Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Paris - How Dan Brown screwed up my trip

It was just a few minutes to midnight and we were walking along La Seine in the historic center of Paris. On the right side was the beautifully lit Louvre. Looming ahead of us was the Cathedral of Notre Dame casting its beautiful reflection in the river. Far away at a distance, the twinkling lights show had started and the iconic Eiffel Tower was sparkling in brilliant light. The restaurants and coffee shops of the left bank were buzzing with activity even at this late hour.
We heard loud noises from Pont des Arts and as we hurried to it, we saw the pedestrian bridge filled with people. They were sitting in groups and drinking wine and beer and dancing and singing. All of a sudden we hear a commotion. A guy starts to take off his clothes and everybody rushes to one side of the bridge. We rush just in time to see the young man jump into the river.

Louvre in the Night

Is that a bare butt? Oh My GOD – Is that guy naked I ask Saru in an incredulous tone.
“Yup…he is! We saw so many naked statues and paintings today – It is only fair that we see one in flesh and blood. We are in Paris baby!
Another guy follows suit and the crowd erupts in cheers and claps. This goes on for a while before the folks walked back to their groups and continued their drunken revelry.
I love the energy of the city. It never stops having fun. NY City is maybe the only other city that has this kind of energy. One of the restaurants we went to, is open from 5:30 AM to 3:30 AM on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends! We had to wait for 15 minutes to get a table at 11:30 PM!

Saru and I went to France in the last week of June for 10 days. This was our second trip to Paris, so you won’t see me gushing about the Louvre or mentioning the tonnage of Eiffel Tower or raving about the stain glass windows of Notre Dame. The bucket list was checked off in 1999, places sufficiently wowed and the awesomeness captured in a camera, so there was no pressure to visit every single attraction. Given that, I did not have a long list of things to do. I did however have a long list of things to eat (how can you not?). Think of the delicious buttery, flaky, crispy croissants and the soft, delicate, decadent, molten chocolate cake floating in a sauce of Crème Anglaise.

Our Paris trip started with a sandwich. YES, a SANDWICH and not just any sandwich, it was a Tomate et Mozzarella sandwich on pain olive (Olive Bread). We were hurrying to the airport train station when I was drawn to a cool looking cafe. “I am not hungry, you go ahead and buy yourself something” said Saru. Walking towards the train terminal, balancing the bag on one hand, my sandwich on the other while lamenting the fact that the tiny bottle of water cost me 3.5E, I took one bite of the sandwich and came to a sudden halt. I screamed - HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, THIS SANDWICH IS FANTASTIC! I ran along to catch up with Saru while yelling “this sandwich is amazing”!!
Saru “Vam….we are in a public place….lower your voice”.

I don’t like cold sandwiches, but this one was so tasty that I stopped talking to Saru and was intently eating my sandwich while making sounds that I would rather not describe on a public forum. Saru waited for a few minutes, lost patience and asked “Are you going to share it with me or not?
Absolutely not! You said you were not hungry
I am not, but I want to taste the sandwich. Eat whatever you want and leave me the rest
I kept eating my sandwich while Saru was watching with a disgusted look. Half over…..three quarters over… eighty percent over and he saw no signs of me stopping. Saru lost it and pulled it from me. “That’s enough!! It is my turn now”. I would have fought for it, but the train came and we boarded it. “Oh Man!! This is awesome!” said Saru turning away as I was trying to grab the last piece.

Pantheon – “To the great men, from the grateful homeland”

For our first morning in Paris, we decided to visit the Pantheon, an understated monument which we missed in our first trip. I had zero expectations, and maybe that is why I liked it so much. Initially built as a place of worship, it was converted into a memorial for illustrious Frenchmen during the French Revolution. Many great men including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and Mirabeau were buried in the crypt.

As was the case of most churches built in those times, the interior was shaped in the form of a cross (+). This massive structure was decorated with Greek columns and domes while the walls were adorned with beautiful frescoes and paintings. There were very few people inside, so it was very peaceful. I just sat there gazing at the dome and the frescoes wondering about the numerous times the church was converted to a mausoleum and back. You could see an amalgamation of religious, political and scientific values from different periods in time. On some walls were frescoes depicting the life of St.Genevieve, on some were paintings of allegories of values (justice, glory etc) and then there was the Focault's Pendulum.
While I was listening to the audio guide, Saru-the-geek put all his attention into understanding the inner workings of the Pendulum. The theory is that the pendulum oscillates in the same plane the entire time, while the earth below it is rotating showing the change in times on the clock on the floor, thus proving rotation of earth. Saru was puzzled because the clock on the floor only showed 270 instead of 360 degrees. He searched around until he found an English speaking volunteer who explained that the pendulum only oscillates to the extent of the latitude of the location. At North and South poles, the pendulum would complete a full 360 degree circle in a day. Mystery solved and he was ready to leave.

We then went into the crypt and Saru got crazy-excited looking at the names of scientists . He started reeling off names and scientific theories and formula in spite of my “what the hell are you talking about” look. He kept going “Ohhhh…Paul Langevin of Langevin Dynamics ; Marcelin Berthelot, the inventer of modern chemistry; Pierre Curie's Nuclear Physics....." What a geek!!
My time to show off came a little later when we stopped in front of the tomb of Alexander Dumas. “You never heard of ‘Count of Montecristo’ I asked him in a heckling tone. He threatened to explain the intricate details of
‘stochastic differential equations’ in Langevin Dynamics, so I backed off. I did however manage to tell him the story of Dumas's famous novel.

I loved the Pantheon! It was a beautiful monument. We thought of spending an hour, but ended up spending 3 hours, including 45 minutes climbing to the top of the domes to get a view of Paris.
Saru will not let me put big size images ofwhat he terms as ‘bad pictures’, but here is a snapshot.

Musee Du Louvre – How Dan Brown screwed up my trip

We visited the Louvre for the first time,10 years back and LOVED it. We spent an entire day in the museum and could not get enough of it. Every other museum I saw after that paled in comparison. To me, Louvre was the best museum in the world followed by the Vatican Museum. SO….I went with great expectations. I knew it would be crowded, but the mob I saw there was totally unexpected. Thanks to Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’, it has become fashionable for EVERYBODY to go to the Louvre. I have never seen so many people with translated versions of the same book. Most of the tourists were in line to see same three exhibits – Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. The smart thing to have done was to avoid that wing, but the husband was one among the mob who came with bookmarks in the novel. He said “Nothing doing…I want to see these three exhibits. I want to beat Art Buchwald’s record of 5min 56secs to see the big three” Sigh!

An hour and half later, I was sweating and in line with thousands of other people. You just cannot appreciate art this way. It also didn't help my cause that I forgot to rent an audio guide, so had to climb 3 floors twice to go back and get it. By then, I was tired, hordes of tourists were pushing me around and it was just not a great experience. There were a few good moments like when we saw this “Size matters” statue below. Saru, unlike me, had lots of fun. He would snicker and giggle at the nudity in the paintings and pass silly comments. Once done, we went outside, put our feet in the fountain water and relaxed while pondering over the fact that we loved the Pantheon which most tourists would miss, but hated the more popular Louvre.

Then we went on to Jardin des Tuileries, found a shady tree and took a nap. Taking a nap in the evening became a daily thing for us during this trip. It was unusually hot and the sun would not set until 10:30 PM. A power nap, as Saru calls it is very good to relax and regain it was really cool and pleasant to sit in the shade of trees.

Palais De Tuileries (Home to a zillion kissing couples...wait for the next post)

Rue Cler

For dinner, we went to Rue Cler. It is a typical Parisian street lined with restaurants, cafes, boulangeries, patisseries and creperies. I took one look at the neighborhood and knew why I loved Europe. The streets were full of people walking leisurely and enjoying the evening. Sounds of lively conversation, laughter and clinkling of cutlery filled the air.
Saru declared “I have a bad stomach, so I want to eat something very light….maybe like a sandwich”. I was in PARIS and I wanted to eat a nice meal with wine and dessert and the dude wanted to eat a sandwich! WHO eats a sandwich for dinner?? Apparently nobody because we walked the entire length of the street looking for a restaurant that served a sandwich and a proper meal , but did not find any. We were both getting hungry when I saw a Creperie! Voila! It was light enough to meet his needs and cool enough to meet mine. In my utterly ridiculous French (with an Indian English accent), I ordered:
Un Crepe avec Fromage et Champignons, S’il vous Plait
The guy at the stall smiled and said in perfect English “A Crepe with cheese and mushrooms. Please have a seat”. Saru heaved a sigh of relief and ordered his dish in English. Fresh cheese makes such a huge difference to the taste of the dish. My crepe was smooth and soft and aromatic as hell! The combination of soft crepe, fresh mozzarella (with a hint of sourness ) and rubbery mushrooms created an explosion of tastes in my mouth. It was my BEST crepe to date.

For dessert, I ordered a crepe with strawberry confiture. I sipped the last of my Beaujolais watching the cook pour the batter and deftly spread it around into a perfect circle. Once the crepe was done, he poured a giant spoon of the most aromatic butter I ever smelt. For a few seconds, my crepe was bathing in a pool of butter before it soaked it up like a sponge. He waited until it became brown and crispy, spread a generous amount of strawberry confiture, folded it, sprinkled powdered sugar and served it hot. The aroma of butter made my mouth water to indecent proportions, so I took a quick bite. As the French say - Excellente!! C’est tres bien!

I don’t remember what Saru was having, except that it was not great and he kept reaching into my dish and I kept pulling the plate towards myself (As if It is not enough that I am sharing my life with him…now I have to share my dessert too??)

Our stomachs thoroughly satisfied, we made our way to the hotel just when the clock struck midnight.

P.S In case you are wondering about the butter, Saru and I have a philosophy when we travel - No worries on weight and wallet!

What is your travel philosophy? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monsoon Magic in Mumbai

It has been almost a month since we came back from our 10 day trip to France, but I am going through a patch of 'writer's block', so bear with me while I publish those travelogues.

Meanwhile, enjoy these pictures from the Monsoons in Mumbai. We have been driving to the hills every weekend this last month and I can never get tired of the lush green scenery.

A hut with a view

Water drainage Pipe

Train Tracks of the Matheran Toy Train

Lush green hillsides on the way to Matheran

Waterfalls....they are everywhere this season!

It doesn't get more green than this?

On the way to Matheran.....Life goes on!

This post is part of the Show your World meme. For more stories from the rest of the world, click the image.