Spanish Siesta… Arrival at Madrid…June 2009

By Sri.

Spain brings warm sunny and lazy siestas to mind.. Partying with sangria and tapas.. White villages.. Flamenco..

I made a fanciful plan of biking Andalusia, with family -dad, mom, sis, n DW…searched and found a conference in Spain, but alas, the timing of the conference coincided with peak summer.. 
I then thought of getting a spanish travel agent to book a trip for me, DW, parents and sister.. The final quote from the agent was too high.. Like all typical agents, he said five people.. You ll need a van, a driver, a tour guide.. So only Andalusia was about 3,700€, and Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia (the location of the conference) would be another bomb..
Then my parents backed out, and we won a citation for top ten e-posters, and we had to go…
The high point that I definitely wanted us to do was to drive through the back roads of Andalucia, see some white villages, try some tapas, get the feel of spanish wine and sherry..

Day 1- Arrival at Madrid via Paris

Our trip had a recurring theme.. Sacrifice.. It started off from when we deplaned at Paris, forgot our inflatable neck pillow.. Then to make things better, we found that we had to reach a terminal on the other side of the airport, within 45 minutes.. I had almost resigned myself  to miss the flight, but asked someone at security.. And lo and behold! We got a demonstration of how helpful the French can be.. We were spurred on in the que by successive helpful people, along with short dialogues in french.. And we reached our plane in time!!! Yay!!
Next when we landed in Madrid,  I lifted our brand new clam shell, hard bodied suitcase off the carousel, with the shell in splinters.. Dropping off as we loaded it into the pre booked shuttle.. The driver saying “Do you knowsyour suitcase is broken”.. And the same dialogue from the bellhop at the Viena Suites, Madrid.. 

Vienna suites is located just 500 mts from Templo-DeBod  and close to Plaza De Espana (Plaza Mayor). Saw the famour Plaze Del Sol, from the shuttle ride to the hotel. 

The broken .suitcase brought us on the first jet lagged trip to El Cortes Ingles, a supermercado chain in the whole of spain.. While  looking for suitcases, I asked DW what colour and size do we need, and typically, she shows me a mind numbingly fluorescent orange suitcase, that we would never mistake…
Then we had our first struggle at a Macdonalds.. No veggie burgers.. So he just pulled out the chicken patty, and gave us a limp burger, with a wilted lettuce, and a cheese slice.. Predictably, I rebelled, and made sure we had a more conventional margherita pizza with wine and cold water.. We then went all along the main street trying to find a shop that would sell us a sim card.. With our newly acquired broken, pidgin Spanish!!
Our by stop was the Templo Debod, a temple transplanted from Egypt when the Aswan dam was built.. DW had seen a screensaver of the temple lit up at night before coming, (who said she doesn’t research our trips :)! ) The temple was within walking distance from our hotel, but we were not impressed in the bright and harsh Spanish sun.. 
..We decided to come back at sunset ..( 2230hrs!!). Our visit at night was ethereal.. Heightened for some reason by our day time visit.. The shimmering, lit up temple looked beautiful, and the obligatory pics were beautiful!!
We checked out some interesting local fruit shop, where we found some tart, but pretty, translucent red fruits in addition to the usual oranges (naranja!!) .. 


Day 2- Madrid Sightseeing-Palacio Real, Thyssen & Prado museums

Next morning after a breakfast of Danone, Iberico Jamon, veggie pie and toast, we set out to see the Royal Palace or Palacio Real, after a short subway ride.. 

….I dont  remember too much of the palace, except the session we had with the circular polarizer outside the palace  (cpl cuts out scattered light, showing only straight light rays, and revealing true colours in harsh sunlight), and the modelling session I persuaded DW to get into… For some reason, I like taking pics of DW!!

…and she…Mine…!

After this, we traipsed over to the Thyssen museum, recommended as a well organized museum of conventional art..

On the way we had our first ever, Churros Con Choclate.. “oh so yum and delicious “ expressed by DW!!

..unfortunately, didn’t think of clicking a picture at that time… so this one’s being shared from the net…

At Thyssen …we took the audio-self guided tour and loved learning about various aspects of paintings, and I could show off in front of DW , I knew what INRI, under the crucifix meant.. Ieses Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum-(Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews).. This museum was like art of the world101.. 
Next .. with a ravenous appetite..we headed for a vegetarian restaurant called “Al Natural “.. widely rated on Trip Advisor as one of the best… and we were not disappointed!

Then we reluctantly trudged to the Prado museum……, both our novice brains fried with too much art in too much heat… And then two things happened.. One, just as we started going to the (short) que for buying tickets, we noticed the loooong que close by.. I followed Dennis the Menace’s famous poster.. When in doubt, ask!!.. And several people helpfully told us the long que was for the free entry one hour later, and  the short (almost empty) que was the paid one.. We decided to cut our losses and see some more art for free.. And then clouds came out and winds caressed our faces.. It was like god saying, “bachcha, you did the right thing”…

When we entered the museum, DW promptly went to the souvenier shop.. Cos we had noticed in the Thyssen museum that the best paintings had post cards and prints in the shop.. 

..We discovered Joaquin Sorolla, an awesome Spaniard, Impressionist..who loved to paint water, oceans, rivers, and reflections of people, children, maidens.. You have to see a painting to understand the beauty of his watercolours, how he manages to get a translucent sheen and see through effect..

“Promenade on the beach.”. one of our favorites.. shared form the Net… 

Trudging our way back to the hotel, after a long day…happended to see yet another Madrid landmark, the Metropolis building or the “Edificio Metropolis”.. all lit up and majestic!


Lake district bit of Uk tour- 2010

By Sri.

Next day we regretfully left Mr Paul Burroughs and Ivy house behind, to start our trip to Lake district.. 

While looking up Lake district, I had spent a, huge amount of time trying to figure out where to stay… most hotels and B&bs were too expensive, as we would have to book two to three rooms. Finally I chanced upon a cottage- Winster cottage at Masons arms, Strawberry Banks, Carmel.. The rub was that this cottage was situated above a pub, and again I had to quieten the apprehensions of the family.. They were pretty fatalistic about it in the end.. Something on the lines of .. “ok..we hope you know what you are doing!!” This place is off the usual touristy areas, and after traversing some thickly wooded areas, with the road winding through smalls hills and dales, we finally made it..
And despite everyone’s apprehensions.. It was fantastic.. A huge multi bedroom cottage with lovely skylights, bunk beds in one room, wooden floors, well equipped kitchen… you could choose to go self catering or ask for meals..


The cottage had a separate entrance overlooking the most dazzling vista, rolling hills and ditzy sheep gambolling in the rain.. And what with the temperatures plunging down, we loved it.. not a wee bit of noise from the pub nearby…We even liked the wooden floored bathroom, great for cold mornings.. The minor hiccough was one bathroom for all of us, but it was fine..

My surprise for everyone, was the dinner at “Masons arms”. I bamboozled everyone by getting everyone to wait outside while the table was set up.. Had an ale or two..Then trooped upstairs…

They had actually reserved a huge dining table (that could have seated 12 for the five of us) in a private dining room!! The food was good, and the ambience perfect. DW loved that she had the freedom to open a window and enjoy the beautiful weather! The menu was vegetable soup, lasagna, pasta and for me honey glazed ribs.. 

Next day we went to the Windermere tourist centre, got a map and suggested walking route and set out.. 

Saw a bunch of schoolkids launching a yacht under guidance.. And then set course to the next lake.. Ambleside… 

…Somehow I associate Ambleside with a huge scone with cream, blackberry and strawberry compote.. That I successfully divided up into five!!
We decided to make a round of the lakes by car, stopping when it suited us..

We passed by a quiet pretty little, english village called Grasmere, and I recalled that the ginger bread was good here, so we decided to take a break.. While having pizzas, and looking for ginger bread, we noticed two ladies having a triple cone of ice cream..Mom being the intrepid person she is, went up to them, cheerfully talked to them and asked them where they got their ice creams from.. We promptly set out and had this ice creams.. And we have  pictures to prove it..

One of the most beautiful of all the lakes in this car ride was Ullswater.. Its the second largest lake, and when we went there.. Empty of tourists.. Tranquil with ducks coasting quietly and hills in the background. DW insisted on getting down to take a pic of this tranquil lake..
In the evening, we took the walking trail, upto the windermeyer lake. We traipsed along the winding path, crossing houses, forests, and fields till we finally came to the lake.. We spent some time by the lake.. 
The next day we set course for Scotland.. Our GPS went crazy, and routed us through tiny hamlets and villages, with steep one-car-worthy roads.. You could almost imagine everyone using cycles to get around.. Till we finally reached a main road.. The two most frustrating statements our Aussie accented GPS would say, about a km after a turn.. “recalculating..” And ” lost satellite reception”!
Somehow, there’s not much to write about Lake district,..but our memories, and the incredible photos say tons more!

London, Cotswalds & Lake District part of our UK trip…Summer of 2010

By Sri.
The London and Cotswolds  part of our UK trip (summer 2010)

Our family of five, started our trip from london, ..  We had this division of uneven numbers… which proves difficult while trying to find accommodations in Europe! 

I had repeatedly warned parents and DW to pack light… Little did I know that the parents would pack a world of food stuffs… All because of some misguided vegetarian people who told them “you won’t get anything to eat”! Someone told my Mom “I took a pressure cooker with three kg rice when I went for a month”… I didn’t want to offend my parents by calling their friends morons!!

We made a mistake in deciding to stay at a friend’s B&B in Romford.. Though we experienced homely comfort there…, we missed out on the feel of the city! The one hour transit time by tube meant that we were more interested in getting back home than to explore the night life. 

Having said that, we did have some fun in London.. Our first impression was pathetic.. London was going through a heat wave, and we didn’t appreciate the heat, coming from sweltering Delhi… … But eventually being fun loving, we enjoyed our trip..

The high “touristy” points were a visit to the Tower of London, St Paul’s, Buckingham palace and Trafalgar square.. 

The tower of London was partly eerie, partly tranquil, and worth the trip.. The memorial at the scaffold had these words.
‘Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under these restless skies”

We got on to the HO HO bus and also did the “Thames river cruise”.. Our experience was mixed.. You do get to see more of the city this way, but miss out on people interactions.. And miss out on food, great photo ops..

                                 …not to forget the quintessential London tube…

Hungry, after a day of walking, we ended up at Trafalgar square, we asked a man on the street, for the closest, wholesome food..  And his recommendation was spot on.. We landed up in the Sherlock Holmes pub in Northumberland Avenue.. It started off bad… with mother and sister mumbling darkly about the follies of these men folk… Thoughts of drunken orgies and unsafe trip back home.. (This despite my telling mom repeatedly that pubs are great places for vegetarian wholesome food and nothing like pubs in India!)

Our experience..Two vegetarian soups of the day, two pies with vegetables, a side of a salad, and beans and everyone was full!! I even got to try some ale with dad… I wanted him to try some pale and Golden ales.. And I m glad to say he really liked them..

Another great “foodogasmic” experience was the Burrough market, which we visited one evening! We sauntered into a very famous cheese shop called Neal’s yard Dairy, where we sampled and bought a variety of “oh-so-yum” cheese n crackers!

..right from mushrooms, truffles, flavoured olive oils, vegetables, fresh foods…meat…and baked goodies!

.….sampled a couple of Ales at The Market Porter…

Spent an evening shopping on Oxford and park streets…which was a drag for me n dad but a highlight for the ladies!!

Unfortunately, couldn’t see much of theatre in London or the parks.. But surely..Next time!!
After London, we took our car from the same company we used in Spain,, and drove off to the Cotswolds.. The heart of England..
Stonehenge was definitely on a priority visit list, as we had seen enough pictures, in magazines and online and were enamoured by it….but after reaching there, somehow.. was majorly disappointed… it was a very hot, sunny day…long queues…ended up taking pics and continuing on..

We managed to see a few white chalk horses.. Large white horses painted on hills by ancestors.. now maintained by locals..

Thereafter we went to Salisbury on DWs insistence.. (I had got DW to read the Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, about a cathedral builder in Salisbury, Thomas Beckett etc..). 

Eventually this was one place we were happy to visit.. a tranquil cathedral, despite its enormity and popularity… Had lunch at a Pizza Hut, with pizzas better than the generic pizzas we were used to..

the Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest Church spire in the United Kingdom!

Along the way, we tried tender great english and scottish strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries!!

Onwards to Cirencester from Salisbury, where we were staying at the Ivy house B&b.. An incredible and very warm welcome and great stay.. We were in touch with Paul, our host from the beginning, and he gave me plenty of helpful tips.. Their lovely beds, hot chocolate and cookies by the bedside and incredible hot breakfasts had my parents impressed.. In fact all through the trip, Paul became the gold standard of a B&b owner..

One odd thing.. My appetite while driving was almost double normal. So I gorged on omelettes, crisp bacon, sausages, baked tomatoes and hash browns, granola with curd, and coffee… Whew! I got exhausted writing that down…

We liked Bourton so much that we came twice, once with the peak of tourist traffic, and secondly in the evening.. After getting disappointed by our visit at Moreton.. (Our experience of reaching a place to find everything closed down at 5 O’clock was the norm.)The difference was that many of the parking spots had mechanical bollards that could be lifted up… We parked in a side lane, went to a flea market, didn’t buy some fabulous crockery, and tried some great chocolates instead… Rhubarb, and marmalade flavors !! We had dinner at a place I recalled having read about..

We did go to the college dining hall where harry potter’s famous, Hogwarts dining hall ,was shot.. It looked much smaller than the movie!!

Afterwards I persuaded dad to try out a golden ale.. I love the look that comes on dads face, whenever he tastes something  good.. Be it a cheese, chocolates, a curry or an unexpected great ale

                                  .. punting on oxford’s river

We climbed back into the bus drove back home tired and satisfied…

Next day, we planned to visit Bath.. To not only see The Roman Baths, but also have some typical English tea, with crumpets and scones.. A word about scones.. I developed an obsession for scones, with butter, blueberry compote, cream and fresh berries.. And I didn’t want to only eat.. I wanted everyone to wallow in the fruits, the scones, the carrot cakes…

I made everyone traipse up to the tea room on the first floor after checking out menus in multiple such small tea rooms.. 

When we got back to the b&b, I finally realized how much my parents had brought along …just in case…. We decorated one King size bed with all the food.. And it was crazy.. Every day I wanted to go out and try out the local cuisine, I d get” we ve got so much stuff,why dont you eat here”…