian statue of Barttolommeo Colleoni in the Piazzo Sanmarg square, the most famous part and the heart and soul of Venice. A labyrinth of canals laces the centre of Venice. The city’s main boulevard, the grand canal, snakes past dozens of palaces and churches. One can buy duty-free cheap watches sold by weight along with all necessities of daily life in large boats fitted with computerised counters.
Venice has piped water supply system. Houses have a separate septic tank system. But with the passing of time, there has been a slow change in hydrology. High tides come at faster rates now and erode brick-work with increasing moisture pollution. Moisture rises into porous brick walls. So, owners raise first floors to make them habitable and insert lead sheeting to stop water seepage into the bricks. More and more Venitians migrate to seek a better future.
The next day, we were taken to the nearby farmhouse of Capt Totorizzo on the outskirts of Venice, dotted with olive, grape, orange and almond trees. We were lavishly treated with fresh grape juice, home-made sizzling cheese-capsicum pizza, roasted almonds and spaghetti by our host. After a two-day of pleasant stay, we boarded the train for Paris. Before leaving, we presented a replica of the Taj Mahal to Capt Totorizzo. On our way to Paris, we avoided diverting to Zurich on our right and the city of Genoa on our left.
On the 11th day of our journey from Istanbul, we were in Paris. Paris needs no description. We visited the Eiffel Tower, the Arch and the Palace De Invalid, etc. During our short stay in Paris, we got an impression that an average young French engineer wants, to forego the luxuries of eight weeks of annual holiday, 340 varieties of cheese and wines and 35-hour week to compete with the world tide of rapid computerised and expansion of opportunities. We stayed in Paris for two days and then returned to India by the same train and ship route, except that during our return trip we stopped at Munich and Budapest before reaching Istanbul.
On our arrival in New Delhi, we
calculated that each one of us had spent a total of Rs 35,620 for a
30-day trip, including rail and ship charges and board and lodging