Got back mid November after 3 glorious days in Paris and 7 days in the Netherlands . Weather all through was most kind and at sub 7 in Pune on return continued to be so
Stayed at a beautiful village called Houten in the NL with plenty of early morning walks along elaborate parks and water bodies and very friendly rural folk nodding their good mornings to the elegant old man from India . Amidst busy schedule at office , managed an evening in Utrecht and a day in Amsterdam. Met a French woman in Amsterdam who had spent many years in Auroville and knew Dr Dilip Dutta , formerly of Digboi Hospital : small world !!
Came across a firang bhikharan ( beggar ) in Utrecht ( usual Mumbai traffic- signal story : she was homeless with two kids and no job etc ) : reaction : yehan key bhikhari bhi angrezi boltey hain !! ( even beggars speak English here !! ) : small world indeed !! Ran into beggars in Paris Metro , Champ-de-Elyssye , and Rue de Theatre too.
Got introduced to Greek cuisine for dinner on the banks of the Utrecht canal. Also became aware of the use of duck fat instead of vegetable oils in most European establishments, leading to a prompt change in daily bread from stuffed omlette to cold salads and jacket potatoes with tons of butter : long live the Brits for this amazing invention of pub food : duck fat in European cuisine : ugh !! .
The bullet train from Amsterdam to Paris was an experience one was so looking forward to : had booked well in advance to experience their cuisine / wifi connectivity / tea and coffee from all over the world and so forth.” We regret” the announcement declared shamelessly in 3 languages , that there was no activity in the train kitchen due to an electrical fault and that there would therefore be no hot meals nor tea or coffee : keep wifing and drinking early morning wino for 3 hours if u like !! Shatabdis back home are better : at least one can hop off at a station for a quick samosa and chaai !! . Small world indeedee !!
The hotel in Paris was a comfortable walking distance from Eiffel tower , Louvre , Lover’s bridge , Statue of liberty , Arc de triumphe , and Notradam . Everything was exactly where it was on my last visit over 30 years back . “La ca change” one might say , except for the old Organ at Notradam which was 775 years of age the last time & had progressed to over 800 years this time around , still playing with awesome acoustics.
Plenty of happy Chinese tourists , some sheepish looking Desis in Delhi kee sirdee attire ( a sartorial wonder that can not be described : has to be experienced !! ) invariably with grumpy wives introduced as “meri ( my ) missus“: seemed genuinely envious that I had no missus , meri or otherwise , and bus-loads of American couples . Most importantly , I finally had a smoking room and could also smoke in taxis and public places . Cigerette packets in stock ex Mumbai were finally put to good use. The Dutch must learn such liberalism from the French .
The high points of Paris were the Eiffel top at night / a day at the Disney Land in the midst of their 20th anniversary celebrations / absolutely out-of-this-world fireworks display against the backdrop of a massive Christmas Tree , a simulated free-fall inside an old service elevator at the Hollywood Towers horror-Hotel , Armagaddon- special- effects , Cinerama 5-D experience in a space ship -gone -wonky , the Hollywood boulevard , and of course a Champagne-reservation at the Lido . A 10 minute parade to Mridangas, Tabla , Shehnais, and Sitar with artistes “dressed” as Hindu Gods and Godesses could be extremely offensive to a sensitive Saffronite ( was moderately offensive to me too. But the champagne had just been popped and the ICICI card swiped for a small fortune : a protest walk -out then would be churlish : thankfully for the Lido a Punjabi old lady and her daughter were the only other Hindus present and speaking for myself I rationalised that God resides in all !! Besides , the lead-artiste in a diaphonous gold brocaded saree looked absolutely Divine !!
Some stray observations :
1. Turkish taxi driver in NL : critical of his dual citizenship and felt like the proverbial “washerman’s dog of neither home nor the river bank” .
2. Egyptian taxi driver in NL : left Egypt after Sadat was assasinated : didn’t like Hosni Mubarak and was too young to know much of Nasser. Didn’t think Tehreek square was a good idea and felt Egypt must revert to a monarchy : good news for King Farokh’s descendents , if any
3. Algerian taxi driver in Paris : loves to smoke a cigarallo while driving : khoob jamega rang jub milenge teen Yaar : hum tum or Benson bhai !! ( its party time when he meets a fellow smoker specially of brand Benson ) Has no political inclinations : loves Raj Kapoor , Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachhhan and , hold your breadth , Kareena Kapoor and has never heard of SRK. Buys French subtitled Dvds of Hindi movies : proudly showed us DVDs of Gopi , Ram Aur Shyam , Deewar that he had bought @ Euros 1 each for his end-of-day entertainment. Was heart-broken to hear about Kareena getting married to Saif.
4. Namastey and Aap kaisey hain was often heard at the hotel from french employees : (30 + years ago during my last visit even English was barely spoken or understood ).
Astounded at the multiplicity of pieces of luggage , both checked-in and cabin ,carried by desis : felt nice to be travelling light : perhaps shall be so even to the final destination when the time comes !!
Cheers for now