My patch of land

It has been the most interesting period of time for me in the past couple of years, I love reading about history, particularly the history of the world in the last two major wars of the 20th Century. Living in Europe, and having the opportunity to travel to many of the cities/countries which were ravaged by the wars. Observing the stories of these places & how they have coped up since then has been a tremendous experience.

But there has been a common thread, while many of us have been envious of the European well being with our third world perspective, there is almost a always a common thread of painful history just a few decades ago. Many families had seen deep and painful periods in the past hundred years, displaced from their original place of origin. I appreciate the effort Governments and citizens have taken to remember and if possible, preserve the memorials so that we never let the world through that again.

But the biggest question of this all is the fact that within a century itself, borders were redrawn many times, people have lived to be citizens of 3 or more countries even while living in the same patch of land, seeing the end of monarchy, rise of National Socialists, the wars, communism and finally some semblance of democracy. Their current truth is a nation, but they can never say that a century from now their idea of their country survives or not. The patch of land which we all were born in may change its colors, and our national identities may just cease to exist…

2013 – Looking back

Some believe life is a zero sum game, I do not know how true that is, but it seems plausible. As this year draws towards its end, I reminisce about the last 12 months. Writing from my desk at office on this last day, I am peaceful and calm, this is the best way the year could have ended.

A few posts ago I had mentioned that time is analogous, and we are just compartmentalizing it into units, New Year being one of them, giving us an opportunity to start afresh and face the world again.

2013 was a mixed year for us, lost a few cherished people in our family, welcomed a few new members (by birth or marriage), traveled a bit, struggled a lot with careers and cultures, and finally ending it peacefully. I also end it with new hopes for future, and hope to do a lot more next year starting tomorrow!

 

Turning 30 – Ich suche purpose

Maybe that answers it.

Turning 30 is no fun, today is the last day of my twenties! God, am old, of course I am old, that is how I regarded all people above 30+! I cannot help but remember the episode from FRIENDS, ‘Where they all turn 30’. My feelings are not as extreme as Rachel, but they aren’t exactly as thrilled!

I still remember, exactly 10 years go, on the night of my 20th birthday I was writing a blog, just 20 minutes before I turned twenty. Sitting in a college dorm, I reminisced about watching Forrest Gump that night with my roomate. God, the decade went too fast, life runs much faster than I thought!

Now coming to the purpose part, not that I live purposelessly but then I still need newer avenues of finding some purpose in things, I had always thought that by the time I am 30 I would have figured it all out, sadly I haven’t. I am still as confused, stupid, goofy, lost, funny, irritable as I was 5 years ago! All I have done in the last few years is gained a paunch and lost a lot of hair!

Lets review the decade that was, and maybe make some sense.

First, the List of things to do before I turn 30

If you remember this blog post, around 5 years ago I had planned to do a few things. Lets see how I fared:

  1. Visit 5 countries outside the Indian sub continent. √ You bet, I did more than that, let me count….10 countries!
  2. Learn to play a musical instrument (no specifics which one). I am tired of playing this compter keyboard! Busted, didn’t do this 😦
  3. Learn to paint using water colors (I mean learning formally and�not just dabbling around). I learned for a month in 2009, turned out that I wasn’t that good at it!
  4. Try Skydiving – Well, am a wimp when taken to heights. I presume this is the toughest of the lot for me to even attempt. I guess its also about conquering one of your worst fears! Well, not exactly sky dive, but I did do tandem jumping off a mountain, it was pretty cool. I think you can give this one to me?
  5. Play in snow – Can you believe this? I have never ever touched snow! Ah ha, ended up living in Switzerland for a couple of years, sometimes had more snow than I could handle!

Pretty impressive ha? It seems that I am an achiever!

Second, what about the rest of life? How did I fare?

I don’t think I should turn this post into a performance appraisal. I managed to complete my study goals in the last 10 years, managed to stay employed given the crises of things.

  • Professionally not yet into a state where I would have preferred myself to be (bosses, are you listening to me?).
  • Personally, I have been doing well, had multiple crushes, made nice friends, messed up a few friendships, and managed to marry the sweetest girl ever. Sadly, I also lost a few close relatives in the years including my Grandma.
  • Financially, am not sure where I am, still don’t own a car or home, but no liabilities yet…gotta start planning for retirement?!!
  • Healthwise, I got fat, and balding…but am exercising now…hopefully I fix the fat part…balding isn’t in my control!
  • Emotionally, am still a kid at heart, not sure what the grown man logic is all about, yet!

At the bottom of it all, I learned that life is not supposed to be fair and just, and I also have understood that at times the only thing is in control is my attitude towards a situation.

Cmon, you are doing fine, why the sad face?

Ah, you see, I don’t want to be called 30 this birthday, twenties sounds much younger!

Come tomorrow, I will be 18 with 12 years of experience 😉

Change ist nicht gut.

The last few months have been extremely busy, with tonnes of changes. There was this blog post I wanted to write about our last days in Switzerland, but never got the time to do it.

Since May, we returned to India, holed up in Kolkata and now have moved to Frankfurt. In the process of all this, our lives have been completely whirled around with incessant travel, living in less than satisfactory home for a few weeks, and again packing to move to another country. In the midst of all this, we managed to learn a bit of German, and have just completed a week in Deutschland.

Yet to figure out the town, finish searching a home, registering with the authorities and a lot of other crucial questions about the Zukunft remain. I, this time around, am not that thrilled.

Traveling to Spain, Catalonia and Palma Mallorca

The view from Monjuic
The view from Monjuic

Easter break this year resembled Christmas, with yet-to-arrive spring season it had become quite depressing to live without the Sun. I had never imagined that I being from India would ever complain for the lack of sunshine, but here we were escaping to Southern Europe in search of Sun.

It did not elude us, we basked in the crisp golden sunshine of the Mediterranean and committed ourselves to afternoon siestas  in that short break. The trip started with the flight to Barcelona, vueling had excellent connectivity and fairly good prices to offer. Our itinerary could be outlined as Zurch-Barcelona-Palma Mallorca-Barcelona-Zurich, with some time spent on each hop of the journey. Flying in at of the evening of Good Friday, we settled down at a hotel near the airport for 2 nights, the first morning was spent exploring our way to the city. A bus to Placa Espanya was our means of transport, being practically outside the city we suffered slow frequency of the buses.

Plaça d’Espanya is the largest square in Barcelona, once used as a site for public hangings it was transformed to its current shape for the 1929 World Exposition, it is a great point to start for transport connectivity as well. Instead of loitering around at Espanya, we rushed to Jaume I metro station to catch the Sandeman’s Free New Europe Walking tour, this had just started a few days ago. The next two hours were spending walking around the Old town, and listening to the heavy Scottish accent of Frasier who was our guide. We could witness the sights of the old town, and also understand the story behind Columbus’s misadventure in finding India, and landing up in the Americas. It was particularly interesting to learn about the Spanish Civil War, and the ongoing fight of Catalonia’s for an independent new country with Barcelona as its seat.  The tour ended at the Port side of Barcelona, filled with Palm trees imported from Hawaii with Christopher Columbus pointing in the wrong direction (how typical of him!).

After leaving the tour, we walked based to the Old Town and stumbled in the Barcelona Cathedral. Barcelona Cathedral has an interesting history about the patron saint of the city Eulalia; a teenage saint who was persecuted for her beliefs. Barcelona cathedral is remarkable mainly because of the front facade of the church which was created for the 1929 World Exposition.

We walked back to one of the bylanes to grab noodles at a fast food joint and bumped into an Indian gentleman who worked there, after a neat meal our next stop was to return towards Espanya.

Placa Espanya is famous for its pathway to Montjuic (literally means Mountain of the Jews), with National Art museum, and Olympic stadium right at the top. One could either take a cable car or walk up, thankfully they have plenty of escalators to assist the long set of stairways. The Magic fountain show on the weekends catches over a few thousand visitors in the evenings, it was indeed worth it. Montjuic is one of the key sights of the city, opening up to Placa Espanya and welcomed with the two Venetian towers.

Returning later at night to our hotel, we ended up in the middle of nowhere with the bus driver not stopping it at the right stop! We managed to get hold of a taxi, and luckily were not too far from our hotel. Next morning we were dropped by the hotel for our flight to Palma de Mallorca.

Mallorca/Majorca

Majorca is the British Capital of Catalonia, thronged with British tourists all the year round, this Island is the mecca for a relaxing break. Our stay was planned for Palma Nova, which is an hour from Palma Majorca.

Sun kissed beach at Palma Nova
Sun kissed beach at Palma Nova

We took a business to, guess what? Placa Espanya to catch the next bus to Palma Nova. After getting down at a bus stop one too early, we walked almost a kilometer to our hotel.

Our hotel was right at front of the beach of Palma Nova, it was indeed a privilege to be able to just walk right on to the beach within 5 minutes from the room. However, it still being sunny but cold enough that one couldn’t get into water. But, for those who had been missing the bright sun for over 4 months now, it was no less than heaven. Relaxing on the beach, we soon found ourselves digging into dollops of ice cream, the first in this season!

Next morning, we took a bike rental and went on following the route from Palma Nova, St. Mathias beach, Magaluf…a long cycle break in sunny but cool weather we enjoyed traveling along the seaside, between the markets and stopping for a heavy desi meal. While Palma Nova was peaceful, Magaluf beach is famous for its night life with number of Pubs and Discos frequented mainly by British tourists. We could not, however, book tickets to the Pirates show as it was not happening on that day. Cycling is indeed a popular reason for visitors there, with plenty of tourists planning a multi day cycling trip in the Calvia region of Palma.

Back to Barcelona

Olympic Stadium Barcelona
Olympic Stadium Barcelona

Next day, we returned back to Barcelona in the afternoon, this time staying in the city right next to the Sants railway station, which had really good connectivity with the Airport. We spent the evening searching for Sagrada Familia church. This church is unlike any other, it is not like the Milan Cathedral, or Notre Dame of Paris, it is unique in itself and with almost 120 years into it, it is still under construction! The building is a masterpiece designed by the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. He decided to give it an interesting design departing from the traditional Gothic architecture code followed elsewhere in Europe. To complicate it, he notably used hyperbolic and elliptical geometry in a lot of elements. The entry price per person would be at 16 Euros. It probably is a means to fund the church construction.

Gaudi is probably the most famous architect in Catalonia, may even be compared in greatness with Picasso, another Catalan painter who is a household name. Our next morning went into search for Casa Mia and Casa Batlo, both are must visit places in Barcelona. Both are a demonstration of unique design, combination of colors and attempts of Gaudi to please the snobbish rich of Barcelona. It was also interesting to see various art/architecture students attempting to learn from the design of the great architect. With this we moved to Placa Catlunya, and spent a couple of hours basking in the spring sun and shopping for souvenirs.

Tips

  •  Moving around Barcelona is pretty simple by Metro. You may purchase and use T-10 tickets for 10 trips across trains/buses. It can be shared and even be used for airport transfer.
  • While is plenty of travel advisory about pickpockets in Barcelona, we did not notice as such situation.
  • The official language in the region is both Spanish and Catalan.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that Catalonia is a nation in itself, with multiple attempts to gain freedom from Spain. People are passionate about it, and that is why FCB is not just a club but considered a religion. It was a means for Catalonians express their Catalanism
  • Flights from Vueling and Ryanair are often economical, if you book these well in advance.

Planning your trip to Switzerland (Part Duex)

So here is the follow up post to my last post on Planning your trip to Switzerland; with some questions being asked about Shopping and must-do stuff.

Here we go about those questions;

What should I shop, as a souvenir or gift when in Switzerland? and Where?

Umm…before I answer this, here is a disclaimer that Switzerland is much more expensive than you think. However, if you are a non-EU citizen, be ready to ask for Global Blue Tax free options and save some dough on your purchases. Beware, there is a minimum amount you need to spend on a bill to be eligible to get the tax back.

Okay, here a few things popular to be bought:

  • Cow Bells: Who could leave Switzerland without these, specially if you are a DDLJ fan! Now the thing is that these are available in all sizes in most souvenir shops, some look brand new and others give an old smokey look. The truth is, all are new and some are painted such. Check their sound before you buy them.
  • Cuckoo Clocks: Some believe that the Swiss invented the Cuckoo clock, which is incorrect. The credit should actually go to Germans in the Black Forest region. What the Swiss did was given it the ‘chalet’ shape, which is the most popular shape ever. Getting a cuckoo clock is possible specially in Luzern where most souvenir shops stock these, there are two varieties: Automatic-battery operated or the real manual one. Needless to say, the manual ones are expensive, and need some maintenance every couple of years. Clocks are available in all shapes and sizes, pick the one which suits you best. Insider tip: Clocks bought in Germany would be much cheaper.
  • Watches: Talking about of nation which believe in preciseness, where things move like clockwork, one cannot ignore the  famed Swiss watches. Now the thing is, you could get a Swiss watch from 80 CHF to 80,000 CHF (or more!). The popular brands are Swatch, Tissot, Omega, Patek Phillipe, Bucherer, Certina, Tag Heuer  and so on. Luzern has good stores to buy these watches, but its possible to buy them all over Switzerland. Tissot is pretty popular with Indians, and the company knows it, as a result you will find Tissot posters with Deepika Padukone on them. Insider tip: If you happen to be in Geneva, then do make it a point to visit the Patek Phillipe museum of Horology, its awesome!
  • Chocolates: Ha…I reserved the best for the last. I know everyone has eaten Lindt chocolates, and while they are very famous outside Switzerland, they are NOT the largest selling chocolates. Frey has the largest market share! However, while these store bars are definitely good, I’d recommend you to pick a few select chocolates from Sprungli or Laederach. The pralines are simply outstanding and worth a mention. If you are in Zurich, do visit the Sprungli cafe and try out their famous Luxemburgerli. If you wish to know more about chocolates, you could also plan a visit to Cailler chocolate factory.

Alright, what about eating the yummy Swiss Cheese Fondue?

Ah yes, you must, I insist. Be warned that the molten cheese often has wine mixed with it.

Okay, that is all I could offer in this installment. Keep those questions coming.

Planning your Swiss Trip…Oops Switzerland Trip! – A Sketchy Guide

The road to the Alps (Interlaken)

Yes ji, the country is not Swiss, its called Switzerland and trust me people do not like it when you mention it the wrong way! It is that time of the year when plenty of my fellow Indians and of course other citizens of the world would be in the process of planning their trip to this Alpine country. Thus I also decided to give my two bits, and also offer my help to those who need some tips about visiting Switzerland.

What qualifies me to give you tips on traveling to Switzerland?

Oh Hello! In case you didn’t notice I am the destination expert because I live at the destination (at least for now!).

Ok my apologies, so where do I set my base in Switzerland?

Hmm..now we are talking. For most folks from the sub-continent the trip center is usually Luzern/Lucerne. This is a good central place to stay specially because it is well connected to most other tourist destinations. However, do bear in mind that staying in Luzern probably means that you will be focusing only on some parts of the country.

Hmm…and how long should my trip be? And When?

I wish there was a simple answer to that. Almost two years here, and I am yet to cover it all! A fair answer would be that you should plan a trip atleast 4 days long. If you are a skiing lover, winter months are your choice. If you want to visit Switzerland in all its glory, then nothing beats late spring-summer from May to July (even August).

Summers is the best time in Switzerland (Rigi Klum)

What about Local transport? What about the Mountain railways?

Should you purchase the Swiss Passthen your local travel is included in the ticket system. It is indeed worth investing specially when you plan a short trip with lots of travel in it. Make sure you check their website in time, there are often good offers around. If your trip to Switzerland is a part of a larger Europe trip, then you may also opt for Eurail passes. However, I am not expert in that, but am sure it will result in considerable savings. Also, traveling 2nd class will make no big difference, the 2nd class seats are quite good and comfortable.

Mountain railways are a different question, Glacier express, Golden Pass, Chocolate express, Bernina express…well the Swiss have been experts and there is no beating them in a world class railway system. These train journeys are indeed beautiful, but for someone like me these get boring as well. Purely upto you if they enthuse you.

Where do I stay? How do I move around?

The best answer to this question is that if you are staying in a town like Luzern, Berne, Zurich, Geneva or Basel then the location of your hotel may make little difference, thanks to the extremely well connected and punctual system of trains/trams/buses. You can save a bit of cash on this, specially when hotels are expensive.

In case hotels do not make the cut for you, you could try for holiday rental apartments from websites like http://www.interhome.ch

For checking your local train connections, the only go-to website will be SBB home page of the Swiss National Railways. Better still install their smartphone app.

I am a vegetarian, help me! OR Where do I find Indian food?

I assume this is one of the critical challenges which plenty of Indian travelers face due to their diet preferences. However, this problem is partially solved if you are traveling in a group, as many tour operators in high season provision for this. In fact, lake boat rides in Interlaken region even include Indian buffets in summers. Here are a few general tips here:

  • There are Indian groceries in big towns, you can find namkeen, instant noodles and other staples but at 4-5 times the Indian price
  • Smokers beware, cigarettes are expensive. Not sure of the price as I never cared.
  • Buying drinking water, chips and other snacks on the go are always more expensive  if bought from Kiosks, Train pantry cars and cafes. Instead stock these from your nearest Migros, Coop or Denner.
  • There are plenty of Indian restaurants, but eating out is expensive so bear in mind. Do check TripAdvisor for this search. However, I do recommend the vada pav stall at the base of Titlis.
  • McDonald’s and Burger King do offer veggie burgers.
  • There is no KFC or Pizza hut in Switzerland.
  • Gipfeli/Croissant is a very common snack, and is available almost everywhere.

How do I call home to India? Is it very expensive?

Well, the simplest option is to buy a local SIM card. There are plenty of brands like Lebara, Yallo, or Lyca Mobile which offer very cheap mobile calls from Switzerland to India. All you need is a passport to buy the connection, which is normally available at most Kiosk stores.

Wait I have more questions!

Ok fair enough, why don’t you post your comments on this blog post  and I shall try my best to answer them. Till then Tschüss!

The world doesn’t need any more poets

Frankly, who are we fooling? Poetic skills are admirable, a skill which not everyone possesses (including some pop-icons of today), but the world doesn’t need them. After-all  poetry doesn’t feed you, it does not help you grow professionally. Apart from a very few, poets are nobody’s  They do not generate anything tangible, but wait…there are other people who generate intangible and many times insignificant results…!

The bottom line is, one has to join the rat race, OR take the risk and fight against the law of probability to succeed in our pursuit for happyness.

In every success we seem to seek inspiration, but we fail to take note of those who took the risk, toiled hard…yet could not pass the finish line. Could they have done more?

Certified!

Its been considerably long since my last post, but with too many things occupying my mind I often found myself without words to share.

Today morning, I appeared for BCS Foundation Certificate in Business Analysis, and cleared it too. It was one of the things I had been chasing since the beginning of the year. The funny thing is, today while walking to the exam center I was feeling the exam jitters, I must have appeared for dozens of exams in my academic life, yet they never fail to make one anxious!

I do not know if a certification is a proof that a person has the skills and can apply them, or it is a means supporting people attempting a career move. To me, it was just a means to make sure that I could support my current experience with conceptual knowledge base.

Waiting for Apocalypse!

Ah, today is the penultimate day of life as we know it? I hope so, else the post title will defeat its purpose. The year draws to its close, and I find it difficult to summarize it, to keep it a short post.

How do I remember this year? Tragic and in a state of flux.

Why Tragic?

You see, we started off fine, with fireworks down at the lakeside, filled with hope, and a fresh beginning. While I proceeded to blow my weight loss goal and lost more hair on my scalp instead, the world took multiple weird turns.

Not too far away from where I live, I hear they discovered the God Particle, strangely they never could take a picture of this particle. Most people, still, do not understand the science behind it yet, they know the God Particle. The name probably indicates that God is somehow linked with this physical entity.

Olympics happened, our nation got more medals, 6 medals in all. Better but still a long way to go, Mary Kom didn’t get the gold, would have loved her to win. And yes, the IOC suspended our Indian sports boday. Speaking of sports, the CWG Scandal has still not output, and as the public suffers from amnesia,  Mr Kalmadi and others are out of jail.

Speaking of Scandals, lets see Telecom scam and Coalgate were the top names, but there is actually a Wikipedia entry on the summarized list of scams, should you need to remember the names for your next exam. If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that the economy is booming. So the scams were pointless, people exchange allegations, MPs didn’t let the parliament function and made a lot of noise with no outcome (all fart and no shit, ha?).

Oh and yes, they managed to hang Kasab. Also, the nation is burning in anger against the rape in Delhi. Hope we skip our amnesia just this once.

Enough said. What about the world?

Obama got re-elected, again. On the other hand two Armstrongs were in news: While Lance was blamed for doping, Neil died after taking mankind to the moon.

Global warming again affected our planet, with no outcome in Doha. EU Union got the Nobel Peace prize, I hope they don’t go pieces next year. Egypt is still not stable, Syria still burning.

What about tomorrow?

Oh the Apocalypse, well thats just pish-posh. The Mayans Y2K if you get the drift.
Chill out, party hard, get drunk and hope that the change of date will change your life for good.

Ciao