Wednesday, February 3, 2016

EuroStory 1: Malmö



It's an exciting feeling to wake up and know you're doing something for the first time that day; which in my case was exploring a new city on my own.

There was no ground work I did before I left. I had no agenda for the day. I just googled for a minute, and saw that there was a huge park called Kungsparken, and I made a mental note to visit that place.
 
As I passed silently by the rest of my party deep in sleep, into the Copenhagen railway station, exchanged euros for some Swedish currency and activated my Eurail pass – there was an obvious tingling of excitement. In fact I was so pumped when I sat in my first European train, that I took out my notepad, wrote:
“I’m sitting on my first Eurail, and good lord am I excited! The moment has finally come!”
There was a 20 minute delay, so the moment didn’t come quite then.
The first Eurail!

 From that moment on, every breath, sight and step was a song that did not end till the return journey that evening. In a parallel universe, a dog would’ve smiled at the sight of me leaning against, and staring out the window with such wonder in my eyes. 

The moment I stepped out of the Malmö central station into the city, I was hit by a ferocious wind. You’d never expect a geography to change much within half an hour of train travel, but it was a strong, biting cold wind. And it was clear by the general unfazed nature of people’s walk that this wasn’t exactly new to them.

Kungsparken was the only destination in my mind for starters, and it was at a walkable distance. The term walkable is interesting actually, going by what it means to different people. Back in India, the tendency is to think of those going to Europe as wealthy folk. If they saw the way most of us spend in Europe, they’d take back their words in a heartbeat. Let me explain.

Usually, public transport is quite efficient and convenient throughout Europe. Of course, it was designed for the average European, who happens to have a heavier wallet than the average Indian. So when 2 or 3 euros are to be shelled out for a single point to point journey, we start to think – “Hmm, I could have a slice of margarita and/or a coffee for that much. Is 3 kilometers really that much? If I start paying for every 3 km walk, I’m going to be broke pretty soon.”

This of course is the conversation in my head, and I can’t really speak for other heads. But as far as I’ve observed, our definition of walkable is quite adaptable to the cost of a single journey.

Let this not however tarnish my love for walking at all. There is a definite sense of pleasure, and somewhat of achievement, when I reach my destination on foot. It feels like you’ve earned the sight at the end of a long walk. This is something I’ve realized gradually over the length of the trip.

So with a somewhat empty stomach and a backpack, I stand on the edge of Kungsparken. A few steps in and my jaw dropped. A seemingly never ending canopy of trees lay ahead on each side of a plush brown pathway laid out like a red carpet for its visitors. The trees weren’t as thick as I expected; they were tall, thin and looked to have withstood the torment of the winds for many a year.
The beauty called Kungsparken
 A picture I had in my head was of me walking amidst such a dreamy setting. People often think of loneliness as a bad thing. But in the lap of nature, I have never felt alone. The rustling of the leaves, the chirping of birds, the sound of ripples from the lake – as clichéd as they all might sound, rarely are we ever in an environment where these sounds can be isolated.

I spent hours walking around, taking pictures. There were a couple of lakes I came across, such was the size of the park. For a while I sat by the lake, with ducks swimming as well as sitting by my side – they couldn’t care less about my presence, which was new and comforting. I recall an Indian woman who was passing by at that time on her own, clicking away. Our eyes met for a couple of seconds, in which we both became conscious of the fact that we are both, well…Indian. Before I could consider saying hi, or making any kind of decision, she continued walking ahead, much like the ducks in the lake.

After exiting the park I also remembered that Malmo is the name of a football club, and was respectable because it was playing in the Champions League that year. Again, the distance was walkable. And upon reaching there, words cannot express how thrilled I was feeling to witness a football club stadium for real, even though it was one I’d never seen on TV. The eagerness is visible in the selfies I’ve taken.

So, selfies – this is how they began. After sending my mom the first batch of pictures from Europe on Whatsapp, her reaction was – “But where are you? You are not in these pictures.” Gee, thanks mom. I thought you had seen enough of me for 26 years, so had a crazy thought of sending pictures from Europe for a change. Mothers.

And so started a series of pictures with my giant head loosely sprawled across Europe’s finest sceneries. And with the sheer amount of solo travel I did, you can imagine how evolved my selfie powers must be now.

The stadium was closed, but I got a glimpse inside through the fences, and also saw a couple of training grounds for kids.

Evening was setting in, and it was time to walk back to the train station. It wasn’t a walkable distance, but I had no interest in making the effort to figure out the easier way. And with earphones plugged in, I had a chance to walk on the periphery of another park, littered beautifully with autumn leaves. A moment stands out here, when a track from Lord of the Rings was playing – and it resonated with how happily tired I was feeling, and tears welled up in my eyes. It’s hard to describe that feeling. 

Everything from the morning that day was perfect. I felt as if I’d found a long lost treasure within me, this creature with an incredible power to keep on moving, walking, exploring. Despite my many layers of clothing to protect against that wind, I felt vulnerable and naked. My legs were close to giving in. My body was in submission, to nature.

In the middle of my walk back to the station, there was a green pasture – right in the middle of an intersection. It seemed to be strategically placed for me to rest, like that lone restaurant on highways for buses to stop. The ground was strewn with the golden hue of autumn leaves. The trees here had thick, deep-rooted trunks. An accomplished writer or someone with above-average knowledge of trees would’ve given a more sophisticated description, but I specialize in second-grade level descriptions, it seems.

When you see such a place with the Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing, the Shire comes to mind effortlessly. One of my umpteen favorite shots from the movie is of Frodo’s first in the movie, where he is sitting by a tree with his back to its trunk, reading. I call it the quintessential Frodo Baggins shot. And so I whipped out my camera, set the timer on it, and took out the next best thing to a book – a kindle.
It took ten shots and about half an hour at least I think, but I was able to successfully reproduce it – a 21st century tall Indian Frodo Baggins.

The funny and unfortunate part here is that I didn’t actually sit and read there. I just posed for the picture, and set sail soon after for the station. I don’t think I actually read a page on my kindle for the first couple of weeks, though I did fall asleep on trains with a kindle in my hands.

The act of reading is not as simple as I thought it is. With the sheer amount of distractions that our species has manufactured, it is little wonder that fewer and fewer people are found with a book in their hands. “I love books”, and “Reading is my passion” are more loosely thrown around than cigarette butts in Delhi.

As the sun set on my magical first solo sojourn, it became clear to me that I needed to do this a lot more in the next three months.

Have you ever seen an autumn leaf fall? The trajectory they follow before they hit the ground is most wondrous. Every leaf falls differently. Some will fall like a baby being rocked from side to side, and others get carried with the wind.

I felt like a golden autumn leaf that day, caressed by a breeze, dancing into the sunset.