What happened when I chose to travel with a friend from another country. #TakeMeToSandakphuContest

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Photo of What happened when I chose to travel with a friend from another country. #TakeMeToSandakphuContest 1/1 by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh
6 months after our first get away, I even practiced a new hobby seriously. And she was the reason!

Sure, I was already in a new country by myself for my higher education. But when I did come, my mom came to drop me off, settled me in the University accommodation and left only after a week. At least she was familiar with the place that she was going to leave me in, for the next two years. But who knew, I was up to no good. In fact, WE were up to no good. It wasn’t for nothing that I grew up reading about Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, except they had the Marauders map and we had the European one.

Youqin Chen came to the UK to complete her post graduate studies in tourism and management and met me in the one storey hostel accommodation that we shared. In fact, when I said I was up to no good, it was actually until that day. I had spent my life immersed in fat Engineering text books and had no inclination to travel. We only had a brief conversation the day we met about why we liked our course and where we came from. Not being the social party buffs, we would find each other in our room in the evenings and would acknowledge the presence with a friendly nod or a warm smile. However, the real ice-breaker was when we decided to pay a visit to London in the month of November in 2015. The dream city was just 40 minutes by train from the University and we had a wonderful time that day. As we walked around Trafalgar Square, Youqin explained her plans of travelling across Europe in March. Obviously, it all sounded very exciting and I wanted to go with her too.

But wait. What about the havoc and chaos the thought would create in our families?! Well, we faced the same crisis, when we told our parents that we were going off to Europe with each other for two weeks in March. In the end, I suppose they were just glad that we weren’t going alone and let us go on our first ever European expedition.

All was very well for the first two days. Spain was our first destination and we had the most amazing time escaping under the sun and happily clicking the best pictures of both of us in exotic locations, away from the harsh winds of England. While in Spain, we even ditched the mainstream tourist hubs and moved away to north western countryside towns that were close to Costa Brava. Starting in Girona, we headed to the roses beach in Costa Brava. From there, we made good use of the cheap hop-in hop-off bus tickets to nearby medeival villages like Besalu and Banyoles.

Photo of Girona, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

A new found friendship set its first sail, overlooking river Onyar .

Photo of Riu Onyar, Province of Girona, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

It wasn't a mere walk through the old walls. It was a WALK TO REMEMBER.

Photo of Girona City Walls, Carrer dels Alemanys, Girona, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

As the old town and the surrounding hills glowed in the evening sun.

Photo of Girona City Walls, Carrer dels Alemanys, Girona, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Even though everything seemed perfect, we hadn’t seen the subtle dullness that was seeping in. The video calls that we would make to our families now wouldn’t last as long as the ones in our hostel rooms. We were restricted by the wi-fi in travel hostels and were actually starting to miss the comfort in our room. English being the medium of communication between Youqin and me, it was quite difficult to express how we felt when we couldn’t discuss our day with loved ones back at home in our native language of expression. I was missing the jokes my dad would crack on Skype in Tamil and I guess she felt the same way, for many a times, I had heard her laughing with her family back in the room. The consequences became quite evident in our moods as we would drift off with our thoughts even while being together. Homesickness was already settling in and we had 13 more days to go. However we would occasionally chat about how we wanted each other to visit us in our respective countries. It was the beginning of a new friendship. Not the kind where we got accustomed to loving a person for sharing a piece of gossip or getting habituated to making the other person the first one to know everything in our lives, but the kind where we learn to care unconditionally. Especially, knowing that they are not one of our kind.

The roses beach, Costa Brava. Sometimes names are so apt.

Photo of Roses, Costa Brava, Province of Girona, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Besalu was full of orange trees. And picking oranges for lunch with a friend, the best feeling ever!

Photo of Besalú, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Crossing a bridge while also building a fine new one with her. The bridge of friendship.

Photo of Bridge of Besalú, Besalú, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

No. Not a restaurant really. I can't even find the right name of the old Jewish castle.

Photo of Restaurant Castell de Besalú, Carrer del Pont Vell, Besalú, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Who would imagine there was some brilliant architecture tucked away in some remote countryside.

Photo of Restaurant Castell de Besalú, Carrer del Pont Vell, Besalú, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

And that evening Youqin and I sat by the lake. Lost in our own thoughts, yet together.

Photo of Lake of Banyoles, Province of Girona, Spain by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

As we moved onto visit France and Italy over the next 4 days, we realized that each country was an epitome of charm in its own way. This only left us feeling confused about whether we just wanted to keep travelling or still wished go back to our cozy little room in England. Even though it was already making us tougher, this journey had much more in store for us after we left Milan. Just when we were convinced that it is after all worth it to give up on your comfort to witness the best of what the world has to offer, there were harder lessons to be learnt.

Because some mainstream wonders are a must visit!

Photo of Eiffel Tower, Avenue Anatole France, Paris, France by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

An evening in Paris ;) It is only the evening that makes the difference really.

Photo of Eiffel Tower, Avenue Anatole France, Paris, France by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Time to dress up? Why wouldn't two girls want to! :P

Photo of Moulin Rouge, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, France by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh
Photo of Louvre Museum, Paris, France by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

So we danced along with not a care in the world!

Photo of Disneyland Paris, Marne-la-Vallée, France by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

The mere one hour we spent during a stopover in Milan was totally worth it! Shall come back someday.

Photo of Milan Cathedral, Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

It all started with a slight disagreement in the kind of destinations we had in mind. While she wanted to spend some quality time in the museums of Rome, I wanted to walk around Florence, soak in its culture and shoot a few pictures of the city. It is when we decided to meet again for our flight to Greece, the next evening. My parents had never sent me to another city on my own, even in my own country. And here I was, giving them the shock of their lives about wandering off by myself in Europe. Finally even though they appreciated my desire to make the best of this visit after having come so far, I could sense their apprehension in digesting the news.

In fact I was myself quite worried about how I was going to pull this off. I was just about to abandon the only person I knew in Europe, the decision though, was life changing. My experience in Florence was one of a kind. On my very first backpacking trip, I had the opportunity to go solo. Ever since, my heart races a little less slowly when I am about to explore a new location on my own. Obviously, I even missed Youqin when it came to eating an ice cream alone. And for a fact, I knew she loved sweets as much as I did :)

The most unique style of architecture I had laid my eyes on, by far.

Photo of Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh
Photo of Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

What a place to celebrate solitude.

Photo of Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh
Photo of Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

That evening, the best feeling was to be re united with Youqin once again in Rome. We even confessed how we missed the awesome pictures that we clicked for each other;) So there, we made a pact. We were going to kill it in Greece together. Nothing could deter us. Not even the long night we spent at the El Ciampino airport for the early morning flight out of Rome.

We landed to a sunny afternoon in Athens, our last destination. That night we ate in an Indian restaurant followed by a meal at a Chinese restaurant the next day. While in Athens, I also became a victim of the gypsies that pick pockets very often. I panicked unnecessarily, even though my wallet had only a few British pennies (not even euros :p). It was Youqin who consoled me then. Strangely I even felt comforted by this girl from China, with whom I had no ties except a bond that I knew, will last forever. That’s the special thing about these friendships. (No complaints. No demands. Obviously, I was also thankful that my passport was intact and that it hadn’t happened when I was alone in Florence.)

all temples close by 3pm! The Greek Gods certainly have it their way.

Photo of Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Catching a sunrise in Greece.

Photo of Mount Lycabettus, Athina, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh
Photo of Mount Lycabettus, Athina, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

2 hours before the flight back. We sure were a confused lot. Now it felt like we wanted to stay.

Photo of Acropolis of Athens, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

Greek soldiers training early in the morning.

Photo of Acropolis of Athens, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

We spent a good 2 days in Athens and returned to England. But our adventures didn’t end there. Soon afterwards, we traveled together to many other parts of England and have many more memories to look back to. By far, she has been my favourite travel partner. In fact, one who even sparked the love for travel in me. Now that she is done with her course, she is leaving for China soon. My heart is already heavy. The thought of letting her go is just unbearable because she is not just a sister from another mother, but from another motherland.

But being ardent travelers, I am hoping we are re united sometime soon. Until then, I love you Kiki (The Chinese have an English name, because only a few can master the art of pronouncing their names right :P )

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