Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What happens when you board the wrong train?

Isn't this a recipe for a comic situation? A man boards a wrong train and meets random people to become a butt of jokes. Very often, comedy results from this situation. Two weeks back, I along with 3 other friends boarded the wrong train. We were supposed to board a train to Belgium Central to catch another one to Amsterdam. Instead, we boarded a train running on a long route with less stops in a different direction. As a result, we ended up in city named Leuven in Belgium. There was a bit of comedy initially. But we had a very tranquil experience.

Leuven is a sleepy little town with a very big railway station which is currently under construction. Though it was difficult to locate the functioning office, I was glad everyone associated with the railway station could talk English. The lines were longer and everyone in the line seems to be a student. All of them were applying for their train passes and hence the lines were moving very slowly. Moreover, the automated ticket machines would recognize neither ATM cards nor credit cards. Waiting patiently in the queue was the only option.When I reached the counter, they quickly resolved my dilemma by giving me a ticket to Mechelen where I could board my original train.

The train to Mechelen was a local one. It was smaller in size, completely packed with passenger. It also had numerous stops before arriving at my final destination. Fortunately, the sights outside were refreshing. The train mostly traveled through the country side. There was greenery along the route.  The route was devoid of the concrete skyscrapers or suburbia. Usually, this is a right occasion to search for the bar or humor everyone with bad jokes. But my companions were unusually quiet. They were all gazing out the window absorbing the serenity of a European country side. It was a very different experience when compared to the journey in Thalys. All along the trip, one of my friend wanted to rent a car for taking us from one point to another as he wanted to see the countryside. Fortunately for him, he got his chance although it was as a result of boarding the wrong train.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got the connecting train without any issues. This time, we made sure we asked fellow travelers if we were on the right train. We arrived in Amsterdam when the sun was about to set giving a golden tinge to the Amsterdam Centraal and also the Victoria hotel facing the railway station.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

What to do in Brussels?

This is the third time. I have been to Brussels in 2003, 2011 and now 2012. The top of the charts is 2003 visit as this was with my wife. It was just after our wedding. 2011 trip was born out of boredom. I had nothing much to do and hence did a 3 city tour of Belgium. I visited the comic strip museum at Brussels and did a lot of walking around the city. So when my friends suggested Brussels, I wasn't very keen. Of course, there is mussels and the pissing boy. The former is fun while the second is a major disappointment. Ask anyone who has been in this city. They would agree.

All said and done, Brussels is a cheap and quiet city. This is evident from the reaction of a local when my friend said he was visiting from USA. The local exclaimed, "If you are on vacation, then what are you doing here? You should be in Amsterdam". This sentence alone sums up what to expect in this city. What happened in the city can easily guessed by the pictures below. The pace is so slow that everyone develops an easygoing attitude. We were served a Coca-Cola in a plastic cup in one of the posh bars and also taken for a city tour in a taxi when we asked to drop us a few blocks away. We chose a restaurant for dinner where the warm welcome was not matched by the efficiency of service. Despite all this, we had fun just walking around the city. 

We didn't do anything spectacular in the city. Yet, it was a welcome break from the hectic trip so far. Coming back to my question, there is nothing much to do in Brussels. But if you want to slow down the pace, this is the best place as there is nothing much happening in this place!

Tags: Travel,Brussels,Belgium


Friday, September 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

Can you imagine the Bourne series without Matt Damon? Although the first one in the series was more focused on action, everything changed with the arrival of Paul Greengrass. The series became edgier while conveying the pathos of Jason Bourne without getting overly dramatic. So when the new one was announced, I was skeptical. Jeremy Renner is a rising star and also can emote. But is he a good choice? Luckily for all us, he is not enacting Jason Bourne. That is a relief and it is the only relief.

Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross. Aaron Cross resembles Jason Bourne in many ways. He is also part of the government's efforts in building super soldiers. But when Jason Bourne creates havoc in Moscow and arrives in USA, CIA officials are in a panic. In order to control the damage, Eric Byer(Edward Norton) steps in. His solution is simple. Remove all traces of the existing programs as the necessary know-how of these programs are secure. The government agencies can restart these programs with little efforts at a later date. But an unexpecting Aaron Cross narrowly escapes the assassination attempt. He is on the run now. In order to escape from his enemies, Aaron saves and enlists the help of a geneticist Dr Marta Shearing(Rachel Weisz).

Tony Gilroy directs the latest installment of the Bourne series. Tony has a big shoes to fill as Paul Greengrass redefined the Bourne series with shaky camera and never-ending action sequences. Unfortunately, Tony leaves doesn't match up to his predecessor. As a result, we end up squirming in the seat for either the story to take off or exciting action sequences. The movie contains a few good action pieces. But when it appears on screen, you are already bored to death with monotony of the movie. Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz tries to infuse enthusiasm into this doomed enterprise. But with an insipid script and a very slow pace, there is nothing anyone can do to salvage this movie.

Stay away from this.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: *


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why does a man carry a sanitary wipe?

Why does a man carry a sanitary wipe intended for woman? Even when the man in question is someone who known over two decades, you will raise an eyebrow, if not both the eyebrows. I am getting ahead here. If you have no clue what a sanitary wipe, this is the point where you get off this bus. Pronto.

Where was I? The man, over 2 decades and the sanitary wipes. When the man in question has been living abroad for over a decade, then a whole set of notions form in your head! This was exactly my state. My friend unpacks his suitcase and out comes the offending sanitary wipes causing my head to spin.

Most of us has a way of thinking too much of nothing. If you say no, then let me confess. I possess this trait. There was a simple reason. I wouldn't have guessed it for he has been living in a foreign land for a long time now. He doesn't like toilet paper. He uses sanitary wipes instead.

This is also an instance where a product intended for a target audience is actually used by an entirely different audience.

Tags: Musings,Sanitary Wipes


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Köln, a cathedral, square and live music

Köln, or Cologne as known to English speaking world, possesses all the characteristics of a quaint little European city. It has a cathedral and a square. The cathedral and square seems to be the center of a city in this part of the world. If you walk about in an European city, you may get the feeling that it is not the market which attracts people and commerce. Instead it is a religious establishment. Everything else revolves round the religious establishment and huge open space adjacent to it.

Köln is a short train ride away from Dusseldorf. We decided to spend an evening in this city. When you get off from the railway station, you can see the cathedral in front of it. I am not into architecture. So I will not even try to explain anything about it. One thing for sure. It doesn't matter how many cathedrals you have seen in the past. You still gape at it in awe.
After touring the cathedral, we decided to try out the local beer. The local brewery offers their choice of beers and also food. Unfortunately for me, both of it didn't impress me. Until that day, I haven't had German food although my friend/fellow-foodie skilfully evades whenever German food is mentioned. Now I know the reason. Food and drinks later, we went looking for yet another watering hole. Walking through the streets, we came across a bar  where a band was performing. It was a small bar and the crowd was spilling out into the street. We waited till the performance was over. Then we moved on.
When you are having a good time, you often end up forgetting how late it is. That is what happened to us. As a result, we missed the train by a few seconds. All of us had to wait for an hour in an empty railway station for the next train to Dusseldorf.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Technoparade Paris 2012

Parades! Paris offers a lot of them. The turnout may not be the same for all the parades. But who cares as long as there are good photos. On Saturday, I came to know there is a Technoparade. What is a Technoparade? Imagine 4 trucks with DJs, speakers and selected supporter loaded on it with speakers. They play techno music. The crowd make merry by following one of the trucks that is playing their favorite tracks. It is where really young people turn out. When I say really young people, I mean really young people. You look around and you find the really young people doing all sorts of crazy things. The parade starts from Nation and ends in Place d'Italie. 

As soon as I landed in Place de la Nation, I saw people climbing on top of the statue situated at the center of the roundabout. A masked guy was sporting a placard. As there was nothing outrageous happening on the ground, I assumed this was his wishlist.
I liked the hairstyle of a young man. The hair was sticking standing out in all directions.
Although I could see only really young people, there were exceptions. There were parents and older people. This dad caught my attention. He looked comfortable with his daughter on his shoulders. When I started to photograph, the daughter excitedly waved her hands in the air.
These kids asked me to photograph them. I obliged.
A lot of people were spraying color on their hair. The girl in picture has blonde hair and her friends were spraying orange color on her hair. She seemed to very happy in the process.
The trucks where the music is played moved slowly in the traffic. In order to protect the paraders, a cordon was set up a cordon using a rope around the truck. The guy in the organge T-shirt is a security personnel who is ensuring nobody gets closer to the truck and harm themselves in the process.
No parade in Paris is complete without residents from adjoining apartments looking outside, watching but never participating. 
This guy was dancing with clear abandon.


Dusseldorf, an old town where you can chill out

A friend who went to Dusseldorf to celebrate her birthday remarked, "There is nothing here. I just want to be back in Paris!". Call it a coincidence. This happened a week before my trip to Dusseldorf. The good part of this conversation was I knew what to expect before even I reached the city; essentially nothing. Having said that, it wasn't bad. The primary intention was not sightseeing. The main idea was to meet the teetotaler.

This was my first foray into Germany if you discount all the stopovers in various German airports during flying to US of A. The inherent ignorance or overconfidence (depending on the way you look at it) prevented me from learning a few basic phrases in German before the trip. It wasn't bad. Everybody in Germany could talk English. Don't be surprised. I was a tourist. So keep in mind I would only have visited the tourist places. The visit to Dusseldorf also makes me wonder. What is the with the German speaking part of the world that make them want to have a Altstadt in their cities? I went to Zurich a few months back. They had an Altstadt. Now, here is one in Dusseldorf. I understand it means "old town" in German. But seriously, can't you think of a better term than this?

I walked along the King's Avenue, Konigsallee, The small canal with bridges across it and lined with trees has a cooling effect on your mind. This also brought out comments like "Alleppey can be like this!" from one of my friend, although he tried to suppress the naughty smile while saying this. Yes, I was born in Alleppey and spend a lot of time there. So, it is imperative that my friends has to bring in a reference to Alleppey whenever possible in a sly manner. The green tinge of the avenue is in fact reminiscent of Alleppey.

Then we walked into the Alstadt. Here, you find cobbled pathways and centuries-old house which brings a whiff of romance. It is a great place for pictures. Walking through the streets, you reach the promenade along Rhine where you can get a view of Rheinturm and the bridge. The promenade houses a lot of restaurants. So it is customary to take a break, sip on a beer and chill out especially sunny like the day we were there.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Books: Vroom with a view

What would do when you turn 40? Probably, you are over 40. Probably you are not over 40. But Peter Moore is at the crossroads of 40.. Before he turns 40, Peter decides to put his long term ambition of touring Italy on a motor scooter into action. In order to do so, he buys a Vespa over the internet. Then he embarks on a journey on the newly acquired but ancient Vespa through the less explored territories of Italy. This book is based on his time spent on the motor scooter journeying around the country. Hence it is aptly titled Vroom with a view.

A motor scooter is different from a motor bike. It is also an unlikely mode of transport when you are traveling across the country. On top of it, Peter chooses a vintage Vespa. As a result, there are challenges along the journey. Vespa breaks down and at key moments it is not powerful enough for the challenge. Luckily for Peter, whenever a challenge arises, help is not far away. Mostly, Peter gets the help and bonds with locals because of one thing alone; the Vespa. It opens the otherwise closed doors. People are readily offer help. People are interested in him. People offer him free drinks.

The book is a very interesting one to read. It is not the language that makes it interesting. It is the experience of the author. What happens when you let go off all your fears and inhibitions to do something you have always wanted to do? That is what Peter does. He enjoys it. So do we. The motor scooter might not be a mean machine. But Italians open up on seeing it. It is also a sign of maturity and comfort. You don't need a big or powerful machine to boost your ego. You are at a mentally comfortable zone when you use it. The sight of a Vespa evokes nostalgia and also goodness in people. These are the few things which makes this novel an endearing one and also interesting.

The motor scooter is a common sight in India. It is convenient and takes you from places to place in a crowded city in a matter of minutes. It is easy to maneuver. Vespa is also the first two wheeler that I rode. That is one reason why I chose this book. The second reason is for armchair traveling. I want to visit Italy. But I am too lazy to plan it. Now I see Italy without leaving the comfort of my house. I hope you have enough reasons now to read this book.

Tags: Books,Peter Moore,Vespa


Friday, September 14, 2012

Being predictable...a good thing?

Is being predictable a good thing? If you are a fan of mystery novels like me, predictability brings the downfall of a person. Most of us like to go out with friends who are predictably unpredictable as we are not sure how it will turn out. That is exciting. Having said that, is being predictable really bad? A few days ago, I wouldn't have hesitated in answering this question. Now I am not sure!

What brought out this uncertainty about predictability in a span of few days? The answer is simple. A visity to Dusseldorf. Itt is not the city which shook the foundations of my belief. But it was a friend I met there. Now when I look back at the entire episode, it is also the story of a good boy. The friend in question is a teetotaler. He is also a vegetarian. When these two facts are combined, it might sound like the recipe for a boring person. But I will definitely say, he is a good boy. If you have lived in Europe, you already know how difficult this can be. So this good boy has found out a secret formula to stay sane and make friends. Let's hope he shares it. But that isn't the point of this post. It is something else.

When we walked into a restaurant in Dusseldorf, the waiters were very cheerful on seeing my friend. They seated us immediately. They knew exactly what my friend was going to have. Of course, no alcohol and no meat means limited choices. Nevertheless, they didn't have to give him a menu. His order was written down even before we sat at the table. He was treated like how a customer ought to be treated; like a king.

All this because my friend is predictable. So is it a good thing? Since I had crossed the borders and was in another country, I could also wonder if it is a good thing in Germany...

Tags: Musings,Predictability


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thalys, high speed and high comfort

Last week, I travelled to Dusseldorf on Thalys. For the uninitiated, Thalys is the high-speed train running between France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands etc. It does not have an extensive network. Instead, the point is to connect some of the major cities cutting down the travel time to minimum.

I am not into trains. I like buses more. So when a friend narrated the experience of traveling on Thalys from Amsterdam to Paris in 2005, I wasn't interested. All this changed when I took TGV to Rennes from Paris. I had a business meeting in Rennes. But I was back in Paris on time for my dinner; tired, yes but no more tired than any other commuting day.

As a result, the speed was not a surprise while traveling in Thalys. I have taken it for granted by then. It is the comfort which impressed me. The availability of internet and a moderately stocked bar which won me over. If you are a first-timer, then you can gaze outside the glass door and wonder at the speed the train passes the nearby objects. When there is no more awe left in you, then there is internet and the bar.

I was with friends for my onward journey to Dusseldorf which means we did all three of the items; gazed outside, browsed the net and check out the bar. When I returned to Paris from Amsterdam, I was alone. It was much less fun than the onward journey where internet was my only relief.

If you are wondering how I reached Amsterdam from Dusseldorf, it is a long story. Let's save it for another time...


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Smartphone brings a smile

I have been accused of being a smartphone addict; constantly checking updates, tweeting, checking in, sharing pictures and what not. For the past two weeks, I did not have a smartphone. The service provider gave me a replacement phone for this period. As the replacement was an old generation phone, it was difficult to even send a simple SMS. Fortunately for me, life is back to normal.

My phone was stolen. Losing a phone in Europe is not a rare phenomenon. There are snatchers everywhere. These guys are slick sometimes and forceful otherwise. There is no way to escape them unless you keep the phone locked up. But then, doesn't it beat the purpose of having a smartphone? I have lost two phones already. The experience have made me wiser but not as wiser as I wish to be. If the experience had made me immensely wiser, then I would not have lost the second one! So I will leave it at "wiser". Now, I have a stronger grip on the phone while using it in public places. Additionally, I also have an insurance for the phone.

Now that I have the smartphone, I also have a reason to smile. Yesterday, a sardar(sikh) approached me at the mall. He and his wife for looking for sterilizer for baby bottles. As they didn't know French, the numerous rounds inside the supermarket wasn't helping the cause. I also don't speak French. We searched for a picture of the sterilizer on the smartphone and showed it to a supermarket employee. Minutes later, I saw the sardar and wife beaming a big smile in front of an aisle.

These are the moments that actually make you happy that you have a smartphone.

Tags: Musings,Smartphones


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Exploring Montmartre

Although the streets in Montmartre are beautiful, epitomizing the essence of Paris, I usually avoid this area. because it is alway crowded. Whenever a friend is visiting, I take them to Sacre Coeur to climb up the small but breath-choking hill. After taking the mandatory pictures, I walk down the steps by the funicular. Around 10 days back, I was on a similar mission. Instead of taking the steps back to Anvers Metro station, we decided to walk towards the back of basilica.

No matter how long you have lived in a city, there is always something new on every walk. These are words spoken by a wise friend. These words turned out to be true on that day. On that day, we found a deserted cobbled street far away from the usual hustle and bustle of this area. We also found a tavern where we stopped for the customary drinks. The quiet tavern was soon noisy. Luckily for us, the other patrons encouraged.

We were a group of five. We had 6 cameras among us; counting the DSLRs and mobile phone cameras. This also translated to a lot of picture which made the other patrons curious. It was a matter of time before we turned our cameras on the other patrons. They also happily posed for us.


Pappettan is baffled by western style of education

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

I was at a local restaurant with a group of friends along with Pappettan. It was a relaxing evening. In the first few minutes, all of us knew the evening was going to be unusually long. So, everyone was surprised when one person stood up with the intention of leaving early. Papettan, always an inquisitive mind, couldn't resist.

Pappettan: Why are you leaving early? It is Friday evening. You don't have to work tomorrow.

One Person: I have to go to school tomorrow.

Pappettan: *with a sly smile* Aren't you too old for that?

One Person: I'm taking my kid to school. The school reopens on Monday.

Pappettan: *surprised* If the school reopens on Monday, why do you have to take your kid tomorrow to school?

One Person: That is how it works here. They call the kids and parents to school to break the news.

Pappettan: News?

One Person: Yes. The news of the vacation being over.

Pappettan: *confused* You have a separate meeting to inform the school reopening to the kids?

One Person: Yes! That is how it works here.

There is a big pause. Pappettan thinks for a long time before he starts talking again.

Pappettan: We work differently. We wake them up in the morning and asks them to school.

One Person: What if the child is not prepared?

Pappettan: Try the traditional method. Spanking!

Tags: Pappettan Says,Kids,School

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