If there was one thing I did in 2017, it was travel. Mostly across the country, sometimes across continents. I travelled on the first day of the year, and the last, and also many, many days in between. I went to some old places, and many, new ones. Which then were my favourite?
1. How do you even begin to describe a city that has books written after it? How do you, try to bring out the story of a city that is over two thousand years old? How do you put on paper the spirit of a city so vibrant that colours fail to describe it? You cannot, and do not fit Paris into words. You only try to capture some elements of it and do your best to paint a picture with words hoping it will be a tribute to a great city. Paris had me at its buildings and squares, people and dogs, parks and streets, river and cruises. I cannot wait to be back!
2. Brussels encompasses many worlds in one. From having a hauntingly beautiful town center, buzzing with tourists and visitors, to having a chic and swank business district inhabited by Gucci and Armani clad business executives; from narrow winding lanes that transport you back in time to sprawling parks that help you rest your aching feet, there is so much to see and do, that 5 days seemed inadequate.
3. Flanked by two hamlets called Prantik and Bolpur, and two tiny rivers called Kopai and Khoai, Shantiniketan lives in times gone by. People commute on bicycles or on foot, motor vehicles are hard to find, food is served on dried leave pattals or in clay pots. Roadside shacks do not serve anything other than tea, and touristy things are hard to find. My father always wanted me to study in Vishwabharati and I had laughed his suggestion off, after being there I realized why.
4. Heritage is everywhere in Bruges. In the squares that make the scenic heart of the city, and the horse-drawn carriages that trot around the Markt; in Belfort and in the grand old buildings which date back at least a few centuries. While the entire town is surreal, it is the houses that adorn the narrow, tree lined streets, which stole my heart. Identical in nature, tall and narrow, these townhouses with bell shaped roofs, tiny windows, and brick facades stand testimony to a rich, if turbulent, history of the economic capital of Flanders. As if the houses aren’t enough, the pointy gilded architecture, linger-on cafés, vivid art, people on bikes, and meandering canals dotted with swans further add to the dreaminess of Bruges.
5. My girls and I often talk about going back to and settling down in Disneyland. They will work at the park they say, I can be the aunty at the ticket window, and the father can perhaps be an usher. Nothing had prepared us for Disneyland. Neither the websites that I had browsed for hours, nor the brochures that I had found in the apartment the night before; not the things I had read up, not the pictures I had seen. What made Disneyland unforgettable for me was passion with which they work to make you smile and the joy they spread. So much happiness in one place is hard to find. I left a part of me in Disneyland.
6. Ghent is often referred to as the hidden treasure of Belgium. A lesser-known university town, which is often overlooked in elaborate itineraries, happens to be an electric blend of traditional and modern. Dominated by the gothic bell-tower and the mediaval count’s castle, the quaint town is all about cobbled streets, narrow lanes, gliding tramcars and meandering canals.
7. A tiny town in the heart of rural Bengal, surrounded by paddy fields and hutments, flanked by low hills and lakes, little known to the outside world, and taken for granted by the locals — Bishnupur, at first glance, may seem like an ordinary hamlet, displaying no visible sign of being an important centre on the historical and cultural map of West Bengal. Reaching Bishnupur is a task, but, once you get there, the town rewards you with humble people, magnificent sights, and exquisite craft.
8. Allahabad is hardly a new place. It is a city I called home, a place where I learnt about love and life, friendship and jealousy. But it is also home to Anand Bhavan, Sangam, Civil Lines, and Gangaji. I went back to Allahabad after 20 years and was glad that not much has changed. The bungalows are still as beautiful, the schools still as grand, the university still as awe inspiring, and the food still as soulful.
9. When we could not find an apartment in Amsterdam, I was heartbroken. I moped and cried and cursed my luck. When I finally arrived in Harleem, I knew why they say what happens happens for good. A quiet quaint town, with tiny townhouses, imposing cathedral, sprawling town square, beautiful art galleries and designer boutiques, and no people. Harleem, to me, was the perfect antidote to the noisy, crowded Amsterdam.
10. So, I almost left Amsterdam out even though it is touted as one of the world’s most popular places. Why then, did I not like it? Well! It could just be bad timing. I arrived in Amsterdam on a Friday morning when the whole world seemed to have descended upon the Dam Square. On to of it I was with kids, and tired from ten days of travel. So, I guess it is not as much about the place as it is about the circumstances. What I loved about Amsterdam however was the water, and how integral it is to the city, how so many people live in the canals, in boats which have water and electricity connection, and a permanent address. Will I give Amsterdam another chance? Maybe not. There is so much to see in the world, why get stuck to a place you don’t like.