Focal Point

I often am fascinated by the human body – what a marvelous work of engineering! Today am admiring the wonderful sense of sight – the eyes. It’s raining out here and I am just looking out at the scene through the glass window with a cup of coffee. With my eyes, I can see everything so clearly even outside but the camera can focus only on what’s closest to it. 

In this photo, you can see my coffee in focus and the chaos outside, even if it’s blurred. So I am very thankful for the camera because that’s possibly the only way I can capture and share the moments that I like, visually, with everyone, for lack of that kind of artistic talent which also requires time and effort to master. 

Coffee on a rainy day

For more photos about interpreting Focus, you can look here

And here is the photo of the same place after it has stopped raining.

Serendipity

There were once three princes of Serendip who were asked by their father, the King, to get out of the country. The King was not punishing them although on the face it would appear that way. Instead, his hidden motive was to make his sons learn more about the world before they ascended the throne. So the princes did go out and made interesting experiences and also discovered a lot of things by accident. Well, so is the interpretation of the western authors that those were accidents. My interpretation would be that anything seems like an accident because one doesn’t expect it but aren’t most interesting discoveries like that? And another thing is – accident in my dictionary is a bad thing while discovery is usually good. If you find what you are looking for, then probably the term discovery won’t fit!

Anyway, so back to these princes and their discoveries. An author Horace Warpol coined the term Serendipity from this story which means “making fortunate discoveries by accident”.

I often feel like those princes of Serendip when I make these kind of discoveries with no plan whatsoever. (But I was not asked by my father to leave the country..that happened just as an outcome of some work related thing). So here I am today, on a warm summer day, sitting in the middle of a lovely village, having a sundae surrounded by interesting buildings and chatter of the locals.

Sundae

And it was not planned at all. Yesterday, a very close friend of mine C and I sat down for lunch at work. She and I get to meet only every two weeks or so as she has a working schedule that gives her more time to be with her little daughter. So I was filling her in about my adventures from last weeks. Then we came on the topic of what I could do on this long weekend. And out of nowhere, we decided that I come with her to her home  – which is in a region where I had never been before. So after a long journey in which we chatted the whole time, we reached her home. She had told me that she needs to go to a nearby village for some work. I decided to come along instead of sitting at home. And it was a good decision. See for yourself.

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Church

 


I arrived at a place I would have never planned to come on my own but yet ended up at and then getting to enjoy the atmosphere with a nice big bowl of icecream on a warm summer day…

Now shouldn’t I call this Serendipity?

Charmed by Bratislava (3)

Hope that the first and second parts sparked your interest in Bratislava. So here’s the rest of the story from my journey.

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The “Train”

While on the walking tour, we reached this very interesting bronze sculpture. The guide revealed that it was the statue of Hans Christian Anderson, the famous Danish author of the unforgettable stories which you might have also read as kids (remember Thumbelina, Little Mermaid, Ugly Duckling, Emperor’s New Clothes?)  who loved being in Bratislava and spent a lot of time there. You can see the sculpture with the characters from his stories. There used to also be a goose near the foot but sadly, someone stole it away!

 

There were some souvenir shops shaped like huts, like at so many other tourist places. The interesting thing here was that these huts had lovely sketches of how the city looked in the past, on their tops!

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Sketches on top of Souvenir Huts

Now, those who know the history of the erstwhile Czekoslovakia, would know about the Prague Spring. It was when Alexander Dubcek (pronounced Dubcheck) tried to introduce some economic and political reforms for the people of Czekoslovakia. The country came under the domination of Soviet Union in the aftermath of  the second world war and hence had a Communist regime. This “Spring” lasted from Jan to August 1968 and then the Soviets invaded the country and took over the control from Dubcek. There are a few iconic photos that became the channel for spreading the news of that invasion beyond the iron curtain.  It sounds quite improbable in this day and age that the western world wouldn’t have known about this for a long time, had it not been for those photos being smuggled out of the country! One such photographer was Ladislav Bielik who actually was a sports photographer, but who captured the picture below (and may be several others) and immediately went to the magazine’s office where he worked, developed the photos and came back and started handing them over to the people who had western passports so that they could take these photos with them and let the rest of the world know about it! Due to this action of his, the news was known in the countries on the other side of the iron curtain within two-three days of this event happening instead of weeks/months that would have been the case otherwise! There was another iconic photographer Josef Koudelka whose photos also show the scale of the invasion. You can read what I had learnt about this invasion from the guide in Prague. It was very interesting for me to know what was happening in two different parts of the country – Prague and Bratislava – when the Soviets invaded!

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Emil Gallo baring his chest and facing the Soviet tank

Thankfully, all this ended by the end of the 80’s decade and Czekoslovakia got a democratic government. In 1993, the Czechs and Slovaks separated amicably (velvet divorce) and thus the two countries – Czech Republic and Slovak Republic were formed.

Another interesting thing that I learnt from the tour guide, that I want to write about is about the Bratislava Castle. So the site of the castle has been inhabited since the stone age! But the first written records are from early 10th century. It became the seat of Hungarian monarchs from the 16th century. In the 18th century, under the reign of Maria Teresa, it was transformed into a luxurious Baroque residence. Now the interesting part. The castle had some Italian soldiers in it sometime in 1811. The story goes that they got engrossed in eating and drinking that they forgot to put out the cooking fires. By morning, the whole castle was burnt down! A favorite joke that runs among the locals is that a castle that survived several centuries of invasions, could not survive an Italian Dinner :-). The form that we see today is a work of around 60 years (renovation started in 1953 and completed in 2010)!

I went to the castle the next morning by myself. It’s lovely up there and gives a lovely view of the city. There was a nice looking restaurant also up there but I rather enjoyed sitting on a bench, watching the river and having some lovely strawberries that I had brought along from the downtown.

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While coming down from the castle, I came across this statue which reminded me of Medusa! It is called “The Witch”. And at this point, I am thinking that probably I should make one additional post about the statues of Bratislava! Other touristic cities also have statues but they are like one at every corner and hence, not interesting anymore! I found the ones from Bratislava much more intriguing.

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The Witch

Then I also came across an abandoned church. I have no idea what happened there.

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Abandoned Church

And as luck would have it, I got to capture this picture of a family which was clearly taking a break. What is interesting you ask? Look closely. They are not praying! The dad and the sons are busy with their smartphones while the mom is taking a power nap :-).

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Tired Family

And with this I conclude this post.  There are some more stories and may be I will make a fourth post. All this reminiscing has stirred in me the longing to visit Bratislava again. I don’t know what is it that attracts me to Prague and now that same attraction is developed for Bratislava. Until next..

Charmed by Bratislava (2)

In the last post, I gave you the background story of my trip to Bratislava. Let’s continue on the journey from there.

So after relaxing a bit in my lovely hotel room, I came out as I was feeling hungry. The breakfast  that I’ve had had, was lovely but had become a distant memory by then.

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Breakfast

So I searched on Tripadvisor and reached a restaurant that was supposed to have simple vegetarian Indian food. Unfortunately, it was closed. So I searched a bit more and found that there was another good restaurant nearby. I went there and sat for a meal. The decor was beautiful and reminded me of the lovely colors of South India. Now the first thing I ordered was a kind of tomato soup (rasam). The proprietor warned me that it was spicy but I was in reckless mood and didn’t pay attention (assumption was that he was comparing the chili level by European standards). But then when I had it, I felt like it was made with the intent to clear the sinuses! Nonetheless, I waited for my rice pulao and the cook had mercifully added green chilies to it in a way that I could take them aside :-). That was good and so satiated, I moved on.

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At the Restaurant

Now I wanted to go to the old town but I got completely confused with google maps telling me which way to go. Why? Because all I saw was a kind of highway with roundabouts. So I decided to be adventurous and boarded a bus. I thought I would stop at the next stop or where I would feel it looks like the old town. See this picture here, which I took later when I was more familiar with the topography of the city, to make you understand my confusion – there is an old city wall, then the St. Martin’s cathedral and then suddenly that UFO like building..all by the side of a highway! Details of this strange juxtaposition later.

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Once I was aboard the bus, one stop went by, second stop by went and I found myself on a highway and then some kind of software technology park (with glass buildings like we are used to seeing nowadays. Then I understood that something was not right – google maps had told me that the old town was very near to from where I boarded the bus. So I got down there and wondered how to get to the other side of the highway to take the bus back. Thankfully there were two girls who got down with suitcases and since there were apartments beside the highway, it was quite probable that they would be going there. So I just observed and followed. And it was the right decision for I found the way.

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Then I had a few minutes to click the photos of the surroundings before the bus arrived. (The experience was quite like in Bangalore especially on the outer/inner ring road with apartments everywhere. The only difference is that in Bangalore, there is no safe way to cross the road while in Bratislava there is!).

Anyway, so I returned and after two more tries, I finally managed to reach the old city. Now I wanted to join a walking tour which was supposed to start at 3 PM, so I had enough time for all this adventure and to still be before time at the venue mentioned on their website.

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Then slowly the people started arriving and also a few tour guides. The guides had a good system. They counted the people and then depending on the number, they distributed them into three groups – each group with one guide. In Vienna on the other hand, all the people (irrespective of number) had to go with one guide, which was the reason I didn’t join the free walking tour there (story of Vienna for later).

The tour started from this square Hviedzoslav Namestie named after a famous poet of the country. Our guide explained that he invented a new form of poetry which they had to study during their school days and it was, let’s just say, not so easy :-). As per wikipedia – “he introduced the syllabic-tonic verse into Slovak poetry and became the leading representative of Slovak literary realism. His style is characterized by extensive use of self-coined words and expressions, making it difficult to translate his works into foreign languages.

I won’t go into the history of Slovakia – there is enough information here if you are interested in the details. In short, it has been a place with settlements from pre-historic times. The Romans were here, then the Magyars (Austro-Hungarian Empire) and later it came under the Hapsburg monarchy when Ottomann Empire took control of the erstwhile Hungary.  From 1526 to 1830, nineteen Hapsburg sovereigns were crowned “Kings and Queens of Hungary” in the Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava.

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The guide explained to us the details of that strange way the city looks as shown in the picture above. The Hapsburgs broke parts of the old city wall to expand the city. Then a few hundred years later the communist government decided to build a highway going through the middle of the old town! It of course didn’t care that there was this historic church whose foundations will become weak with the highway being constructed right next to it!

Anyway, so that’s how it is now. With this I will end this post. I hope to write the next post very soon to complete the story of my journey. Enjoy reading!

Charmed by Bratislava (1)

Remember the movie Hostel? If that’s the reason you have not visited Bratislava so far despite having the opportunity, then set your fears aside and take the next chance to visit this charming and intriguing city. I don’t watch the horror genre and when my friends had told me about the movie so many years ago, I had of course stopped them from telling me anything about the plot. And I am glad I didn’t know anything – because one does form an opinion about things despite being aware that something is just a work of fiction. Danger seems real if the mind is focused on seeing a snake even if it’s just a rope! Seeing the eerie picture above, one would get afraid by making the association with a fictional story one saw or heard about the city!

Coming back to my story. There I was one day, wondering what to do on a four day trip to Vienna as I was not so keen on spending all four days in Vienna despite its popularity. Then a friend suggested to go to Bratislava. That sounded good as it was only 1 hour away and I didn’t need to plan anything in advance. I could decide after being in Vienna and seeing how it went there.

It is really convenient to take a train from Vienna to Bratislava – it goes every hour or so. There is a collaboration between Vienna and Bratislava that allows you to take a return ticket from Vienna, which allows you to use the public transport also in Bratislava on the day of arrival. And you can return to Vienna two days later from Bratislava with the same ticket! Wonderful – isn’t it? It takes about an hour one way. More details here. Also possible is to go via boat on Danube or a bus or even a plane (that’s actually a joke – 10 minute flight time!).

Enough background story. In two words – I went.

When I came out of the train at Bratislava, somehow it reminded me of a station in India.

Bratislava Main Station (Hlavana Stanica)

I couldn’t figure out from the app for the public transport how to reach my hotel using the tram. So I walked as it didn’t seem too far on google maps. On the way I came across some interesting buildings – from the communist era of Slovakian history. Of course I took a picture immediately although at that time I didn’t know that it was the buidling of Slovak radio. Again this also reminded me of some office buildings in India – may be because of the color.

Building of the Slovak Radio

 

Thus stopping every few meters to click pictures because it was all so interesting, it took me more than 30 minutes to cover a distance of approximately 1.5 kms.

Finally I reached the hotel and thankfully they had the room ready for me. I was sweating profusely as it was a humid day with the sun shining (opposite of the cold and rainy day with hailstones in Vienna just 20 hours earlier). It was a lovely hotel with a lovely room and a luxurious bathroom – at less than half the price of what I paid in Vienna for a small room in a pension without a private bathroom! So I was glad to see a fan in the room which helped me relax before I got up for getting some lunch and sightseeing (in that order :)).

Bratislava Castle

So here I will end the first post. Stay tuned for the next one where I will take you further inside this lovely city.

You call it Wanderlust, I call it Life

So someone asked me where had I been recently. I asked – in mind or in body. In mind, I am going everywhere all the time but the body won’t be able to keep up with it :-).

The word of German origin “Wanderlust” means an innate strong desire to travel. Another lesser known in English but also of German origin word is “Fernweh”. This word means sickness/longing for far off places. You can decide for yourself whether your feelings match more with Wanderlust or Fernweh. For me, it is the latter.

So from my recent physical trip to a far off place, here are some pictures that I would like to share that describe the journey.

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Going for sightseeing
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The Jet to take you far away
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Tired travellers resting their feet

Inpired? Then enjoy some more thoughts on Wanderlust here.