Sunday, October 28, 2007

11th Sept- Paris-Of Notre Dame n Latin Quarter

The morning emerged with the relentless question-"Do Romanians not like taking a shower?" In the 3 days that we'd been at our hostel room, not once had I actually seen them head towards the shower-combine that with the assault on the sense of smell and the answer seemed astonishingly simple. The solution was not-we just sprayed some perfume in the air and got on with the explorer's life.

The day was to be devoted to Notre Dame and then the Latin Quarter-the original "cool" place.
Taking the audio guide at ND chapel was such a waste-all the information is available in English and it was one place where the guide was a bit of a distraction rather than an invaluable aid.
The tour up the tower though, is highly recommended. The cost of the uber scenic view of Paris is 400 steps or thereabouts-not ready currency with the faint hearted! What was really persuasive to my 26 yr old legs was the sight of people 3 times my age mocking my stamina and marching on-Such josh machines, those oldies!

Got to discover loads of fun facts-e.g. all religious bells are baptized-thought it was a rather sweet tradition. Naming inanimate things just makes it better, yes? 'Met' Emmanuel: the largest bell of 'em all- it was earlier rung by bell ringers, but is now set in motion by the electric motor, that too on major occasions only.

Awesome crepes and gelato later, we walked towards the Pantheon (the fake French version-we did see the real thing in Rome). It was completed in 1789 and remained a church only for 2 yrs-post which it was seized by the Revolutionaries. Now these Revolutionaries-they were anti-Catholics and because they were proponents of an extreme ideology-they did take things to the extreme. Burnt bodies of saints; converted churches into civil offices; even beheaded the gods on the facade of the Pantheon! (many of the heads are now either in the Middle ages museum/Musee de Cluny). Today's Pantheon serves as the final resting place for some great and glorious people (Mdm Curie's buried there!) and well, you have to be really great and really French to find a berth with the other exalted ones. Pity not too many are making the cut these days-dont make 'em like they used to!
Janine was our Latin Quarter Walk guide-the tour's absolutely worth it at 12 euros-nuggets of trivia, exploring the place by foot, lovely weather-all added up rather well.Highlights of the Latin Quarter walk:
- The first and the most prestigious high school in France.
- The Chapelle next door (no its not called that-just dont remember its name, but do remember where its located)-famous for two reasons-a) its the only church with the stone rudeway left (a structure that divides the worshippers and the priests) and b) it stores a Saint's finger-the only part which somehow escaped the rowdy revolutionaries who burnt her body and threw it in the river. Such idiots!

-Mitterand's house: no. 22, if you please: he lived in a narrow gully!
- Oldest church in Paris (11th century i think)
- Oldest tree in Paris (1602)
- Shakespeare & Co-the English book store started by an Englishman called Mr. Beech, who also rented out the rooms above to aspiring writers- this was a regular Hemingway haunt.
- Place St. Michel
- the fruits and veg market (operates on 4 days of the week-Tue, Thurs, Sat, Sun)-not so much of an 'attraction' for the desis-but well, everything in Paris gets a coat of mystique and finesse-even a subzi mandi.
- Lots of eateries: Greek, Mid-Eastern, Indian and yeah...a bit of French and Italian too.
- The original jazz place: served as a hiding place for Free Masons!
- Sorbonne University, which actually started as a theological school-but surprise, surprise-it changed its positioning after the Revolution. Smart thing, that.
- Luxembourg Gardens: Beautiful and majestic-overlooking the Senate. The lady (hehe..forgot her name too) who ordered the construction, never really got to stay here-her son sent her on an exile to Germany! No respect, I tell you!
Two bits of trivia which I feel compelled to share:
-Most avenues in the Latin Quarter are named thus: Rue de "____"- the blank is filled by a profession, coz this is how the residences were organized and there was one avenue for scribes (people had to go to them for all things to do with the written word- illiteracy was rampant), another for butchers and so on. I found this quite fascinating- using profession as a variable of organizing society isn't just one Ancient Indian whim then! Silliness is pervasive and as ancient as society itself. How gratifying.

- Notre Dame was cleaned in 2000, with lasers! and as proof of how dirty it had become, they've left the middle tower out-so the poor, not-so-little-thing stands tall and ashamed, showing the visitors the surrounding soot-less towers, silently begging to be revealed for what it really is.
To be continued.....(the evening was the most memorable one in Paris, and perhaps in the entire trip-just have to give it the privilege of undivided blogspace-sure G would agree.)
ps- if any of the facts stated above are found to be wrong, you know who to blame- Janine, of course! :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Zoned out and Switched Off

The gyaan is getting to me. The sound of jargon hitting my ear drums very hard. Maturity levels of people around me testing my tolerance limits. I need to count to 1000 in 5 different languages to stay calm. Screaming out loud seems so much easier.

How hard is it to ...shut up and be not jump the not be humble?
To put my mind to some rest,
On, i took a silly test.
Which Harry Potter character did they think was I?
the freckled friend, the wise oldie or the wizard boy...
Oh great-the answer was plain to see
Oh blast-even my hair looks like Hermione's!

I need anger therapy. and maybe some shampoo as well.
But know what-I don't really care
whether my hair shines like a diamond
or dandruff signs you can tell.
My worth is not equal to what I buy.
My sense of self is also not for sale.
Happiness-not a derivative of products & deals
What they make is fluff-I know I'm for real.

S-C-R-E-A-M! REAL LOUD SCREAM!! (look ma, no rhyme-no reason).
I'm putting myself to sleep.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sept 10th- Paris- Utterly Loverly Louvre

The day started relatively late (8:30 am), but the silver lining was the unhurried and exclusive use of the shower and a leisurely breakfast. Having spent a wonderful & no-harm-done day in Paris, we deemed it proper to dole out some tips to newbies (e.g. what bus number to take to the Eiffel Tower etc.). Very satisfying was that! And very smug were we!

We took the Metro to the Musee du Louvre. (While reading the news today about the metro strikes in Paris protesting Sarkozy's "main azaad hoon" type war cries against the welfare state's stubborn deficit inducing ways- I only wanted to thank our stars, for having made the trip when we did- Dunno what poor backpackers would be doing on Oct 18th!)
Anyway getting back to the Louvre-ignore the hideous monstrosity of the glass pyramid and soak in all the other sights-the fountain, the old medieval fortress look (it actually was one) and the yuppies doing the Da Vinci Code tour. Take it all in and brace your feet for the long haul and your brain for extra comprehension and absorption power!

You'd need about two days to do this museum justice-and I know two days in a museum can sound dauting-so here's the deal- devote to it one solid day-non-negotiable!! It has 8 sections- Sculptures, French paintings, Oriental Arts, Egyptian, Arts of Islam, Middle Ages paintings, Napolean Chambers (Objects D'Art), Decorative Arts & Paintings and trust me-even 12 hours may seem too short.
We did the paintings section first-populist tendencies overtook better judgement-didnt want to "miss" the Monalisa! And this is not my cynical self that speaketh- Found it a bit over-rated- Maybe it was the crowd of people & cameras that I had to negotiate with to get one look at that mythical smile or maybe it was because I've seen so many good and not-so-good copies of that image-it has perhaps lost that allure. If you'd seen the empty rooms in the previous section and the mass assembled in Mona-Lisa room, you'd be forgiven for thinking poor Leonardo never put brush to canvas, save for the lady's portrait!
The real surprise in that room was "The Wedding at Casa" (portrays the scene of the feast where Jesus turned water into wine)- It was such a beautiful & vast painting and oh, with a really comprehensive explanation carried in the audio guide-I probably stood there for 15 mins, gawking! Again, the audio guide is an imperative-most of what's written in the museum is in French and there's a good chance you'll be breezing past masterpieces if you dont have the audio guide. Not a stickler for looking at at every square inch from all dimensions, but then having travelled that far-it'd be a shame to deny your brain even that eensy-weensy bit of perspective on what your eyes transmit as a fuzzy flower in yellow.
Nett-dont miss it the Paintings section (arguably, the Middle Ages section is missable- they didnt call 'em the Dark Ages for nothing, duh!) Mesopotamian is a great treat and it did get me into a philosophical mode (what with people routinely dying in Iraq everyday and the general sense of chaos this country has come to portray)-what is it with great empires and not being able to sustain their power and might-Romans conquered that region and then decadently voted themselves out of the race. I really do wish to be born again after 500 years with the same consciousness to see whether the US, Germany and Japan really retain their power or does Trinidad & Tobago edge them out for the Top Job, somehow!
Dont miss the Sculptures-esp the few Greek ones-extremely rare! See on display "Venus Di Milo"- now the sweet part is-no one knows whether its Venus or some other goddess but well, some Roman decided it was Venus and therefore, Venus is what the world calls her.

The Romans really did a darn good job at copying all that was Greek and Great and then creating their own borrowed versions of greatness. And you see it in the sculptures around you. While you grudgingly grant the Romans their due, also bless the French archaeologists who are responsible for getting a lot of these artefacts together from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Italy.
Another thought that lingered in my mind was how fashion and trends come a full circle and how similar people living generations & continents apart could be! A lot of the jewellery and art on display from the Pompeii ruins or the Eqyptian pyramids is so contemporary-on more than one occasion I caught myself thinking-hey, I or my friends could wear this stuff!! (no sarcasm here, I swear and no criminal intent, either!). The same fuzzy we-are-one-always-have-been feeling emerged again when I looked at the Egyptian beauty products display! :D

The Guided Tour of the Louvre was well worth it (might have been better if we'd managed to catch the morning tour-seeing all the highlights and then doing the sections that seemed really interesting would have been simpler-but oh, well!). Our Guide was very well informed and gave us lots of stories on the different sections and the major highlights of the museum-her accent also kept me well entertained-Her "H" was silent and I really did find it amusing when she said something like-"Dis 'orse 'eez verrry good".

On our way back from the Louvre, we went to the Garden of Tiles again (doesnt sound half as pretty as when you say Jardin de Tuileries, na?). Watched the evening sun blot its colors all over the sky. I did think the sky was really pretty in Paris but a long debate with G made me think, maybe it was just coz I never bothered to look up when I went about my daily existence in Sing/India!
After our Heat and Eat dinner at the hostel, we decided to walk a bit around Montmartre-the charming district we were staying in- as was expected, we lost our way but discovered some small winding streets with quaint shops. And we caught a glimpse of the lit Eiffel Tower.
The icing on the cake was the free internet hours the French (& by now friendly) receptionist gifted us, along with the advice to avoid Sacre Coeur at night-Free internet, lovely French music in the background and smile on our faces-what else did we need-umm, a keyboard with the keys in the right places would have helped!! Demanding, demanding!

Traveller's Tip#1-Do take the audio guide-at 5 euros, it's a steal and an absolute must if you are to make any sense of what's inside the Louvre. Also taking the morning guided tour makes more sense.
Traveller's Tip#2- Keep some time for lunch-the terrace cafe is supposed to be good but has a long waiting line-we had to make do with a cold and expensive salad just to be on time for the guided tour.
Traveller's Tip#3- Avoid Sacre Coeur at night-if you insist on going there to catch a view of the Eiffel Tower-carry minimal cash & be safe!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An evening in Paris-9th Sept

Glorious sunset. Laced the wannabe Paris Eye (just a wheel really) with its battery of reluctant-to-leave rays and turned it into a magnificent work of art.
The beautiful sky. Draped in hues of orange and pink. The kind that makes you do a 360 degrees marvelling at nature.
Champs Elysees. Stealing some and getting the ground its fair share of glamour, light and color. The sprawling n sparkling avenue is called the most beautiful avenue in the world and according to us, it surely lived upto its reputation.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and what our eyes showed us were dazzling lights, places that define fine-dine, shopping arcades that spell class, perfumeries & chocolateurs luxuriously humouring fabulously dressed people (and here, my eyes obviously wasted not a second on people who came anywhere close to looking like punks with pink hair & pierced aunties who combined saris with sports scruffy smelly get the picture right? Essentially other ordinary plebians. Needless to add, mirrors and reflections were duly avoided to prevent self from cringing).
I think I saw all the brands I thought I knew and more, which simply deserved to be known coz they were on Champs Elysees. (Note: not to be confused with Champs On Lease, the galli just behind New Rambo Gym that produces (third) world class wrestlers!- the correct pronunciation for the lovely avenue, if written in German style English (where each letter written was in dire need of intonation), would be- Schaunz Eleez) Of course you'd still sound silly saying it without a natural or cultivated French accent. Think the easiest way to not offend someone French would be to say "oh..we went to the most beautiful avenue in the world"-they would understand and also be more likely to be amenable to your lowly existence :)

Arc de Triomphe was spectacular as well and thanks to the misadventure with the bus (we waited for over 40 minutes for the bus back to our hostel, only to realize that buses stop operating after 9 on weekends) & my stubborn hostility towards the Metro (just had this image of it being a shady and unsafe place to be at night-not true, btw), we got to see the Eiffel Tower at night-all lit up, resplendent and awe-inspiring. There's even a brief period when the lights flicker and you feel there are 1000 people celebrating Diwali on the Tower -the Sparkler effect is really something else.
I think G was really on the verge of losing it because I was steadily veering in the direction of "lets take a cab and just get to the hostel" (which obviously was a violation of the "if-you-are-on-a-budget-trip-act-like-you-are-on-one rule"). A local couple came to her rescue and they seemed earnest and reliable enough for me to pay heed to their advice to just take the Metro. We did and reached the hostel in 15 mins :)

The comedy of errors that followed looked something like this. G & S go to the kitchen (same place where we had breakfast) to heat dinner and realize that the door was locked. So they trudge up the stairs and tell the French receptionist that they need help since the door was locked. He says-no it isnt locked-just give it a gentle push-it should open. G & S run down the stairs and use all might to give the damn door not so gentle pushes and shoves and continue to do so until they become scared that they might be accused of breaking down the door and made to pay. Thankful that no one was paying particular attention to this drama, they run up to the lobby again-and since both G & S pride themselves on being mega intelligent souls, they decide there must be another way to the kitchen, so they go down the other way, but lo and behold that door is sealed-it might have opened to the street, once upon a time-you could tell. But it is not the door to the kitchen, that too, you could tell. So after completing a virtuous circle that only serves to make the tummies rumble louder, G&S decide to approach the receptionist again. The receptionist looks at them quizzically and decides he needs to intervene. 4 confident steps later, he shows G&S the "kitchen" which they had passed some 20 times in their hunt.
Hurt, but still defiant, S asks what he meant by pushing the door a little harder, since the door was already open. At this, the receptionist calmly points to the microwave!! (he thought we couldnt open the microwave??!!) G, S and the receptionist look at each other and burst out laughing. We murmur "Merci boku" (thank you very much)-though "moorkh bewakoof" would apply better to all the participants in this drama.

The evening ended with a desi delight-kadhi chawal! Long Live Kohinoor and its makers. Bless them-for what could give greater joy to the soul than yummy kadhi chawal enjoyed on the steps of Montmartre-the slight chill in the air making us savour each hot bite a little more. Yeah, we were in love with Paris. But the Dil remained firmly Hindustani :)
Traveller's Tip #1-When strolling down the Champs Elysees, keep an eye open for street vendors-they end up selling 3 eiffel tower keychains for 1 euro! Good gifts for sundry junta :P
Traveller's Tip #2- Be mindful of time schedule differences for buses, between weekends and weekdays. And it is safe to take a metro around 10-11 pm (I see G smirking)
Traveller's Tip #3- Do not eat on the streets-even if its the small pack of French Fries-you wont get ticked off. Verbally that is! Sit and finish your meal. Remember this is the prim and proper land and you dont really want to stand out any more than you do by virtue of your tone (both skin & accent!)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Oh Paris- 9th September (afternoon)

The Boat tour lived upto the high expectations-We passed major landmarks of the city, located on the banks of the river-audio guide was also good in that it wasnt exhaustingly comprehensive but provided enough interesting facts to keep us entertained for one hour (sometimes, staring at bridges does get a bit tiring-but then you hear some snippet from the past which makes you perk up and take in the view with renewed interest).

That done-the next task at hand was to take care of our rumbling tummies-and here we were let down-the mistake we made was to settle down for lunch at one of the places near the Eiffel Tower-the primary consideration of something veg on the menu was satisfied and we even saw some desi faces-But as they say-kindly not to be going after appearances!! The expensive and cold meal consisted of a tough baguette with grated carrot and tomotoes (for me) and cold ham with potatoes & cheese (for G). My teeth rattled, my palette saddened & my tummy and G became grumbling companions-former hated me for the excuse for food I was shoving into it and G cribbed vehemently about the "kachcha meat"!

Next we trooped to Musee d'Orsay. Home to wonderful impressionist work-feasted our eyes on Monet, Renoir, Passaro, Sisley & Van Gogh- Oh, art can be so beautiful :) Leave alone art as an investment which tends to take a rather economic & dry point of view-my entire "art-nah for me! perspective was totally transformed. One of the many changes that this trip brought about in the way I think.

Outside the Musee d'Orsay, we joined the crowds sitting on the steps and the sundry street artists who were performing to this audience: there was a skater boy doing wondrous stunts (the stuff that finds its way to youtube) and there was this crazy wizened old man who was imitating passers by in a really silly & highly comical way. (I too became one of his hapless victims, though for me it wasnt very embarassing coz I was just intently looking in the skater boy's direction, with hand on chin- didnt realize when he sat down next to me, obviously imitating my actions-so when I turned, I jumped coz I was staring right into his face LOL-crazy idiot!).
The Jardin des Tuileries was lovely-combine a sunny Sunday afternoon, couples & families basking in the sun, some coffee and a rum crepe- Heavenly! A walk in the garden just brought alive all the praise and the adulation that I had heard heaped on Paris and made me a convert of the "I love Paris" brigade. Such a beautiful and unhurried city-would definitely be coming back here loads and loads of times (but armed with better French!)

( I just have to break this day into 3 parts-just cant get factual about Paris-bear with me as a I relive the experience in words & visuals)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Paris & Tour Eiffel-9th Sept morning

Got up quite early, considering how bad the previous night had been, but then the competition to the bath and the loo is known to have transformed the laziest buggers into proverbial early birds. Early breakfast and helpful directions later (contrary to what we'd heard, all the people we asked for help/directions etc were rather forthcoming and sweet-not stuck up at all!), we boarded bus 80 to Tour Eiffel, named after its creator (The tower-not the bus!)
What I discovered is that the French tend to dislike anything new, its gotta be old enough for them to like it-we saw plenty of examples of this-from the unique Metro station signs (which looked like dragon eyes) to even the poor Eiffel Tower-which were subjected to the same treatment- therefore, anything new must age before becoming a recipient of grudging acceptance or adoration. (Remember the term nouveau riche? same logic!-so you need generations of wealth to be certified wealthy! Rags to riches story wont do!)
The Eiffel Tower is an imposing & grand structure, but when you are walking all those steps to get to the 3rd floor (from where you take the elevator up to the top), all you are seeing are the welded iron & steel insides, which arent particularly glamorous. Also, my long held belief of the Eiffel Tower being black in color was shattered-its as brown as Cadbury's Dairy Milk! I attribute my wrong belief to the black replica we had at our place (had it just fallen prey to oxidation?)
As testimony to the great shape we were in, we managed to climb all those stairs without too much fuss and man, it was so worth it. The panoramic view was aided by information on what exactly you saw in front of you and each of these info points was accompanied by small visual milestones on the left (when the tower became a TV transmitter station/ weather station, the tower's 1 millionth visitor, when prominent people came to visit etc).

The view from the top is a busy tourist attraction and well, just about okay coz at that height, you do manage to make out some of the more important structures but well, you did that with better sight downstairs anyway!-but if its your first time in Paris, you just have to go right to the top, even if it is knowing what I just told you :)Living upto my reputation of being a sucker for souveniers, I bought small Tour Eiffel replicas (brown, oreadi! so no danger of oxidation and propogation of a wrong belief) and a couple of extremely nice Black & White postcards.
Since the Seine Boat Tour was really recommended, we bought tickets for those and used the time between then and the departure time, admiring the Eiffel Tower from afar.

Traveller's Tip #1-Buy the Visite Paris pass (i think there are difft versions available-we bought the 3 day pass). This pass also entitles you to discounts at a lot of places, including museums and boat tours etc.
Traveller's Tip #2- Avoid buying the pass to the top from the ground floor ticket counters-Climb up 3 storeys and what awaits you is information & a shorter Q to get to the top.

Traveller's Tip#3-What really helped in planning our days in Paris (and the other cities) were the Fodors travel guide itineraries, available for free at the website-they usually mention tourist places and must do's which are close to each other, so you can take devote each day to a district and the highlights there, without totally wearing yourself out). They also have nice culture & food tips -which, if not very useful, make for a fun read.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

London with a touch of Paris-8th Sept

The thought of getting up early after a nite of hard partying was torture-putting it into action was tougher. But no recourse, as I simply could not leave London without meeting good friends-The Loomba parivar.
While in the tube (the metro, silly!-wasnt travelling through magic beakers & test tubes), for some strange reason, I couldnt stop smiling at the fact that this was going to be the first time I would travel alone in London (yeah, I know-grown up girl and should be no big deal)-but I get this feeling each time I travel alone in a new city-the nervous excitemen does fizzle out after a couple of hours but I do really feel proud of navigating my way around a new place-it could have something to do with my pathetic sense of direction (in my world, I locate places by landmarks and landmarks alone-had a hard time during my sales stint in Pepsi, where I wouldnt know the name of the road but I would know the exact series of outlets that I'd find there-" Laxmi pan bhandar se right" , phir "jalaram cold drinks", uske aage " Bhavesh general store" blah blah- Landed me in a soup a couple of times during high profile visits, coz I missed the turn and made my god level bosses believe I was a fat-ass who never did any market work & someone who just played a recorded traffic scene each time they called). But well, enough of a digression!
So yeah- felt great to meet the Loombas-had a delicious hoome cooked meal and saw great snaps (that sold me on to the idea of definitely visiting Scotland, sometime!).
And as paranoid that I had become after the barrage of horrible stories of thefts at youth hostels and the pickpocket gangs in Italy, I thought it'd be wise to download all my London snaps onto Suvir's unsuspecting computer. Logic being-at worst, I'd lose the camera-wont lose precious memories. Yeah, very positive, I know.
(for the record, all my steely glares and paranoia-induced strategies of deception worked and we didnt really lose/forget/damage anything valuable, during this trip-only our minds, sometimes!)
The day was also marked by the huge 'phatka' of 125 pounds each, courtesy a misunderstanding in reading train times. Our train was supposed to leave at 15:11 and arrive in Paris at 18:43. However, G in some delirious trance, calculated time differences and worked out some economic curve to arrive at the fact that our departure time was 18:43-with the result that once we reached the station, no rubbing of eyes could reverse the train that we missed. So well, had to buy new tickets! (Einstein!)
The temptation to scream and generally create a scene was curbed rather well, I'd say, particularly by me (given the past record of hysteria and panic at smallest change in plans), with the long term vision of having a great trip and the overarching feeling that we shouldnt let this minor blip make grouchoes (if ever that's a word) out of us.
The Eurostar journey from London to Paris was comfortable and uneventful and largely comprised a great quiche and a dishy but extremely boring co-passenger.
Arrived at Paris du Nord-had to change trains (yeah-backpacking also means no-frills, no-cabs and no 100 euros a night hotels!) and several steps to get to the hostel and we did get a bit lost on the street looking for it (rather frightening..coz I had visions of us huddled in one corner-spending the night on the streets!). God bless G's soul- she helped me with carrying my fat bag around most of Europe (so G, this is the cumulative, all-in-one mega Thanks :)
Though at one place, the Montmartre station, it was just so pointless-and since its a funny incident, I insist on describing it in detail. Yeah so we reached the station, relatively unscathed (after an encounter with a Loony Punju weirdo who kept shouting sat-sri-akal & blowing air-kisses from the other platform-When will scumbags leave this planet and create their own scumworld??).
Now the direction to our hostel clearly stated, "Take the steps followed by some rights/lefts (which i couldnt distinguish between as no landmarks were provided)" as the instruction #1 and since, compliance in foreign land comes easy-we gulped as we saw the "sign of 90 steps" that greeted us, but valiantly made our way up. Huffing and puffing and sweating- even getting an occasional sympathy smile from the passersby, -we made it-tired but victorious! Getting to the hostel safe and sound made us forget our torture-What revived it cruelly was the sign to the bloody elavator which we noticed, the next day!!!!Those smiles- they were not signs of solidarity from kind hearted souls-they were the "how-dumb-can-you-get snickers from strangers!
The hostel was nice & warm and it felt nicer after we realized that we get 1/2 an hr of free internet and that there was a loo+shower attached to the room :) (yeah, I also had visions of queueing up for the basics!). We were to share our small lil home for the next 4 nights with 2 American girls (stuck up), 1 Romanian girl (seemed nice but her lack of english and our lack of french couldnt possibly amount to a decent conversation) & 1 Romanian boy (her bro, we discovered later).
Sleep didnt come easy-maybe it had to do with the squeaky bed and the individuals listed above who had graduated in honors from The Twist & Turn through the night School. Maybe it had to do with sleeping in close proximity with total strangers. Or maybe my hostel paranoia. Or maybe just, maybe it could have had something to do with the 2 calls I got from Singapore numbers at some unearthly hour, about my cable tv and my credit card! (the singaporean accent can sound very very annoying at 4 am, trust me!). Or maybe my brain just sensed how stupid the rest of me would be proved the next day when i read the "lift" sign. Ah well. suffice to say, I hardly got any sleep. But well, what do they say, tomorrow's another day-and will admit, it did turn out to be a great one!
Traveller's tip#1-For London-Paris, a return ticket on train is cheaper than a single ticket. Yes ! Just dont ask me how or why. The flight is even cheaper-so unless you are spending sleepless nights over global warming and you've turned carbon-o-phobic, just fly a budget airline. (The indian rule of train fares being lesser than air fares fails miserably)
Traveller's tip #2- Book your hostel in Paris way in advance-tends to be the most expensive city as far as good hostels go. Square Caulaincourt, where we stayed, was good-but we booked it only coz others like Le village etc were full.
& since Im feeling generous, Traveller's tip#3- Do carry some heat & eat/cup'o noodles type of food (I'd reco kohinoor rice series-coz it gives u the curry and the carb together lah)-most hostels have fully equipped kitchens-make the most of it. This will be really helpful if you are comforted by'hot' food alone/are veggie/dont have the energy or money to make it to the next restaurant & can not, simply can not have more crepes! (which I promise, you WILL have a lot of , if you are veggie).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

London-7th Sept

The celebrity hungry morons that we were, we went back to Mdm Tussaud's, quickly forgetting the shooing away of the previous day.
After an internal debate of "should i really be clamoring to pose with wax dolls" vs "you are here-might as well", populism won! For me, there was also the vicarious pleasure of comparing height with other short famous people (I lay claim to only one of those adjectives :P). The vicarious pleasure of standing next to Jennifer Anniston and seeing eye to eye was immeasurable. The only celebrity statue who I couldnt wait to be with was Jack Sparrow! (didnt stop me from joining G with Leo and others, including Bob Marley, Newton & Shakespeare).
But here too some sort of a prejudice-all the desi celebrities looked so hideously plastic-even their accessories seemed to have been bought from the great chor bazaar sale-really irked me no end to see SRK and AB looking like poor cousins of themselves, while even the B-grade firang celebrities had been done up rather nicely! There were exceptions though-Beyonce looked as if she had used 1 yr's supply of whitening products in 24 hrs :D

Strolled around Baker St and picked up the mandatory souveniers. I'd decided to buy a coffee mug from all the places I visit (yes, the Delhi show off spirit rules :) and well, London marked the beginning for this purchase series.

We went to Buckingham Palace after this-did my best to peer inside those drawn curtains, but the grandeur behind the gates was all I saw. The time at Hyde park after this was simply great-abundant sunshine and a lazy afternoon- splendid partners! Had Ratatouille at the cafe there and well, cause enough for me to grin, all associations with the movie came wafting back.
Oh, and since no day in London must go without us getting ticked off (however much politely!)-we did! We did ask for it though, when we walked into the Ritz and were about to enter some sacred area, when someone in a haughty voice reminded us that we were not dressed "formally enough" and hence could not enter-Bah!!

The evening was absolutely exciting-packed with new friends,club-hopping and dance. We went partying with Bracey ,Super Sam, G & B's friend. We went to Leicester Square and was that place abuzz with life or what! The places we hit & the drinks that hit us: All-Bar-One (1 wine), Planet Hollywood (1 Absinthe), Metra (1 wine+ 1 tequila). The alcohol added up to a fair bit and G & I had a minor tiff over some equally minor issue (I'm glad we made up soon after). Ignoramus ol' me had no clue what Absinthe was-it turned out to be a saunf-based alcohol which is banned in the US and other countries as it escapes the breath analyzer tests!

Had a fantastic time dancing (though, for the life of me, I can't remember what we danced to)-and I do recall getting back home around 4 am! whatta rockin nite.

(a tankful of thanks to Bracey and Super Sam for all the happy times in London)

Monday, October 01, 2007

London-6th Sept-the jinxed day!

London greeted us with a sunny morning and we cheerfully responded by setting out for the Tower of London-we didnt know that time that this was the most jinxed day of our entire trip!
We got off a station too early and as a consequence, walked a fair bit to get there. The funny bit was, when we asked for directions, the gentleman passing us by, asked for the street name! As abnormal as people asking for India Gate and being asked back for the name of the frickin street
Tower Bridge looks great-awesome photo-op provider! The Tower itself was okay-the place itself has a rich and varied history-it's served as a residence, a mint, an armoury..even an execution site! Saw the different weapons on display and yes, the Kohinoor too! Did get a bit agitated that its really an Indian treasure which is being forcibly kept in the British custody.According to G, it's a good thing they took it away and are keeping it there safely-I couldnt argue with that-well, the safekeeping and insurance expenses are serving them right :)
Post that, went to Baker Street to Madam Tussaud's, but since we'd booked the tickets online using Devika's credit card-we were briskly turned away as we were in possession of neither the card nor Devika. Big Boo to the burly smartass at the counter who saw these innocent faces as those of fraud perpetrators!
Smarting at the gujju crowds which effortlessly made their way inside and determined to put our time to good use (itni door aaye hain, to kuch dekh ke hi jayenge!) we decided to go to the museum named after the most famous inhabitant of this street. After getting the token snap clicked at the gate, we went in and hurried over the over-priced souveniers. Expressed interest in going inside but were politely told that wasnt possible as the museum was getting re-carpetted!!
Hungry and a bit disappointed at being rejected by museums (tch.tch.), we just decided to head home-But well, the tube was also raring to give us a beating- we took the wrong train-TWICE!-and finally reached home only around 3 pm. Decided to give ourselves a hot meal break!
Then came the ugly encounter with the dark rogue who misbehaved (wont go into the ugly details-but essentially he took 'eveteasing' to a new level) and shook me out of my touristy complacence. Double Boo to him and may he be denied entry to Madam Tussaud's as well :P

Harrods was next on our list of To-Do's and contrary to my image of it being a style haven, it turned out to be the most hideous & grotesquely done department store. Sure it houses everything I cant afford (except for the donuts and the coffee at the food stalls)-but must it put garish replicas of Egyptian mummies at every corner? Jimmy Choo & Pharaohs-icky combo this! But well, its a great place for spotting trends and every style diva in London does sashay down the aisles here, though the view does get marred by the well-past-the-prime wannabe with the bulging, adorned with bling waist and the shrinking, painted red lips. But well, after an hour there, we had luxury brands streaming out of our ears-Tiffany, Chopard, does want to make you feel like a millionaire-if only to offer to redecorate the Dodi's gaudy place!
Since no true London Experience is complete without watching theatre, we trudged along to Playhouse Theatre (no connection with Playboy!) to watch Footloose-had a great time and there were so many times, when I just wanted to run up to the stage and join the performance! Any shoes are dancing shoes :)
Oh and as if we hadnt rubbed the snooty London nose the wrong way enough number of times, the pregnant waitress at the Italian pizza joint asked us in the most icy tone possible- "Is that all you are having?"- Our crime? Ordering one pizza for both of us! We hastily ordered fruit juice-Ayyo, what attitude!The post-musical walk along embankment was wonderful-the city looked beautiful at night.

<---that's us-and in the background is the London Eye, though you have to strain Your Eye to see it :) Day ended happy- infinite boos to the jinx!

Traveller's tip: Book tickets for the museums and theatres online-much cheaper (also, do remember to take the credit card with you-and yes, do ensure you have a credit card before u embark on your travel :)

London Expense orientation: Coffee for 2 pounds & pizza for 5-7 pounds. Not all that bad, huh? But take that with a pinch of salt-that's the happy tourist talking!