Kochi, India

Joined by Liran from Israel, who I met in Alappuzha, I headed to my final stop in India for this trip: Fort Kochi, formerly and still known as Cochin, and known for being a former Dutch colonial town that’s preserved its old flavour. Liran had already spent some time here before, so it was more for me to take a quick look around for a day before we both made the jump to Sri Lanka the next morning.

I admit, the first few hours felt a little uninspiring. Tourist shops everywhere, tourist hordes everywhere, and nothing felt authentic, more for show. Drained of energy, we hired a $1 tuk-tuk to take us around all the main sights for a few hours just to get them over with… with the catch being that we had to stop and walk around some shops for five minutes. Heh. Church here, cemetery there, palace here, temple there… and a shop. The shopkeepers know exactly what’s going on there, and so did we (even before getting in the tuk-tuk), with our driver getting commission from the shop owners for taking passengers there. With everything either straight-up unaffordable or obviously wrong for us (like women’s jewellery), we just made some small talk to kill the timer. That didn’t work, and sick of fake-shopping and checking off some sights I couldn’t really care much about, we ditched the tuk-tuk.

But then we wandered off on our own, and found a beguiling Jewish quarter complete with a synagogue, Bazaar Street with plenty of people going about their daily lives, a lively promenade, the busy evening scene of fishermen selling their catches, and most surprisingly, a vibrant arts scene, with galleries, murals, and a peaceful coexistence with the colonial charm. Definitely won me over. We enjoyed the sunset over the famous Chinese fishing nets, had ourselves some seafood, and toasted to India.

High life

Côte d’Azur (France, Monaco)

One last NUS friend to visit! I wasn’t able to meet up with Ivan in his native Serbia, but the Cote d’Azur more than suffices! Unfortunately, there are no hostels in Cannes, where he was staying with his sister. I stayed in Nice, the largest and cheapest city in the area, but a 1.5 hour bus ride away. Oddly enough for what may be the most expensive region in Europe, that bus only costs 1€!

It was five days of heading to the beach, walking around some very pretty Mediterranean towns, experiencing the famed rudeness of people from the region, ogling rich people with their expensive cars and terrifyingly wrinkly tans, and eating way too many pains au chocolat. All that leads to a pretty darn good time. We met up with Olympio in Cannes, walked at least three loops around Antibes, felt centuries out-of-place in the medieval area of Cagnes (which feels more like a lived-in open-air museum), dived head first into giant waves in Nice, and witnessed a double-rainbow framed by both Monaco’s palace and casino. Guess there really is gold at the end of a rainbow.

Oh, and somewhere in all of that, helped carried a grand piano up five flights of stairs.

Not fair

Thun, Switzerland

The scenery here is incredible.  And the fact that I’m here – mainly who I’m with here – is surreal: Marlies and Flo, whom I met in South America!  It’s hard to believe that over two months have passed since we said goodbye in Lima.  With Marlies at work on weekdays, Flo drove me around various cities and villages around the region, all thanks to recommendations from Marlies’ mother.

Can Vancouver just cede the title of most beautiful city already?  Vancouver’s awesome, but we just can’t compete!  I mean, come on, Thun has two castles.  Two!  One by a lake!

Yes, there are the stereotypes: potatoes, cheese, and cows.  Rösti, raclette, and chocolate.  Delicious, delicious stereotypes.  Oh, and cowbells, but you can’t eat those.

But the endless hiking, uncountable mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers to dip your feet into, giant fields to frolic in, beautiful public fountains that are nearly all drinkable, pretty buildings, stunning valleys, houses perched precariously and in solitary, all just within a stones’ throw…it’s not fair.