L K Moorthi
It was approaching summer holidays here in Riyadh, where I work, and I decided to pack my bags and go to Eastern and Central European countries. Planned meticulously for over a month; which all places to visit and what to do in each city. Thanks to information available on the net, I was able to square in on three places – Prague – Czech Republic, Budapest – Hungary and Vienna – Austria. I had a criteria for selecting each place. Prague, due to its historical artifacts, Budapest, for its scenic locations and landscapes and Vienna, for its historical connection with music and art forms.
Then came the most demanding part. Where do I stay in all these never visited places by me? One of my colleagues told me about the site AirBnB. I checked the site and found some accommodation suited to my liking and very affordable. I started inquiring with each of my intended hosts for my stay. Prompt came their replies with assistance as to how to make my stay comfortable and enjoyable. I chose my local hosts. So far unknown people to me or to say, strangers till the day before.
I left for Prague. The flight was delayed. The taxi I had booked had waited for sometime and left. That was my first experience. I took another airport taxi and proceeded to my local host near to Florance. It was not difficult to locate the place. My host was there to welcome me. A nice room. Met another traveler like me from Paris who was staying in another room in the same apartment. Surprisingly, I could strike a conversation with ease with my host and the other guest.
The next day, my previously arranged local tour guide took me all over the interesting places to see.
She was a student as well as a founder of an organization associated with media and publicity. We talked all the way and I was going on capturing the interesting and scenic beauty of Prague with my camera. We could have walked easily about 10 kilometers on that day. Prague was a small place and all places to see were in walking distance.
My guide, Hripsime Arakelyan, Ripa in short, was an interesting person.
Very focused and smart. She was doing her PhD in International Business. Also she is the founder CEO at Olympeah. International Representative at “Beside Woman”, an NGO organization. She was also volunteering at World Bank. So much confidence and enthusiasm to prove herself!
The next day I took the train to Budapest. Could chat with many fellow travelers during the ride to Budapest. Reached Budapest and my local host there was texting me with direction to reach her place. It took hardly 5 minutes to reach the apartment.
She was an artist. The apartment was full of painting and carvings. The whole place had a Bohemian look.
My host was very nice and we could immediately start talking about painting and photography. Both depended on the incidence of light falling on the object. We had a lot to talk.
Next day she took me to her studio, which was about 100 kilometers outside the city. A beautiful, calm and serine village. I could see more of her creations there as well as the work done by her fellow artists. She asked me to explore the mountains and told me that I would really like the beautiful hills and valleys.
Breathtaking captivating views welcomed me all the way to top of the hills. I just soaked myself in the beauty of the surroundings. I don’t remember how many snaps I had taken there on that day! A few locals thought I was lost and greeted me. Some suggested some more beautiful surroundings I could feast my eyes on. I walked on and on untiring and aimlessly.
The return trip from the studio was adventurous. My host’s car broke down. And another artist friend offered us a ride back to the city in the night.
The next day I took some directions from my host and went around the city. It was a wonderful feeling all the time. Budapest had its unique locations to view and enjoy. I was very happy to see a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in a park. I was amused by the care and pride with which the local body was maintaining the gardens and the surrounding.
My next journey was to Vienna. Again by train. The country side as it whizzed past the fleeting train was a joy to my eyes. Two fellow passengers, an old couple from Mexico, had a problem. They had misplaced their journey ticket; however, had the proof of payment. When the ticket inspector came, he understood their situation and said it was alright and they could travel. I could see the sigh of relief in their eyes. They broke into a conversation. Generally as to where I was from and what I was doing. Yet another interesting personalities.
Reaching Vienna, my local host there kept me posted as to which metro train I had to take and which direction I had to come out of the station. And spot on, I reached her place in a couple of minutes. The apartment was spotlessly clean and well equipped. Unlike my previous hosts I had the whole place for myself. The few minutes we chatted were very informative. She left behind one mobile phone, just in case I had to call her for any help. So caring.
The next day my local tour guide met me at an agreed meeting point in the city. She was a qualified guide. Straight away we started our tour of the city. Another feast to the eyes.She showed me around beautiful and interesting localities, churches, buildings, palaces and parks.
My guide, Maria, another interesting personality. She was an artist. She was a dancer and was studying for her masters in dance forms.
A very energetic and talented person. We could easily talk on subjects of mutual interest during our walk through the city. She completed the designated number of hours of the tour and we parted, only to become fiends.
I took the train to Prague the next day. My return ticket was from Prague. I went back to the same host with whom I had stayed earlier; but, this time my room was different. It was a bigger room with a good amount of sunshine through the windows. I enjoyed my stay there.
Next day went to the castle area, some places I had not seen during my earlier visit.
And time came for me to say good bye to Prague. I took the flight and returned back to Riyadh, from where I had started my journey ten days earlier.
I was very happy to have met so many interesting personalities and getting acquainted with them throughout my journey in Europe. This is what makes me happy. To meet different personalities, getting to know them, exchanging views on areas of common interest. That is the wonderful part of any journey – meet as many interesting personalities as possible!