Saturday, November 22, 2014

Munchen a.k.a Munich !

Had the chance to quickly cover Munich last week before the hard winter sets in. Was there on work and took the opportunity to walk around to see what the city has on offer for couple of days.

Was staying at the Charles Hotel across the park surrounding the Botanical gardens in Sophianstrasse. As my room was not ready post the long DXB-MUN flight, I thought of taking a run/quick walk in the park to beat the jet lag. With the temperature hovering around the 5 degs mark, it was still quite pleasant to be outdoors. And with the fall colors still abounding amongst the trees, it was worth the early morning walk. I also caught the big red circle which some have called an occult symbol in Munich.


A trip to Munich should definitely cover the Marianplatz - the square of Mary. It is the centre of the old town and has many architectural wonders including the new town hall, old townhall, multiple shopping centres and lovely beer houses. You can order your Tegernsee or any other amazingly tasty Bavarian beers and enjoy the world pass by.
You can also enjoy the intricate facades of the new town house (Neues Rathouse) with the long Mary's column reminiscent of some of these in Rome.

Nearby, one can also visit the Old Townhouse which was destroyed by fire and then again by WWII.

One can take a tram or enjoy a lovely walk along the Isar river which cuts right across the city and dances its way through the English garden (equivalent to Munichs central park). Some courageous were still fishing in the ice cold river so late into the fall. The receding waterline formed interesting patterns and texture that made me wish I had taken a proper camera instead of by BB to shoot Munich.

There are so many other marvellous structures to see and shoot if one can spend a week in Munich.

Though locals would advise you to avoid the touristy Hofbrauhaus, I could not. It was here an up and coming leader of National Socialist German workers party laid out an ambitious 25 point program in a cold February of probably 1920 (or 21?). Little would have people guessed that winter day in the second floor of this beer hall what disasters the Fuhrer and the Third Reich would wreak upon themselves and the world. What ever be the sinister darkness history casts upon these wooden benches, I can't fault their Hofbrau dark beer (the full 1 L of it) and the pretzels. (Local friends of mine did warn me about the over prices average brew ;)

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Got an opportunity to go and spend few days in Rotterdam before the winter starts to set in. For a change, stayed in SS Rotterdam, a ship which is now forever anchored close to the city and functions as a hotel, albeit an interesting one decked up like a fully functioning liner. You can read more about it here

Also took a speedboat ride at reasonable fast pace down the channels taking a full view of the Rotterdam port city, one of the biggest ports in the world (largest in EU). It is also the second biggest city in Netherlands and is known as the gateway to Europe given its air, water, land and rail connections into the European mainland given it strategic location of on the Rhine delta.
Architecture is a mix of old world Holland and post modern Houston. For some reason the more modern areas of Rotterdam reminded me distinctly of Houston, TX in far away US. (not quite sure if its complementary!)

SS Rotterdam itself was a nice break from the usual hotels - multiple decks, swimming pool overlooking the channel, rooms which are indeed cabins - all reminding me of my previous life as an offshore oil & gas engineer.

You could even tour the old engine room and look at the machines - probably not the most imminent need for the majority of tourists who come to stay here. You can have a languid breakfast (good old Dutch spread) before going about the town.

I must confess it went above my expectations in terms of service, food and overall experience !

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Madrid, September 2014

Had a short trip to Madrid over the summer. Planned along with a work related travel.Hence did not have too many days to roam around but did a quick tour of the city covering some of the most interesting but still touristy aspects of the city. Below is the list of things that I found interesting and should be a good starting list for anyone doing a quick Madrid tour.

1. Temple of Debod : One of my favourite places in the city. It is in a lovely hilly park behind the Plaza Espana. The temple itself was shifted almost "as-is" from Egypt while the great dam of Aswan and built and many such precious treasures were going to be lost to flood waters. Supposedly, Spain helped save many of them and relocated within Egypt and as mark of thanks this was "gifted" to the Spanis. For an Egyptophile like me this was a wet dream right in the middle of a European city. Something which was bilt across the epochs  - starting from Adhikhalamani around 2 BC. Further worked on through the Ptolemaic periods and on until the Romans. It depicts various offerings from the King Adhikhalamani to gods like Amun, Isis etc. Fascinating, fascinating piece not to be missed. 

2. Puerta del Sol : Regarded as the centre of Madrid, this is where all trains originate from. Walkable distance from most of the major old city tourist attractions including plaza mayor and even the royal palace, this can be considered the most famous and central square in Madrid. Right outside the metro is the square which has the statue of King Carlos III. It also has, to a side, the famous bear and strawberry tree sculpture which is in the coat of arms of Madrid. And also the symbol for Atheltico Madrid football club (and not of Real Madrid interestingly)

3. Palacio Real or the Royal Palace  : Famous palace of the Kings of Spain - currently they don't stay here any more but still used for major state ceremonies. I think it is the largest Palace in Europe by floor area. Worth paying the 10 odd Euro entry free to see the royal armoury, rooms and dining areas etc. 

4. Plaza de Oriente : Towards the east side of the palace (and hence the name oriente) there is Plaza Oriente with a small garden with statues of Kings and lined with leafy trees. Worth sitting and relaxing while watching the side of the royal palace - also some good cafes around for the cervezas that you need especially during the hot Spanish summers. 

5. Cathedral de la Almudena : Arguably the most important church in Madrid, it has St Mary of Almudena the patron god of Madrid. Whatever be the religious significance, of which Im least bothered with, the architecture looks very pleasing and there is a silence inside the huge space which almost takes one to the big Roman churches. If you want quite peace in the city if pubs and nightlife, this is a good place to start. 

6. Plaza Mayor : The most important plaza in Madrid, its stone's throw from Sol metro station. Its a rectangular plaza and has the statue of King Philip III on a horse in the middle. Built in early 1600s, it has been reasonably intact and potentially looks very similar to how it was. Take a walk back to past.

7. Plaza Espana : Close to intersection into the bustling Gran Via, this is probably one of the most crowded plazas - for ever bustling with tourists. It has the monument of Cervantes, Spanish novelist. You can sit here on your walk back from Royal Palace to the Gran Via to get your breath before hitting the traffic !

Friday, August 22, 2014

An English Summer

As we were wondering where to take Aarav for his first proper vacation, I suggested Kruger (Surprise, surprise). Sandhya vetoed the idea saying 1 year and a bit is probably a bit too early for him to be camping with us in the bushes of Africa. Since neither of us wanted to vacation in a city, we finally agreed on the Scottish Highlands where neither of us had ever been. We also decided to use London as a stopover to meet some friends and relatives and then take train to Edinburgh.

And thus turned out a memorable Summer in UK - with rains of course !

The BA flight from DXB to LHR started of in a mini disaster with no AC functioning and held on bay without taxing for couple of hours. Aarav did not take too kindly to it and cried his heart out ! As someone who always got irritated with kids in flights crying, I think I got my reasons to be more understanding next time that happens ! Once the flight took off, all was well.

My school pal Sachit came to pick us up at LHR and drove to his well appointed home in Watford. Relaxed a day roaming the nearby parks and stocking up on baby food and nappies for the highland trip. (Normally I would be more worried about tripod tighteners, CF card speeds, standby batteries, filters etc - how times change !)

Megha and Aarav having fun in park
Next day early took our train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. Got the little family seating with the mini table in middle so that Aarav could be reigned in without any major damage to properties. Between making sure he did not kick or otherwise harm the fourth passenger and playing Uno we reached Edinburgh.

After checking into the Sheraton Hotel and Spa with an enviable view of the famous Castle, we decided to walk around at the foothills of the castle. Covered the Parish Church of St Cuthbert at the Lothian road and 5 minute walk from Sheraton.
St Cuthbert at Lothian Road
Took a few shots of the castle in night, fire works and late night streets of Edinburgh

Edinburgh castle at night
Next day was dedicated to Calton hill (probably the best place from a photography point of view) and then in afternoon relaxing in the amazing Princess Garden. I can imagine it being a lovely place outside of the peak tourist season of July-August. Even with all the lavish crowd it still felt good to walk amongst the huge trees and gulls and squirrels.

View of Edinburgh from atop the photogenic Calton Hill

Many of the paintings of city is of or from the Hill. It has the National Monument (almost Roman in its edifice), Dugald Stewart monument (the centrepiece of above photograph) and the Nelson Monument.

Democracy cairn, Nelson Monument and National monument
The national monument is a war memorial for the Scotts who fought Napoleonic wars. Funnily enough it was not fully constructed due to paucity of funds and hence some call it the Disgrace of Scotland. For me though, due to its very nature of feeling of incompleteness it almost gives a dejavu of a bygone Roman era - something which fell apart under the hardships of time rather than one that never was !

Princess garden was as usual for a summer day without rains, full of people - both from the city and outside, thronging the lungs of Edinburgh taking a break from the multitudes of festivals and shows in the city.

Princess Garden

Early next day, we took our car booked with Avis and went up the highlands leaving the city and the crowds behind. This is when the vacation really started - fresh air, cool wind, green mountains, fresh water lakes and a welcome respite from thronging human populace. Miles and miles of serene land without many people was indeed a welcome break especially since I had spent the first part of my vacation in India !

We used a B&B in Argyll, very close to Kilchurn castle at Dalmally village as our base. The drive to Dalmally through the Loch Lomond & Trossachs national park and forest was one of my most memorable.
Enroute we took a break to have a few sandwiches and tea in the cool weather, sitting idly next to Loch Lomond. Aarav was super thrilled to be let to play in dirt, stones and the cold water !
Loch Lomond
 After reaching our B&B, we trekked to the Kilchurn castle and took some interesting shots. Also let Aarav go on his first trail walk :)

Kilchurn Castle, Dalmally
The remainder of the time in Scotland was excitingly similar : drive, stop, shoot, relax, drive ! Such pure bliss.
Another amazing stop in Loch Lomond National park

We were both sad to leave Scottish highlands and go back to the bustle of London. However, as one final heavenly drive, we took the Glen Orchy route to Sterling and then connecting on to the highway to Edinburgh. This was suggested by the housekeeper at the B&B and we could not be more thankful to her for the suggestion (Rebecca from Craig Villa). It was a single lane route but with enough parking / passing bays.

Single lane road down Glen Orchy through Caledonian forest

Road adjacent to Glen Orchy B8074 is a must drive

After visiting Doune castle and some other memorials at Sterling we hit Edinburgh. Back in London met with my schoolmates Sachit and Girish and had a rollicking time with lot of good ol ales.
The Dudes !
Did a quick deviation to Essex to meet up with a cousin at Southend on Sea to see the largest pleasure pier of the world.
This was followed by the cursory central London stay for a couple of days. This time I chose the Sheraton Park Lane close to the Greenpark Tube station and walking distance from most areas that Sandy wanted to visit including St James Park, Palace, Picaddilly, Leicester square and Hyde Park. After the usual touristy things including the London eye, Big ben etc it was back to Dubai ! Central London, especially South Bank looks the worst I ever remember. New glass facade buildings allowed next to traditional Gothic architecture coupled with loads and loads of people kind of balanced out a good weather with reasonably sunny days.
The highpoint clearly was time spent with friends and the amazing Scottish highlands. Next time I will most likely fly direct to Edinburg and fly out from Aberdeen covering the middle ground driving on road. That would be an awesome vacation - a road trip of a lifetime ! Well nothing to beat Kruger, but still....

Friday, May 09, 2014

Some wins, some fun

Recently, couple of my photographs won a few awards / recognitions. After a barren 2013, it was a nice start to 2014. One got selected for 2014 WWF Calendar in India and the second was in Al Ain WLP calendar shoot for 2015.


WWF Calendar selection : Asiatic lion (Young male) in Gir forest, Gujarat, India

Al Ain WLP calendar shoot win for a flamingo

I personally love both the shots for different reasons.
First because I just love big cats and the story of successful conservation of Asiatic lions from the brink of extinction is a rare ray of hope in an otherwise bleak future for many of our most enigmatic top of the food-chain predators. And it is always nice to shoot a young successful specimen of the species royally resting in its habitat.

Second one is more for the planning and execution part. I was having a minimalistic shot of these wonderful birds in my mind for sometime now. Had to get a vantage points where a mix of foreground and background when blurred would create an interesting enough canvass for minimalism. Had to wait for ages before the bird appeared at the exact location. As icing on the cake, just at the right moment it also opened its beak to call out, completing a nice portrait.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Western Ghats in Wayanad

For Aarav's first birthday we decided to go to India and expose him to some forest fragments in Western Ghats at a place called Wayanad. We stayed at Vythiri Meadows which we absolutely enjoyed - great location where you can sit in the balcony early in the morning with a hot tea and see the clouds descending from over the Chembra peak.

I'd definitely love to return at peak of monsoon or winter to better enjoy the weather. We also went to the amazing BanasuraSagar Dam  -the largest earthen dam in India and one of the largest in Asia

We also, as usual, visited and did a bit of gardening at a small land plot we had bought from a builder who had fully deforested it. We are planning to bring it back to past glory by planting mostly indigenous trees. (To build our own little farm:-), but more importantly hopefully instil a sense of ecological awareness and love for nature within Aarav - which is a daunting task for a kid growing up in Dubai.

This photo below shows the difference between how we got the land and how its getting back in shape !


Would be back for the next monsoons !