Jul 21, 2014

London Thumakda

So last month I went to London. My second time there. And it was fun.
The purpose of my trip was training and yet I flew in a day earlier with the sole purpose of eating at Saravana Bhavan. I ate idli, poori, masala dosa and filter coffee.

In east london, there is the cable car operated by emirates. This is great fun. It is not crazy touristy like the London Eye but rather lower priced, smaller queue and gives a nice view of East London. It's in the O2 Arena and so easily accessible by the tube.

More fun is when you come back from a round trip, you can take the ferry in Thames till the down town.

Jun 18, 2014

Hidden Stories of Amsterdam

Pssst…you looking for women? Single ladies? I know, I know… in Amsterdam that might seem like an effortless exercise, but I’m talking about a host of classy lasses that aren’t bathing in red light, don’t get paid for sex and live in the kind of primo real-estate that would make even turtles a little jealous. You’re welcome to test your luck with any one of the 105 misses; just don’t be surprised if the Begijntjes don’t ask you to stay over.

Behind Spui Plein is a ‘secret’ door that, even for people who know where to look, is easy to miss. The door opens into a short, sloping tunnel down into one of Amsterdam’s oldest and only medieval inner courts. At a stone’s throw from Amsterdam’s busiest street, the Kalverstraat, the Begijnhof is surprisingly quiet and unexpectedly tranquil.

The 14th century beguinage was built as a collection of buildings that house religious women seeking to serve god without taking monastic vows. These pre-feminists of sorts would abstain while living in the Begijnhof, but they could depart for marriage at any time.

The courtyard, sunk a metre below the rest of the city at medieval street level, is immaculately kept, as are the doormat-sized gardens in front of the 47 houses. Aside from the beautiful Amsterdam facades and relative seclusion that give the courtyard a luxurious feel, the sanctuary also contains a church, a hidden church and one of Amsterdam’s oldest (1528) and only remaining wooden domiciles.

After the Alteration the Begijntjes were forced to give up their Catholic chapel to the Presbyterians, who renamed it the English Church. Two houses across from the main church were secretly converted into a ‘clandestine chapel’ in 1671. The meticulously preserved ‘Houten Huys’ (wooden house) at no. 34 is one of only two remaining houses in Amsterdam with a wooden fa├žade (the other is at Zeedijk 1). 

Nowadays the Begijnhof is full of professional single ladies. And even though the last real Beguines died in the 1970s, the tradition of abstinence lives on – sort of. The secular residents are completely free, but men and children are prohibited – which is not to say there isn’t the occasional man sneaking off at six in the morning. The peaceful oasis is now a piece of prime real estate that has a waiting list of seven to eight years.

Gutter Ghost

Cornelia Arens was a devout inhabitant of the Begijnhof. After her parents converted to Protestantism she felt she had to make up for their sins. Upon her death she asked to be buried in the gutter of the courtyard, a request that was denied after they laid the woman to rest in the church. Legend holds that her coffin was found lying in the ditch the next morning. After this mysterious incident repeated itself another three nights they decided to honour Cornelia’s wishes and bury her in the ditch. A commemorative stone can be found in the street next to the English Church on the site of her grave. 

Guest Post by Tim Hilhorst

Jun 6, 2014

Photo Essay: Clouds playing in Sikkim

Back in the days when I had just a point and shoot camera, i went to really mesmerizing places. Sikkim is one such. The four days of travel through Sikkim left me awestruck and longing for more, though I could never do justice to capturing those cloud games around Himalayas.
And these were the days I would just click and upload. Just like I am doing today. Without any photoshopping, removing electric lines or playing around with saturation. So here were are, as we saw it.

Some spots in Sikkim for great views:
1. Drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok - Bagdogra airport in West Bengal is the nearest airport to Sikkim or Darjeeling. The drive along Himalayan rain forests and Teesta river is very lush green and scenic.

2. Drive from Gangtok to Nathu La - Nathula is the Indo-China border.

Apr 29, 2014

4 day Barcelona guide! On a modern art trail....

How to spend 4 days in Barcelona? There are so many things to do and so many sights to see in Barcelona. You can spread the itinerary over 4-5 days easily and still not have enough of the Catalan culture. Back from my Barcelona trip and totally undecided on what I loved the most. The magnum of the city grew on me each day i set out to explore.

Day 1
La Rambla
Start your day in La Rambla and you can never go wrong in Barcelona. We sat at a sidewalk cafe and had brunch in the sunny February mid morning.  Oh boy! That was a lovely thing to do. But at a  not so lovely price. So the next day onwards we stuck to cafes in alleys.
When the sun was out we walked up and down La Rambla.
Port of Barcelona
Park Guell
For the second half we did Park Guell. A single half hour bus ride from La Rambla to Park Guell.  The art of Gaudi just engulfs you in a deep hug. Everything about park Guell: the artificial fort with porous stones or the tunnel like path way, the stunning tiled balcony of the monumental area, all of it came as amusements to me. Every single one of them a piece of creativity. And ofcourse there is the Gaudi lizard and cartoon looking house that every tourist wants to pose with. I loved every moment of it till the sun went down.
A nice thing about Barcelona night life is, if you want subtlety, you get it. I loved lounging with the Spanish music at tapas places just as I would have loved a blaze dance floor. In the Gothic quarter, you can find a lot of Tapas places. If you walk a little interior from the Ramblas, there are more authentic Tapas bars which cater not just to tourists. 

Day 2
Starting from our apartment in La Rambla, we walked a kilometer and half along the tourist map.That's the Picasso museum. Spent a couple of hours on that cloudy morning at the museum.  It was definitely worth gthe money. Gaudi is still on top of Picasso for me.
The afternoon was sunny as ever. A few hundred meters from Picasso museum is parc De Ciutadella. It is big, has a lovely ambiance on holidays, a pretty pool and ducks.
Just as you exit, you see the Arc De triumph. You can walk up the entire stretch from the exit of the park as well.

Barcelonetta Beach
Then we walked all the way back to the beach. Walked all along Barcelonetta beach. It took us a good hour in the sun. Now that's what I came to Barcelona for.
There are many beaches in and around Barcelona in half hour ride radii. You should probably ge on a bus and head off if you are beach crazy like I am. Too bad, i didn't have as much time. Barceloneta was good enough for me.

Day 3
La Pedera
Seriously, I can never get over the Gaudi-ness. So I did go to La Pedera. The place smells and feels of creativity and has itself stamped Gaudi, the architect who created it beautiful exteriors. The outer walls are undergoing renovation as of Feb 2014, but you should be able to see it in a few months. La Pedera has its roof and chimneys in the shape of fire. A shape to the means. The entire 4 storied architecture has more about its exteriors than its 1900s interior decoration. This is a must-see according to me.

Camp Nou
Barcelona is more than the artists ho made its history. It is the home of a football club. A legendary one. And it has a sexy player who I kind-of have a crush on. Ok, I went to Camp Nou and crushed on Messi.
The Camp Nou tour is pretty good for half a day. You can spend sometime at the stadium. Even better if you can catch a game.

More than just a club!

Day 4
Sagrada Familia
Back on the tourist trail, Sagrada Familia was almost the last of my things to see in Barcelona. It is undergoing renovation from many months and I had my doubts about even entering the place. But once inside, there were no regrets for me.
Give us this day our daily bread
The line from bible is written in fifty languages, including Sanskrit. it is a form of showing equality in men.

Gaudi has carefully crafted the glass windows so as to allow light, enough to see, but not too much to blind. In his own words.

Another interesting thing is the wall columns and the ceiling. It is designed to look like the palm trees. So when you look up, what you see is a bunch of palm tree tops, resembling a jungle, or the nature. What a lovely thought!

Palm trees with the top resembling a jungle! A delicate play of light in the interiors of Sagrada Familia