Through the window

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.

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City under the wing but hey, what’s that yellow thing?

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Mountains look interesting but is that the moon there?

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Is that a sphinx in the clouds?

For more images of or through the windows, you can this page.

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Layered

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.

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For more interpretations of the theme, you can visit here.

Amsterdam 1

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.

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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.

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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!

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Inside the cheese shop

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Royal Palace

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.

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Oude Kerk

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.

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The photo artist with his paraphernalia

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.IMG_5210[1]

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.

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Dutch East India Company

 

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.IMG_5218[1]
  • 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.

 

Italian Adventure – Day 8

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.

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Of course

Keith Haring Mural

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.

Italian Adventure – Day 7

According to the Old Testament, God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th. I can imagine why us humans would think that – we get exhausted after 6 days and need to rest – whether at work or on vacation , as has been my experience since the last one week.

Today morning I was just not in the mood to venture out for anything. It was raining in the night and I had again a broken sleep. But then at around 9 AM, I saw that the sun was peeking out. That encouraged me a bit as then it would feel like committing a sin to keep sitting inside the hotel. So I got ready, had breakfast and did a kind of “Eena Meena mina moe” to decide between Lucca and Siena as the destination for today. Siena won.

At the train station, I bought the ticket that gave me 25 minutes – you know why! Then located the right platform after asking a trenitalia staff member. It was hidden behind due to some renovation work going on at the station. The train looked rather small – I guess 3 carriages only. The driver was a young guy and just went past us in the carriage and entered his cabin through a door within the carriage. That was unusual – I had never before seen a train driver get inside his cabin through the passenger seating area. 

Then after about 1.5 hr of journey (sleeping intermittently), the train reached Siena. I had read on the net that there is some kind of escalator going up from train station to the city. The posts were from 2011 and peope were discussing in it the ongoing construction. Now it is all running very well – I can tell from first hand exprience today. There is a shopping mall opposite the station. Just keep going up in it using the escalators and you would reach the town. Upon exiting, go left and keep going until you reach a medieval style gate on your right hand side through which majot traffic is passing by. You have to enter that and then just follow the crowd. You would reach the city center.

Siena is a town which had rivalry with Florence. While Florence became the main center of Renaissance, Siena retained the Medieval character. 
I stopped for a coffee and rest room break as the train journey had given me a headache. Then proceeded to the Piazza del Campo while peeking into the smaller churches on the way. 

The piazza was circular with a stunning huge tower on the arc. Lots of people were just sitting there and enjoying the feeble sun. I also sat down to eat something as it was lunch time. People were either at the restaurants or at the piazza with their sandwiches etc. Kids were running after the pigeons and parents after the kids. Thus taking in all the scenery and relaxing my feet, I moved ahead.


The guides yesterday had told that Siena had a huge cathedral and Florence had built its Cathedral to score on Siena. So of course I wanted to see the cathedral here. There was a OPA ticket that allowed to visit 5 places. I took that though wondering if I would have enough time to see everything. I managed by skipping the panoramic view for which the queues were really long with a waiting time of 1 hour. 

The cathedral was indeed impressive but after having seen the one in Florence before it, it seemed just fine. But I am glad that I went inside. I had not seen these bright colors inside a church before this one. It was just awesome. And in addition, there was a library inside which was also lovely. I saw the hand written books on display with beautiful artwork as was the way before the printing press of Gutenberg.



Then I went to the museum, baptistry, crypt and oratorium in that sequence. The panoramic view was through the museum but I skipped it as I wanted to see the other things before they closed.

The amount of religious art from the middle ages that I have seen in the last 3 days is enough to make me see green faces, and babies with adult features in my nightmares! The reason is that the skin tone was made by first giving a green base and then coloring on top. Over the centuries the top coats have faded and one can see the green underneath. And regarding the adult face – for whatever reason, the artists in medieval times had to represent Jesus as a homunculus man – perfectly formed but small.


But the sculptures and architecture works that I have seen makes up for it. They are just marvelous.

I wanted to spend some more time in Siena but was afraid that I might reach too late to Florence, as it is about an hour and half journey plus the time to reach the station and waiting for the train. It had also started raining a bit so I set off. After having missed one by a few minutes, I took the ticket for the next direct one which was one hour later, grabbed some dinner from a lovely salad shop (make your own combinations), returned to the station, found the train and came back home (hotel after 2 days starts feeling like home).

Oh, I forgot to mention – a daily dose of sorbet/gelato is also being taken during all the sightseeing. It’s not cheap here considering it’s the source but it’s superb.

So that’s the end of day 7. Tomorrow is the day of return. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. Ciao for now. 

Italian Adventure – Day 5

First Lesson for the Day

Do not become overconfident about the public transport of a country. The moment you think that you understand it and you can handle it, you will be caught by surprise – and a missed connection.

Today morning, I had 10 minutes to catch a train and I thought it’s easy. I bought the ticket from a ticket machine. The platform number indicated on the board was 6. I was standing next to one that said 6 but the train indicated there said something else. I thought may be there is still time and when this one goes, then the next one – the one I have to take would be here. But now only 3 minutes were left. So I went inside the train and asked a lady there (there was no train number or destination mentioned on the train). She tried to tell me that I needed to go to another Binari (Platform in Italian). Thankfully my senses worked and I exited the train in time. Then looking around, I realized it was 6 Ovest and not 6. Ovest means “West” in Italian – which I know now. So I ran with 3 minutes in hand to find 6. Reached in 4 minutes and the train was gone..as explained to me by an Italian guy standing on the next platform when I asked. So much for my confidence that I would be able to catch a train if I have 10 minutes at hand. So then I thought of going to the human beings instead of the machine – at the ticket counter. Mind you Bologna station is not a simple station. It has 4 levels underground which I now know. Somehow I managed to reach the ticket counter after some up and down. Then I asked the lady outside the counter who was helping people find where they needed to go for their query. She told me to go to a kiosk labeled La Frecce and “try” changing my ticket. That was for last minute service for the passengers of La Frecce – the fast trains managed by Trenitalia. The lady there was occupied – a passenger in front of me took more than 10 minutes – I don’t know what was so complicated in his query. Anyway, so my turn came, I explained the issue and she agreed to change it (Phew!!). I asked for a train that was about 30 minutes later (there was one in 10 minutes too but you know “once missed twice careful”). She gave the new ticket and told me that the platform was 4 levels below the ground. I didn’t believe her but then found that it was true. Then I waited for 20 minutes at the platform. The train came, I boarded and then it was all fine from there. Or so I thought. The weather prediction displayed on the monitor in the train for Florence said “Rain”!! And I had no umbrella. When I reached, I thought I’d be stuck now but then it wasn’t raining. I managed to go to the tourist center, got myself a bus pass for the day (it’s interesting that here you get it from Tobacco shops labeled Tabacchi or newspaper kiosks) and boarded the right bus. And then on getting down, as you would have guessed – it started raining. 

I still went on – moving stopping – as it was nothing compared to the Indian monsoon rain and reached the hotel. The receptionist told me that the room was not ready because I was early. He double checked it for me with housekeeping. I already knew it because I had mailed and asked last night for which they had responded that they would be unable to do so. Moving on, I decided to take out the camera and leave the luggage at the reception. The receptionist got occupied with a family that was leaving, I wanted to ask something and so I waited and in the meantime – he got informed by the lady from housekeeping that the room was ready!! Buon giorno!! Since it was raining anyway, I went to my room, relaxed a bit and then came out when it stopped raining. 

So in the end, all turned out to be perfectly fine – missing the train, reaching later than planned, rain, getting the room….

I would write more about this day tomorrow. For now, it is raining again – heavily this time and I am safely back in my room looking from my window at it.

Italian Adventure – Day 4

I think I overestimated myself for packing in so many places in a short time. It’s not that any place I have been to so far had anything very interesting that I might have missed because of less time. But the journey times between one city and another have been a bit more than I thought because I didn’t consider delays, missing connections, fast versus slow trains. Lesson learnt. 

Started this morning from Como to reach Milan and then from there to Bologna. I splurged a bit and took a first class ticket for the second leg of my journey. The advantage was that it was much quieter and less crowded than the the second class. I liked that because the journey was a long one. Slow train – took about 3 hours from Milan to Bologna. I crossed the famous Parma (Parmigiano-Reggiano i.e. Parmesan cheese), Modena (Balsamic, Ferrari, Lamborghini) before reaching Bologna (Bolognese Sauce fame). 

Now Como was cool this morning as it had rained last night. So coming from there, Bologna felt so hot. Walked down from the train station to the hotel. Was sweating profusely by the time I reached the hotel. And – I was earlier than the check-in time so the room wasn’t ready. I probably should have mailed them yesterday but then last night I didn’t know when I would be able to reach. So I just stowed my luggage in their storage room, freshened up a bit and started on my exploration.

Mysterious keys hanging from a tree


Now, Bologna looks like a town that is still in middle ages – the refinement of 21st century has not reached it – I am only talking about the central part of the city. I was actually reminded of some old cities of India. Electric wires criss crossing above the head spoiling the photo opportunities, narrow lanes, buses, bicycles, scooters, cars – all mixed up in one road..you get the picture.

I reached the information center which is located in Piazza Maggiore. I couldn’t find any free walking tours so bought ticket for the one organized by the tourist office. It was supposed to start at 4:45 pm. So I had plenty of time to grab lunch. I found an interesting place that serves organic vegan/vegetarian food. Chatted up with two ladies from there. Was a pleasure. 
I still had time before the tour so I went to a kind of monastery as it was not part of the tour – San Stefano. It was ancient. 

So today’s lessons. 

The name of the region is Emilia Romagna. That is because it was managed by the Roman general Emilius. 

In Bologna was established the first university in Europe for Medicine and Law in around 14th century. With the tour, We went to the Anatomical Theater to see where the dissection of the cadavers used to take place. It was done in winter only, because of lack of refrigeration technology  in those days. The dissection used to take about 7 hours.

I am still updating the post. Do keep an eye on the blog because Bologna like rest of Italy, also has lot of dramatic stories in its past and I will write all about it.

So about the Tortilleni – The name comes because it looks like a small navel. Technically it is supposed to be 8 mm in size after getting cooked. The bigger ones are for tourists!

Tortilleni

Famous Terracota statues

Niffling

The fans of Harry Potter would know the magical creature – Niffler. The one which just gets pulled towards anything shiny. For me, that niffly characteristic comes to the surface upon seeing nicely done street art and quirky shop windows. The prettier, the wittier, the better. Then I forget where I was headed to and get busy collecting the “shiny stuff” (in my camera). Here is a glimpse of a few of those things. Enjoy :-).

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The lady with the mask..

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Alien Dinosaur?

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Danger ahead!

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That should start the day right…

For checking out what distracts other people, check out this page.

Elements of nature

It’s amazing how the same setting can evoke different emotions inside us. See for yourself.

The photo below was captured at night when the wind was howling, skies were overcast with clouds but the moon was able to peek out briefly. Makes you think of ghosts and werewolves I guess.

Night

And the picture below was taken the next morning when the sun was out, winds had calmed down and the skies had cleared a bit. Makes you think of serenity – doesn’t it?

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For getting some more visuals of elemental forces, you can go here.

 

Satisfaction

In our day to day lives, most of us are so busy just getting through each day that we forget what is it that really gives us satisfaction and thus, happiness. I don’t know if someone gets satisfaction out of getting up each morning after snoozing the alarm five times, sometimes getting breakfast and sometimes having to forego for fear of getting late, getting through traffic to reach the place of work, managing the work through the day, coming back exhausted, eating, sleeping and then starting all over again. Then add to it the responsibilities of the family and you won’t know where the day went. The things we accumulate in this process – are they satisfying us?

What gives each one of us satisfaction is very subjective.

For me, satisfaction comes out of creation. It could be the solution to a problem, an artwork, a piece of writing, a nice meal, and best of all, seeing the creation of mother nature.

For instance, after planting the seeds, watering the plants, protecting them from the pests, isn’t it extremely satisfying to see the flowers turning to fruits?

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So take a break, sit back and think..what gives You satisfaction? Then what’s stopping you from doing it?

For some more interpretations of satisfaction, check the posts here.