Europe is a treasure trove of a unique blend of history and art, which might be bizarre at times, but nonetheless interesting. There are hidden gems that haven’t yet received the attention that they deserve from the rest of the world. Few are easily found on the internet, if you’re looking at the right place, and others might appear in books. It’s true that fiction has a very important role in bringing out artworks and places of importance to the eyes of readers worldwide. A few years ago, we chanced upon a book called The Devil’s Prayer by an Indian writer, Luke Gracias. He had travelled widely across Europe and set unusual backdrops for his story. One of them was Sedlec Ossuary or The Bone Church, near to Prague. It made a special position in our wish list of unique things to see and finally we ticked it off in our trip to the Czech Republic.
In a nutshell
Sedlec Ossuary is one of a kind, a chapel decorated entirely with human bones and skulls. There are bones of an estimated 40000-60000 humans. To all those who have begun to cringe by now at this information – it is neither gruesome nor scary. People weren’t killed so that their bones would be used to decorate this church. When you actually visit the place, it is a calm and serene one, devoid of any horrors or macabre vibes. The sole reason being – this chapel is a memorial of lives lost, it does not celebrate their deaths. There is an enormous chandelier of bones, which is a must see.
Located in Kutna Hora, a suburb about 1 hour by train from Prague, the Sedlec Ossuary receives about 200,000 visitors per year.
Growing up in India, statues or sculptures always meant commemorating historical stalwarts and landmarks that we can add later to our postal addresses. In all seriousness, I had never heard of modern art/installations in public places in India while I was young. For us Calcuttans, the biggest statue is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose one at a five point crossing in Shyambazar. I even doubt if it was installed for the sole purpose of creating a landmark for the important crossing of five roads. Much later while I lived in Pune, I’ve often heard people doling out directions like – “Turn left at the Shivaji ka putla.” It took me a while to figure out that the mentioned ‘putla’ is a bronze statue, installed at the corner of a bridge, while wondering if it was a shop selling Shivaji inspired figurines.
Europe, on the other hand, has been much experimental with statues/sculptures/fountains and I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit and admire a few of them in awe. Surprisingly, Prague turned out to be a haven of sculptures, even while it is called the city of a thousand spires. The main reason behind this revolution is sculptor David Cerny. Frankly, I learned about him only recently, after having seen photos and videos from people visiting Prague. There is no disagreement on the fact that Indian visitors to Europe were sparse before the EU and Schengen visa for 28 countries happened. And now there’s a boom! So, here we go, my pick of the five must-see statues in Prague.
Spring. Just the mere mention of it invokes a riot of colours in blooms and a clean slate of a sky to rejuvenate the year. It’s the season of rainbows and unicorns, daffodils and fresh blooms. What if there is a blue forest somewhere? Imagine walking past a valley in a forest lined with a carpet of blue and not the usual green. Imagine the entire expanse of your sight awash with blue and purple, slightly swaying in the spring breeze, the bells of the flowers making a silent noise. Well, if you are in Western Europe, do not waste time on imagination and head straight to Hallerbos forest in Belgium which turns blue every Spring.
How blue is my valley?
I haven’t been to many forests, but this one tends to welcome you with its open arms of beeches and sequoia, their young tender leaves imparting a serene hue of green all around. The leaves have just sprung up at the advent of spring, their colour and density changing by the day. Their transparent leaves filter the sunlight and spread their warmth upon the bluebells.
The blue in Hallerbos hits you right at the start of the trail. There’s a simple theory – the bluebells start blooming somewhere from April and last till mid-May, depending on the weather. The large beeches also begin their sprouting season almost simultaneously. Their young green leaves filter the sunlight that reaches the bluebells on the ground and determines the growth and shade of the flowers. For instance, we were in Hallerbos in the third week of April and the sunlight was fairly abundant, helping the bluebells bloom and retain their bright blue hue. In the subsequent weeks, the beech leaves have increased in density, filtering very less sunlight, resulting the bluebells to turn into a greyer shade of purple and start wilting.
Breaking away literally implies running farther, far away from something that bothers you. When we were asked to relocate from Pune to Brussels, it seemed like a blessing in disguise, as we were flabbergasted in our stint there. Life was taking its toll and we appeared to be stuck in a hole, an obscure corner of the cobweb that none can see. Brussels came as a welcome break, to break away from the monotony that Pune imposed upon us. Of course, the primary attraction was Europe, a land that both M and I had dreamt of living at some point of our lives. Off we went packing, though the visa debacle took almost two months of our anticipatory survival. Thus I’d say, March to June has been a blur this year from departure to arrival and acclimatisation in a strange land.
Why strange? The cobbled sidewalks that haven’t yet been converted to smooth concrete ‘footpaths’ we have back home, the entirety and incredibility of living in a house built in 1900 AD, the joy and sheer awe of standing before altars built centuries ago but still sitting pretty beside modern superstores, eye-soothing greenery and little rose bushes that peek at you from unkempt gardens, holding a bowlful of the famous Belgian fries and loving them as well…there are so many stranger things that I’d write about in the days to come.
There have been glitches – slow paperwork by the government and banks, a peephole to live in the initial days, good weather playing truant and torturing us with the summer’s wrath – but these are a few and ought to be ignored comparing the bliss of living amidst such architecture. Yes, both of us are lovers of some good Gothic pillars, baroques, nouveau art, ancient cathedrals and old houses that smell of varnished wooden stairs.
I’d say Brussels has welcomed us with open arms, along with thousands of other immigrants and hasn’t been shy of our Oriental origin. I haven’t spotted any sneering glances or condescending remarks yet. In a sea of expats, we are just two more cogs in the wheels that run Brussels.
People never believed us when we insisted that the main agenda of our Bangkok trip was going to be food. Being a lover of Pan Asian cuisine, it was imperative that a holiday in Bangkok meant trying a lot of Thai food. Even with millions of tourists flocking every month and season, Thai and Chinese cuisine is more popular in the city than Global fast food chains for people who wouldn’t venture out of their comfort zone. Does that imply we didn’t try the amazing Samurai Pork Burger in McDonald’s or Beef Whopper in Burger King? Of course, we did! They were cheap and totally unavailable in India, which made themselves land into our list of items to try. But they aren’t eligible to be featured into these 5 must eats from Thai cuisine. These are nutritious, delicious and well within your budget if you’re a traveller like me and M. We love to explore the local cuisine of any place we visit, rather than sit in boutique hotels and sample gourmet food.
Eat all Thai 🙂
We recommend these must eat treats once you’re in Bangkok –
Spring Roll and Pad Thai – These two aren’t served together, but they’re often in close proximity. Thai Spring Rolls are probably one of the few vegetarian appetisers that we love. Crisp on the outside with a moist filling of veggies, always freshly fried and served with a sweet chilli sauce – Spring Rolls are a must on the streets of Bangkok. They provide a quick snack break, satiate your taste buds and come as cheap as 30 THB per plate. We’ve had the best ones at a stall on Khao San Road and it’s the best way to fill your stomach before you start partying.
“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine
True. Having been taught the gospels of Saint Augustine in a school named after him, this is one of his teachings I believe in. You cannot discover more than half of yourself unless you have travelled. Each new sight and sound, flora and fauna unravels a part of you hidden hitherto from your own soul.
Image Courtesy: Google
I have travelled in India, yes. As a family, we’ve done the usual ‘South India’ tours, the ‘Bombay-Goa’, ‘Rajasthan’, and the shorter ‘Puri’, ‘Darjeeling’ ones. There’s one more tour that people from Calcutta usually cover early in their life – Nepal, our beautiful neighbouring country. My parents had missed it, somehow. My in-laws have visited there recently. It seems we’re one of the few couples in our family not having been there. I’ve always longed to visit Nepal as I primarily adore mountains. The alluring chill of the hills, the tranquility that is hard to find in the plains, and the familiarity of the people in language and habits are reason enough for a visit or two. So I had planned a Nepal trip long ago including places to visit, food to eat, adventure, religious shrines, national parks and lakes. The itinerary got easier with Skyscanner providing a credit of 1 lakh rupees to accommodate all my plans. Here’s the plan all chalked out for any one to have a great trip in Nepal. I have pointed the key places I’d like to visit in the map here – Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan (5 km from Kathmandu), Royal Chitwan National Park, Pokhara and Lumbini. Each has it’s own significance in my trip, read further to know how they fit.