Monday, January 30, 2006

Cheese Made Backwards

Back from a 3 day trip to Amsterdam and have spent the last week days sifting through the information floating around in my head (i.e. too lazy and cold to get on blogger)

Not that we needed an excuse to travel but V’s eldest sis-in-law conveniently had a week of work in Amsterdam and it seemed like a good idea to tag along. That is, till I had to go get the dreaded visa at the Embassy of Netherlands. I could turn this into a rant about how hellish is the process of obtaining a visa for us desi’s trying to holiday in Europe (even though we’ve done it so many times before). But I won’t say anything save it WAS hellish and after incredible scrutiny of our finances and endless gifting of paper (1 tree) to the embassy all I got was a 5 day visa. Note to embassy: See I came back without any of your precious Van Goghs….even though they were oh so tempting.

For me its quite simple. Any city that has trams toodling around, is built of more water than land, uses more cycles than any other and where people greet each other with the word OY is alright by me.

I confess that I did no research for this trip. Normally I will hunt down obscure pieces of information about the city, talk to as many people as possible for recommendations on local places to eat, nearby day trips to complete, experiences to be had and things not to miss on a sightseeing list. Normally I get the information and then completely ignore it. This time it was just sheer laziness (and the cold).

For V and me there are two sure shot ways to figure out a city: endless aimless walking around and visiting a local supermarket. This plan we followed meticulously. We walked all around Amsterdam, admiring the tall thin houses with their hoist hooks jutting out to enable furniture to be yanked onto the roof and into the house (poor design and skinny stairs are the design flaw that enable this Amsterdam-ian oddity). We admired the endless ecofriendly cycles, We admired the endless cycles, the purpose-built cycle (like car) parks and stared hard at the completely ruthless cyclists.

The city is essentially built to line the miles of canals. We took all the trams from end to end, passing past the centre and into the suburbs, looking into different neighbourhoods and local shopping areas. My favourite stop was the flower market where my favourite flower, the tulip, was being sold for next to nothing (Euro 10 for 50 stems). Compare that to ridiculously expensive London where 10 stems cost about £5.

We did succumb to some of the touristy things, the sheer essentials. A morning spent as the fantastic Van Gogh Museum. This was my highlight. I don’t recall ever seeing a Van Gogh previously and I was not disappointed. ‘Irises’ was my favourite by far – trumped sunflowers any day. ‘Wheatfield with lark’ was a close second. The colours are as vivid as if they were painted yesterday. I now know why he is revered as one of the greatest painters of all time. This is a must not miss.

We did the canal cruise by night and Amsterdam looked luminous, strung out in lights. The Ship Museum was a particularly imposing building. The third sightseeing gem we covered was Anne Frank Huis. The house where Anne Frank and her family his for two years before being betrayed to the Nazis has been carefully maintained as a museum to remind people of her bravery and hope in the hardest of time. The furniture has been removed at the request of Otto Frank and even without the incredibly tiny compact spaces are a testament to the tenacity of the eight people who made the annex their home for so long. I loved the tour and the pieces of memorabilia they have maintained, particularly the pencilled height map marked into the wall. The original diary shows Anne to be neat and meticulous. I bought a copy of the diary and a new biography of Otto Frank from the shop to mark my visit.

We walked around the famed Red Light district one evening and were frankly disappointed by it. It was nothing like we imagined and this old part of Amsterdam near the Central station was dingy and seedy. Considering its all legal a bit more class would have been appropriate – but hey what do we know? The large picture windows with fluorescent lights highlighted scantily dressed from young and beautiful to grandmotherly. I was not impressed and its guidebook descriptions are highly distorted. Went into a ‘coffee shop’ but avoided ‘space cakes’ as that is just not my thing.

We went into the fantastic Pathe! Multiplex each evening and watched ‘Rumour has it…’ and ‘Just like heaven’ as a result. Two Mark Ruffalo movies in a row; one with Jeniffer Aniston (who still thinks she is Rachel from Friends) and the other with Reese Witherspoon (who is simply appalling). Beside the awful heroines the movies were fine – romcoms in the extreme, happy endings for all.

All in all it was a good trip. I have to say though that I was not impressed to the extreme as I have been with other European cities. Amsterdam looks like a city in flux, lots of construction and reconstruction to bring out the glory of its old and sort of crumbly buildings. Met a lot of very friendly Dutch people all of whom tried out their hindi on us and explained maps and recommended stuff. It was good to go once and maybe we’ll go back in a few years (the museums are tempting). For now I’m sure I can resist (atleast till I’ve seen a whole load of other cities).

P.S. Our supermarket foray was highly successful and we came back with a round each of the cheese made backwards (edam) and baby gouda (will post picture soon I promise). Loved the supermarkets!!!

Friday, January 20, 2006

A roaring Sunday

Watched Lion King at the Lyceum with the S-Team over the weekend. V and I only end up watching one musical or so a year – sheer lazineess. And I regret that we waited so long to go and watch this one.

It didn’t matter that the compact theatre was more than half full of kids or that 7ft tall guys in front of us had to tuck their knees under their chins in the sardine can seats. Everyone forgot the restricted space and the kids were in awed silence once the show started. It was a spectacular copy of the movie – frame by frame with a few inspired songs thrown in. The sets and costumes were bright and innovative. They did so much with so few people and such creative use of space. The scene with the herds charging through the gorge was particularly well done. I can only say I was mesmerised and now know why people have kept going on at us to go. I can’t decide which character I liked best although Poomba was adorable and Timon had the most brilliant ventriloquist. This is a show not to be missed. Despite the overpowering red seats, quite dusty theatre and expensive tickets. Go. Now.

After the musical we headed to Belgo Centraal for dinner. Belgo is part of a Belgian food speciality chain. Belgo is located in an industrial looking sub-terrainean cave like space down a cobbled street in Covent Garden. The metallic touches ironically bring a brilliant design balance to the stone ceilings walls and floors. As in Belgium the main food on the menu is mussels. By the kilo pot, in warming bowls, as starters, as main meals. Being allergic to shellfish this was disappointing (only because I love shellfish but am so allergic). The menu had other fish options and I chose those: salmon fishcakes to start with and haddock as a main course. The food was served by a friendly waitress who looked like Friar Tuck (from the Robin Hood movie) – maybe the monk like robes helped that effect. All four of us enjoyed our meal - hearty portions, extremely tasty food, and about £25 per head including alcohol. Try and get to one of the five branches they have in London. It’s worth the time and effort.

It was indeed a lovely way to spend a grey Sunday.
Belgo Centraal: 50 Earlham Street/ 2b Shelton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H9LJ. Tel: 0207813 2233


Long silence.

I find that as we grow older illnesses takes on so much importance and gravity. I remember feeling as a child that all adults had a veneer of strength and invincibility. Alas, time has a nasty way of catching up with all of us and we find that adults, whom we thought nothing could harm, are only human.

I want to remember my mausi today. Smiling, laughing wonderful memories. A full life over too soon. Surrounded by her family and friends. I remember all the time I spent with her on my trip to India last year and will cherish that time forever.

Our angels watch over us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Guard

Before we got the guard we did it all ourselves.

Top to bottom, spic and span; it took two of us a bit of everyday all working week and all of saturday.

Then she arrived and it took us ages to get used to her efficient ways, her whirlwind that left us neat as pins in a mere 3 hours a week.

Murphys Law: Now we are used to it and loving it, the Guard is gone.

For a year and a half she gaurded us

against dusty furniture and cobwebs that dared be spun

against muddy unvaccumed floors

against unscrubbed counter-tops

against waiting for winter until we could legimitely hide our unironed clothes under bulky coats

against a sink full of dirty dishes

against over-flowing bins and unending circles of laundry

against windows through which the views are a pure unadulterated brown

against ultimate Health & Safety iregularities in housekeeping that would cause us to be shut down

Gone after getting me used to her weekly whirlwind of efficiency.

And now I sit here with a concertina of un-ironed clothes sprawled across my bed wondering how long I can put off the inevitable.

I am the new guard.