Friday, September 20, 2013

Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps

2150hrs CEST

Wow. What a day. We visited to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and Wieliczka Salt Mine today. The former is a metaphorical rock-bottom, no, more like 'Marianas Trench' bottom of what humans are capable of. The latter, is the absolute literal.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camps

Aside from lessons on WWII in high school history, most of what I know about Holocaust is through Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. It's a fascinating book. Please read it if you have not. And through Schindler's List, of course. I could not comprehend how humans can commit such atrocities on others systematically on a massive scale over a sustained period of time with utmost unconscientious conviction.

I still can't. I don't think I ever will.

It was a crisp sunny morning today, the road to Oświęcim was through a beautiful, green polish countryside. Ironic the same route was a road to hell seventy years back.

We joined English language tour at Auschwitz.

We went past rows and rows of black and white photos of victims, exhibits showing mountains of human hair, heap of spectacles, combs, suitcases etc; a block where grotesque medical experiments were conducted; another block which had lockups with no light or ventilation and an adjoining courtyard for hanging and exterminations; and finally the gas chamber and adjoining crematorium.

My head was a hurricane of thoughts, questions and emotions.This was horror, cruelty, profound sadness laid bare on a grand scale.

We were about to enter the gas chamber. Our tour guide told us to maintain silence to respect the many thousands of souls that had perished in that room. I gently ran my fingers on the walls of the gas chamber. I felt numb. Saturated.

In Birkenau, as per Jewish tradition, I placed a rock on the plaque to pay my respects.

It had been said before. I'll say it once more time: Never forget. Every human must visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps to see the devastating power of hatred. Its ability to transform men to monsters. The power to bring forth the worst of mankind to cause immense sorrow and darkness to millions of us.

I read George Santayana's quote in the camp:

"The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again"

So true. Lest we forget.

Gas Chamber

Photo Credits: Unknown.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


2227hrs CEST

We were in Paris last week. Here are the highlights of our stay there.

Eiffel Tower

Long time from now, when I look back to my first visit to Eiffel Tower, when everything else I've seen and experienced may've faded in my memory, these three moments, however, will remain vivid:

a. We reached Paris late in the evening. Our hotel did not have a view of the Eiffel Tower. We didn't want to hit bed without seeing the tower. We caught the train, got off at Bir-Hakeim station - an underground train station. As we climbed the stairs to reach ground level, we were greeted to a spectacular view of the tower. That moment felt slightly out of the blue as we didn't expect such a brilliant view coming out dingy little underground station. It was our first sight of the tower and it took my breath away..

b. We were standing at the bottom of the tower admiring the beauty of this engineering marvel with the mouth slightly open and blissfully unaware that its only a few seconds to go for the hour. *stroke of the hour* And just like that… the tower started twinkling! Magical!

c. Next day, we went up the tower. There is a champagne bar at the Summit. It was twilight time, with the beautiful Paris beneath us, we toasted a glass of Rose Champagne. Gold!


The architecture, design and grandeur of this building is truly a wonder. High dome, beautiful interiors and beaming arches outside. Unlike Notre Dame or St. Paul's, Pantheon wasn't busy at all (a welcome change, actually). After visiting Paris's Pantheon, I am really looking forward to visit the real Pantheon in Italy.



We saw Venus De Milo. We saw Mona Lisa. We learnt this museum is an embodiment of pure love and appreciation of French history and to the field of arts. There is a massive collection of world famous paintings, sculptures and other artwork that are so rich in detail, depth and huge in their canvas that after not too long gazing around our brain's status read: Art_Sculptures_mindblown. To describe the paintings, sculptures as incredible, magnificent, beautiful will be an understatement. And allocating only 3/4 of a day to spend at Louvre is laughable.

Monalisa and her mob of photographers
Palace of Versailles

The best bits were the Hall of Mirrors, Coronation Room and impressive paintings here and there. The bad bit was the massive crowds. We went on a Thursday which is supposed to be the relatively quiet day of the week for Versailles. Looks like everyone had the same idea. The palace was packed. We were moving through each sections of the palace with hardly any time or space to pause and have a good look at the rooms/exhibits. The gardens were beautiful. We were told about a fountain show but it never started. The weather also played along as it rained most of the day. Disappointing overall.


This place is magic. One cant go past this shop without having a scoop of gelato. There were different flavours to try so we had something different every time. We also tried Crepe, Gaufre and shakes. Absolutely yummy!

Notre Dame

An ancient, majestic church, which does not charge tourists any entrance fees. As you walk towards Notre Dame, the size of its edifice takes your breath away. Incredible architecture. Once inside, one cant take their eyes off the amazing stained glass. We had taken our binoculars to get a closer look at them. Boy weren't we happy to took that thing! The detail and the rich colour on the glass were truly a sight to behold. Must see! Oh, and dont miss the Gargoyles.

We also visited Rodin Museum, Tour Montparnasse, Arc De Triomphe and Museum d'Orsay. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


2231hrs BST

We arrived in London last week and have managed to cover a fair chunk of our 'to-see' list. Considering the ultra max information dump we've had in the last few days, I think it's a good time to pause and pen down my thoughts and observations about things we've seen in this amazing city.

The Underground

a. So far we've never had to wait for a train for any more than 2 mins on any line, any time of the day. Ever! I found that amazing as efficient public transport is not one of the strong suite of any cities I've lived so far. 

b. For a first-time visitor, a rail network of such complexity can be confusing without proper signs/markings or helpful staff. All tube stations have clear directions, the tube map is perfect and we've never felt lost.

c. The railway line that connects Heathrow Airport is the Piccadilly line. Some overground railway stations on Piccadilly line do not have elevators. It's a fair bet that this railway line will carry visitors, like us, with heavy luggage, and they'd surely appreciate an elevator rather than lugging a 25+kg suitcases over flights of stairs.

d. Life goes at a quick pace in London. The Underground, however, seems to have life of its own. St. Undergroundeswarar, the Lord of the Underground, presses the 'Breakneck Pace' button every time a Londoner enters a Tube station. That explains why people zoom past down the escalator, rush to the platform, get off in a hurry, rush back up the escalator and return to the normal pace once out of the Tube station. Why this avasaram da? Relax, no?

e. I work in the area of real-time power system operations. I understand the challenges involved in operating complex, interconnected networks like the Underground. To operate an essential service like this in a safe, reliable and efficient manner must have some highly skilled engineers and field crew.

We bought the 7-day Zone 1-2 TravelCard. The TravelCard makes us eligible to use the 2 for 1 vouchers at participating London attractions. Its given us good deals so far.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral
We visited St. Paul's Cathedral through a walking tour by a company called London Walks. Judy, our guide, gave us an informative and engaging tour of St. Paul's. She gave us a gripping account of how this iconic cathedral survived the bombings of WWII and the efforts made by Londoners to protect the Cathedral. The interiors of the dome were jaw-dropingly awesome. Since this is a working church, we had to stop and remain still once every hour for a prayer.

We went up the Dome which involves climbing 500 odd steps through spiral staircases and narrow passages. Sindhu felt mildly claustrophobic when going up the spiral staircases. She made it to the top though. It was worth the effort as the views from the dome were breathtaking.

View from the Dome a.k.a Golden Gallery
London Walks charges GBP 9 per person for their services. You have to pay entrance fee at St. Paul's. We availed the 2 for 1 offer. Highly recommend!

Lord's Cricket Ground

Visiting Lord's, the very home of the great game, is one of the highlights of our stay in London. It was a clear sunny day and I was buzzing with excitement as I entered the ground through Grace Gate for the ground and museum tour. I've done ground tours of WACA, Melbourne Cricket Ground and Eden Park. I have also watched Test cricket at 'Gabba, Chepauk and SCG. None of those Test venues exude the aura of class and the quiet charm as Lord's. It is a special place.
Lord's. Can you see the famous Lord's tilt?
We ambled around the Cricket Museum first. We saw the real Ashes 'urn' and read the history behind it. India's first world cup trophy, the Prudential cup, was on display. The crystal Ashes replica looked meh. 

We were then taken to the famous Long Room. Its walls were adorned with paintings of cricket legends - Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Jarvis, to name a few. Then, off to team dressing rooms. The rooms were not as big as I thought it would be. It would be fairly crowded place on match days. It felt surreal to stand on the Lord's balcony admiring the view of the ground *goosebumps*. I stood at the exact same spot where Ganguly famously twirled his shirt in that Natwest final.

In the famous Honours board, there was no Tendulkar, no Lara, no Ponting, but one A Agarkar was present…that too in the batting list. #facepalm to Cricket God and his sense of humour.

I envy Cricinfo dudes who get to do live commentary from JP Morgan Press box. What a view!

Easily the second best view of the Ground
Ground and museum tour costs GBP 15 per person. We made use of the 2 for 1 offer. Win!

Westminster Abbey

I didn't know much about Westminster Abbey apart from it being Will and Kate's kalyana mandapam. When I did shrug my ignorance and read about it, I realized its immense significance and importance to British history. We reached the Abbey on an warm, cloudy afternoon with a plan to attend the 5PM Evensong. When we reached the Abbey we were greeted by the incredible carvings on the Northern entrance and a very long queue. We ditched the Evensong plan and checked out St. Margaret Church which is next to the Abbey. I learnt that Winston Churchill got married there. The stained glass at the Altar was beautiful.

The following morning we arrived early to this beautiful soaring architectural wonder. Its true majesty lies inside. As you walk in, the beautiful chandeliers, stunning architecture, the staggering detail on the dome just takes your breath away. We spent a few hours walking around the Abbey with a Audio guide. Its impressive the Brits have managed to preserve and display couple of thousand years of history. But frankly, I found the history of King Edward/Henry/Queen Elizabeth I, II, III etc a bit dry. I am a science student who likes poetry. What interested me were the final resting place of Newton, Dickens, Kipling, Charles Darwin, Wordsworth etc. All important figures buried under one roof. Phew!

Entrance fee costs GBP 16 per person.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

We 'straddled' the Prime meridian. There were neat exhibits on the history of astronomy and maritime navigation. 'Camera Obscura' was cool.

Entrance fee was GBP 7 per person.

Sir John Ritblat Gallery, British Library.

It was a brief stop. This gallery is aptly called 'The Treasures'. The highlights were:

a. The Beatles Corner: Handwritten lyrics of one of my fav song 'Yesterday' on a scrap of paper.
b. Original manuscripts of Mozart.
c. Handwritten letter by Isaac Newton from his final days.
d. Different versions of Bible and Koran.
e. Magna Carta room.

Madame Tussaud's

It was our first time to a wax museum and we loved it. The museum was well laid out and the waxworks were obviously quite impressive. My favorite bit was the 4D Marvel show. It was as good as Shrek 4D show at Movie World in Gold Coast.

So. Waxworks of all important celebs in Hollywood - check. Waxwork of Sachin Tendulkar - check. Wife takes a pic with her beloved SRK - check. Bollywood section has a waxwork of Salman Khan - *puke*. After all this, the Thamizhan in me had a burning question, "ALLLLL this is okay, where is Rajnikanth?".

GBP 30 per person. We used the 2 for 1 voucher.

'World famous in Thamizh Nadu' Saravana Bhavan, East Ham, London.

Items ordered:
Paper Roast
Idly Vadai Sambhar (immersed)
Filter Kaapi

Whether it is London or Mylapore, the Sambhar tastes only one way: Heavenly! And that's Saravana Bhavan.

So what's remaining in the list?

The Shard.
Pint at Westminster Arms.
Buckingham Palace
Churchill's Underground War rooms
Wimbledon Museum tour.
Tower of London.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dear Anandha Bhavan,

Changi Airport, Singapore
1047hrs SGT

Dear Anandha Bhavan,

When Madras deprived souls like us transit at Singapore's Changi Airport, the moment we touch down, the moment we see 'Nal Varavu' written in bold and XXL Thamizh font, the moment we see Airport staff with name badges that read 'Kala Chithra', 'Senthil Kumar', 'Sundara Vadivel', 'Kuzhalmozhi', a quiet excitement and happiness envelop us. It is akin to the excitement when Chennai Express approaches Madras Central you see the railway tracks suddenly mutate to a dozen tracks, you realize you are home. Singapore is our threshold to Thamizh Nadu. Yesterday when we departed for Singapore, a friend told us 'goto Anandha Bhavan in Terminal 2', we started to salivate. Process 'NaaklaJalamOorufication' went into overdrive at the thoughts of having Nei Roast and piping hot Filter Coffee. If you don't already know, there is only one type of Nei Roast (Ghee Roast) in this world. That's Anandha Bhavan Nei Roast. You, and only you, make it best. But, we were let down. You, Anandha Bhavan, have placed your outlet OUTSIDE the transit area. Why o why wouldn't you cater for the scores of transit'ers like us and focus on the random local who wouldn't care to travel all the way to the airport to have your offerings or even bother to give you a second look when he's inundated with plethora of choices. Don't bother explaining. My request is simple. Open an outlet in the transit area's Food court, not for me, or my fellow travelers, atleast for Nei Roast's sake!

Yours truly,

A Nei Roast Priyan.

ps: You may ask me to have Nei Roast at Kaveri. I can't do that for two reasons:

a. Kaveri does not serve Nei Roast.
b. Tongue, taste, emotions are interlinked with each other. The emotional disconnect of having a Nei Roast at Kaveri is as big as Nei Roast itself.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Let's go!

Darwin Airport
1448hrs AEST

Sindhu and I are about to embark on an adventure. Its been something I wanted to do for the past decade. Something we've been planning, amidst many other things that's been happening, for the best part of the last 12 months. And the moment is finally here. Europe Trip!

We're about to jet off on a 1.5 months trip to UK and Europe. Our travel plan involves visiting 7 countries, staying at-least 4 nights or more in 9 different towns/cities. This is our first trip to this part of the world, so I am sure you can easily guess most places we have on our itinerary. 

The 'skeleton' travel plan goes something like this:

London > Paris > Krakow > Prague > Vienna > Luzern > Lauterbrunnen > Venice > Rome

I think we've gotta visit Europe a million times or live there for a decade if we want to see most places
we had in our wish list. That's why its so hard to draw up an trip itinerary for a place like Europe. Each place is steeped in history and significance, and they are also relatively close by, that you don't wanna drop it off your list. Sigh! 

Anyway. Like any overseas trip of this length, there are many unknowns. We've done a heap of reading from books and online travel forums like Tripadvisor, Fodors, LonelyPlanet etc which offer a wealth of info on what to see and tips from people who've been there. So we had a 'plan' for each day...and suddenly a realization hit on us that this was a holiday and not a planned High Voltage Feeder Cutover! So we took the pedal off this excessive daily planning crap and go with the flow. Whether the flow is a raging current or a gentle stream is totally up to us.

Why are you doing it now? Yen? Edhukku? 

Well. If not now, when? There is a line in one of my favourite ARR song 'Urvasi' - Irubadhu vayadhil aadaamal, aruvadhil aadi enna payan.  Do it when you can. YOLO! 

I have finished a work assignment here and I want to take my some time off, 'let my hair down' and have fun. 

Plus, I like travelling, meeting people from different cultures, nudging out of the comfort zone...just another method of developing as a person.

Enough of this ramble. I need a drink before take off. I intend to update this page as we go. See you soon! Tata :D