Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cologne, Germany (Part 2)

It snowed the rest of the weekend. As already mentioned earlier, it was my first experience in snow and boy, was I thrilled! I must have been the only person in Germany who was excited while the rest were cribbing about train delays, the slush and muck and all the chaos due to the weather. As for my first snowflake, I think it was an incredible experience to actually see the tiny thing in real life as a miniature of all its representations I had seen before.
Anyway, on Saturday, we decided to see the Schloss at Bruhl which is near Cologne. The Schloss, unknown to us, was closed to public in the months of Dec and Jan but it was still wonderful walking around the grounds. The gardens, which I am sure during the summer months are spectacular, were frozen under the snow and everything was really stark and pretty.

After wandering around, we ended up checking out the Christmas market behind the Schloss.

We ate some amazing currywurst.................

Then we returned to Cologne and could not help taking some more pictures of the awesome Cathedral......

We decided to visit the Ludwig museum - one of the top museums in Cologne. Its main focus is on pop art alongwith a collection of Picassos. However I found the museum over rated and neither Chi Mee nor I got the pop art message.

We ended the day at yet another Christmas Market.........

On Sunday, Chi Mee decided to take me to Konigswinter in the Drachenfels which is a mountain range nearby. It has a narrow gauge train that takes you up the mountain from where one can have an extensive view of Cologne. The view was spectacular but it was freezing cold (-16C).

Halfway up there is a castle - Schloss Drachenberg - where there was an exhibition of various nativity scenes.

We ended the day by visiting a medieval Christmas Market...........which was unique. People were dressed in medieval costumes and items being sold in the stalls had a medieval touch to it. All currency for goods being sold were also displayed in medieval currency rather than Euros! And to top it all, the merry-go-round for kids had a medieval touch with wooden horses and oak casks as tubs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cologne, Germany (Part 1)

I had leave the entire 2nd half of Dec and decided to spend the first few days of it visiting my friend Chi Mee in Cologne, Germany. I had heard so much about Cologne and its famous Christmas Markets, so it was imperative that this trip be done before the 22nd of Dec, the date when the Christmas Markets close.

So I took the EK flight from Bombay to Dusseldorf via Dubai on 17 Dec. The entire journey was uneventful till 1 hour prior to landing in Dusseldorf, when I started chatting with this Pakistani guy sitting next to me. As it turned out, it was his birthday the next day and someone had ordered a cake for him to be served inflight. So not only did I get to share a slice of it but he insisted that I carry the rest with me!

Once I reached Dusseldorf, I had to take a train to Cologne. Unlike expectations of German punctuality, the trains were running late (as much as 40 mins). Chi Mee met me at the train station and took me to her apartment which is very cosy. After freshening up, we went to visit the first Christmas market where we met up with Chi Mee's colleagues from the Cologne-Bonn airport. We had some gluhwein and a bratswurst and generally walked around checking out the various stalls.


Then we went bowling and from a sluggish start, I ended up sharpening my bowling skills to finish with the highest score in my team.

The next day, Chi Mee had to work half day, so I went to the Lindt Chocolate Museum by myself. It was a wonderful experience for a chocoholic like me.

Especially interesting, were the chocolate dispensers of years gone by. We don't make innovative and pretty things anymore; everything is so functional.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with Chi Mee at the famous Cologne Cathedral or Dom which is a huge gothic structure with absolutely beautiful stained glass windows.

 We then went to Bonn in the evening to drop off some stuff at Chi Mee's brother's place. It started to snow which was a first time experience for me!!

And of course, we ended the evening at another Christmas Market.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Christmas Holidays

Well have been on leave from work for the Christmas and New year holidays. I went to Germany to visit a friend and experience the Christmas Markets but was back in Bombay by the 24th to spend the festive season with my family.

It has been a wonderful few days just relaxing, eating, drinking and talking with my brother and his wife Cheryl, mum, dad and grandma. We went for a movie Paa and all enjoyed it. Yesterday we went for mass to the Basilica of Mount Mary, Bandra and on the way back visited some relatives.

Today, Floyd and Cheryl took us out for dinner to celebrate their first wedding anniversary (which is tomorrow). Our favourite restaurant, Don Giovanni has reopened in this part of town and so there was no hesitation in picking it for the meal. As usual, whatever one picks, one can never go wrong at Don Giovanni and we had a scrumptious dinner.

Overall a great few days.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gyaan at the Yoga class

The yoga class is not just a physical exercise regime but also a time for meditation and reflection. Thought to capture some of the yoga teachers' words of wisdom. Believe me, they are simple yet so true. I thank them for their dedication, perseverance and motivation. I have been able to cope with life thanks to some of the gyaan below.

- If you can finish a 90-minute Bikram Yoga class, you can do anything.
- Mind over matter. What is the matter with the mind?
- I can. But will I?
- No drama, it is only yoga.
- The only way out, is to go through it.
- Disease = Dis+EASE of the mind and Dis+EASE of the body.
- Good things come in small packages.
- No pain, no gain.
- Keep the faith... keep your integrity...........and Truth always Prevails.......

Friday, December 11, 2009

Women mean Business

Attended a conference by the Cherie Blair Foundation for women today. Kingfisher was a sponsor and so we had the privilege of meeting Ms. Blair in person.

The conference in itself was very interesting as it dwelt on women and women empowerment. All the speakers were well chosen and their interaction was highly informative, thought provoking and in some cases entertaining.

Crux of the matter is, are we doing enough to empower women?
Are we doing enough to ensure that women are given an opportunity to be eligible for selection to better jobs?
Are HR policies including those of recruitment and selection based on merit? Are the policies gender neutral?
Is there a level playing field in the workplace to ensure equality?
Finally, as women, are we true to ourselves?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kutch - An experience!! (Part 2)

Continued from the previous post.............

After the amazing stay at Shaam-e-Sharad at Hodka, we decided to visit the flamingoes at Chaari Dhand. It was a 45 minute drive into the wetlands of this desert land. We saw the flamingoes, though they were a bit far out. They were a pretty sight but wish we could have seen them from near. Maybe next time!

Near, yet so far!!

The footprints of the flamingoes!!

Spectacular landscape.

We then proceeded to Dholavira which was a 6 hour drive through Bhuj. The roads in Gujarat are definitely well maintained and we were very impressed. On the way, we passed a stretch where for miles and miles (almost an eternity) we passed a saltpan - like landscape which was stark white. The camera could not capture the beauty of the landscape but it was unique. Apparently it seems like the entire area at some stage was submerged under water which has now receded leaving behind the salt.

Of course, being rural India, we did manage to get caught in herds of buffaloes, cows and sheep at various stages of our journey!!

Dholavira - an ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley dating back to 2900 BC. This was discovered in 1960s but the excavations were commenced only in 1990 and are still underway. They had superior water conservation skills and the same can be seen through the vast inter-connected reservoirs that surround the city. Their trade links extended to Mesopotamia and they had weights and balance measures that were quite accurate!

Not many people are aware of it and truly, if it had not been for the NDTV 7 Wonders of India programme, nor would I.

I feel terrible that our country does not appreciate the heritage, culture and assets that we have. There was not much information available and whatever the guide said was imbibed with a pinch of salt. Thankfully I had researched it on the internet and was quite updated on the little information available.

Smita and the driver inspecting the reservoir!

Apparently there are 7 cities built over each other. They have only uncovered the top one. Don't know how long the process will take to unearth the secrets of Dholavira.

The local shower!

Smita checking out the servant's quarters. They were barely 6ft by 6ft. Guess somethings in life don't change.

One of the huge reservoirs unearthered which has its own inbuilt filteration system. It is connected to the next reservoir and in turn connected to wells and cisterns.

Guess we can learn a lot from our ancestors. Please note the parched earth in today's time.

We decided to stay the night in Dholavira at the Gujarat Tourism run resort called Toran. Trust the public sector to let us down completely. First of all, no one was aware if this resort is open or not. Finally, we stayed in mud Bhungas which were of very poor quality. There is definitely a contrast between the resort run privately in Hodka and the one run by the government at Dholavira. Of course the prices were totally opposite - Rs 3800 at Hodka versus Rs 200 at Dholavira. However I would have preferred to pay a higher sum for a more comfortable stay. In all fairness, the meals which were served were fresh and wholesome though of limited choice (as green vegetables are in scarce supply in this part of the country) and the rooms were clean.

It was a real pleasure to visit a place in India which dates back to 2900 BC. It was also a chance to honestly say that we have been to the back of beyond. Overall, Kutch is vibrant, colourful, beautiful, the people are simple and friendly but the region is quite backward. It makes us appreciate our life better.