Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Piped Dream: Paris

As I am seated at the Dubai airport, hopelessly waiting for the information desk screens to reflect our boarding gate number, half droopy and half excited, I can’t help but work on my first account of the Europe diaries.


Starting early morning from Pune, we reached Bombay only to be welcomed by the famous (not) Bombay rains. A smooth check-in and immigration was followed by a meal at Burger King to satiate our hungry selves. The excitement reached its crescendo when we lapped ourselves on the airplane, running an hour late, with the choicest menu from Emirates on our platter. The white wine bottle (now carefully preserved) in particular caught my fancy. With my eyes fixated on the movie ‘Martian’ playing on screen, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the NASA mission to Mars  juxtaposed by the stranded hero 'Mark Watney' and our flight launching into infinity and beyond... Into the land of dreams, lights, and where a million eyes blink at the sight of the majestic Eiffel.
Dubai was a brief halt and officially my third visit although only a touchdown at the airport this time around! Oscillating between brief periods of sleep, inactivity, hunger and endless waiting, we scouted the terminals for freebies at food counters available on the 'Emirates Meal voucher'. Shwarmanji and Costa Coffee were thus selected after much research and many rounds about the food court. As we were transitioned from one terminal to the next, a queue of Airbus 380 lining the airport caught our attention. Minutes later, we boarded onto this giant of a beast, and were only too happy to proclaim it as the best airline experience by far.

Landing at Charles De Gaulles, we quarried our way from the information desks to the train tickets queue ensuring that we were on the right train. The first sight of the city streets embarked a spark upon our tainted, tired faces, as we strolled across Gare Du Nord in the oxygen-rich air.  With ‘Vintage Hostel’ board in sight, we beamed at the thought of a baggage-free self. Since there was time before our room got readied, we went strolling about the nearby streets in the hope to explore a Paris we had never seen. And surprised we were!! 

The first encounter

A walk past the by lanes, we came across a man juggling tumblers and wooing his audience urging them to spot the tumbler under which the ball rests. It was only minutes later that I found my friend falling trap to the gimmicks. With the entire gang involved, extracting more euros out of my friend, and later prodding me to ‘contribute’ when my friend exclaimed that he had exhausted all that he had. It was only seconds later that the entire gang vanished with the money bet on spotting the ball. The girl who was whispering in my friends’ ear a while back was nowhere to be seen. Aghast, my hassled friend followed the gang leader, and argued with him urging him to return his money. What seemed like a settlement of sorts from a distance turned out to be a deal turned raw for the gang lords, while my friend heaved a sigh of relief with his money back in the pockets. Having learnt his lessons the hard way, he vowed to never again bet in his life, not at least in Paris. 

Recovering from the aftermath of the incident, we stumbled upon a swarm of people – tourists and locals alike.  Wandering about we realized later that we were at the footstep of the Sacre Couer Basilica. Randomness had found its target. What seemed like a thousand steps up to the basilica in the scorching heat coupled with the almost jet lagged selves was compounded by the ordeal of another set of men trying to find the ‘right’ targets. With threads in hand and a resolve so adamant wanting to experiment God knows what gimmick in lieu for money they barged in our direction. Their body language seemed to tell that they had indeed found their bait, but needless to say we did not relent, my friend more so this time around. ;)

At the highest step up the basilica, the entire Paris seemed to be on my feet. The top most view of the city was the most gorgeous. With a tiny me perched on the brick wall, I felt like a speck in the Parisian sky that stretched before me.

All things touristy

A change of clothes, and we were ready to take Paris by the storm. Struggling initially with the machine for train tickets taking help from people who could speak ‘English’ (at least a little), we trailed our way to the Concorde - statues, fountains and the first view of the Eiffel across the bridge. Delight discovered a new found embodiment in us.

Walking down Champs Elysees with a row of top-notch brands wading by reiterated the status of the city as the fashion capital of the world. Add to that the prim, petite and dolled up French faces with sharp, crisp features that walked past you. Amidst the fanfare roads went berserk with frenzy as France forayed into the UEFA euro cup quarter finals - quite a sight (imagine bunch of people hooting, scooting by at flash of a speed in their jazzy cars with flags waving and loud music ;P)

End of sight, Arc’ De Triomphe shone bright in the Parisian sun – a hallmark of glory for those who died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Completing an entire circuit and walking down a few kilometres more, we scouted our way to the points nearest to Eiffel. Going beserk with selfie stick clicks, we stopped every 5 minutes, soaking in the view from every angle till we reached right under the embrace of the mighty tower. Digging into the crepes from the close by stall ensured that our taste buds and stomach too got their fill.

Eiffel not only surprised us but also challenged our beliefs with its grandeur and enormity. At that moment, all else stood still and the only thing that stood testimony to that awakening reality was time. Time that spoke of a world, right out of a dream, thats so so beautiful and you a tiny part swarmed in its embrace.

Day 2 brought with it unwarranted surprises, ecstatic moments and unblemished joy all the same. We headed for the Louvre the first thing in the morning, after grabbing a quick bite from one of the cute eateries. Excitement was at its peak - the sagas from Da Vinci, the pyramid, sculptures of Michael Angelo and the Mona Lisa of course- the mystique was for real. Delighted to get a free entry courtesy the ISIC card, we were elated at the near accomplishment. The museum is huge, with separate galleries for paintings, sculptures, drawings and works of art, although the most popular attraction remains the Mona Lisa. Reaching it is almost like walking past a maze from one gallery to another until you spot the find in a treasure trove.  

People pose better
Yes, those are over-enthusiastic strangers posing in the background 

The Mona Lisa in a carefully preserved glass casing stands stormed by visitors in a room separately reserved for this masterpiece. The most acclaimed painting by Leonardo da Vinci - the smile, the eyebrows and the subject herself continue to be a matter of much debate and intrigue worldwide. 

Right outside the Louvre
Walking across the Seine River, trying to find the ‘We love Paris’ blocks of concrete and failing miserably at it, we decided to head for Montparnasse next. Known as the heart of intellectual and artistic life in Paris, Montparnasse is replete with fancy restaurants to quick take-away cafes and the omnipresent supermarkets.  We scrounged the streets in search for pocket-friendly food options, much like the starving artists who ideated and debated, perched themselves on a table all evening only we were there for only a few hours. We stopped by the upmarket Galeries Lafayette but didn’t find much.


Top of Eiffel
That evening we got down at the Bir-Hakeim station, the station that resonated Eiffel for us. Returning back to our favourite spot, this time around we approached the Eiffel from the other side. Immersing ourselves in its grandeur, it was some while before we bought our tickets to the top. We were going to head right at the TOP of the Eiffel.
 This was insane and truly the most exhilarating experience ever. While we stopped at the second floor, going crazy with pictures and panoramic views from every angle, it was only when we reached the top most floor post dusk that the excitement got the better of us. The entire city shone bright under the twinkling stars and teeming lights with Eiffel itself lit up in more than 20,000 light bulbs. Shine like a diamond, we literally did that evening, mesmerized and besotted at the top of the mighty Eiffel. Lovers, friends, families, solo riders – gathered there in numbers, as if it was one big happy family cheering and clicking from different view-points.  

It was only until the last glass lift went down at 11 p.m. that we moved down with it. Stopping by the first floor, with the entire floor made of see-through glass, our intimidated selves experienced the thrill of looking down at the tiny world from 187 foot above ground.

The last day in Paris

Biting off more than we could chew, last day in Paris meant leaving no stone unturned to check the places that were left to be done. Though with Paris, there’s always more to discover all the time! We headed for Notre Dame the first thing. 

The everyday planning

The Vintage Hostel main lobby area

The gothic architecture combined with the colored stained glass panels and the utmost grandeur of the church left me spellbound. Altered and restored several times over the course of 8 centuries, Notre Dame is an architectural wonder in itself. It is marvellous how the sanctity, peace and quiet are maintained in the cathedral despite the burgeoning amount of visitors it attracts in a day.

We strolled past the next door gardens with lovely blooms, where we decided our next stop.


Walking down to the close by Pantheon was a wise decision as we transversed the part of the city on foot. An iconic building in itself, it houses the remains of notable French citizens.  

Pediment of the Pantheon with the caption which translates to "To the great men, the grateful homeland"

The Pantheon represents the nerve of everything that Paris houses - the rich, the elite, the classicist, the freedom fighters, the writers, the thinkers, the revolutionists. It is thereby not a surprise that it is a revered icon of symbolic significance.

Across the same street, we stopped by an ice-cream parlor to indulge in our sweet nothings. We delved into flavors that we wouldn't even get close to back home although Paris being our first city felt like a rich man's indulgence and we too poor to afford something as small as an ice-cream. Hence we shared our sorrows with just a cup. This was to obviously change as we set foot in the next country and got accustomed to living life in euros.

The sights and sounds of Paris are intriguing. It’s almost magical and unreal whether it is the sight of Eiffel from any corner, the architecture, or its people.


The only speck of taint robbing the city of its unreal self would probably be the street-side gimmickry or the roadside gangster who probably stole something and ran for his life. The svelte policeman in their uniform and machismo running behind and catching hold of him the next turn was an eyesore too. The evening saw us avail of our free coupons at a nearby cosy bar pub we made our way to amidst this incident.  
Hale and hearty we sat by the corner of the road the next few hours until we returned with best memories of the 3 days as we warmly tucked in bed under the chasm of a good good night.
Sortie (exit) it was, although a memorable one!
P.S. Stay tuned to the run up to the Euro travel series. Next stop: Brussels.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Times and Tide at Bangalore

There's always something about a place you visit the first time around. The joy of exploring a city afresh. Wandering about quaint streets and snazzy corners. Getting lost, finding pieces of yourself in people and places you've never visited before, and unearthing yet another chapter in this story called life. Internship at Bangalore has been about all this and much more!

Getting back to work life yet again, never-mind though for just two months, initially seemed like a repeat course in stress management, time management, and the dreaded N word (For all those who guessed networking, you're bang on there!). But as the doll drums die down, and curtains fall to mark a closure to this eventful journey, there is more that I'll miss about this place than I had imagined.

Seated in one of the front rows at Wipro Sarjapur auditorium, the day distinctly clear in my head, rambling and cracking jokes about the days that lie ahead. Little did we know then that we'd make such beautiful memories in just 2 months' time span. Venturing out every weekend, fridays through sundays have been pensive at times, a cheerful blur at others, and meandering fun the most.

A lot sure can happen over coffee!
Life at Bangalore has been just as 'diverse' as my days at the office researching about 'Diversity'. The initial weekends commenced with gusto, exploring the nooks and corners of MG Road, Brigade Road and Commercial Street (thanks to a shopaholic friend). A brief stop at an antiques shop by the corner almost fetched us a job as a part-time arts curator (wish the 9-5s were as fancy!). Dancing the night away at Sotally Tober, grabbing a more than wholesome meal at Truffles, and singing along at Boozy Griffin set the tempo for the initial weekends. The weekdays were packed too - with work,  learnings, some amount of travel (and a hole in the pocket of course), but again replete with countless memories. Some came by along CCD hangouts, while others were made at SIBM campus, some with in-house folks, others with friends sneaked in from the next door (well, almost! :P) Uniworld campus.

With lessons in beating peak-hour traffic and fares, and implementing the same each time with an Ola or Uber booking, we were gradually nearing the champs hallmark at becoming Bangloreans. You know you're in B'lore when the travel costs more than the food and the drinks combined. 

Nonetheless, transversing an entire city to grab pancakes at Cafe Nation, and be the fellow shopping spectator to a friend had its own charm.The later days with merry making at Prost, Gilly's, and Big Brewsky with bigger and better gangs (fellow interns from different B-schools) ensured that we were high on laughter, silly-nothings and more randomness in life. Savoring a hearty Sunday morning breakfast the next morning at 154 Breakfast Club post an almost scary movie session the previous night at a friend's place was the ultimate deluge.

Post 'Boozy Griffin' selfie - Say hi to homies!!
Big Brewsky
And then there were walks and aimless meandering about Church Street, scrounging our way to UB City just for the fun of seeing what the hype was about (never-mind the now drowned Mall(ya)!). The joy of winding up with your official presentation, being treated by your boss with truckloads of food from Papa Johns soon after AND celebrating the receipt of your visa the same day tucked with sweet cravings in Hole in the Wall Cafe.

The last weekend at Harry's Bar and Cafe in particular unfolded stories and memories that I'll relish for a lifetime for more reasons than one (details classified). As the much touted 'grand finale' of our internship approached near, draped to touché,  sashaying the finest smiles, we posed relentlessly for the all-seeming paparazzi (friends who obliged with the perfect clicks). Probably, because we had got the drift - it was never going to be the same ever again. First and final take, the last of the treasured ones. Before the final goodbyes, the concoction of heavy jabbering, laughter and guzzling played its part, tinkered with going crazies and running the place down kind of mad at Fenny's. More madness followed at Purple Haze.

After such loitering around, I only feel accomplished on how much of Bangalore I have explored in these two months, and the innumerable memories made in the nooks and corners of these tiny, cosy spaces. Because, no matter what it is never going to be the same again. Bangalore will always be special, no matter the hours I spend on the road to grab the 'last supper' or reach 'the final destination'. Call it obsession for travel or pure wanderlust, I wouldn't deny that I equally enjoyed all the cab drives (not money-wise), beating the traffic, bus rides to transverse one part of the city to reach the other. Crossing the flyover in the dead end of the nights, gleaming lights, wind in the air and the subtle music - never wanting the drive to end... Much like the moments and time I spent both in the Wipro campus and in the city! Time really does fly and you only wonder why...

Life has its own way of traversing across time and space, unfolding hidden mysteries and stories we're yet to uncover. It doesn't feel like goodbye just yet. Time really does fly and you only wonder why...