Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Home Sweet Home

I would admit that I am not well traveled in India. I have never been to the east or the west of India. To list the names of states I have traveled wont be a daunting task for me. Starting from the top, I have been to J&K, HP, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP, AP and Karnataka. Once, I have been to Jaipur and once to Chennai. I think that summarizes my travels in India. Sometimes when I think about it, I feel that I have seen more cities outside India than in India. I feel ashamed sometimes when foreign people ask me questions about places in India which I am not able to answer. Foreigners seemed to have traveled more than me :)

Being born and brought up in Dilli, the north part of India was mostly covered to meet friends and family or as respite from the summer heat in vacations. Since I did my undergraduate studies from a university in Karnataka and used to actively participate in the inter-college basketball competitions for my university, therefore I got to see many cities there. AP comes in the list above because my mother's family lives there and therefore most of my summer vacations during school days were spent there.

I had always thought that if I ever plan to settle anywhere in India, it would be either one of the two cities, Chandigarh/Mohali or Hyderabad (Shimoga in Karnataka also comes close). One can say, I am biased because I have families in both cities or  that I have hardly seen India but whatever the experience I had, I would go with these two places. Of course, I will point out my reasons as well.  

Let me take Shimoga first. I had been there only once but it was like love at first sight. I have seen very few places which are so close to their tradition. Or at least the parts of Shimoga I saw were drenched in tradition. Most of the people I saw on roads were wearing traditional dresses. Men in while shirts and the golden bordered lungis. Women in white and off white sarees neatly plated. The houses I saw there attracted me the most. The thatched roof houses with big courtyards, the broad wooden door frames which makes you hop in or out, palm trees all around, the weather. All these features had a kind of magnet effect on me. But since its a totally different culture than mine, I feel I might not be the best fit for that place.

There is no doubt in the fact that Chandigarh is one of the most well planned city. Wide and clean roads, easily navigable, good traffic sense and strict rules. I think this is one of the few places where I have seen police giving tickets to people irrespective of their backgrounds. Politician or millionaire, if you break the rules, you pay, simple. I don't think, I have ever seen a traffic jam inside the city. The city of Rose Garden, Rock Garden, PEC and the famous Sector 17 Market. I personally feel that this place does not matter much if you are from middle class or a millionaire. Everyone seems to gel in well since the majority seems educated. It reflects a lot from the place. A happy and lively city, I would say. 

Then comes Hyderabad. The city of Charminar and Software, offering quite an unusual blend. I have seen that city growing over the last 20 years and I can say it is totally different now to the one which serves my memory. The city is like a true Metropolitan where a person can decide where to live according to his taste. There is the old city which has a charm of itself. Narrow, congested alleys, vibrant markets, the accent of Hindi and the Charminar standing right in the middle of all this. On the other side there is the upscale, high end Banjara Hills for the rich near the Hi-Tech City. Posh colonies, expensive schools, beautiful houses. Ideal place for politicians, film industry people and industrialists. Then, they also have a huge cantonment area at the other end of the city where my mom's family lived. Vast areas of open land, awesome roads, fresh air and completely secure. If you are an early riser, then you can see army men jogging on the roads in their discipline. But, the most striking thing I feel about the place is the simplicity and the down to earth nature of its people. There is no pomp and show, no extravagances in life. People wearing simple clothes and women sporting a nice bunch of fresh Jasmine flowers in their hair. I have seen above middle aged people speaking English, intellectually discussing everything from Cricket to Politics while sitting on the train station floor. I might be generalizing and oversimplifying things here but this is how I like to remember that city.

Incidentally, both the places I mentioned above are twin cities: Hyderabad/Secunderabad & Chandigarh/Mohali.

P.S: I am talking about these places as they were 10 years back. Definitely things have changed over the years and its a completely different ball game now.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Movie Confessions contd....

It had been quite long since I last wrote a movie review. So, after watching an Italian movie lately, I thought of writing a review for it. Some of my previous reviews are here, here and here.

Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte - Italy)

Don't be content to merely survive.
You must demand ....
.... to live in a better world
.... not just dream about it.

Wise words coming from a wise man! A dialogue from almost the end of the movie. I think it was kind of a punchline for me of the entire movie. I don't really know how to explain my feelings for this movie but I can give an example. Sometimes, when somebody offers you a new kind of sweet to taste, you are not completely able to guess its ingredients. While that sweet melts in your mouth, you feel that you have almost guessed it correctly before actually loosing it again and then it comes back and go again. You are so lost in enjoying the sweet, that the moment you actually try to concentrate on the ingredients you start loosing the taste. So, you come back to the taste and go back again. This movie was such kind of a sweet for me and left me with a similar feeling.

The movie is about a couple (Giovanna, Fillipo) married for nine years with two kids and are living a monotonous life. Giovanna is not happy with her life, where she is making compromises like working as an accountant in a chicken factory to make ends meet. Fillipo works in night shifts at a gas station. Giovanna fantasizes about this guy, Lorenzo, who is a banker living across the street and she occasionally peeps into his apartment through her kitchen window which faces his window. Emine is Giovanna's neighbor and colleague at work who always has pretty amusing comments. One fine day, Giovanna and Fillipo encounter a strange old man on the streets who addresses himself as Simone and seems to have forgotten his memory. They have pity on him and take him home to later hand him over to the police. But the man has a history of his own. He turns out to be a holocaust survivor and has his own love story to tell. While trying to find Simone his home, Giovanna is helped by Lorenzo. Over time, Giovanna develops a strong bonding with Simone and apparently, Simone has some life changing effects on Giovanna. What becomes of Giovanna and Lorenzo? What effect does Simone have on Giovanna? I won't give out much so that this review doesn't becomes a spoiler. But the chemistry between all the characters of the movie is pretty amazing. The background score in the movie was outstanding! I simply loved it :)

The story is simple and straight forward but has its twists and turns which keeps the audience fixed. The human instincts of voyeurism, the goodness in one's self, and taking decisions to make life good for one's self are portrayed quite well in the movie.   

I find the lead actress of the movie, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, really really pretty. I had seen her before in the movie, Love in the time of Cholera. Her closeups are pretty well done in this movie. She looks beautiful with her smile but not so good when she laughs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


There are two kinds of lunatics, insane and crazy people existing in this world. People, whose thought processes drops down below the common understanding of normal, regular people are one such kind. Another kind are those whose thought processes far exceeds the logic and morality of common people. Since in both the cases, an average person with an average intellect cease to understand both the kinds, he easily labels them as lunatics. Somewhere around 900 AD, lived a man called Mansoor Al-Hallaj who was a Mystic and a Sufi poet/writer from a region of Persia which is now modern day Iraq. He belonged to the latter category of the two kinds who was sentenced to death by the then existing king for blasphemy.

He had a better and higher understanding of the almighty but his ways of expressing himself were not in line with the understanding of common people of his time including his king. His thoughts were above the standards existing then. He was a devout Muslim and knew the Quran by heart. His simple life and words of virtues influenced many people, thus creating many followers for him. In moments of ecstasy, trance and meditation he used to chant, Anal Haq meaning 'I am the truth'. He started making enemies among people who translated this as him saying, 'I am God'. He used to say there is no difference between me and God. We are one and the same thing. For this he was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death. What no one understood was that by saying 'I am God' he actually was too humble to acknowledge his own existence in front of God. By saying that 'I am a follower and servant of God' creates two existence, 'I' and 'God' but he was so humble that he completely denied his own existence, that he is nothing, null, zero for 'Him'. What exists is only God and nothing else. Decades later, Rumi presented a beautiful understanding of this concept in one of his works.

I dont know if I was clear above but let me explain taking an example. Most of us know the famous Pythagoras Theorem, i.e. In a right angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. If a,b,c are sides of a triangle and c is the hypotenuse, then
a2 + b2 = c2

Now, if Mr. Pythagoras would have simply given the above equation without actually deriving it or proving it, everyone would have called him a lunatic. Therefore, for the understanding and realization of common man, he had to give a derivation proving the left side of the equation is equal to the right side of equation. Mansoor's case was similar but the problem was that he directly gave the end result to the people in a state of trance without actually proving it. He did not considered important to explain his experience with each and everyone.

There exist many different versions of his ending. Some say he was hanged, some say he was cut into pieces and some say he was stoned to death. It is not important what happened but there was an interesting incident that happened then which I once read about.

He had a good friend named Shivli (not sure about the name). They were good friends and Shivli understood him completely, about what he meant through his experiences and was very close to him. They shared a common understanding on spiritual matters which was a base of their friendship. Now the king ordered the punishment of stoning to death for Mansoor. The day was decided and everyone gathered with stones in their hands to throw at Mansoor. Now, Shivli was in a huge dilemma. If he did not threw a stone at him, he would be considered his accomplice in crime and might have to face the same punishment. On the other hand, if he threw a stone at him it would be against the ethics of friendship and denying what he meant was correct. Finally, the stoning started and to everyone's surprise Mansoor started laughing with each stone he received. Even with blood spurting out of his body he kept laughing and was happy in his trance that the people are making it easier for him to meet his God. Now Shivli, in this moment of half denial, took a rose flower half heartdley and threw at Mansoor just in order to fit in the crowd. But with the soft hit of the flower, Mansoor screamed with excruciating pain. Shivli was flabbergasted seeing his reaction. He politely asked Mansoor that why did you screamed when I hit you with a soft, delicate flower ? You were laughing with joy when stones were hurled at you by others. Why such a different attitude towards me ? Mansoor, in throes of utter pain replied to Shivli that I considered 'you' a friend. I thought that at least 'you' would understand me. At least 'you' were also of the same school of thought like me. At least 'you' understood the meaning of God and his existence. I was laughing at people hurling stones at me because I considered them ignorant. But you betrayed me by throwing that flower. That flower has caused thousand times more pain to me than those stones.

Last weekend, a friend of mine left me with a similar pain. When the trust you have build up in someone is betrayed you feel that pain. 


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lisbon - Day 4

I woke up with a heavy heart that day since it was my last day in Lisbon. I had my flight back to Germany in the evening. I woke up early to see the sunrise at the port. Then, came back to my hotel for my breakfast. I had planned to visit another corner of Lisbon that day called Parque das Nacoes. I took the Metro for the Oriente Station to reach there. I was quite impressed with the quality and frequency of the Metro. This was the first time that I was using it.

As you step out of the Metro to reach the upper levels at the Oriente Station, you are greeted with this graffiti like painted tiles on one of the walls of the Metro station as in the picture below. From here on, this part of Lisbon seems like totally dedicated to Vasco Da Gama. His name keeps flashing each and everywhere starting from this graffiti.

Now, this is another interesting part of Lisbon which presents a stark contrast to its old architecture seen in the main city. This is the place of modernization. One can almost not recognize being even close to the classical Lisbon. Everything is newly built with top notch sophistication. Huge and tall buildings, malls of several stories, open display of modern art and sculpture. It resembled like the Canary Wharf of London or like the Frankfurt of Germany if you want to catch the drift.

I started from one end of that place which was this tall tower in the shape of a sail. Near that tower was the Vasco da Gama Bridge. It is one of the longest bridges I have seen with my own eyes. It looked like, after starting it ends up into oblivion at the other end. 

As soon as you get out of the huge train station, you can't help but notice two tall building made in the shape of a ship sail. These unique buildings are also dedicated to Vasco. Both of them are named after the two ships of Vasco, Sao Gabriel and Sao Rafael.

Below you can see another piece of modern architecture with Vasco da Gama labeled on top of it.

The place also has Europe's biggest aquarium called Oceanario de Lisboa on display for visitors as one of its attractions. Some can even argue that it is one of the biggest in the world. So, I had to check it out. On that day there was a special exhibition on Tortoises and Turtles. One can see that they have kept the azulejos alive today but with a modern touch in the picture below. The wall in the background with fishes painted on their traditional glazed tiles.

I was quite taken aback after entering the place. It was out of this world. Seeing those water creatures at such small distances was a completely a new experience for me.

At the end of the real life tortoises section, there was a small exhibition on the same detailing their anatomy, their life etc. At one corner of that exhibition were some unique things based on tortoises on display. One of them is on the picture above. A rat sitting on top of the tortoise shell rowing it like a boat.

After that I went on to the main part of the aquarium which just blew me off. It was two floors high with display glasses all around. What surprised me the most was that there were even sharks swimming along with other fishes and none of them were bothered by each other. 

There was another small section of water animals and birds in another part of the building. I will let the pics do the talking now :)

Now this is called life ! See the picture above :) Just before I was about to leave, I saw one of the aquarium keepers on the inside cleaning the glass for the visitors. It was quite amusing to see him swimming with all those fishes and waving to the kids :)

From there I rushed back to my hotel to pick up my stuff and head to the airport for my flight back home. Sitting on the bus to the airport, checking out the pictures on my camera, recollecting the awesome experiences I had in the last days, I was happy and satisfied that traveling alone was actually not even a bad idea. I had already started to miss the place and already started looking forward to visit it again :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lisbon - Day 3

So, on the third day of the visit, I had a choice to make. There are three famous places to visit around Lisbon for a day trip. Since I was leaving back on the fourth day, I only had time for one such day trip. The choice was between Cascais - famous for its beaches, Sintra - famous for its history, Fatima - famous for its Marian shrine. I was in no mood for relaxation on this trip and wanted to explore Lisbon and places around it. Why to relax and not explore the city of explorers ? So I ditched Cascais, even though going there would have allowed me to see the westernmost point of mainland Europe. I thought of keeping that for the next trip since I will be coming back to this place again, for sure. Now the tough choice was between Sintra and Fatima. I am always pulled by sacred places of pilgrims and like to visit them. I believe that such places still have good vibrations in the air which can influence you and motivate you to be a better person. I tried to check with local people at the restaurant where I used to have my dinner if it is possible to do both Sintra and Fatima on the same day. The guy said that it is possible but did not recommended it. It was a good advice which I realized later. He asked me to visit Sintra. Taking the man's advice, I finally decided to visit Sintra for its nature and history. I asked for forgiveness in my heart for not making up to Fatima this time but promised myself of visiting it next time whenever I get a chance to be in Portugal.

Unfortunately, the day started a little late for me and I missed the train which I was supposed to take from Rossio train station to Sintra. I had to wait for about 40 minutes to catch the next one. So, by the time I reached Sintra, it was already quite late in the morning. I took a map from a Tourist center near the station and started walking to the first destination of the day, the Sintra National Palace. It is situated in the heart of the city and can be seen from quite a distance because of its two famous and gigantic conical chimneys. Here is a peep-in to the palace :)

The Palace is actually transformed into a Museum these days. A lot of things inside the Palace have been kept the way they were in the olden times. I decided to see the museum to have a glimpse of the royal life of Portuguese kings. While buying tickets for the Museum, I saw these souvenirs being sold there which caught my attention. They were the replicas of traditional glazed tiles called azulejos typical for Lisbon. I got a box for myself with one of them as its cover.  

Inside the Palace, many of the things used by the kings were on display and I particularly liked this one. How about this study table for my study room. Those hand crafted ivory boxes with a wooden frame on the front panel were making me feel jealous of the kings :)

The Palace has several amazing rooms and halls. One of the most decorated on is in the picture below. It is called Sala de Brasoes or Coat-of-Arms. This room has a dome like ceiling with pictures of Stags all around. The walls of the room are decorated with hand painted traditional glazed tiles or azulejos in blue. Each side of the wall has a story to tell through its beautiful tiles.

In addition to the above, there were several other rooms. One such room was called the Magpie Room because the ceiling of the room was painted with birds of the same name (Magpie). There was a story behind it that the king of that time was caught kissing a woman of the court by the queen. The king then ordered to put up a Magpie for every woman of the court to hush up the gossip.

The picture below is of the Chapel made by the king later in the Palace after taking it over from the Moors. On the ceiling one can make out their typical architecture and style. I liked such a spacious praying place for yourself to have that moment of solitude.

After the Palace tour and the big casserole of Lasagne at the local restaurant, I was ready for the second part of Sintra. I went to the local tourist information center to ask for local places to visit. The people there told me that there is a castle and a palace on the hills of Sintra. There were two ways of reaching there. One was with the local bus and the other was on foot through the woods on the hills.

Now, I am a person who is not a big fan of these buses when on trips specially those hop-in and hop-off ones. So, the nature person that I am decided to trek up the hill to see the places. Unfortunately, I underestimated the power of sun and the heat that day. It was quite hot still I decided to take the walk. Still, I think it was a good decision although it took some extra time. I was not disappointed since I had a great time walking.

After starting up the trail, I noticed there were not many nature lovers like me. I was almost the only guy going through those woods. I didn't mind it and continued on my way. After a few minutes on the trail, I saw a couple doing some hanky-panky stuff from a distance. I tried to alarm them by making some extra sounds with my feet. They noticed me coming so got back to normal. The woman was wearing heels which amused me a lot. I said to myself, that could be the best trekking gear, ever !! Incidentally, I kept bumping into them even later at many other places during the day. Most of the time we shared that awkward smile and used to go on our ways. But it was only the last time we saw each other, that we broke the ice and started talking. The guy was an American and the girl was his girlfriend. They were quite nice people I found talking to them.

The view below is of the National Palace from the middle of the trek on the way up to the Castle of the Moors. Actually, the Moors were the black North Africans and Arabs who conquered and ruled the Iberian peninsula (historically, majority of Portugal + Spain). They were later defeated and driven off by the Christian rulers. 

Finally, I made it to the top. The photo below is from one end of the Castle wall. It looked like a dragon tail to me. The wall had some post towers in between. At the end, I decided to climb up the top post of the castle. 

While climbing up the stairs to the top of the castle one can spot the famous Pena National Palace on top of a neighboring hill in the background as seen in the picture below. It was definitely not a short way to the top :)

The view below is of Lisbon from the top of the castle. The view as you can see was breathtaking and made up for all the efforts in reaching there. I met a lovely Dutch couple there who somehow recognized that I live in Europe and got curious to know about me. I had a good chat with them while resting after climbing all the way up.

From there, the next stop was the Pena National Palace. Regarded as one of the seven wonders of Portugal and one of the most visited places in Lisbon, this one was a shocker for me. I have seen and can identify many different architectures and styles in Europe but this Palace left me confused. It looked strange, something like I had never seen before. The reason was that it was not based on a single style of architecture. It was a mix of many different ones. It had shades of Manueline, Gothic, Renaissance and even Islamic styles. It was made this way on the orders of the king of that time by a German architect. Below is the entrance to the Palace.

The Palace is now transformed as a Museum for visitors so as usual I decided to check it out. As soon as one enters the big main gates of the Palace, one cannot help but notice this huge statue on top of one of the arched doors. It looked quite repulsive on the first glance.

On the back side, there was this beautifully decorated wall with the glazed tiles. The place around the window was also pretty impressive and what I particularly liked was the skylit ventilator below the window. I particularly liked its design.

After checking out the Palace, it was time to head back. It was time that I start my descent. Then, I got to know that the green area around it was actually the Queen's garden and she used to go there quite often. I decided to check it out on my way back. Here are some of the pictures through the garden. I took some shortcuts like in the picture below on the way.

At different levels of the hill, there were many flat areas which were specifically decorated with special plants, trees and small ponds like the one below. I was confused at first to see some distinct varieties of plants which for me did not seemed to belong to this place, like ferns and palms. Later did I learned that the king had ordered plants from around the world to be put up in this garden. Some were from as far as New Zealand !! If Shah Jahan could make Taj Mahal for his queen, at least the king here could get some fancy plants for his queen's garden. Anything for love :)

While passing through those lavish gardens, I spotted a resting area with a water fountain inside. I was quite surprised to see the structure. It was typical to the Islamic architecture. A dome at the top with something written on it in Arabic. Then the metal grill doors with the half moon on each of its spikes. I did not knew the history of the Moors before so was quite surprised to see such a structure in remote part of Lisbon. Maybe the king of that time was quite tolerant and kept this thing as it is which exists even now. I was pretty impressed.

Finally, after another long walk, I made it back to the base. Just at the end of the descent, I found a refreshing fountain of fresh and cool water. Many local people were coming in cars with plastic bottles to collect water for their homes from there. I decided to rest for a while and removed my shoes and socks. I had some water, splashed some on myself. It was really refreshing after the day's trek. Mind you, the temperature that day was around 30 degrees :) After collecting back my energy, I walked back to the train station for Lisbon through the small local market. Suddenly, I saw a granny giving me a motherly invitation for supper. And I couldn't say no to her :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lisbon - Day 2

The second day started by exploring another parts of Lisbon called Baixa and Chiado. I quite liked the names. The first stop was to see the ruins of Carmo Convent. Just behind the train station Rossio, one can go up the alley to reach there. On the way, I spotted a lovely building which was actually a Cafe´. I found it quite charming !!

The ruins of Carmo Convent and its Gothic styled church gives a heart touching feeling of the earthquake of 1755. The tall columns and arcs were what was left of it. After checking out the ruins of Carmo Convent, I decided to see the famous elevator nearby to capture a top view of central Lisbon. This was the Santa Justa Lift. There was a cafe´ at the top and a guy working there called me up. He was a Punjabi from India. He casually offered me free coffee and was quite eager to have a chitchat with me. We talked about Europe, the current political and economical situation in Portugal etc.

From there I went to the two churches I could see nearby. One of them was Igreja Paroquial de São Nicolau or the Church of Saint Nicholas. It had a beautifully painted ceiling. Even though my sister comes from arts background and has explained me many times how people used to paint such pieces of art with such perfection in old times, I am still always left with a feeling of disbelief as how can they be so perfect. The ceiling below is from the same place.

The one below is from the Basílica de Nossa Senhora dos Mártires or the Basilica of Our Lady of Martyrs. The interiors of this church were pretty lavish with marbles and all.


After checking these out, I got to know that there is a special underground archeological museum open for public once a day [Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros]. It is below a bank and the bank runs just one tour everyday. I was quite interested in checking it out since I had never seen a museum underground. The day before, I had booked a place for the tour from a phone booth near the castle in the evening. After the tour, I must say that it was worth every minute of it. A very friendly lady gave us the tour and was quite excited to see an Indian amongst the visitors. She pretty much knew everything about Goa and the Portuguese in India.

The museum was not actually an exhibition of specimens from the past but actually like a walk in the past. There were different layers to it dating back to the Romans, the Moors etc. How they lived, where they cooked, their well, their graveyard, everything was well preserved. They even had a skeleton in one of the graves. The most unique part of this museum was that the moisture was meticulously controlled at a particular level. The reason was one of the most astonishing facts of Lisbon which I learned. The whole town was built not on concrete or stone as its foundation but on wooden logs. The underground moisture and water from the Tagus river keeps the logs wet thus preventing them from cracking. You could even see it with your own eyes. It was quite amazing and a recommended visit from my side.

In one section of the entry level of the museum were some artifacts from the past of Lisbon on display. One of them which caught my special attention was the one below in the photo. After checking out from the tour lady I got know a rather amusing fact about it. In olden days, women used to pray to the statue of a saint to ask for a good husband. Those who used to not get a good one usually chopped the head off the statue as a ritual. A weird one but an interesting one.

At the top floor of the museum (which was at the street level), was another unique exhibition. In June, there was this Festas de Lesboa, a local festival celebrated in Lisbon every year. One of the event during this festival is to make innovative designs based on Sardines. There were hundreds of entries by many contestants and the organizers had taken enough pain to sort and arrange the best of them for this exhibition. They had photographed them and put on vertical displays as below.  

There were some original ones also kept there. It was hard for me to pick the best one. But this is one of the displays which I liked.

It was already noon by then so I decided to have lunch first. The food and all was pretty cheap there as compared to other major towns of central Europe.

The next stop was Igreja de Sao Roque or the Church of Saint Roch. Now this came as quite a surprise to me. The church had a pretty modest exterior. But once you enter it, you realize the grandeur of the place. It was glittering all around with golden colors. Another unique thing about this church was that there were several chapels in the main church. One of the most interesting which I found can be seen below, was the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety.

I was so impressed with this one that I even took some closeups on some parts of this chapel. One of which is below. This is the closeup of the left side of the photo above. The intricate details of the sculptures just blew me off.

An interesting incident happened while visiting this Church. The Church had a small museum also next to it. I went there and found out that there was a fee to see it. I was having some doubts whether to see it or not since I am not very familiar with Catholic history and all their saints. While I was standing there making up my mind, a guy working there came to me and asked, "Are you from India ?" I said yes. He was quite excited to see an Indian guy and asked me if I wanted to see the museum. I said yes but I also told him I was not sure if I should spend money on visiting it. He said, "No problem, just go and see it". What ?????? I asked him if he was sure. He said, "Yes. The Portuguese have a special connection with India. And if you have come so far to see Lisbon, then you must also see this museum". It was a moment of pride. Being recognized as an Indian and getting appreciated is not what I commonly experience in central Europe. So, I thanked him and checked out the museum, for free :) Like I said before, Lisbonites are very very generous people.

Now, Lisbon has two very not-so-unique places to visit. It is a copy of the San Fransisco Golden Gate Bridge and the statue of Christ like in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil here called Christo Rei. To see them one has to cross the mainland commonly using a ferry over the Tagus river to reach another region of Lisbon called Almada

After reaching Almada, I did something terribly wrong. I had this misconception that Chrito Rei was at a walkable distance from the ferry port. So, I decided to walk along the river on a narrow trail. I saw a restaurant with a table at one of the most romantic places possible. Just next to the river overlooking central Lisbon. I am sure it would have be breathtaking from there in the evening. A photo below from there. 

After walking quite a while, I found a big lift which took me above the hill. The photo below is from the lift. I thought that, this is it !! Christo Rei would be pretty close by. 

I was wrong and I made a big blunder there by deciding to walk all the way up to the statue. I wanted to see the local residential area as well but did not actually correctly calculated the distance. So I walked quite a lot to reach the top where the Statue of Christ was located. I almost lost my way since I did not even had a map of this side of Lisbon.The streets were completely empty since it was afternoon and pretty hot. Luckily, I found a middle aged woman carrying huge bags of groceries in both her hands. Just like I underestimated the distance, I think she underestimated the weight and was struggling. I went to her to ask the way. Very calmly and patiently, she explained me the way. I asked her if I could help her with the bags. She thought for a while and handed both of them to me saying, yes they are pretty heavy for me. I walked along with her to her house and thanked her for guiding me through the route. Finally, I made it to Chriso Rei, which was pretty huge. The cool breeze and the view from the top of the hill overlooking Lisbon made up for all the efforts to reach this place.

I took the wise man's way back to reach the port for the ferry by taking a bus. I was already getting too late so I decided to check out the place called Belem. It is the famous place from where Vasco da Gama made his voyages, particularly the one to India. Since I was quite tired so I took the tram from the ferry station to Belem. There was a very famous and old pastry shop / cafe´ in this area and I decided to check it out. The recipe of the pastries sold here is still a well kept secret till today and dates back to 1837. They serve a special kind of pastry with a crunchy outer cup like thing filled with something which tasted like soft pudding. Cinnamon is sprinkled on the top and the taste is simply heavenly. It had just the right kind sweetness for my taste buds. The interiors of the shop wee also pretty vintage. 

Very close to the pastry shop was this huge structure of one of the biggest highlight of Lisbon, the Manueline styled Jerominos Monastery. The place where lies the tomb of Vasco da Gama. The church became the place of worship for sailors coming and going from Lisbon. Even Vasco da Gama prayed here before stating his first voyage to India and finally rests here after his death. Below is the main entrance to the Church. A highly sculpted entrance, and specially the top of the door shows the sailors with a ship. The inside was huge. At the time I was there, there were some prayers going on so did not got the chance to get to the front. But definitely checked out the tomb of Vasco

Below is the view from a distance of the Monastery in the background with a huge fountain in the foreground. The place was quite big with gardens on the sides and gave you a very relaxing feel.

Taking the underway from near the fountain, I reached the other side of the road where stood the Discoveries Monument. Just at the foot of the huge structure was this map of the world where the Portuguese voyagers went. I got to know later that this was gifted by South Africa to Lisbon. Like a regular desi, I got a picture clicked with me pointing to India.

Below is the Discoveries Monument with the bridge in the background connecting the Almada region. This structure was made to commemorate the sailors, voyagers, monks, kings of the region who stand there on the monument. 

From there I walked towards the Belem Tower, which was my final destination of the day. This was a fortified tower built in the 16th century on the banks of Tagus river. It was made primarily as a defense system at the mouth of Tagus for the port and entry to the region. It still stands there today and serves as an icon of Lisbon.

The day ended for me with that. I was pretty exhausted by this time so decided to head back to the hotel.

A nice snapshot taken while on my way back from Belem in the tram. Another exciting day came to an end with it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lisbon - Day 1

It was a bright and sunny day to start with. After having a good night's sleep, I was refreshed and high on energy to see Lisbon. My hotel was bang, right in the city center so I planned to take a walk from my hotel and go straight till the port crossing the main part of the city till the place where Tagus river opens up to the Ocean. 

I don't know how many people know this fact but it was definitely new for me to know that this city of Lisbon had been a victim to an earthquake followed by a tsunami in 1755. The whole city was almost completely destroyed and then later rebuilt. I had read somewhere that that earthquake was of magnitude 9 on the Ritcher scale. I felt quite a pinch knowing all that.

So, while through the city center, first place which caught my attention was the Igreja de Sao Domingos or otherwise called St. Dominic's church (Baroque architecture). It was first built in the 13th Century, destroyed by earthquake in the18th Century and then by fire in the 20th Century. Even after all these calamities, it still stands tall welcoming everyone.There must be something special about this place of worship that it is still standing.

I quite liked how the sun played its trick on the photo above. That was the main entry to the church. Once you go inside, the building tells you its story by itself. You can make out the new ceiling on the top. The pillars on the sides below in the photo can be seen still bearing the burnt of the fire which once engulfed it. It was pretty well preserved though.

So, after starting the antakshri of sightseeing with leke prabhu ka naam, I moved ahead. Next up was this massive building (Manueline architecture) with a clock at its top and the entry was through two huge horse shoe gates. Nobody could guess looking at it from the outside that it was not a palace or church but a train station. Yes, its called Rossio and it is the main train station of Lisbon. I have seen many train stations but the grandeur of Rossio was incomparable to any I have seen so far. I went in to check out the train timings for Sintra and Fatima which I was planning to visit in the coming days.

On the way, after crossing two main squares of the city center, I accidentally saw the famous Tram 28.  I don't think there is any travel book on Lisbon which misses to mention this tram. The special thing about it is that it starts from almost the sea level in the city and travel through the main streets of Lisbon and ends up at the top of a small hill. Lisbon still proudly operates its vintage trams throughout the city. Tram 28, an excellent place to get pick-pocketed since almost every tourist travel on it once on their Lisbon visit.

After crossing the tracks of the trams, I landed at one end of a huge square facing the open waters. This was the Praca do Comercio or Commerce Square or otherwise called the Palace Square. The photo below speaks for itself. On the other side of the arc was the main city and towards my back was the Tagus river.

The main city center of Lisbon was not too big. So, I saw the main streets quite early. So, I decided to check out the area called Alfama. It seemed like the old part of town which for me is always the true city. I started by climbing to the most famous top most view point of Lisbon called the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. The view from there was breathtaking as in the photo below. One could see almost the complete part of main city. The castle on the left side, the big city square in the middle where my hotel was, and the ocean like Tagus river in the background.

After catching my breath and resting on a bench and absorbing and memorizing the complete view from here, I headed towards the Graca area to finally reach the Church and Monastery of Sao Vincente da Fora. The photo below is from a garden next to the church. It was a peaceful place to take some rest and have some water.

An important part of Portuguese culture is the use of glazed tiles on their buildings called Azulejo. You will find it everywhere in Lisbon. On bank buildings, on shops, on poor man's house, on rich man's house. You can't help but notice it everywhere. One such example of a more beautiful version I saw when leaving the church was this below in the photo on a residential building.

While reading about Lisbon, I learned about a new genre of music called Fado. It is the local music of Portugal which usually portrays sad, mournful stories. But it can also be about other subjects. In olden days, Lisbon being a port city, the sailors and fishermen used to sing their stories using this genre of music. This form of music was made famous by Amalia Rodrigues in the past and in recent times by Cristina Branco. While checking out a museum dedicated to Fado, I got this t-shirt for myself as a souvenir.

From the Fado Museum, I almost lost myself in the zig zag lanes of Alfama. I don't think there is any way to actually make a map of this area. It is like a labyrinth of cobbled lanes which go up and down through narrow passages and suddenly open up in a small square with kiosks. One such experience I tried to capture in the photo below.

Finally, I reached the most talked about viewpoint of Lisbon overlooking the Tagus river covering Alfama called Largo das Portas do Sol (Gateway to the sun). The view from there was spectacular. There was a cafeteria at this place with sofas and chairs where I grabbed a bite and got some drinks.

Just next to Portas do Sol was another famous viewpoint called  Miradouro de Santa Luzia. It was a small garden with bougainvilleas all around offering another refreshing view to the tired tourists.

Next stop for me was the neo-gothic styled Se Cathedral. It is one of the main cathedrals of Lisbon and a visit to Lisbon is incomplete without it. It has quite a violent history since it belongs to the time of the crusades. It was actually more like a fort primarily and later a place of worship. It is actually made on top of a mosque and one can visit it through its back gates. The Tram 28 runs right in front of it.

Finally, after checking out the Se Cathedral, I headed to my last sight of the day i.e. St George's Castle which was mere ruins of the fort to me with a fancy hotel in the center. But once again the view from the walls of the Castle was breathtaking. I had an interesting experience here. Maybe I will tell about it in a later post. After the castle I headed back to the main city.

In the evening after dinner, I went out for a walk and found this balcony pretty amusing. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was not an actual woman. I think the photo is not doing justice to that moment.

Another trademark of Lisbon is its local drink called Ginjinha. A liqueur made from cherries and comes in the form of shots. Somebody told me it is one of the favorite Portuguese drinks. In the evenings you can easily see local people standing outside such shops stopping for a small chit chat and relaxing themselves with Ginjinha shots. I found the name quite funny. Below is a scene of Lisbon version of desi sharaab ka theka.

A drink at a local bar playing live Fado was the perfect way to end the first day for me.

P.S: There was much more that I saw on the first day. These were just the highlights.