Monday, November 09, 2015

A week in Berlin

We spent the last week of October this year in Berlin. This was M's first international vacation, and we wanted to do a week of slow travel. We had heard a lot about Berlin from friends, about how modern and kid-friendly the city was, and so the choice.

The top three highlights of our trip were:

a. The Berlin Zoo: M loved it. While the zoo is a fairly small area relative to Indian zoos, the collection is quite diverse. The giraffe's, the chimps, gorillas and rhino's were particular hits. It was also pretty great that one can get very close to the animals, due to the glass-based cages rather than the traditional metallic ones. A big hit with kids.

b. The Reichstag building; The refurbished glass dome structure is beautiful. By far one of the best monuments we have ever been to. Provides a panoramic view of Berlin. We reached near sundown and the views were spectacular. M slept through half of the visit, till we reached about the top, and then woke up to start bawling; so we had to beat a hasty exit. A must visit in Berlin.

c. Potsdam - A short 15 min ride from Berlin, this historic and quaint town with cobbled streets was a gem. The Sanssouci palace is rather impressive and the multitude of cafe's cook up a rather yummy fare. Took us about a day to cover, but one could easily spend more time here.

Other things we loved - the Brandenburg gate (one can't spend enough time staring at Irene and all the history she has presided over), the Museum Island (one of the most impressive museum quarters anywhere), the Alexanderplatz station area (one can spend an entire day people watching here), Gendarmenmarket square (and the chocolateers nearby to binge at), the Wall (the paintings, and the Trabi museums around), and of course the Sunday market at Maueurpark (what a festive atmosphere!).

When we headed to Berlin, we received advice that perhaps a week in Berlin was too much time spent. With a toddler in tow, nothing could be further from the truth. One needs a week to cover a small town, let alone a city the scale of Berlin.

Berlin has an incredible variety of things to see and do. For vegetarians, the vegan restaurants offer a great solace and of course, the waffles, stollen and chocolates everywhere are a gourmet's delight. It also helps that Berlin is so incredibly kid friendly - people everywhere lend a helping hand and a kind word, and there are enough things to do to keep the little energies occupied.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Awe, a New York feeling

Awe. My first feeling when I saw NY city.

I have traveled around a bit in this small planet of ours. But rarely have I come across a place that has left me as wonder struck. London, maybe, is the closest I can recollect.

I landed up in NY after a rather comfortable bus ride from Boston. A neat and moderately crowded highway running along bustling towns. The bus deposited us right outside a rather crowded Penn station, giving me a first experience of NY's swarming crowds.

Manhattan seems like one large and bustling 'mela'  (a carnival), as we call it back home. I loved the energy of the streets. In the perpetually moving crowds, in the incredible skyscrapers, in the street artists, in the hawkers, in the painters, and even in the rushing yellow cabs.

And oh Central Park. I cannot believe that man would leave such a beautiful park alone amidst the concrete jungle of the city. The perpetual joggers, cyclers, picnickers, playing children and the verdant greenery are another world altogether. A stark contrast with the skyscrapers dotting its boundary.

Times Square. Now that's a crazy place. Despite all that is spoken about it, one can't deny a certain capitalist energy, which I found rather unique.

The Liberty Statue. I took a Staten Island ferry and got a few quick and nice pics instead of going to the island itself. Saved good time, and the ferry ride amidst an overcast weather was gorgeous. New Yorkers don't seem to rate the attraction too highly, but I thought it was a worthy view.

Atop the Empire State. Well, its ain't all as romantic as it seems in the movies, but yeah, it still would give the Burj Dubai a run for the money.

The High Line. What a beautiful way to reclaim an old railway line and create an art center out of it.

Now, there were things I was a tad disappointed with as well.

The Met. Even after spending a half day here. Maybe, it was all the build-up in the Lonely Planet articles of this place. Maybe, it was because the last Museum I visited was the Louvre, which set an incredibly high bar. But I missed the 'story' to guide me around. Yes, a great set of collections, but seemed more for the connoisseur than the bourgeois.

Wall Street. For some reason, a lot of people asked me to go here. Yes, possibly the richest square footage on the planet. Yes, busy suited people and some old architecture. But for a traveler, I missed the 'so what'.

Closing on a high note, a rather underrated but integral part of the city - the Subway. I spent the most time while in the city, in its labyrinthine maze. Local people seem to have a love-hate relationship with it (for those who say it is crowded, I would say "come see the locals in Mumbai, my friend"). Quite the artery of the city. Indispensable for the traveler. And a great place to people-watch.

I wish I could have spent more time in the city. Inspiring and awesome.

Boston, pretty Boston

There are a couple of things that stand out about Boston.

First, the University atmosphere. Guess this is because the city has so many schools. It feels as if the whole city is a large campus. And so it is beautifully welcoming even to the value conscious traveler. There are cycle paths everywhere. Food is great and affordable. Almost all around have an intellectual streak.

Second, the History. Being one of the oldest cities in the US, it has a wealth of history and culture. Very unlike a lot of other US towns I have visited in the past. So for a culture buff, there is a wealth of things to see and do. 

Third, it is very walkable city. Now this is one of the things I used to find disconcerting about the US, coming from Asia. Most other US towns I have been to are so vast and widespread that driving around becomes a necessity. In Boston, one day I started from the MIT campus in Cambridge on a morning walk, and began walking around aimlessly looking at interesting landmarks. Before I knew it I was in downtown Boston, amidst the historic landmarks, tall skyscrapers, and pretty markets and piers. 

For a traveler from India, I would consider it akin to a Pune, that isin't too far from the bustling metropolis of Mumbai (that is more akin to NY).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A dad's life

It has been some time since I wrote something on this blog. Life changes after you have a kid. So, this "comeback post" is about the first year of being a dad.

Short, I will keep it.

It is a miraculous experience. The process of giving birth. Not that the dad has much more to do than to be around the mom and ease her way. Emotionally though, intense it is.

I will always remember the 8-9 months before. The pleasant surprise when we heard the news. The excitement and trepidation after. The periodic visits to the doctor. The unforeseen complications. The worries in hospital. The worries at home. The scans - 2D, 3D,4D, unseen, seen, smiling. An emotional roller-coaster, indeed.

I will always remember the moment when we first saw her. When the doctor pulled her out kicking and screaming. When I cut the cord. When they weighed and dressed. The first night, when it rained and poured, and rained. When there were cries to soothe, yet little understood.

The first few months. So much new. So much to care. So much to learn. Ah so long nights. Ah so crazy days. Ah the seesawing feel.

The first flight trip. The first road trip. The first festival. A year of many firsts.

Today, as she walks a smattering walk, squeals a stray word, and flashes that endearing toothless smile, I reminisce over an incredible year gone by. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A summer in Stuttgart

Situated in the Baden Württemberg region of Germany, Stuttgart is a neat and efficient city. Well spread out, but reachable by the rather impressive array of public transport options, the city has quite a bit to offer to the occasional visitor.

When I landed in Stuttgart, it seemed like a smaller variant of Frankfurt, which I had been to before. However, after being here for some time, I would say it is quite different.

For one, Stuttgart has an impressive array of art and design aspects to look at. From street art to the Kunst museum, art and decor seems to form an integral part of culture here.

Second, is its automotive heritage. The Mercedez and Porsche museums are not only a celebration of a history of car making, but also provide a vivid depiction of the historical and cultural context of Stuttgart, Germany and the World that was, in the evolution of the automobile. To autolovers, this is a virtual mecca.

Third, people here are rather easy going. The German obsession with precision, structure and quality is of course seen everywhere, but there is fun and culture mixed in everyday life as well. There is street performances and art to see everywhere, and watering holes around town are quite vibrant.

Fourth is the fact that Stuttgart provides and easy access the not just the rest of the beautiful Baden Württemberg region with its Black Forests, but also Alsatian France, Switzerland, and the Bavarian region. Strasbourg, Zurich and Munich (and for that matter even Paris, due to the TGV) are at most 3 hours away. In fact, the Baden Württemberg rail pass provides rather cheap access all around the region, including all the way to Basel, and almost to Strasbourg.

The city also forms part of the wine growing region, and even has vineyards within the town!

One additional fun experience is that of being driven around in the wide variety of local Merc taxis. I particularly remember an S-class one which had auto adjusting seats that would variably clamp my left and right sides as the car veered around corners. Freaked me initially, but was good fun later.

Travel date: July 2014