Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Yeah , I know .. this is my second longest absence from 'My Space...' and that too during a time when I should have blogged diligently and regularly. Perhaps I did not get inspired to pen down all the numerous things that were thrust my way , some all of a sudden .. some others not that sudden ; in a haphazard fashion. I wanted to do justice to these 3 months of my life which I would rather say were more about discovering stuff about my own self rather than discovering the wonders of Europe.

Terming it as a 'dream come true' would perhaps be the greatest lie , coz honestly I hadn`t ever dreamt that I would go backpacking across Europe as a 23 year old , a student and single. This wasn`t to be some teenagery romp across the beaches and mountains with my guy, nor was it meant to be Gondola rides and quiet romantic French dinners with my spouse. To be honest as I was packing my bags for it , back home in chaotic Bangalore , I realised I was the only person among the 12 of us who had no agenda in mind about the next 3 months that lay ahead. One expected it to be a spiritual tour with Vatican and Fatima beckoning him , while for another it was gonna be about French wining and dining and for yet another it was about checking out the female species, from every possible nationality ,up close n personal. Someone wanted to explore the European music scene ,another wanted to check out the soccer and F1 circuit, while yet another wanted to 'do' the sin cities of Amsterdam and Prague. One of the girls wanted to go crazy shopping while another wanted a break from the rigour of an Indian B-school. The rest chanted "I jus wanna travel and travel and travel some more" as their reasons. All I used to do in these meetings, before we embarked upon this, was to hear all of them ramble enthusiastically about how they plan to do their 'thing' once we get there. Later , I would lie down on my bed and try and think of some reason that would excite me about this trip , of some reason that would invigorate me to jump outta bed and start planning and packing. I could find none. A painful and long-drawn break-up did nothing to salvage my already dipping enthusiasm. What made matters worse was the thought that perhaps it was the making of one huge big mistake , an expensive one at that.

After an uneventful flight from Mumbai, As we stopped over at Helsinki to take our connecting flight to Paris , I lost my way in the huge Vanta Airport at Helsinki. All alone and trundling along with a trolley overflowing with luggage, cursing the day when I had made that impulsive decision to opt for this Student Exchange program and having no clue about how I was goin to make it to Paris ... stranded as I was .. I hear my name booming from the Public address system "Sweta Bhoi , FinnAir passenger to Paris" and I see Padhiary running towards me gesturing wildly , I told myself ,amidst the relief coursing through my blood "Abhi khatam nei hua boss" :).

We reach Paris and I make a call back home. It sure felt weird to mouth the words "Hey Dad, Im in Paris now, alls fine".Hell, yeah it did feel so different than the normal "Hey Dad, Ive reached Bhubaneswar, alls good". From this moment onwards started our series of firsts. Our first tryst with trying to ask for directions from the french who are so proudly anti-british that they find it below their dignity to even understand English , let alone speaking it , our first TGV from Paris to Lille.It is midnight when we reach the city that we were to call our home for the next 3 months - Lille. As I step out of Lille Flandres station and feel the chilly breeze tugging at my thin jacket, the realization dawns - I am in France , in Europe .. and this is where I have to make the most of the 3 months that I am to spend here.I glance around at the city that was so clearly in deep slumber and the stunning architecture of the buildings that showed promise of springing to life in the morning.

It sure felt .. different.. to be sharing a house with 8 other people.It wasnt as if I was thrust into a house full of strangers, I knew all of them, infact was pals with most of them. But nevertheless, the whole experience of waking up in the morning n while making a beeline for the loo, bumping into a groggy-eyed, toothbrush-wielding guy who I used to earlier bump into only in classrooms or the mess or at most in the Boys Hostel during overnight assignment n project discussions .. it felt pleasantly weird in the initial few days.It felt kinda homemaker-ish to go shopping for potatoes and ginger-garlic paste with guys with whom I not very long ago used to discuss ERP assignments and Corporate Planning term papers.Yea, It was a Bigg Boss kinda setting and soon the idle bakar and bitching too started off.But, I think I can safely say that my greatest learning from this whole experience has been staying with 8 other people who are as different from the other as chalk and cheese, adjusting along the way with each one`s idiosyncracies and temperaments,grocery shopping, paying bills, cooking, chopping , washing dishes , scrubbing bathtubs and sinks, clearing the trash, vacuuming and mopping the floor, cleaning the toilet.. the works.Learning how to function as one cohesive unit, learning to say 'no' (which I still think I really need to work upon), learning to speak out for oneself and stand by your views.It is now that I realize why all those kids who go abroad at an early age to fend for themselves, return as grounded and quietly-confident individuals.

As my days here in Lille, draw to a close, I have very expectedly switched over to the restrospective mode.As I go for long evening walks and the wintry breeze brushes past me... like flat chalk works its way on a blackboard... I reminisce about my stay in this beautiful lil Lille.The highlights of my trip, I shall be detailing in another post, where I hope to do justice to each little memory that I shall carry close to my heart forever.However I have realised one thing, no matter how many Mills and Boons I read hereon, and vacillate over the hotness quotient of the guys of those many nationalities ; I know my heart would always beat a wee bit faster for a desi. I might mentally salivate over the oozing Italian charm, the quiet Greek intensity, the sharp German intellect or the subdued French passion, but I don`t think there would ever be a bigger turn on than bumping into a nice Indian bloke on a chilly snowy winter evening, at the Grand Place of a quaint little European town,and be greeted by a smiling "Aap bhi India se ho ?" ....