Monday, 17 April 2017

Destination Europe IV: Solo Holiday Travel

The formal classes for our winter semester finished towards the end of January and for those who do not have elective modules in block or the practical modules, they finished their exams by the first week of February and commenced their much needed holiday. Winter is extremely cold in Greifswald and I was amazed to see the Baltic Sea completely frozen. What appears to be large stretch of water body and pond in the summer becomes skiing ground. While my classes were finished, I had two block modules and a practical module to complete during the much awaited winter holidays and as such I remained cold and frozen in Greifswald. Just before our Summer Semester began on 1st April, I was glad that I could manage a weeklong holiday to travel some places and look around.

It was the Bhutan Day organized by Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft at Frankfurt, which instilled excitement for me to travel far to the south of Germany and in continuum I planned to travel towards the far western Europe, Spain and Poland. The charm of the travel however was taking a solo trip. The blog post is much due, as I was busy the commencement of summer semester, and this time, I am heavily loaded with modules.

8. Frankfurt main Am: 
The financial hub of Germany is one of largest towns in Germany, a city greatly devastated during the World War II and rebuilt later. My purpose of being in Frankfurt as mentioned earlier was to attend the Bhutan Day and during the course of interaction with the German Friends of Bhutan, learnt that Frankfurt is culturally and ethnically diverse, with around half of the population, and a majority of young people, having a migration background. Frankfurt is beautifully meandered by a large river, Main, and here I share some of the picture snapped out there.

Eiserner Steg over river Main

Main Tower

View of River Main

Old Opera
A beautiful memory from Frankfurt trip was the evening stroll through the streets and chatting over a chilled beer with Aue Dorji Wangchuck, a fellow countryman I met there during the meeting.

9: Barcelona: Having spent one and half days in Frankfurt (25th – 26th March), I took the flight from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport to Barcelona, the most sought travel destinations in Europe. I reached the enchanting city of Barcelona in the evening but unlike Greifswald which is extremely cold, the city was milder. I checked in the Mediterranean Youth Hostel and wasted no time to explore the city. Barcelona is known for art and architecture, mostly designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudí. Most of the points of interests will take us to wonderfully designed architectural master pieces. 
La Sagrada Familia

Park Guell

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Casa Batllo

The Venetian tower


Parc de Montjuic

The first point I visited was La Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family.  A day is definitely not enough to explore the limitless options in Barcelona so I kept my visits to see the exterior beauties. I then took a stroll on the famous cobblestone lanes of the Gothic quarter and La Rambla Street to have a glimpse of street shows, and to have a chill beer and good dinner. The cost of food and drinks are more expensive on this street than other restaurants but being alone, it was a wonderful feel to immerse myself in the crowd.  Taking a ten journey ticket, the travel was very convenient provided we decide which point to visit. From the recreational parks to beaches, churches and streets, souvenir shops filed with shirts and badges of Messi, and numerous dots of Gaudis master pieces, my one day (26th – 27th March) trip was quite a hectic one.

Plaza de Orienta
10. Madrid: I took the night bus from Barcelona to Madrid, the capital city of Spain on 27th March. The point of taking night bus is that we need not have to waste a day travelling and also we save cash on booking hostels. Madrid being capital city, and also being inland city is not the top rated travel destination. There are many beautiful port cities along the Mediterranean coast but I planned via Madrid as I was determined to visit Portugal. The journey started at 10:00 PM and I reached early in the morning at 5:00 AM in Madrid. I took a metro from the Bus station to the central train station and there I waited for the day to break. The good thing is that we can lock our heavy baggage in the lockers in the station and we can roam the cities comfortably. Madrid has intricate boulevards, many spectacular palaces and of course parks. Like in Barcelona, I took a 10 journey ticket to explore the city. Having already spent two days with extensive walking, I was quite tired by noon and had to enjoy the sun in one of the square in Madrid centre.

Palace of Madrid

Plaza de Cibeles

Retiro Park

Gate to the City of Lisbon
11. Lisbon: For my journey from Madrid to Lisbon, I booked a train ticket to experience a different mode of travel.  That was also a night journey so being too tired of the day trip, I had a good sleep in the train. Unlike the trains in India where there are berths to sleep, I didn’t see trains with beds to sleep in Europe. We have to sleep on our partially leaned seat. The journey was little over 10 hours and I reached Lisbon at 7:00 in the morning. The exciting point was that I have an acquaintance in Lisbon, a Bhutanese friends studying there. So, from the train station I took the metro to reach my baggage at his place and from where I had a breakfast. However they were busy with some important classes so I had to explore the city of Lisbon on my own. Lisbon is a coastal city but there are beautiful hills that rise high enough to give beautiful view of the city. I took a day ticket and moved from one point of interest to another, sometimes catching free walking tours and other times, wondering lonely as clouds amid the crowd. By 4:00 PM the two friends have finished their classes and I had a much needed companionship to walk the streets with diverse conversation topics. Lisbon is comparatively cheaper than Barcelona or Madrid.

City View from one of the Hills

Praca do Imperio

Lisbon on hill

The advantage of taking solo trip is that I have the freedom of choice for myself. For many months, I have been surrounded by same group of people and socialized with them so travelling alone definitely gives a different taste. This compels us to talk to strangers asking them the routes, requesting them to take pictures and in times just picking normal conversations, which is nice. Indeed the camera, the power bank, and the internet package serve the best companion and there is no way that we get lost. Being alone also helps discover yourself better because I have to do everything by myself, thus we overcome fear and insecurities. And of course we find peace without having to check patience and worry. Of course there are a set of disadvantages as well.

Friday, 7 April 2017

"Bhutanese Youth in Pursuit of Happiness": Bhutan Day 2017 by German Bhutan Himalaya Society

25th March 2017, in Frankfurt am Main, the financial powerhouse of Germany, there was a small yet special gathering in the rooms of the Tibethaus, an environment resembling Bhutanese setup. Organized by the Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft (German Bhutan Himalaya Society) it was an annual meeting of its members and invite the Bhutanese living in Germany to take part into it, to have discourses and discussions on the issues of interests from Bhutan and term it “Bhutan Day”.
Bhutanese participants with organizers of the event.

I came to learn about the event last year when I participated in the National Day Reception in Brussels, while interacting with Mr. Reinhard Wolf, the President of the society. I got the invitation to take part in the event but the venue was in Frankfurt, which is quite far from the place where I live and study so taking part in it would entail more days of travel. However the event happened to be during my semester break, which makes my travel plans so convenient. Being away from homeland, it is always a wonderful pleasure to talk and discuss about Bhutan, and the event being organized by Germans for their love and support towards Bhutan, it gives more reason to attend the day. Moreover I learnt that officials from the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Brussels are also attending the meet so this added more verve to travel south and have some interactions with fellow countrymen.
Mr. Reinhard Wolf, President of DBHG welcomes the participants.

Mr. Reinhard Wolf, the President of the society has put in tremendous effort to make the day a very fruitful and rewarding one. The early hours of the day was set aside for the annual ordinary general meeting of the Society amongst its members and the Bhutan Day 2017 formally kicked off at 11:30 AM with the theme “Bhutanese Youth in Pursuit of Happiness”. The highlight of the event was that there are two presentations; Mr. Dorji Wangchuk from London spoke on "A Perspective on Bhutanese Youth in the Pursuit of Great National Happiness" and Prof. Dr. Alexander Klaußner on the topic "Handicrafts have golden soil - maybe and especially in and for Bhutan". It was through these two presentations that a discussion on the theme was met. The presence of officials from Royal Bhutanese Embassy, Brussels was a positive note.

Bhutan with a young population with over 27% between the age of 13-24, the most pressing issues and concerns revolve around the youths. Unemployment for youths is high at 13%, we also have serious concerns of rural households remaining empty due to rural urban migration as youths don’t prefer to stay in the villages. While over 56% of the Bhutanese population rely on agricultural practices for livelihood, they mostly comprises of elderly parents. Besides blue collar jobs are least preferred by our youths, not considering the fact that economic return from doing farming and blue collar jobs are much higher than their counterparts working in offices. The happiness of youth would have greater implications on the overall happiness of the nation. Coincidentally, the recently published World Happiness Report also saw Bhutan drop in her place by 13 notches from last year. At 97th place, this is not a comforting position particularly considering the claims and praises of Bhutan being one of the happiest countries in the world. While we have such concerns for the youths, it is heartening to see our friends in Germany have equal concern as we Bhutanese do.
Mr. Dorji Wangchuk talks on GNH and Youth.

However, it was awe inspiring to listen to the talk of Mr. Dorji Wangchuck, who articulated the message of how we perceive happiness as a country, with special focus on the four pillars and nine domains of happiness. He also shared with the audiences, the prospects for Bhutanese youths towards the road of happiness mainly because of many enabling conditions our Bhutanese youths are blessed with, and of course some of the constraints and challenges.  This was complimented by the lecture of Prof. Dr. Alexander, who enlightened the gathering the multi-fold advantages of taking craftsmanship, relating his experiences in context to an old German proverb, “A trade in hand finds gold in every land”. He explained how dual system of vocational training and education systems works in Germany and possible scope in Bhutan.

Participants of the Day.
In all, it was a wonderful experience with our German friends and I remain grateful to the President of the society for the opportunity. It is always a blessing that I am a Bhutanese and I am more humbled when we have many good friends around the world, who spare their precious time in an effort to make a difference for Bhutan. This however is all inspired by the benevolence of our Kings, who after denouncing their lively pleasures, put the country and people as foremost priority. Through the ages, our kings have established bonds with many countries, and today we are proud to have many friends of Bhutan, who continues to promote the friendship and deliver services to Bhutan and the Bhutanese people. Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft is one such society, which is now over 25 years old, established solely for the promotion of international understanding between Bhutan and Germany. I as a Bhutanese remain thankful for all the efforts they put in.  

May The Friendship lasts Forever.