The last few days of our world trip were a whirlwind in London, the capital of the United Kingdom. On second thought, there’s a good chance it was always going to be a combination of desperate last-minute sightseeing and window-shopping while wondering if we could fit more presents into our luggage for family and friends. But London, like Paris, has no end of historical jewels (figurative and literal) to dazzle the common visitor, and I had never been there before! The only saving grace is that there were no must-try restaurants, because no one is going to pretend English cuisine is the height of gastronomy.
We took the National Express bus down from Cambridge, and as soon as we got into Greater London, it became obvious that the last 1/4th of the trip would take as much time as the first 3/4ths did. We managed to badger the driver into dropping us off at an earlier stop than Victoria Coach Station, and took the Tube up to Camden Town, where we were staying. After a nap and shower, we took ourselves out to visit Hyde Park and the Serpentine (a long pond). It was green and pleasant, with rowboats and some stately looking swans. And giant too — it easily took a good 45 minutes to walk diagonally from one corner to another. At one corner, opposite Royal Albert Hall, we found a monument also dedicated to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, which looked like the British take on a Thai Buddhist temple. In other words, gold, baroque, and unappealing. After some quick dinner, we called it an early night, in preparation for two mad days of sight-seeing in London. Continue reading London, Part I: Bridges across the Thames.→
We now resume our interrupted broadcast of our travels from Spain. It was just two weeks ago that our three brave heroes found themselves in the capital of Catalonia…
The road to Barcelona is well-trodden, and every tour of the city includes its iconic monuments to Antoni Gaudi, the well-known Spanish Catalan architect. This might as well be the city of Gaudi, we had to conclude after three days of wandering around. Our first stop was Park Guell, on a hill in the north of Barcelona that affords a picturesque view of the city. Gaudi designed and built the park in 1914, and it has come to be known for his signature touch of modernist and naturalist architecture, built of strange, organic shapes and encrusted with mosaics. The winding park terrace which is also covered with mosaics are well-known to me, and recall to me the films like L’auberge espagnole and Vicky Cristina Barcelona where I first saw them.
It has been five days since we got into Lyon, and we are slowly beginning to learn this French city, walking the hills, crossing the rivers, accustoming our ears to the language, and memorizing the street names.
Our apartment is located in the 6th arrondisement, on the very edge of the upper northeastern corner of Lyon. Our street is bare meters from the dividing line that marks the beginning of Villeurbanne, a neighboring city to our north and east. Some parts of Villeurbanne are distinctly different — three blocks to our north begins the quartier Tonkin, which is some sort of suburban housing development from the ’60s and ’70s. The large apartment buildings resemble ones I’ve seen in China, but with much more geometric, artistic, and interesting architecture.
The Tonkin complex has within a hospital, an elementary school, and some large playgrounds. It really has a flavor of its own, and we really enjoy wandering around this part of town. There is also a large Muslim population in nearby Villeurbanne, which comes out not only in the populace, quite a few of whom wear headscarves, but also in the streetfront kebab restaurants which hang “Hallal” signs above their shop. Due to the May 1 (Labor Day) holiday, many normal restaurants were closed, and as a matter of last recourse, we visited twice a place with I got pretty decent kebab sandwiches (for 4.5 euro, the normal price). Steve ordered a “taco au choix” with steak, which turned out to be a thick burrito with steak, vegetables, and fries inside. Continue reading Promenades en Lyon.→
Since we arrived in Kochi by the train last week, I have found it very easy to lose track of the days. We are here for nearly two weeks in Kerala, which is an exquisitely relaxing place, I am happy to report. Last Thursday, we stumbled off the train and took a tuk-tuk ride to our homestay (an Indian B&B) in Fort Kochi, on the tip of the island where it meets the Indian Ocean. Our room has a small balcony on one side, and on the other, a small sunny verandah that holds a few tables and shared as a communal breakfast space.
From where we like to sit, I can see the flower pots on the edge of the verandah, a few rooftops next door, lines of laundry, the green tops of coconut trees and a hazy blue sky. Our second day here, I sat out in the heat to do a brief watercolor of it, which I’m going to pass on making public for now. Truthfully, my photography skills still far exceed whatever I can do on paper, but it’s relaxing to work on mixing the right shade of green and drawing miniature palm leaves. Kerala is a jungle-like environment. A few nights ago, we shared drinks and a long conversation about India on the balcony. As we talked, we saw and heard bats flapping from palm to palm. There is a strange birdcall sometimes, like a whooperwill (or maybe just what I think a whooperwill sounds like). Steve scoffed and said it was fake at first – that’s how weird it sounded to us. And there are crows all over the place too.
Love inspires grand monuments and grand statements. Here, the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore was waxing poetic about the beauty of the Taj Mahal. I’ve read this quote countless times in guidebooks and introductions, and you know, that’s quite a statement. When we planned to visit India, I knew that we needed to go see the Taj. Not quite because I was dying to make the trip to Agra, but more because I knew we would regret visiting India and not seeing it in person.
The Preparation Knowing it would be a difficult trip to plan, we made no other plans for our five days in Delhi. After some online research, I was overwhelmed by the logistics of taking a train to Agra and transportation from there to each of the sights in the city, so I suggested to Steve we try a tour group. We checked out a few places on the Main Bazaar that advertised day-trips to Agra. One place suggested a bus trip (leaving at 6 am, coming back at 11:30 pm) for 500 rupees a person, which sounded a little too cheap to be good (less than $10 USD per person, really?).
We also stopped by the travel desk at our hotel to inquire, and they suggested we hire their car and driver to visit three different sights in Agra, which would be more of a 12-hour journey for approximately 6000 rupees ($100 USD). We went back to do more research, but barely an hour later, the travel desk called our room to let us know there were two other travelers also hoping to go to the Taj tomorrow, so the price was just halved the price to 1500 rupees per person. After a hurried conference, Steve and I decided to go along with this unexpected opportunity.