My own Personal Humans of Europe!

19th Aug 2016

Travel is about pinning the countries visited on the world map or showing off the visa stamps on the passport but going out of your comfort zone, abandoning the stereotype beliefs and reinforcing the nurtures that we were born with. The belief that goodness is not dead, the belief that we all have the potential to make a difference in this world, the belief that everyday is an opportunity to make a positive mark in someone else's heart, the belief that human is divine.

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1. Touchdown Vienna and begins the committed platonic relationship with 'Tourist Information Desk'. Our first encounter, a redhead lady (just her hair were read, keep that urban dictionary aside, please) at the desk. While struggling to understand the streets and the sub streets and the sub sub streets, I guess the travel desk lady understood our bewilderment and said, 'It's 5.50 pm, if you can wait for anothet 10 minutes, I will drop you to your accommodation. It's opposite the street where I live'. And the first whiff of the beautiful Veinna air.

But wait a minute. We didn't know that 'I will drop you' means 'I will walk you'. This city walks and walks with stride of an athlete. Not surprised by the 'thigh gap' being a commoner's commodity here. So the redhead not only helped us with carrying the luggage (3 women. Don't expect us to travel light) but helped us give an insider's overview of Vienna. We were amazed at the humility and camaraderie of this woman whose name also we didn't know. This was our introduction to the level of trust for a stranger that the Europe exhibits.

2. Are you from India?

- Yes!

Ah! Na'A'maste!

Our three days in Vienna echoed with the above. It was amusing to see how people knew about nationalities and the local pleasantries of various nations. It somehow boosts your confidence of 'being known' and automatically creates a sense of belongingness. When after 'Na'A' maste' with a few too many, I asked a gentleman that how does he have so much knowledge about different nations of the world, their demography and their local pleasantries, he said:

'It's the fear of Unknown that makes us susceptible to people around. Once we read, understand others, we know that it's just the geography which aparts us. In today's time and age, it's a must to read about /to know about different cultures, practices and traditions of the various nations. It's not the treaties that maketh a better world, it's the heart'.

3. Prague or Praha, our next destination was the epicenter of a number of civil liberty movements both in the first and the second world War. A nation with its own currency (which is just 3 times of INR ; victory dance) was expected to be quite a contrast from the Elite Vienna.

But then....

We were at the tube station at Prague waiting for the elevator because with the luggage that we had, it was quite a task to take the escalator and impossible to take the stairs. It's then that an elderly woman, who also was taking for the elevator, smiled at us. She asked 'Africa'. We were shocked, and quickly replied, 'No India'. Sibling and I looked at each other, 'Ghar jaake dahi lagayenge to get rid of this tan. Fucking hell'. She started communicating with us in Czech. Our first encounter with language barrier. She didn't know English, we didn't know Czech.

But she was hell beant to talk. She told us in broken English that she is from Bulgaria and works as a cleaning lady at the Prague Airport. She asked us 'Where To?'. We showed the map and spotted the location. She tried to make us understand and we said 'Okay' in a matter of fact manner because we knew very well knew the route. But I guess it was our confident 'okay' which made her feel that we didn't understand. At the platform she herself went to people around to see if someone spoke English and could guide us on the route. The lady had a walking stick but that didn't deter her from going to people around, seeking help. She got us a translator who enthusiastically told us the route. We were amazed at the local hospitality. When the tube came she got on the tube with us and spotted at the digital navigation to tell us the station we have to get down. Throughout the journey she spoke about India, Indian food, especially Indian Movies, 'Anand' being her favourite.

When our station came she bid us goodbye and waved the warmest flying kiss ever.

4. Prague is symbolised with the Lennon Wall and Lennon Wall symbolises with 'Free World'. Wherever we went, there was atleast one good Samaritan with a Free Hug Board. I was one of the takers of the Free Hug. It was just hug and a smile. The warmth of that Good Samaritan is still with me. I asked him, 'Why are you doing this?'. He smiled and said, 'If not this, then what? Just with a hug, you will remember me. I am a celebrity just by doing what needs to be done'.

5. For us the heart touching encounter with the Church of our Lady Victorious, which is the seat of 'Infant Jesus' was the brief meeting with the Reverend Archbishop Father Dominik Duka who was personally meeting all the people, irrespective of the religious affiliations, present at the Church for the Holy Thursday prayer.

When he came to meet us, he was more than amused to know we are from India. He told us that he spent two years in Kerala and excitedly recited the few Malayalam words that he had picked up. He told us that he loved India for being a melting pot of various religions, castes, creeds and beliefs. While we were in disagreement on India's reputation as the melting pot of various beliefs, the Reverend Father quickly retorted, 'Even the people who crucified Christ didn't love Him less, they just didn't love themselves much. Once we start respecting and loving ourselves truly, we will not be disillusioned by the blindfold of wrong. So don't doubt the Power of India and it's soul. It will outshine the rest. God bless you'.

When we exited the Church, we were three ladies with the brightest eyes and the widest smiles.

6. Italy or Italia was like abode of Punjabis who spoke Italian. It felt like Dilli, loud, warm, enthusiastic, talkative, always dressed, animated, helpful to the level 'two body, one soul'. Not exaggerating but whoever we interacted, and we interacted with a lot, qualifies as 'Humans from Europe'. But just for relatability, I will mention a few.

(a) Our Gondolier in Venice was a Jabra Fan of Amitabh Bachchan. He had seen 'Abhimaan' and 'Sholay' umpteen times. He also recited 'Rishte me to hum tumhare baap lagte hain, naam hai Shaheenshah' for us. He told us of the instances when Amitabh Bachchan's movies have helped him to fight life's odds. He is my 'Human of Europe' not because he idolises an icon of my country but because he is not perturbed by borders to choose a life icon.

(b) When one talks of language barrier, Italy is the first point of reference and in Italy also, the Tuscany Region ranks number 1. Having said that, our maximum encounters with 'Humans of Europe' happened in Tuscany. One such was at a Farmer's market. My mother who is a local food enthusiast, on her own visited the Farmer's Market in Florence and returned with a bag full of local herbs, cheese and fruits. When we asked her how did you communicate with the Farmers (they only speak Italian and Spanish), she matter of fact replied 'With actions'. Also has learnt the recipe of local ravioli just through ACTIONS. The Italian farmers and my mother synced in so well that we had a dinner invite from a local farmer family and mother made made 'Dal Makhani' for them. The food at the dinner was what #foodgasm hashtag is for. The farmer's son who knew English, translated our conversation for them and their conversation for us. At the end, I felt as if I was sitting amongst my big, fat family from Punjab, giggling and laughing away to glory.

(c) Our day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre which is a string of centuries-old seaside villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline, was more than adventurous. Captivated by the beauty of islands we took a wrong train which instead of taking us back to Florence, took us further away. We realised this when a brown skinned elderly man in the train came to us and said 'Indiano' and we smiled and said 'Si' (by this time we had picked up the essential local Italian words.) He pointed towards himself and said 'Bangladesh'. He asked us 'Where are you going'? We said, 'Florence'. Shocked, he started murmuring something in Italian and said 'Wrong Train'. We were aghast. It was the last train. He told us to get down at the next station which was 'Portofino'. And catch the next train in the morning at 5. It was 12.30 in the night. The Portofino station had just we three women. In our heart of hearts we all were scared but just to keep the Euro Trip mood alive, we joked and sang.

(d) Chianti Classico region in Tuscany was our another day trip from Florence and our next encounter with the 'Human of Europe'. The trip was self planned. But little did we know that Chianti is a quaint old town with quite a distance from the bus depot to the main city Square. Because it is scantly populated, we just couldn't see a soul who could help us with directions. Walking amidst olive groves on one side and vineyards on the other we came across a football field where kids were practicing the game. We went to the field where the coach greeted us with a wide smile saying 'Punto'. As expected, he didn't even know broken English. There was no means of communication. But Italian hospitality amazes you beyond belief. He went to the field and gave a shout out to the young boys asking if someone knew 'English' and came running 3 boys with apple red cheeks and giggles. They guided us and also drew a map for us. The coach said 'Bravo' to them and bid us goodbye with a contagious and an ear to ear smile.

(e) The officer at the Tourist Information Desk, Greve, Chianti region had told us that we can catch the bus back to Florence from the same depot at which we had arrived in Greve. We arrived at the same Depot 30 minutes early from the departure time of the bus but were surprised to see not a soul there. As the time neared for our bus departure we got fidgety because there was no one there and we couldn't see any bus. Just to our rescue a bus from Florence arrived. We went to the driver with our query only to be informed that we are at the wrong depot, as this depot was only for arrivals. This happened at 7 pm and the departure time of our bus was at 7.10 pm. We were in deep shit because in Greve the only way of commuting is either by foot or by a personal transport. The bus driver, who told us that we are at the wrong depot, was a localite and had his car parked at the depot. He asked us to get in the car and he will drop us at the right depot. Meanwhile in the car he called up the bus driver of our bus to Florence(both of them drove the same company bus, Flix bus) and asked him to wait. We were thankful and embarrassed. We apologised on causing him unnecessary trouble to which he replied, 'This is Italy, we wait for others. I waited for my wife for 5 years before she agreed to get married to me'. He dropped us to our bus and left.

(f) Rome, our last destination was in our head infamous because of the scammers and pick pocketers warnings that one reads about. However, Rome, pleasantly surprised us by proving all this wrong. We were told 'bus no. 62 to Vatican is an abode of pick pocketers. Keep your bags in front of you'. It was exactly in the same bus that we met an immigrant from Senegal who got us an early entry into Vatican through his tourist guide brother and didn't ask for a dime. All he said was 'Be safe, Sister'.

After about an hour, a Police Officer at the Portofino Station came and inquired from us. We told him about our plight and he said, 'This is Italy, you need to keep the worries aside'. He asked if we would like to drink or eat. Abreast with our stereotype image of police officers, we said a polite 'No'. He left saying 'Don't worry. I am there.' After about 40 minutes he came back with fresh home made pizza and water. He said, 'My house is close by. My Mamma makes 'Gusto' Pizza. You must be hungry. Eat please'.

We blankly just looked at him. He asked 'la Familia?'. We said 'Si'. 'I amore familia', he exclaimed and left.

We reached Florence at 6 in the morning and the entire next day and the days after we kept remembering that Polizia from Portofino.

A 4 week holiday in Europe, with my Mother and my Sibling, and loads of postcard location photographs. But something more intriguingly settled in our memory are the people that we met randomly, the people whose names we don't know but the people who for us are 'Humans of Europe'.

One prime rule of this Holiday was 'living like a local' so a self curated vacation itinerary, going all out to talk to people, making a move to enjoy a drink /a meal/ or just a stroll, was the game plan. And man! We are touched and how. No idea why we isolate divine from human for the ones we met and the ones who I will quote here were all divine, may be human is divine. (Everyone is a Buddha).

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