Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another year...

Flies past me, making me a year older and hopefully a year wiser...Of course like all years past, I did learn a lot of things in life and I intend to put the learning to good use. And as always hope that as average as 2010 was maybe 2011 will be the year when dreams come true, not just for me but for everyone.

Last year, and the year before last seemed way more busy than 2010 though 2010 was the one that ran very fast. In January Babs and I went to my brother's house in the east coast to surprise my parents who were visiting him on their anniversary. The other brother also drove down to surprise them and all in all my parents were ecstatic and we, the kids were very happy too. The little ones had a ball of a time playing with each other and enjoyed it as much as I did relaxing in my brothers home.

February was a boring month, hardly anything noteworthy happened. in March we had a huge snow fall in Dallas which coincided with my Birthday. I loved the powdery white that canvassed the entire city making it look beautiful as the three of us drove around the city taking it all in.

With April, my brother came down to visit us with his family. We were so busy the whole week that I had no idea how time flew past us so fast. Then of course we went to the Rahat Fateh Khan concert that Babs thoroughly enjoyed along with us. It was her first real live concert.

Then May rolled in and the family took a small, short trip to the South West. It was fun because we were two families who helped take care of each other's ward and have fun at the same time. Grand Canyon and Vegas for the first time and we had an awesome experience.

When June came by, I was off to Chattanooga to visit my parents and spend the week with my brother and his kids who were also there for their summer vacation.

And as July made it's way in the BIL and his family joined us to celebrate the 4th of July. Soon after that August had us busy with the Shankar Mahadevan concert at which once again the little one enjoyed and danced with me as he sang Jhoom Barabar. While July marked my ten years of living in the United States, August saw me celebrating our ten year anniversary. Ten years since G and I fell in love.

In September, I was excited to go and see Endhiran in the theater with my old college friends. It is always good to see a Rajni movie in the theater and it is even better when it is enjoyed with like-minded people!

October was a super busy month for us. We did the Europe trip and got to see some nice places and hang out with great old friends. Then Babs started school and that changed a lot of things in our life and of course Babs also grew a year older!

November, we welcomed a new nephew, Arav into my BIL's family and MIL came to help them.

Our house is filled with guests right now keeping the place merry and messy and happy and busy all at the same time. Another year is going to pass me by as I look at it helplessly and pray for a better 2011 for everyone in the world.


See you all in 2011!

Have a Safe and Happy New Year

Love

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas

Oh I loved Christmas in India a lot. Especially when you are a little girl walking around the township seeing certain houses little up by the beautiful red shining star, ah! magical. Of course, there were stories about Santa, bits and pieces, here and there, and I was always sad that Santa never came to our house. Then there was the school Christmas tree decorating contest. Each of the classrooms had to decorate a tree and whichever class had the best decorated tree would get tonnes of candy. Then there was the Christmas night in school, where they would re-enact the story of the birth and then sing carols, and of course candy for all! And then the street caroling. It was all there...fond memories!

My brother's best friends were both Christians. One was a Tamil Christian, John and the other an Anglo, Kevin. I was always invited to their house on the day of, after Church and everything. Since we were predominantly vegetarian at home John's mother would indulge me with making my favorite Chicken curry, mutton korma, egg fry, and biriyani. I would eat till I burst, take a nap before getting back home with a content tummy. 

In the evenings we would go to Kevin's house and boy was Christmas different at his house. We would have a non-alcoholic drink with plum cake...yumm...I had no intention of saying, "That will do." As long as his mother kept filling my plate, I would keep eating it. My day would end well with a sound sleep and pleasant memories of the day. Each Christmas would be exactly like the one before. Nothing changed, my routine was pre-determined and I was in no hurry to make any changes. Until of course, we moved to Chennai.

When I was in my eleventh standard my brother and I went to the phone booth (I had to resist the temptation of writing STD booth!) to make a trunk call (long distance) to wish friends for Christmas. We were waiting outside the booth because someone else was keeping the place busy and brother and I got into talking. Right across from the phone booth was this church, a really beautiful one. It was getting busy because it was the eve of Christmas and I was checking out this one particular guy who had a guitar slung over his shoulder sitting on a Kawasaki motorbike and chatting with his friends. My brother caught my distraction and said, "Nice bike?" and I nodded absent minded and he asked me, "What about the guy?" I blushed. But it opened up a friend in my brother for me. He became my soul confidante after that. I could tell him everything and he helped me sort out stuff. 

This year, Santa came home and showered my daughter with boat loads of gifts. Of course she knows who Santa is and never looks his way when we are in the malls because she is scared of him. But she loves the beauty of Christmas just like I do. We down sat on Christmas day near the fire place opening up her gifts when she said, "Because I went to sleep on time, Santa did not take me with him up the chimney?" I looked at her, wanting to tell her that Santa only came to give gifts, but then the tired mother inside me took over and said, "Yes, tonight also Santa will be watching to see if you sleep on time."

Hope everyone had a Merry X-Mas.

Love
ART

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Letters!

Ok! You all got me, I had written the table manners post before...but how come more of you commented this time around and not before??!!! I guess second time around either I got the point across or I forced it on you! Either way...mission accomplished :P

Now to my new post...

As a little girl growing up I loved to write letters. I wrote them to my friends in Chennai once in a while and whenever they replied I was always overwhelmed with joy. But they were not as enthusiastic as I was. I wondered about pen pals and my mother put an end to it by telling me that I was too young to write letters to strangers. So till I was in eleventh standard I quit letter writing altogether.

In eleventh I made friends with my neighbor and unfortunately for me the very same year he was moving out of town to start college. I don't know who started it but we soon started writing to each other once in a while at the beginning. It would be in a simple inland letter, the blue colored one that you got at the post office for like 10 Paisa or something. Then we started writing on the crimps of the letter that we had to switch over to writing in the yellow colored envelopes. It seemed to everyone in my house that other than my father I was the only other person who got a mail at least two or three times a week.

I spent a lot of time writing in my sometimes neat sometimes nasty hand writing. Long letters that extended to 8 or 14 pages in a A4 sheet. I would write about teenage problems, classmates, bitchy stuff, school, etc., and he would write back making fun of it or tried to push me in the right directions. We spoke movies, food, and of course whatever, I don't even remember now. But it was fun expecting to see a letter in the mailbox. It was also the time when stickers were popular. I would spend money on buying cutesy ones and stick them all over.

My friend was prompt, he would send me greeting cards for the appropriate reasons and seasons and I would too, we had so much fun. But then somehow slowly, as they say about all good things, this one too slowly met with a natural death. It might have had something to do with the fact that my friend moved back to Chennai after his education and there was really no need to write to him, or that I was in college and busy travelling to and fro between home and college. I also moved away from that neighborhood and then no more letters.

I miss the excitement of getting a letter from a friend or someone in the family. The excitement with which I read them. The whole fun is missed out on opening and reading emails. One line emails suck even more, the kind that I am sending more often to friends nowadays.

I love the tradition of sending Season's Greetings cards though. I used to help father work on several cards he would send out to his friends, family, & colleagues when I was a little girl. I helped him with writing the addresses, inserting them into the envelopes and pasting the stamp on them before mailing them out for him. It was fun and I love that tradition and would like to keep it going...

Now with technology of course most of us wish each other electronically for every festival but I make sure that most of my friends with whom I am in regular touch with receive a card from my family...

So this year...to you and yours...Seasons Greetings!

Love
ART

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Table Manners

I was sitting at the dining table at my friends house, my fingers were drying from the sambar that I had already licked off it. My Plate had dried up too and I was done with the dining table for now, but the rest of the table was abuzz with activity. I had such an urge to get up, pick my plate up, put it in the sink and wash my hands. With a huge restrain I waited for ten minutes and when I could no longer hold back, I stood up and excused myself.

Back home in India I could never have sat this long at the table after having finished my meal. Mom absolutely denounced that behavior. It was then my mind started racing trying to figure out the differences between the Western practice of not eating before everyone has food on the plate and not leave before everyone is ready to finish and the Indian way of eating as soon as you have food in your plate and leaving the table when done. And guess what? I think I nailed it…

Long before we knew otherwise we South Indians ate our meals on a leaf which we still continue to do so on certain occasions. We also ate in the floor using our fingers instead of spoons and forks.

Also in South India we typically eat rice with sambar/dal/rasam or other flowy alternates and some side dish and probably pickle and an appalam. So the minute the sambar or such is poured on top rice, you better start attacking it or else you will run the risk of letting it flow over to the ground or the table whatever the case may be. If you are going to sit and wait for the rest to join you, you might as well lick the sambar off the ground. There, I solved the first piece of puzzle.

Again, as I mentioned above, most Indians use their fingers to eat and if you have never done that, you will never know how annoying dried up fingers can be. Also, since India has a lot of flies and ants, if you let your leaf open with remnants of rice and sambar, you are just inviting the insect population living around for a buffet at your leaf. So, the rule is to get up from your place as soon as you eat and remember to close your leaf at the very least to make sure that your neighbors who got served after you can eat in peace without having to battle annoying flies.

So what is considered as table manners in the Western Hemisphere cannot be applied to Indian living conditions and households. Well, we probably can incorporate it now that we eat the same food in plates and sometimes with silverware too. But my point is, I absolutely hate it when Indians look down upon their fellow Indians for not having adhered to the Western Mannerisms. I wonder what gives anyone the attitude to judge me on what has probably been ingrained in my gene pool for 1000’s of years. I guess that is why I gave this topic so much of a thought and decided to pen it down too.

At least to the time when I still lived there. And today after 30 plus years of having lived my life in that fashion, changing it seems very difficult. I am inevitably the first person to finish eating irrespective of when I actually got food on my table. And if I am sitting with a bunch of people who are not my friends, I hold myself back and wait for everyone to finish, and if I am with friends, I politely excuse myself and get up.

I really hate to have dried up fingers and worst of all, dried up plates to put in the dishwasher or worse wash them myself…

As far as all theories are concerned you will always find postulates and what I have written here might not work for a Punjabi family eating Roti and sabzi but this is the gist I can make from my own life experiences…please comment if you agree or disagree!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Madhuri Dixit needs a lesson?

Babs loves watching and dancing to the song Aaja Nachle, title song from the movie of the same name. She loves to give everyone a grand performance and more so to her best buds Wawa and La. On one such ocassion while watching the song as well as seeing Babs performance all of us were raving about Madhuri's talent and expressions and grace. This is the context. Now the discussion between mother and daughter.

Amma: Babs, remember even if I get angry with you, it will only be for a short while.
Babs: Ya, I know that.
A: Good.
B: But Amma, you should never get angry with me.
A: Why is that?
B: Because, I am your daughter.
A: Small silent laugh.
B: And I am so graceful.
   {Pause}
    Have you seen my expressions? They are beautiful. I dance so well Amma.
   {Pause}
    You know what? You should call that Madhuri Dixit home and I should teach her to dance.
   {Pause}
    Today? Now?
A: What? (Mouth open, not sure of what I had just heard).
**********************************************************************************
Babs has finally kinda sorta settled down in school. I am afraid that the Thanksgiving break will make it difficult for her again and so will the Christmas break but after that it should be fine. She has been doing a lot of stuff in school and her teacher only had all good things to tell us about her in her first PTA meeting. Yay! Apparently Babs does her work and cries for me during breaks!

She is growing up and becoming super independent. She does not follow me into the bathroom now. When I leave for work on weekends she happily sends me off. She wakes up in the morning wanting to eat cereal watching her favorite songs on TV. I am glad she does this because I don't have to worry if she is eating enough and is not hungry in school. The winter is here, Santa is here and I am afraid that Babs is still scared of him from up close, so no Santa portrait yet for her.

Where is the Babs who used to simply lie down on my lap and play with me and listen to every word I said? Now I have this girl who is busy playing with her toys or scribbling meaningless and wordless notes for me and her father in her room or playing with her new kitchen set making invisible meals for her parents.

Love you
Amma

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 10

October 17, 2010   Happy Birthday Babbi (Walldorf)

German's take their Sunday's very seriously and shut everything down. I don't think any store is open on that day. The entire city comes to a stand still. If you forgot to buy bread then tough luck! We woke up a little late after the long night and I gave Babs her ritual Birthday hair wash and made her wear her new dress that GP had bought for her from India. She was very excited. After lunch and in a sloth like pace we took the kids to this indoor play area where Babs and Tan were let loose. Both of them had such a great time there and bonded really well. The parents, us, also got a full dosage of work out and we were dead tired when we left that place four hours later. G and I tried out trampoline, Babs and Tan loved it. We did those funny climbing cubes and played in cubes filled with those little colorful balls. We were entertained.

Tired, we got back home and after another wash we were all ready to cut the cake for Babs. Who was so excited that we were all going to sing for her. Following with N took us to his favorite Spanish restaurant. Of course I got the most average dish on the table while everything else looked good. Babs was three now, she tried out calamari for the first time and loved it. G and the rest of the gang ate different types of sea food and had a great time there. Before we even got back home the kids were asleep. The adults too were not really a bundle of energy. We slouched down and spoke till it was very late. 

I packed all our bags and put them in the living room and started sulking badly. I was having a good vacaiton. One of those that you never wanted to get over and it was coming to an end. *sulk*


October 18, 2010   Frankfurt & Dallas

Nits dropped us back in Frankfurt Airport. We boarded the flight with a very heart. I could not forget Tanmay and GP. For the way they took care of us and showed us around the country. It was so easy to bond and become friends with GP that I was sure to miss when I came back to Dallas. Babs was a bit sad too but once again she was a super sport in the airplane. Three of us napped for three hours and she was up for the rest of eleven hours with not a scream or a tear. We colored, painted, snacked and told stories to each other but it was all easy.

LP picked us up at the airport and dropped us home. There is something about being back home. No matter what there is no better place than home. Babs still jet lagged went to bed at 6.00pm. G and I followed suit at 7.30pm. No matter how hard we tried we could not keep our eyes open! We did wake up at 5.00am next morning bright and early! And once again regretted that our beautiful vacation had indeed come to an end.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 9

October 16, 2010   Lucerne & Walldorf

The next morning we woke up and ate bread and jam brought from home and packed ourselves back into the car. We were very sad to see that the entire city wore the face of gloom with gray skies and drizzling rain. We were really shocked and Nits was upset that we would not be able to do most of the things we had planned for. But 10 minutes in to our drive out of Lucerne I thanked God for the weather. Fall had set in.

The beauty of Switzerland was there the previous day but today it was in spectacular display. The grass looked greener, the trees had overnight changed colors and the gray sky played the most beautiful backdrop to showcase the natural beauty. In spite of the bad weather Nits wanted to take us and show some waterfall and have us go up a cable car. The wives, us, we changed the plans and decided to head home because our children needed a break and so did we.

The entire drive back till we entered Germany leaving the Alps behind was brilliant. I could not get enough of it. All the way I kept pointing something or the other to G and others and vice versa.

We reached Walldorf, picked up some cake and chocolates and headed home. In Germany everything is closed on Sunday. Freaked me out, so I did some panic chocolate shopping thereby not buying quite as much as I wanted to but thankful that I at least got something. We went back home and let the children play themselves to sleep.

After the little ones were sound in bed the adults played Dumb Charades creating some of the most hilarious moments in our life to remember for ever including G's depiction of a parrot. We laughed so hard that GP's stomach cramped. We fell asleep very tired...Tomorrow, Babs three year anniversary! Happy Birthday!


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 8

October 15, 2010    Interlaken & Lucerne, Switzerland

We woke up pretty early but again before we were on the road it was close to 9.30. We reached Interlaken after a beautiful drive through Basel and Bern a little after noon. The kids were very excited to get out and stretch their legs. We went in for lunch into a snobbish cafe and after seeing their attitude we walked out quietly refusing eat there. The guys did have coffee there. Laker we walked along Lake Thun to enjoy the fall colors and take some good photos.

From there we drove to the city of Interlaken and upon reaching G declared that he wanted to do Paragliding. I was a bit scared but did not want to discourage him. We had the most expensive ever McDonald's lunch and took the kids out to the garden to play while G waited for his Paragliding ride. Then the kids and the mommies went on a pseudo train ride through the town to see the city. We were super impressed and excited. When we got back, unfortunately, G had already landed making us feel a little bit sad but I forced him into buy the video to compensate for that.

After picking up some coffee and force feeding the kids we left for Lucerne where we were going to spend the night in a Etap Hotel. G and Nits had booked the tickets and were excited about getting a great deal. GP and I had no opinions and were looking forward to eating out packed dinner. The drive to Lucerne and the view of Lake Brienz was really mind blowing.

Our hotel room was a welcome surprise for the kids. There was a bunk bed in each room for the third person. The kids refused to get down from it. They were tired to the bones but stayed up way past their bed time but they were both jumping up and down like monkeys. Finally the girls (us) managed to make them sleep while the guys went and bought some basic supplies (example: Beer and drinks!). All of us stayed up late into the night catching up and chatting while the kids slept above us in the bunk bed. We had met GP and N five years ago in Bengaluru and did not know when we will meet them again, so we wanted to make the best of every night when we could chat like adults after the babies were asleep. Bliss!

PS:

  • Hotel in Switzerland...cramped. Very small. The one we stayed in was super small but compact.
  • The beauty of the landscape cannot be described with photos or KJo movies, they have to be seen.
  • Everything is super expensive here.
  • People are super rude and mean. I just don't know how they expect to operate as world's tourism capital if the people are not friendly at all.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 7

October 14, 2010   Heidelberg, Germany

My being sick last night gave everyone a reason to take a breather. By the time the kids were ready and all of us were nourished it was quite late in the noon. Slowly we dragged ourselves to the Heidelberg Castle. On the way up Nits stopped at a cafe. As much as I whined about it to him I was glad we stopped because the cappuccino was essential to keep my head up. I was tired with the fever and felt very sleepy. The kids had a ball there playing catch inside the restaurant.

From there we drove to the castle which was beautiful in the most scenic and serene way. It is hard not to think about how the place must have been during it's hey day or in Hitler's prime. The view from the gardens are something that the photos we have cannot do justice to. It was the perfect view of a medieval town from atop a location of power. Later we walked inside the impressive courtyard of the castle where I spent sometime with Babs explaining to her how a princess would have walked the passage and she tried to imitate it. It was funny and worth it. She was really tired by now but she wanted to hear me tell her about prince and princess!

The guys decided to take a detour and Nits wanted to show G his favorite bar in the city. Even before we had driven for 5 minutes from the castle both the kids had fallen fast asleep. I suggested that I could drive GP and the kids home while the guys could have a chilled out time without us and give them some catching up time too. This was met with reluctant acceptance from the guys because they did not know what was coming next :P Most of the time when we offered them amnesty it was always conditional and sometimes the conditions (as per their opinion) were harsh. But this time around we were nice enough to let them hang out and head home.

Being girls, once we got home, we dived into packing for the Swiss trip the next day and then I suggested we do some cooking. As my stomach still grumbled at odd times I did not want to put it to test on Swiss food. GP was also up for it and we quickly made Puliyodharai, curd rice and potatoes and also some dal for dinner the same night. After all was done and the kids were not there to bother us we settled down trying to watch some movie while we ate. We also opened a bottle of bubbly and tried to unsuccessfully drink one glass before the guys came home.

Thanks for my pink health that we almost wasted a whole day doing not too much. But I guess everyone got recharged for Day 1 in Switzerland!

PS:

  • We saw a guy fondling another guy in public in the gardens of Heidelberg Castle. It was weird. Not because they were gay but public boob fondling is always weird.
  • I cannot say this enough but I was super impressed with German restrooms. You pay for them, they give you a gift voucher and you use friggin' super clean restrooms!
  • Kids are favorites in Germany. When we were in the Blackforest restaurant (I mentioned in my last post), the kids got into a fight because both of them were tired, hungry, and were fighting sleep. They were both throwing mini tantrums. Typically in most places the rest of the patrons will frown upon such events. But there, people around us looked at the kids and smiled at them and told us how beautiful they were. A couple of them also gave them candy's that came with their coffee to these brats! Imagine that!
  • Remember, "Kinder, Bitte." Helps!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Deepavali at my home!

I love all the Indian festivals and each of them bring back fond memories. When I say Indian I am not restricting it to only Hindu festivals. Deepavali definitely has a very special place in my heart and it has nothing to do with praying to God. It has everything to do with the season itself. Dussehra, followed by Deepavali, then the Christmas and New Year ending with Pongal. What more can anyone ask? Especially if you are in school/college this is like a long vacation time, right?

Babs, I wanted to write this for you, so you can see how your mother celebrated her Deepavali growing up as a small kid. These yearly rituals meant a lot to all of us and even today when I spoke with my mother we both recollected it and felt super nostalgic.

Two weeks before Deepavali, mother will be seen scrambling around trying to make sure she has all her supplies in place to make the sweets and savories for Deepavali. Mother loved making these so that her family could enjoy them. She made them in large quantities too because we had to distribute them to our near and dears! Then she would start her one-sweet/savory-a-day ritual. Mother would make, Boondi Ladoo, Murukku, Kara Seedai, Sweet Seedai, Thattai, Athirasam, Ribbon Pakoda, Diamond Cuts, Kaja, Somas, Badushah, Kara Boondi, Om Podi, and a few more to keep us busy with food for a whole week or mroe after the festival. House would smell like someone has been doing some serious cooking and I loved it. Mother would meticulously make the sweets and hide them from us so that we would not finish them off before the festival itself.

Then of course there is the whole deal of buying new clothes for Deepavali. When we lived in Trichy, we would go to Town and when we lived in Chennai we would in Mambalam shopping. There were deals and steals and either way you are robbed because of the festive season. Schools were also abuzz with all of us comparing what new dress we got and how much fire crackers each of us had purchased. It was a matter of pride and gossip in school.

The night before Deepavali was the most exciting part of the celebrations for us. Some of us would have already exhausted at least half of the crackers and would have slept slightly late bubbling with excitement. Sleep will rarely visit you this night because you are bundle of nerves and you keep hearing a random atom bomb or saram going off some where in the distance. Either way mother would wake us up early at 5 or 5.30 in the morning and line us up for the oil massage. One by one each of us would go through the ritual and be given a hot bath at the end of it. Fresh and clean we get to wear our new dress. Filled with excitement we will run outside to burst some more crackers only to notice that a soft drizzle has descended upon us. This happened every single year. Not just once or twice, but every year...Sad we would head back inside our home.

Mother will by then have steaming hot idli's and vadakari with sambar and chutney ready for us to gorge on followed by any of the sweets you choose to eat. As the day opens up sun would peek through to let us kids play outside for a while before Mother packed the sweets to be distributed. First the neighbors, a quick walk. Then to friends slightly far away for which brother would accompany me. Then father and I would go to friends house very far away by walk after the drizzle has stopped. I enjoyed these visits, we went to give and we would get too. The variety we enjoyed from everyone's house, the critiques, were all a part of the joy. This was always followed by a heavy lunch and a nap.

Once again in the evening filled with fresh vigor, all of us waited for the sun to go down and about six in the evening we would be out with the flower pots, the circling ones (Changuchakaram), the mathapu (sparkles), and of course the loud ones. We would be outside sharing our fire crackers with neighbors and be there till as long as we could keep our eyes open...before calling it a night...

I wish life would go back to being so simple. None of us went overboard buying the fire crackers that rules had to be made to ban them. People were sensitive and sensible those days. Nothing can beat mother's sweets, even today, even if I get the recipe from her and make it, her touch is what makes the difference. I am sure all of you had some fun experiences too...please stop by to comment if you can!

Love
Amma

Europa 2010 - Part 6

October 13, 2010   Walldorf & Blackforest, Germany

By the time we woke up it was already 9.30am and before we got ready it was a little late in the day. I asked Babs casually if she still wanted to go back home after she had met Tanmay (another 3 year old), to which Babs replied to me, "Amma, we can go back to Dallas in 3 days. Look at this (pointing to Tanmay's room), what a beautiful house this is. Let us stay here." We could not stop laughing at her sudden change of mind.

Babs and Tanmay took about ten minutes to bond and before long they were playing football inside the house. The first thing Babs wanted after waking up was dosa which she bravely asked her aunt GP. I guess she is a Desi after all, she gobbled up very fast and then drank milk too before we set out. The drive to Blackforest (BF) after which the famous chocolate cake is named was a little too winding. BF is also famous for the Hansel and Gretel story. Before we reached there I was already feeling slightly heady. Once we got up there Babs and Tanmay played in the kiddie play area on the swing, see-saw and the slide. After that we walked around the lake taking some very good photos and enjoying the sun shining down on us. It was cold but the sun kept us from freezing and actually providing us some fun time in the outside.

Then we decided to get ourselves nourished with some good German Food. unfortunately the only dish I could eat (Turkey) was just okay and I could not really enjoy it. Babs and Tanmay got hungry and got into a small fight and me and GP (Nits wife) had to do our best to keep them from fighting. The two of were also fighting our own sleep. The hungry kids ate something, I did some story telling and eventually ate some very yummy German salad. We headed out, did some pedal boating on the beautiful Mummelsee which was suggested by our husbands and pedaled by them too. I was feeling a bit queasy but I thought it was the drive on the winding roads and kept pushing it away. We did some souvenir shopping and as we got into the car, I once again complained of stomach ache but let it be. I am normally super queasy riding in the back seat and I thought that's what this was all about.

Ten minutes into the drive I begged Nits to stop at the nearest place that will have a restroom for me. Nits was trying to take us to another place before dark and I was not helping. After a couple of futile attempts we stopped at a coffee shop. The kind lady behind the empty bar let me use the restroom...and boy did I make everyone's stay long there. Each time I came out I had to run back in. In the meantime the husbands and wife and kids settled down to eat some authentic BF cake and drink some coffee. The husbands also got to play some pool while the kids ran around wild. The coffee shop was entirely empty but for us and the owner was kind enough not to throw us out because we used it like out house. Finally after I thought I was done we were back on the road.

Another ten minutes I once again complained about wanting to use the Loo. Nits gave up on going to this other sight seeing location and tried to stop at a convenience store and unfortunately it did not have a restroom. I threw up in enormous proportions right there on the shrubs. Sorry shrubs, did not mean to dirty you. After which, I thought I was ok. I got back into the car and we drove home while I kept praying that I was going to be okay soon so that my trip will not be spoilt.

Once we were home, we all decided that we would leave for Swiss the next morning. I was all gung-ho about it until I went to bed. I tried to sleep but felt weird. I called for G who fussed a bit before coming to my side to rub my back because the guys were trying to book our hotel in Swiss. Three minutes after he went back to his friend I sat up one more. Nits knocked on the door to give me Digene. I could not even respond as I threw up two more times. Thank God, I had some presence of mind and had taken plastic bags to the room. Immediately Nits ordered me to get ready and he got ready too and drove me to the local ER in Heidelberg. I was shivering by then and giddy and slightly delirious. Nits kept me busy by constantly talking to me.

And once we got there the doctor attended to me in exactly five minutes. She did not check my weight or my BP or any of the other things that nurses usually check you for here in the USA. Two minutes of German between Nits and her and later she confirmed it from me in her broken English and she told me to lie on the bed to get a shot. As simple as that. She checked my temperature just because I insisted on it. "Must be a stomach bug but not German Food," she assured me. I wanted to contradict her but I was too weak. I screamed and cried when she rammed the shot into my butt and Nits could not stop laughing and neither could the doctor or her nurse. I was embarrassed but this was not the first time. I walked out still feeling weak but already mentally better. We picked up meds and got home. Do I need any more adventure in my life?

Thanks Nits for doing the needful. Had I stayed home waiting to feel better I would have ruined the vacation for everyone including me!

PS:

  • Food in EU generally was not my cup of tea and since I eat only chicken and a few selected veggies, it was all the more difficult for me to find anything palatable most of the time.
  • BF was beautiful! If you are in Germany, you must drive through this part.
  • The ER we went to was so efficient that it is not a joke. I remember once we took a friend to the hospital for stomach ache and before they actually treated her it was three hours and she was ready to walk back home.
  • Germany is beautiful and Germans are very nice, especially if you have a kid along. They bend their backs to accommodate you and your child. Words to know, "For Kinder. Bitte." Works magic!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 5

October 12, 2010   Brussels & Germany

After all of previous night's excitement we decided to sleep till we could sleep no more. By the time we got ready and were about to leave PS sent me an email from work informing me that he could not come home to take us to the station in the evening as he had a meeting and he would try to see us directly at Brussels Nord. To make up for that he wanted to come home and spend some time with us during lunch. I am smart so when he came home, I had all our bags packed and asked him to help us drop our bags off at the storage in the station and we could do a city tour and pick up our bags at the station and head to Brussels Nord from Central. Because walking the ten minute walk on cobble stones and uphill climb even in sneakers with the bags was crazy, especially with Babs and the stroller. So we lugged our bags to the station locker and dumped it in and bid PS farewell hoping he would really be able to see us off that evening. I hate hasty goodbyes.

We then found ourselves a tour bus and got to the top in spite of it being slightly chill. BRU was a revelation. Contrary to my original cynical perspective Brussels was beautiful. I found the Royal Palace more grand than Buckingham Palace (Sorry Queen!). The modern part of the city was also very impressive and our ride was really exciting. Our last stop at the Little EU and Atomium turned out a bit of a disappointment. We bought tickets for the Atomium instead of the little EU. A big mistake because the Atomium was not that great and Babs would have loved Little EU and because we ran out of time we could not visit it and I was very disappointed but then what the hell is a trip without some disappointment. So we headed back to the city. I had my last Belgian Waffle topped with chocolate and bananas and Giri ate at a local burger joint and I also fed Babs more yogurt. Then we walked slowly to the station, picked up our bags and waited for PS.

He had told us to leave in case he did not make it before 5.45pm. The clock was showing 5.45pm and I told G that we should take the train to avoid any drama. G told me to count to ten before leaving just in case PS turns up and just as I counted 6, I saw him run down the stairs in true SRK style and I was so jumpy happy. He quickly picked Babs and a bag and G and I followed him to take the next train to Brussels Nord from where we were to catch our train to Frankfurt am Main. PS got into the train with Babs and the bag and before we could get in, the train doors started to close. The ticket collector would not let PS get down and us in. Confusion broke out in all our faces except Babs who carelessly smiled at PS as the train moved away.

G and I freaked out and everyone in the station saw what had happened. People around us assured that the next train would come in 3 minutes and everything will be fine. G and I stood getting tensed about Babs and then about PS. We did not have a cell phone on us to co-ordinate! What if Babs throws a temper tantrum, what if she hurts him, what if...

We got into the next train and got down at Nord and waited to see if they were in the platform and then headed up not sure where they would be. We were tensed until we saw PS holding Babs while she played with his long hair peacefully. I ran and hugged both of them and PS assured me that the two of them had no issues and Babs did not even shed a tear. She asked for us and when he told her that we would come in the next train she chilled. We are so proud of her.

Then we chatted and waited for our German train SNCB to come and pick us up. When the train came into the platform we tried to run to our compartment. Suddenly PS screamed and told us to get inside the train wherever we were and he threw the bag he was holding into the compartment he was standing next to. The three of us barely made it in and the train left the station. Total DDLJ Style. PS waved good bye and we could not believe that the train barely stopped in the Nord station for more than 30 seconds. Frustrated we also found that our seat was literally the last seat in the train! Brilliant. G went and culled all our bags from the different compartments. One was really far away where PS had thrown it in and then two of them were lying where we had got in and it took him almost 20 minutes to pick them all up and get them to the last coach. He then settled down for a nap with Babs while I started out through the window into the darkness as Brussels blended into other EU cities that I had no idea of.

Then the ticket collector came and threw another googly at us. She wanted our tickets to which I gave her what I had printed out. She insisted that it was not the ticket. The piece of paper showed the date and time our seating confirmation, seat numbers and the fact that we had paid! I don't know what else she wanted. She fussed about for two minutes in strong German laced English and then left in a huff. We sat down and relaxed once again after G threw enough attitude around in frustration.

We got ready to get down at Frankfurt Airport assuming that is where we were supposed to when to gentlemen on the train assured us that it was the wrong one. So G asked them to confirm why the airport station was not the main one? the board did say Frankfurt Airport (am Main). The two of them had a hearty laugh and told us that Frankfurt am Main meant Frankfurt on the river main and had nothing to do with it being the main station. Foreigners we are! Lesson learnt, always ask locals to stop you from doing anything stupid.

Nits was there waiting for us. G and him could not hold back their excitement. Nits spoke with high energy (like Babs on sugar) and freaked Babs out. The entire drive to Walldorf Babs kept asking me if we could go back to Dallas. Nit had plans for us, to go to Venice, then to Austria and to Switzerland. G and I quietly pointed out that we had two kids (his and ours) in the equation maybe just Switzerland will do. Making a lot of plans we got to his apartment where his wife made some dosa for Babs who gobbled it up in excitement and I ate rice and sambar as if I had not eaten in a year. After all soul food is soul food and who would not miss rice especially if they are from the South of India. Babs had milk and then went to bed hoping we would come back to Dallas sooner. But that was before she saw Tanmay's play room...

Edited to Add:
Thanks Remya for reminding me about my PS. I had one but forgot to write it down.

PS:

  • Every beverage has it's own glass to go with it. There is no generic glass they serve anything in. Even if it is water, they have a glass that matches the brand of mineral water they are serving you. Same goes for beers. For bars that store 1000's of varieties of beer, they still carry a glass to match each beer and will not serve you otherwise. My friends house was also the same. He went and bought new beer glasses because he bought some new beer and the beer has to match the glass. They are so particular about that.
  • Beer is big in Belgium. People drink beer three times a day at the very least.
  • Did I mention before that food in Brussels is super expensive? It is very rare to get decent priced food. So be prepared for that on your budget. Plus Italian here does not taste like Italian in USA...which I prefer more.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 4

October 11, 2010    Paris Day 3


G and I were out of the bed and ready to go to Versailles while PS wanted to lunch with Natalis and relax. Just before we headed out I checked one more time to see the hours of operation to notice that the Chateau was closed on Mondays. Damn! Now change of plans. G and I decided to do Chateau de Vincennes instead. The three of us took the train to Chateau de Vincennes and were surprised to see that the place was almost deserted. Of course it was early in EU standards, 10.00am but still. We saw the chapel and the Donjon of Charles V. We climbed many steps in the dungeon like spiral staircase and enjoyed the history behind the place. It really felt like we were in our very own private castle. When we walked out we were generously satisfied as we had seen something uniquely French and un-touristic while having some semblance to the Tower of London without the gore.

Our tummies were rumbling with the cold and after all the exhausting climb up and down. We ate lunch at a Turkish place right outside the Chateau. Their definition of Panini and mine did not match and hence, once again my meal sucked. Babs ate yogurt and had some juice and was ready for the rest of the day.

Now since we were already done with the only place we had planned on we had time at our hands. I asked G if he wanted to take up Natalis's advice and go to Montmartre. We had no idea what to expect other than a church. Neither of us were super excited but having nothing better to do decided to board the train.

The minute we reached there, I was already dissuaded. First, we were forced to climb million steps. I complained and silently thanked God for my physical fitness because two months ago I could not have done it even with my sneakers on and imagine climbing a hundred plus steps in boots...all the walking in Paris that had to be done. But when we got up there, it was all worth it. The view was spectacular even better than what we had seen from atop the Eiffel. I am sorry but I like the more earthly stuff like this. It was all the more beautiful because we expected nothing from this place. Absolutely nothing but it offered us something so beautiful that it instantly became our second favorite thing in our trip then so far. G and I were so excited and I was giggling most of the time I was there high on excitement. The church also was beautiful both outside and inside and lived up to the external hype. Thank you Natalis, if not for you we would not have gone up and experienced this beauty.

Babs did something there. As we walked through the aisle I pointed out to her a tall statue of Jesus. Babs instantly dropped to her knees to get blessings from him the Hindu way. I had prompted none of this. G and I did not know how to react as she stopped the flow of traffic. I was very happy though, I saw innocence and the beauty of it manifested in her, in children. Just to say that all Gods are one and nobody knows it better than children.

On our way out, we realized that our Paris train pass gave us free cable car ride up and down to Montmartre! Damn! So we took the Funiculaire down and did some quick souvenir shopping before letting Babs ride another carousel. Then we took the train to visit Champs Elysees. We also got a glimpse into the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais and the Pantheon dome. G slept along the Petit Palais on the benches fronting the roads and woke up energized once again. It was the 12% beer! In the meantime I fed Babs and got her ready for her nap. Babs napped while we Champs Elysees'd and took the train back home.

Once again as we got home to find a flustered PS. There was a train strike announced in Paris and was going to start that night at 7.00pm. Our train out of Paris was at 8.01pm. He was really concerned and wanted to get to the station ASAP. Once again we hurried packing and cleaning up the house for Sebastien and I also tried to squeeze in a Babs feeding in between. On our way out G and I begged for coffee, we were exhausted beyond words. So we sat down Paris style, had a cup of Cappucino, and Espresso shots. The waitress at the restaurant was very kind and made a pomegranate drink for Babs which she totally enjoyed. We were all relaxed but had to recharge and head to the station.

Once at the station we realized that nothing could be done till we knew for certain what was going to happen to our train. No one had any information and everyone were standing around anxiously. G and PS sat down for a beer while I had a Tiramisu. I was in heaven. Babs tasted some too, it had a bit of alcohol but I could not stop her. She was just too quick for me. All was well. I was looking forward to going to Belgium, wearing my sneakers and hiding my boots away for ever. Once again we dragged our relaxed self back to the station which was now filled with more impatient and loud people.

PS inquired and found out that all the trains to BRU were cancelled but for ours. He guessed that there would be a fight for place in spite of us having reserved seats because people from the five, six and seven 'o' clock trains were also going to try to get into our train. We were sitting on our bags waiting while I fed Babs more yogurt and we sang a bunch of songs (specifically 'In The Jungle') and spoke a lot. Approximately an hour and half later the speaker system kinda sorta announced some gibberish which sounded like gibberish in both English and French and all of us stood confused. PS and G ran around trying to find out which train was going where and which one was ours. No one knew. Not even the people who ran the trains or the ones who collected tickets. We were sent in ten different directions. Babs and I were confused and there was an almost stampede situation going on. Finally PS figured out and took us to the correct train. Inside the train again no one was  sure which train was going were. People going to Amsterdam got into our compartment and then they had to run out. People going to Rotterdam were already seated in our compartment and had to vacate when PS went and confirmed with three different people that the one we were sitting was indeed headed to BRU. We panicked and finally gave up as the train departed. Everything happened in a matter of ten minutes from the start of the announcement to the departure of the train. It really did not give people enough time to figure out what was happening at all. Finally, we relaxed and Babs did some coloring as we headed East again seeing Paris disappear into the dark behind us.

Once we got to BRU, C was there once again waiting for Babs who ran into her arms and would not leave her side at all even though she was dead tired. They played a bit. Babs ate a bit and we also had some quick dinner before hitting the sack. All of us were super tired especially after the final touch of excitement in Paris. One more day in BRU before we headed to Germany. G and I were confused if we should do BRU tour or take the train to Ghent. PS advised us to go and look around BRU. I packed everything up before hitting the sack for the fourth night in EU.

PS:

  • Read Local news when you are travelling. Thanks to Natalis PS got to hear about the train strike and we could get to the Paris Nord from Bastille on time. Else we could not even have made our connections to Paris Nord.
  • Enjoy the cafe's and road side eating in EU. It is the best part of the experience. 
  • Store owners and restaurants are very nice to people with kids. Wherever we went with Babs she got some kind things from them. Juice, candy's, and good cheer.
  • Restrooms in Paris are in the most inconvenient places too. Sometimes they are worse than what we have in India. Nastiest!
  • Crepe's in Paris are the best, especially the Nutella ones. It is nice to see them make it too.
  • It is so shocking and surprising to see Desi's speak French and tell you that they cannot understand English. The French-Desis are as snobbish as the French! 
  • Paris trains rock! But they never tell you to 'Mind The Gap.'
  • If you are travelling with a baby, stock up on baby food. There is no such thing as too much! Babs survived on half a meal of dal rice and two boxes of yogurt everyday along with milk at dinner. She lost like 3 pounds.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 3

October 10, 2010        Paris Day Two

We all woke up early but then getting ready and having Babs fed took us more time than we had originally estimated. We left the house close to ten and got into the trains hopping from one station to other changing trains. G challenged himself asking me not to take the stroller with me. He decided that it was more painful to carry the stroller up and down the station than carrying Babs. So already handicapped we reached Notre Dame.

What do I have to add to what has already been told a million times about this place? The church is spectacular from both inside as well as outside. The stained glass rose windows, paintings, and just being there was breath taking and super impressive. The place commanded respect and we gave it its due. We then walked along the Seine river to take a boat ride. We sat on the top and took in Paris from the boat getting to see Eiffel tower once again and other Parisian buildings of importance.

Babs was tired and took a nap on her father. I could not do anything to help him because I was already suffering wearing my 3" boots two days in a row. PS had to share his boat ride with an octogenarian which provided a lot of good humor to last more than a day. After the boat ride we decided to go to the Louvre. It was already 4.45pm and the lady at the ticket counter informed us that we will only have one hour of viewing time. We were glad that we had a time restriction lest we get carried away (not!). G and I focussed and walked following signs to the Mona Lisa and nothing else. We saw tons of paintings from the Christian era and Babs once again got excited about baby Jesus.

Mona Lisa was slightly bigger than I had expected her to be and yes she was not beautiful but there was something about her/him/it whatever that is. We took the appropriate photos and headed back through the Sphinx display and statues from the Roman era which were really impressive. By now my feet were hurting. I did the shameless thing of taking my boots off and walking sock-footed through the rest of Louvre. Babs and us had the most fun outside in the Plaza. The water fountains and the huge water bodies helped me keep Babs entertained while I fed her yogurt after which she tried to catch the doves that were roaming freely in the Plaza. Everyone relaxed while I stretched my feet.

Later PS asked us to go with him to meet his friend Natalis at Champs Elysees. I told PS that I could not do any more walking unless some one can detach my feet. One more train and one more splendid view as we got out of the station. Neither of us expected to be staring at Arc de Triomphe. Once again we were baffled by its beauty and majestic appearance. G, Babs and I walked to it while PS waited for his friend. We sat down below the magnificently detailed arches while Babs took our photos with our camera. She did a very decent jobs. My feet felt better but still sore. We headed back to meet Natalis who took us to a quaint little tea room where G drank beer, PS drank wine while Babs and I drank Gini (EU Lemon soda). PS wondered if I wanted to do the Champs Elysees that night but I begged out of it. To keep sanity happening we had just seen Notre Dame, walked the Seine, visited the Louvre and also the Arc de Triomphe. So really, I wanted a break. Plus I was pretty sure I had seen everything I wanted to in Paris!

We headed back home picking up some grocery on our way. We were walking along the road when we saw this weird looking guy play Sitar along side the road with the funniest expression in his face. The four of us walked a few feet away and then in a dark spot burst out laughing. We could not keep straight faces any more and we were out of the radius of decency. Then on checking out what Indian playing Sitar was doing there we realized that it was a Desi restaurant...quickly our tummy's made us enter the restaurant. We ate desi food...I think it was inevitable, we had to do it, cannot last more than two days without Indian food touching our stomach. We ate, controlled but happy. We mentally thanked the Sitar guy who obviously needed a raise for a job well done.

Then we walked up four storeys to the apartment when Babs quickly fell asleep. G and I sat down to plan  our itinerary for next day. After spending forty-five minutes in Louvre G was done with museums for the rest of his life which cut off most of Paris's attraction for us and we wanted something different to check out. We browsed books and checked the internet while fighting with G to let us browse when he wanted to watch the game Cowboys game. We finally came to a conclusion and soon enough G and PS had beers in their hands and we started chatting, till three that morning. I am glad G facilitated it to happen because PS and I got to talk after a long time about things we would never discuss with others. When I went to bed that night I felt better. G slept real peacefully after drinking two full size 12% beers.

Before we went to bed, we had a plan for Day 3 in Paris, go to Chateau de Versailles. But then not all plans go as we intend it to...

PS:

  • Things to remember when you are a tourist...read about the places you want to visit ahead of time...like what their hours are and such.
  • Walk around the city, do not take tour buses unless you are absolutely out of time. You get the feel of the city.
  • If possible befriend some locals, thanks to PS we met a lot of them and got to know a bit about their culture! It helps to get a better feel for the place. For example, in BRU it takes you an average of 1.5 hours in any restaurant. They serve very slow and rely on people drinking oodles of beer or wine!
  • Paris stinks of cigarettes...people puff on your face...and they have no consideration for their own kids.
  • Fashion in Paris...overrated and hyped.
  • No fat person in sight! Everyone is fit...even the boys are fit like girls...I mean they wear tight jeans, tight sweater and a tighter jacket, a cap and a shawl...they look like girls!
  • I wish I biked in Paris. With Babs it is not possible, maybe next time.
  • There is no A/C in most of Paris and BRU.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part Deux

October 9, 2010      Brugge & Paris

I woke up at 7.00am after a fight with sleep and got ready before I woke G and Babs up to have our breakfast. PS was still sleeping because he went out partying after our already late dinner last night. I kicked his ass and got him out of the sofa where he slept because he gave us his bedroom (Love you for that & Thanks!) and then checked the time for the next train out of Bruxelles Central station. It was at 9.00am and unfortunately it was already 8.45am and we were still at home. We quickly put things together and ran to the station. The train had just got into the station as we climbed down the steps without buying tickets. PS asked the ticket collector to let us pay inside and shoved us into the train DDLJ style. We waved him bye as we sat down by the steps outside the first class compartment watching Belgium pass us by, village after village. Babs enjoyed it, the green, the cows, and G and I admired the style of buildings and the green. But still we were not yet super excited. I wanted to see the Europe of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol and here we were riding on the steps of the train. We were missing the kind of excitement you feel. Like I said before, we were also doubting if we should indeed spend so many days in Belgium especially since BRU was nice but not as Great as you would expect. At least in the start.

We got off at Brugge and got information regarding where to and what to from the info center and headed into the city. Five minutes of walking and we were rewarded having taken the hour long train journey. First, there was the beautiful canal with bridges atop. Then the winding streets with typical EU home fronts, lots of beautiful window sill flowers and postcard vistas and avenues. Of course there was a beautiful church which had the statue of Madonna of Brugge statue by Michelangelo. It was beautiful and so peaceful. We lit three candles inside. Prayed and walked around and took in the beauty of the peaceful place.

So anyway, coming back. We got into Brugge by 10.15am and we were all super hungry. G and I decided to try out one of the quaint cafe's along the street and we stopped to pick up a croissant, a cheese pastry, a waffle, Gini (Orange soda) and coffee before moving a limb. Surprise, everything was yummy. My first meal that I fell in love with in EU. Another surprise, Waffle is not served with syrup, instead with either powdered sugar, or chocolate, or whipped cream. They can also get topped off with fruits or other stuff, but no syrup. The waffles are not circular but instead squarish. They have jagged edges and look imperfect. They are at least an inch thick too. And I had it with just powdered sugar and it was heavenly. It melted in my mouth. I look at the pseudo named Eggo's Belgian waffles with super disdain now!

From there we proceeded to take the canal ride. Brugge is known as the Venice of the north and it lived up to its name. The canal was beautiful. The houses and buildings along on either side had beautiful history. We were so happy to have come this far. It was just what we had wanted to see and more. Babs was super excited to be on a boat and enjoyed watching the bridges pass over our heads.

After the canal we headed towards the market square making a stop at the Church of St. Anne (I think) and admired the statue of Madonna of Brugge from very close. This was Babs first brush with Baby Jesus and she fell in love with him. Every time she saw any church after that she wanted to go in and see Baby Jesus.

We finally arrived at the market square and picked up a Subway. Yes, you read that right, a Sub and water. In Belgium, they do not give you water to drink, you have to buy them bottled. The concept of serving water is not there. Ate the lunch and then strolled around the square before taking the bus ride. Aboard the bus G and I were hit by a bout of jet lag. We could not keep our eyes open and took short naps. The most expensive naps ever, we had paid 14 Euros each.

After another long walk we were back in the station. PS had previously told us that our train to Paris was at 7.00pm. We were back in BRU at 4.30 and were in no hurry. I made dinner for babs while Babs had a shower. PS ran in with C in tow to inform us that our train was at 6.15 from BRU Midi station (not Central which was close to his house) and we had to leave right then. Once again, we panicked, packed Babs dinner and ran to the station with huge bags and Babs in one arm. Changed a train and settled down in our Thaly's train to head to Paris. The minute we settled down I fed Babs had two spoons of rice and dal and with that she rested her head on my lap. She slept through the entire journey while G and I admired the beauty of the landscape and windmills as we headed towards Paris!

Babs and C hit off well. She fell in love with her and was dying to play with her after we came back to BRU. Babs likes very few people on first sight, this time around it was Remi from our previous night and C from today. She could not stopping asking PS about C throughout the entire stay in Paris.

We also had a mild altercation in the train as a big black lady along with her two kids sat on our chair and claimed that it was hers and she would not budge in spite of us showing her our reserved seat tickets. She started speaking fast in French and when we tried to reason out with her she got loud and angry. On one hand I was feeling bad for her because she did have two super cranky kids but then changing seats would mean that I would not be able to sit together with G and PS and finally spend some quality time with them. We did not say anything. We just stood and waited as she moved out and sat elsewhere.

And then we reached Paris, after dark! It was 8.00pm. We got off at Paris Nord, bought 3-day pass train tickets and took a train to Bastille and walked to Sebastien's (Remi's friend from previous evening party) home in the city. He was Prash's friend who let us use his house in Paris. He has no idea how helpful that was especially with a child on tow having a home and not a hotel room helped immensely. His house was located at the Opera center of Paris and the walk to his house was lined with restaurants, bars, and all the show biz we could enjoy. The house itself was small in American standards but beautifully self-sufficient and impressive in terms of space usage. G and I could not stop admiring the way there was everything in the house but scaled down. Thanks Sebastien. G then discovered the Ledru Rollin station that was closer to the house than Bastille and that is where we started most of our Parisian adventures.

Once we got home and freshened up G insisted that we do Eiffel Tower that very night night. I wanted to put up a mild resistance but decided that he might have a valid point. So we took the necessary trains and headed tower-wards. The minute you get off the station Eiffel tower vision surprises your senses. You know it is big but you cannot imagine how big it actually is. It is Huge and golden standing against the dark night behind. The beauty is indescribable and something to experience. Once we went up we sang Happy Birthday to Babs as promised and she quickly pointed out, "Amma, but you forgot to bring my cake." I assured her that she will have one on the 17th and we took her to a carousel ride just outside the tower while I had my first ever Parisian Crepe with which I fell in love. The one with Nutella...yumm...yumm. Seeing them make one is an art in itself and then eat it...yumm...

In all the excitement of being at the Tower I lost G's and my three day train pass. 40 Euro's down the drain. This cost us considerable delay because we had to acquire new tickets and so we had to walk to a different station and all that among my feet hurting like crazy so we did not get home till almost midnight. We were exhausted. I was super guilty, G was slightly angry but he downplayed it real well, PS could not believe that I had screwed up, he knew a different me. Not the clumsy mother that I have become! We had no idea when each of us had gone to sleep. PS slept on the couch mid-sentence while Babs was half asleep as we came home and G and I slept as soon as our heads touched the pillow. I prayed to God that tomorrow my feet would hurt less!

In all the hurry that led us to the train to Paris I had forgotten to take my sneakers and my legs had already started showing wear and tear of walking a whole day on cobblestone in my heeled boots. It looked good in the photos, no doubt, but it hurt like crazy. We slept like babies that night, again.

G planned to head out early again the next day so that we could do a lot of things. He reminded me that we fell in love with Brugge only because we got there early before the rest of the tourists made it in making the place look quaint and special instead of another tourist place which it looked like while we headed home. We planned to start at Notre Dame the next morning.


PS:
  • Go to Brugge if you are in EU. It is a city that will make you fall in love with it. It was my favorite part of the trip.
  • Do not wear high heels in Belgium or Paris. You walk a lot and the cobble stone in Belgium does not help and the climbing in and out of the train station in Paris does not really massage your feet either. 
  • Always carry a bottle of water from home. A really small bottled water in Belgium cost 3 Euros.
  • Everyone smoke in Paris. The city smells of cigarette smoke.
  • Paris is not the most clean city.
  • Eiffel tower at night is magnificent. And once you see it in the night the morning view is just okay.
  • Parisian's are not fond of English and people who speak it. We had to put our knowledge of basic French to use. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Europe 2010 - Part 1

Where do I really start? I did not know that I could pack so much excitement into ten days. G and I have always wanted to travel to EU and had also kept our friends living there on a line for the last six years. Finally this year we gave ourselves an ultimatum and booked the tickets. Plans were made, changed, visas were acquired, bags were packed, panicked a bit but by the time it was 7th morning the three of us were ready for the vacation ahead. I want to keep this as a travelogue to which I can come back after a few years just like I read my India trip journals here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. So obviously I have to write down a few memories that we made during this trip too.

This was Bab's first trip out of the United States and that freaked me out a little. I was not sure what I can get for her in EU that will be comparable to what she likes here. So I packed everything she likes for at least the first five days of the trip. Babs was also very excited that she would be celebrating her birthday in EU for which I had given her a lot of build-up. I promised to sing Happy Birthday to her when we were up at the Eiffel Tower and that had her happy.

October 7, 2010   Leaving Dallas!

We had our bags packed and the house cleaned and set up for post trip blues. I hate to return to a dirty house. Our friend B came to drop us off at the airport and off we went. The first time I would actually be sitting for extended periods of time. I had spent most of my previous two days running around buying stuff or cleaning the house or packing that I was having horrible leg and back aches. I was actually looking forward to sit in the flight. We boarded the flight at 1.35pm and landed in Chicago to board our flight to Brussels, Belgium. Babs behaved like an angel. Touch wood. I have never had her cry or throw a tantrum during any of our flight trips ever. I had books for her to color and keep her busy. She slept though most of our flight to BRU while G and I tried our best to snooze a bit ourselves which was pretty unsuccessful.

October 8, 2010      BELGIUM

Landed at BRU at 7.50am. I had already told my friend PS about my schedule and he was going to pick us up at the airport. I had not met him in 8 years and I was really looking forward to it. When we got out of the immigration and customs it took me a couple of minutes to spot him while he screamed my name out I was trying to orient myself to see my friend with long hair.

Babs boarded her first train in BRU to go to his house which was a ten minute walk from BRU central station. We saw the Manneken Pis and laughed and then proceeded to his house which was a thirty second walk from this most popular Belgian landmark ever. I don't know why, maybe it is a Belgian thing.

My friend lives in a house that is out of an interior magazine. Perfect. Spotless and perfect. Beautiful. But we took care of that and created a mess to keep things in balance. Showered and ready we walked around the Grand Plaza and the city center before grabbing lunch. G enjoyed escargots and mussels while I tried to the Rotisserie chicken. I got to practice a little French. We headed back home and slept like three little jet lagged babies.

In the meantime PS went and booked our Paris trip and got his house prepared for a party to make us meet some of his friends in BRU. We got ready once again just in time to say hello to his friends, all of them French who spoke English with a heavy accent.

Then we went to another restaurant and enjoyed a meal. Actually the food was just okay for me in both the occasion. G had enjoyed his lunch while dinner was just okay. Babs made friends with Sebastien's friend Remi and they got along so well. Babs surprised us by introducing herself to all of PS's friends and shaking hands with them and letting them kiss her hand. She acted a bit like a diva but made friends only with Remi. By the time we headed back to the house we were dead tired and it was close to one on the clock.

G and I were determined to have a more productive second day and decided to wake up early and hit the road. PS suggested for us to visit Brugge. We had no idea what was there but that is what we were going to go as we were not sure what was there in Belgium for us to see. As it is a lot of our friends were surprised that of all the EU countries we had chosen to stop in Belgium.


PS: 

  • Food in Belgium, super expensive.
  • Everyone speak English and are super helpful.
  • Restrooms were always located in the most inconvenient places.
  • There is cobblestone everywhere in Belgium. Even the roads and sidewalks. Think twice if you choose to wear heels.
  • Trains are awesome here.
  • People are super friendly.
  • Restaurants take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. They are slow and relaxed and want you to enjoy the experience of eating out. But it was really inconvenient for us.
  • People made tons of adjustments because we had a three year old with us.
  • G fell in love with the beer's here that he did not even miss black label.
  • Belgian waffle is nothing like the waffle you get in USA and no, they do not it eat it with any syrup. But that is for Part Deux.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Today October 21, 2010

Babs went to her first day at a Montessori School. She is only trying it out for two hours but it is the beginning of a new life for her and for us. And obviously I am freaking out! G was slightly off too but I am sure he will never confess!!

Love
Amma!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Only Rajni Can!

I do not go much to a movie theater any more because I am a mother and I hate to tag along my to-be three year old out of her comfort zone. I hate to disturb other patrons with a cranky crying kid while they are trying to get their $20 worth of entertainment. Oh! Wait! Did I just say $20? Well, that is the most I have paid for any movie in my life. Even during my days of watching movies strictly after securing tickets through black market I don't remember spending so much. But was it worth it??? Hell yeah! BTW, did I tell you what I am talking about? If you did not already figure it out, then you are one of those who start giving a monologue the minute you hear the word Rajni saying, "Rajni is old, he is 60. Look at him acting with Aishwarya," or "Isn't he is the ugly Tamil actor? I don't know what they see in him." At a younger age, I would have gone postal on these people, now I have learnt to control my emotions and say, "I like him and I am a fan," and let that be. Because that is the truth, you cannot convince me to hate him and I cannot convince you to love him. The phenom called Rajni is something you are born with or you start liking on your own accord, you cannot be forced to like him just like all other good things in life. So yes, I am talking about Enthiran or Endiran (However you wish to pronounce it) and here is what I felt!

I was cynical, scared, and really prayed hard that this movie should not turn out like Baba after all the hype it had generated. I did not want to sit by watching people mock at him. It is the fashion now, people who have never seen a single Rajni movie bashing him. I know, that in the North and rest of India he is known for his style and silly gimmicks but trust me, there is more to him than just that. This is coming from someone who can easily say that she has seen almost all of Rajni movies ever released. I was born a fan! And thank God for Shankar, he made it happen. He made Rajni's last movie as a hero a hit, and that too a memorable one, a milestone, and a first time ever for India. And for that, we all thank you. We thank you for not using cheap graphics (maybe we should thank Kalanidhi for that), we thank you for making it all look believable, we thank you for bringing out the Rajni in Rajni.

Aishwarya Rai, of course you are a world class beauty. Respect. But I am sorry that you are not beautiful enough to overshadow Rajnikanth. In fact, the age difference or the disparity in beauty is hardly ever felt in spite of your flawless skin and drool worthy outfits because one does not see you when Rajnikanth is in the same frame as you. For the first time in your life, you were tolerable, really, because you were never in the foreground and you were just a means to an end. And maybe that is what you should try in your future movies, you might collect a few female fans are you grow old.

And finally, Rajni! Rajni! Rajni! Nee nadandhal nadai azhagu, nee sirithal sirippu azhagu...all that holds true even to this day, this minute and forever for all those who know the Rajni from Aboorva Ragangal, Ninaithale Inikkum, Priya, Annamalai, Baasha! Yes, I have to agree that you look like a grandpa without your make-up and stuff when you make your public appearances but thank you for making your personal life separate from your professional life. Thank you for not carrying on an image when you walk out to talk to your fans. Thanks for letting us know what is behind the make up and how good your make up artists are. They made you shine in the movie. Literally. What can I say, your Dr. Vasi reminded me of the Rajni from yore. Your Chitti reminded me of Rajni from 16 Vayathinile. And boy were we happy to see you relax and become a villain that was your forte that had been forced into a pre-mature retirement. It was nice to see Alex Pandian again, the walk and the style, Ah!. It was a fitting finale alright, and a grand one at that, where you took jabs at your old movies, brought us some good memories and gave us all somethings to cherish.

I saw this movie with friends from college. It felt like good old days, we yelled, clapped, cheered, screamed so hard that we had our throats hurting 20 minutes into the movie. I really do not want to write a review telling the story, that has already been done to death all over, and also do not want to write one that acknowledges everyone in the movie behind and in front of the camera, that is not how I do it but I want to thank them all for Endiran! Thank you. I can confidently say that if you are a Rajni fan, this movie deserves at least a couple of watches, I want to see it again. Shankar has kept it captivating throughout the two hours forty minutes. I really wish it was a couple of songs shorter but that is all. Did I really look for bloopers? No! Why would I? If I could see so-called smart movies that have obvious bloopers why will I look for them in a Rajni movie? Rajni shines in ever scene and the movie rests entirely on his shoulders. His comic timing outshines people who are paid to do comedy. Rajni Vs Rajni is amazing! Brilliant Movie and a must watch...brush up on Rajni-isms before you see it though.

Rajni the comedian is here and the villain is back...what more can you ask for?

I can write more and more. It is like I cannot stop talking about this movie.  And thank you for the thirty-five years of keeping your fans happy.

Cheers!
ART

PS: Just one question Shankar, couldn't you have come up with a better name than Chitti? Seriously...???


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Babs and Stuff

OMG! Where do I start. I don't think I can even finish if I start writing. Our daughter has a mouth! She can talk and talk her way out of things. Here are a few that my lazy brain has managed to retain...

Incident #1

I am driving her to her swim class which she has come to hate after passing Level 1. Level 2 on the other hand totally upset her. She cried everytime I took her into the pool and it was a scene where several mothers stopped by to say tsk tsk to me...So in the car, on our way Babs says, "Amma, I don't want to go."

Me: Why Babs?
B: Because I don't want to.
Me: But Babs, you are too young to make such statements, you should have a reason why you don't want to.
B: Amma, mera tabyat teek nahin hain na, agar aap mujhe lekhe gaye tho mein beemar pad jaaongi.
Me: Babs, you have allergies.
B: Ya, I know, I am beemar.

She ran me on a guilt trip and we landed going to the park and then home.

Incident #2:


Babbi telling some story to her dad, and I start talking to G about something that is adult-world important. Babs looks at me sharply and says, "Amma, main papa se baat kar rahin hun na? Wait for your turn," turns around and continues her talking.

Me to G: Babs just asked me to shut up! G could not stop laughing.

Incident #3:

Babs: Amma, I will tell you Seetha Mata story.
Me: Who told it to you?
B: Tanu watches it on her laptop everyday.
Me and G: Ok Tell us.
B: There is Seetha Mata...all Gods are standing on top. Everyone giving Ghaali to Seetha Mata. Then the bad man comes and Seetha Mata tells him "Aye, ye kya hai?"

G and I start laughing. We could not hold it any longer. Her big eyes and actions were sooo cute and so animated...

Incident #4

Everytime I go to WM or Target with Babs, right as she gets out of the car, she starts saying, "Amma, please mujhe naya shirt khareedhke dena, Mere paas ek bhi new nahin hai."

She is going to be three and already the paisa vasool has started.

Incident #5

Me: Babs, if you are going to behave like a bad girl, we will have to return you in Target.
Babs: Amma, please don't return me, return papa instead.
Me: Why do you want to return papa?
Babs: Because woh mujhe hamesha thang karata hai!
Me: Babs to return Papa we have to go to Dollar Store! :)

I love how much she has learnt and how fast...we enjoy our conversations and she actually helps me out while we shop for clothes and stuff. The other day I was in the salon getting my hair trimmed with clips all over and she gave me a long look and then said, "Amma, you are looking cute." Honestly half these dialog's we have are always in Hindi, it is just easier to write it in English :).

Love you both always and forever.
Amma

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Tennis, Tennis, Tennis!

So this year I dont think I have written much about tennis at all. You know how much I love that sport. So anyway, first of all, I was super disappointed with Rafa for doing this video. Not because I am in love with him like my friends thought but more because I was just sad that Rafa, a legend in making did a video with Shakira. Whatever. Anyways...moving ahead.

Last night, I was hoping that Rafa and Feliciano Lopez will have a fun game like Ferrer and Verdasco's fighting five setter but it ended rather easily for Rafa. BTW, Verdasco, HOT or what!! Seriously! Something with all the Spanish players! All of them are super Cute!!!

So hopefully this year, Rafa will at least see inside the finals. But who knows, this is one slam which has evaded him. But with serves ranging over 130mph we will never know until the weekend!!! And I cannot wait. Yesterday I prayed to GOD, I should loose 5 lbs and Rafa should win US Open. Both are feats that have never been achieved...

Off late, G has been complaining that I am not watching as much tennis as I used to before. I get very excited before the game and just as the game starts I fall asleep. I was super mad and had to remind him that in US Open most of the good matches start after 9.00pm. By 10.00pm my battery is completely down nowadays. Pre-Babs days I tried to see all the matches but now if I see a Rafa and a Roger game I am happy and thank my stars.

And did anof you notice the RAFA tennis shoes? Are they not super cool? Of course you cannot wear it with jeans!!! But they are awesomest, especially since they say RAFA at the back. Me wants!

 
With that image to lust on I bid adieu saying VAMOS!!!

ART

PS: Remember those white canvas shoes that we used to wear in India with white uniform? It said Tennis Tennis Tennis at the back? I miss those shoes, growing up they were my epitome for sports shoes other than brown NorthStars (Hand me down from my brothers). Now let us compare the first shoe image below with the one above! We have come very far!

 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wise Up Papa!

G picks Babs at her baby-sitter's house.

B: Papa will you take me to your office now?
G: No Babbi, they do not allow small girls in my office. *G thinks, I am smart, avoided that one. Phew!*

She is silent for most of the drive. Then suddenly she goes of into a monologue about her swimming skills.

B: I did the dumb bell, I did the board. Amma did not come with me into the pool. I went in by self.
G: Oh nice! You have become a big girl.
B: But Papa you said I was a small girl.
G: When? *G completely forgot about the previous discussion*
B: When I told you I wanted to go to your office.
G: Well, you will always be a small baby for me. *G Feels smart once again*

A few more minutes of silence and they arrive home. As G unbuckles her from the seatbelt Babs puts her hands up to G and asks him,

B: Carry me Papa.
G: You have to walk. You are a big girl now. *Once again he has forgotten what he had said a few minutes ago*
B: But Papa, you just said that I will always be a small baby for you? I know you said it Papa!

G lost all his arguments that day! :)

Love you both
Amma :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fifth of July 2000

I landed in Kansas. I was so tired after travelling around half the world on empty stomach that I was ready to crash anywhere and everywhere. I had thrown up pretty much everything I had eaten in installments. I was one of those annoying co-passengers holding a vomit bag to my mouth. So anyway, I had met Ashok and Santy at my Port of Entry in Chicago Airport and spent a couple of hours with them before heading to Kansas and I was ready to meet my brother. After I landed I was busy fighting with the cart machine not reading the instructions that asked me to deposit a dollar bill. I reasoned to myself that if it was free in Chicago it should be in Kansas too right? When I looked up I saw my brother intently looking around the baggage claim area trying to spot me. The two of us quickly hugged, picked bags, he made fun of me, and we were off in his convertible Pontiac to his bachelor pad.

Two minutes into the drive I asked my brother, "So this is America? This it is? That's all?" My brother nodded excited. I looked around at the empty land on either side of I-435 and a tear came down my cheek. "Can I go back to India? I know it is expensive but I will pay it all back once I start earning," I begged my brother. My brother freaked out. He had no idea how to handle a crying sister who was hit by home sickness already. I had barely stepped off the flight. And the more I saw of Kansas City the more I wanted to cry. I missed Chennai, my family, my friends, my house, my car, my everything, I wanted to go back to all of them and I was not sure I wanted to be in America any more.

We got to his apartment and for the first time in my life I was locked in an elevator car with a couple making out next to us. Both me and my brother were super uncomfortable waiting for the elevator to reach the tenth floor. After I saw my brother's studio apartment I was even more disappointed. I wanted my house and my room!!!! My brother assured me that in a few days we would drive to South Dakota, pick up my SIL and then move into a bigger apartment but that did not help much because my brother sucked at cooking. The food he had cooked for me made me cry for mother even harder.

For no reason (well actually there was) or rhyme, I cried for more than two weeks. I would go to my brother's school, chat online with my friends in Chennai sobbing non-stop. Then my brother took me on my first long distance drive from Kansas to South Dakota and things changed from there. We had a great time. The drive was fun and meeting my SIL and eating good food helped me a lot. Following that trip my brother and I visited Kansas State Univ. my Alma-Mater to be and I got excited. I think about this time my tears were all dried up and I was ready to start school and my new life. And by this time I had also seen my future-husband so everything was in place, life was in motion.

That was ten years ago and today I am ashamed to confess that I have been back to India only twice in the last ten years. My memories are of a Chennai that only me and people from my generation will remember and I can never forget them! Ever! They are mine for keeps!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Merged!

On the insistence of my friend Nanda, I have started to write movie reviews again and I have merged my movie blog into my regular blog. Both are the same now so that it will be easy for me to maintain them.

I was very regular until I had a baby and everything else took a back seat in life. But now that she is growing up and G and I actually get some time to watch movies, I would like to write reviews. I am opinionated and I would like to share them with you. So please feel free to comment and let me know if you agree with me or not and we can always agree to disagree.

Love
ART

Madrasapattinam (2010) - Tamil Movie Review

Ranking: 4/5

Cast: Arya, Amy Jackson, Nassar
Director: Vijay
Music: G.V. Prakash Kumar

As soon as I saw this movie I called home to talk to my parents, who had actually lived in Madras around the time this story was set. Yes, my parents are that old and yes my father remembered a lot of things from his childhood. I asked them if there were really trams in Chennai, if people really rode on boats over our esteemed Coovum, if there was any significant freedom struggle in Chennai, and father had answers for all of them. We had an hour long conversation at least. It was fun, to see Chennai through their eyes. With just that the movie had already won my heart.

Now coming to the movie itself, it has a very Titanic touch, and a sort of Lagaan-ish feeling. More Titanic though, by the way the movie drifts from present to past and back, seamlessly. While I felt it had semblance to Lagaan only because of Parithi's (Arya's) attire and the small fight sequence. Other than that, this movie was on its own. The songs, the sets, the language, everything had a very good period touch and we all know how difficult it is to make Period movies and make them not look and feel anachronistic as well as fake.

Old Amy Wilkinson (Carole Trungmar) old, ill, and fragile comes to Chennai with her grand daughter in search of Parithi. As she gets off the airplane in Chennai airport, scenes from the past and present intermingle. She is looking for her lost love, Parithi in a city that houses millions today. All she carries with him is an old photograph and memories from days gone by.

Young Amy (Amy Jackson), had lived in Chennai with her father, the erstwhile Governor of Chennai during the last days of British Raj. She is betrothed to marry the Police Commissioner as arranged by her parents but she falls in love with the young, rustic, and brave Parithi. Her fiance and her family show strong objection to the affection Parithi and Amy show for each other and try their best to break up the relationship. Just before Amy is shipped back to England along with the rest of the English, Parithi gives her his mother's Thaali that she wants to return it back to him or his family. And the search continues in Chennai.

Will she find him? For that watch the movie.

I loved Arya's acting, though at times he played too much of an angry-young-man he still carried off the movie brilliantly. His attire made me wonder why the director had to give him a look similar to Aamir in Lagaan. Amy, acted very well too. She is pretty and she suited the role aptly. Even the old Amy for that matter fit perfectly into the role. One thing I loved about the movie was that the Brits spoke in English and did not get a voice over in Tamil through most of the movie. Maybe, a first in Tamil cinema. It was impressively done. Also the comedy track in the movie is subtle but consistent making sure that the mood is not somber even in some serious situations.

Every generation will enjoy this movie, it has all the drama, action, love, mother sentiment, and love-opposition, as required by Indian movies but blended in smoothly into the story. It is not overdone and it shows Chennai in its Glamor and beauty in its hey day, of which we have just heard of. There are even shots of the old Spencer's Plaza that burnt down and Coovum actually looking like a river and not a sewage canal. I really enjoyed watching this movie.

Let me know what you thought about the movie!