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A vegetarian traveller's travails - Part II
Before leaving Europe to return to India, we decided to drive up to Bodo, Norway, close to Arctic Circle, via Denmark.

Four of us jointly owned a second hand Volkswagen Beatle and nicknamed it 'Dilruba'. We stayed in international youth hostels or camped out with our sleeping bags, on camping grounds. On the rear of the car, we had strung the Indian flag and added the flag of every country we had driven through. This would earn us spontaneous applause from passersby.

At Helsingore, we visited the famous castle of Hamlet – of 'To be or not to be' fame!  At a small amphitheatre in the castle, two of us who knew our Shakespeare, enacted a few pieces from Hamlet, in loud voices. Much to the amusement of other visitors, who clapped and egged us on.

From near the castle we took a car-ferry to Malmo, Sweden. Driving up north, we crossed a most gorgeous steep fjord bridge between Sweden and Norway. We had never had such a driving experience. In Sweden, contrary to rest of Europe, one drove on the left (just like India) and in Norway, one drove on the right (just like rest of Europe). So, midway on the bridge, we had to switch from left to right! To achieve this, without accidents from both ends, we had to drive on arrows and cross over to the other side exactly at the centre of the bridge!

From Oslo, we drove right up to Bodo – just to see the midnight sun! For half the year there is night and rest half of the year, its day! All four of us got totally disoriented and lost our sense of time. Jet lag is nothing compared to this bizarre feeling.

Talking of food, these Scandinavian countries posed yet another challenge. For their staple food seemed to be fish and fish alone. In Copenhagen, Denmark, we saw a sight for which we were not all prepared. One of the popular street foods, sold on the carts was smoked herring. The guys just drop the smoked herring into their wide open mouths, in full public view. This was fishy business and it was certainly not our cup of tea! (See inset).

Similarly, in Sweden and Norway they would present us with a very colourful platter of many hued fish, called Smorgasbord.  At the very sight of these, we would dig into the Yellow Pages to find out the nearest Chinese restaurant! One thing I liked about visiting Denmark, Norway and Sweden is that their currencies are interchangeable, on one to one basis. So no need to change currencies at the border!

Some random recollections about crisscrossing Europe: In Germany, we could never really quench our thirst with beer and wine. No 'trupti' without 'nal ka paani'; something they never served. Only bottled mineral water from natural springs was served, which again had a different taste and did not quench our thirst. The waiters jokingly taunted us, 'Only horses drink tap water'!

In Austria, a glass of water is served with hot coffee. One is supposed to sip coffee and water, alternately. In the red wine district of Garda in Northern Italy, the moment one sits at the table they bring a jug of red wine and a jug of tap water – all on the house! While driving past the vineyards, often the farmers hailed us and loaded us with baskets of grapes. Possibly they extended this generosity, seeing our flag bedecked car and gathered that we were young adventurous birds of passage!

1981: I was informed a year in advance that I was to go to Mexico. There was enough time for me to read about the country and pick up conversational Mexican Spanish.  On arrival, I found that avoiding meat was next to impossible. So I lived on fruits, biscuits, yoghurts, eggs. I also learnt that with some vehement sign language, and uttering 'Suppa verdura, san carne', I could indeed get vegetable soup. And cold beer, with 'cerveza fria'!

Staying at Sheraton in Zona Rosa area, giving my shirt to hotel laundry, would have bought me a new shirt. So I decided to buy a few shirts at the store next door. My conversational Spanish had not prepared me for this exercise. The lady just could not make out, what I wanted. She could not understand 'shirt' nor the German 'Hemd'. 'So I desperately pointed to the shirt I was wearing. Her face lit up, 'Oh, kameeza!'

Words like our kameez, Arabic qam??, or French chemise seem to have a common lineage!

Marcel Proust - "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes"

(To be continued...)

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