#7. Fault In The Default Setting! (London Series)

So here’s another incident, from my Paris-London trip. It was the first and last time, when I had borrowed a DSLR Camera, Ever!

Back in 2015, Me & my wife had very basic Micromax phones. It’s camera quality was nothing as compared to today’s phones. Hence, she suggested to arrange a camera, so that we would be able to capture good quality pictures of that trip. At that time, I had no idea how to handle a DSLR. I still don’t know anything about it. Anyways, I borrowed it from a friend of mine. His name was Lakpa. He told me to put the settings on automatic and click as per the default settings, to which I didn’t pay much attention and kept it on manual. Later, I even thought that he had told me, to not to put it on automatic. So I never even tried.

It’s lens was bit loose so it used to go blur while clicking. It needed a fair good time to adjust it. It was a big struggle between focus & out of focus. Don’t even ask, how did we manage to click the pictures in Paris, until one day someone on our last day in London, changed it to Automatic.

Anyways, there were countless moments from that trip, that only exist in our memory. Not because we prefer to live those moments rather than clicking them, but the reason was, there was so much hassle to take even a single picture from that camera. So, the basic procedure was, taking the camera out of it’s case, then twisting and turning it’s strap onto the wrist so that it won’t fall under any circumstance, then removing it’s lens lid and putting it back in the case, then arranging the focus, then clicking the picture, again putting the lens lid on it & finally putting the camera back in it’s case!!

Unlike Mumbai, a bright sunny day is actually beautiful in London. It was such a relief from the chilling wind that is there, even in summers. It was our third day in London and we had planned to go to Madame Tussauds. We took our day bag, filled it with crisps and beer, took the underground and reached Baker Street Station. It was just two minutes walking from there. Thankfully we had pre-booked the tickets, so we skipped the line & entered directly.

There were so many life size, real looking statues. So we took our camera and started with the procedure. We clicked pictures with the statues of Hollywood celebrities like Bob Marley, Morgan Freeman, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Jenifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Daniel Craig, Charlie Chaplin, Ema Watson, Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt. There were also the statues of Marvel Super heroes like Wolverine, Captain America, Hulk, Nick Fury. There were statues of Bollywood celebrities as well. I personally didn’t like how they had made them. They were not looking a bit like we see them in movies. Even Hrithik Roshan was not looking handsome! Anyways, We were clicking pictures for around two good hours there, but then ultimately it got bit boring. So we decided to leave.

Now, we were out again, back on the lively streets of London & went straight to the city tour bus counter. We had pre-booked a two day hop-on hop-off passes for us. So we waited for a bus to arrive. It came in no time, we went to the upper deck, had some beer and crisps, while enjoying the splendid view of Oxford street and Piccadilly street in that good sunny day. After 15-20 minutes we got down at the famous, Big Ben. “London Thumakda” songs from the bollywood movie Queen was quite a hit at that time. I remember we were singing that song as well. I have no regret of it! After we clicked few pictures, we took a stroll on the Westminster bridge. We had a spectacular view of London Eye from there. We stayed there for an hour, then hopped-on to another bus to Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar square was very vibrant. It had a festive feel to it. I think, they were starting to prepare for some concert then. Huge stage was being made, just next to the massive fountains. I remember there was a group of Spanish musicians, busking over there. Lot of people were watching and were dancing on their latin songs. We looked for a while, then joined the free dance party. It was good fun, to form a circle with unknown people in a foreign land and dancing the hearts out. We were there for around an hour. It was around 5:30pm, the sun was about to set, so we decided to leave to see other nearby places as well. That time we were asking directions, mainly from asian people. They seemed very welcoming and everytime we say ‘Hello’ to them, they say ‘Ni Hao’, which means “Hello” in mendrin but we were in love with that.

So I saw two Chinese girls coming, I went straight to them and said, “Hi, excuse me!” They smiled & said, “Ni Hao”. In return I replied the same. Then, I asked one of them “Can you please tell me with the way to Buckingham Palace?” She pointed towards a street, that goes straight to the palace. Told me about an archway over there and said to follow that road.

It was not far, just a ten minutes walk from there. So we started walking towards it. I remember we were crossing an old bookstore on the palace street, suddenly we heard “Saanson Ki Zaroorat Hai Jaise…” It was a 90’s bollywood classic song & was being played out loud. Though there were lot of Indians staying in London, but to listen a bollywood song that loud on the streets of London for the first time, was such a different experience.

When we finally reached Buckingham Palace, it was dark & the entry gates were closed. So we saw it from outside. There was a huge Victoria Memorial Monument right in front of it. It was lit beautifully & was quite an attraction. People were clicking pictures with it. So we also decided to get a couple photo of us. I found a Asian guy standing there. So I went to him and said “Hey brother”.
He said “Hi, Yes!”
For me he was the first one who didn’t say “Ni Hao” in return. It was so unexpected.
I further asked him, “Can you please click a picture of us, with this monument?”
“Yes, Ofcourse!” he said.
Though he didn’t say the magic words ‘Ni Hao’, but he was ready to click our picture. Hence, I handed him the DSLR and went towards the monument. When I & Anchal were posing there, I realised that guy was stepping back & was going bit far away, focusing on us with that camera. I got anxious, I thought he is going far because he is planning to run with it. I doubted him from the beginning. I started to think how much is it going to cost me? I had never asked Lakpa about it. I have to pay him back. But wait, I am a sprint runner, I shouldn’t give up like that. I can chase him, wherever he would go. But these Asian guys are fast. He might outrun me.

My mind was filled with all these foul thoughts and I didn’t realise when did he clicked our picture & started to come closer.
“Sorry guys, I had to go bit far because I wanted to capture the entire monument behind you.” he said.
“Well, Thanks a lot Brother.” I replied.
I was so relieved that I still had that camera, (that I was sick off) & yet ashamed of myself, to think of him that way. As I was repenting, he said “Can you click a picture of me?” I smiled and said “Yes Man! Definitely.” He said “Can you please click it the way I had clicked yours?”
He handed me his phone & I started going far away to capture the whole view.

My settings were changed!!

#6. What Is Beer? It’s Not Clear! (London Series)

I remember when I was in 9th Standard, I used to go out with friends to have fruit beer. I even used to feel dizzy after having that. Now I know, it was just a stronger version of Coca-Cola and nothing else. But back then, the first thing I used to do was to gargle with mouthwash, so that no one would get to know that I had fruit beer. Beer as itself or even as a word, (to say in front of the family) has always been a sin as per Indian Culture. It’s an alcoholic drink and is a big deal. My father doesn’t drink. My mother also doesn’t like when anyone drinks anything alcoholic.

Here’s a funfact – I had my first Beer, when I was in 11th standard or maybe 10th. I am not sure, but I surely loved it. Well, the reason why I am telling you this, is related to an incident that happened in London. That day changed my life, my belief.

It was May 2015, Me and my wife (Anchal) were staying with Honey in Maryland, London. As we were planning for some sightseeing, So Honey suggested us to go to Emirates Air Cable (Cars). It was a straight route. Maryland to Stratford, then a change of train to Royal Victoria Station. It was a thrilling ride. That was the first time when we were travelling in a fully automated underground train (The one without driver). So we were standing at the front of the first compartment. It was like a video game. The train was running itself, taking turns. Once in while, there were other trains coming from opposite directions. Though they were on different track but it felt like there’s going to be a collision. It was exciting and scary at the same time. Anyways we reached our destination, very safely and easily.

In front of The Emirates Cable Car!

The cable car ride was supposed to go from one dock to another, crossing quite a wide part of Thames River. I remember we validated our Oyster Cards, it was 6 pounds each. It was our 4th day in London, so by that time we had stopped converting Pounds to Rupees, which had made it an enjoyable ride. We were waiting for our turn to come. After a while, the cable car came. It was moving very slowly. We requested a lady from the staff to click our picture. So I handed her the camera and rushed into it. She quickly took our picture. I grabbed my camera back, thanked her and the door got shut.

Being clicked by the staff lady!

It was a huge, kind of round cabin with big glass windows. Till then, we had never been to anything like that. There were just two of us, in our car. It started going up following the big rope it was hanging on to. The view from that height was breathtaking. I could see almost all of the city from there. There were countless boats and ferries in the river below us. We were so excited, we started jumping in it, which made it very shaky. So we had to sit back tightly. It took us around 15 minutes to reach the other side of Thames.

I think It was bit shaky at this time!

Now we were at the other side of Thames, that part was called North Greenwich. We could see the massive “O2 Arena” in front of us. It’s a huge stadium that has a big shopping mall as well. So, as we were walking towards it, I suddenly saw a “Tesco” outlet. Now if you have been to Tesco, you know how attractive those liquor sections are. We both looked at each other, we knew that we were craving for a Cold Beer since morning. It was impossible to resist that feel, especially on a vacation.

The famous O2 Arena! Clicked from Cable Car.

So we entered and looked for a suitable beer. Our only criteria is to opt for the beer with maximum alcohol percentage. So we found and bought a pack of 6. We also bought some crisps and salad. We went outside, sat on a bench and opened the bottles. I remember, we didn’t have any opener, so I used to open Beer bottles using the buckle of her purse. We quickly downed one each. It was a strong beer. Anchal told me to keep the remaining in my backpack. We always carry a small backpack, that is mostly filled with alcohol from supermarkets. It is to avoid the touristic trap to purchase overpriced alcohol at touristic spots.

The day was cloudy and we were walking slowly towards the entrance of O2 Arena. We were just at the main gate when it started to drizzle, I suddenly looked at a signboard saying “No Alcohol Allowed On These Premises.” We were standing there, trying to figure out where should we go to finish the remaining 4 beer. The guard, A lady who was on duty there, asked us
“Hey what’s the matter guys? You want to get in or what?”
“This sign says – No Alcohol Allowed, but we have alcohol in our bag!” I replied.
She came closer, looked inside and said “They are just beers, Not Alcohol, you can come in!”
We were stunned, listening to that. We had spent nearly 10 minutes to decide which beer had maximum alcohol content and this lady doesn’t even consider it as an Alcohol. Though back then, it was in our favour, but coming from India, it was shocking as well. Now after been to 12 countries, I know that it’s very usual to not consider Beer as an alcoholic drink. But that was the first time I heard such a thing.

That was a culture shock for us. For all of our lives, whenever we came home after having beer, we had to hold our breath and hide ourselves from our parents. But now, here in that foreign land, it doesn’t even considered as an Alcohol. For which we were thinking of being a real badass, to be roaming on streets being drunk!

Now I am 35. And after all these years, I still don’t know, what it is? I am still confused about it. It’s still a big deal, here at my parent’s in India. Well, Alcohol or No Alcohol, I think, Beer is a must. Some says it’s a proof that God loves us, hence it is available in every corner of the world. People might treat it differently, but it treats everyone the same way. It doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t generate hate.

“I hate when people say that you don’t need beer to have fun. Well, you don’t need running shoes to run, but it helps!”

At Tower Bridge, Straight after O2 Arena!

Well, tell me, what do you think about it? Do you consider it as an alcohol or not? Share if you have any funny stories about it. Please do leave your comments in the comment section below.

Thanks for your time.

Cheers

#5. Honey I’m Home! (London Series)

When I first saw Montmartre (Church), I cried a bit because I hadn’t seen anything so beautiful before that. It was divine, after all it’s known as “Basilica Of Sacred Heart Of Jesus”. You must be wondering, why am I talking about Paris, when the name suggests that it should be about London. Well I will be there soon.

So, I remember, the prayer was going on and the choir was singing in harmony. I was overwhelmed, as I couldn’t believe that I am actually witnessing it from my own eyes. It was emotional. I came out and ran towards the fence. It was a mountain top and I could see whole Paris from there, but eyes were filled with tears. Those were tears of joy & gratitude! My wife (Anchal) & our host Mathilde came towards me, but they got a sense that I need some time to absorb that feel.

Anchal & Matt at Montmartre Garden, just before wine session.

Later, we sat on the stairs and watched an Afro street performer juggling football while hanging on a street lamp. (He has also been featured in a bollywood movie named Queen) We then moved to the garden and had Baguette, Cheese and Wine that we had bought earlier. It was a traditional french style picnic. Everything was going great, till my CS host from London declined my request at the last moment, when we were supposed to go there the very next day.

Anyways, our time in Paris came to an end. Mathilde took us to the railway station from where we had to board our Eurostar Train to London. It was situated in an Indian district. The air was filled with Indian spices and the tempting fragrance of Masala Dosa. There were typical Indian shops like Kumar Saree House, Gupta Grocery Store etc. We bade her farewell and took our train to London.

Now It was around 1pm and we were at St Pancras Station (Central London), with no where to go. “I personally love it, these are the kind of things that give me thrill!” It was filled with people, there were musicians busking on platforms. But we had no time to enjoy that. As we had no internet, so I connected my phone to Railway Station’s Wi-Fi and started sending last minute requests to find a host. We had send hundreds of requests, but there was no one who could have agreed to host us. After One and a half hour of trying, we finally thought to go find a backpacker’s hostel. Though the online price for a stay was around 100 pounds a day, which was way more to fit in our budget.

Anyways, we came out of the station and got in a queue to take a Taxi. The taxi arrived. It was a Classic Black Fairway Taxi Cab. I opened the door, put my luggage and got inside. The driver asked “Where do you want to go Sir?” I didn’t reply, I was looking for Anchal. She was about fifteen metres away, talking to an Indian looking guy. He was in a uniform, dressed as a guard. “Chhottey! What happened?” I shouted. She replied “Leave the Cab, Come here.”

I took my luggage out and went towards them. That guy was from Bangladesh but was fluent in speaking Hindi. She was asking him if we can find any cheap accommodation somewhere. He pointed out towards an Indian Super Mart which was just across the street. He said there are lot of Indians working there and maybe they can help us in finding some place.

We crossed the road and went inside the mart. It was a big Indian supermarket and most of their staff members were from Gujrat They had everything, like Indian spices, fruits, vegetables, milk, liquor, toiletries, sim cards, a small cafe and even a foreign exchange counter. There was a guy in early 30’s, standing at the main cash counter. We told him about our situation and that we are running short on cash. He asked few of his fellow workers if someone can help us. They all literally stopped their work and started making calls. After around 15-20 minutes, Anchal got anxious and started crying.

The staff there was unbelievably helpful. When they saw her crying, one of them came to us and assured that we shouldn’t have to worry and they will surely find some place for us. They told us to leave our luggage there and go out to explore the city. One of them said “Guys you are in London, don’t waste your time. Go have fun, leave the rest to us.”

We felt a bit relieved. We sat at the small cafe, ate some sandwiches, then grabbed 2 beer. When we came out, the huge St Pancras Station was right in front of us. It was the most central part of London’s Zone 1 named King’s Cross. We thought to find a calm place to think of some alternate, hence we went to a lane going to some interior residential area. We started walking down those lanes, sipping on those beer. Anchal was so frightened by this whole episode, that she again started crying. I felt really bad, that it’s because of my adventures that we are in this troubled situation now. She was my responsibility and I have put her in this misery.

After an hour, we again went to that supermarket to know if they have found any accomodation. One of them told us about an apartment, for which we have to pay 40 pounds a day. We kind of agreed to take that, but it was like taking a big chunk out of our budget. So we requested them to look for something cheaper. They were again making calls, asking every estate agent, if they have an apartment to rent.

The girl sitting behind the foreign exchange counter was observing everything. She saw that we were really tensed, so she came to us and said “If you won’t find any place by 5:30pm, then come with me. A friend of mine stays at Romford Road, it’s an Indian district. He can definitely arrange something for you.”
We were delighted to hear that.

They all were trying, but couldn’t find any suitable place that would fit in our budget. And then it was 5:30pm. The girl from Forex counter was ready to leave. She came to us and said “Pick up your luggage, I am leaving now.” I looked at Anchal, she gestured me to do so. I grabbed my luggage and started following her. She was walking really fast. It was a task to match her speed with that much luggage, but we had to. I ran a bit, reached near her and said “I am Karan and that’s my wife Anchal. We are really thankful for your help. If we may ask, what’s your name?”
She said ” I am Pallavi, but you can call me HONEY!”

We went to King’s Cross Station and bought our Oyster Cards to travel. We took the train till Stratford. When we got down, she said we have to take another train.
I asked her “I forgot, where does your friend stay?”
To which she replied “Forget that, We are going to Forest Gate, TO MY PLACE!”
I curiously asked, “How much do we have to pay you for the stay?”
“NOTHING! Just give me a small party on your last night here.” She replied.

This is Us at Forest Gate train station.

We never thought that, that disastrous day would turnout to be our “Best Memory Of London.” Forget thames river, forget tower bridge, forget madame tussauds. Nothing can over shadow the pleasure of meeting and staying with her. Her unconditional kindness and hospitality, made us feel at HOME! In our 5 days of stay, she gave us her Oyster Card, a spare mobile phone to use, cooked dinner for us, even gave us her cozy comfy bed but in return took our hearts forever!

We still can’t thank her much for what she did. It’s been so many years, but I am glad that we are still in touch! Will meet her again for sure, someday somewhere.

*P.S. All of our pictures with her had been deleted as my laptop got corrupted.

#4. Perhaps All Pleasure Is Only Relief! (Paris Series)

We were standing at Place des pyramides next to the golden statue of Jeanne d’Arc, waiting for our tour bus to arrive. Though I had done almost all the bookings by myself, but we were told (by a tour & travel company) to book sightseeing in advance for hassle free travel. Since, it was our first trip and we had no idea about travelling hence, we had booked Bus City Tour, Seine River Cruise and our ticket to Eiffel Tower in advance. Well, Eiffel visit was an absolute eye opener and I will tell you about it later.

Waiting for bus next to the statue of Jeanne d’Arc.

So, the bus came and it was a huge double decker. I remember, Me & My Wife rushed to the upper level for a better view. Forget better, the view was actually the best but the pictures I had clicked were shitty as hell. I had borrowed a DSLR camera from my friend. It’s lense was a bit loose. He had told me put the settings on automatic, which I forgot and kept it on manual, which lead to my constant struggling between focus and defocus throughout that tour.

Anyways, we saw Notre Dame Cathedral, Avenue des Champs Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Musée d’Orsay and many other places. Then took the Seine River Cruise for an hour. Almost everyone was sitting on the upper deck, enjoying the cool breeze gushing through the hair. I am not proud to say but we did the infamously famous Titanic pose as well.
The cruise enended somewhere near to Eiffel Tower. We were told to follow the guide as he was taking everyone to the Eiffel. The moment I heard that, I ran towards him and said
“Hello, I have to ask you something?”
“Yes!” the Guide replied.
“Well, I have the tickets to Eiffel but they are only till the 2nd level, and not to the summit. So what should I Do?”
He said “You can purchase the tickets at the counter there.”

During Seine River Cruise.

I was relieved but not much, as I had no idea how much it was going to cost. Back in India, we had booked sightseeing through some reputed tour & travel company and for some reason they ended up booking our Eiffel tour till 2nd level only. They had also taken additional 10,000 INR from us to book the summit, which has never been refunded. Now, I went to the counter to purchase the tickets. I said
“Hi, I need to buy two tickets to the top level, How much it would cost?”
“13 Euros for both” He replied

I was stunned. I had paid additional 10,000 INR for that which comes around 110 Euros, when it was only for 13 Euros which is around 1,100 INR. This was a huge difference. That was an eye opener for me. At that very moment, I swore that I will never book my future travels through any agency.

Posing on The Eiffel Summit, with stunning view at the background.

Now we were on the summit, it started to get dark and then we got to know why Paris has been known as “The City Of Lights”. Whole city was lit as if there’s some festival going on. I could see so many monuments from the top of Eiffel. It suddenly started to blink the way I had seen it for the first time from Marine’s kitchen window, but this time I was on it. That feel was unmatchable. We were hugging and kissing on the summit, when we heard “Bugh na, Mi tula kaye saanghto?”!!!

A big Maharashtrian (Indian) tourist group was there. Back then, I was living in Mumbai and was in love with the city but being among locals and hearing local language (there in Paris) felt like home Haha. We had taken a brave decision to spend everything we had to escape the reality and come to the far foreign lands. We wanted to be away from home, So we quickly took a 360 degree view of the city and took the lift to go down.

This one is clicked by the guy selling beer.

There were people selling beer around late-night. I asked for 4 bottles, so they took me to a manhole where they had kept the cold ones. The moment I heard they have kept it in a manhole, I was septic about buying it. They removed the cover and showed that it was totally clean. We bought 4 beer from them. Then booked a cab to go back to Blanche, sipping on those lager. Anchal had one and I gulped down the remaining bottles.

Now around 11pm, it was chilling cold and we were outside Mathilde’s place. She had told us, that she would be staying at a friend’s place and we have the house to ourselves. she had shared the codes to the security gate and had given us the spare key as well. I reached the main gate of the building, dialed the code 1376, it opened itself. Now we were in the lobby and there was another door that required “touching the key to the censor”. That door was of a different design, it didn’t have any handle on it. It looked like the door was fixed in it’s casing. Anyways, she had given us a spare key, so we touched the censor. The door didn’t open. We tried it again, the small buzzer went on, indicating that the censor had accepted the key, but it didn’t open. We were doing it turn by turn. It was buzzing, but was not opening. Then we tried, the censor and pushing the door, many times.

Now it was already half n hour and we were stuck outside, in that freezing cold, I was three beer down with a desperate urge to “PEE”. Anchal was fine with controlling it, but for me it was going to get unmanageable. I started to get restless! We didn’t even had internet or international calling pack to contact Mathilde.

I went outside, there was no cafe, no restaurant open at that time. There was almost no one on the streets, but there were CCTV cameras everywhere. That was the only time when I was missing India, badly. I was thinking if it would be India, I would had never faced such problem. To be specific, my problem was not to be stuck outside but to not be able to find a place to “PEE”.

I went out on the street and waited for someone to come, so that I would ask for help. I saw an old couple coming, I said “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
They shook their head in disapproval.
I waited for some more time, then saw a guy coming. As he came closer, I asked him straight away “Do you speak English? I have a problem!”
He looked at me then said “Yes, tell me”
I said “Well, the thing is we have the key to enter building, but we couldn’t as it’s not working. The owner of the house is also not here. Can you please help us to open the gate?”
He gave me a suspicious look, didn’t say a word and walked away. I couldn’t believed I said such stupid thing and expected him to help me.

That time, all the beauty of Paris started to fade away. All the French Architecture, the Culture, those Big Safe Gates, that Dialup Technology to enter into premises, those Cafes, Restaurants, The Seine, The Louvre, even The Eiffel Tower was of No Interest to me. I started praying to God, to help me find a way out of that torture.

Now it was already an hour since we were trying to get in, suddenly I heard Anchal screaming “It’s Open!”
I ran inside, she showed me how it happened. We were trying to PUSH it, but all it needed was a PULL.
The casing (frame) was actually a part of that door. We were pushing the gate through it, but we had to hold the casing and pull it to open.

We went inside, Anchal pressed the button for the lift. I didn’t wait for it, I took the stairs, opened the apartment, went to the toilet and WOOOOOSH!!!
That was the time, when I understood what William S. Burroughs actually meant by “Perhaps All Pleasure Is Only Relief.”

The Truth!!

#3. Love Is Red, Envy Is Green! (Paris Series)

I woke up with a mild hangover. It was a crazy night at The Lido Show. Anyways, We got ready and bade farewell to our CS hosts Marine and Marcia, as we had to go to the city centre to stay with our second host for next 2 days. While leaving, I used the wifi and texted our host that we will reach there in 40 minutes, more or less.

Me & My Wife at The Lido Show!

I remember when I was finding hosts on CS, there were many people I was talking to. There was an Asian Expat as well, (I forgot her name now) let’s say her name was Lee. So Lee was very interested to host us and told me that she stays in “Ménilmontant”, which was not far from the city centre. So I agreed on staying with her. She had also shared her address and contact details with me.

But then in the very last week, we found another host “Mathilde”, who had studied in India for few years, loved bollywood and was staying right at the city centre. Her lane was next to the famous “Moulin Rouge”. So yes, those reasons were enough and hence we decided to stay with her. I then declined Lee’s offer but somehow her address got stuck in my head.

Now to go to Mathilde’s, we had purchased two “one time metro tickets” from berault station. It was around 3 euros for both of us. We validated our tickets at the turnstile and boarded the underground metro. We were supposed to get down at a station called “Blanche”, which was the nearest metro station to her place. I was looking at the route map on the gate, as it was blinking and marking each station we had crossed. It had only been 10 minutes since we were travelling, it again stopped at a station, I saw the route map and said to Anchal “We got to get down here”. So we grabbed our luggage, got down, validated for exit and took the stairs to came out of the station.

It felt so good to see some new part of the city. It was around 11am then. I then took out my phone, opened the screenshot image of Mathilde’s address and her phone number. I looked around and found an old french lady standing there. So I went to her.
“Bonjour, Madame, Do you speak English?” I said.
“Yes I do speak little little”.
“How can I reach, Rue de Douai, 75009 Paris?”
“It’s far from here, It would take 20 minutes by car.”
“What? Can you please check again. We were told it’s walking from Blanche metro station!”
“Yes! But it’s not Blanche!” She said “It’s Ménilmontant”.

Now perturbed, we were standing there and regretting, why did we leave the metro and wasted our 3 euros in just 10 minutes, which was quite much especially on our first international trip when we used to convert everything to INR. Now despite being on a strict budget, we again had to buy new tickets. I was desperately looking for someone to tell us  some other way to reach Blanche.

I saw an Afro French guy, probably in his early 20’s, standing on the other side of the stairs. He had his headphones on and was listening to music. I told Anchal that I should go talk to him, maybe he would suggest something. Anchal was very scared of people of African origin. I think, it was not her fault, as she got this perception from the “90s Gangsta Movies”, with Afros being portrayed majorly as the bad guys.

Anyways, I went to him and said, “Do you speak English?” He looked at me and removed his headphones. I again asked,
“Do you speak English?” He shook his head in disapproval. But I was not ready to accept the denial. I thought even if he doesn’t speak, he can atleast read it. So I zoomed the screen and showed him the address and the contact number. I then told him through hand gestures that I WANT TO GO THERE. He looked at it for a while. He then took out his phone, dialed a number and started talking in french. I was standing there trying to figure out, if he has understood anything I had said.

After he finished the call, he turned towards me and said in his broken English accent “Follow Me!!!” He started going down stairs to the metro station. I looked at Anchal and since we had no other option, we agreed to do so. With all the luggage in my hands, I somehow ran towards him holding our expired tickets and said “We don’t have valid tickets!”

He took the tickets from my hand and threw them away, then jumped over the Turnstile and said in his baritone voice “Welcome To Paris!!” It gave me the chills. We didn’t think twice. We first threw our luggage, then jumped over the turnstile. That was our first illegal travel in any foreign land. It felt like we had lost our virginity, again!

Now we were in the metro and it was getting more and more crowded. That Afro guy was constantly talking to someone on phone (in french). As soon as we were passing through Stanlingrad and La Chapelle, Anchal started to get more anxious because majority of the crowd there was Afros. There were graffiti on the walls, on pillars, everywhere. The guy was looking at us and was talking on phone every now and then. We were travelling for around 30 minutes. That time even I felt something fishy, but I was still relaxed because it was daytime and there were plenty of people around. But Anchal was thinking that we might get kidnapped as we didn’t know where he was taking us!

Then after a while, the train stopped at Blanche, where we were supposed to get down. We looked at him, he said”No!” Then the train started moving and stopped at the next station. He again signalled us to follow him. We came out of the station. It was “Palace de Clichy”. He was still talking to someone on phone. Suddenly I saw a girl coming towards us, her face seemed bit familiar. It took me a while to recognise that she was “Mathilde”. Since, we didn’t had internet, so that guy was talking to her, right from the beginning. He was giving her updates as where we have reached and was asking where exactly we have to come to meet her. We didn’t believed that he actually travelled for 40 minutes, just to take us to Mathilde!!

We thanked him for what he did for us. Then he again went downstairs to the metro station. While we were walking towards Mathilde’s place, I said “I forgot to ask his name?”
“His name was Yepu” Mathilde replied.

with Mathilde, somewhere in Paris!

How he helped us, “the complete strangers”, so selflessly was heart touching. From that very moment, Anchal’s perception towards Afros changed completely. We all have been taught, Love is red, Envy is green. But from that incident we got to know, “If Kindness has a colour, (for us) what would it be?”

#2. The Wine Of Shame! (Paris Series)

Back in May 2015, Me and My Wife, Anchal did our first international trip. It was our first night in Paris. We were at the outer part of the city called Montreuil. It was around 10:30-11pm. Almost everything was shut. We had finally reached Marine’s (Our CouchSurfing host) home. She welcomed us in with a beautiful smile.

Her house was quite spacious. There were three rooms and a kitchen. I could see Eiffel Tower far away from that kitchen window, sparkling and twinkling at night. It was the first time I saw it. She showed us the guest room where we were supposed to stay. It was a cozy one, with wooden floor and a balcony. Anchal fell in love with that room, instantly. There was a red sofa cum bed with a small couch and a table. We threw our stuff there. It felt like home. There was a big wooden book shelf, with some books on it.

Our happy place in (Montreuil) Paris.
With Marine in her balcony.

I remember there was a scrapbook as well, that had Marine’s old pictures from some wild crazy party she had been to, with her friends. I remember saying to her “By looking at you, no one can say that you are a party animal”. She had a white notice board hanging there on the wall, it had some cuttings from magzines, few quotes and a picture of her with her flatmate Marcia on it. Marcia had beautiful big black eyes. When I first met her there, she was wearing mascara. It made those eyes appeared even bigger! Till that time, she was the prettiest girl I had seen there, in Paris.

When we were about to have our dinner (it was a white cream pasta) that Marine had made, I asked her if we can get wine from somewhere. I didn’t want that night to be a sober one. So Me and Marcia went to a nearby mini supermarket. It was the only shop, open at that time. With no knowledge about wines my criteria was simple, to look for the cheapest one. I bought two bottles. One red and one sparkling white. When we came back home. I tried to open it. But unlike any alcohol that I ever had, it had a “Cork”. The cork required a different kind of spiral shaped opener that Marine had at home. She opened those bottles for us. It was a fun night. We talked for a while, I also played few bollywood songs from my phone and taught them some dance moves.

Next day was a typical touristic one. We got ready, ate baguette and croissants from a brasserie. Then we took a metro from Berault to Louvre-Rivoli metro station. It was the nearest station to The Louvre Palace/Museum. The Louvre was magestic. The architecture was like never seen before for us. It was like a movie set. Those glass pyramids were different than the rest of architecture, yet absolutely stunning. The queue to enter into the museum was long, seemed like it would never end. We agreed to not to waste our time standing there, so we thought to leave “Monalisa” for the next time, that we knew would never come.

Us at Plaza Del Louvre with Pyramid in background.

We spent hours walking and taking pictures at Plaza Del Louvre. There was a tour group that was offering free segway rides to try. Since it was free, it was a must!! Then we went towards the breathtaking Tuileries Garden. It was a good sunny day, a perfect one for taking photos. Later we crossed Seine river through the famous Lovers bridge.

At Tuileries Garden. And yes, we love bollywood!
Seine river with Musee De Orse in background.
At lovers bridge, though attaching locks was prohibited then.

Now we were on the other side of Seine. After the long walk, we were craving for a drink. Spending 2 euros (atleast) on a water bottle didn’t make much sense to us, when we can get a cheap bottle of wine for 5 or 7 euros. So we found a wine shop named Nicolas. It’s a chain of wine shop I guess, as there were many stores by that name in the city. I went inside and found the cheapest one. After paying for that rose wine, I came out.

Je suis desole, Mr Shopkeeper!

We had merely been ten metres away, as we were finding some place to sit and have wine. Suddenly, it came to my mind that we didn’t have the spiral shaped opener to pull the “Cork” out of the wine bottle. So I immediately rushed back to the shop and said –
“Bonjour! Can you please open it for me, Sir?”
The shopkeeper was busy arranging things at his counter. Looked at me and again got busy doing his work.
“Excuse me, I want you to please open this bottle!” I said, a bit louder.
He looked at me again for few seconds, then totally ignored me.
Now at this point I was thirsty and furious, that I have my wine with me but I am not able to take a sip as it is not open. So I said –
“Hey Mister, Have you heard me? I need you to please open this wine bottle for me!!”
He rushed and grabbed it from my hand, Twisted the Neck and It Opened. He handed me that bottle. I looked at the bottle, it didn’t have a “Cork”!!!

All it required was a twist to break the seal. That moment was so Embarrassing. I literally f****d his mind, just to make him open that bottle.
“Thanks a lot, Sir! Merci Beaucoup”. I said
And as I was stepping out he said something in french, It didn’t sound polite at all. Not knowing (understanding) french was a blessing in disguise!!

Nevertheless, we sat in a park and drank it. It was a good day!

#1. Up, Up and Away! (Paris Series)

It was May 2015. I was at Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, cleared through immigration and was standing in front of the duty free counter. I was there with Anchal, my wife. I felt like a superhero, wearing blue superman t-shirt and blueish black jeans . My wife was wearing a dark green top with a pair of black denims. We had already clicked our photo to send it back to our parents, as a confirmation that we have safely entered the airport. Indian parents are always worried no matter how old their children would get.

“Our first pic at Mumbai International Airport”

I was holding our passports and boarding passes in one hand and putting a tight grip on my backpack with the other, which was hanging on my right shoulder. As I was looking at the big posters of the world’s best Scotch and wines, I felt a slight push from behind. It was Anchal. She said
“We are finally here”
“Yes, finally! for our first international trip”
“We are going to Paris and London”
“I still don’t believe it” I shouted.
It wasn’t that loud, but enough to give goosebumps to us.
“Let’s go”

I quickly put our passports and boarding passes in front pocket of my jeans. It was the safest place to put those, I believed. We were going from counter to counter, wondering what would it be like drinking those expensive bottles. They had Ardbeg, Robert Burns, Gold Label, Macallan, Glenlivet and many other expensive brands in scotch. Wine section was also filled with age old bottles of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Trebbiano Toscano and many more. Some of those names were new for me, but they sounded really exotic. I was touching my front pocket every now and then to make sure I have not lost our passports and passes as they were of most importance then.

Duty free was full of liquor and perfumes. There were free testers for almost everything, but I didn’t try any. I was thinking maybe they would force me to buy something then. I knew that there will be free alcohol to be served in our flight, so I kept my calm.

Then there was an announcement at the terminal, our flight got delayed by three hours. We were bit disheartened but knew that those three hours would pass like a wink. They served us lunch as a compensation for the delay. It was our first time having something at lounge, I hogged on to chicken curry and rice knowing I am not going to have anything Indian for next 10 days.

Three hours passed. We got our boarding pass stamped and were walking towards the flight. It was a big Boeing Airplane unlike small domestic flights that we had travelled in. It was a 2-4-2 seating format for each row. We had our two seats together on the right side of the aircraft. I think it was 4th or 5th row from the front. One of them was window seat. Anchal always wanted to take the window seat, left me with no option but to take the one next to isle. It was a comfortable one.

I don’t remember if we paid any attention to what airhostess was saying about safety, as we were already in some other world. They had some classic rock music on, while the plane was on the taxi way towards runway. Then I heard the loudest roar ever any engine could make. It took off and I was imagining me putting my step on some land I have never thought of.

We were so excited, It took us a while to be normal again. Anchal stretched and started to browse through the screen looking for movies, she found one soon. I think it was some bollywood movie, that she had already seen lot of times. She is a big movie fan, but has some selective movies that she can watch anytime. I was waiting for the service crew to start serving alcohol. Then around 20 minutes after take off, they came with a rolling trolley. It had almost everything I was looking for.
“What would you like to have Sir?” She asked.
“Do you have a beer?”
“Yes Sir, how many do you want?”
This was something I was dying to hear.
I quickly replied “Two”. I thought it would be awkward to ask for more than that at once.

She gave me two. They were small tin cans of Tiger Beer. I opened and downed one. She was still there, I asked “Can I please have one more?”
She smiled and gave it to me immediately.

The flight was of around 9 hours from Mumbai to Paris. I started going through some hollywood classics and found Robert De Niro’s “Raging Bull”. We were flying at somewhere around 30,000 feet and I was having imported beer and was watching an old classic. I was thinking, I won’t mind even if I would go back from here. We have not even begun yet and it’s so satisfying. I was thrilled to think about what the future had for us in those foreign lands.

The crew came up with the meal and I took something continental. Anchal also took something like that, since we both had left India in every sense at that moment.
After I finished my meal, I went to the pantry area grab few more beers and some munchies. Watched a movie called “Wild”. It was a new movie based on a girl who got devorced and went for hiking to find inner peace. I am a big fan of travel movies. It didn’t matter to me if that movie was sad or not. I was loving every bit of it.

Then my heart started beating fast. I was not sick but I heard the announcement saying we are about to reach Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport. They told everyone to open the window panels. My wife leaned against it and started looking as much as possible and was pointing out somethings, telling me to see. I pretended to see, but my whole view was blocked. She soon realised and said.
“Do you want to sit at the window seat?”
“Really?”
“Yes, tell me if you want, It’s gonna be your first international touchdown as well”.
I was overwhelmed. These are the things I love about her.
I cried “Yes!!” and we swapped seats.

In my mind, I was already in Paris. Then the flight also landed. We were thrilled, we went to the luggage belt to pick our stuff. It was something we had never seen before. There were so many travellers. Some were wearing formal clothes and were holding laptop bags and brief cases, while others had huge backpacks on them. They were all talking to taxi drivers to drop them to their destinations. They all were speaking in french. We only knew Bonjour and Merci Beaucoup.

Anyways, it was not what we wanted. I was looking for the railway line connected to the city. That was the only way we knew to reach to our Couch Surfing host. Her name was “Marine”, but it was pronounced as “Mahina”. She had texted me every detail about how to reach the nearest railway station from her home. She had told me that she would come to pick us up.

We took tickets and boarded the train. It was train B from airport to city centre. Even though it was around 9pm there, but the sun was still up. I had matched my watch with Paris local time. In all the excitement I forgot about it and thought it might have stopped and it must be only 5-5:30pm there. I even forgot that our flight got delayed. It was so strange for us to experience such thing. We left train B at châtlet, then took train A till Vincennes railway station.

After 50 minutes we reached Montreuil. It was the outer part of Paris. Marine had already informed us that she doesn’t stay in the city, but that place was well connected to the city centre. We came out and took our first selfie to keep that memory forever. After a while we started looking for wifi to get connected to Marine. We found Monoprix. It was a super market but it was closed. We searched for free wifi connection, but the directions to connect were written in french.

“Our first pic in Paris”

There was a couple sitting there on a bench outside train station. I went to them asking for hotspot to send message to Marine. They looked at us and said something in french, I assumed they meant they don’t have. They were giggling and were holding hands. They were lovers and maybe felt it disturbing that I asked for a wifi at such time.

I was standing there waiting. I was hoping that my last message that I had sent using train’s wifi would have reached our host. It was the only way she would come to get us. I had mentioned about me wearing Superman t-shirt and Anchal wearing a dark green top. I was thinking it would be easier for her to recognise us with that description. Though we were the only one standing there at that time, other than that couple sitting there.

Suddenly I heard a voice saying my name “Kahaan”, instead of Karan. It was a different accent, wrong pronunciation but it felt good. Till that time I didn’t know if that message had reached her, but it was easy to guess, with us holding those big backpacks and suitcases. She came closer and said “Ello I am Mahina, and you are Supehman”!!

We hugged and thanked her for coming. She told us, she had made pasta for dinner.
We picked our luggage and started following her, walking on those streets that we had never thought to walk on.

We were Happy! We were in Paris!

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