Monday, December 26, 2011

The treat of Lisboa (Lisbon)

Links to some previous travels: Brittany, Provence, US

It has been long since I have written any travelogue so thought of sharing some moments from my trip this year to Lisbon, Portugal. I had always wanted to visit this country for reasons I myself don't understand. There had always been this magnetic pull from this land for me which sometimes I found weird. No where else in Europe had this longing to visit a land for me as high as for Portugal. I don't know if it was because of the good looking Portugese girl, Aurelia I saw in the movie Love Actually or whether I had accompanied Vasco De Gama on his voyage to India in my last life. But unfortunately, for the last 6 years, for one reason or the other my travel plans to Portugal never materialized. Sometime the ticket was too expensive, sometime the weather was not optimal, sometime I did not had the free time etc. But early this year when I saw an offer from Lufthansa for just 99 Euros to Lisbon, I instantly booked the tickets without thinking twice. Usually, the price had been around 300 Euros whenever I used to check. I even approved my vacations after booking the tickets, which is not typical me. I was happy that this time that I am surely going to make it to Portugal !

Only later did I realized that it could be quite boring if I go alone so I started asking some friends around if they were interested in joining me. Now, the problem was that most of them are married so they tend to think twice before going with a single guy. Sometimes their spouses think that they might get bored without a similar feminine company. So, it was tough but I finally found some friends willing to join me on a condition that I plan the tour. What could be better than that ! I was super excited and started planning for the trip like which day to spend visiting what, accommodations and other logistics. All the travel sites were explored, books read, forums investigated to chalk out the complete plan. At the same time making sure that I don't see any travel pictures. The charm and excitement of seeing the new place is lost for me if I have already seen it somewhere extensively in pictures. But just a week before leaving, my friends had an emergency and had to drop the plan. They even lost the ticket money since it was non refundable. So, now I was left all alone to visit Lisbon. I even reached a point where I was just about to cancel my tickets as well since I did not wanted to travel alone. But somehow the pull from Lisbon was stronger than my anxiety to travel alone. I thought if not this time then never again. So, I kept to the plan and decided to go alone, something I never did before. I was all in for a new experience.

So, one fine in the July of 2011, I landed in Lisbon for a trip of 4 days. I agree it was not enough but that is all that I had in hand. I took the bus for my hotel which dang in the heart of Lisbon. The weather was pretty warm at around 30C but it did not bothered me much. On the way to the city center, the houses on the outskirts of the city gave me this Goan feeling. But as we went deeper into the center, I will put it bluntly, I could see that people were not that well off nor did the city as compared to their neighbors in central Europe. But with all the excitement of being in Lisbon, such thoughts took backstage. I was more looking forward to what Lisbon had stored in for me.

And boy, I was not disappointed. I think it was one of the most memorable trips for me. It was not just Lisbon's charm or its rich architectural treats ranging from Romanesque to Manueline to Super Modern or its Fado music or its cherry Ginjinho or its glazing Azulejas tiles or its trademark Tram 28, or its Oceanario aquarium or its pastries in Belem or its labyrinth-like Alfama or even Vasco de Gama's voyages, what hit upon me, were the people of Lisbon. I had never experienced so much warmth by people anywhere else in the world. Or maybe I was just plan lucky to get back with some awesome memories of its people.

I will share some memories of the trip in the coming days of course with some lovely pics of Lisbon :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dancing about Architecture

For some people, LOVE can be a very dangerous word and for some it might be quite an overrated one. There has never been a fixed definition of this word and many people say there never will be. Fair enough! I think everyone has his own definition of love. Like, my boss defines love as when he kicks away his pet cat at home and she still comes back to him, that is love. I ended up laughing my lungs out after listening this and a little shocked when I came back to my senses. To some extent it might be true but I don't think I will go all the way with his theory. Anyways, he has such interesting albeit a little shocking stuff to say sometimes.

I have observed recently that this word is slowly loosing its charm. It is being used very cheaply these days. I see people starting and ending their relationships based on Love. Some people who even once said they loved each other, sometime down the line declare that they are having a clean break-up. Now, with little brain that I have, I was never able to understand such scenarios. Is it really possible that if you really like and love someone, then one day you have no feelings for him/her and don't love each other. Was it really love to begin with? Is it just a kind of switch that you press on and off at will? I never understood such concepts. Moreover, I feel that these days, the society is slowly putting in a lot of pressure on people who really define and believe in the true value of love. A guy writing a poem for his love or expressing it in similar ways are sometimes looked down upon as gayish or even that the guy is such a loser. The same goes for the girl. A girl truly and deeply in love with someone is seen as unambitious and giving up his personal life for a stranger. The bad is the new good these days, I believe. Specially with the new generation TV programs which I see people liking sometimes make me redefine many things around me.

Anyways, I think I already did a lot of blabbering though I really wanted to revive some old folk love stories. I can talk of some which I am more familiar with because of my social background. Maybe there are many more and interesting ones from other cultures. Would be great if people share some. The most popular ones which I know are Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Sohni Mahiwal, Mirza Sahiba etc. But the one which had always fascinates me the most and close to my heart is Laila Majnu. The true story of virgin love which therefore also appear in a lot of Sufi poems. It is a very interesting story and I am sure many of the readers might also know it. But only a few people know that this story is originally from Arabic literature, later got its Persian version and then at end came to the subcontinent with its own version. But the basic idea and the main characters remained unchanged on their journey. Not many people also know that Laila was actually not very fair and Majnu was always teased over this aspect. And to which he always replied that people don't have the eyes to see what I see as mentioned by a poet in one of his poems:

kise keha jad majnu teri laila rang di kaali
aggon maju jhath kurlaya, akh na dekhan waali

Laila means night and Majnu means crazy though Majnu's real name was Qays. But true to the meaning of their names, Qays went crazy for Laila after he got to know that she was married to someone else. Rest we know is history. Qays died in a desert searching his love and Laila due to illness. Of course there are other versions of the story. But what hit upon me was the similarity to some extent which I saw in this Bollywood movie lately, Rockstar. The movie was okay in the sense that it left the judgement of the story totally on the audience to make at the end. That is how such a movie should be and I believe everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. So at least speaking for myself, the movie was quite a contrast to the story I mentioned above. The only thing strange for me was that when the characters in the movie had so much feeling for each other then why did they not had the courage to end up together in the first place rather than doing it later ? In a modern day world, why would anyone end up in a loveless marriage as the girl in the film. And if for any reasons the lovers end up with different partners, why to go outside the institution of marriage later ending up in adultery. The characters in the movie doing it and people praising the story made me realize that maybe it has now become socially acceptable to take such steps.

A similarity I sometimes find in unfulfilled love stories is that the guy at the end finds resort in poetry or music. Maybe this is his way of expressing himself. Qays also wrote poems when he was lost in the desert, the character in the movie becomes a Rockstar. Another example coming to my mind right now is Shiv Kumar Batalvi, a famous poet/writer of Punjabi literature. The love of his life was married to some other guy and this guy then started writing poems which now takes an important place in Punjabi literature. From modern day life, I have a very close acquaintance who wrote a book (in 2009) about the untimely death of his fiance´ before getting married. The book turned out to be a bestseller in India. 

I might be totally wrong or naive in what I said above and maybe there is more to love than just words like madam Jolie said in the movie, 'Playing by Hearts' .... talking about love is like dancing about architecture.

P.S: I have no idea what I have written above !

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Visit

My recent visit to the US was quite a memorable one, not just professionally but also on the personal front. I was in Washington DC for work and had planned to visit my friend in New York before returning back to Germany. I have been to DC before and frankly speaking it is a pretty dull city for my taste. Of course, it has all those great museums and memorials etc but overall I had always expected more from the capital city of Ambreeka. This time I ended up visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The most interesting part was for some exhibits, they had the original ones, like the first airplane from the Wright Brothers etc. Other than that, our free time near the DC area was mainly spent on shopping. After DC, I went to NY to visit my friend for the weekend. Frankly speaking, I was quite blown over by this city. As soon as I came out of the Bus terminal in downtown NY, I was greeted with a sudden gust of stink, total chaos, loud noises, people everywhere. I think I was not ready for it so it was like a filmy moment for me. After seeing all that for a few seconds, I went back inside the terminal building to actually digest and accept whole experience. It would say, it was pretty intimidating :)

Since, I had heard stories of people being looted by NY city parking, I decided to give back my rental car in DC and use other modes of transport. I wanted to have a taste of US buses and trains. Being grown up watching Hollywood movies, I had seen a lot of those Greyhound buses so decided to take one from DC to NY. Of course there were other better options available but I had always been fascinated to see those tin-can shaped buses in old Hollywood movies. I personally believe that Greyhound for buses and Amtrak for trains is quite iconic for US alternate modes of transport. So, for my return NY to DC, I had booked Amtrak for the same reason even though it was three times more expensive than bus. I could never figure out why such a big difference. I did not faced any problems using both of them but for me personally speaking Amtrak was a big turn off. Maybe, I was expecting more from them specially after using the ICE trains in Germany. I think there is absolutely no comparison between both of them. ICE is like Porche and Amtrak like Fiat Padmini of trains.

Anyways, this post is not about DC or NY but the time spent with my friends. I am sure most of you know more about those places more than me. So these two pics would be more than enough.

The Capitol in the background:

The Statue of Liberty in the background:

So, finally the meetup ....

Friend 1: I think this trip was sprinkled with coincidences. In the first week while attending the conference, I went online on gtalk during one of the breaks and found my friend I was planning to meet at the weekend online. Just casually, he asked where was my conference hotel and to our surprise, my friend's office was just on the street behind the hotel. We laughed and decided to meet for lunch the same day. I was meeting this guy after about 8 years but talking to him did not felt like we were meeting after such a long time. It was just like starting from where we left. We were in the same batch at our engineering college. He was also my floor mate in the hostel. Unfortunately, he had to go to Chicago for work the next day but I had planned to spend a day with him after he returned. On his return, he took me to meet some of his friends which ended up in a great party in the end. I think we hardly slept that night.

Friend 2: This one was special and again a big coincidence. After the conference I moved to another hotel for work the next week. After talking to this friend on phone, we found out that his house was at 5 minute walking distance from my hotel. We met the same evening and he took me out for dinner with his wife. I was meeting this friend after 20 years !! I know how crazy it sounds but its really true. We studied together till Class 4 and then his father moved to another country. We kept in touch with each other through postal letters. Yes, those were not the days of emails or facebooks. He then moved to another country and we lost touch. We again got in touch with each other when he came back to India. And then he moved to US and since then it was only through chat and emails. I dont know or why but we somehow always kept in touch. It was a great moment catching up with him again. Again, never did we felt any awkwardness or we were out of topics to talk about. Even his wife was surprised how we kept in touch for so long and she also never felt out of place participating in our conversations. They, then took me to their house after dinner and we all had tea. Being a tea lover, it was like charging my batteries after a long break from desi tea in US. We talked and talked and finally he dropped me at my hotel at around 2 am. Next day in the evening, again he was at my hotel to pick me up for dinner and they insisted that till the time I was there, I must have dinner with them. I was really taken aback at all the warmth. It was an awesome feeling.

Friend 3: After 2 weeks in DC, I went for the last weekend to NY to meet my friend there. I was meeting him after 12 years. We did our schooling together and then went on to do engineering from different colleges. I had been in touch with him also via emails and chat. Although from the same town, we did not met so often since we never had vacations on common time. Anyways, he met me in the evening and took me to his place in NJ. The next two days he tried to give me a NY tour but we ended up talking more than seeing the places. It is usually the case with me that I tend to see less at a place where I know people than where I am a total stranger. But no complaints, I still managed to see a major part of NY in those 2 days. Fortunately or unfortunately his wife was also on vacation in India, so he also had a lot of free time to spend with me. Again, it was a great meetup and I was totally overwhelmed at his hospitality. The last night in NY, we went to dinner at a posh looking place and here is the view from near the hotel, the NY skyline.

The next day, I took the Amtrak to Washington to take my flight back to Germany. On the way, I kept thinking why did my friends met me with such joy and warmth ? After all these years gone, they could have simply ignored me or said they were busy with their stuff. And then I asked myself, what if they would have come to Germany to visit me, would "I" have ignored them .... and then I got my answer !! :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Guilt Trip

The Walmart of the World. This is what I call Ambreeka. In particular, for people living in Europe, it is a heaven for shopping. Each of my US trips always ends up with a shopping weekend. Normally, I am not a big fan of shopping and buy stuff as and when needed. But looking at the prices in US, I feel like it is a crime if I don’t buy stuff at the offered prices because how low can you go. Anything below this level would be like asking the products for free. I have even seen advertisements on some Travel agents’ shop in Germany offering cheap tickets for US just for shopping.

So last weekend, I was all high on shopping. At one point of time, I had to really stop myself to pause and take a deep breath to actually realize what was going on. All this is good but after the shopping spree, I always end up with a hangover. A hangover of guilt. I am never able to convince myself that I really needed all that stuff. I mean my life was also going fine without buying all those things. I hope I get over such feelings.

I always wonder on my US trips, how tough would it be for people living in the US to maintain good health after the watching their eating habits and their retail stores. One must definitely take extraordinary steps to stay healthy with the number of fast food joints that are available. It always surprises me how the stores in US sell juices, drinks, eateries etc all in jumbo packs. I always have a tough time finding a single can of cola or juice to buy at stores.

On this trip, I also made it a point to meet as many friends as possible living on the east coast. I was completely overwhelmed after meeting a friend of mine after about 20 years. It amazes me how we kept in touch over all these years without even meeting. And the way my friend me just blew me away. He and his wife met me with such warmth that I cannot describe. Never did it felt that we were meeting after so long. It was definitely a memorable meetup.

I also plan to meet some more friends this weekend before returning back and I am over exciting thinking about it. I hope I have more to write about it next week :)