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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Memories of a European winter

This past year end, we took a holiday in Europe, with a stop-over in Dubai. For posterity's sake, here is a brief jot-down of our memories.

Dubai
The place which impressed us the most in our entire itinerary was Dubai. It is impressive to see a city as advanced as the west in infrastructure and services, while providing all the cultural benefits of the east.

We spent a night wandering around the 'Global Village', a cornucopia of shops showcasing wares from multiple countries. The Turkish pavilion was particularly impressive with its shops of colorful lamps and sweet baklavas. The Turkish baked potato - a large stuffed potato dish with a variety of vegetables and spices - was a particularly memorable eat. Yemeni spices were another interesting find. Despite the venue receiving millions of visitors, the spot clean surroundings (and spic and span loos!) were a welcome difference after landing from India.

The Palm Jumeirah area and the Atlantis hotel were pretty interesting to wander around, the underwater aquarium being a worthy watch. The Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa were great to window-shop the wealth of luxury items being showcased from around the world. The climb up to the viewing gallery of the world's tallest building and the view from the top was breathtaking, as were the singing fountains.

Frankfurt
Frankfurt was cold, and quite close to the freezing point when we landed. As we got off the Westbahnoff station, what caught our eye was the Saravana Bhavan right up front. Hungry as we were from the long flight, we quickly gulped a dosa and an idly before starting our wandering around town.

Frankfurt's Maine river has an nice walkway around it and we spent some time walking around. It was freezing Christmas eve, and a gulp of mulled wine helped warm us up. The Frankfurt Christmas market (supposedly one of the oldest around) was in flow as we were around, and we had a great time sampling the
chocolates, crepes, pretzels and wines. Another day, we took a walk down towards the University area and sampled some of the quaint markets around.

Prague
We took the train to Prague, leaving Frankfurt in the middle of the night. Running around the station in the middle of the freezing night, across empty platforms to catch a train that stopped for a few minutes, and fumbling with confusing German labeling to find our coach, will always be a memory.

We stayed at the cozy Aparthotel City 5, with its charming and warm hostess, Kristina. Recommend anyone visiting Prague to try out the place - we for sure will.

Prague for us was the most memorable European city from the trip. Its cobbled, medieval streets with baroque architectural buildings. Its exotic castles and churches. Its incredibly thick hot chocolates, hot wines, crepes and sweet tredelnik. Its beautiful paintings. Its town square with the unbelievably beautiful Christmas market. Wow.

Another reason that we liked Prague so much was its affordability. Items in some of the supermarkets were cheaper than India!

Vienna
Vienna seemed refined and business-like, after Prague. We liked the Schonbrunn Palace the best. The tour of the palace is amongst the best organized walks I have ever seen. Wonder why we can't replicate these in India.

Rome
Our first impression of the city was unfortunately formed by the Termini railway station where we landed up first. The station reminded us of Mumbai's Dadar station at it's peak hours - not only for the crowds, but also in its rather dirty upkeep. Sad.

We had come to Rome with the intention of gorging on the best of Italian pizzas and pastas. It was after our first meal that we realized how different true Italian food is against we are used to in India. The lack of spice (and the look a waiter gave us when we asked for additional oregano and chilli flakes), made us realize how different was the reality. The only Italian food item which we really enjoyed was gelato.

Now the positives.

The Vatican and the Sistine chapel (despite having waiting lines like Tirupati back home), were mind-blowing in their grandeur and beauty. The Colloseum, the Capitol hill, the Palantine hill and the Pantheon are incredible visits - the experience of seeing the history of thousands of years in such grandeur - few things can match the experience.

Overall, Rome requires at least a week of time, a lot of energy and a large budget to do justice to.

Paris
Highlights of the city:
- The Eiffel when it shines at night
- The Notre Dame cathedral and its environs
- The Collections of the Louvre: the tablet with the Hammurabi code, the sculptures and paintings of the masters, the digital Nintendo-enabled walkthrough
- The Sienne river

People often have grandiose views of this city. To us, however, Prague was probably more romantic and prettier. Maybe we didn't spend enough time to sample all it had to offer. Maybe we didn't visit the right places. Maybe it was just the tiny hotel room that cost a bomb. Whatever the reason, it just didn't cut it.

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This was a trip we had planned for many years. Ultimately, while we always wanted to do a summer visit, we ended up with a winter trip. Our experiences were influenced by the icy weather and the Christmas and New Year celebrations at various places. We didn't realize we would find Prague so impressive, and find ourselves so let down by Paris. Dubai's development was eye-opening. All said, this trip will remain one of our most memorable getaways ever.