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..



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