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In Search of Europe’s Nightlife


Talking about beauty in the context of Paris, its difficult to leave out Parisian women. Non-Parisian French women, please be not offended – I haven’t seen the rest of, or any bit of the rest of, France, so I am not qualified to comment on that. I do hereby proclaim it loud and far – Parisian women are, and are so by quite some margin, the most beautiful women I have ever seen. There is something very classy about them, their looks, the way they carry themselves – they look classy even in the jazziest sleaziest club attire. My travel-worn look and language handicap didn’t really give me any chance with them, and given my Amsterdam misadventures, I didn’t get too adventurous with them.

In the evening, I went to the Eiffel tower and Arc of Triumph. The last time I checked, Eiffel tower was the most visited monument in the world, and I knew what to expect – that and overcrowding took away some fun of it. Arc of Triumph was a pleasant surprise, however. Not very crowded but the terrace still offering a great view of the city – a perfect place to come with friends with food or drinks and party till the 10pm closing time. A little bit of history and future history about the Arc – Napoleon built it to commemorate a major victory, the Allied troops marched through it after liberating Paris from the Nazis, and in a few years, George W. Bush will march underneath it after liberating Paris from French as part of his War on Terror.

Checking out French live music scene was also on my agenda. So, I picked up a local event guide and the mean miserly student that I am, picked up a no-cover jazz place. As if I hadn’t enough surprises already, all singers there sang in English as they sat about joking and chatting about in French, probably sneering at the lyrics of the sang they just sang. They were very few people there – I felt noticed, and hence compelled to order some drink when asked. I asked for Coca-cola, but my inflated ego on saving money by doing so was burst when I saw the bill– 5 euros for a freaking bottle of coca-cola. I felt like someone just slapped me, and then mocking at me, held up a sign saying “Welcome to Paris, you broke moron”. Thankfully, the subway had stopped running when I came out – I was saved of 1 euro and 40 cents that I would have spent on the ticket instead of walking back.

I could go on and on – even a week in Paris will not be sufficient to explore her (no, I am confusing Paris with a women; I am just using a feminine gender to emphasize Paris’ beauty). There are streets and shops, there are museums monuments, there are bars and clubs – the best each of their kind, and I will end with the suggestion to anyone thinking about going to Paris – don’t think, just go!

Vienna

I was already getting burnt out and was low on sleep by the time I got to Vienna from wanting to do too much in too little time. Vacation time it hardly had been, and though never was the concentration as intense, the busy hectic schedule very much reflected that during the problem set days. By now, I had enough of museums – I needed some time to chew on art I had already seen; any more immediately will only confuse me. So, in a way, I was relieved at less work to do–taking the problem sets analogy, its like resigning to your current grade and deciding to do no more work in a no final-exam class, or dropping a class altogether.

Vienna is a small town – the best way to get a sense of the town was to take a tram that went around the inner city. The town center was marked by St. Stephen’s Gothic cathedral. There seems to be a trend of Gothic cathedral in all reasonably old European cities – you have Notre Dame in Paris, Dome in Cologne I saw later, and in Amsterdam – there are so many Gothic buildings, its difficult to make out what is what. Probably back in the middle ages, the size and grandeur of the cathedral was supposed to reflect on the city’s pride – the way the gadgets one carries today does so on individual pride today.

There are museums galore in Vienna, but as I already explained, they were out of my list. Vienna was for a quite some time the capital of a powerful Austro-Hungarian empire, and that shows in the quality of palaces and numbers – palaces were often gifted away to the siblings who didn’t ascend the throne. Sort of like giving a crying younger child getting a small toy car when the older child gets a full fledged remote controlled car set on his 12th birthday. It would have be interesting to see the royalty’s reaction when Austria became a republic, monarchy was dissolved, and palaces were annexed from them – from my experience with snatching children’s toys, I don’t think it would have been pleasant.

Unlike Amsterdam, where the Dutch food mostly of potatoes, rice, and red meat (I am not stereotyping, but quoting a Dutch friend living in Amsterdam), and Paris, where the local food was too expensive to try, Viennese food was inexpensive, varied, and rich vegetarian options as well. This probably explains why McDonald’s and Burger Kings were not very common – they realized they didn’t stand a chance against good inexpensive food! The pastries I had there are the best I ever had. And there is Naschemarkt. Here, you will find an impressive array of stalls and small restaurants selling all kinds of food – sea food, cheese, fruits, pastries, Austrian, from rest of Europe, Indian food, Asian food, you name it! A lot of the delicacies are just lined up there seducingly, waiting to seize upon your attention. If you go there and not taste at least a dozen different things, let me tell you mate, you need to get your taste buds checked!

There is more to Vienna, I am sure, but I was too relaxed to try more.
One reason I do know for I sure I want to go back to Vienna is food!

Salzburg

I stopped in Salzburg for about three hours on my way to Munich from Vienna. I must have been carrying some bad omen with me as I went around – bad weather left Vienna along with me. Thankfully for me, Salzburg is not too far from Vienna – so its difficult for nature to conspire against me to have warm and sunny weather in Vienna, yet cold and damp in Salzburg without defying its own laws and probability. The Alps could have played foul, perhaps, but they backed out of any such misadventure against me.

Salzburg is a very small calm serene place, the kind that the moment you see, you say to yourself, “If there is paradise on Earth, it is”. I maybe quoting a Mughal emperor on a different place, but I am sure he would say the same he saw Salzburg as well. Quite frankly, there is not much to the town center other than coffee shops and some buildings connected to Mozart. But you don’t go to Salzburg to see the buildings; you go to enjoy the setting.

The entire experience is very healing – if there weren’t a thing like naturopathy, Salzburg would have forced people to invent it. My dream work day: sitting outside a Salzburg cafe working. For evening exercise, throw in a run to Hohensalzburg fortress. I promise, I won’t ask for anything more in life!

Munich

Munich brings to most people’s mind the picture of happy jolly beer guzzling people. To a certain extent, that is true – you can see people drinking beer on streets, in parks, on the subway, or whatever place you can think of, in evenings or on weekends; it is even difficult to find beer bottles less than half liters. (I dared to inquire about smaller bottles somewhere, only to be told that its unmanly to drink off smaller ones!) I betcha that 9 out of 10 pictures you may have seen in ads of bartenders carrying big dozen glasses or so of beer are from some bar in Munich or somewhere else in Bavaria!

I decided to become a part of this Munich-o-rama for my only night in Munich. I went out partying, had one half L thing before leaving, two at the party, and two more at a bar post-party. I rarely drink, and this was, by some distance, both in terms of volume as well as volume per hour, the max I been. Even the native Muncheners were impressed, even encouraging me on, like “Frank the tank” chant for Will Farrelly’s character in “Old School”.  Thankfully, the similarity didn’t go farther than that – I definitely didn’t go streaking from there. I was, however, barely in control of my limbs, and came the closest I had been to throwing up. I don’t remember too much of that night – I will have to sync up with folks I was with that night to make sure I didn’t do anything embarrassing! The lesson: one learns to be a Munchener over a lifetime; one can’t become one overnight.

Its difficult to say what makes Munich stand out otherwise. It does have a more than a fair share of history, museums and buildings, and a very impressive nightlife (something I was too drunk to explore). A very interesting place is the collection of paintings of the most beautiful women of time as ordered by King Ludwig. A ingenious concept– probably that was royalty’s pretense for getting to hang out with the world’s beauties. Lesser creatures like me have to work harder to get to do that.

Trust me, after seeing as much of art and buildings as I had seen by the time I got to Munich, technical whizzes (what are you doing at MIT mister/mam, if you are not? ๐Ÿ™‚ are bound to long for something more technical. Its sort of like being a fish which has been out of water for a while, and enjoying learning to live out of water, being returned fleetingly to the comfort of water.

The Deutsche science museum is arguably the best science museum in the world, and I would have been able to testify on the claim if the exhibits were labeled in English as well. For the car aficionados, there is the BMW museum.

The visit to these two museums was comforting. As a guy I met later in Cologne on his way back to California after traveling and spending a bit too much time with hot Eastern European blondes said: “If after having had or seen as much as I had recently, I am excited about returning to my girlfriend, I must have made the right choice in life”.

Berlin

The earliest memory I had of Berlin was when memorizing world capitals as my part of my attempt to improve my General Knowledge– back when I was maybe in my 4th grade. It was just a name for me as late as 1989 when I saw about the fall of Berlin wall diving East and West Germanys in on news – mine was a cold-war non-aligned country, so anything related to cold war wouldn’t have been as a big a news there as it must have been in United States. Still, I didn’t think too much about it then.

By European standards, Berlin is a relatively young city with not too much of old or medieval history. It has clearly dominated the 20th century history though. No other city in the world has had a roller coaster ride from villain to vanquished to worn out to victim to a place with all makings of a winner of future in such a short spell. Thats to the indomitable spirit of Berliners, Berlin is now looking very good to claim 21st century entirely its own as well, and this time, for all good reasons.

Berliners haven’t done this by trying to forget the past and starting afresh – a perfectly justifiable and practical approach had it been taken. Instead, under the site of former Nazi secret police headquarters – probably the most shivering address of the third Reich, where the wall stood later, in an exhibit titled “The topography of terror”, telling, in chilling detail, the elements of Nazi infrastructure that unleashed the terror of WWII. If you take away the very disturbing fact that everything told actually, it had all the makings of a John Grisham or Robert Ludlum novel. There was much to learn from it – Hitler came to power by perfectly legitimate democratic means in what was till then a perfectly reasonable democracy, but built an infrastructure and unleashed an agenda that was clearly undemocratic.  For those like me who had been thinking of democracy as a relatively foolproof system, it was a hard-hitting lesson – democracy works only when kept in check. I have never been a big of political and social activism, and while that is unlikely to change, I can now appreciate their utility.

Another troubled period in Berlin’s history was during the Wall. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum exhibits the ingenious and brave attempts by East Berliners to flee across the wall – some techniques they used were redesigning cars so that humans could fit in the drunk, home made parachutes and balloons, tunnels dug from East Berlin into West, in a boat under a hail of bullets, climbing the wall on a rope held by folks on the West, and home made Soviet war uniforms!

The corridor and pillars outside the museum of natural history still carry the damages from the WWII fighting. Its difficult to believe that a site that one can now walk through enjoying the scenic beauty was where men were struggling to kill each other in “Saving Private Ryan” kind of setting. Then, there is the church on Ku’dam that hasn’t been repaired after WWII damages – striving to keep the memory of war fresh in minds of people.

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