Saturday, July 25, 2015

Keukenhof - Tulip Festival

It's not the kind of place where you'll find home-grown herbs and vegetable patches. Keukenhof or Kitchen Garden is the annual gathering of Tulip growers in Netherlands where they get a chance to display their product (Tulips) to the industry and in the process stir up some business for themselves. Obviously it has over the last half a century become one of the world's most known flower festivals where thousands descend every day to see the beauty of flora in all its colourful glory.

Keukenhof and the surrounding tulip fields (the ones you saw decades ago in the movie Silsala) are open for only a month and a half each year starting from end of March till middle of May. However if you want to witness the spectacular beauty of the fields, which is a sight not to be forgotten easily, you need to visit during the early half of the event as by the end they tend to slowly disappear. However, the main area of Keukenhof remains as vibrant and pretty on the last day as it does on the first day of opening.

Spread over roughly 32 hectares, Keukenhof is obviously about tulips in unimaginable colours, but it is also full of features ranging from fountains and art installations to indoor exhibitions and even a grand windmill that you can climb up on to take in some views. Be prepared to walk, a lot, and good walking shoes are essential. There are canals and streams that run around the park and it truly is a joy walking among rows and rows of flowerbeds each labelled giving information about that particular tulip and about the different tulip growers who are responsible for the displays. With close to "7 million bulbs in bloom...with a total of 800 varieties of tulips" Keukenhof is nothing short of a feast for the eyes.

As is the case with most tourist spots, Keukenhof comes with little cafés and food stalls at different intervals throughout the park and then there are the obligatory souvenir shops and places where you can buy tulip bulbs (which sadly I've never been able to grow successfully in Indian weather). The entire park has signposts are regular intervals so getting lost isn't a worry, unless your sense of direction is horribly wrong. The park is divided into sub-gardens and each "garden" has something unique about it.It's important that when visiting Keukenhof you load up on your camera. There's a good chance you'll walk along clicking photos non-stop. Yes! It's that photogenic and pretty.

Visiting Keukenhof can be done via a number of ways; there are public buses that run from both Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam Central (Train Station). It's about an hours drive from central Amsterdam so if you want a more hassle free visit, you can always take one of the organised day-tours that takes care of everything. There's also the option of taking a canal boat ride but that's again favourable when the tulip fields are in bloom. If you really want a boat ride, an hour long boat ride is available once you're in Keukenhof (starting from behind the Windmill).

Keukenhof, because of its grand size and with so much splendour all around that one has to stop and take it all in, can be covered in entirety in about 3-4 hours provided you don't end up stopping for too long at any one place especially the petting zoo or the windmill. It also has a theme each year and in 2015 they celebrated the artist Van Gogh which is highlighted by a portrait of his made entirely out of flowers.

Keukenhof is definitely a once in a lifetime experience and because the duration of its opening is limited each year, it is something that shouldn't be missed should you happen to be in the area around then. Moreover, while it is like a little playground for those that love nature and gardening that should not stop individuals with other interests to visit the park as photos don't do justice to the magnificent natural beauty that is hard to witness in the ever increasing concrete jungles around the world.

Keukenhof Information:
Open: 24 March 2016 to 16 May 2016
Time: 08:00 - 19:30
Tickets: 16 for adults
Disabled friendly/Limited pushchairs available
Dogs are allowed provided they are kept in a leash

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The 11 Annoying People You Meet During a Flight

I’m not one for air travel, even though I have been sitting in planes since I was two years old, over time my fear of flying has only increased. Still, I somehow manage to fly keeping a track of all my pre and post flight superstitions and by praying like there’s no tomorrow before, during, and after every flight.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel, and no matter how safe flights are and what statistics say, I still am a bag of nerves when I am in a plane. I can feel every slight bump vibrate though my body and my eyes are always fixed on the seatbelt sign mentally telling it not to light up.

This anxiety that I suffer, and yes I am making it sound much worse than what it is, isn’t helped any further by the type of people I end up meeting during these flights. I know everyone is tired, and everyone has somewhere to go, and I’m not being a snob, well, okay just a little bit, but there are some considerations I hope people would take when they, along with everyone else, have paid an enormous amount of money to be in this “flying tin can”. Mind you, I do travel economy, so those of you who travel Business or First and cannot sympathize with me, you can take you hard earned money and do some shoving with it. 

So before Mitch Albom could take this title (see some of his book titles if you don’t get it), I decided to come up with a list of 11 annoying people you are likely to meet during a flight.;

You can tell the type of flight it is going to be by counting the number of people who try to board the plane by trying to jump the boarding procedure. The amount of time airline staff wastes on telling every third person that their “zone” hasn’t yet been called is not even funny. That’s why I make it a point to travel with kids, because for us economy class folk, that’s the only way we can jump the queue; and you thought kids were of no use at all. To those who enjoy jumping queues for pleasure, I hope your zone is called right at the end.  

Once inside the plane human nature comes out fiercely as the fight over “space” begins. Since we can’t move around our seats, everyone aims for the next best thing. It seems property has value everywhere for if I only had a penny for every fight I saw with regards to overhead luggage space, I’d still be traveling economy class unfortunately. I’m sure you know the person I am talking about; the one who will open up an overhead cabinet, see that it is stuffed, but still spend the next five minutes taking everything out trying to fit in his/her bag only to end up with one bag in their hand, that does not even belong to them, and then go around the plane asking whose it is. Of course they are careless about handling the baggage and thus screaming and shouting begins as they are informed of valuable and breakable items in the bags they have just removed. The only thing I wish for such people is that they get to sit next to the toilets.

The bags are in place and I have just sat down on my chair. There has been this person who has been eyeing me for a while now but I choose to disregard that. I buckle my seatbelt, yes I do that as soon as I sit down, and just when I am comfortable enough, that person who was eyeing me, remember them, well, they decide to come over and request that I change seats with them because for whatever reason. Then I have to explain to the said person that being tall I prefer an aisle seat, and not their middle seat, which for some reason is beyond their comprehension as they look at with me with a blank face and all the hatred they can conjure up in that moment because for the next 8 hours they will have to sit 5 feet, in place of 1 feet, away from their relative or get this, "a friend they made while they were queuing outside to get onboard". For them, I wish that their overhead luggage keeps falling down when they open it for the umpteenth time during the remainder of the flight.    

And finally we are off… flying, without turbulence, at the right altitude. Everything is fine, smiles all around, and the person next to me decides to go for a walk. On his return he or she rests for about 5 minutes when they realize that it would be a good idea to use the bathroom before the food is served. Good thinking, but apparently another visit to the toilet is required just when the food is served, and a walk after. As you can imagine, this for me involves removing the headphones, pausing the film, removing my blanket, moving out, and because I don’t know how long the person will be gone for, settling in again only to repeat the same procedure upon their return, and evident departure, and return, and departure. In addition, this is also the person who will have the urge to use the loo just when the “fasten your seatbelts” sign goes on or when we are finally descending towards our destination. They pay no attention to the airhostesses, who by the way is now sitting and strapped, calling and asking them to sit down. I hope the next time they use the toilet, it is clogged and they get a nice scolding from the airhostess for clogging it, even if they didn’t do it.   

Now, as long as there is no turbulence I really don’t mind getting up once in a while and stretching my legs. You would imagine it is not such a complicated task, but think about it, 300 odd people in an airplane, all at different stages of restlessness, and you realize that everyone is just waiting for time to pass. Amongst such passengers are the ones who believe that along with the seat that they have bought, the aisle comes as an added bonus. They sleep with their legs hanging out, or will roam around making conversations with other known passengers while their arse is protruding into the aisle, so that every time we have to cross, one has to strategically twist and turn to avoid certain body parts from touching each other. Then we have the joggers and the stretchers making the most of all the common space available. While it is essential that you exercise on long flights, let’s just remember that it’s a good idea to use the seat you’ve paid for as well from time to time. For the compulsive aisle users I hope you gain an extra few kilos even after walking throughout the flight.

While on the one hand it can be a problem if you end up with a neighbor that needs to use the loo or just walk in the aisle ever so often, what is worse is sitting next to one that is fidgety. They will move about, trying to get in the best possible position for themselves, living under the impression that by doing so the airline provided space will miraculously increase, and in complete disregard of you. They can be annoying as they tend to move just when you have managed to fall asleep. They won’t apologize for hitting your ribcage with their elbow during this body adjustment routine or when their pillow keeps falling over you. To them, I wish a slightly itchy heat rash, because it will compliment their fidgeting really well.

Alright, enough about people hogging up space in the overhead compartments and aisles. The person next to me is now fast asleep. He is snoring, but that doesn’t bother me that much. I take this time to fill up the miscellaneous immigration/custom forms in the gentle glow of the seat-light. Big mistake it seems that proves to be. Now, everyone around me is under the impression that I do this for fun. First I get handed over a form by an elderly lady and I am more than happy to oblige, even though it takes me a while to explain to her that I cannot fill just “any number” as her passport details. What follows this is a barrage of questions from a few others around me who too are by now filling up the forms. “Do I have to enter my present address or that of my relative in the form?” “But the house I live in is in the name of my wife.” “I am carrying homemade food for my uncle, is that allowed?” “Where in India are you from?” “What do you do for a living?”… Wait! What? I am more than happy to help someone fill up their forms if they are unable to do so for a reason, but I just hope that those able would take a little time, actually read them and fill them up on their own rather than asking total strangers to do that for them. To such folks, I wish the plane bumps a little when they are about to finish filling up the form and now they have to fill it up again as this one has ink all over. It should be noted that the said bump should not happen when I am in the plane and during their next flight only.

Oh look! Just as I finish filling up the form and settled down again, food is being served and my neighbor is up and they have a smile that would give the Cheshire cat a complex. What can be so exhilarating about airline food? Apparently it’s not the food but the free drinks, of the alcoholic nature. Yes, free “booze” can apparently bring a smile on anyone’s face. But, it’s not just the anticipation of free drinks, rather the idea of getting enough to take ahead on to their destination that is making them smile. So every time drinks are served, or in some cases on special request, two of each drink is asked for. Two wine bottles, two beers, two whiskeys. One is drunk, while the other is placed with stealth in the handbag, all the while the said person is giddily smiling. You would imagine that this person is in their teens and just discovered porn. What annoys me the most is when after a while they gather up the courage and “demand” that I too should ask for two of each drink and if I don’t want the extra, should give it to them. I am one for making the most of getting back from the airline, but come on people, draw a line somewhere. To them, I hope one of these bottles crack open in your luggage so that your clothes tell you relatives that you’ve just come for an alcohol infused holiday.

Another annoying model of a person is the one who will do the exact opposite of what is asked for by the airline staff. They get up when they are not supposed to, use the loo when they should be fastening their seatbelts, and most prominently be in a hurry to take the luggage off the overhead compartment once the plane lands, and I mean the plane has just touched the tarmac and still is traveling at a good speed, but this person is already up, with a smile on his face that can change into a clueless look just as the airhostess asks them to sit down. You can hear the airhostess shouting, requesting the person to take their seat. Somehow this reminds me of school. I just wish that the airhostess would get up, walk to the person, and give them a nice scolding, while the rest of us, like little children, can smirk and laugh about it. You know, like when your friend being naughty gets caught by the teacher.

We are finally out. The race to take the checked luggage begins. Everyone is in a hurry. I always love to read people’s faces during this time. Who could be carrying contraband in their baggage? Is there someone who might have a few extra iPhones that they bought for cheap during their visit to the US? But wait, I can’t really do that because I am being pushed and shoved around by those trying to grab their luggage. Big bags that they pull off from the conveyor belt and in the process knock off everyone around them. It’s a conveyor belt people. No need to push and shove others aside. What goes around comes around on these belts… literally. I just wish that these folks who were in such a hurry are stopped by the customs and have to spend a few hours while their baggage, and they, are checked thoroughly.    

I’m tired and just want to go home now. That’s the end of the trip and I’m happy to have reached my destination. Everything is okay with the world now. I thank God for a safe and non-bumpy flight. It’s time to hit the sack and sleep off the jetlag.

PS: Those of you keeping a tab and wondering about what happened to the 11th annoying person. Well, that would be me, the guy who thinks too much of himself and just observes everyone else with a smug smirk on his face, so he can go back and write a blog post out of it. Bloggers I tell ya!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Old World Charm of Fontainhas

I first came across Fontainhas when I did an online search for self-guided walks in Goa. Located in Panaji, the capital of Goa, and also known as the Old Latin Quarter, Fontainhas is famous for its pretty and colourful Portuguese-style private residences. I was charmed by the description and the many images of Fontainhas available online convinced me that I should visit the area while in Goa.
So after a day spent at Old Goa, I decide to head towards Fontainhas. There’s only one problem: my cab driver has no idea where it is with the result that we spend quite a bit of time in asking around and locating Fontainhas.
It is an hour before sunset when we finally arrive at the Panjim People’s Inn, a landmark in the area and now an art gallery. I would have loved to see the exhibits at the gallery, but have to give it a miss as otherwise I will not be able to take advantage of the remaining daylight to see Fontainhas.

A walk through Fontainhas reveals an old world charm in old, colourful houses with tiled roofs, narrow curving streets, vintage house signs, children playing football, a vintage car or two, gift shops selling souvenirs … The only thing that does not have a splash of colour is the local St. Sebastian’s Church; it’s whitewashed, neo-classical, single-towered façade is in stark contrast to the colored houses all around.
In spite of the evening time, it’s quiet and peaceful and it’s easy to imagine a bygone era. If not for all the modern cars around me, I would probably have thought that I had travelled back in time.
I wish I could have spent some more time at Fontainhas, but daylight is fading fast and there is nothing more that I can see. I drop into Marcou’s Artefacts to pick up some gifts for friends and family before I leave.

My last view of Fontainhas is from the steps of the nearby Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. Or rather it’s an imagined view as I can’t really see any of the buildings of Fontainhas and can only imagine them hidden behind the trees and out of sight. A colourful blue building with red windows opposite the church is a reminder of the wonderful evening that I have just spent at Fontainhas.

Sudha is one of the founders of #TSBC (or The Sunday Book Club), a traveller, a bookworm, an editor, a communications consultant, an amateur photographer, a Classical music (Indian, Western, and Arabic) lover, a mythology enthusiast, a closet graphic designer... She claims that she is a nerd who is chained to her office desk during the day, reads books and listens to music in the evenings, and dreams of travelling to faraway lands at night. In between all this, she finds time to blog a bit. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Walk of Stars, Broad Street, Birmingham

Did you know there was a Walk of Stars in Birmingham, UK? It might not be as grand as the Walk of Fame in the US, but nevertheless this little tribute to the local artists is something that should be celebrated.

You won’t find tourists or locals getting down on their knees to take photos with the “stars”, but this little initiative from the Broad Street businesses does pay homage to the various “celebrities”, mostly from the fields of TV, Cinema, Sports, Music, and other such arts, who have strong linkage to Birmingham or the surrounding areas, and those who have made prominent contributions to their respective fields.

The first in the series of the stars than can be found along the length of Broad Street at different locations, was presented to Ozzy Osbourne on 6th July 2007. Since then there have been 27 more stars that have been added including influencers like Chris Tarrant, Beverly Knight, Julie Walters, Frank Skinner, Noddy Holder, Jasper Carrot and the likes.  

Since the stars are placed without any real order and are not marked, it does make for a nice trip as you walk along Broad Street to try and find your favourite local artist. On the other hand, without any guide one can miss out on a number of these. Another reason why the Walk of Stars is not as popular as its counterparts is that it features local artists and thus overseas tourists might not be aware of most of them.

Nevertheless, the Walk of Stars remains a well appreciated initiative that does make a first timer stop and look and if they are familiar with the celebrity, maybe even smile and take a photo of/with the star.