Monthly Archives: March 2015

A different kind of love affair…

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Oh, how I have missed walking.  The sheer joy of feeling the fresh sun on my skin and the cool spring breeze blushing my cheeks.  The satisfaction of pushing myself up the hills to enjoy the patchwork of green fields lit up by the early morning rays.  And, whoever said that Kerala is God’s Own Country has clearly never seen the Cotswolds.

I hiked up Langley Hill this morning, lured outside by the sunshine and bored with trying to fill in a laborious Indian visa application.  And spring certainly put a spring into my step as I climbed this hill, as if carried by the wings of angels to a place where I found sanctuary on some of the darkest days. I climbed those hills often then, almost two years ago, and forced myself until the agony in my lungs and aches in my legs matched the pain in my heart.  My crying and howling carried by the whims of the gales and my tears washed away by streaming rain. I found solace in the solitude of the hills and an escape from the claustrophobia of a suffocating house full of  memories.  Those hills kept my secrets and my screaming did not echo.  I did cry this morning, but the tears were for the memory of the pain, rather than the pain itself…

But sitting at the top of the hill, breathing in the Cotswold beauty, made me realise this is home, England is my home.  The house, the hills, the village are part of my history and I cannot let go. This will be the place where I will return when my travelling days are over, and I will miss it with every fibre of my body whilst I am gone.  It will only make the homecoming sweeter and even more anticipated, when the time is right.

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Tulips from Amsterdam

tulips in bags

Spring time in Amsterdam.  The time when the Dutch countryside morphs into a crimson and golden tapestry of tulip fields…  D and I missed it, of course, by just a couple of weeks, opting to do Amsterdam on the cheap before the prices had sufficiently risen to herald the advent of the tulip extravaganza.  But then Amsterdam offers so much more than a flower show, and we were there to taste it, explore it and enjoy it…  There were obviously a few ‘musts’ on the agenda, but D and I are mostly ‘go with the flow’ tourists and leave the planning of the minutiae till the last minute.

bicycles everywhere 2

And in Amsterdam much of the flow is dictated by bicycles; they are everywhere!  I have become adept at negotiating Indian traffic and crossing the road has become a piece of cake with a wink and some practice… So, you would not expect me to be challenged by the Amsterdam bicycle melee.  But as cyclists are granted supremacy on the Dutch roads, they are a force to be reckoned with and unlike their Indian counterparts and road users who spend their journeys honking their horns to make their presence known, Amsterdam cyclists have a habit of noiselessly sneaking up on you as the feeble tinkle of their bicycle bell is only recognisable to the experienced ear.  Not only is their approach hushed in a silent whoosh, they seem to come from any direction.  I suppose it does not help that the Dutch drive on the right side of the road, which is clearly so much the wrong side of the road which adds to the confusion…  Which side to check first: left or right?  So we had a few hairy moments…

bicycles everywhere

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Add to this the effects of space cake…  Tuesday was The-Day.  We walked a lot and stood a lot and filled the best part of The-Day feeling very wonderful  and warm without achieving much…  Looking back,  we enjoyed our space cake over a cup of coffee, savouring small amounts at the time.  Whereas D. arrived in happy land on a mere morsel, I needed regular top-ups to finally – hours later – reach the same destination, but what a destination it was!  Never having experienced it before (probably difficult to believe as I am after all a child of the sixties and seventies), it was a pleasant surprise.  However, our planned exploration of Amsterdam by bike needed postponing until traffic had calmed down or maybe our perception of it….??

space cake

By the time our (or should I admit MY) feet were back on terra firma and my head down from the clouds, the idea of renting a bike had lost its appeal, so we opted for a visit to a nearby windmill, which was only a short bus ride away in a neighbouring town. It got us out of busy Amsterdam and into the peace and tranquillity of the countryside.  We did indeed spot the windmill and ventured to it on a bicycle, because by then D. had had enough of walking and cycling on a wobbly bike (mine was…) certainly had a different allure and made the experience all the more authentic.

windmill IMG_20150317_171208


No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without some scrutiny of the ‘Red Light District’.  So on Monday night, we greedily obliged and watched the spectacle sitting on a kerb near the canal.  We mused about the scantily clad women – actually, even the expression ‘scantily clad’ assumes they would be wearing a little more than just a few strings – and the men who clearly were enticed, but hesitant to take the bait and often stood deliberating with their mates before succumbing to temptation and sampling what was on offer for the ten minutes or so allowed… And we got shouted at for taking pictures that did not even show anything as we were too far away and it was dark… It is all a little too tacky and tawdry for my taste.  If you are going to indulge in this pleasure, surely you would want to have a more classy experience in privacy and at least insist upon a four poster bed, not the single small bed with a hard and very thin mattress… But then again, who am I to judge what goes on in a man’s head… We revisited the area the next morning and, with the benefit of space cake to loosen our minds and senses, explored the Museum of Prostitution, the closest we got to the ‘real thing’…  But it was interesting and we certainly had a go at the ‘sitting in the window’ experience trying to at least get a smile from someone in the street below… You  have no idea how sexy a boot can be..

Bikes and bodies.  Quintessentially Amsterdam.

Bikes and bodies. Quintessentially Amsterdam

red light 1

red light - inside room

red light - no pictures....

amsterdam sex toy shop

Just to make sure our trip also included other cultural elements, we traversed the canals by boat, made ample use of the tram lines and queued up for an hour on a freezing Wednesday morning before entering the Anne Frank House.  And as we were too early for the tulips in full bloom, we settled for the flower market, an ensemble of stalls displaying cut flowers and bulbs.  On the other side, the street was lined with shops selling Dutch mementoes, such as clogs, and delicacies such as red, green and blue cheeses and we tucked into pancakes for lunch..  But had we been a little more on the ball, and eaten our pancake on another occasion, we could have had a virtually free lunch just savouring samples of the numerous flavours and variations on the Gouda cheese theme…

amsterdam through the bridges

quaint houses

amsterdam murals

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cheeses red and blue

clogs amsterdam

And the best thing about this Amsterdam trip is that having missed out on the tulip fields this time round gives me a valid reason to go back and do it all over again…  Can’t wait!!!

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The man from Isfahan and the Grim Reaper

Frisking mandatory

Frisking mandatory

I should have remembered the story of the man from Isfahan (or Samara depending upon the version of the story you have heard) who in his desperation to outrun the Grim Reaper only ran straight into his arms…  In other words, there is no point in trying to escape the inevitable and fate will always catch up on you!  So why I had thought that yesterday’s airport experience would have been any different from the many I have had before, I do not know.

I really believed I had it under control and had taken all sensible precautions not to fall foul of the gauntlet of the security metal detector: no jewellery, no buckles or belt, wearing just a loose churidar and going bra-less to avoid metal wires and hooks.  The buckles on my sandals probably plastic and in plain view. It seemed my passage would be flawless, until I got to the airport and read my ticket printout with greater attention… Walking through the security door was only the prelude to the real thing as frisking is ‘mandatory’ and extended to all… Only in India, I thought, rolling my eyes, whilst deciding to put my bra on after all for some protection against the probing hands and the fearless metal detector.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you, I did not even make it that far before being caught out.  In Trivandrum airport, as in many other airports across the world no doubt, another trap awaited.  Suitcases that are destined for the hold are x-rayed before loading and to ensure that the staff will not soil their hands on someone’s dirty knickers, this is done in your presence so YOU can open the suitcase to go on a fishing expedition for whatever offending item is lurking in between your belongings.  Now, I only packed the bare minimum and arrived at the airport with an unimaginably light suitcase, so there was no leaden feeling in my stomach when my baggage traversed across the eyes of security.  I had checked the list of prohibited items and was pretty sure none of those had sneaked into my luggage.  But ‘Bingo’, suspicion had arisen about something and  I was asked to open my suitcase…

‘Did I carry something binocular shaped and electronic?’ Man in Official Suit enquired.  Really?  What item answering to that description would a girl be carrying in her suitcase?  The loudspeakers in my luggage, which were indeed binocular shaped, resided in the wrong corner and were swiftly discounted.  I racked my brain and offered my bag of electronic gadget chargers and although my iPad stand cum charger invited some interest, it was not a good match for ‘the picture’.  When Man in Official Suit demanded a closer look at my Barclays pin device, panic got hold of me as he might discover my contraband stash of rupees underneath which are not legally allowed to cross the border.  But with a swift and smooth swipe, I managed to hide them quickly in between some other papers.  We did eventually get to the bottom of it.  By then I had almost emptied the whole of my suitcase and there is only so much technology you can hide between your clothes… My very special alarm clock that projects the time on the ceiling at night in big red digits still had its batteries in it! This had clearly not caused any alarm in England on my departure, but did not escape Indian scrutiny and, let’s face it, it was a timing device after all!   Luckily, as I would only be reunited with my suitcase on arrival at Heathrow, I was spared a repeat of this unfortunate episode, if not any further inconveniences with airport security..

Well, Trivandrum clearly set the tone for the rest of the airport saga.  A lengthy 10 hour stopover in Mumbai – it puzzles me why everyone in the UK calls it Mumbai when all the Indians here still talk about Bombay – did not seem the end of the world until I got to the International terminal hoping to use my Angel lounge pass and spend a few hours ‘lounging’ and whiling away the time…  I duly entered the airport after being told by Security Soldier With Gun that ‘once you are in, you cannot come out again..’  and thought this would not be too much hardship.  I know the ropes about airport lounges which are only accessible AFTER going through security.  So I queued up, and put all my electronic gadgets in various trays as requested, and taking nothing but myself through the metal detector on my way to another frisking, I also left my boarding pass in my wheelie case…  Big mistake, I was sent back through the body of waiting women and had to navigate a queue of waiting men to point out my case to retrieve my boarding pass and rejoin the ‘waiting women’ line.  I patiently underwent the frisking again and proudly showed my boarding pass before intending to leave the cubicle…   Intently studying the paperwork in my hand, Security Lady with Metal Detector Wand frowned deeply and queried my departure time… It seems many Indian people have great difficulty understanding the time of 02.25 hours.  Unfortunately, after having been frisked twice and jumping through hoops and over hurdles to get there, she could not allow me through security as ‘you can only pass through security four hours before take off…’.  ‘And what about the lounges?’ I asked…  She motioned to rows and rows of empty chairs beyond the cubicle, indicating that that was what  I could look forward to on the other side..  No food, no toilets, no lounge, she maintained… although in the distance BEYOND the rows and rows of empty chairs, I spotted the welcoming lights  from the duty free shops glimmering invitingly.

I did not feel like arguing and found a nice, but airport-expensive cafe, where I spent the next five hours talking to a very interesting Indian man on his way home to Toronto,  who was having similar issues with security.  He had counted 17 security checks up to that point and also had not yet managed to get past THE real security either…  Together we discussed and dissected India’s woes and put the world to rights.  Not a bad way of killing time..   I did eventually make it through security and found the Angel Lounge where I continued my conversations with the same very interesting Indian man via email, not that it will have any effect on the happenings in Indian airports.

If you ever decide to come to India, I would give Bombay airport a big miss… On my return, I will be going via Delhi, or maybe Dubai or Doha, whichever way the cheapest fares blow me, but not Bombay…

Experiencing the authentic India.

umbrella 1I had decided to finish phase one of the Indian adventure in the same manner as I started it, with a visit to the sun blessed beaches of Kovalam.  And in true style, on Sunday I managed pretty much a repeat as the red beacon of my nose can testify today… At least this time I was wearing my swimsuit, so I pampered myself with a refreshing swim in the sea.  Mostly, the towering waves in Kovalam are rough and uninviting, but yesterday the tide was out and the baby surf was easy to navigate.  So I indulged in giving my sun-deprived skin the full benefit of sea, sand and sun.  And I mean sun-deprived because during school days there is no opportunity to explore the great outdoors:  children do not have playtime, just a 5 minute toilet break in the morning, and the thirty minute lunchtime is barely enough to eat a Kerala lunch with your right hand; physical education amounts to a mere 40 minutes per week in a shady corner.  Not that the locals worry about the lack of sunlight on their skin as they prefer to use umbrellas to shield themselves from any rays that may darken their skin even further.  Such is the difference between the white tourists and their Indian counterparts that where white people cannot expose enough skin, Indian tourists cover up and avoid the sun at all cost.  So umbrellas on the beach are a must, and not just the colourful ones that line the seafront…

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Indian overlooking the sea under shelter

fat lady

Too much white flesh exposed to lots of sun..

And clearly the Indian experience is only authentic for those who properly do as the Indians do. So, I found UK Dave (or was it Mike?) from somewhere up North, but currently on a three year secondment in Chennai and having a Kovalam weekend break, who was intent on the full adventure on the beach.  Not merely content as most tourists to take photographs of the hard working fishermen, he set an example to all onlookers and merrily joined in with the hauling in of the nets. He may not have shared in the singing of the folk songs that accompanied the heavy trawling by the natives, but he certainly put his back into it…mike from scotland 2 mike