Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Old and the New..

It was still Autumn, clear and cold, the sun just about shining through the clouds.
It was a beautiful day. We were out in London, walking through the maze of streets when something caught my eye. London is full of beautiful buildings and the old and  new come together in wonderful ways. This was one of them, the Roman relic on a building against the backdrop of newly erected glass belonging to one of the city's skyscrapers.  Truly beautiful!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Visiting Caernarfon..

I have had my fair share of castles. They dot the landscape around here. Most are pretty, and doing the rounds we often discover reasons for why they have been built in a certain place.
But none I have seen are as impressive and robust as Caernarfon. Tall polygonal structures tower towards the sky, alert and watchful. The waters around Carnaforn are strewn with boats

Inside Caernarfon
The River Seiont is bustling with activity. Shops selling curios sit prettily on the shores.
Seagulls sit at their favourite spots , I guess observing people.

We walk aimlessly on the green grass inside. There is an exhibition to be seen. The lock on the door catches my eye, a big black iron structure which seems to say, What's locked in stays locked in.
The doors are solid iron. Everything around here exudes power. This castle an undertaking of Edward I, was as much a mission in symbolism as it was a quest for him to stamp his supremacy on all of Wales. The stones around the castle are carefully colour coded, arranged in bands, throwing up the corners of the towers in sharp relief.

Around Caernarfon, stand majestic blue mountains, snow on the mountain tops. They give me goose bumps. Black clouds loom large holding out the threat to spill rain. The sun looks on meekly, at a seemingly superior opponent.

The river is beautiful. It probably looked different when the castle was first built and has scene war and peace through its time here. Caernaforn. When Wales fell into the hands of the English, Carnoforn was one of the targets of the Glyndwr uprising or The last war of Independence.
Today it is a picture of calm, tranquil and blue, with bright boats on its cool waters.

Caernaforn played host to the investiture of Prince Charles , Prince of Wales in 1969

We walk past the moat and across the bridge. The Welsh flag flutters in the breeze, the dragon on it proud and strong.

From across the road we see the castle in all her glory.

Caernaforn from across the river

It is a cold April morning. Two hours after walking the breadth of Caernaforn we head for tea.
I came thinking I would see another castle, but this was a castle like none I have seen before.
Maybe if I had to pick favourites I  would choose the romance of the Urqhart , or the splendours of some that I have seen back home like the ones in Jaipur and Udaipur. But if I wanted to be safe locked behind walls, then I would pick Caernaforn . :)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

When all you want is a cup of Tea..

Patience is a virtue. I can't remember the exact moment when I yelled at the other half , completely frustrated with the weather. It was capitulation. Maybe even worse. We had come to climb this mountain and we were being thwarted even before the journey began. Through rain and ice I sit glum, as songs stream in through the radio, the FM as crackly and temperamental as the weather. I have become the tempestuous child, resorting to monosyllables as a protest against authority. Somewhere the person holding the wheel and the monstrous white weather have all morphed into one. Talk about shooting the messenger of bad news.

When we get to Bets-y-coed, it is a sheet of white. We talk a few walks around the gorgeous village and my mood eases up, the determination hold fort though. I tell myself, we shall do Snowdon this time or the next, but we will do it.

We wait and watch and decide to give it a go the second day. The rain has come down in sheets and it is cold. We drive down to the base of Showdon, leave our car parked at the quaint little rail station, haul up our backpacks, we are off..

Under a shy tentative sun, the ground beneath our feet melts from white to green. It is term time and we don't seem to be the only ones here. In fact the numbers climbing surprises me given the bad weather.
We start off with a large group climbing for charity, all dressed as sunflowers. We exchange pleasentaries and as we pass I wonder how uncomfortable it would be to climb in a suit as hot as that.

Snowdon, at 1065m (3560ft) is the highest mountain in Wales. Small in terms of some of the others I have climbed like the Himalayas where we got to 5029m (16500ft). But as with most mountains, it defies comparisons. The arresting white and the contrasts of brown greet us as we do the first mile upward. In total we would climb 15kms that day, no easy task in the snow. I regret not having worn boots, preferring lighter footwear for long climbs.

The railway line that ferrys passengers to the top is not operational. We pass the little bridge and walk along the tracks.  I love railways tracks, I love the neat lines, the symmetry of the pair of them in the jagged landscape, the purpose with which they run away into a distance and disappear at the point where the eye can no longer see.

Midway, we stop for a little break at what is supposed to be a tea room. Today its doors are not open and we huddle in a corner and shield ourselves against the howling wind. I give myself a pat on the back for the foresight in bringing along peanut butter and jam sandwiches. We split one.  By now we have established the need for rationing water and supplies. We might not get anything to eat of drink when until we climb down. I could kill for a cup of tea. But putting those thoughts aside we start walking.

The railway line going all the way up to the top of Snowdon..

There are more people walking now and the snow turns slushy under their boots and shoes. 15 kms is a hard climb, but I am amazed at the number of children climbing. What a fantastic way to spend a vacation, their parents must be proud of how well these little ones cope.
The sun is shining down now. It is hard to keep walking when the surroundings are so beautiful. I want to stop every few moments, just to look back at the scenes unfolding, to take it all in, to imprint it in memory.

The dogs make for a cheerful sight. They are so much quicker than their owners and they keep making their way back when they think they have gone far too ahead. I love the sight of the black lab just ahead frolicking in the snow. He dives in and gets some ice on his nose. His shiny skin is a perfect foil to the radiant snow. I bet he has done the double the distance his owner has by all that jumping around.

Looking back..
Somewhere midway, we spy the little toy train chugging up. They don't let it go all the way. It stops at the half way point. I look at the train and hope for that elusive cup of tea. Maybe just maybe, we would get some right on top.
Almost there..
The snow is beginning to harden into ice. We watch our steps. When we finally get there, we are surrounded by white. There are distant lakes. In some strange way it all looks like that vision of the Earth that Neil Amstrong first saw standing on the moon. We are starving. We share another sandwich, the last one we have. It is cold. The minute we stop walking we feel the cold, like a stalker who follows silently, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
View from the top..
The climb down is tricky, the hardening ice slippery. We watch our steps.  There are more people on the slopes now. It slows us down considerably. My shoes feel wet and uncomfortable.
When we get to the half way point, the tea room is open. I smile a big smile. We sit down with our cuppas and savour the taste. How accustomed are we to the small pleasures of life.
We were not too far form the car park. Recharged form the welcome break we ended our little adventure on a high.

Some days later, we got chatting with a couple at a restaurant. Between the where and hows of the conversation between travelers, we told them about Snowdon. There are many we were told who are not so luck in their first attempt. Some times it's the weather, some times it is something else. They said they had managed to climb it on their second attempt.
Snowdon crossed off, we felt a sense of achievement. Well I would put it all down to that elusive cup of hot steaming tea. Nothing tasted better in the middle of a cold mountain

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Welsh Rabbit and Other tales

First there is no such thing as a Welsh Rabbit, a discovery that left me hugely disappointed.
Second wonderful speller that I am , It was always a Welsh RAREBIT, a kind of bread , definitely not the four legged kind who hops around!

Among other things on this rain lashed afternoon, we face the bleak prospect that it might be difficult to climb Snowdown. My spirits sink. We have slowed down considerable, the roads are narrower, the visibility poor. It rains hail and snow, and we plod our way to Betsy-e coed.

Wales is one of those places I've grown up reading about. The prospect that it was one of those places I could get to without the formalities of a visa made the prospect very appealing. And that was how the adventure first began. Sitting in our car I hope for better weather. I can cope with rain, but snow and hail would mean we would have to abandon our first trek here in the United Kingdom.

Bridge across forever..

Our little B&B had the nicest two hosts. Every morning over breakfast, we would quiz them on walking routes and they would point us out in the right direction. Sometimes with tattered maps we would head out, and when maps become futile our instincts would assume radar and take us places.
We have never been as lost, so willingly. Who would complain about roaming around in such loveliness.  For Wales is a place where, the journey matters more so than the destination.
We also found that when they said 3-4 miles it could easily mean 6-8 :).
While we were there we walked a healthy 10 miles a day. It was when we got back that I realized how tired my feet really where, a few toes swollen and some others a bit sore.

Betsy - e -coyd could not have been a more perfect choice as anchor for our stay. In the middle of Snowdown national park, there was plenty to do and a great choice of pubs and eateries to pick from.
A little path through wide green fields took us to the heart of the village. We stop to watch lambs play. The fields take us to a hanging bridge and the rivers waters run swift and cold. We stood by the bridge countless times. The views were wonderful. There is something romantic about staring out at the water from the confines of a bridge. It is almost as if I was looking at  a picture frame of steel.

Mountains and more mountains..
We were never too far from water. The mountains silent and passive, all around.
We walked by rivers, sat by streams listening to the sound of water gurgling past. As I write this I try to recollect specifics and realize there weren't that many. You could quiet literally pick a direction and discover a walk. We follow the river, gently tumbling along and suddenly the pace quickens,  the water changes complexion. The old friendliness is gone. I think twice before wading into the stream as I had done just ten minutes ago. And there it starts to rain. We brave it. The rain drops hit the surface forming perfectly round circles before sinking in. The water  dips as if to catch them.
And at home in a distant far away I think of the magic of the monsoons and remember Roy in her God of Small Things

"It was raining when Rahel came back to Ayemenem. Slanting silver ropes slammed into loose earth, plowing it up like gunfire."

 We were witness to water in continuity with itself. Mallards swim on unconcerned, the rocks beneath them showing up in shades of brown. Trees grow along the side reaching out to the river at their sides

Mallards swim in icy streams..
Between walks, we had tea.  We never did have the Rarebit, but feasted on Berra Berth, a wonderfully fruity bread, lightly toasted and  generously spread with butter.

Bere Berth, a close relative of the Welsh rabbit :)

I realize sheep have lives. I have no doubts why they are being reared, but I am certain that the fresh air and green fields is a great way to grow up. Lambs run around. They have their own games, quick and light on their feet. The mums keep a close watch.

I have never had so much fresh air in a long time. There are walks and more walks. Water gently cascades through moss covered rocks , the ground is slippery in places. The air smells green.

Along the way somewhere..
The woods are lovely dark and deep. The sunlight barely manages to trickle through small openings in the green canopy. Dark bark gently sway with the cool breeze. Roots surface and form hard lines along the muddy path. Leaves remain strewn
The woods are lovely dark and deep..

Did we climb Snowdown? That remains a story for a different day.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paris Baby!..

In two minutes I have polished off breakfast. All that remains of the Pain Au Rasin are the crumbs on my mouth and the picture I remembered to take before I pounced on it with all the gusto of a hungry sumo wrestler. I sit back contented as a cat. It is the beginning of what is going to be a long day.

I was wary of Paris. For a city that is always described in glowing superlatives I braced myself for heartbreak. High expectations almost always end in disappointing travel experiences.

But after that sort of breakfast I am  in some sort of a sugar trance. I suspend all judgement and happily walk along. It is a brilliant summers day, 30 degrees. For once I can swap my umbrella which we carry around in London for a cool pair of shades, for once I actually feel like it is summer and don't have to think twice before venturing outside without a coat.

Much later having done countless rides up and down Paris's underground, the three day travel card we bought is worn around the edges and has been really good value for money. What makes a good city is it's public transport, the nerves that pulsate around the core , zipping us up and down as we discover places and things. The ability to get on and off gave us the flexibility to see things at our pace and change plans without  worrying about fares.

And so Paris was a journey of discovery. For the art lover, Paris is paradise. Every turn, every little bridge every street and there is always something that catches your eye. It seems like right out of an impressionist painting, alive and merry. On this warm summer's day we make our way up Sacre-Cour , the basilica a radiant white against the clear blue sky. Every few steps I stop to stare at the city spreading itself outwards, vast and boundless. Stepping into the interior my eyes are drawn to the roof, and in blue and gold is the sacred hear of Jesus Christ in whose honour this beautiful monument stands.

Climbing up to see the basillica of  Sacre- Coeur.

The city stretches out below into the jagged line of the horizon and maybe beyond...

A different view , Sacre- Ceour as seen from the Eiffel Tower
We would see the city once again, climbing up from different vantage points. For later in the day we found ourselves atop the Arch De Triomphe, at the intersection of 13 roads. From every landmark we see others, like giants surveying one another from great heights.
An emperor at the height of his prowess, and an idea to honour those unnamed soldiers who died serving him, saw the arch take shape on the banks of the river Seine.

The Arche de Triumphe, constructed by emperor Napolean to honor the unknown soldier who died in the heat of battle

View of the Arche De Triumphe, standing at the intersection of 13 roads form atop Eiffel tower..

And again we stood queuing in the morning to get to the dizzying heights up Eiffel Tower. This time much higher, we let the winds blow as we watched the rough and tumble of the beautiful city 320m below us. Ships sailed past on the emerald green waters of the Seine  and there beneath us stood the Statue of liberty. The Roman goddess Libertas, bearing the date of the American war of independence was originally a gift from the French and in reciprocation of this a replica of the same was given back and now stands on the waters of the Seine. The emerald green waters of the river , on whose banks this city now stands, snakes its way through the heart of the capital, graceful as a ballerina.

The Eiffel Tower from the Arche de Triumphe, flanked by the city of Paris on either side

The tower lit up at night, as a full moon watches the proceesding

The moon in all her splendour..

There were many many more monuments. Between visits we lounged in cafes. Sipping on hot chocolate and trying out flavours of crepes on offer. The tables in the sun were most sought after. The French cafe is ubiquitous a celebration of sunshine and colour, chairs neatly turned facing outwards like in a cinema hall , the drama of life playing out on the streets as giant screens.
One night we watched the Eiffel tower lit, counting it down with the hordes of people standing there. Once the glittering diamonds faded, we drifted to one of the cafes, still open, bright and welcoming.
Sipping on wine, and between idle chit chat we made plans for the next day.

A heavenly crepe , filled with chocolate :)

We could never tire of the museums. Of the many on offer we only saw three and that not to our satisfaction. Even though we got to the gagantuan Musse Du Louvre,  early one morning, we drifted between the many rooms stacked with things of wonder and paintings that made us stare only to acknowledge midway though the day that seeing it all was a herculean task. Of course we did see the Most famous Mona Lisa,  smiling enigmatically at the many people who stood jostling for her attention and an opportunity to take pictures with her. We had to be content with what we got.

The entrance to the Louvre, made famous by references to its pyramid shaped structure in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code

Exploring the Louvre, walking through the labyrinth of rooms..

The Feast

The Monalisa.. (completely annoyed with the crowds around her me thinks :))

And then we had an afternoon with the impressionists at the Musse De Orsay, a railway station now converted into a museum. After an entire 15 minutes standing in front of Van Gough's haystacks, completely in awe with the the flaming fields of yellow leaping out from the picture frame and the two tired souls resting in the center of it all, I felt like in a trance. And there was Monet and Gaugain and many many others in this collection which boasts of being the largest of the impressionists.

The clock face in the Musse De Orsy, which was once a railway station

Art imitates life they say.  But I got to see the handsome structures of Nottre Dame many years after I first heard of the art inspired from it of the famed Hunchback. The structures were magnificient and right in front were the apostles engraved on the walls in front. The dark interiors, beautifully atmospheric with tall semi circular stain glass windows hovering high above us who walked past are reminders of an brilliant era of gothic art.

The beautiful gothic structures of Nottre Dame

The entrance to Nottre Dame..

High celiings and Stained glass windows, inside Nottre Dame..

 Beautiful sepulchar interiors of Nottre Dame, the candles and the chandeliers throw up mysterious light

Joan of Arc, who was burnt on the stake as a witch..

And just arcoss the roads with the bustiling cafes is the Latin quarter teeming with restaurants and shops. Street Performers come and go and the whole area wears a festive air. There were shops and more shops, restaurants and more restaurants. The cafes got fuller, the music louder as evening came and went. We enjoyed our meal before wandering off and catching the train back home.

The latin Quarter adjacent Nottre Dame, full of fubs and restaurants. The place full of cheap deals and some of the set menus were at mouth watering prices (3 courses for less 10-12 Euros!)

Street Performances in the Latin Quarter. The cafes heaving with people play an willing audience..
And on the final day, I tell the receptionist a young French girl that I would love to come and live here sometime. I rue my complete absence of French and rant about the education system in India...
And she says she wants to come down and live in London and wishes she had taken her English more seriously.
Well the grass does seem greener on the other side of the Fence, but as long as we can get to the other side every now and then, even if it is just for a couple of days I decide it should be okay..

So muaaah Paris and Thanks for having us around..


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Shadow of Bhopal...

Tower Bridge

The Olympics are closing in. The opportunity to live in a city hosting it is a once in a life time experience. I have mixed feelings about the Olympics.
On one hand I love London, the city that welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home.
I am amazed by the diverse , multicultural experience that London has to offer.
And then there is Bhopal and Dow Chemicals association with the Olympics, which deeply saddens me.

And so I thought I would blog about the whole experience of being here in London and watching the Olympics unfurl., both about what's good and whats bad and all that's in between.

Over the weekend we walked around London Bridge and standing on the bridge itself,  under overcast skies and the rain threatening to pour  down, a trickle of sunshine momentarily brightened up the scene. It was as if they were spot lights on tower bridge itself and the huge Olympic rings that had been placed there to make one month to the Olympic games. In the background HMS Belfast stood out in gorgeous steely greys against the beautiful Thames.

The massive rings measuring - 82 feet (25 m) wide and 38 feet (11.5 m) tall look spectacular against the London skyline. The gold rimmed tips of Tower Bridge seem to be reaching up to touch the sky.
Around me people walk, some with cameras in hand , some others with children, everyone taking in the beautiful sight of the Thames and the hustle and bustle of London around it.


And then my thoughts return to Bhopal. I feel a little guilty for enjoying it all .
What does puzzle me sometimes is that I hardly find mention about the worst industrial disaster in human memory mentioned in the press or as part of conversation itself. If we pride ourselves on human rights shouldn't a stronger protest be marked somehow?
A colleague very casually told me that , Dow didn't own the company at that point in time and so shouldn't be held accountable. I find this apathy shocking. I have family/ friends who are activists and while they hold strong views with regard to certain things, the death of 15000 people in a beautiful city does not feature highly in their areas of concern.Most people know about Chernobyl but have never heard about Bhopal!

Have we become so blind, that we can condone an action that cost the lives of 15000 living, breathing souls. Were they worth anything at all?

Why do I write this then? Because I am torn.
On one hand I love this city and I have always held London as a model of tolerance, and so I feel let down  by Dows association with the games.

 But I  do believe people can do what governments around the world can't and I really do hope that this city tolerant as it is , somewhere finds the voice to stand up for what happened to the thousands who died at Bhopal.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Olympic Glory..

The Olympics are close at hand and London has more reminders than one.
Some of them you read in the papers and plan to see, some are completely unexpected
We had planned to visit the British museum earlier this week. For those who have never visited London , the British museum is a carefully preserved record of human history.  Every culture and their journey through the ages has been beautifully laid out for us to see. And the best part is all of this is FREE! No admission charges, which is something incredible.

When we walked in I did not expect to see the Olympic medals of London 2012 on display.
The last time the games were held in London was in the year 1948, not long after the war and probably a cause for celebration among the people who has seen so much   in the preceding years.
The medals used in the games of 1948 were on display as well. And between then and now they provide a valuable insights into how the games have changed. For one the medals certainly are bigger.

Outside the British Museum..
Below the medals were descriptions of how they were made and what their designs sought to represent. I was blown away by the artistic vision. I've not seen an Olympic medal up close before and I don't know a great deal about other designs elsewhere.
But the artists who finally had their work imprinted on metal to crown the champions of the London 2012 Olympics came through a careful process of selection by the LOGOPG (The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Para Olympic games)

The designs were put to vote before a jury of experts. The winning jewelers were David Walkins and Liu Cheng.

The medals on display..

The Rio Tinto mines are the suppliers of metal used in the games.

The medals for London 2012 Olympic games - the front

The maker of the design had this to say about the symbolism in his work

"It's key symbols juxtapose, front and back, the goddess Nike for the spirit and tradition of the games, the River Thames for the city of London"

The medals for London 2012 Olympic medal - The Front

The medals for London 2012 Olympic Games - The back

I found the textures on the para Olympic games beautiful. If I was to fault the exhibition of one thing it was that it lacked an explanation of the symbolism in the design of the medal .
In the absence of it though I game my mind free reign to create its own. Right on top is writing in what I think is Braille.
 I wanted to reach out and touch the medal to get a feel of the beautiful texturing inlaid in metail.
It flowed from end to end all across the circle and reminded me in some strange way of molten lava.

The medals for London Para Olympic games 2012 - The front

The medals for the London  Para Olympic games 2012
Besides this there was a lot about the history of the games and how the modern Olympics came to be.
As early as 1850,  a  surgeon William Penny-Brookes, introduced physical education into British schools and started the tradition of the Olympian games in the town of  Shropshire.
Inspired by the idea the Frenchman  Pierre de Coubertin started the effort to hold the event on a global scale and that was the beginning of the Olympics as we know it, the first of which was held in 1896.

The para Olympics took off from a similar British event too, one that was held in 1948 at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Buckinghamshire, for people injured in the Second World War.

The words of Shakespeare on display on the walls remind of the glory that awaits the winners of the games

‘And, if we thrive,
promise them such rewards
As victors wear at the
Olympian games’
William Shakespeare
Henry VI, Part 3 – Act II Scene iii

The history of the games..
The medals used in the games of 1948

The medals of the 1948 games were smaller in size but they matched the ones of 2012 in the grandeur of their designs. The symbolism seems to be heavily greek possible because of their long standing tradition in having the games even before the rest of the world decided to have it in this scale.

This exhibition was packed with people, no surprises by the amount of interest surrounding the coveted objects every champion at the games will want to take home with them

More details on the exhibition can be found at the website of the British museum


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