Lights dazzling through the falling droplets, the dim ambience with latent moisture in the air, light reflecting off puddles, crowds flowing with umbrellas, leaves a feeling of poetic romance lingering in the air. I love it when it rains in Amsterdam.
Sunday morning, there was no sunrise, for the whole neighbourhood appeared to have disappeared, cloaked under a veil of thick fog. Visibility was low, so I decided to go out biking. No sooner than I got out, the sun was out and fading away the fog to reveal the colours. I stopped at a narrow walkway with trees arching over to take in the spectacular saturated greens.
On a sunny April weekend, a friend and I rented a car and started driving towards Normandy, yet again. The destinations we wanted to head to was as always – Etretat & Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France all the way from Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was my 4th time going this route, and I was excited as it was the first time I wasn’t the only one on the driving wheel.
There was a feeling of apprehension brewing inside me right till the trip started, which I initially dismissed as nothing. Little did I know that the journey was going to be riddled with troubles. First signs were quick to show up, as I realised I forgot memory cards for my DSLR camera; and that the film SLR had a dead battery. My only consolation was that I had a small pocket Fuji camera.
We drove through the night, stopping for a nap at a fuel station somewhere on the border France and Belgium. At dawn, we made a proper rest stop for breakfast, toilets and fuel. It is one of my most favourite places in France; the scenery is spectacular.
The fog along the rolling hills and roads just about started to disappear as the sun shone.
The first stop for the night was to be in Etretat, so we went and booked ourselves a hotel room, and then headed to Mont Saint-Michel. I have been dreaming of flying the drone and taking pictures of this place, and it was time.
While heading back to Etretat, I managed to make a quick flight with the drone to capture the spectacular colours of the sandstone cliffs which adorned the coast along the English channel.
My soul, desperately yearning for a soft bed, could hear the hotel calling 250kms away. Before that, there were more important matters to be settled first – food. Instead of settling in for a quick dinner fix, we drove to Le Havre, to eat some Indian food. The morning views were as incredible as I always found them, staying at the same hotel, during earlier trips.
Thus commenced the next phase of my misadventure, where I ended up crashing my drone behind these cliffs. I discovered some tunnels which I walked up to, climbed a little and passed through.
At the potential crash site, I found a secluded beach surrounded by spectacular scenery. After concluding that my efforts were futile, I trekked along. After an hour or so I observed people from up top the cliffs staring at me, as were the passing boats. It turned out the tides have risen few meters cutting me off from the mainland, and they realised I was stranded before I did. Eventually, I signalled few paddlers who then rescued me.
Resigned this was enough adventure at Etretat, we started heading back. En route, an impromptu detour was made to Cap Gris Nez, a place that has been on my todo list and bookmarks for a few years now. With the shores of the UK being just 35kms away, the Cliffs of Dover were visible. I felt an insatiable urge to, touch those cliffs and to see the other side
It was afternoon; the car had to be returned the next day while another 400kms lay ahead. Irrationality prevailed, and we made yet another detour towards Paris, thereby adding another 400kms to the trip, just to have dinner at this one particular restaurant – Saravana Bhavan.
When the prospect of exploring the Himalayas popped up, I was above and beyond ecstatic. Most I have been around mountains was outside India. There were only a handful of occasions I saw them in India in over two decades. Part of the tradition to explore India every time I visit, following a trip to Agra, a friend and I made impromptu flight reservation to fly from the capital of the country to the capital of the Himalayan kingdom – Leh.
As soon as we landed in Leh, we were left breathless both metaphorically and literally. At 3500m, not only did the lack of oxygen had caught us unawares with altitude sickness but also the cold. Excitement turned into grumpiness. Breathlessness, grumpiness and of course drama enveloped us.
One hotel customer was kind enough to chide us for being unprepared and gave us medicines for altitude sickness. That breathed life into our miserable souls and lifted our spirits up. With that, we hired a taxi and proceeded to explore.
Pretty much everything around Leh is built by the Indian Army. The amount of engineering that had to be done to make life possible there was beyond imagination. Living in the Himalayas is hard. There is no internet, water supply, fresh foods, for weeks or maybe even months during winter (which spans almost the entire year). And yet, somehow human spirit found ways to survive and thrive.
The morning dose of chai at an altitude that exceeds most peaks in the Alps certainly gave me goosebumps.
Pretty much all infrastructure is built and maintained by the Indian BSF (Border security forces). Civilians are allowed to use most of it with an exception to certain roads which restricted to foreigners.
There were several temples that we visited. The peace and tranquillity I observed, momentarily left me wanting to give up life in the urban rat race and live there.
Sitting atop a small peak, Leh Palace was a stunning sight and it had incredible views.
Next stop was the Lamayuru Monastery in Kargil.
The most ubiquitous piece of gadgetry in the Himalayan range turned out to be Satellite TV. The satellite dish antennas were everywhere! In hindsight, it seems obvious now, but I was amused to see them. They were perhaps the only means of connection to the outside world.
Cricket – not surprisingly, was the most popular pastime. I loved seeing kids dressed in monk’s red-orange robes playing the game everywhere, brought a smile to my soul.
Everything I imagined and knew about the US, from my past experiences in this country, has been around the Bay Area. As such, I was unprepared to experience the more laid-back vibe in the city. It was and felt much different. A happy surprise.
Missing luggage is how my trip to the US began. Security on my way out of baggage area was eyeing me curiously and then proceeded to stop and ask as to why I only had a carry-on. Once I got out, I went and bought a shirt, checked in, ate some food and headed straight to work, which was just a block away. My colleagues offered to take me to Kerry Park, which was another two blocks away from the workplace, for a break. The views were spectacular.
Later after work, few other friends were going to see the cherry blossoms in the Washington State University grounds. As I just missed out the cherry-blossoms in Amsterdam at Kersenbloesempark, I was more than happy to go check it out.
View of Mt Reiner from the WSU area
At night, jetlagged and luggage-less, I went and sat down in one of the cafes, to do some people watching on the street. I was truly “Sleepless in Seattle.”
The next day evening, colleagues invited me to hang out with them at a bar near a marina. I fail to remember the name, but I would certainly love to go back there and take the float plane from the club situated there.
The weekend arrived, and I met up with a good friend who showed me around Seattle. Starting with the iconic gum wall, which I never knew existed. It was as gross as it was good-looking.
The next day after I parted with my friend, I went around exploring to the edge of the city. I was on my way to rent a car to drive out to the countryside. The way sunlight lit up, and casted shadows couldn’t help me but attempt to capture them.
I got back at night and went to Kerry park yet again for getting some night shots of the city view.
The two weeks ended and before I realised, I was already on my way back to Amsterdam