“I can open your eyes
Take you Wonder by Wonder
Over, Sideways and Under
On a Magic Carpet Ride
A Whole New World….”A Part of the lyrics of the song “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin (1992 & 2019) Movie
Beautiful song isn’t it? The visual effects make it even more magical..!!
You might be wondering what has this got to do with the current blog post?
To answer this question, let us recall what we might have been hearing since ages, pertaining to journeys and destinations, one of the most cliche ones being:
Journey is often more beautiful than the destinationAnonymous
I would like to offer a slight literal and figurative treatment to the above quote, to help get some clarity.
There can be no dispute in the assertion that the destination is beautiful, else, why would one have undertaken the journey to reach the destination in the first place?
The journey is beautiful, however, subject to certain conditions. Figuratively and literally, some of those conditions are ease of travel, comfort, beautiful scenes beyond imagination to begin with in the first place – anything which is far from the unwanted hassles or agony to begin with.
Literally, I would consider a journey worth remembering or awe inspiring, if I get something like this when I look out of the window of the vehicle.
“Unbelievable sight, indescribable feeling”, isn’t it?
Not yet? Well, don’t worry. This blog post will attempt to take you through one such journey and a lot of destinations, and try upholding the truth of the journey (and the destination) being not just beautiful, but more awe evoking than anything superlative of spectacular. Let me take you to a journey within a part of the “Whole New World” – this time in Schengen Europe.
Background – A Whole New World
A Whole New World
I wanted to take the meaning of this phrase literally (or the closest to its literal meaning).
What is so “whole new” a thing about Schengen Europe? I mean almost everyone has seen or has been bombarded with pictures, videos, text or any other form of information – thanks to the Age of Social Media.
Tarry a little, friend.
Think again. Did you base your thinking upon your views of the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum?
If the answer to the above question is yes, then I believe you need to broaden the horizon of your assessment.
In a country like India, spread across approx. 3.2 Million square kilometres, there are vast swathes of land ranging from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu lying unexplored or completely out of the radar of the common tourist. Does anyone know about the presence of a 1000 year old dam in India? No? Then that did act as a surprise to you (A part of which can be read in my blog post here).
India is not just Taj Mahal, contrary to the image of India imprinted in the minds of the common tourists. India is a country which can offer a lot more to an inquisitive explorer. Likewise, Russia is not just Moscow and St. Petersburg (A part of this dreamscape can be read here).
Now, it is time to rightly extrapolate the above thought to Schengen Europe. Its not just the Eiffel Tower or Amsterdam. With a land area of nearly 10.2 Million square kilometres, Europe is definitely a whole new world in itself – waiting to be explored and making the explorer gasp in wonder.
Take you “Wonder by Wonder”
But first, what are those “Wonders”?
Now, don’t go by the conventional understanding about the “Wonder” which portrays it as one of the seven wonders of the World. It will be preferable if you go by the literal dictionary meaning to cherish it fully.
Wonder (n): a feeling of great surprise and admiration caused by seeing or experiencing something that is strange and new
Wonder (n): an object that causes a feeling of great surprise and admirationCambridge Dictionary
Let us stick to these two out of the many meanings of “Wonder”.
Now, the task at my hand was to identify those “wonders” which could evoke the feeling of wonder for certain. The wonder thus mentioned can be anything – from monuments to natural phenomena like the Auroras to even food. The experience should be “wondrous”.
7 Countries. 10 days. Numerous “Wonders” to choose from.
The criteria I use for classifying some place worth evoking a “wonder” can be briefed as follows:
- Preferably, the place should not have been exposed much to tourists. Hence places plagued with over-tourism are quite off the radar for me.
- Should be strikingly beautiful. Well that is a bit subjective. I appreciate the beauty due to natural features or age old buildings quite a lot.
- Preferable to have some bespoke experience associated with it. That can be in form of historical significance, geographical peculiarity or something similar.
Now without much further ado, lets start the journey, “wonder by wonder”.
The first thought which might come to your mind is – all such criteria gave Paris as the result? Paris, quite recently, had an instance of over-tourism as well.
Let me clarify, the criteria didn’t change as such. I picked up Paris as a major city to visit because of the following reasons:
- Economic: Flights from India to Paris were quite cheap during the time I booked them
- TGV (Train de Grand Vitesse): Traveling in one of the fastest trains in the World cannot be missed.
- Macaron: Missing this culinary delight is definitely not recommended.
The first point received the maximum weight. Hence, I decided to start off with the second Eurotrip from the City of Lights itself.
A picturesque cloudy weather with light drizzle greeted me at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Perhaps, this is a reason why romanticism is often associated with France, and Paris in particular.
Random shots taken at different places in Paris. The landscape, flora and weather can make one fall in love with the city
And yes, despite being a highly cliche tourist activity, clicking a picture of the Eiffel Tower is more or less mandatory if one is in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is the icon of Paris for some reasons – which I found to be its magnificence and beauty. Although I was hugely put off by the sheer volume of crowds thronging the entrance of the Eiffel Tower, I did manage to click some close shots of the same. And those are more than worth it.
Glimpses of the Eiffel Tower. Also featuring the Sienne River in the panorama
The humongous crowd made me drop my plans for entering the Eiffel Tower gardens or climb to the summit of the Tower. The rains gave a double whammy – had to drop my plan of visiting the Sinking House. However, not all was lost.
The plan for the “Twin Resolute Statue” was still on and was successfully executed.
Now how did the Statue of Liberty come to Paris?
While everyone knows about the fact that the Statue of Liberty in USA was actually a gift to the US people from France, not many would be familiar with its twin over here in Paris.
The Statue of Liberty in Paris was gifted by American expatriate community to France to commemorate the Centennial year of the French Revolution. This statue was inaugurated 3 years after its US counterpart. The Statue faces westwards, in the direction of its twin in New York. Not many would notice either that this Statue of Liberty was used as a plot point in the National Treasures:Book of Secrets movie.
With nothing much left to be done in the rain drenched Paris, I decided to call it a day and get some rest for bigger mysteries to waiting to be unfolded the next day – in a place which is almost the epitome of anything classical, artistic or historical. And that place is Italy.
Tarry a little friend. The story of France is not yet over.
The journey to Turin, or Torino, gave me an opportunity not also to tick off a childhood dream of traveling in the Train de Grand Vitesse (TGV) – one of the fastest trains on Earth, but also to get a bonus view of not one but two breathtaking surprises:
- The Rolling Meadows of French countryside
- The Majestic Alps (also featuring Ice – the ultimate stress buster)
Glimpses of the picturesque French countryside and its rolling meadows. Courtesy, the TGV train journey (Bottom)
And finally, I enter Italy, with a spectacular view of Ice on the Majestic Italian Alps in Bardonecchia. A pristine and spectacular view of Ice acts as a perfect stress-buster. In my case, it acted as a prelude to the surprises waiting to be unfolded.
Turin / Torino (Italy)
What a better sight exists to welcome someone other than a white carpet of ice..!!
A fantastic welcoming sight of the Majestic Alps sporting Ice, as viewed from Bardonecchia
These dazzling sights can be seen from the trains plying between Paris and Milan, which necessitates the crossing of the majestic Alpine Mountain Range.
Turin is a city in the Piedmont Region of Italy, lying at the foothills of the Alpine Mountain Range. The Piedmont region is quite famous for Italian Wines, which makes Turin an important travel destination for wine aficionados. The Football enthusiasts might as well consider visiting Juventus FC Stadium, which is the home ground to the famous Juventus Football Club. Not many might know the fact that the headquarters of the famous confectionery Company – Ferrero SpA (ringing bells about Ferrero Rocher?), is in the Piedmont Region itself, not quite far from Turin.
Any history buff or art lover will find himself or herself in a goldmine in almost any city of Italy. Turin is no exception to this rule. A simple walk down the picturesque cobbled streets of the city feels surreal. It feels as if one has been transported to the good old Medieval times when Kings and Dukes ruled this bustling city brimming with traders selling their exotic wares, musicians enthralling the crowd with the finest of their classical compositions, buyers haggling the prices with the traders. A redo of the magical realism is altogether a new dimension I experienced so far – one played by nature through an icy white dreamscape in Russia, and this one played by humans who have maintained the cultural ambiance of the Medieval ages so beautifully and integrated the same seamlessly with a slice of the modern age.
A slice of the Modern seamlessly integrated with the Classic. One need not do anything else other than just wander, get lost and let the magical realism of these rusty old streets of Turin soak in
This is nothing short of a “wonder” for me.
Joyriding through the trams led me to the grand monument called Mole Antonelliana. Originally conceived as a synagogue, the Mole now housesthe National Museum of Cinema, and is believed to be the tallest museum in the world at a height of approximately 184m.
Unbelievably beautiful views of the Turin city can be seen atop the Mole.
Top: The Mole Antonelliana
Bottom: Impressive views of the skyline of Torino atop the Mole Antonelliana
The day was spent well roaming from one breathtaking Piazza to the other. The striking one among them was Piazza Castello, noted for a number of rationalistic styled buildings it houses, like Palazzo Regale, Royal Library of Turin, Royal Church of San Lorenzo among the others.
Glimpses of the hypnotizing Piazza Castello
The zen feeling of having the culinary delicacies local to a place, at that exact place is quite inexplicable through words. I had the opportunity to taste the traditional Italian Gelato ice cream in Turin. Needless to say, the charm of this cold dessert lies in its simplicity and its adherence to the basics. The Italian Gelato in Italy surpassed all other gelato variants I ever had in richness, smoothness and lack of excessive sugar or oils which would have made the dish quite taxing to digest. And all this made of the humble eggs, milk and lemon. A better example of having two ends of the paradox, namely intricacy in simplicity, perhaps seldom exists.
In my honest opinion, the claim to fame of the dish local to a particular place can be attributed majorly to the dexterity of the local people and their culinary finesse, which is almost impossible to replicate through machines or training.
The feeling of exhilaration in having spent a day in this wondrous place, filled with unbelievable sights , is utterly indescribable through words. Turin is not just a place to visit, but an experience to cherish.
With the aim of gaining more experiences in similar lines, I set off to another country famous for its confectionery, particularly chocolates. And that place is: Belgium.
Brussels / Bruxelles / Brussel (Belgium)
Brussels, the capital of Belgium is a flourishing and happening metropolitan city, which grew from a rural Dutch settlement to a major administrative and political hub of Europe. Belgium as a country is known for gastronomy, and Brussels is no exception.
For me, gastronomy and the much celebrated Belgian chocolate intersected in Brussels in a seemingly beguiling manner. That might explain why I straightaway went to the Chocolate Museum to delve into the heart of the matter – alongwith getting a taste of the legendary Belgian chocolate.
A museum of chocolate? What could that possibly mean?
Well, if one truly loves chocolate for what it is – its sinfully delectable aroma, and not just for satisfying their sweet cravings, then one must visit this museum.
It was quite an enchanting experience for me - reliving quite a myriad of parts of my childhood (and some resolutions made as an adult), intriguingly intertwining with one another in a "delectable" fashion, involving chocolate. A truly wondrous place indeed.
I got an opportunity to enrich my knowledge about the evolution of chocolates, right from its discovery in South America, its usage as an “elixir” meant for the Royalty and High Priests – a tradition which permeated into Europe post the Spanish Conquest of South America, the entry of chocolate as a Belgian and Swiss confectionery delicacy and its plantations existing currently in Equatorial Africa and Asia. Who would have known that a simple clinking of beer glasses as we say “Cheers” is an ancient South American ritual, that has unknowingly been passed on to us – all thanks to chocolate.
Post the date with “chocolates”, which culminated into tasting and purchasing a wide variety of Belgian chocolates, pralines and cocoa products, I found my calling from the classical cobbled streets of Brussels, leading to the famous Grand Place of Brussels.
Glimpses of the Grand Place or Grote Markt in Brussels
The Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Brussels. It attracts a large number of tourists from around the world. The place is now pedestrianized for good. It contains medieval guildhalls, town hall, King’s House and a Museum.
And not very far from the Grand Place, I found another site for a different variant of traditional Belgian gastronomy – the fabled Belgian Waffles (Brussels variant).
After getting recharged post such a fulfilling day (literally and figuratively), I geared up to discover more of a land – or more appropriately, an entire country which is a grand stage for showcasing magic on water. There is no award to guess that such a country is none other than The Netherlands.
Giethoorn (The Netherlands)
Before explaining what this is, I would like to explain why Giethoorn?
When one hears about the Netherlands, the first place which might come up in his or her mind is Amsterdam.
Yes, Amsterdam should definitely crop up in such a case. After all, Amsterdam is the capital city of Netherlands, beautifully maintained, well connected through roads, rail and air. If not the most visited place, Amsterdam still remains one of the most visited places in Europe and even the world.
And there lies a bit of a problem.
My experience of a humongous crowd while visiting the Eiffel Tower made me rethink on visiting Amsterdam. I didn’t want to be another statistic contributing to the crowd in the city.
Moreover, I was ignoring the elephant in the room. Amsterdam is one city in Netherlands, the latter being far bigger and having the potential to amaze an inquisitive explorer several times over. So, why not pay a visit to the hinterland of the Netherlands this time and explore the “hundred thousands things to see” in this whole new part of the World?
Giethoorn as a place was known to me from a long time back on account of some research on the Netherlands done previously. The seemingly hassle of changing buses and trains made me rethink about visiting this gem of a place. But not anymore. And I am immensely glad I paid a visit to Giethoorn.
Giethoorn is sometimes called the Venice of The Netherlands. Do not let this name scare you by creating an image of narrow crowded streets and densely populated waterways. Giethoorn is not that.
Giethoorn, like Venice, is a town on water. Numerous canals and waterways can be found in this city, interspersed between two houses, hotels, church, and such buildings. Unlike Venice, Giethoorn is not at all a city. It is in fact a small Dutch town comprising of old yet well preserved buildings quite typical to a Dutch village. There are hotels, bars, Church and small houses in this place. Water however is a constant for this place, as well as the neighbouring cities of Zwolle and Steinwijk from where we had to commute to this place.
Needless to say, astounding will be a gross understatement if one wants to explain the beauty and serenity of Giethoorn.
Unbelievable sights, isn’t it?
Giethoorn can be considered a textbook example of a town where humans and nature coexist harmoniously and in sync with each other. There are a very few motorized boats plying on the canals, mostly it is the battery operated boats which ply there. No eyesore in the form of plastic exists over there, nor does the place suffer from over-tourism. The lack of pollution can be evidenced by the presence of a large number of ducks who try to swim parallel to the silent electric boat, fearlessly competing against the eco-friendly machine in clean water.
It is an experience to behold and cherish. Moreover, Netherlands is a country where such a magic on water is more of a norm than an exception.
Rotterdam and Kinderdijk (The Netherlands)
Rotterdam might not exactly figure in one’s itinerary if he / she is out on a Eurotrip, yet he / she might have heard vaguely about the city. But what on Earth is Kinderdijk?
Well, Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage site dedicated to another icon of the Netherlands – the Windmills. Kinderdijk has one of the highest concentrations of windmills in the Netherlands.
Kinderdijk is accessible through a ferry (or waterbus) from Rotterdam, and hence, the necessity to visit the city.
Rotterdam itself is a bustling metropolis of the Netherlands and houses the Largest port in Europe and the Third Largest Port in the World. The city is quite well connected by rail, road, air and water, offering a large number of attractions for the tourist.
However, to an explorer, the charm of the rusty old buildings is an attraction enough.
Beautifully preserved archaic buildings in Westplein, Rotterdam
Despite being such an important commercial and logistical hub of Europe, in addition to being an important Metropolis of the Netherlands, Rotterdam never felt crowded. The hide and seek game between the clouds and the sun made the city look even more enticing.
The iconic Erasmus Bridge or Erasmusbrug is a famous icon of Rotterdam. Pictures taken at different points in time during the day
From the Erasmus Bridge Ferry point, we took the waterbus and reached the World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk.
Gloom and Melancholy reign in the swamp
Criant winds blow from near and far
Caressing the gentle quiescent giant
Brushing its fins, whispering as if to confirm
"Is this the way it shall end?"
Whispers do follow, though not from the wind
Bewildered does the nature behold
Whispers turn to a rumble, then a solid roar
Sweeping its mechanical fins, the slumbering giant rolls
The joyous wind dances with glee, spreading cheer as it blows
The gloomy clouds flee, for now peaks the shine of hope
Rolling, Freewheeling, Exuberant, the centenarian giant beckoned
"Nay, my dear friend, the end shall never come
For though I work not to nurture the trees, water the fields, yet
I do nurture now, thy hopes, thy living dreams"
While it is true that positive change in terms of technology have retired these windmills from their work of pumping excess water out of these wetlands, but have they actually retired? The answer is no.
The conferring of the World Heritage Status by UNESCO means something. The work of these gentle giants have simply changed – from pumping water to serving as a representative of the rich heritage of the Netherlands, and create awe and wonder for the generations to come.
The winds of change, more pronounced in this part of the world, effectively drove away the gloomy dark clouds and paving the way for the rays of hope to shine, both literally and figuratively, which revealed the grandeur of these tall and awe inspiring windmills. The movement of their blades under the influence of the passing wind itself is another exemplification of magical realism one would feel if he or she faces an important jewel from history, like the Viking Longboat, sets course to rule the oceans once again in the age of Social Media. The gyration of the blades atop these gigantic windmills seemed to give yet another loud and clear message: These gentle giants can never retire, they just took up greater responsibilities - the ones which involve inspiring awe and serving as a great representative of the rich heritage of the beautiful country called The Netherlands.
And what better a way to celebrate this revelation than having a pack of Stroopwaffles – a famous Dutch sweet dish, quite apt for the place, ambiance and moment.
The day concluded with a sumptuous meal in the Food Supermarket called Markthal in Rotterdam.
Oh! What a sorry sight to behold
Destruction and desolation doth lie here untold..
The people, beaten to the brow
Now await, helpless, as they are fragmented and torn to the core..
Oh! What a sorrow and an agonizing fall
When brothers, sisters and friends are torn apart by an evil wall..
The will of an ancestor did stitch a Holy Empire
Will the will ever return, to stitch the heart's bier?
For it is easy to sit, easy to remain torn
Arduous however it is, to fuse, to be reborn..
The rebirth happens, the Will does return
As the very people, for their kith and kin beckon
In this hallowed ground shall a Republic be formed
Uniting the people. Now the wall shall be scorned
The Country shall rise, for the Evil Wall now falls
As cries of Freedom now echo the Reich's hallowed halls..!!
As the Phoenix rose from ashes, so did the Great Barbarossa from odds untold
The Unified Republic now rises from the walls broken, brimming with hopes and glorious tales untold..
Berlin doesn’t usually occupy the Top of the Mind space of a typical tourist, unlike the popular destinations such as Paris or Amsterdam. The Euromonitor 2018 rankings also place Berlin at a modest 36th Rank, in comparison to Paris (6th) and Amsterdam (23rd).
As far as Germany is concerned, Berlin, however, occupies the Top of the Mind space as a Travel destination, as far as I am concerned. And the links to this reason can partly be found in Kinderdijk.
To me, Berlin represents the face of the indomitable spirit of a country which is relentless on its march to glory. It is also a textbook case of rising elegantly from the ashes akin to a Phoenix. A Century and a half of turmoil and strife, followed by the spread of racial hatred and culminating into splitting of this great city into two, couldn't break the indomitable spirit of Berlin. Berlin rose from the destruction, rebuilt itself, stitched together the eastern and western fragments and assumed its rightful place as the Capital of a Unified and Beautiful Germany. It is now a technically advanced and vibrant Modern utopia - a worthy successor of its glorious past.
It gives a good amount of goosebumps upon landing in Berlin, primarily because of the fact that I was going to spend some time in this great city and be a part of its people – the will of whom united not only a city, but also a country. It is quite easy to stay fragmented. It takes a great deal of will power and an indomitable spirit to stitch the fragments together to create a whole new fabric.
I found Berlin to be a great example of seamless integration of rich history and cultural heritage with modern technology. One might wander in a street in Berlin, come across a historical “wonder”, appreciate and be awed by it, post which, he just needs to look towards the street to find modern technology in the form of a vast network of Berlin City Transport ready to transport the curious traveler within a few moments – all this without having the traveler walk too much in search of such a transport. One feels more connected to the culture and heritage of Berlin, despite it being a Major Metropolitan City of Europe.
The city of Berlin itself is more of a “wondrous” place than the “Wonders” this city houses. Truly, the overwhelming feelings I get upon just venturing out into the streets of the wondrous place of Berlin is indescribable through words.
I am sure that no subsequent visit to Berlin will ever be tiring even by a single bit. Berlin will always leave plenty of surprises waiting to be uncovered and explored, even after a hundred visits to this vibrant place.
Post collecting memories worth cherishing for a long time, I headed to complete the full circle of the magical phenomena which find home in the Arctic. I had witnesses the Polar Nights in Russia. Now was the time to experience the Midnight Sun in two beautiful Scandinavian Countries – Denmark and Sweden.
Copenhagen / København (Denmark)
One may not have actually crossed the Arctic Circle, but can still feel a strong influence of the Arctic or Polar Zone when he / she finds out that the Sun is still elegantly shining in the sky even when the clock says its 11 PM.
Thus was the welcoming scene I witnessed in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen is known for its serenity and picturesque scenes it offers, despite being a bustling metropolitan city of Denmark. One can easily feel mesmerized by the sheer beauty of spic and span houses, lush gardens and flowers, and a pleasant uniformity in structure and spacing of the houses, as if the entire city has been planned with pinpoint accuracy to its last house.
Glimpses of the picturesque city of Copenhagen
I found Copenhagen quite similar to Turin. Though it may be difficult to spot ancient cobbled streets in Copenhagen unlike in Turin, one of the charms common to both these cities is the placid environment which induces a sense of relaxation and is quite soothing for any person staying over there. The tranquility and immeasurable beauty of these places form a magical concoction, conspiring against the traveler into entrapping him / her with such charms – never to let him / her leave.
Of course, how can any trip to Copenhagen be complete without a visit to the iconic facade of colours by the sea in Nyhavn?
Some more glimpses of the picturesque city of Copenhagen.
Any trip to Scandinavia can be considered incomplete without a visit to a Fjord. To that end, we paid a visit to the Roskilde Fjord, which would soon go on to reveal itself as the crown jewel of a “wondrous” place visited so far.
Now one might wonder – what on earth is Roskilde? What is its speciality?
Well, its specialties cannot be answered in one sentence. Let us just say that Roskilde is another wondrous experience to be had, for an inquisitive traveler.
The origins of Roskilde started from the Viking settlement about a Millennium years ago. Later on in the Medieval period, Roskilde became an important religious and administrative centre of Denmark, and even served as the Danish Capital for about 400 years.
A traveler is up for a magnanimous treat of indescribably alluring sights and scenes of Roskilde. It is quaint, yet more than extravagant in its vibrancy, colours and unparalleled captivating beauty. No wonder the Kings and Queens of the past and the travelers of the present times find it extremely difficult to shed the captivating charm of this town.
The full medley of vibrant colours of Roskilde showed us the path to the World Heritage Site of Roskilde Cathedral.
Picturesque views of the Roskilde Domkirke or Roskilde Cathedral
Now you must be wondering, what is so special about this Cathedral?
The Roskilde Cathedral, a monumental example of architectural beauty and excellence of the olden times, is actually the First Cathedral in the Nordic region built out of bricks. It contains an exquisite fusion of the Gothic and Danish architectural styles, and is built using locally made bricks in c. 1300 CE, when brick making was introduced in Denmark.
This can truly be classified as a wonder – a heritage, a masterpiece, brimming with extravaganza and finesse, yet its constituent comprising of no gold or silver, but the humble brick. Extraordinary, out of the ordinary, like the shining pearly dewdrop on a flower.
Though many brick buildings have you seen, yet
Bedazzled by this brick magnificence, you have never been..
Common may I seem, plain may I sound,
The extravagant vibrancy from the humble
Within my quaint labyrinth will be found..
"The diamond in the rough", pray, do thee still seek?
Look around, behold. The seeming rough is the abundant diamond, which thou arduously seek..
Seek not the diamond in the rough, for here, the one you think of the rough is the actual diamond in itself. A Magnificence, a Wonder, in Brick.
I could go on filling pages after pages after pages on this beautiful gem of a Cathedral and the surreal feeling one gets while walking through its hallowed galleries, but I must leave that to my social media accounts and keep moving “wonder by wonder”.
It was now time to move from the picturesque wonder of the Cathedral and rendezvous with a another childhood dream of mine.
Oh you lost traveler
Know thee not my name?
When civilizations, by and large,
Did tremble hearing the same
Know thee full well, for when I did come
The Thunder of my oars did silence the ocean's mighty hum
Berserk did we go, with lightning did we strike
The Lord of Thunder, do we pray to for our might
Our ships, long and stout, were the ocean's masters
You can only pray, had your boats been that faster
But now we welcome thee, traveler, to our humble abode,
Prithee be so bold: Eat, Pray, Dance, Cheer, hear our tales untold
Witness our culture, humble folk, our finesse and our heritage untold
Behold the magic, the nature, this Fjord of the Sound unfolds..
By now, you might have guessed what this verse might point to. The Rosklide Fjord, a quaint Fjord in the Øresund Straits (also called the Sound) is the home to the legendary Vikings.
And what better a way would be to rendezvous with the Viking Culture, other than witnessing their prized jewel: The Viking Longboat.
The Viking Ship Museum (Vikingeskibsmuseet) opens up a whole new world and transports you back in time – when the Mighty Vikings rules the seas from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. It contains relics related to the Vikings from around the World, the most prominent among them are a series of Longboats unearthed from a place called Skudledev, near Roskilde. The advanced technological finesse of the Vikings, a Millennium years ago, can be gauged from the fact that the oak wood used to build these Longboats show no signs of decay. Truly, a wondrous sight to behold, and let the indescribable feelings of varied shades of awe and joy overwhelm you as you wander through the magical galleries of this whole new part of the world.
A part of the Roskilde Fjord, harbouring some replicas of the Viking Longboats
Glimpses of the Viking Longboats unearthed from Skudledev, near Roskilde, alongwith the miniature reconstructed versions. The oak wood has not yet decayed visibly, despite being a millennium old.
A Whole New World
A Hundred Thousand Things to seeA Part of the lyrics of the song “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin (1992 & 2019) Movie
The only figurative part in these two lines is the fact that there are a lot more than a hundred thousand things to see in this country itself, or in any country for that matter.
Some portions of the “hundred thousand things to see” we did see in this trip. A few more of those hundred thousand and more things remain, as far as this journey is concerned.
We now cross the Øresund strait, or the Sound, and venture into a whole new country. We do not have the privilege of crossing the mighty sea on a Viking Longboat (or atleast until Science gifts us a Real Time Machine).
Instead, we cross the Sound on an Iron Horse – the Øresundstag Train, going under the sea as well as over it as we cross the Øresund. Quite apt a name of the train, isn’t it?
Come hither, dear traveler
Come sit by my side
Tarry a little and relax
Bask in the sunshine 'neath the clear Skåne sky
Yonder, beyond the sea, behold my twin Helsingor,
Sentinels were we of the Sound, in the merry days of yore
The Pearl of the Sound. Maketh thee run over the ground, a thorough scan?
Thou shalt fret no more, dear friend. The Pearl lies exactly where you stand.
Yes, for the Pearl of the Strait, the Sound is Helsingborg.
This wondrous place lies in a strategic location in the Øresund Strait where it is the narrowest. A control of Helsingborg would mean an eventual control of the maritime trade route from the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the Baltic shores of St. Petersburg.
And that is where the Keep of the Strait, the Karnan Castle in Helsingborg, in the beautiful province of Scania (Skåne) comes into play. Its strategic importance thus needs no further emphasizing.
The Majestic Karnan Castle of Helsingborg
The Karnan Castle was built by the Danish King Eric VI in c. 1310 CE. It remained under Danish occupation till 1658, and after a series of conflicts, finally went into Swedish hands in c. 1679 CE. Perhaps that might explain the prosperity of Denmark during the Medieval era and the reason of frequent conflicts with Sweden during those times.
In addition to a medley of a diverse shades of joyous feelings a history and travel enthusiast gets upon visiting the hallowed galleries of this magnificent castle, one might also get breathtaking panoramic views of not just the skyline of Helsingborg, but also a glimpse of its twin across the Øresund – the city of Helsingor in Denmark, atop the ramparts of the Karnan Castle.
The one who said Helsingborg is the Pearl of the straits couldn’t be more correct. The Kings and Queens of the Medieval times might have found the “pearl” over here due to its strategic location. The “pearl”, in my opinion, is lies in the mystical ambiance and unparalleled beauty of Helsingborg.
Unbelievably Beautiful sights. Indescribable feelings indeed.
Builders of the Wondrous Places – The People
It goes without saying that an experience matching the stature of a “wondrous” place cannot be achieved without the tireless work of the people behind the same.
Throughout our stay and travel in these wonders of the places, a wonder remained omnipresent throughout – the people belonging to those wondrous places.
Here I shall try to highlight the notable experiences we had during our interaction with the people of those places:
- I had a pleasant discussion with the owner of the Hotel Cantina Torino in Turin, Italy. He not only offered me advice on the wide range and characteristics of authentic foods of Torino and the Piedmont Region, but also provided me with useful advice regarding the places to visit in the Piedmont Region. And all this despite me not asking for such information in the first place. And I believe that is one of the many examples of going the “extra mile” towards helping the tourists. Could this be one of the reasons why Italy is a popular tourist destination? I would like to believe that in affirmative.
- Usually tourist centres in cities tend to be located in some location other than the main commuter hotspots. Fortunately, that was not the case in Rotterdam Centraal – a application of pain-gain analysis. The officials over there not just informed us about the experiences worth having in Rotterdam (experience and not product marketing), but also voluntarily offered us ways to explore those places without burning a hole in our pockets. Other Tourist Centres usually tend to be a bit more transactional, offering the services you ask for without guiding you to this extent. Maybe such acts are trivial for those officials, but such small acts go an extremely long way into ensuring not just loyal travelers, but also open up opportunities to receive even more travelers in not so distant a future.
- I had the pleasure of experiencing multiple such incidents in Denmark. The people would voluntarily come to us to explain the maps and railway or metro networks in case they saw us staring at a map or fidgeting with the ones we had in our hands. A bus voluntarily made a stop for us, despite the fact that we were present on the wrong side of the road which was meant for the bus towards the opposite direction. The bus captain was kind enough to then announce our stop in English, voluntarily. Perhaps acts like these supersede the natural or artificial beauty of Denmark by a long shot, and give the traveler a feeling akin to being at home.
- Similar was the experience I had in Helsingborg. The official on duty in the Karnan Castle not just explained me thoroughly about the Castle and its galleries, but also gave me a great deal of valuable advice on the attractions of Helsingborg, the places to visit, experiences to gather, and the avenues for gastronomical delights as well. As rightly said, the Pearl of the Sound may not mean a literal object – but it definitely means the people of Helsingborg, who go well beyond any sort of extra miles to make the city shine brighter than a literal Pearl.
And, to conclude..
Traveling, not just plain tourism, and an increased people to people connect achieved during exploration of the unexplored, throws up not just experiences to be learnt, but also unforgettable memories to cherish. From the Midnight Sun to the Mediterranean and not to forget the dance of the Auroras, every experience I had, every such moment I cherished, are memorable, partly because of the place or phenomenon and significantly because of the people.
Traveling also gives us a lens to view things and interpret them the way we want to. One might get a bit depressed by seeing tall windmills lying idle in a gloomy weather, retired post centuries of service. Or one might also change his / her lens and view the rotating blades, the efforts towards their upkeep and cherish the indomitable spirit of those giants, which drew efforts towards their upkeep and preservation – which can be commanded only by the living and the thriving.
As the preparations of the new journey begins, I would conclude by borrowing a few worlds to sum up this “wondrous” experience of moving “wonder by wonder” in this part of the “Whole New World”
Every turn a surprise
Every Moment Red Letter
I’ll chase them anywhere
There’s [no] time to spare
Let me share this whole new world with youA Part of the lyrics of the song “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin (1992 & 2019) Movie
(Do have a look at the 1992 version of the song and an equally magical 2019 version of the same – Courtesy Disney)
Spasibo, Merci, Grazie, Dank Je, Danke, Tak, Tack, Thank You..!!
© Abirbhav Mukherjee