Our trip started quite late, so we decided to first take a detour to Frankfurt with the intention to arrive at Eltz the next day. In hindsight, it was the right decision as its a rare treat to witness a city as big as Frankfurt be entirely calm and devoid of any traffic – vehicular or pedestrian. It reminded me of a trip I made to Hamburg during Christmas a few years ago
After a leisurely all-you-can-eat breakfast the next morning, we started driving. And within the hour, this sight was bearing down us.
Few hours of later, we began our return journey through the spectacular countryside of Germany. The rolling hills and sprawling greens had the classic WindowsXP look.
Soon we were passing through several towns. The decision to stick to secondary and tertiary roads as much as possible, did not disapoint us.
And just like that we were out on the highway and on our way home.
The city has been beckoning me to visit since a very long time. The few times I have been in the United States, it’s only ever been to the west coast. After a close friend who moved to this city has generously agreed to host me, I had no choice but to visit. Cheap tickets and spring weather made it easier. A 14-hour flight later I was there.
A first timer’s trip to NYC is incomplete without a visit to Rockefeller for the views of Empire State. The price I paid to go up top and the additional sunset view surcharge only to notice the lack of any sun or sky, made me chuckle.
As the light faded, the city started to light up, from hundreds of thousands of homes sprawling across Manhattan, making me wonder if this city had just started to wake up.
On other days, I mostly experienced similar perspectives repeatedly from the streets down below. After living in the Netherlands for a few years, a country with mostly flat land and small buildings, the sight of real tall buildings crowding the streets was novel and a strangely belittling experience.
The visit coinciding with the September 11th anniversary ensued Americana on display everywhere.
I couldn’t stop admiring the iconic Yellow cabs all around, contrasting against the rustic colours of the buildings.
Residential areas wore relatively more vibrant shades. Perhaps “vibrant” is a strong word considering there was nothing particularly dynamic about the colours. Rustic pastels seem to suit the feel.
The sprawling subway system was surreal. It seemed a different world existed underground, defying the borders encased by the rivers, the coast, as well as the tall buildings and their foundations.
Of course, what is New York without fashion
or the perpetual seepage of steam from the underworld onto the streets.
Five days and 100 kilometres of walking later, half of it constant rain, it just seemed that there was no end to the fantastic sights that NYC had to offer. Every one of them seemed un-missable, especially Times Square,
The Statue of Liberty
the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, plus a view of the bridge from the Dumbo area of Brooklyn. This particular view managed to trigger the strange feeling of “jamais vu” despite it being the first time I was seeing it in person.
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.