Sunday, December 15, 2013

Australia: Sydney: Walk along the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge

The walk along Sydney Harbor Bridge
Every country has its own special iconic landmarks. Around these landmarks hinges the history, culture, identity and tourism of that country. If UK is identified by the West Minster Abbey, US by the Statue of Liberty, France by the Eiffel Tower and Italy by Colosseum, it definitely has to be Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House that captures Australia in the minds of the people world over.

Having spent over six months in this lovely country and continent in the Southern Hemisphere, I was always itching to discover the city by walk. There is a special energy that you absorb and feel a part of, when you walk the big cities in the world. Whether it is discovering New York on foot or having your inch of history as you walk along London’s majestic Victorian era buildings, you get intellectually absorbed and exhausted – as it’s that juncture when your dream of being a global traveler is turning into a reality. 

Stairs to the Harbor Bridge
On a lazy Saturday morning, Meenakshi (my partner in crime for all my plans to discover off beat and non touristy locations in any country) & I decided to put the weekend chores of house cleaning, laundry, cooking a sumptuous South Indian meal and vegetable shopping at Flemington markets on hold and do what we wanted to do for a long time, which is to feel the energy of Sydney. The fact that the summer of December underlined the last Saturday morning was a real delight in retrospect. We decided to have a walk along the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge – which is recommended by many to get a feel of the energy of this city.

From Strathfield (the suburb where we live), we took the local train going towards Hornsby and got down at Milsons’s Point.  As you get off Milsons Point station and walk on the other side (the non Luna Park side), you will see the stairs going up – which is the beginning of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  The path to the stairways is well sign posted with “Sydney Harbor Bridge” as you exit the station and you can’t miss them.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge, one of the largest steel arch bridges in the world, is however not the longest in the world.  It is currently ranked as the sixth longest bridge in the world. As you climb up the Bridge Stairs, do notice the old church and sloping roof houses that dot the skyline on the eastern of the bridge.

Church and surrounding houses
As you walk along the bridge and get a sneak peek into Sydney’s harbor, jostling tall rise buildings and the Sydney Opera House you realise that alongside you there are about six lanes of highway roads and two railway tracks which act as the lifeline of this city of Sun, and tourists and locals perennially dressed in crumpled t-shirts, shorts and hooded T-shirts.

As you walk along the Sydney Opera House side of the Harbor Bridge, the stunning views will make your leisurely stroll more enjoyable. You will find a crowd of locals and regulars who walk with their partners and friends or by themselves with conversations in the air or headphones on their ears. For the first time leisurely walker, the stunning views definitely mean more camera time and poking it through the metal barriers along the bridge (to prevent people from throwing themselves or anything big into the water). 
Fenced for protection, but wide enough for camera lens
You can almost spend an entire day tracking the foamy scratches made by sailing boats and ships on the water around the Sydney Opera House. The harbor opens out to the wider Ocean in a very dramatic way, which makes you realise the beauty of this view from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, underlined by the lotus shaped Sydney Opera House.

As per popular trivia, the Sydney Harbor Bridge was built over 6 years and was painted grey as no other colour was available in such a large quantity – 272,000 litres! The Harbor Bridge is rightly nick named “The Coathanger” because of its arch based designed. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is also one of these infrastructure projects in “The Great Depression” era of the 1930’s which kept the people occupied and economy going for Australia – in line with other projects across the world like the National Highways of the USA.

Every New Year’s eve, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House become a dramatic backdrop for one of the best fireworks that Sydney has been known for across the globe.  One of the best views of the Opera House is from the Harbor Bridge.

Towards the end of the walk along the Sydney Harbor Bridge, it is difficult to ignore the remains of the mills and European style buildings around an area known as "The Rocks". A casual tourist may almost ignore this striking contrast while he looks for the modern sky scrapers, Sydney Tower and huge cruise ships docked around the harbor.

As you finish the walk along the Harbor Bridge, you can step down the stairs and walk down to “The Rocks” which is historically rated high for having the first European convict settlers. The two and a half kilometre walk along the Sydney Harbor Bridge with at least 30 pictures on your camera and indefinite breaks will leave you throats parched and leave you wet with sweat. As you step down the stairs to go to “The Rocks” – try out the gelatos and ice-cream from this traditional ice cream van. "The Rocks" deserve a separate blog soon.

After meandering through the weekend markets at "The Rocks" and walking around cobble stoned footpaths and narrow bylanes which recreated European culture, music, color and festivity, we stole some good views of Sydney Harbor Bridge (SHB) from "The Rocks". 

It is a shame that the early European convicts who landed in Australia in this exact same place, couldn't enjoy the majestic looks of the SHB. Some of Sydney's very old pubs are home to this part of the city.  A hot corn in hand, kept us company to tame our hungry tummy as we found our way from around the canopies with local Sunday shops to walk along some of the old and "dodgy" neighborhoods around the rocks.

We resisted all temptations to enter "the Price of Waterloo" a British style pub from the outside (started in the 1800's) and walked our way from "The Rocks" to in and around the pedestrian footpath that routed us along highway and to the streets around Wynyard Station back to the famous "George Street".  We wanted to have more than our share of history, hence took a quick look at the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) - a Victorian styled shoppers paradise from the outside and inside. 
QVB from the outside
Since we were in Town Hall, the suburb where Meenakshi commutes to work, we decided to have lunch at her favorite Vietnamese- Italian  local cafe. We had a quick grilled vegetable pannini and coffee. Meenakshi's coffee card got 2 more stamps, as she earns her way to her 10th coffee, which would be free. Our legs got the much needed rest after nearly 3 hours and around 5 kms of walk. After the lunch, we took the train back from Town Hall Station to Strathfield to head back home - a day indeed well spent! 

The walk along Sydney Harbor Bridge is a must recommended for anyone, who wishes to get a slice of history, sea, sun, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney Opera House and Sydney's history.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Welcome 10:11:12:13!

A rare event in this world – today is 11th December 2013. It is 10 pm in Australia, so writing this blog at 10:11:12:13! Hope this blog stays alive when the writer isn’t!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

WhatsApp – satisfying the 17 year itch!

School is a great incubation unit. A combination of students from diverse culture, financial, social and thinking backgrounds all measured and tempered by the great leveler – Education. School is a time for senseless banter, leg pulling or featherbed of your first crushes as you move towards adolescence and teenage. Of course these are value added experiences in addition to the homework, exams, unit tests, annual exams, oral exams, science exhibitions and many others.

The time you will spend in your life with your school mates – both on and off school hours is the longest you will spend with any other friends you make in your education life and probably professional. The school friendship or comradeship is stronger as all the rivalry, misunderstandings or immature behavior towards one another are long forgotten years down the line and that lays strong foundations for people you can trust, pull leg or crack those silly jokes that only 60 from your classroom can understand.

Thankfully for me-  I have just seen two schools my entire student life between standard one and standard ten (Level 1 to Level 10 of India’s Secondary School Certificate or SSC system). My first school got shut and moved farther away from where I lived by the time I joined Level 3. From the end of Level 3, I along with all other batch mates joined a new school in the suburb I grow up - Mulund (East).  Indian Education Society (IES) (it is also known as King George or Raja Shivaji Vidyalaya) is a conglomerate of educational institutions in Mumbai – spanning school, colleges and even advanced programs like MBA.

The seven years I spent in IES has been the most memorable years for me and many of my batch mates. We were a combination of intellects with a wicked sense of humor having been horrible enough to lock up teachers inside classrooms and being reprimanded for disciplinary reasons! Our terribleness to enthusiastically barge into any lunchbox that was opened during recess with the war cry “Looto” (meaning invade or attack) deprived many of them to not taste their own food!  Paper ball fights in the class were exchanged during lectures with great gusto with the teacher at times getting the wrong one on or near her during class. I don’t know if mischief and immaturity is what we would like to see from our future generations, but when you look back those behaviors and foolish acts is what underlines you’re growing up years spent in school!

The interesting memories from those days is what that still evokes a heartfelt laugh, an age where even a comedy show or facebook photos on PJ’s just makes you give a plastic smile.  The mates in your class are a small segment of the population and people you will meet in your future life. Also the funny, angry, crazy situations and emotions those school days evoke sometimes ends up shaping up what you don’t want to be or what you want to be.  

It’s been 17 years – we finished Level 10/ Standard 10th in 1996 since I had lost touch with lot of my mates. There have been many times when I was inquisitive enough to know what was happening with Mr. A’s life or where is Mr. B post school? But there was no common thread connecting us to chat real time - as facebook and orkut were near real time and not fully real time. Thanks to WhatsApp and initiative from one of our batch mates – we now have a WhatsApp group connecting almost 75% of our classmates spread across the world back in a virtual classroom.  The fun minus the classroom lectures, tiffin breaks continues in this virtual classroom, helping us all get a slice of each other’s lives we have missed the last 17 years and celebrating old memories! The search for other classmates continues with the same fervor and the quest for reunion has now got stronger!

A bunch of diverse professionals - architects, teachers, finance industry experts, lawyers, supply chain experts, business men, aspiring directors, IT Professionals, chefs, engineers and many more are now enriching each other’s life by walking down memory land like never before! Way to go IES Mulund (E) batch of 1996! The group was formed maybe 10 days back, but we all have been abusing our mobiles and checking it so frequently on the updates that very soon we risk being disowned by our family members and maybe our colleagues and bosses! Let us maintain this for our lives!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weathering the 100 days in Southern Hemisphere!

This Monday, i.e 30th September, i will have spent 120 days in Sydney, Australia. I have lived most of the 33 years of my life in the Northern Hemisphere – split across Asia, Americas and Europe. This first trip to the Southern Hemisphere has been special in many ways and a new experience especially in terms of weather.

Mumbai, where i have spent most of my growing up years had always left memories etched in my mind, with a coating of bright sunshine or heavy rains. The only memories i have of battling a cold and rough weather in Mumbai has been the winter months between November and February, doing my best to reluctantly wake up and get ready for school. At times, my father used to drop me and my friend Ranjit to school and we used to squeeze into our Kinetic Honda scooter, tucked behind him, each of of us like a mini railway compartment connect to each other - on top of the scooter engine. I used to clutch his tummy tightly and Ranjit used to clutch mine, in an attempt to warm ourselves and secure us for the stretch of the two wheeler ride for the next 2 kilometres till school. At times, Subodh (Ranjit’s elder brother) used to drop us on his Ind Suzuki motorbike and we used to do the same to keep ourselves warm.

The winter months in the USA were exactly 180 degrees to what i have experienced in India. Since 2004, i had lasted over 4 winters in the USA, spending all this time in Connecticut - New England region in East Coast – which can get cold up to minus 20 or minus 30 degrees. It wasn’t uncommon for us to succumb to the winter woes and sulk indoors to vegetate most of the time outside of office hours between the months of October and March. Driving besides piles of snow stacked one over the other by snow machines was a common occurrence. Layers of thick jacket which i had never needed in my life were now close friends who were keeping me warm during the winters. Since you need to drive in the USA, it had also become mandatory for me to embrace the challenges and risk of driving in snow or cold ice. Driving in snow using only your accelerator to negotiate turns and to stop the car can be a very unique and thankful experience as compared to skidding on ice and slamming the breaks.

The winters in Norway have been the most extreme that i ever encountered. The -40 degrees in Connecticut can come close to this experience. The wind chill can indeed kiss your bones more passionately than the flesh and blood around it! The water in the ponds and rivers freezes rock solid during this time. In one of the mountains around Oslo, i remember Meenakshi & I going for a cross country ski’ing expedition with my previous manager. An awesome experience with a few falls, lot of workout and a serene experience of ski’ing atop a frozen lake. Having survived the 2 winters in Norway and the depression due to low sunlight and living alone – away from a newly wedded wife and family have made me more stronger and discover the importance of staying with than staying away!

The 2 winters in Leeds, UK weren’t as bad as Norway or USA. However, though it doesn’t snow much in the UK (one to two days of snow in a year) –the weather can be very chilly and cold – freezing the river seen from our apartment balcony. It is quite common in the UK to experience “four seasons” on the same day – which means rain, sun, wind and chilliness anytime of the year. This unpredictability can only be uniquely experienced in the UK – though it doesn’t depress you as much as a darkly clouded sky at 3pm on a peak Norwegian winter day.

The Australia winter this year has not been as harsh as it used to be earlier – per the popular coffee table conversations with my friends and colleagues. If i close my eyes and try to experience the chills of 6+ years in the Americas and Europe – honestly the Aussie winter is a blessing in disguise and can pass off as a British Summer! I have not used gloves, cap thick jackets, thermals even one day. The maximum i did was wear a jumper underneath my suit to keep me warm – for only a couple of days! The pleasantness of the winter undoubtedly makes the local take outdoor activities like running – which are typically summer sports in Northern Hemisphere countries.

Talking about the weather is one of the most frequently used ice breakers to start conversations, fill up embarrassing silent periods during business meetings with clients or while taking the escalator in the western world. I am a self confessed reluctant conversationalist Geminine – who is not a natural at it – but i dip into this experience to keep the conversations flowing!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

APAC and the beginning of Bachelorhood 4.0!

The global nomad travels again. Not to the US or Europe,but this time to APAC.Enroute to Australia on an assignment for my organisation. I am sure this stint is going to be one of the best  from a professional and personal standpoint. I will give it my best shot - to bring in growth and streamline operations in my role.

The wait at Bangkok airport is instrumental in me getting back to blogging through this short blog! I am spending almost 6 hours in Thailand,without enjoying the beautiful country - by being just at the airport! What a pity! Will explore it some time.

Bachelorhood 4.0 begins today - May 29th, till Wifey joins me! Till then so - long!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mumbai Musings – Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are seen everywhere. Try buying half a kilo of tomatoes and the shopkeeper will put those in a plastic bag while giving it to you. You will end up putting this plastic bag holding tomatoes in another bigger bag – which will again have other groceries. There are high chances that this bigger bag might also be made of plastic. In short, the plastic bags are everywhere and we use them very leniently, just because they are available aplenty for free.

With the chants of environmentalists reaching the ears of the governing bodies world over, small initiatives taken in different parts of the world will help curb this menace of over consumption of plastic bags. In India,  one of the very good initiatives we have in shops all over Mumbai (and i hope its the same in other states and cities as well)  is that you cannot get plastic bags for free. The bigger plastic bags, which hold a lot of items are no longer free and you need to pay for them either at the grocer’s store or even at the cloth shop. You end up paying anywhere between Rs. 1/- to Rs.20/- to the shop owner , depending on the size of the plastic bag you ask the shop keeper. Though this initiative is adding onto the margins of shopkeepers (they no longer print plastic bags for free as it is a revenue generating opportunity now) but also helps consumers plan to shop by brining their own cloth/ jute bags or unused plastic bags at their house which now are being re-used.

Though i did not find any statistical measure that measures the reduction in the number of plastic bags consumed in India, i am sure this would be a substantial number. The reason is we Indians like anything that is freely available. If we have to pay for a plastic bag, we will as well plan and save that money and use it somewhere else! I rememeber in Norway as well we had to pay a miniscule NOK 1/- or NOK 2/- for plastic bags at KIWI, RIMI or Coop. I hope UK follows on India and Norway’s footsteps. The likes of TESCO’s, Sainsbury’s, M&S Food,  Morrisons still give out tonnes of free plastic bags to millions of Brits! It will help to charge money – maybe GBP 0.10 or GBP 0.2 per bag and help Brits  “TO STAY CALM and CARRY THEIR OWN PLASTIC BAGS”!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mumbai Musings

It is about three weeks now that we are back in aamchi Mumbai. The soaring heat in Mumbai was initially too hot to handle for us pseudo Brits (since we got accustomed to the rain and cold of Britain in the last 16 months). However,  since we have been born and brought up in this great city, all it takes is a little over two weeks to stop fretting and start enjoying the heat!

Summer time is the time for Mangoes, Coconut Water, Kokam Serbet, lot of buttermilk / chaas, Neera, Aam Panah and a host of other coolants and local food that helps keep the body cool, when the sun bakes you mercilessly at 35 degrees celcius for nine hours a day, with no weekends off!
These experiences always unravel a part of you that was perhaps lost in your memories for a long time.   

The people watching,  bumper to bumper traffic, autorickshaws driving you from one point to the other, the AC buses chugging strongly under heavy sunlight all make you feel at home in your own country. 

In spite of the hurdles or challenges – the overall optimism in people, the confidence and energy they bring to their everyday lives is indeed an eye opener if you are looking for any motivation in life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Back in Mumbai!

So yet another trip in the life of this “global nomad” comes to an end. Last week – on April 13th,  me and wifey landed in Mumbai after spending a year and a half in England. What a feeling to come back to your homeland! Nothing feels more welcoming than the feeling of familiarity of people, place, food, culture – in spite of somethings which you don’t really like about your homeland. But, also – such is life and life is such! The incongruities of life are what that make our experiences more richer and help us enjoy life to the fullest! 

Will continue updating you folks on interesting happenings in and around Mumbai via this blog!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Europe Trips: Italy: An Italian Sojourn Part 6

In continuation to the previous blog, I pencil down a few more things from my list of must recommended things to do in Venice. The last but not the least is of course a walk around Venice – which is described further in detail.

5. Visit to Piazza San Marco:

Your visit would be incomplete without visit to Piazza San Marco which commemorates St. Mark, Venice’s Patron saint.
St Mark with Lion winged Angel
Piazza San Marco, the heart of Venice is dominated by 16th and 17th century arcaded buildings. It is dominated by Basilica di San Marco, the Campanile. The basilica was built to house the body of St. Mark, Venice’s patron saint. It is one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. 

Basilica and Campanile

Near the Piazza San Marco, you will also see Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale – an opulent complex of state rooms, courtyards and corridors that was the seat of the Venetian government in the Republic’s heyday. The Doge's Palace has Venetian Gothic style architecture and looks absolutely spectacular on a bright sunny day.

Doge's Palace - view from Grand Canal
Doge's Palace - another view
The famous things to watch on the outside also include Ponte de Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) which leads across a canal to the prison cells.

We chose to hang out outside of San Marco and Doge’s Palace than visit it from inside and we wanted to soak in the atmosphere and rich scenery around it. Also we were well heeled from our earlier visits to St Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel and other museums, so gave the inside visit a miss. We invested the time that was saved to explore more of Venice by walk and water – the things which the city has been most famous for.

6. Venice in Walk – exploring the Calle’s, little shops:

The magic of Venice is captured best by its blue waters, busy and colourful life and historic buildings on both sides of the Grand Canal, the water waves and trails left by vaporetti’s and gondola’s criss crossing the waters. The rustic charm of this city is also underlined by the narrow alleys/lanes – called calle’s which will magically lead you from one piazza (or a square) to the other. 

As you enter these narrow calle’s, you will leave behind one scenic place, walk through a tunnel for 10 steps and emerge out to probably find a pristine church on one corner or a shop selling Venetian antiques, masks on the other. 

The island itself is not huge, so you can choose a route to walk around and do it comfortably. If you are looking to mark specific places to see while on this route, one recommendation is to walk from Piazzale Roma to St Marks Square and around (probably a 30 minute walk with stops). 

In between you can take your own detours to some of the places like the Venetian Ghetto or the narrowest Calle (which is just 53cm wide) called Calle Varisco. Do drop in all the small shops that sell everything from tourist souvenirs to handicrafts made out of Murano Glass or the very famous – Venetian Masks. 

We enjoyed the walk around the Venetian Ghettos - an area of Venice in which Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic. It is still a center of Jewish life in the city. There are a couple of synagogues around as well. 

The fliers lying in our hotel room recommended us a couple of places in and around the hotel - mostly museums. But one small description that definitely raised our eyebrows and which still looked offbeat enough is a walk to the narrowest calle in Venice – Calle Varisco. We  lost our way a little back. To add to it, the map was not being exactly helpful, but still we weren’t disappointed to find this narrow alley connecting one part of the city to another. Ideally people should walk through it, but barring sunlight air and probably small animals – i don’t see anything passing this narrow gap! 

Explore the Venetian magic not only during daylight, but also at night. There are small cafes and bars open all the time – some of them open – playing loud Venetian music open air – under the pretext of luring customers. We got drunk in one of such drink bars – Fruilala – sitting on a bar stool, soaking in the atmosphere, Venetian music – enjoying some creative cocktails dished out by our bartender. Little did we care that the menu card did not have prices next to the name of the drinks we ordered. After a few swigs down, when your head starts feeling light and you start enjoying life – there comes the bill that reminds you that “Nice to enjoy, but from the next time do check the prices before ordering”! However i will not ruin the evening with this, but it was indeed a time well spent. Ohh and did i forget to mention – don’t miss sipping the special drink of Venice – Apertif or Spritz as they call it – with olives. It is wonderful!

Venice is known by various names – Venezia, “City of Tunnels”, “City of Masks”, “The Floating City”. You will associate the deeper connection that the city has with these names once you visit this magical city. Do remember - when it’s time for you to leave this mystical city – you will promise to return back. But deep down inside your hearts, you will know that the Venice trip was something special – almost like a dream you didn’t want to wake up from. You will carry Venice in your hearts and memories to your grave!