My entry for daily post’s theme Glow
I have often heard this saying but never understood it. It says that everything has a place or reason for being in this world, even if we cannot understand it. Don’t know if that is right or wrong. Watching this snail move slowly to wherever it was going, this thought popped in my head as to what is the purpose?
It’s quite probable that these questions of “purpose” and “being”come only in the heads of humans. Is it that the rest of the life forms already know their purpose?
Like these ants building their nest on a plant. How do they know what they have to do?
Or this beautiful butterfly resting briefly on the leaf before fluttering away again?
The amazing thing is that small size doesn’t mean less complex! The programmers of life must be super intelligent beings.
Observing the nature makes me realize how little we know of it. And yet, this ego makes humans feel that they are the only beings that matter. Nature must indeed be laughing at this misconception..
Whenever I am in an airplane, I am fascinated by the scenes that I get to see through the window. I remember that one time I was travelling and I didn’t have a camera at hand (ya, pre-camera-phone era existed – believe it or not) and I saw the most wonderfully shaped hanging clouds – they were like sculptures lit by the orange glow of the sun and appeared to be made of cottony sandstone. I was very disappointed at not being able to capture that. Although the funny thing is that now I keep the camera or at least the smartphone (in flight mode) handy but then I’m asleep during most of the time in the flight :-).
But sometimes, I am awake and the gods of photography reward me for that. Sharing some of the images I captured through the windows on various flights.
For more images of or through the windows, you can this page.
It’s quite a coincidence that the theme of the photo challenge is “Layered” which was the exact feeling I have from my recent trip to Italy. Why, one would be curious..
That’s because the present day Italy has several layers of civilizations underneath it. I am not sure which city of Italy wouldn’t have ruins of as far as the Roman times, if not even older, under it.
But for the photo challenge, I’d like to present these terracota statues – “The Compianto” made by Niccolo dell’Arca in the 15th century, which are today housed in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, in Bologna. The statues are so lifelike that it feels like someone froze a moment in time. Now what is the connection to layers here? The traditional statue making with stone involves chipping off the stone but in terracota, one needs to add one layer over the other to achieve the effect. It was considered by sculptors of the likes of Michelangelo an inferior form to create something by adding (putting layers of clay) than by removing (chipping off marble)! To each his opinion. My opinion is that art forms are means of expression of the same thing inside us human beings that wants to come out – and hence, no form can be inferior or superior. A form can be easier or difficult to work with – but ultimately, it is the end result that is important. Does the work on display evoke any emotion in the observer? If yes, then it’s good work. If not, then it probably could be made better.
For more interpretations of the theme, you can visit here.
And finally the day came when I had to return home. I still had the morning to taken in some more of this beautiful city. There was a small guide in my hotel which suggested some interesting things to do – and that too for free!
Following the guide, I went first to the Public Library where it was allowed to go up to the top and get a view of the city. I had not been to a public library in a long time. Had to wait until it opened (I reached a bit early). When I entered the place, then I was pleasantly surprised at how modern this place looked. I had not seen another public library like this.
After taking a look at the library and the view of the city from the top, I came down and strolled towards the central station and captured some beautiful images of the city.
Hadn’t got a chance before to step into these huge clogs that the shops had placed outside them because there were always so many people taking their pictures. But then as it was still morning time and was relatively empty, I got my chance. They look pretty but are quite uncomfortable I must say. I wonder how the people wore (not the huge ones but ones that was of their foot size, of course) and worked in them everyday.
Walking and taking the tram somewhere, I reached the Bloemenmarkt – the Flower Market at the Singel canal. I had read on the internet that it is a floating market. But I didn’t see anything floating, don’t know if I didn’t look properly or the boats weren’t there. There were rows and rows of flower and souvenir shops. It might be that they were on houseboats moored in the canal – although I didn’t feel any movement when I stepped into them. Whatever the case may be, it was just beautiful.
I found a cheese shop there which allowed for tasting and paired its cheeses with some special chutneys! Quite stimulating for the taste buds, in a good way :-).
Then I checked the time and realized I had just enough to go eat something at my favorite restaurant, which I had been going to for the last two days and then return to the hotel. This time I got a seat beside the window and I could see the cyclists closely who would stop at the traffic light. The cycles in Amsterdam are of a very simple kind – no gears and fancy stuff. But what caught my eye was the variety of people riding the bicycles. I captured this musician on my lens.
Then I returned to my hotel – was even a bit late to checkout but thankfully, the friendly staff was not angry about it. Then to reach the place where I had to board the bus from was slightly tricky but managed to reach in time. The return journey was uneventful and quite alright. Looking forward to going there once again and experience some more of this wonderful city..
At the end of the walking tour from the previous day, our guide gave us some flyers about a comedy evening happening at a restaurant later. Since I didn’t have any plans for the evening, I thought it would be a good idea to go there. I had made acquaintance with a lovely young couple from Germany during the walk and they also expressed interest in going there. So we agreed to meet later, after having a coffee together (not the “Coffee Shop” kind ;)). They needed to buy some things and I wanted to get rid of all the heavy stuff I’d been carrying all day (remember the umbrella, jacket that I was carrying due to rain and cold temperature from the morning?) as it had become quite hot during the day. So I went back to my hotel, dumped the things and then returned to the city. Now it was a difficult task to reach that restaurant but with google’s guidance, I did reach – only to find myself in an Industrial area! I wasn’t sure if that was the right place with hardly anyone around. But upon entering that beach kind of restaurant (sandy and open air), I saw the German couple and heaved a sigh of relief. They told me that they were also unsure when they arrived but upon seeing our walking tour guide there, they were confident that this was the right place.
Then we waited. Nothing happened for a long time and there weren’t too many people either. We ordered some food (which was a disappointment by the way) while waiting. Then someone came on the stage and announced that we would start soon. Then they counted the audience, looked at one another and we understood that there were 5 comedians and 5 people in the audience. It was gonna be good – 1:1 interaction! Anyway, a few more people arrived but yet, the ratio didn’t change drastically – might be 2 audience per comedian. They then started – of course not before wondering about the advertising of the event! The first thing they asked was about the nationalities of all the people present. It was amazing that in total (including the comedians), there were people from at least 7 different ethnicities/nationalities – Indian, German, Canadian, American, British, Iranian and Dutch (I can’t recall the complete set). There were four/five new comedians and the chief guest was the one who became famous with his creation of the “Holland Second” video (starting from 0.38 seconds in the link). It was really funny to hear the comedians share their take on the experiences with the people of the different nationalities present there. There are some things which many of us do and it seems normal to us until someone presents it back to us like showing a mirror :-).
Thus, the evening went quite nicely and we then decided to call it a night. I got a good sleep after all the action of the day.
The next morning, I was wondering about what all places should I go and see. The Anne Frank museum was difficult because it has time slots that you need to book in advance else you stand in a huge queue and there is no guarantee that you would get in. So I went to the Rijks Museum to get inspired by art. Now, that is one huge museum. I hadn’t planned it properly. Spent almost the whole day there and yet, it wasn’t over! It’s fascinating to see the art from the masters of the previous centuries, sculptures, models of boats/ships and also what the Dutch explorers brought back from their expeditions in Asia.
When I wanted to sit down to give my feet some rest and found this room where they provided colors and paper and also some inspiration. I made the postcard and put it up on the wall of that room. So now I also have an exhibit in Rijks Museum ;-).
There were amazing sculptures there – some European and some Asian.
The self portrait of Van Gogh – I don’t remember but I guess this was one of the very few paintings from Van Gogh there. Rest of his work is in a separate museum Van Gogh Museum which is across the street from Rijks Museum but I didn’t get the time to go there. I was enlightened that there was not just one of these portraits – he kept experimenting all his life and perfecting the technique!
There were lots of amazing portrait works in the museum commissioned by the patrons of those times. I loved this one, of a woman who lived in the 17th century. There was a plaque that told her story briefly.
There were some exhibits also about how artists created 3 dimensional visuals with layers of painted papers spaced in a way that it created the illusion beautifully.
One post will not be sufficient to explain all that I learnt and experienced in that museum. It was just beautiful and should be experienced by anyone who visits Amsterdam and wants to learn about the rich heritage of Dutch artists.
Since it was almost closing time of the museum, I had to get out else I would have stayed even longer. Then I was super hungry. So I went to the same restaurant as the previous day and had a super “lunner” (lunch + dinner). Satiated, I came to the harbor area with the hope that I would be able to get a boat ride through the canals. I was lucky and found one of the boat tours that was still open. It was just lovely to go in the evening through the canals and look at the historic landmarks of the city. Got this beautiful view at the end of the tour that captured the essence of my blog – reflections.
After that I just walked around a bit to take in the feel of this wonderful city and then called it a day.
I reached Amsterdam on a wet Saturday morning in June after taking a long journey with a bus. It was an extended weekend, so I had three days at hand. Had been wanting to go there since years but it wasn’t just materializing and then as it happens with most of my trips, I booked it 3 days before the journey.
First briefly about the journey – I have had good experiences with these long distance buses. This one was also fine except for one administrative glitch. This bus company doesn’t have an app and wants people to print out the ticket. I printed it but the setting was to print on both sides of the paper. Now there was a change required at one place in the journey and the issue was that the driver takes that paper from you. So, as you may have guessed it, I didn’t have the paper with me for the second leg of the journey. But seemingly the language of money is understood all over the world. The driver took 5 Euros from me to return that piece of paper to me. I don’t understand it – if he could give it back to me in exchange for money, why did he need to keep that paper in the first place! If I had the ticket printed on separate papers, he wouldn’t have been able to make any money on that. Unsolved Mysteries. Another thing that happened was that when I woke up upon reaching Amsterdam, I found that some liquid had drained out into my bag from somewhere and had moistened the papers inside. I suspected the collapsible water bottle that had in my bag. Immediately took out the important things and put them in a plastic bag. Later I realized that it was not the water bottle but the pack of disinfectant wipes that had gotten pressed and the liquid soaking them spilled out. Since then, I have started carrying them around in a zip-lock bag!
Anyway, so I reached the destination which was a train station somewhere outside of Amsterdam. I tried to figure out the way to go to the city as per the information I had collected from the internet. They have a good public transport network. You just need to locate the right ticket machine (which took me some time). Then a metro train and a bus journey later (meanwhile also meeting a man who appeared stoned, at the bus stop who wanted me to wake him up when the bus arrived..), I reached my hotel. Thankfully, they had the room ready even though I was early. The window overlooked a beautiful marina.
After resting a bit, I started for my exploration of the city. It was cold and rainy, so I had a lot of things with me – camera, jacket, umbrella, water…uff! There was a tram stop close to the hotel from where the tram brought me directly to the central station. And as you can see in the picture below, everyone was trying to find a shelter from the rain.
But by the time I got the information from the tourist information center (opposite to the central station) and sorted out some things, the rain stopped and I could proceed. Reached a shop that invited inside to take a look at the cheeses and take pictures. So I went in. Looked interesting as you can see below with cheese wheels, wooden shoes, weighing scales, mugs and a cow!
Thus walking around a bit and taking in the scenery of the city, I decided to go for some lunch. I knew of my favorite South Indian restaurant being there somewhere. Went and had a hearty lunch.
I was waiting for the walking tour that was to start from the Dam Square. Reached and then the tour started. Sharing what I learnt from that tour.
The guide warned us by telling us that national sport of Holland is hunting tourists with the bicycle – we have to be verrrrrrrrry careful while walking around – nobody was to take a chance by stepping into the bicycle lanes! Second piece of warning was to NOT go inside the “Coffee Shop” if anyone wanted Coffee. Why you wonder? Because in Amsterdam, Coffee Shops are for getting drugs not coffee. Coffee is served at a Cafe. Phew..just saved! Thank goodness I had my coffee at the South Indian restaurant!
With those instructions we started on the tour. First stop was the Red Light district. It looked like any normal neighborhood during the daytime. Some windows showed the women waiting for clients. Although it is a profession, it still evoked some sadness inside seeing those women looking at people in a matter of fact emotionless way. Only good thing is that since 2000 it is a legalized profession in Amsterdam, so the workers can get insurance.
There was a huge church right in the middle of that area – Oude Kerk – Old Church with all the windows around that church, clearly showing how the city turned a blind eye towards the profession. According to our guide, and I guess there is some truth in that – it was a necessary evil – considering the number of sailors who came into Amsterdam after being on the ships for months, in the last centuries.
About the Dam Square – the big street there used to be the Amstel river. About 800 years ago, fishermen built a dam because the river used to flood the town.
As the country had no major natural resources, so they started business with other countries and gave rise to a huge shipping industry. In the 17th century, it was the richest nation in Europe. There was a city wall from medieval times, which was removed in early 17th century. It became the golden age for the country.
In 1889 – the harbor used to be where the current Central Station is – it is an artificial island!
Walking ahead, I saw this interesting setup with all the old style clothes and the photographer there.
We reached the New Market square and then moved on towards the Jewish quarter. Before WW2, around 120000 Jews lived there but around 60000 were killed.
The harsh winter of 1944 destroyed the area because it was so cold that people took everything and burnt down. It was in such a bad shape that when the city was liberated, the soldiers thought that this area was bombed! This is now a quiet beautiful residential area.
Then we came to the Dutch East India Company. It was started in 1602 and closed by 1792 or so (taken over by Batavian government). It was the first company to start share trading in 1602 – at that time it was for shipping companies.
The current king of Holland is Wilhelm and the queen is Maxima (Argentinian). They live in Hague.
In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Kingdom of Holland and made his brother – Louis Bonaparte the king. But it was a short-lived kingship for him as he was not the puppet his elder brother had hoped him to be.
A funny side effect of the French occupation of Holland was that til today, the people are carrying the whimsical surnames that their ancestors came up with when they were forced to have one for the purposes of population registry. Family names were not prevalent before. People followed a kind of patronymic system like “son of x” or “daughter of y” – Jansen or Jandr but there was no set pattern as such. But when forced, then they came up with interesting names like Zondervan (without a surname), Zeldenthuis (rarely at home). I am leaving out the more “strange” ones. Now this story could be a joke or real – take your pick :).
Other quick facts that I learnt from our guide were:
- Eduard Douwes Dekker , pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar. It was about the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia.
- The Dutch people have grown taller – about 20 cm increase in height in the last century!
- Every year, the water department of Amsterdam fishes out 12000 to 15000 bicycles from the canals. Seemingly throwing bicycles in canals is a popular past-time!
- In Amsterdam, houseboats are like normal houses with gas and electricity connection. Mooring rights are sold just like you would sell houses in other places.
- 11 million trees were used to build the base for the city center after reclaiming the land from the sea. The trees have rotted slowly over the years thereby tilting the houses.
- 20% of country is below sea level
- Amsterdam is a Unesco world heritage site with 165 canals!
Thus with fun and facts, we ended the walking tour.. There was another interesting thing that happened later but more on that in the next post.
Short link to read about the adventure in Chronological order
Finally it started and I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was being announced that we would be landing soon although the weather conditions don’t look good. I was thinking of my options from the airport once the flight lands. And then all of a sudden, the pilot made the announcement that the flight will go to another airport which is about 125 km away from the airport at which we were supposed to land! Reason given was weather conditions. But I think it had something to do with the delayed arrival too.
Everyone looked at one another incredulously but what else could we do? A little muttering started among people.
Finally we landed and waited in the aircraft while the crew was getting the information about what would be done. Then after some time, they let us disembark and told us that there would be a bus arranged to go to the other airport and “most probably there would be information at the terminal”! Not very promising but again, what could you do? I remember one such incident in India with a local low cost carrier there. They served us water and snacks for free while we waited for more information and then they flew that flight to the correct destination! But probably there it was a strategic move to prevent the situation from getting escalated – we all know the passion that warm countries can generate :).
So here, everyone came out of the plane and reached the terminal but nobody was there to give any directions. I went like some others to get something to eat while all this was getting figured out. Waited near the exit and gradually the people started appearing (after having collected their checked-in luggage). I wasn’t sure what would be better. To sit at this airport and wait for a shuttle that would start post midnight but that which goes to the city I needed to go or go to the other airport which has a proper train station (so possibility of more connections). I had about 3 hours to kill whether I sat at this airport or took the bus ride to the other one. Finally after an hour, a bus arrived while I was still deliberating, and I took it to go to the other airport. (First one got filled just before I could get a place, then a second one arrived some minutes later.)
Reached the main airport at around 23:10 hrs. But it is so huge, it was difficult to get the ticket, figure out where the train would be arriving, reach the platform and board the earliest train. You know the drill.
The next train was at 00:28 hrs. Not any better than the shuttle that I could have waited for at the previous airport. But it just felt safer here waiting than at the other airport which is in the middle of nowhere! It did need a train change at one station. So it was risky due to possible train delay. But I took the chance. The first train was delayed but thankfully the connection was from the adjacent platform (no running needed) and was also delayed. So I managed to reach as planned. Then took a taxi home. Finally sometime between 2 and 3 am, I was at home. And did I mention that temperatures were arouns 10 degrees outside and I was clothed according to the 22 degrees of Italian temperatures?
Was so exhausted but grateful to be safely at home in the warmth of my blanket and went to sleep immediately.
Looking back, it seems that the real adventure was in returning..
Alas, the trip has come to an end.
As they say, the body is tired but the soul is longing for more. Looks like I’ll have to come again. Italy had captivated me long ago when I came here for 2 days in 2005. One day was spent in Rome and one in Venice – a whirlwind trip. I can’t believe that it took me 12 years to be able to visit this lovely country again. I hope the next trip is sooner.
About today then. I woke up this morning at a lazy pace, had a slow breakfast and then had the major task of packing everything back in the suitcase. I need the charm that I saw Professor Lupib use in the Harry Potter movies! It was such a time consuming task – to compress everything and fit into the carry-on luggage and that when I hardly bought anything here (so much self control – I must be reaching the gyaan stage of the Buddha!).
So I came to Pisa from Florence – this time I did take the train that was in 10 minutes. Took the chance and it worked :).
The first thing at the Pisa station – the airport shuttle (mini train) goes every 5 minutes from there and costs 2.70 Eur one way. There is a machine at the same place from where the train leaves. It is not the same as that for normal trains. The Tabacci at the station very patiently and genially answered my queries about the regular bus and airport shuttle. The regular public bus can take you to the tower. Ticket one way costs 1.20 Eur and valid for 70 mins after stamping in the bus.
I noted the location of the shuttle departure (at the end of the platforms – there are 13 of them) and then went on my exploration of the famous architecture of Pisa. It was perfect to be able to see all the buildings in just one location with green grass lawns around. I lightened my luggage by having the food that I had brought along. Sat at the lawns and enjoyed the view. Since I had started late, I didn’t have time to go inside any building.
Now I need to board my flight. I checked the temperatures back at home and it is going to be so different there after all the sun and warmth in Italy. Until next – Ciao Italy.