Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My life in 6 words - A tag post

This post is another CBC tag effort, a part of :
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
and a big Thank You to Aarti who tagged me. Aarti blogs at Tapestry of Words and is a contradiction of sorts. You can learn more about her by visiting her page.
 
 
If you are still wondering about the CBC, The Chennai Bloggers is a closed group of bloggers of varied interests, many of whom are living in Chennai and includes those who are outside Chennai but still belong here. If you are a blogger from Chennai and are not in the CBC, you are missing something.
 
Now for the tag, my life in six words can be summed up thus:
 
                                       

      "He IS still working on me..."


 
 
I now pass the tag to Gayathri Kannan who blogs here. You can learn more about Gayathri by visiting her page.
 
Happy blogging folks!!!!
 
Image courtesy - Google Images
 


Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 2 - Amsterdam



I missed out a few points in the earlier post. Contrary to what a reader mentioned I did not see naked people around but Amsterdam is also famous for sex tourism as prostitution is legal there and opium I was told can be bought in super markets. I did not have the chance to visit a supermarket but did notice opium candies being sold in the pavement shops. So the group decided to check out the red light district and we walked along the canals. 
The entrance to the area

I realized that the term red light area is literal for in some houses a red light illuminates a glass window behind which stand women in lingerie waiting for clients. What is different is that it can be part of a normal shopping street or just another avenue and people stroll by. There was a club offering live shows and some of the group dropped in, the others including me were exhausted and we stumbled back to our hotel for a well-deserved before another action filled day.

Day 2: The day started off on a very happy note for the group when they noticed that among the continental spread at breakfast in one remote corner was sambar and medhu vadas. The vegetarians in the group were thrilled and ensured that they indulged themselves. There was another group from India in the hotel and so the vadas seemed to be a very good idea. I must add that the range of cereals, cheeses, meats, fruits and teas was extensive and it was quite sad to see most of the group members skipping them. I sampled the cheeses and found that they are an acquired taste, you either like them or you hate them and Amul cheese is a distant memory. The thin cuts of meat were quite good and since meat in Europe is either beef or pork this counter was also avoided. I took the salmon with some reluctance as I am averse to frozen sea food, but it was fresh and melted in the mouth.

So well fed we boarded the bus to the Tulip gardens made famous in many movies and now on Facebook. We reached Keukenhoff crossing many fields of tulips that looked stunning.

 From the crowded parking lot it was obvious that this was a very popular attraction and as we entered the gardens we understood the reason – tulips.


 Tulips of all colours and shapes carefully tended welcomed us and the time of 90 minutes allotted for this park seemed grossly inadequate but it was to be a repeated feature of this trip. Despite the fact that my aesthetic sense which limits flowers to roses and non roses only I could not help admiring the flowers that lay before me. With one eye on the watch and another on the view finder attempting to take a small part of the park back with me I managed to snap a few pictures before the enormity of the task overwhelmed me and I decided to just soak into the beauty in front of me.





A windmill that was open to visitors was a notable attraction and the view from the top was truly spectacular.    
View from the windmill
                                        
There was a small part of Japan with the cherry trees in full bloom (I did not find the connection) was another beautiful sight.

 Then a short visit to the pavilions named after the members of the royal family took up more time, these pavilions appeared to be nurseries where saplings were displayed (I am not sure if they were for sale).
Inside the pavilion


 There was one beautiful flower installation of the Big Ben & London bridge to commemorate the visit of a member of the British Royal family (I forget who) was the last stop before I left the park comfortably exceeding the allotted ninety minutes.

After apologies to the guide we moved on to the next stop of the day the Madurodam.




The Madurodom is Europe in miniature and is quite popular for visitors can get a bird’s eye view of some of the most famous monuments and buildings of the land in one place. It is a miniature world of bridges, trains, castles, buildings, ships, football fields and much more. I loved the installation at the entrance of the boy and the dyke.

Since we did not have time I could not read the legends below each exhibit and so this place failed to strike a chord. There is not much you can relate to a doll house no matter how beautiful it is. But for those who understand the exhibits it is a great experience for the scaled down models are perfect replicas of the originals. The scale of the display was staggering and again time was not on our side so we just had a good look around with few photo ops.




Lunch was served at the cafeteria where they prepared an European version of Indian rice, curry and vegetables but the highlight of the meal were the chicken satay sticks (not Indian) which disappeared in no time.

The next stop was Madame Tusaauds near Dam Square the famous square of Amsterdam. This is a very popular attraction evident from the long lines waiting to enter but being a group we got inside quickly due to the fact that Kuoni tours are regulars there. The usual display of politicians, world leaders, rock stars, sportspersons and the popular film stars meant that there were many photo ops and consequently bottlenecks formed very quickly. 


I posed for a few photos but it is not exceptional. It was a little jarring to see people posing with their arms over the wax statues of Mahatma Gandhi or other leaders, but it is just wax.


The last activity for the day was a cruise down the canal network of Amsterdam. This was relaxing and also informative as the guided trip down the clean canals took us through the beautiful city. 
A maritime institute designed like a ship

Replica of the historical ship called Amsterdam


We saw homes, churches and many other beautiful buildings on the land and on the water there were many houseboats that were inhabited. One of the memories that stayed with me from the cruise is that of Amsterdam’s narrowest house that is only 1.5 metres wide. I really wish I can visit that house which was around 200 years old if I am not mistaken.
Note the building with white balconies, 1.5 mts
 
The cruise made me realize that there was so much more to explore in Amsterdam and we had no time for the same. The cruise started and ended near the Amsterdam Central railway station a magnificent building that was somehow reminiscent of our Chennai Central but far more impressive and one which I really wanted to visit after watching a flashmob on Youtube but it was another miss. Nearby was the  cycle stand the largest of its kind in the world which showed that this city has its priorities in the right place.
The famous cycle stand

We ended with dinner at another Indian restaurant that had Dosa in its name but served us rotis, dal and rice. Another exhausting day ensured that I gave up plans to do any more sightseeing and we managed to grab a few souvenirs from the souvenir shops on Dam Square.
Dam Square

Incidentally we were in Amsterdam shortly after the abdication of the earlier queen and coronation of the Prince and Princess and it was the anniversary of Van Gogh so the entire city was in a celebratory mood with museums offering several free entries part of a campaign called I Amsterdam. Wish we had another day there.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 1 - Amsterdam



Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) is a buzz word in the world of business, usually this means that one organization will sponsor a trip for their clients or business associates as incentives for a job well done, some times for a job to be done well. On the 2nd of May my colleague & I escorted 46 employees of a top client on an overseas trip. This was a 5 nights, 6 days trip crossing 4 countries and my second overseas trip ever. The following series will detail the trip.

Day 1 – May 02: We departed from Chennai to Schipol Airport by the Emirates airline and so the stopover was in Dubai. A 4.25 AM flight meant a 1 AM check in and therefore no sleep for the hosts as we had to gather the travellers assembled from across the country in a city hotel and take them to the airport. The inevitable Indian Stretchable Time standards ensured that we reached the airport late enough to give me a nervous attack. 
                                             
A mad check in followed by a serpentine immigration check escorted by the guide from Kuoni left me exhausted, so much so that the 4 hour flight in an Airbus A330 to Dubai went by in a blur.
                              
Dubai airport is seriously impressive and my favourites are the water installations and the underground train that shuttles within the airport.
                                       






The mammoth A380 with its comfortable legroom, awesome inflight entertainment ensured that the 8 odd hour flight from Dubai to Schipol was enjoyable.


 I caught a movie and then listened to The Messiah on the flight. The food on the flight was below expectations and serving crackers with every meal was unusual at least for me. And I could not help noticing that the prettiest airhostesses can be found in some of our domestic sectors, on the Emirates they looked tired and very plain. 

The best part of the flight were the three camera angles that was part of the inflight entertainment, the movement of the plane could be seen from the tail, front and lower cameras for an unforgettable experience.

                              


We landed in Schipol airport Amsterdam in the afternoon and after the mandatory resetting of the watches I realized that I had not slept for nearly 28 or so hours. I liked the Schipol airport and my first impression was that all airports should be designed liked this one. The airport opens into a mall with a railway station and a bus stand outside ensuring connectivity. Our bus was waiting for us and so we jaywalked across the road to the bus. I mention jay walk as there it is simply not done, people wait at the pedestrian and the traffic waits for them to cross.

                                        


The first thing I noticed about the bus was that it was a left hand drive and so we looked quite silly searching for the door on the wrong side. So we boarded the bus and another thing caught my eye, a dustbin. 
                               


A segregated dustbin with degradable, non-degradable and plastic like some we may have seen here but what was different was that this was being used, I noticed a man eating a hotdog throw the crumbs in one, the wrapper in another. Small things, but they make a difference.
                                        


I learnt a few more things during the drive to the hotel. On the road the order of priority is for the pedestrian, cyclist and then the motorist with dedicated cycle tracks everywhere and everyone respects the traffic lights even if there is no vehicle in sight. The roads are very narrow and the houses in the older part of the city are ancient with an average vintage of 200 odd years. 

It was amazing to hear that around 8000 homes are protected monuments in the city with a government permission required for the owners to renovate or repair their homes. In addition the government subsidizes the maintenance costs!!! The houses share common walls and are very narrow almost like houses in Mylapore or Triplicane! Another quirky feature of the homes was the narrow doors and a hook on the roof, these hooks were used to lift goods or furniture into the homes as the doors are very narrow!


We checked into the Renaissance hotel a part of the Radisson chain and had a packed lunch before we set off for the first part of the sightseeing that was a visit to the Hieneken Museum. 





Hieneken appears to be one the most famous exports of Amsterdam and the museum stands testimony to the same. The makers of the beer have converted the original factory into a museum for their famous product and a visit to the facility seems to be a part of the tourist itineraries of Amsterdam.  The museum tour takes a visitor through the manufacturing process of the beer and its heritage. The staff seem so passionate about the beer and their enthusiasm is so infectious that I could not decline the complimentary beer and drank it the way it is supposed to be drunk (with manly gulps!).



We finished the tour and realized that it was still bright though it was over 6 PM. The sun sets late in this part of the country and the sun set at around 9.30 PM that evening. The beautiful network of canals adds beauty to a historical town and the water in the canals appear clean. (Sigh). 

 It was almost unreal to see bright sunshine and the clock showing that it was 8 PM when we reached the Indian hotel for dinner. After an Indian dinner a sore point of the trip we retired to our rooms completely exhausted. I was told by the guides that Indians are poor travelers reluctant to try any local food and if they are vegetarians it gets tricky so Indian it was right through the trips in the Indian restaurants that seemed to be everywhere. It was a tired end to a long day that started the day earlier.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Politicking...



Politician bashing is a favoured form of recreation for people.  It is part of many conversations and the collective ills of the land are blamed on the politicians and I have also been a willing participant. Politicians are evil, let us hold that thought for a moment and introspect to see if we are all not politicians every day?

There is a phrase that has amused me ever since I started debating politics in my mind- “playing petty politics”. We often say that they were playing petty politics to describe certain situations, two important words merit further thought the first is playing and the second is petty. A professional politician “plays” politics for money and in doing so he is not very different from any of the mercenary sportsmen who play for the highest paying team. After all for him it is a question of livelihood and survival. When the others play politics not always for money but always for an end it is termed petty because it is smaller in scale and it is different.

Do we not play politics with family, friends, colleagues and many others when we manipulate people to achieve our ends? Have we never indulged in coteries, factionalisms, pulling the carpet under the feet of others, some gossip, maybe a back stabbing and many other tactics that we usually attribute to the professional politicians? And having gained such valuable experience over the years is it not unfair that we judge those people who move on to become professional politicians?

So do I support politicians? I do not but next time I get an opportunity I must pause and reflect on John 8:7, maybe I may not cast the stone.

This post was spurred by a personal incident that happened recently.

 

(Image courtesy Google images)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

All my bags are almost packed...


There are times when you yearn to travel and there are times when you just want to be at home. I will be on the road again for my second ever overseas trip however this time I await it with mixed feelings. Elated that I will see or atleast visit 3 or 4 capitals in one week and thrilled to visit some places that was on my wish list but extremely disappointed with the haphazard planning and poor communication between the vendors and my company, the sponsors of this trip.

This also means that I will be online sporadically so will be almost missing in action and may affect my blogging average; on the brighter side I may have more things to blog though I have not been much of a travel writer. I guess it is never too late to begin. And due to this trip I have to do one thing that I find most unpleasant and that is working on a holiday, especially a holiday meant for the workers.

The perils of escorting a large group of clients in a foreign land and the associated challenges takes away much of the excitement which maybe will change once I actually board the flight. And the A380 is another thing to look forward to, the biggest aircraft that I will fly for now. Indian are bad travellers I hear or maybe they are finicky travellers whatever it may be I will be still eating roti and rice wherever I am. I am still not sure if I must be proud that an Indian restaurant can be found everywhere or feel bad about it. As I am running a mild fever I am a little worried if I should explore street food or wait to come back and try it in Spoonbill.

I look around and I see that I am yet to complete my packing and since my helpful friend reminded me that it is 12 degrees and raining I have to rework my clothes and wonder is there a sweater anywhere in the cupboard. And after receiving a lot of positive feedback on an old photograph that somehow surfaced again on FB because somebody had the patience to look through the album and like it, I need to spend some time on grooming atleast so that the immigration person can relate my face to the one on the passport. So this is Adios but as the one time tank driver with limited vocabulary and even more limited expression said in his memorable line...



 

An inappropriate song because I will be back again in a week from now but I am most definitely leaving on a jetplane...