Monsoon of 2012
The wind lashes at your face and the rainfall makes it difficult to see ahead clearly. But to peer on and continue riding the bike on gorgeous roads with gay abandon is possible in few places. One of which is Goa. We’re not talking about a speed junkie racing his modified bike, we’re making a plan for you – who rides a Vespa or a Scooty Pep, and is cautious around the corners.
Live a different Goa in monsoon – forget the beach for a day, and fill your bike’s fuel tank to its fullest. Look forward to lush paddy fields flanking the empty, palm-lined roads and maybe even close your eyes for a few quick seconds while riding. Zip up the small sling bag inside the windcheater and let your hair down. Get drenched. Be drenched the whole day. Don’t fix on a destination; just keep enjoying the road. Drive slow and enjoy each beautiful turn and bridge.
Enjoy the grey sky, the puddles that spray water on either side as you ride through, and halt a while on the bridges to say hello to the river in spate. Grin at fellow tourists as you pass them on the bike. Rush inside a restaurant and take a few seconds to wipe your brow dry. Look for a street facing table and order a mug of feni, the local alcoholic favourite, brewed from cashews. Attack the plate of hot fish xacuti. Do not drink much, for it’s soon time to be back on the road again.
If you’re riding pillion, it’s time to swap seats. Take charge and veer in the direction you like. Petrol is available in most stores, and you’ll never get lost. If you do, smile and ask a local for the main road. Sing rain songs aloud while riding. And as the sun dips down on the horizon, begin the ride back to your cottage.
Oct 4, 2012
Marseille, if it were larger in size, would’ve been the perfect sister-city to Bombay – it’s full of bylanes, traffic and people crossing the streets without obeying the signals. And, it’s a port city, there’s construction everywhere and they are new metro stations coming up. There are traders on the street – especially African immigrants – selling sunglasses, scarfs and other knick-knacks.
Marseille is a working person’s city – Most people seem to be in a hurry, and no one’s out taking that leisurely walk. I also do not find the locals here fashionable as the French are known to be. No buskers on the streets here. In fact, the pavements hold no space for them. There are either scooters or cars parked on the pavers, or tables from a restaurant spilling out, or people, or construction work. Several buildings, I notice, are old and marked down for rehabilitation. No French romance here!
There are shops everywhere. The harbour-front at the old Port Vieux down La Canbierre faces some of the most expensive hotels and the long curving street is packed with restaurants. I saw a lot of obnoxious American tourists around and a bunch of Indian uncles ambling about with their potbellies and vacation caps. But the majority of the tourists are senior, retired folks, enjoying their walk along the harbour-front.
I am, right now, waiting awhile at Gare de Marseille Saint Charles. This train station – large and in the centre of the city – is like a mini airport from the inside and international trains to Italy leave from here. Suits walk around with black bags and eat sandwiches on the go. In Marseille, I see signs on an active life in France. Finally. There are antennae and water tanks on home terraces, and junk stored in balconies. From the good vantage point here at the station, I see that the skyline is made of red roofs and spot a prominent castle.
I don’t know whether or not I like Marseille, yet, but it does feel like home and reminds me of Bombay. Only, nobody honks here!
I’ve always thought that helicopters are way cooler than planes. They lend a sense of urgency to the surrounding, in the manner of which you have to board a chopper and I associate a VIP feel to them, thanks to its smaller seating capacity. I also love it how you need to crouch and hurry and be mindful of the strong wind that the blades churn up. Now compare this to how you board a flight. Yawn.
It was last month in Canmore (close to Calgary, Canada), where I participated in heli-yoga, run by the guys at Kananaskis Heli Tours. The concept involves being taken atop a secluded and spot on the Rockies and amid that calm and lush surrounding, practice yoga to vitalise your soul. Yoga guru Kristen Stuart – who by the way, has the most magnetic personality – accompanies you (and the small group) up the mountain to train you in yoga.
Down at the office, before the short flight, we were briefed on the chopper etiquette by owner, the jovial Ralph. We were supposed to bend low, move around only when asked to, and generally be more aware of the surrounding. Upon landing, it’s possible that the wind from the blades cause a yoga mat or a personal belonging to be flung away, but we’re not to make a run for it, and remaine crouched till the chopper leaves, and retrieve the item later.
The ride in the chopper was uber cool, as we put on large earphones with mics and could only communicate with each other through them. I’d only seen people in films do that and have always wanted to do it! The experience of practising yoga in a spot that we chose in the Rockies was one that will inspire me during low times. But as far as memories go, the helicopter ride wins all the way!
Bless my luck, I got to visit Switzerland once again, earlier this month! It’s such a gorgeous country and I have now visited most of it, save a couple of cantons such as Ticino and Basel. I’ve seen the touristy places when I went as part of a media trip earlier this month, and several hidden places, when I went backpacking solo in Europe last year. Based on my experiences, I’ve put together an itinerary of sorts that you could follow, if you’re in country for a week.
Your flight will most probably land in Zurich, but I don’t suggest spending much time here as it’s like other big cities in Europe. Tall, fancy buildings, and busy people.
From Zurich, you can move to Lucerne and acclimatise yourselves to the weather. Lucerne is a city you can see on foot. From Lucerne, once you’ve adjusted to the cold, you can go up to Mt Titlis for a day-trip. You’ll get a direct train from Lucerne to the village, Engelberg. That’s your base for Titlis. From Engelberg, take the cable car, called ‘RotAir’, up to Titlis. Titlis has snow all through the year, so it’s good to go there. Plus, Europe’s highest bridge was opened for public, here, at Titlis last December. It’s a 100m ropeway bridge and is often called the scariest bridge in the world! There’s also a skywalker thing you can do here, at the top. It’s super cold here, because of the wind. The day I visited, the winds were recorded at 95 km/hr!
Jungfrau and Interlaken are similar, and too crowded and tedious to get to, so I won’t suggest that if you’re doing Titlis.
Move to Bern for a day from Lucerne. Bern’s their capital, but it’s more like a small town. World’s oldest hand-wound clock is in Bern, and you can go up to the tower to see the machines too. You’ll have to sign up with the toursim centre for that. The tower serves as the centre of the city, and that’s where all the arcade-styled shopping stores are. You can easily get around Bern on foot.
From Bern, move to spend a couple of days in Lausanne. It’s my favourite place is Switzerland. It’s got all the modern trappings of a city, but from any road on the city, you can catch a glimpse of the mountains or the glistening lake. It’s a perfect mix of urban style and scenery and I often wished I stayed there! Lausanne’s too big to be discovered on foot, but you can walk along Avenue Petit Chenin; it’s close to the train station and kind of in the middle of the city. For everywhere else, the buses serve as a good option. You can also take the ferry.
From Lausanne, you can do a day-trip to Geneva. The Swiss folks do not like Geneva too much because they think it’s too modern and can be any other city in the world. But Lake Geneva is enchanting, and it’s worth a day-trip. I’m not sure about this, but the tourism centre lends out bicycles to tourists for free. If you can ride bikes, that’s a great way to see the city, because it’s large to go walking.
If you have a day to spare, you can consider visiting Zermatt. It’s a quaint little woody village down south. It’s the base to visit Gornergrat. (Direct train from Zermatt to Gornergrat). Gornergrat is the peak from where you can have a close and splendid view of the Matterhorn. Matterhorn’s one of their more difficult peaks to climb as it has a steep face. They have a beautiful restaurant at Gornergrat where you can have lunch. It’s less than half a day’s trip from Zermatt. If you do decide to spend the night at Zermatt, Alpenblick’s a lovely hotel.
I’d suggest you get Swiss Passes. They have one valid for a week. The pass allows you to travel in all trains, buses and even ferries. If you have the Swiss Pass, you almost never have to worry about tickets. From Zermatt to Gornergrat though, you’ll need to buy tickets. You can buy the pass after arrival in Zurich, but it’s convenient and cheaper to book them online.
Spring and summer should give you pleasant weather, except Lucerne, where it’s always raining. You might want to check the weather at Lucerne when you’re in Bern, and go ahead accordingly. Switzerland’s a small country, and to get from any place to another, takes a maximum of 6 hours in the train. So you don’t have to worry too much about going off-track or overlapping cities.
This is all I can think of at the moment; if you need more details about any of these places, leave a comment. Also, http://www.myswitzerland.com has a lot of info, as do the folks over at Swiss Tours at Urmi Estate, Lower Parel, Mumbai.