Sunday, March 29, 2009

Boston Apartment (Mar 29, 2009)

My final day in London saw me getting up late and heading off to Ajith’s place at Feltham (I think this may not be the right town – Ajith, correct me if I am wrong. Ah forget it…It’s a village anyway :D). It is situated close to Heathrow Airport.

The trip was quite uneventful – I caught the tube to Waterloo and from there I rode on the Southwest train to Feltham. The only unfortunate event occurred when at Waterloo the trolley handle of my huge bag broke. I had to literally bend and pull it from there on.

I lazed around in Feltham, shopping for few chocolates – Liqueur chocolates, and a huge amount of tea bags. I had taken quite a liking to the tea here and I bought a big pack of PG Tips tea bags from ASDA (Wal-Mart owns this chain).

Finally it was time to bid goodbye and we hailed a taxi to the airport. Ajith was kind enough to accompany me to the airport and how much ever I pull his leg and say he was a terrible guide I don’t think I would have seen as much of London without him.

Ajith, I am revising your scores – 4.5 out of 5!

Again I started off late but there was not much hitch in the check-in. Only before going through security the Immigration officer sent me back to the BA counter, but the dude did something and I was allowed through.

My impressions of this trip: I was so glad I did this. Visiting my cousin and seeing the most of South Wales and South East England was definitely worth it. UK deserves more than one visit as it will keep calling you back for more. But for now I have other options to explore.

Next up: Canada.

People tell me that seeing 501 cities in my lifetime is not going to happen. Right now I am only at 27.

I say: Isn’t that what dreams are about. If a dream was possible, I don’t think it would be a dream.

As the Boss (Bruce Springsteen) would say:

Out here the Nights are long…
The Days are lonely…

I think of you and…
I’m working on a Dream
I ‘m working on a Dream

Boston Apartment (Mar 20, 2009)

I have been wanting to write this post for a while now, but something or the other keeps on coming up. Two days went by in recovering from the after effects of jet lag and two more from St Patrick’s Day. Ah life!

Getting back to London – Saturday was the day I had booked myself for a trip on Evan Evans Tours on their package tour to Windsor, Stonehenge and Oxford.

AT 44GBP it was a good bargain although the entry to the attractions was not included. Windsor Castle was 14 GBP and Stonehenge at 7GBP. First stop was at Windsor where I was able to spend around 2 hours roaming around. Also the changing of the guards happens here at 11 am and there was a good crowd to watch it. This castle is very near Heathrow Airport and even if you cannot make it into London City between stopovers, the castle is worth a visit.

Stonehenge was a stop for 45 minutes and as our guide said: this was more than enough time. The place was cold with only these mysterious stones and nothing but grass mounds and sheep around. Stonehenge is not a place if you are not historically inclined (This for you will be a place with stones standing atop each other – what crap!). If you are interested in how these stones came to be from around 10000 years ago, how they were brought here and built then you will relish the site.

Finally, we had a 2 hour drive to Oxford – the city of the dreamy spires. Our guide took us on a walking tour which was interesting. Even if you are visiting on your own there is a good walking tour and it is cheap. Oxford has to be experienced on foot, with its beautiful colleges, narrow romantic streets and a pleasant college crowd.

Fans of Harry Potter will have a field day here looking around the various places where the movie was shot and the book was sort of based on.

Finally a 2 hour trip took me back to London. The trip lasted from 9 in the morning to 7 in the evening, which is a bit short, but covering 3 places in such a small budget can’t get better. If you want to see these 3 places and want to do it in a hurry, this is a good tour.

I met up with Ali later on in the night and headed to Leicester square again and onward to Covenant Garden which has quite a few pubs. He had to work the next day – so we weren’t out till very late, but that was fine with me as my eyes were red with tiredness and now I was only looking forward to crash in my bed at home in the US.

Boston Apartment (Mar 16, 2009)

I am at home now. Its 10.30 in the night and neither am I jetlagged nor am I feeling sleepy. I reached home at 4 in the morning and went to office too. I must either be suffering from insomnia or I am just plain crazy.

London (or Londinium as the Romans called it) is an amazing city. It has a good mix of the ancient with the new, and all of the many areas that form a city – the rich (Chelsea), the Indian (Southall), the Chinese (Chinatown) and so many more.

When I had been here last time around I had walked on the path called Westminster walk from Big Ben down the Abbey, past the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square and finally Piccadilly Circus. Also, I had done the London Eye which I found quite fascinating, and as I had never had an aerial view of the city – it was a nice experience.

DT had also suggested a tube to Canary Wharf which is the place where the companies are based out of. I had gone there too to click a few photos and try to find out if I knew any companies there. It is supposed to have a really good nightlife in the night.

On this trip I met up with Ajith at Waterloo and he took me around. I dropped my luggage at Waterloo itself which has a place called Left Luggage to keep them. They charge 8GBP a day (7am to 11pm).

We went to Lord’s – The Home of Cricket. The tour was not great (I found the guide not too exciting), but the actual look at the ground was worth the 14GBP. After this was done we went to Buckingham palace for a few photos, and then walked along the Thames from London Bridge to Tower Bridge.

It was getting quite late and we took the tube to Piccadilly and met up with Ali. Had a few drinks at the nearby bar and also walked to Leicester Square to have a few more at Chiquito’s. This area is quite crowded and a nice place to hang at.

Also, you can drink your beers and other stuff on the road which must be one of the reasons why there is a lot of fun on the streets (and rowdiness too).

We hung out till not too late as I had to collect my bag before it closed, but I had a good time. London is a city which I will never cover how many times I visit, but it has the charm which only the cities like NYC have. I don’t even have to visit the city – it is a given – you have to make the visit at least once in your lifetime.

Cardiff Bus Station (Mar 13, 2009)

Yesterday was a blur as me and Anu made it to Bristol on a quickfire trip. We started off late around 10ish, but were able to cover a lot as Bristol too is a walkable city.

We parked in a Park and Ride at Long Ashton and took the bus to Bristol Center as traffic gets to be a lot sometimes in the city. On the way into Bristol from Cardiff we looked up and there was the Clifton Suspension bridge. Built in the 1800s it surely is an engineering marvel as it hangs up pretty high and also for the times it was built it, it is an awesome sight.

This is the most popular sight in Bristol. From the city it is not easily walkable unless you are someone who likes to walk uphill for 3 miles. The bus numbered 8 or 9 from the city centre takes you there in 15 minutes.

The other sights are quite close like the College Green which is a park having the Bristol Cathedral (my 3rd Cathedral in 3 days – This is becoming more of a pilgrimage), the Council House and the Library in front of it. The Old City has a few buildings of Victorian and Georgian Eras along with the Old Vic which is a theatre renewed to life by Kevin Spacey.

We walked all of this making our way through the Quay. Finally a bit of shopping was done along Queen’s Road which has those small shops which girls love shopping in, and I was with one – I had to do it J It has something for everyone though. It was just that I had promised myself to cut down on shopping as I was buying too much back in the US.
There is the University of Bristol on the top of the hill and it is housed in a really nice looking building.

Bristol still has a lot which I did not see. The oldest Methodist Chapel, a few more parks, Experience@Bristol, shopping malls and the Cabot Tower to name a few. I had decided that I would be coming again to UK (mainly Scotland) next summer and I would anyway have to come to Cardiff. So a trip to Bristol was on the cards as it is very close to Cardiff.

I packed up my stuff in the evening and today morning reached the coach station for my trip to London. The tickets online till yesterday were at 10GBP. At the counter it was 23GBP. Note: Buy your tickets online, if not early at least the previous day. They will still save you a lot!

I had fun in Cardiff, saw so much, and met new people. Now I head to the city called London, and this I know for sure is gonna be a real good time. Time to catch a few winks of sleep – that is something I need to do.

Adios People!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Exeter St David’s Station (Mar 11, 2009)

Day 5 of my trip sees me in my 4th city – Exeter. I do not know what to make of this city. It is a college city with lots of students and in the middle they have an old cathedral, a strange combination indeed.

After I touched down at Exeter St David’s - one of the two or three stations this city has, I headed for the cathedral. Again I was walking blind and walked towards what I thought was the cathedral. There was a huge cross showing over the many houses and cross implies cathedral. This city is built on a sort of hill and so the houses are one behind the other. It is supposed to be a walled city with a castle in between. Most of the buildings were lost in WW2, but a few remain.

I lost my way but made it to a nice picnic spot with a nice looking pedestrian bridge. This is the quay (I am not very sure) and looked like a quite picnic spot. From here I found my way and made it to the cathedral. Again a beautiful cathedral but unlike St David’s the entry fee is 5GBP. I would say that unless you want to see the longest unsupported single span roof you can give this one a miss. They had a discount for tea and cake at the Refectory which I did partake (!!!) of in the evening.

After the church was done I went to the Guildhall which was under renovation. Nearby the cathedral was another one called Cathedral Close but I just took a photo as I had another walking tour to go on.

So far I was not impressed!

The Red Coat Tours begins from near the cathedral and again this is a free walking tour. This evening they did ‘Elegant Exeter’, which was better than I expected and way better that the Bath tour I did. On the tour they showed parts of the Walled City, Victorian Architecture and all the good stuff.

Looking around I began to see more and more of the college crowd, and finally when we did reach the many shopping centers and the modern architecture I began to like Exeter. The crowd was good, lively and when you see the Cathedral from the modern shopping streets, you do see the culmination of ancient and modern, medieval and neo in a breathtaking view.

The 501 must visit cities book had said that ‘Exeter is not a beautiful city, ??’ and I now realize why it is so. Initially I was disappointed and was wondering if the book had got it wrong. Now I realize that they did not. It just takes a while to grow on you. Then you begin to realize that it is an amalgamation of college and old.

There is supposed to be a castle but as far as I could see there was a gate and pretty much nothing else!

I would not recommend Exeter easily unless either College Crowds or Cathedrals are your scene. If so, Exeter is worth a visit if you get the time and are near there.

Now for the best part – I met a Spanish lady during the walking tour and we hit it off instantly. She was finding it tough to converse easily in English but she was doing an amazing effort. We talked all the while through the tour, and I learnt that she was from Lyon. 2010 looks to be a good time to go there and now I am pretty excited.

And this time around I did get her email address, so there!

Hmm…I wonder why I began to enjoy only after the Walking tour…hmm indeed.

These trips are good though, they introduce me to new people, new cultures – it is an experience. I leave you with these thoughts as I take the Cross Country to Bristol Temple Meads and then the Great Western trains to Cardiff.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Haverfordwest Rail Station (Mar 10, 2009)

Today I am living a lot of my dreams. St David’s is an awesome city. It may be Britain’s smallest city, but it certainly is turning out to be my favorite!

I landed in the morning at Haverfordwest and caught the 11am 411 bus to St David’s. This drops you right in front of the cathedral. I got off from the bus and went straight in. The cathedral is HUGE with humongously huge altars (and a lot of them). The entry is free and you can go in and admire the art work. Also, from the outside it looks more like a castle than a cathedral.

Next to it is the Bishops Palace which is rundown but for 3 GBP it is worth the price of admission. One can climb onto the top and view the Cathedral from there too.

The refectory in the Cathedral has a pretty good place to eat and I had my lunch there. A pot of tea along with a Ham sandwich on wheat for 7GBP was pretty cheap. Once this was done I left.

Now let’s rewind to my bus journey. When I got in at Haverfordwest I was looking forward to seeing the Welsh coastline. You know those movies where they have these cliffs with sea/ocean waves hitting them. I was so looking forward to it that when I was half way in the bus I was disappointed that I wasn’t seeing any.

Suddenly the bus came over a hill and lo and behold there it was. Beautiful cliffs with the sea water – what a sight! My mouth was open.

After I completed my cathedral trip I asked at the Visitor Center for the closest place to see water and she told me about Caaerfai Bay. It was a close walk, about 15 minutes from the city center. I walked and when I came to it again I had that mind blowing experience. Below me was the sea with a small cove (like in the Enid Blyton books), and rocks all around. This has been a dream for a while and I had to sit for a while just to admire it.

I also hiked down to the cove and sat for a while too looking at the far away mountains, the ship in the sea, the rocks (I felt Boski there with me too). Words fail me – it was that beautiful.

I left with a bittersweet feeling – but realizing something: All along these trips I wonder sometimes if I am crazy. You know travelling alone, running from place to place – what am I achieving? Then I saw this today and it was all worth it. I could now say that I too have stood on the cliff above the sea, I too have seen the English villages, I too have sat on an empty secluded station with no one around (Exactly what I am doing now).

St David’s is highly highly recommended. The cathedral is nice, the people are nice (I chatted with most of them and they had a smile on their face), and the hike on the hills bordering the sea (It is called the Pembroke Trail) is out of the world. It goes on for miles, and I did just this half a mile.

Time for me to head back home but I leave St David’s with wonderful memories and a message from Fr Dorian Gray (either the Vicar or Bishop of the cathedral) to Fr Augustine of a church in Kerala. This is a reminder so that I do not forget and also of the friendliness of the people here.

Cardiff Central (Mar 10, 2009)

Run Jatin Run! Leo just dropped me off at the rail station and I literally had to run to catch the train. These are the pains one has to face when the train leaves so early in the morning. If I missed the 7.58 I would have had to wait till 10am for the next one, and that is a rather long wait. Luckily I made it with 2 minutes to spare.
I am on my way to Haverfordwest which is close to a city called St David’s where I am headed. This is the city of the patron saint of Wales and has a cathedral which is on the sea shore and quite beautiful. This was what I wanted to see. The tickets to Haverfordwest were at 19.7GBP (Arriva Wales) for a return trip.

From there a bus number 411 would take me to St David’s which is literally a village (It is the smallest city in the entire UK and was declared a city only in 1995). More details in the future post. Right now let me return back to Bath.

A worthwhile trip where I did get to see a lot. I landed up in Bath Spa at approx 9.30 and headed to the Roman Baths. This is right next to the Abbey, a huge church building and the Pump Room. The visit inside the Roman Bath cost 11GBP with a free audio tour and I enjoyed it. It was a fascinating feature of how the Romans mixed prayer and leisure in the same building. Most of it was in ruins, but still it was quite nice.

I was done by around afternoon and soon afterwards I moved to the Circus, which is a courtyard with houses looking exactly the same from the front built in a circle. It is a good architectural sight and so also is the Royal Crescent which are buildings in the form of a crescent. This is one of the sights with which Bath is recognized and I had my lunch in a park in front of this majestic view.

I went back to the Pump Room from where a free walking tour starts off at 10.30 and 2pm. This was not the best tour I had taken but it was free, rather decent at 2 hours and so it is recommended, especially if you have not studied anything about Bath, and are totally new.

Met two American ladies who I was chatting with, and more interestingly there was this girl in the group who was smiling at me. Woohoo Jatin, your time has come.

When introductions were done she said that she was from Germany (Germans are very pretty – my observation). Then this guy two people away from her said that he too was from Germany, and all my dreams vanished. She and he began to bond and there I was all alone again: D

Aah…feels so good to share!

Finally, the Roman Bath tour tickets also gets you a free drink from the Bath in the Pump Room. This tastes like very heavy mineral water with sulphur in it, but it’s worth a try for the authentic Bath experience.

This is a city which is close to London, and if a quick break from London is what you need this is the place for you.

Cardiff Central (Mar 9, 2009)

I am so excited to be on the First Grand Western train from Cardiff to Bath Spa. I have heard so much about the European Trains and even though this may not be the Eurorail or the Eurostar, this still is Europe and I am on the train.

Last two days were mainly spent at home with my cousin and the kids. The weather was mostly dark and gloomy and although it never got dark till after 5, it still was not weather where you could go out in. On Sunday after church we did go to Cardiff Bay for a while. Ate lunch at Nando’s – a fairly popular chain where there was some good chicken.

On the way here we saw the Mormon/Norman Church, and also the new Assembly Center which was pretty nice. It had its ceiling made of wood, and it was a rather modern looking building. At most of these places we clicked a few photos, but could not spend any time as it was damp and rainy. Also saw the Millennium Stadium which was mighty cool and the Cardiff (Cardydd in Welsh) Castle.

Basically the weekend was rather laidback, in preparation for the hectic weekdays.

Today starts my actual visit to the various places with Bath the first on my list. This is a city with roman baths and is supposed to be a must see in UK. The rail tickets are rather cheap to get here from Cardiff – 16 GBP. I woke up in the morning around 7 and caught the local bus at 8ish. From my place at Cardiff to Cardiff Central it took me around 40 minutes. The bus was pretty full and I am pretty sure that unlike the US people prefer to take the public transport here. It was full of students and also a pretty professional crowd.

Here I am now around 9.30 in the train all excited. The train has already started to move…and wow it’s an amazing feeling.

I will post more on the way back. Till then its time to visit the Roman baths in England.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Mar 7, 2009)

Ok…I am back again in London, but unlike the last time around in December where I tried to cover the city in 6 hours, this is a longer and hopefully relaxed trip.

The flight was uneventful, and although we left 30 minutes late, we reached Heathrow 10 minutes early, because of some good tail wind. Getting in was easy too, the immigration dude just asked me two questions and I did not have to show any extra documentation. The moment I reached baggage claim I found my bag.

Now the three most important things to do once you are out, at least for me:

Get some pounds: I had called up my bank before I left for the UK to inform them that I would be transacting in the UK. This is because most of the banks block your transactions as they may be fraudulent. So before leaving make sure that your bank is notified.

I inserted my card in and entered my PIN. Again, a word of caution – Most European and Indian banks take 4 digit PINs. My BoA card has five. So I changed it to four to fit the accepted norm. The conversion rate was pretty decent – 300 USD for 200 GBP. I got the money and step 1 was done.

Buy a sim card. The ATM machine is right next to arrivals, while the Vodafone showroom is on the departures floor. If you have an unlocked cell, it is very easy. The sim costs 5GBP, and to my luck that day they started a scheme of giving 5GBP top up free. Even if this scheme was not there you should be able to make calls easily in the UK by spending 10 GBP.

The last step was to head to the coach station where my cousin Anu had booked tickets. The National Express stop is right outside the arrivals in Terminal 5 from gate 12 to 16. A simple matter of getting there and boarding the coach. This cost her around 40GBP and my destination was Cardiff.

To get into London (I did this the previous time) there are 3 ways to travel from Heathrow. The Heathrow Express takes 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington, from where you can easily catch the tube. This is expensive and I suppose it costs around 25-30GBP roundtrip. Next is the Heathrow Connect which runs on the same track as the Express except that it has many more stops. But this is the best deal as it costs only 13-15GBP roundtrip and takes 25 minutes. This is not so well known, but it is a good way to travel and my pick.

The last option is the tube from Heathrow. It is pretty cheap, 5GBP one way I suppose, but the issue is that this could get delayed easily. It takes 40 minutes to proper London. So if you don’t mind the time taken and want to explore the tube system this is ideal.

That’s it for now. It will take me around 3 and half hours to reach Cardiff – time to get some shut eye.

Epilogue – I know there are a lot of Indians here, but seriously, there are a LOT.

New York JFK Airport (Mar 6, 2009)

Time for another country, and as you guys who have been following my blog (all zero of them) would know that next up is UK. My main destination is Cardiff where my cousin stays, and I mostly will be spending family time. In between, I will try to cover as much of UK (and mainly Wales) as I can.

I am taking the flight from New York as I was getting cheaper tickets and thought it will be better to travel from here. Now I realize that this is not worth it. Getting from Boston to New York is quite cheap; I got a roundtrip for 25USD. The main hassle though is the commute.

I left at 1430 thinking I will get to NYC by 1900 and as my flight was at 2230, I would have enough time to make it.

But damn it all, I landed up in NYC Penn Station at 8.15pm. I literally had to scurry to catch the LIRR train to Jamaica. This costs around 7USD, and from here the JFK AirTrain at 5USD takes you to all the terminals. From Penn to Terminal 7 it should take you about 35-40 minutes, which is pretty decent.

The only issue is if you are running late like me. Luckily, I was not too late and made it by 9:15pm. There was absolutely no crowd at the check in desk and I went in dropped my bag and breezed through security.

Here I am now finally, all excited to get into the UK. Also, this flight will make me a silver member on British Airways. I am hoping that they upgrade me, like they did last time I flew to Bangalore. Business Class Rocks!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Boski Mascarenhas (Jul 7, 1998 – Mar 2, 2009)

It is with a heavy heart and a sad face that I bid goodbye to my best friend and sister of 10+ years – Boski.

I never wondered what she meant to me, I knew it. She was there during the best part of my life, she saw me largely through my ups, but also was there for me when no one was. It is hard when you lose someone you love – you are at a loss for words. I cried such a lot today, for a friend who made me laugh so much – from refusing to eat anything remotely vegetarian, to sitting in front of me with the most saddest look on her face when she wanted my food, which was every time.

I tell everyone this, but this is a story which I will forever remember:

I tried my hand at cooking once, and I decided to do something very easy – Cook an omlette. So I took two eggs and some oil. The first time I poured too little oil, and then poured the beaten egg. It burnt to a crisp. So I thought – more oil. Poured in a lot more oil and the second omlette came out all watery. I was so upset, that I myself couldn’t even eat my own cooking.

But there she was below looking at me with her eyes. So I said – You want it? She just looked up. I put one in my plate, put the other in hers and both of us ate heartily.

True friends are like this, they don’t give a damn if you are ugly as hell or cook like an idiot. They still are there for you to make you feel good.

Boski, I will forever miss you. Jatin feat. Fat Boski (my favorite rap band) will be no more, but I know that you will still love to hear me sing as you have done for so many years.

Mickey Rourke gave his best performance in ‘The Wrestler’ and dedicated the golden globe to his baby Loki. I have not won any globes or Oscars, but just for making me what I am today – I celebrate my baby Boski.

PS: They have really good chicken in heaven, but you will miss my omlettes.