Friday, May 10, 2013

To Paris and back...

Recently, I passed the obnoxiously lit up Buddha statue in Hyderabad. It reminded me of a somewhat similarly lit, with a little more class perhaps, Eiffel Tower. Though frankly, the two have little in common barring the lights of course.

Writing about Paris, though, is far from easy. Adjectives don’t describe it well enough. Descriptions seem to not do justice to its remarkable spirit. I find myself failing to accurately portray the effect this city had on me. So, instead I have been wandering in and out of my Paris memories. The experience itself was less body and more soul. There is no less cliche way for me to put it.

The memories are varied. Some are of the ancient street lamps on the streets with a fountain or a sculpture at every junction. Some memories are of the vast public spaces to sit down and read a book. Others are of the one too many quaint coffee shops sprinkled in every arrondissement. Often, I think of the Pont des Arts with the thousands of love locks or fondly in my memory, the bridge of love. Sometimes I remember how grand and magnificent the Lourve looked at night. I get lost in images of how the city lit up subtly at night (of course, not the Eiffel Tower with its lighthouse lights). I remember how warmth spread through my body as we entered an unique bar right next to the circus. I visited the city in the winter and everything indoors was heated! But importantly, the feeling of walking around breathless and in awe of the beauty and charm of Paris. 

I had wondered many times before if people had exaggerated when talking or writing about Paris. After having walked in the city for a mere few days, I felt unsatisfied and a little disappointed at my departure. I vowed to return to Paris someday and stay for a while. To breathe the air, to wander aimlessly, to write in one of those coffee shops, to feel the romance, to know the unknown places to eat, to perhaps even learn about fashion, to get accustomed to the Parisien way of life, to revisit Shakespeare and Company, to see every room in the Louvre, to not feel like an outsider in that city.

Amsterdam: travel thoughts

Four souls who had never been to Amsterdam before made a plan to spend new years in this city. With our guide books as our strength and of course, our secret weapon of asking the locals themselves, we set off. We reached the city of Amsterdam by noon bundled up in warm clothes and high energies. We were truly in for a treat.

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I have been in. The greenery, the countryside and the craziness was the perfect vacation spot for us, the crazy lot. Throughout our trip we relied on two modes of transport, our feet and the public transport. This was the best way to see the city. And the city we did see. We left our tiny room early and without an agenda on our minds, we wandered the streets. It took walking on the same streets a few times to even recognise the name of the street. The Dutch have a complicated language with words I usually mispronounced. They were warm and didn’t fail to understand despite the badly pronounced names. 

But what I loved about the city was its mix of extremes. Known for its ‘coffeeshops’, the city was high inducing. On the contrary to that was the lovely cycles everywhere and the marvellous river flowing right through the city. We took a nostalgic boat ride through the city to learn many things about the people. For instance, many of the Dutch lived in wooden, long and elegant boathouse. The reason they lived in them was not so nice though. Shortage of space in the city had driven them to the river.

As I play back the trip in my head, I remember all the random walks we took. We even accidentally walked into the red light district. It wasn’t like I imagined it to be but I must say, one of the women’s faces remains with me. I do have one complaint though. Amsterdam as a city is full of tourists. The food, therefore, is customed to their needs. In a small number of local restaurants, we found dutch food. However, our snooping around led us to one of the most marvellous little bakeries where we spent a good few hours binging. From the best cheesecake to the best lemon jam was all consumed in this establishment. If I return to Amsterdam, the first stop would be De Bakkerswinkel.

This trip out of India for me has led me to marvel at the public spaces. The entire city gathered in the centre squares, lit fireworks and drank champagne from bottles. It was goose-bump inducing. I watched the city welcome the new year with zeal. I am not much of a party person but I couldn’t help feel the energy the city radiated that night. As we walked back to our room, we were all high. Not on the alcohol or on any other drugs. But on the joy of celebrating an occasion with complete strangers, on the streets.

I don’t think I will forget that feeling for a long, long time.

This same feeling reminds me that a myriad of cities are waiting to be explored; a whole range of new feelings are waiting to be discovered. I will wander the lands till my heart is content. I doubt that moment is going to arrive anytime soon.