Skip to content

corrida de toros

Spanish Bullfight.

Strolling around the streets of Barcelona, we chanced upon a building that looked like a stadium. Curious, we circled around to the entrance and discovered that it was a bull ring! There was a series of six fights scheduled at 6.30 pm. I looked at my watch – 6.18 pm. The cheapest tickets were 25 E. Rohit and me discussed and concluded that the Hand of God was involved in getting us here. We would not get a similar chance to witness an age old tradition. So, poorer by 25 E, we entered the stadium, not knowing what to expect. There was a sense of discovery, a sense of excitement and some nerves.

Warning: What follows is not for the faint hearted. If you are an animal lover, you should probably stop reading now.

As we made our way to our seats, I saw a lovely circular ring filled with sand. There were a few empty seats, but the crowd was in a festive mood. I settled down and took a moment to absorb the surroundings. Here I was, among thousands of locals, about to witness an act that was both a culture and a sport, a joy and a trial.

image

Moments later, an orchestra at the other end of the stadium initiated a ceremony that saw the three matadors of the day parade in a circle, waving at the crowds, and smiling at the prospect of the competition that lay ahead. Each matador would get 2 bulls to showcase his talent.

image

After the matadors returned, a sense of expectation stood over the silence. Then, almost suddenly, a gatekeeper opened the gates. A ferocious bull charged into the ring. It ran fast and aimlessly, but seemed to have the intent to destroy something.

image

Then, one of the matadors entered on his horse. After acknowledging the crowd, he went about his business. First, he was tempting the bull to come and get him. When it got close, he swerved his horse and dodged it. This went on for a few minutes.

image

He then went to the edge of the ring and got a harpoon ( or a sharp pointed object), held it in his hand and approached the ring again. After dodging the bull a few times, he waited for the right opportunity and slammed the harpoon on the bull’s neck (somewhere between the head and the first vertebra).

image

The bull flinched just a little. Angered by the assault, it was seeking revenge and
charged after the horse. To distract the bull and enable the matador to get another harpoon from the edge of the ring, a matador enters the ring. He uses cloth to tempt the bull to charge at him and swerves the cloth away at the absolute last moment.

image

Meanwhile the matador returns armed with his new weapon. He dodges the bull a few times, finds the right moment and pierces the bull. This happens about 5-6 times. Then when the bull is very weak, the matador gets a final harpoon, decorated in red. He then uses it, one final time to pierce the bull. The bull now struggles to be on its feet. The matador gets off his horse and almost commands the bull to resign to its fate.

image

Moments later the bull collapses to the ground. After a few minutes, if the bull still shows signs of life, a matador comes with a small knife and pierces the bull one last time. There was a sick, uneasy feeling in my stomach. The crowd cheered as the bull took its final breath, turned its head one last time and lay motionless on the muddy turf. Two horses dragged the bull away.

image

The matador parades the ring on his horse. The crowd is cheering, each cheer louder than the previous one. They are urging the judges to show one more white handkerchief. In the scoring system, if the judge puts out one handkerchief, the matador gets to keep one ear of the bull. Two handkerchiefs signal two ears. A third one entitles the matador to the bull’s tail as well.

image

I walked away from the ring, realizing that the bullfight was exactly that.. A fight. Man against Bull. And today, six times over, man had won.

Or had he?

4 días en Barcelona

There are times when you meet people and know in a few minutes that you click with them. And then there are times when you step into a city and it charms you. Barcelona did just that to me. A coastal spot in the Catalunya region of Spain, this city is the most un-Spanish like among all of Spain, but still draws huge crowds for its architecture, watersports and nightlife.

Our hostel Paraiso was in the first floor of a corner apartment building in the downtown district. Surrounded by wide roads, easy flowing traffic and cheerful locals, the hostel was a perfect location to explore the lively and enchanting city. Just 600m away was the famous Las Ramblas, a mile long promenade lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and street artists. Most of the artists did nothing more than dress up in a costume and ask for money. But there were some that stood out. There was this guy who was playing lovely tunes on the piano through his puppet. I have a video, but thats a bit too big to post to youtube. Once I edit or decrease the quality to reduce its size, I’ll put it up.

La Sagrada Familia

Under construction since the late 19th century, this church will blow your mind away. Conceived by Gaudi, an eccentric yet genius architect, this structure mocks at conventions. Gaudi’s creations make you wonder what his mind was made of. He was audacious, clever, unorthodox yet practical in his creations.

Conceived in 1880’s , the church today towers over the Barcelona skyline. It has pillars that look like palm trees, huge ceilings and delicate craftsmanship. The church is still under construction and expected to complete in 2020. Since his death in 1926, many architects have taken charge over the years and there have been considerable disputes over the interpretation of Gaudi’s original plans. When complete, the church will be twice as tall as it is now. Irrespective of where we would be and what we’ll be doing, Rohit and me have made a pact to visit it again when its complete.

image  image

image

Barri Gothic

Situated to the east of Las Ramblas, this neighborhood still preserves the look of the old times. Narrow lanes amongst old rustic stone buildings take you back to the past. The Barcelona cathedral is situated in this area, but like most other attractions in Barcelona, is still under construction.

image  image  image

The Beachfront

We went to the beach on a warm day (not unusual in Barcelona for the summer). Calm winds and zero humidity made a walk along the beach a great experience.

image  image  image

Montjuic Castle
Situated atop a hill at the southern tip of the city , this castle by itself isn’t that impressive but offers lovely views of the coast, the city and the harbor.

image  image  image

Some random facts about Barcelona

  • The metro, like Paris is great. The metro spreads like an octopus all over the city. The stops are a bit more spaced than Paris, but still you’ll find a metro stop within walking distance pretty easily. The trains run every 7-10 minutes
  • The food is awesome, even for vegetarians. I had huge helpings of Paella, a local rich dish with vegetables. They make these hot on a frying pan and get the pan right to your table to savor it hot !
  • Being Indian, I was hoping to stick out like a sore thumb. But no, the place is filled with folks from Pakistan and Bangladesh who run local restaurants and supermarkets. I think it’ll be cool to go somewhere where no Indian has gone. Hopefully, that happens during this trip.

I loved this place. I was so tempted to stay back for a month and stay back for a Spanish course. I even investigated some options. I might go back there someday and do that.

With the La Sagrada Familia and Barcelona Cathedral still under construction, Rohit and me joked that we arrived in the wrong decade. 12-15 years from now, the place will be well worth another visit.

Find more Barcelona pictures on flickr

Adios amigos !

5 jours à Paris

Thats 5 days in Paris in Francais 

Paris is a city that needs to be explored when you are not in a hurry. Most cities are the same way, but Paris is especially more so. It has more museums than any city in the world, a lot of history and some charming walks and cafes. For someone like me, who doesnt appreciate art (or doesnt know how to ) a lot, there is still a lot to see.

The Louvre

Without doubt the Louvre is the most visited attraction in Paris drawing crowds to see the Monalisa and “Venus De Milo”.

image

Louvre

 image

Venus de Milo

image

The reverse pyramid – where the holy grail ends

image

Lovely lighting at the Egyptian gallery

The inside of the Louvre can get crowded at times and its a bit of a hassle to walk through. The Monalisa and the “Venus de Milo” are supposed to be exquisite works of art, way ahead of their time.

  • The Monalisa is known to have really good effects of scale. The woman is almost life size, while behind here there is a road to the left and a bridge to the right that diminish into the distance. Her gaze meets the eye with an enigmatic, yet questioning look.
  • Venus de Milo was discovered on the shores of Greece, with an arm chopped off. Yet, it is been the subject of study and its origins are not completely known. Its claim to fame is that it was among the first sculptures to have attempted an audacious twist in the posture.
  • Both are excellent pieces of art, but to my untrained eye, they dont seem distinguishingly better than the others. I saw many other paintings, portraits and sculptures that matched these masterpieces. But, what do I know.

But I do know the Da Vinci Code. Having read the book, that was the closest I could come to relating to the Louvre. In fact, that was the first I had heard of the Louvre. So, I paid the extra 10 Euro to take the Da Vinci Tour. Its an audioguided tour that takes you through the several pieces of art mentioned in the book and narrates incidents from the book as well. It also gives you a bit of history about those exhibitions. I am glad I took the tour – it helped me understand the louvre better through my limited knowledge via the book. Definitely recommended.

Its funny how the book was written on the museum – but now the museum is using it to make some money. Great opportunity that someone capitilized on !

The Catacombs

A lesser known fact about Paris are the Catacombs. A network of tunnels and rooms, that initially existed as limestone quarries were converted to a huge burial ground. How that happened is pretty interesting. In the late 18th century, the Les Halles district of Paris was suffering from disease. It was believed that the disease was due to the cemeteries and burial grounds in the locality. The city then discreetly moved all the skeletal parts and placed them in the quarries. When I visited this place, I felt I was in a video game like Doom or Quake. There were long, dark and endless corridors that met at unexpected places. The lighting was eerie and it made you feel like you were really in the past.

image   image  image

image  image

 

After a while, you get used to the place. You walk along pathways that have walls made of skulls and bones. One of the guys I went with was a doctor, so we were trying to identify the bones. Due to the low light settings, I had to get long exposures, but found it tough to stand still. I then said to the others ” I am going to use this skull as a tripod”. When I got back funny looks, I stopped for a moment and thought to myself “Who would have thought that I’ll ever say something like that ! “. But thats what I did. I placed my camera on a skull to hold it steady and shot this pic.

image

I also visited the Eiffel Tower, the Musee d’Orsay and Sacre Cour. Unfortunately it was cloudy and they had shut off access to the top of the tower. But hey, thats a reason to go back sometime 🙂

Other random stuff about Paris

  • The metro is freaking awesome. Whoever designed it needs to be put on a pedestal. You can walk in any direction for 5-10 minutes and be sure that you will hit a metro station.
  • Trains run every 2-3 minutes which means you really dont have to plan your travel on the metro system. Just get up and go where you want to – there will be a train waiting for you. Its that unbelievable
  • Everybody and their mother smokes in Paris. Smoking is allowed indoors, outdoors, in parks, toilets – you name it. I think the legal age to smoke is 14 – students get out of school and the first thing they do at the gate is light up a cig. Smoking is not a habit there, its a necessity – like drinking coffee.
  • The cafes are nice, give you a local flavor and serve lovely desserts. I indulged in a lot of sin 🙂

The city is packed yet lively, rushed yet relaxing and has me wanting more. I am going to be back there next March at INSEAD and that should give me a lot of opportunity to see the city through the lens of some locals.

Travelling Alone

A lot of folks were surprised, some even alarmed that I was embarking on a two month trip all by myself. Many felt that I was insane, would get bored and homesick. Some questions I had to answer
1. How would I be without friends and family for so long?
2. What is my motivation for traveling alone?

On the other hand, I had been wanting to do this for almost 3 years now. I was in Borders one time and started reading this book called “Europe on a backpack”. Unlike any Lonely Planet travel guide, this book was a collection of short stories, submitted by backpackers. Most of them happened to be journalism students and hence told their story well. One guy was running away from bulls in an annual event in Pamplona, Spain. Another 20-something girl talked about her courting adventures with some teenage boys in Prague. Yet another girl spoke about her 3 hour supper meals during her stay in France with the former president’s sister. Each story was well narrated and had me wanting more. They all spoke about their love for travel, their curiosity about a foreign land and how they were happy to finally be in a place they had dreamed about. Since then, I have been reading about backpacking and wanting to do something like this.

If you ask most backpackers, they would agree that living in hostels and meeting people is a significant part of their trip. I had read and heard about this – but experiencing it is fun. On my first day in Paris at the “Le Village” Hostel, a few of us were sitting in the common terrace area, sharing our stories. Where we had come from, what we do/did, what our plans are and the occasional question about your culture/country. After chatting for an hour, we decided to see what Paris was like at night. We headed to a bar, grabbed a few drinks, talked a bit and then roamed the streets of Paris till 2 am. When you are backpacking, you are almost never short of company.

image

My roommates at the “Young and Happy” hostel

 

image

A random night out

We then headed to the Bastille area to grab some fast food and headed home. It was a nice way to begin my trip and it gave me a flavor of what backpacking is like.

image

Javier (argentina), Sinead (australia), kamil(poland), kurt (usa), leslie (usa). This was just before we headed to Bastille.

There are so many people who travel alone. And its natural for them to congregate at a hostel and do stuff together. Sometimes we hang out in the day and see the touristy places together. Else we do our stuff individually during the day and meet up at night. Either way, you never feel lonely. At least, not yet.

But then you wonder, why do people travel alone. I think there are several reasons.

  1. Most of us have a growing itch to travel for long periods. You somehow work out a plan to do it, but friends cant do it for various logistical reasons (vacation,commitments, family, children etc)
  2. Traveling is not only seeing the world, but also seeing yourself in a different way. You learn and discover a lot about yourself and there is only so much of that you can do if you are with someone else. By being alone, you get to do the things you like, try new stuff, get out of your comfort zone and understand your own personality better.

I wouldnt go as far as saying its a life-changing experience, but there is definitely some personal growth as a result of backpacking. I can’t express it yet, but maybe I’ll be able to do that towards the end of my trip.

Paris was a great experience and deserves a separate post. I am writing this on the train from Paris to Barcelona. Kinda sad that Paris is behind me now, but everyone I met has just good things to say about Barcelona. I also meetup with Rohit there. Should be an exciting 10 days !

Good night !

Europe on 50 euros a day

Well, that was my target. But it seems increasingly tougher to achieve. Here is a sample of my expenses for the first day (in euros)

Hostel room – 24
Subway from airport to hostel – 8
Lunch – 10
Coffee – 4
Dinner – 10
Drinks with hostel mates – 12

Thats already way over what I had budgeted 🙂
Well, there are certainly areas I can cut on – 20 euros a day on meals is not acceptable. Since that first day, I have found many roadside shops that sell cheap and better food. Think awesome crepes, sandwiches and pastries.

That said, exceeding the budget is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it happens and you have to accept it. Backpackers on month long trips walk a very thin line. You want to have a good time without worrying too much about the money. At the same time, you have to remember that you are on the road for 2 months, so the resources can dry up pretty quickly.

So I have decided to not be too harsh on myself, have a good time and not go overboard with spending. Talking to fellow backpackers helps, they give you tips on how to save, nice places to eat, tricks to get discounts for inter-city trips and so on.

Some people I meet have been doing this for months, even years. I think I am getting the hang of this and getting better at keeping a tab.

Lets see how the rest of the trip unwinds.

Peak District

In my first weekend in the UK, we visited the Peak District National Park in central England. Friends had always mentioned that the US didn’t have as much greenery as England. At the Peak District, I finally understood what they meant.

image

There were lush green pastures as far as the eye could see. The views were breathtaking and very much like the images of English countryside that I remembered from TV. And to make the most of these surroundings, the English have a unique concept – Camping Barns.

You are provided with the very basics – a bland room, a kitchen, bathroom, electricity and water.

image

image

image

Its like a camping in a brick room. We took a lot of ready-to-eat food, a gas burner and made full use of the kitchen. I fell in love with these camping barns. You wake up in the morning to the chill breeze amongst the green fields. Really feels like living in the countryside. Two days were well spent – ate a lot, payed poker, chatted, caught up on old times, current times and plans for the future.

Meeting up with old friends after a long time is always enjoyable and this time was no different. I’ll be meeting up with these folks again over the next couple of months at other places around Europe. Looking forward to it !

Open Day at INSEAD

INSEAD hosted an open day for admitted students on May 12th. I planned my eurotrip such that I could be in Paris around the time and take a detour to Fontainebleau for 2 days to attend the open day. On the whole, it turned out to be an awesome experience.

After living in hostels for a few days, my room in Fonty was a real luxury.

image

I hadn’t slept well for a few nights and just dived into the bed on checkin for a quick nap. Around 7pm I met up with my future classmates for dinner, hosted by current students at INSEAD. We headed to an Italian restaurant in the center of town. The food was ok, but the conversation and the diversity at the table were awesome.

You hear and read that INSEAD is a really diverse school with people from varied backgrounds and nationalities. Even being aware of this, I was really impressed by the company I had. A sample of the professional backgrounds

  • Formula 1 Test Driver (everyone wants his job now)
  • Chef ( we know where to go for dinner after school )
  • Economist at United Nations
  • World Bank
  • Consulting at BCG, Bain, McKenzie
  • A few in technology (like me)

Experiencing this is so much different than reading about it. It almost felt as if the diversity in the group was turbocharging everyone present. People were lively, seemed on the same wavelenght and keen to connect. Networking took a whole new dimension in my mind as I just began conversing with these people.

image

The vibe amongst the class was so great, we decided to head out to a party held by current students as part of “British and Irish Week”. This gave us a taste of how life at INSEAD would be. I for one, am just waiting to start !

The next day (May 12th) began with an address by the Dean. Subsequently, information stalls were setup for Financing, Logistics (visas,etc), Language, Housing, Campus Exchange, etc. I am starting in Singapore and plan to do the last four months of my course in France. I figured out some details on how that would work. After that, we heard from current students behind closed doors and pounded them with questions ranging from what do they find best at INSEAD, what they hate about INSEAD, how did they finance their MBA, etc. We then proceeded to have lunch. This was the most disappointing part of the day for me, there was NOTHING vegetarian to eat. I had to do with some salad and desserts.

We then heard from the faculty. The highlight was an inspiring talk by Entrepreneurship Professor, Fillipe Santos. He was enthusiastic, brimming with ideas and gave us a taste of what can be possible at INSEAD. It would be fair to say that, to a lot of us this was revealing, to say the least.

This was followed by talks from the Career Services and Alumni. After this I headed back to my room to freshen up, change and head to dinner at a chateau owned by INSEAD called “La Cercle”. Again, the diversity fuelled interesting conversation. A lot of people were interested in my background at Yahoo. Likewise, I was curious to hear from economists, chefs, bankers and so on. After dinner, we felt we still weren’t finished. We headed out for a drink, met some current students (who gave us very valuable tips) and hung out till the wee hours of the night.

Overall, I am very happy with the Open Day. It gave me an idea of how the year at INSEAD will be, I met some great people and know that the next year is going to be unique. It is surely going to be hectic – 10 months is a very short time. But heck, its gonna be a hell lot of fun too.

My class is great to hang out with. I met some folks who will start at Singapore like me and they are super cool too. We were already making plans on things to do in Singapore.

I can’t wait !

Stonehenge

Many moons ago, I watched a documentary on Discovery that talked about Stonehenge. There is a certain amount of mystery associated with this monument. No one knows exactly how or why this was built.

  • How did they transport huge slabs of stone (that weighed tons) across the country?
  • How did they manage to raise the stones and place them horizontally at an elevation of 2 meters?

image

 

Surrounded by green pastures on all sides, the Stonehenge  has a distinct character, almost as if it is demanding your respect.

And on our way to this fantastic megalithic monument, the english weather was surprisingly sunny and provided for some lovely views.

image

On Europe Soil

So, I am here, finally in London.

Leaving the US was surreal. It has not sunk in yet, but the last few hours in the bay area were a little heavy. Its hard to describe – I felt weird leaving the place, yet I was excited to begin a new chapter.

“I think you are in my seat mate”. A middle aged guy with a thick British accent gently pointed out that I was in the wrong seat on the plane. Luckily, the plane wasn’t full, so there was some room to stretch out. This guy and me had some interesting conversations. He was returning from a 3-day official visit to Santa Clara and was complaining that he didnt relate to the sports in US. India was a British colony for a long time and their sports had a huge influence on what’s popular in India today.

We chatted about a lot about soccer. He was a chelsea fan and was bummed that they lost in the UEFA semis. He was happy though, that Man Utd lost too !  I gotta admit, the british accent is much easier to follow on tv.

The Virgin Atlantic flight was good. Food was decent, service was courteous. For some reason, I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked. I expected Heathrow to be more sophisticated, much like the Changi airport at Singapore. It didnt turn out that way, though its very functional and efficient. I noticed they had “Baggage Reclaim” signs versus “Baggage Claim” in US. Interesting.

It should be a fun next 2 months. In the journey lies the destination.

And the journey has just begun.

Nothing is permanent but change

After an arduous six months, some good things have come around. I decided to apply to Bschool last year and got accepted at INSEAD.

Why INSEAD?

  • Its a kick-butt school ranked in the top 10 global MBA schools. Financial times ranked it 7th. A lot of other rankings place it in the top 10
  • Its a 1 year program
  • Its international. I get to study and live in France and Singapore !
  • Its a chance to travel !
  • And lots more 🙂

This might be one of the few real breaks I ever get. To make the most of it, I decided to take 2 months off and backpack in Europe. After an MBA I’ll be in so much debt, it’ll be hard to justify such a trip :). Now is the time. Its something I have always wanted to do, have talked a lot about doing and never gotten to. Friends used to call me NATO (no action talk only 🙂 ) when it came to my travel talk. But this time its for real ! Tickets have been booked, hostel reservations have been made.

Rough itinerary

  • On May 2nd, head to UK to meet up with college friends Brahmesh, Clifford, Rohit, Mary and Sheetal.
  • Head to INSEAD to attend the open day for admitted students
  • Spend a few more days at Paris
  • Meet up with Rohit at Barcelona and spend a few days there
  • Head to Nice. Catch the Monaco GP if possible. Rohit heads back home after this
  • Explore Italy
  • Meet Brahmesh and his family in Switzerland
  • Other places to visit – Greece, Amsterdam, Brussels, Czech Republic, Austria
  • If I can go to either French Open or Wimbledon, that would be a bonus.
  • Hope to witness a game of soccer among some European clubs.
  • I hope to head back to Bangalore in July and be there till mid Aug
  • Head to Singapore to settle in and get ready for a rigorous year !

Traveling should be fun. I am really looking forward to staying at hostels, meeting fellow travelers, exchanging stories and many more random things !

I hope to get off my lazy butt and update this blog often enough, so it becomes a travelogue. Drop me a line if you are anywhere I am going. Drop in a line just to say hi !