An evening in Paris

Thursday, 9th September

I woke up hearing loud conversations and realised the old couple were approaching their destination. We helped them with their luggage when the train stopped. The train moved gently through the country side of Spain. With cottages and dark green trees lining the tracks. The sun was bright but not the piercing kinds and I fell asleep again.

We reached Paris in the afternoon.

G had already found about the Hostel Aloha, (courtesy the Lonely Planet) where we were to stay for the next few days. The station was huge and we had to cross it on an elevator which went at 9kms/hour. It was kind of funny with us balancing our rucksacks and all. We took the subway to reach our proposed hostel and it was not far.

We walked down the streets asking for directions and came across the neat hostel Aloha. We could see the Eiffel Tower from where we were standing and thought it to be a stone throws distance. Well as we would learn later, one could practically see Eiffel Tower from any corner of Paris and still think its nearby.

The hostel had a reception area in the ground floor where they had chairs and a book shelf. A traveler could pick up a book and leave behind one of the books he was carrying. This place looked like a
treasure trove. The hostel has a funny rule. Nobody is allowed inside the rooms between 1130 am and 5 pm. The chatty receptionist with long hair and a hair band helped us with the registrations and gave us the key to our dormitory.

I washed my pair of jeans and put it on the clothesline attached to the window of our room. It felt like home. I could crane my neck and at
an angle could see the Eiffel Tower and felt very happy about it.

Like people on a mission, we set out to explore the city.

We started walking generally towards the Eiffel Tower and asked for directions and everybody pointed south towards the direction of the Eiffel Tower, which anyone could have seen. What seemed a few meters away was turning out to be a few kilometers away. We walked by fruit sellers, souvenir sellers, fancy restaurants, crepe joints, open parks, houses, colorfully attired people, colorful shops, fancy cars, shopping malls, till we finally reached this huge green manicured lawns, where the Eiffel stood proudly for all the visitors to admire the beauty. It was a magnificent view. And over the next few days, this place would become a regular feature in the itinerary. After going round twice around the base of the Eiffel and staring up at the giant structure from every possible location, we parked ourselves in the open clearing.

G started toying with the camera and clicking the tower from various angles, while an apple gave me company. Few hawkers came selling their wares, cold drinks, beer, trinkets, souvenirs and likes.
The peddlers reminded us of India Gate way back home.

As dusk fell, the tower lit up in hues of purple and silver. The flickering lights were quite an sensuously draped the tower and the beacon lights from a distance started crisscrossing the darkening sky. Reluctantly we picked our day packs and started walking around the Tower area. We walked along the Seine river, crossed it somewhere, walked some more in some quiet localities with unreadable and unpronounceable names and as we drifted along the streets, we literally bumped into a maze of traffic and amongst it stood the Arc de Triomphe.

The Triomphe is located at the Place Charles De Gaulle or otherwise called the Place de I'Etoile. This triumphal arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806. We stood there for a while, trying to figure how to cross the moving traffic. But we later realised there was a pedestrian underpass, which we had obviously missed. We moved further down the road, we were now facing Champ Elyses. This two km stretch of road is called the most beautiful avenues in the world. What with lined with trees, luxury shops, high end cafe, cinema, cabaret theater. This stretch of road also happens to be the most expensive piece of real estate. Till about 1600 this place was market fields and gardens and only around the late1700 did this place gain its reputation as a fashionable street.

The people on the streets were beautiful, well attired and there was a small rush outside the Lido. We walked in a huge perfumeries outlet and came out after 10 minutes dipped in the most aromatic and delicious perfumes. We continued our walk, inhaling in the events of the charmin evening and reached the Kennedy station. From there we took the metro
for our hostel Aloha.

The dorm that we were staying in had two more guests, one a Japanese and another an American besides us.

Goodbye Lisbon

Wednesday, 8th September

Well yesterday was a tight schedule and today we didn't have much to do except catch our train for Paris, late afternoon so we decided to goof around a bit.

We leisurely packed our bags and I took care with the shower, curtain rod, sink and the bath tub so as not to break anything today. We checked out of our room, and kept our rucksacks at with the lady at the counter and stepped out. We had a very relaxed breakfast of coffee, omelet and toasts. We finally went to pay at the counter, where I playfully punched at the vending machine kept there and out came a box of lucky strikes cigarettes. My hands moved quickly and stuffed the loot in my pocket. We then moved towards the Alfama, the soul of old Lisbon. The narrow streets had its own smell and charm of an era gone by. The place had distinct roots of Arabs and Romans, who once were part of the city. We picked up apples and cheese and bread for our onward journey.

The shopping plazas were neat and we found a public library were we could use internet for free. Heaven. To spend time checking and replying to so many emails. G wanted a hair cut and went towards the direction of a saloon and came back after a while, with a new face.

We moved back to the hostel, took our stuff, waved our goodbyes and moved towards the bus stop. There was no Mercedes to drop us back to the station, so we took the bus. The bus moved through narrow alleys and broad streets, passing by familiar churches, market places and houses. Colorful clothes hung from balconies and flags hoisted on roof tops. Kids played ball and the elderly sat outside on stairs and played cards. The tiles were all too lovely.

The train was waiting at the station and we got our couchette easily. Somewhere along the way we were joined in by an old couple, who kept chatting loudly throughout the journey. They had no clue of English and we couldn't understand what they were saying. and finally  when I requested them to keep their voices low, in Hindi they went quiet.

For dinner, we had fries, bread, mustard and mayonnaise. The train chugged along and somewhere it broke down. We looked in the darkness and all we could see was tiny flickering yellow lights, far away. We exchanged some conversation and cigarettes with a fellow passenger, who was on his way to Germany. We retired to our couchette and kept chatting and planning for our journey. After an hour or so the train resumed its journey but by then I was asleep.

Bees, Castle and the westernmost point of Europe

Tuesday, 7th September

Finally around 4 am, the noise from the city traffic subsided, or maybe I fell asleep tired.

After getting ready for the day, we had a nice breakfast of coffee, ham sandwiches and a salami omelet at the cafe below our hostel. G, our planning in charge put together a few places for the day, starting with the Hieronymites Monastery, located in Belem. Throughout our travel, while G put together the schedule, I was in charge of finding the roads leading there and back to our respective hostels.

We took the bus to Belem to reach the UNESCO world heritage site and can you imagine, we used the last days bus ticket to travel. How the automated system accepted the tickets, we are still to figure out. Something tells that, a ticket is valid for a period of 24 hrs from the time of purchase or something like that. Anyways Euros saved is Euros earned and we hopped out of bus in from of the monastery with  foolish grins.

This hermitage was built in 1450 and this is also where Vasco da Gama prayed for a night in 1497 before leaving for India. Consequently this place became the house of prayer for all sailors, either travelling out or returning.

There is also the Church of Santa Maria, with its ornate entrance, where lies the tomb of Vasco Da Gama.

After spending playing in the courtyard and experimenting with anchors etc we walked to the sea front. The water was the bluest blue and the sky was clear. A new structure was coming up commemorating the sailors journey from Portugal. Munching on some chips and cheese we decided to move towards Sintra, supposedly a very romantic area, near Lisbon.

A few people misguided us to all directions except that of Sintra. Finally we managed to board a tram which promised us to take halfway to Sintra. As we made ourselves comfortable on the seats in the tram, there seemed to be some commotion in the seats right in front of us. An elderly man who was standing was fighting with a woman who was seated in loud tones. We thought that he wanted to sit while the lady refused to give her seat and suddenly the old man slapped hard the woman and the woman shrieked so loud that the tram stopped. G and I had half a mind of giving up our seats rather than being hit like that. Anyways the lady driver entered the bogey and pacified the man and the woman and made seats for them, after giving some stern warnings.

We got of soon enough and had to take a train to Cascais a small fishing port, which now has become a major tourist attraction. On route we bought some sweet caramelized popcorn. The landscapes changed along the tracks. The high rises and graffiti gave way to elegant bungalows and green shady neighborhood. We got of the train and walked the beach front. The place had the trappings of a total touristy destination with stalls selling trinkets and food by the beach. Kids playing volley ball and generally a happy atmosphere. We wanted to spend some more time but we had to take our bus to Sintra.

Sintra was everything that was promised. We took a sight seeing bus, which took us around the colorful Moorish castle. This castle was from the 8th Century. A castle with the turrets and oak trees, ferns covering the walls and dried leaves strewn across the pathways. A little lake shimmered like a jewel from the reflection of the sunshine. It was so mystical and right out of a dream. We were so excited by being just there, we wished only if we could spend more time there.

We again boarded our bus and moved towards Cabo da Roca. Otherwise known as Cape Roca is about 18 kms away from Sintra and is the westernmost point of Europe.

The cliff approximately 140 mts above sea level, rises out of the Atlantic Ocean. There is a crucifix there with inscriptions in Portuguese, roughly translated as "here where the land ends and the sea begins, westernmost point of the European continent"

The view from there was very ethereal. True to the inscription, it was really hard to make out where the sea merged with the sky. We spied a lonely boat on the water as if sailing towards the melting sun. A mass of red splattered across the horizon. The seagulls were tripping over the sun set it seemed. The moment we made ourselves comfortable on the edge of the cliff a swarm of local insects arrived from nowhere and clinged on to us, the face, hair, clothes all over. We ran towards the fence towards the light house. Miraculously the moment we went on the other side of the fence the insects disappeared. It sure seemed like we threatened their territory.

We spent some quiet moments there seeing the sun go down (but not really the sun set, that would be around 9pm) and then walked to the cafe, where we had a croissant and a chilled beer. Some thoughtful pondering done, we proceeded towards the bus stop, for the last bus to Cascais. The bus journeyed along the curvy roads, playing hide n seek with the beauty across the cliff.

It was dark when we reached Cascais and casually strolled to the beach again, hoping to catch some festivities. But this place was dark with not a soul around. I was adventurous and stepped into the icy cold water. Immediately two icicles formed on my toes and I walked back on the sand with my shoes in hand, making a mess of my feet.

Finally we took the train for our hostel, remembering our day and not remembering our path to hostel. After going round in circles we finally managed to find our hostel and crashed on the bed happy without bothering about the traffic noise.

Sizzling bathtub and the Earth from above

Monday, 6th September

Sun shine filtered through the sky hugging trees. Our train was going through a very picturesque route. We crossed through little villages draped in sunshine and colorful flowers adorned the windows of the cottages. The villages gave way to high rises and apartment complexes with graffiti on their walls. These were sure signs that we were approaching our destination Lisbon.

We munched through our breads and mayonnaise and ham and apples and kept staring outside the dirty train compartment. Wondering about our journey till now, the exotic places we have visited and what more places we have to go and discover. It was a dream. and about how we got swindled of our money. Lisbon was not on our travel map, when we were planning this trip. It was more Spain and Ibiza. Lisbon happened by chance and it was G's discovery and planning. G was browsing through the fat Lonely Planet (Europe in a shoestring), figuring out the places to stay in Lisbon. G shortlisted about 3 of them but wasn't prepared for what was in store for us.

It was about 1 pm, when the train finally entered the station. The station was not crowded. It was simple, clean but not spotless and much similar like India, a rushed atmosphere. Spotting us as out of country bumpkins, we were suddenly surrounded by locals, each wanting us to accompany them to their beautiful hotel/hostel. With our forced head movements making a vehement no, we pushed our way from the crowd. As we came out of the station, the crowd of tourist hunters had thinned down considerably as most of them had found their loot.

The first thing that struck us was the resemblance to our Goa. Off course Goa being a Portuguese colony long ago. We were still wondering where to go and how to go, options being the bus/tram/taxi to a desired hostel from the Lonely Planet or a one next to the station and overlooking the bay. A kind looking old lady in a skirt approached us with a pamphlet. She offered her place to stay in the center of the town at a very low cost. We got a picture of a nice house in a shady area of the town overlooking the cobalt blue waters and see the sun go down. She even offered her car to drive us to the house, free. Well the adventurous souls that we were we hopped on to the waiting Mercedes. It was only when the car moved and started climbing narrow cobbled streets and the residences only becoming poorer, did we realize that what we were getting into. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, we started chatting of the consequences in our local dialect. What if we are mugged. No one would know. Even my brother in Germany was not aware of our plans to Lisbon. He knew we are Paris. We quickly messaged my brother with the address from the pamphlet that the lady had given us. That this is where we would be and sounding as casual as possible.

The tension in the car was building up and that is when we started looking out at the city. And it was beautiful. Most houses were a deep cream/ yellow in color with white borders on their windows. The walls were decorated with colorful patterned tiles. Blue, green, red, maroon colored tiles with geometric patterns, paisleys, and symbols were on the walls. Children were playing carefree on the streets and youths zipped in fancy bikes with bandannas and wannabe mean looks. Ladies were carrying shopping bags and buying stuff of the street and old men in vests were sitting idly on the armchairs, chatting with neighbors. Well it seemed like a very nice place. After about 20 minutes, our car stopped in front of a building with a colorful canopy and a cafe with seating outside on the cobbled pavement. A young lady came running down a flight of stairs and helped us with our luggage and took us to the second floor of the building. We were pretty sure that this was it and in times like these you want to laugh so hard at your own concocted story that we had silly giggles echoing on the staircase.

The lady explained that it was her mother who met us at the station and this place is not advertised commercially. It is because they are not well to do that they are renting out their rooms like this. She opened the door to our room. The room was washed in white with two simple beds. The room was bare except for a chair and a wooden cupboard. A small balcony with with wrought iron railings, was attached to the room. the room gave a feeling of space and freedom from the crowded London that we had left behind. The only thing being that the washroom was situated in the corridor and shared with other mates occupying the other rooms.

While G freshened up, I marked my bed and had a smoke in the balcony. Post that it was my turn in the shower. The washroom was as big as our room only and the idea of a proper hot shower after a long journey sounded so inviting. In all my eagerness I jumped into the bath tub and was probably dancing, not realizing how delicate bath tubs maybe.  Anyways as I was getting ready, there was severe knocks on our door and the lady from the station (not gentle anymore) was speaking in an angry tone. I had no clue, but followed her to the floor below, following her sign language. That is when realization stuck, that all my dancing in the bath tub apparently caused a leak in the floor below and water was trickling down in quite a funny manner. I tried hard not to giggle and made a sorry face and shrugged my shoulders in an apologetic look and rushed back to tell G what excitement happened.

After packing our city guide, local maps, we moved out of the place to see the city. Our first stop was the 12th century cathedral,Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa.The structure has both Romanesque and Gothic style of architecture. Over the centuries the cathedral has gone through lot of renovations because of earthquakes, fires and the reigning kings choices. During the 17th century, Baroque and Rocco styles were introduced.

The city of Lisbon is peppered with history, ancient monuments, churches and cathedrals and we moved on to see the Castle of Saint George. The castle was located on the highest hill. The fortifications of this castle goes back to 2nd century BC. This castle helped in preventing Moorish incursions towards the end of the 12th century. The castle had a pale gold color to itself and quite a charming place. The castle overlooked the blue waters and the red tiled roofs of the city could be seen for miles. The canons merged well with the nature. There were dancing peacocks and peahens and flowers in bloom. We could hear church bells and along the path there were musicians playing different musical instruments in a melody.

We walked back the winding roads through trinket shops and houses with colorful tiles on the walls. Along way there was this 11th century dark imposing cathedral. The bricks were now exposed to nature and the place looked crumbling. The interiors were also dark with dark paintings covering the walls.

We walked back towards the city center, where in the open grounds a startling exhibition titled "Earth from Above" was on display. It was a series of large images clicked across the globe. So you had the Arctic circle, the abattoir in Delhi, color dying in Rajasthan, and interiors of Africa and so on. What was also interesting was the entire series was reproduced in braille and the map of the world was also featured on the ground. We could walk across the globe and see places and read little notes about them. As a ark of respect no footwear was allowed on that map.

Next to the exhibition was a market on two parallel row of buildings. From high end fashion stores to bargain shops all jostled for space there. The corridor between the two buildings was lined with eateries. G and I sat down for a hot pizza and washed it down with a cool beer.

After some window shopping we took the metro back towards our hostel, as we were in no mood to walk back. We got of at the wrong station and circled our hostel twice but could not locate it. Thankfully a couple passing by guided us to our hostel.

I gingerly stepped into the washroom, when the curtain rod fell on me and the sink overflowed. Thankfully no one came charging at me this time.

As we prepared to sleep, we realized the catch of the place. The city traffic went below our room for twenty four hours non stop.

Chunnel, TGV and swindled in Paris

Sunday, 5th September

After the panic of last night, because of no train connectivity between Catsford and Waterloo station early morning, sleep was uneasy.

We woke up with a start in the morning, the alarm has somehow failed us and it 445 am. We had 15 minutes to get ready and rush to bus stop with our 15 kilo each backpacks. How were we ever going to make it? and one more day in London would surely kill us.

We managed our clothes, thankfully we had packed our rucksacks last night. Hurriedly saying goodbye to Dominic we ran down the flight of stairs and continued running till be reached the bus stop. We had skipped brushing my teeth too.

It was still gray and a nice wind blew. We stopped at the bus stop to catch our breath. An early morning goer was already there and he mentioned our bus had already left but not to worry another one should follow soon. And thankfully in a few minutes the bus did arrive and with happy faces we proceeded towards Waterloo.

The streets were deserted, the sky was now breaking into hues of color and the houses looked so pretty. Even the odd graffiti on walls had a surreal charm about it.

There was madness at the station. From no where did it look that it was so early in the day. There were people everywhere, rushing, even on a Sunday.

Anyways we boarded the Chunnel for our destination Paris.

We crossed the city, farmlands at quite a pace. And all hopes of  being underwater and to see sharks and whales below the ocean floor from our train window was destroyed. Because dreams are just dreams and hope against hope the train entered a dark long concrete tunnel in the belly of the ocean with a rumbling noise. I think the ferry ride across would have been more exciting.

Anyways we ate our mayonnaise, and ham sandwiches and slept on our chairs. When we woke up we were on the other side of the ocean passing through picturesque villages on the Paris countryside.  It was a 2hr 15 minute journey (precise!) and we had gained an hour when we reached Paris.

On our way we were in two minds about our onward journey. Either we stayed in Paris and then went further down to Lisbon and then went towards Switzerland or finish Lisbon first and then move to Paris and Switzerland. G was super cool with the planning and finally the later plan sounded perfect.

We were at Gare Montparnasse and were absorbing the flavor of Paris. We walked the floor and went towards the larger than life windows which overlooked the streets. The first impression of Paris was delicate, colorful, lively, cheerful and all other synonyms. It was hard not to love Paris.

With our luggage we went to the ticket counter for tickets to Lisbon. The strange fellow at the counter with samrt glasses with a series of hand and face movements in the most helpful manner told us that we had to take the TGV to Hendaye. for which there is no charge (becuase of our Eurail pass) and from there we had to take the overnite train to Lisbon and it is only better if we took the Coupe to sleep, because the journey was long and seats would be uncomfortable.

TGV the fastest train and G had scared me enough by telling me stories about how the train splits in two and one goes in one direction and the other in another. So we clung on to our seats, gingerly walked to the wash room and scared to go to the pantry car, lest we split in two directions.

We finally reached Hendaye, at 10 pm, without the TGV being split in two at took our waiting train to Lisbon.

The fools that we were we were swindled of our 40 euros on that looser coupe. I wish I could lay my hands on that fellow at the ticket counter. And what hurt more was that seats looked more comfortable and were quite cheaper too.

There is something about London

Saturday, 4th September, some year

After planning to run away from London on day 1 itself, it was a miracle that today was the 4th day of our stay in London. There was something about London, you don't like it, but yet a certain familiarity of the place, people draws you. The shared history, architecture, so many Asians, the food, the crowded places, the ease, the tension, and so on makes you wonder. Maybe that is why most Indians like London than any other place.

We wanted to leave UK and move on with our trip and today seemed to be our last day here. The options were either to take a ferry or the Eurostar (chunnel) to Belgium or to France. Since we had already done Holland previously, we zeroed in on France.

For today we had plans to go to Tower of London, Tate Modern and an evening at South hall. Pretty packed it seemed, but as luck would have it, we would eventually cram a bit more

Dominic wanted his room to be painted and wanted our help. We emptied his room of chairs, desk and the bed. Then Dominic and I cleaned and painted his room in a nice brown color. G darted between the kitchen making tea and the room helping us with colors, holding the ladder and a coat of paint too. It sure was a new experience and definitely fun. While the paint dried, G and I got ready to leave and Dominic promised us to meet later at the Paddington station, from where he would also take a trip to South hall.

We walked towards the train station and crossed the same set of shops. One shop which was always closed, was today open. It was an equivalent of a One dollar store. G bought a pair of trousers with chinese/japanese/korean inscriptions and I picked up a hardcover book of short stories. After which our first stop was at Waterloo Station. We finally made our reservations on the Eurostar. The one way fare was really expensive and we were contemplating taking the ferry. It would save us money but loose out on time. We were wondering when the lady at the counter mentioned that since we had bought our Eurail pass, we are eligible for a discount and what a sizeable discount it was. We were happy and we booked ourselves out of London on the 1st train next day.

We then proceeded to Tower of London. We took the train from Waterloo, and after about 10 minutes or so reached the London Bridge. The day was really nice, windy, pleasant and sunshine smiled on our shoulders!. We hung around the Tower were history was written, prisoners tortured, the crown jewels kept the ravens and the beefeaters who guarded the place.

We gazed idly at the Thames and the London Bridge. As we walked towards the station, we crossed an interesting eatery right next to the Tower, called Hung, Drawn and Quartered (well that's how the prisoners were treated during their time).

We reached Paddington and combed through the huge station for the platform from which the train to South hall would leave. We passed through sushi stalls, book stalls, trinket sellers to reach the platform. We could not find Dominic anywhere, it seemed he would join us directly there. The platform was lined with North Indians mostly and a few locals. The train came in a few moments and we boarded. On route G went partially blind because the contacts fell. We looked carefully in the eye and in the clothes and I finally discovered the lens, resting peacefully in the fold of clothes.

As we reached the station, we knew that we had reached the biggest Asiatic settlement outside India. There was beetle nut stains on the walls. The staircase leading up to the street was dirty and strewn with junk. There was a Gurdwara near the station and few meters away were rows of shops with goods displayed like in Indian markets. Even the mannequins hanging from hangars were like back home. The fruits were being sold openly on pavements. Everyone spoke in Hindi, and the elder gentry spoke about good times years ago in loud tones. The sounds were all so familiar and that we were in London, surprised us. We met Dominic and walked past shops selling pirated Hindi movies, and the smells from the kitchens wafted around us. We finally chose a nice restaurant and ordered Dosa, Keema mutton, Naan, and Chole Bhature.

We finished of the meal with hot jalebis from a road side vendor and a paan, which was also being old from a roadside shop, just like home. Post our happy lunch we went to Trafalgar Square and parted ways with Dominic. He had some other work to attend.

We loitered around The Globe (the shows of Lion King and all were all sold), walked past Royal Albert Hall and kept loitering till we found ourselves in the famous Soho district. This once upon a time sex street has now become an upmarket place with restaurants and fashion shops, but still the remnants of earlier days remain. We had read in Lonely Planet guide (Europe in a shoestring) how you would find Pounds on the roads of Soho and if you picked it up you will be mugged and all your belongings will go. Well true to those horrible stories we did find a few pounds lying idly on the cobbled streets. We didn't dare pick up any.

Of the last pounds remaining we shopped for cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, bread, ham and other essentials that we would require for our onward journey. With our loot we proceeded back home to pack our rucksacks and prepare for the next day.

When we told Dominic that we would leave early tomorrow for our Eurostar, he surprised us by saying that the local trains did not leave that early and we would have to catch the only bus at 5 am to reach Waterloo on time.

Now that was a super task to do!!! Off to sleep .

There is certainly something about London.

Cambridge and the circus at Piccadilly

Friday, 3th September, some year

We woke up early.. err if 8 am is early that is. The past few days have been lazy. Not doing much yet the days went by a blur. Today was a bright day. No signs of the famous gray weather and yet we packed our plastic pants.

We had decided to go to Cambridge today and meet a friend of G later in the evening. While we sipped tea and stared at the neighborhood outside the window, we also got to check our emails. Dominic was kind to create an access for us on his computer. After about a fortnight of us travelling, today was when we got to check our emails properly and communicate with the world of our well being. There was an apology note from my sister in London. She wanted us to go to her place right away and stay for as long as we wished. But then we were beyond that and I wrote her a polite email refusing her offer.

We had another round of tea and then I switched on the oven to heat up some precooked snacks that we were carrying. Mindlessly I opened the oven door, and put my hand in to pick up the stuff only to leave behind a large piece of my skin in the oven grill. Yelping I put my hand under the cold water tap and I saw the place becoming a deep red and then a boil starting to form , size of my hand itself. Gawd.

With all this and more, we finally left the apartment for Victoria Bus terminus, from where we would change buses to go to Cambridge.  Which was about an hour away.

We reached late at Cambridge around two only because we started late and quickly had another round of fried chicken and potato wedges that we had bought from the same shop as yesterdays.

It was a different world. The air smelt different too.. of youth, of knowledge of fun, of love and another time, if you know what I mean. We passed through years old book shops, greens, market places, open areas. There was a map of Cambridge in braille. Cyclists went by whistling. The river Cam flowed quietly and the boats swayed idly on the river, waiting for tourists and love birds. It was after all a Friday evening. Pubs and restaurants hung together with ancient chapels.

We went past the Trinity college, marveling at the well manicured lawns, Christ college (G's mother was a pass out from a college of same name from India, and how G marveled at that), Darwin college, more churches and some more colleges.

We then walked towards the banks of the river Cam and parked ourselves near to a cake of cow dung (ok it exists outside India too), and a boisterous group of volleyball players. We spied on Spencer nearby and after loitering for a while and eating cheese, that we were carrying, we went to Spencer and bought a loot of sandwiches, cheese, ham, cakes, chewing sums and chocolates.

It was nearing dusk and we started our way back to London to catch up with the friend of G. We went past the winding roads, churches, shops and colleges to reach the bus stop at Cambridge. We took our bus to London and got of at the Trafalgar Square. The sea of people were still intact as we had left them on previous evenings. being a Friday, the crowd only swelled. After a volley of sms exchange we met up with the friend at Starbucks coffee and can you believe there was a tramp who walked in to the coffee house asking for spare coffee, just like back home. The friend was a banker by profession and recently shifted to London.

After a long conversation about our trip and more, we moved out of Trafalgar Square and walked towards Piccadilly Circus and circus it was. I think the entire city of London had descended here. Loud music, strobe lights, revelers, colorful hoardings, flashes of light seemed like an open air night club. We finally decided to make way for home. We took the train but had to get of a few stations earlier as the train would not stop at ours. We took a bus to our neighborhood from there. The morning buzz had died and strangers lurked behind shadows. It was midnight and this colorful part of town had changed beyond recognition. It was dark (the street lights did not function), eerie and a few shady characters moved around. We quickly made our way to the house and only stopped for breath when we reached the door mat. we tip toed our way up only to find Dominic awake and on the computer. We exchanged our days notes and it seemed he was just back home from a terrible evening himself!

We said our goodnight and while G took the couch, the floor was my bed.

An evening by the Thames

Thursday, 2nd September

We woke with the bright sun on our faces. The window let in the bright sunshine along with the noise of moving vehicles and kids on the street. It was about 9 am and Dominic was already at work. We had planned to meet him in the evening for a concert that he intended to review. He was a music professional at the local school.

We had a some tea, bread and mayonnaise  and got ready for the day ahead. We had bought plastic pants from India because everyone warned us that it "rains in sheets" in London. We stuffed that along with some wind cheaters in our day pack and moved towards the Catsford station. The neighborhood was nice. We crossed the post office, one pound store and few shops. An Asian was selling chicken fries which we packed for the day, along with fried potato wedges and Coke was free.

The train was quite empty and we reached Trafalgar Square and the sea of people in some time. There was the National gallery where they housed art by Leonardo da Vinci and many others. Next to the National museum was an exhibition on Early woman travelers to Europe. It was interesting to see so many women , especially from conservative societies taking the leap and coming to Europe. There were few portraits of famous Indian ladies too. Another section had a 90 minute video of David Beckham displayed as art. The video was shot when Beckham was sleeping and the camera zoomed on his face from an angle. So one could see his face up close, his facial muscles, twisting, turning .. an extremely personal and private moment was displayed for the world to see.

With so much of art, we were tired and walked towards the James park. We had our lunch of fried chicken and potato wedges and had fun seeing people and kids playing with pigeons and generally strolled around. Dominic messaged to meet him at the Charring Cross station and we proceeded accordingly. When we reached, he was already there and we almost did not recognize him, as he was in a corduroy suit and we were looking for a casually dressed person in the crowd.

We walked towards Covenant garden and went to Judy and Punch for a round of some bitter pint. The place was buzzing with activity and from the terrace we could see street performers doing their thing. It was interesting.

After another round of pints, we moved towards Greenwich village, home to the 0° longitude, Greenwich mean time and the Meridian line. This place was situated on the Thames river. It was dusk when we reached there and were able to see a row of boats and the magnificent Cutty Sark docked there since 1954. (It was the fastest sailing ship in her times and was launched in 1869).

We made way to a pub named Trafalgar on the banks of the Thames and rounds of lager with potatoes followed. The moon was bright in the starless sky, and the Thames made gentle sound of sensuous splashing against the wall of the pub. A boat with revelers passed. Loud clapping and music, laughter could be heard and seen from the giant windows, from where we were seated.

It was quite late when we walked to the bus station and boarded the bus home.

Like a nice holiday, today was a very nice, relaxing, unhurried day.

While G took the floor tonight, I made myself comfortable on the couch.

Cold London in a Day and then some warmth

Wednesday 1st, September

Somewhere around one am I woke up, uncomfortable. You know the kinds when you wake up, you are perspiring, and realize that the vehicle you are in is not moving. Yes that was it. The bus wasn't actually moving and a few passengers were making grumbling noises and the rest were sleeping peacefully (now even more so because I had woken up, and as G claimed the passengers couldn't sleep because a certain someone was snoring, ahem ahem). G was staring out of the window in the darkness and most innocently asked, where are we? Its one thing to ask a question like that in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land and specially when someone has just woken up. But yours truly without missing a beat replied, there is a board out there which says har-ki-pauri 2kms (now har-ki-pauri is a famous, religious destination to the north of Delhi, India). Hearing this G and I broke into uncontrollable hysteric laughter. From spurts, to suppressed giggles to throaty laughter. The sleeping passengers were now awake and looked at us weirdly.

Thankgod before we were beaten up, the bus driver announced that our bus had broken down and we would have to shift to another bus, which should be coming by shortly. We cracked few more jokes, remembered a few more incidents and wondered loud that by end of our trip we would be so tired and bored with travelling that we would lock ourselves in cupboard and refuse to go anywhere.

It was dawn when we reached London, we passed through Baker Street and reached the Bus terminus. We freshened up at the terminus only and were now wondering about our place of stay. We had many options, but staying at a Bed and Breakfast wasn't amongst them. We wished we should have kept that as an option too. The friend at Cambridge, who had promised us his place to stay refused to pick up his phone. Next was my cousin in Wimbledon. The husband avoided us like plague and pretended totally oblivious of our coming and staying. Next was Dominic, who I was interacting with over (a network of people across the globe, who host people in their homes), I sent him a few messages and left a voice mail, but no response yet.

London turned out to be cold city and not because of the weather. We were so disheartened and more so by seeing so many people and mostly Indians from Ramandeep Kaur at the Royal shope to the Gujaratis crowd carrying their little jholas of salted munchies, to Sardarjis and Punjabis and a few Bengalis. It seemed India had descended over London so much that the locals looked foreign and in minority. We wanted to run away the same day to Paris and made our inquiries about the Chunnel and the ferries etc, in case we really skipped London.

We messaged Ann of our safety in London and then proceeded to explore the city, not before renting two lockers for our backpacks at the Bus terminus. We really had no other place to go yet. We picked up Lamb Samosas and donuts before stepping out to see the city.

The sky was blue and the weather brilliant, no signs of the famous gray weather yet. Our first stop was at the centuries old St. Paul's cathedral. Situated in the financial district of Ludgate Hill. We spent over an hour exploring this 17th century church. We marveled at the intricate work of the three chapel, which have been witness to some important events over the years. from the funeral of Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  We wished to go down to the crypt, but the entry was locked.

We stepped out of the cathedral and off went a flock of pigeons fluttering in the vast blue sky.

We moved around the place at a leisurely pace and asking for directions we reached the Buckingham Palace. The crowd outside the Palace really scared us off and we walked into the quieter museum adjacent to the Palace. After which we just sat at the fountain for a while observing the camera crazy, picture clicking tourists. We strolled across 58 acre St. James park, crossing flocks of colorful birds, flowers, different flora, picnickers and people walking to work. We went past the Westminster Abbey and the London Eye (the Giant Giant wheel) on Thames greeted us at a distance. We walked past the bridge on Thames and right next to the London Eye was the London Tate displaying works of Salvador Dali. Excitedly we bought our tickets and went in. The pieces on display were the melting clock, transposing of the elephant and duck, paintings, sketches, Mae West sofa, statues with drawers built in (some partially opened, some closed), symbolic of people whose life is open or has secrets. Very interesting indeed. As we were exiting, we realised there was another gate open, screaming at us to enter. We entered gingerly and realised it was the exit gate of for the show of Picasso works. We were happy at this discovery and went through the the entire show without buying any extra ticket. The show needless to say, was an worthwhile discovery of Picasso's style of work and history.

Out in the afternoon sun, we crossed tourists, people and more people and few street artists, dressed up as Mummies, Charlie Chaplin, Statue of Liberty, Sphinx, and street musicians playing some nice music to the crowds. We crossed the London Bridge and reached the heart of the city. At a local cafe (our mistake, because of the overpriced simple food, available) we polished of toasted Panini and coke. It was about 5 when we walked to the Trafalgar square, were more lazy people greeted us.

We also joined in that huge sea of people and started wondering about our next course of action. It was approaching dusk and we did not have a room to stay yet and we were still in two minds of whether to run away to Paris, considering we had seen most of London by foot in one day!!!

As we sat debating, one thing was sure, we had to go back to the Victoria Bus Terminus to fetch our rucksacks and proceed wherever. As luck would have it, Dominic replied to one of my mobile messages. I called him up and he in his most enthusiastic tone started giving the directions to his place. He apologized because he had just returned from Poland in the morning and was tied up. Here was this man, in an unknown land offering to give us roof for our stay. Amazing.

We walked back to the Bus station to collect our luggage and then took the underground to Charring Cross and then hopped on to the metro for Catsford Town, thats where Dominic was staying. It was quite late when we reached Catsford and I messaged Dominic of our arrival. In about 10 minutes a pleasant looking Dominic appeared to escort us to his house on Sangley road. Well London wasn't that cold  after all.

We exchanged information, our experiences etc during our travels and he shared his. He had already visited India long ago and knew a bit about the country. We spoke at length and then gave us his sitting room to make ourselves comfortable. While G took the couch to sleep, I slept on the floor, promising to alter the sleeping arrangements next night, if we do not run away to Paris.

Kippers, bath bombs and mango chutney

Tuesday, 31st

Today was going to be a long day and quite a packed schedule. After days of laziness and excitement we needed to get our rucksacks in order. For like I mentioned earlier, today evening we were boarding our bus to London. The fair was now over and Ann was home. G had to do a batch of melt and pour soaps, also we had to prepare an Indian meal of  chicken curry and rice for David and Ann.

Sometime during our various conversations, I had mentioned about Kippers as breakfast (I had read somewhere). And Lo!! the magician David had the most delicious kippers (a pair of herrings split from tail to head, gutted, salted and smoked) simply sauteed in butter. My mouth waters even now when I think of that breakfast.

For the chicken curry I wanted turmeric, whole spices, coriander and G wanted some mangoes if available to make a ginger mango chutney.  Ann and David went shopping and came back with a particularly tangy mango which was so unlike that we have in India. It was raw, fleshy and a pale yellow red in color. We were told it was an African variety. In the meantime we packed most of our stuff and G picked up some fresh tomatoes and mint from the garden.

While the chicken was marinating in yogurt and spices, I started prepraring the curry sauce and G was making soaps. The melt and pour soaps are quite easy to make compared to what we did the other day. The soap mixture was measured and heated at the right temperature. And after that they were set in molds, in shape of stars and dolphins. That's it, in a few hours the soaps are ready to use.

We were to begin making bath bombs. But before that we broke for a light snack and put the rice on stove. Now coming back to bath bombs, these fizzy soaps seemed like a wonderful creation and it was really fun to make. We put together one part citric acid, two parts baking soda, fragrance oil and color, and really mixed well (that is the key) once done we added spritz with one hand and mixed the ingredients with the other. This has to be done timely, otherwise either it becomes to fizz or it starts setting in. Once done, we put the mixture in dome shaped molds and pressed the molds together like a ball.  After about three four minutes we tapped the molds outward and the bath bomb were ready. This was brilliant.

We cleaned up the kitchen, while Ann went to pick up David from work. We set out the tables in the conservatory. The chicken and rice was ready. G had made the yummy ginger mint mango chutney (reminded me of home). On the way back from, David and Ann had picked up some naan (bread) from Tesco. We sat down for a late lunch or an early dinner of rice, chicken curry, chutney, and Indian bread.

This place that was home for a week, we were very sad to leave. Suddenly it did not seem exciting to leave for London or any other place for that matter, I think we just wanted to curl up there and hold ground.

Some warm hugs followed and we posed for family pictures. Ann packed us few cakes of soaps we made and then David dropped us to the Bus Station. Our bus looked comfortable, and not very full. The journey was an overnight one, and we would reach London only around six in the morning. G took the window seat with the sickness bag in place. While I yawned and tried to fall asleep in those uncomfortable chairs.

Fun at the Fringe

Monday, 30th

Today was going to be a long and exciting day. Today we were going to Edinburgh and incidentally the Fringe was also on. Fringe is the worlds biggest arts festival held since 1947. It takes place during 3 weeks in august, every year. The events range from performing arts, drama, music, dance etc. The thought of witnessing live performances spread across the nook and corners of the city seemed something magical.

After a simple breakfast of toast and tea, David dropped us to the bus stop at Angus and offered us to pick up, late at night much against our protests that we will manage on our own, the way home.

As G and I waited for the bus, we stuffed our day packs with wafers for the journey. The bus was quite full and we started for our destination. The two hours to reach Edinburgh, we crossed the new bridge over the river Tay. The earlier bridge was blown away, with a train on route, sometime in the 16th century. The not so little stumps from the broken bridge still protrude from the river. It looks desolate and eerie.

The weather was awesome. Nice warm sunshine with gentle breeze greeted us at Edinburgh. As G had already suspected, the place was bursting at its seams with people. From the information booths to the city center, there were people and more people in colorful dresses. We managed to find out some information about the city from the information booth and started on our walk towards the Edinburgh castle. Most crowd we realised were moving towards the castle. This castle rises about 300 feet above the city and is build on volcanic rock as its base. As we climbed the stairs and the top of the castle, a panoramic view of the city greeted us. We were also witness to an event which has been in practice since 1684. At exactly 1 o clock a canon goes of. The idea then was to sound of ships in the distance, if they lost their way in fog. The practice has continued ever since.

In the courtyard of the castle, there was a museum, which housed the crowns, sceptre and the swords. As we were observing the display, suddenly a gentleman dressed up as Sir Walter Scott appeared amongst the crowd and started giving a small introduction about himself and the life during the times he grew up in. This was the most charming thing that I had witnessed and we wondered how exciting it would be if a history would come alive at Taj Mahal, or the Red Fort back home. A person dressed up as Jahangir giving a small interactive talk.

Happy with the thrills, we walked out of the castle and into the streets lined with jugglers, revelers, comedians, artists, musicians, people dressed up giant cigarettes and condoms (creating awareness about AIDS and ill effects of smoking). wow it was a one big festival!!! There was this magician who tied himself up with a lock and key, planning to escape. We stopped to see the fun, but then we dragged our feet ahead as so much fun awaited us. Suddenly  a group of casually dressed people (who we assumed were tourists), just spread out and started a theater on the streets, right there. Amazing. As we crossed the street, we realised a group of percussionists were using everyday objects and making melodies. A tall guy was using a pair of sticks on the lamp post, another fellow was on the bonnet of the car, ha ha there was on the waste bin.

So hooked we were, and there was so much to do, we started behaving like little school children and seriously thought of staying back for the night. The next thing we wanted to do was the witch tour. Which was a rip off, but I think it would have been fun if there were a few more people in the tour. No wonder they all stayed away.

The girl from Australia, was studying in the local university and had taken up this job of a guide for the witch tour. She tried her best to make the right sounds and spook us but then.. The whiskey at the end of the tour did help a bit. She claimed that Edinburgh had  the concept of multistory buildings long long ago. The rich stayed at the lower floor and the poor went up the stairs. These buildings made of wood and other materials, used to sway when came a storm. And when the city fell and was seized by plague, the rich made way out of the city through a network of underground tunnels, after which the poor hid themselves in this tunnels. Because of lack of space, people started piling on top of each other and eventually death became their friend. We were in one such dark, damp room below the ground when she was telling us the stories. It was eerie, ok! She claimed of ghosts of cobblers and little girls and shadows of cats, but nothing we saw. She also led us to a place where we could hear the water but couldn't see because it was so dark like a moonless night. She spoke of Wicca and rituals. It was broad daylight and warm outside but the belly were we were was charcoal black. The whiskey did help, like I mentioned.

All this had made us hungry, and we walked towards the city center. We crossed didgeridoo players, and a another group of five. Three men on bagpipes playing the most awesome music and two girls in gypsy dresses dancing and playing with a set of lovely instruments, names of which I don't know.  We had a nice hot lunch of jacket potatoes, egg and mayo sandwich and a bacon roll.

We strolled towards the observatory, where stood a half built Greek Pantheon kind of structure on Calton hill. After Napoleons defeat in waterloo, this structure took shape in 1816. But the funds quickly dried up and the monument which was supposed to house the parliament was left unfinished. This now is dubbed as "shame of Edinburgh"

It was quiet at the top of hill and it was so unbelievable that the festivities that we were part of was only a few minutes away. Quiet that you could hear the sound of silence. The slopes were covered with soft green grass, we sat there for a while, climbed up the structure, dangled our feet and just stared at the wide blue skies and wondered.  There was also the original clock tower in the vicinity. The one that was used before the canon. We brushed our backs and walked down. While G took the steps, I ran down the hill and letting the view of the city from the hill, go past in a blur. After the run I sat for a while to catch up on my breath. Old bones.

We walked past the parliament, Jacobs ladder (a series of steps to the top of the Calton hill) and the graveyard and reached the city center. The bagpipes were still playing, and now the fire eaters and jugglers took their positions against the setting dusk.

G was feeling sick, (we blamed the food) and took the bus to Perth. We messgaed David of our departure and scheduled arrival at Angus. We were 5 minutes earlier than the scheduled time and David had not arrived yet. Punctuality rules, and in 5 minutes David came with a worried look because of G's condition.

We drove back in silence and in anticipation because the next day we were to leave for London in the evening. We drove through deserted roads and under a brilliantly star lit sky. David and We exchanged information about the festival and Edinburgh.

Ann was waiting for us, worried. G was feeling slightly better, but after taking medicines, we quickly went to sleep.

soap makers and a cat

Sunday, 29th

Yawwwwwwwwwwwn. We woke up lazy and late by our and definitely later than the hosts standards. While G made a bee line to the washroom, I went downstairs to an empty house. Literally, no signs of the dogs, the cat (did I mention earlier, about the cat) or David and Ann must have been busy selling soaps at the fair. Well this country was quite funny, like Alvira (the lady selling jewelery) mentioned. She was mentioning if you carry a baby and a dog together with you. People are bound to comment, what a lovely dog, totally ignoring the baby or return to the baby later. ha ha.

We figured David must be walking the dogs, so we decided to have our breakfast of juice, toast, eggs and tea. In between our lazy breakfast David came back and left for his workplace, promising to return quickly after finishing his work.

David came back in an hour while we loitered around the house and streets and smiling vaguely at people. I was quite excited that we would be making soaps today and I am sure the eagerness/happiness was written in large bold letters. G and I also suspect David were grinning on my childish behaviour. Well it was my first experience and they were quite pro. So you can imagine.

So finally we started getting all the ingredients together (we were making lavender and frankincense soaps) on the worktable @ kitchen. Coconut oil, Shea butter, Olive oil, Palm oil, lavender and frankincense incense, anola seeds (for coloring) and pure distilled water.

After wearing aprons and rubber gloves, we put out exact (and I mean exact) quantities after weighing in scales together in a saucepan and on the stove for it to melt. In the meantime we also measured the olive oil required (very generous amount, for a smooth texture), and put the anola seeds in boiling water.

Once the oils were cooled to the correct temperature, we added the olive oil, the color and the incence together and mixed vigorously in smooth strokes so everything mixed in properly. Once satisfied with the outcome, David brought in wooden trays (made by him) in which he poured the soap mixture. Then we went in the shed where he had a specially created wooden insulated box (again created by him), he put the wooden trays to cool down. And this ladies and gentleman was the first batch of soaps created by yours truly.

G made an excellent batch of cinnamon and cedar wood (I think I have a piece of it somewhere still) in a similar fashion. I will write to Ann and David for the exact recipes and post it here soon.

We took a break from all the fragrance and the activities and decided to have lunch. As we sipped beer and had the fish casserole we discussed Indian politics and Hindu mythology.

Post our lunch break we resumed to making six batches of lemongrass soaps.

Ann took a ride from another participant home. We left David and Ann to catch up on the day. While G and I cleaned the kitchen dry, and set the tables for dinner at 7pm, David magically produced the dinner. It seems while he was instructing us on methods of soap making, he had fixed the dinner. Simply amazing couple.

David had made excellent roast potatoes and a meat stew which we polished off with beer. The moon was shining bright and we set some candles to set the mood.

We exchanged more notes on lifestyles, cultures (how children stay with their parents even after marriage!!, was quite a shock for them) food habits, their daughters wedding in Istanbul and a lovely grandson named Ozaan (wandering poet).

The next day we were travelling to Edinburgh. The fringe festival was on, and we thought ourselves lucky to be there.

We proceeded upstairs to sleep. As we opened the door to our room, we both jumped half a meter high and screamed. There was a pair of green eyes shining in the moonlight. We realised it was the cat curled up on my bed. Finally after G and I shoving each other and shooing the cat from the room after great difficulty we locked the room and slept, excited about the next day.

A birthday, soap sellers and a fair

Saturday, 28th

Yawn. Waking up at 4 am is really what I don't look forward to. But today was an exciting day. It was Davids birthday and also we were all going to the Blair castle grounds for the fair.

After a quick shower and a quick toast and a quick tea later we all piled on to the car. Ann and David in front and G, me and skip the dog in between us at the back. No sooner did the car start and the scenery started rolling by, your truly fell asleep. I woke with a certain wetness on my neck and a strong smell under my nose. Well yes it was skip licking me and his breath under my nose. Thankfully the car stopped and I jumped out of the car for fresh air, before I got sick. It was still a while to the fair grounds. The sun was up and the rays bounced of the river Tay. The looming mountain and the greenery was delightfully inviting, I wished that I remained there while the others carried on their journey.

The castle has its history from the 13th century. I believe the castle is set in the finest surroundings in Scotland in Highland Perthshire.

The grounds were already filling in with visitors and artistes. We went inside the stalls and set up our merchandise on display and then stepped out in the warm sun to experience the horse fair. And such a fine experience it was.

There were these decked up horses and ponies which did a funny dance with their hooves going klop klop. Gymnasts in their finery, displayed such fine acts while riding the horses. Chariots of fire, literally (horses jumping from rings of fire). There was a man who displayed an amazing talent with a falcon, an owl and an american eagle. And all this was compered by a woman with a horsey voice.

Taking a break from the performances we went in search for food. G discovered the amazing beavers tail, not literally. It is a cracked wheat bread topped with onion and gralic cheese and a simple yet lip smacking beef steak pasty. It was so good that in greed we had two.

When we returned to the show, a lady in Victorian dress and a young girl in a similar dress were riding horses, delicately but with a powerful rhythm. The noise of the compere was drowned with a sound from the sky. Air acrobatics were being performed by a jet plane. Ann participated with Skip in the dog show and came second. In between all this David found a van selling "Haggis pakodas". Though we did not try that, but we managed to buy some honeycomb and coconut sweets (reminded us of a forgotten flavour from our childhood)

G decided to give Ann and David a break and offered to take care of the stall. Alvira, the lady selling jewellery also entrusted her stall to G to manage. Well it certainly was fun. While I cut and wrapped the soaps of desired quantitites from the bar, G managed the cash. The visitors definitely looked startled to see two brown skinned youngsters selling soap and jewellery and that helped us pull in the crowds and sell quickly

Inbetween people from Bowmore came with trays carrying sample of their whisky, the oldest distillery in Islay. The whiky was of the smoked variety, the process in which water is run over peats of coal. This distinct taste definitely excited my taste buds.

Though the crowds were still flocking the stall, it was around 6 that we decided to call it a day, as a dinner table was booked at the Loghouse at 730pm to celebrate David's birthday.

We reached home and changed our attire. Ann looked pretty in her trouser and cardigan, while David with his hair combed and shaved, looked someone different. We left the house, called the restaurant to inform we are getting late. We drove through winding roads along the farms, where bales of straw lay carelessly. A few people to be seen, some fireflies against the dusk, and moths clammering around the street lamps.

The restaurant glittered with people, music and happiness. We ordered a locale ale and decided to have the famous Angus beef steak. The steak was nice, juicy and was accompanied with a thick dark sticky sweet sour sauce. I finished mine and switched plates with G. While G lingered on the empty plate I polished off half of the steak from G's plate too. G carried a nice watch from India for David's birthday and presented it to him, to his surprise in the restaurant. We finished our dinner with a cup of nice strong coffee.

We drove back home, happy and in silence under the stars and moonlit sky.

The next day was kind of relaxed for us. We were to be home learning the nuances of soap making, with David as our teacher. We helped Ann pack more soaps for the fair, considering the success today and yesterdays.

As we went to bed, the moon was smiling at us from the window.

doing nothing and a haunted castle

Friday, 27th

The rays of the sun seeped in through the windows and gently warmed the room. The dull pink flowers set against green wallpapered walls were smiling at us.

We woke up refreshed at about 9 am. The window looked out in this massive green garden. In the corner of the garden was a little pond and a fountain. The sky was draped in deep blue with a sprinkling of fluffy clouds. Perfect.

As we gingerly climbed down the stairs, an aroma of fresh toast filled the air, and my hungry stomach grumbled. David was in the kitchen preparing the breakfast. A lavish spread of toast, juice, tea and various kinds of spreads (margarine, butter, ginger marmalade, raspberry produce and home made honey) awaited us. Over breakfast we warmed up to each other and started planning our days ahead. David was very helpful in preparing the itinerary. We planned for a trip to Glamys castle in the afternoon but before that we had to walk the lovely dogs puppy and skip (a mountain dog).

The house that we were staying in was about 150 year old made of stone. The story was that workers used to be crammed in these accommodations and apparently many died because of illness and hunger. It is also said that the houses here are haunted. The small neighborhood was neatly arranged and quite bright. We walked to the woods adjoining the neighborhood. The woods was an artists palette with different shades of green. Huge trees, little stumps, wet with dew, patches of mud and general greenery around. The dogs seemed to enjoy very much playing ball. For about an hour we walked in that honey sweet fresh air discussing politics, weather, soaps, employment, history of India, Scots and England.

We came back and quickly changed for our day out.

We hopped in the neat little Volkswagen once again and headed towards Davids office. It was a tidy little place from where he also sold the soaps that Ann made. We checked our emails. Made bookings for Edinburgh and London. We also spoke to fellow, recommended by my friend Manish with who we could possibly stay in London. He sounded pretty enthusiastic to host us, its a different matter that he did not pick our phone calls when we landed in London.

We changed few Euros to Sterling pounds from the Bank of Scotland (David pointed us that the Bank of Scotland and Bank of England issue their own notes, though they are of the same value). Opposite the place was a magnificent statue of Peter pan.

Next to David's office was the workshop of a distinguished craftsman Bruce Walker. He made exquisite glass etchings, carvings of birds, delicate figurines and scenery in glass bowls, tumblers, plates on just about everything. In fact right opposite his workshop in the courtyard was a huge rock sculpture of the earth, carved by him from a boulder. This stunning work of art revolved on a platform, carved from rock again. There was a little fountain which spurted water right from the center of the earth. This fountain was an addition later and the water source is linked from an 100 year old well, which in turn was discovered quite accidentally while paving the road.

Our next stop was in Forfar to pick up our tickets. We rode past houses with thatched roofs, wide clean streets, a jute mill (where the jute from India was processed during the East India Company days), vast farmlands with honey gold colored straw cut and neatly rolled in bales and strewn across.

After collecting our tickets, we went to the Tiffin House for a cup of tea and tuna and mayo sandwiches. After that we finally moved towards Glamis castle.

The stunning castle, spread across acres of greenery has been the home for the Earl of Strathmore since 1372. The castle has been home to legends, myths and history. King Malcolm II is rumored to be murdered here and there is a secret room where noblemen played cards with the devil himself. It is also said said to be the setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth.

We went excitedly through different wings, the artifacts on display, the haunted chapel and at the end of the tour we went through another exhibition which hosted memorabilia from an era gone by. Dresses, postcards signed by the Queen as 'Lilibet'

David took us through it all like a seasoned guide and we followed him through every corner, hanging on to his words.

We reached back home and made ourselves some tea. David left us to enjoy the surroundings and he went to get Ann from the fair.

With Ann, came the news of the fair and the days happenings. As we sipped some beer magically David produced an awesome dinner of fish (haddock and salmon), vegetables and potato casserole. We had a more relaxed and varied conversation about India, the religion, mysticism, caste system etc.

Ann had an incredible day at the fair. She sold most of her stock and had to replenish her stocks. G and I helped her pack. We assembled the translucent colorful soaps in shapes of stars and sea horses on clean cellophane sheet and passed them through the machine to cut and seal it in neat squares. Next we used a blow dryer to shrink wrap them. We then pricked them to release any trapped air. By the time we finished, we were all visibly tired and finally called it a day.

The next day G and I were to accompany them to the fair at the Blair castle grounds. Interesting.

Bergen, rains and a family in Scotland

Thursday, 26th

Early morning after a light breakfast of muffins (from flam) and hot coffee, we walked across to the information booth across the street to figure out the information on bus timings to the airport.

We were flying to Aberdeen (Scotland) in the afternoon.

Coming from practically deserted places like Copenhagen, Oslo, Flam, Voss and suddenly encountering masses of people at Bergen, came as a total surprise. Bergen was just like another large city, identifiable with all the charms, like malls, retail chain stores, night clubs, crowded streets and market places.

It was windy and we walked through the rain swept streets, passing by the fish market which was stirring to life, the post office (from where we bought postcards for home) and finally the mall. We were practically running, hoping that our act of doing things faster would eventually help us reach Aberdeen earlier. But I think Bergen had its own plans.

We picked up noodles to cook at the hostel, from a shop at the mall. There was a very lovely hobby shop which stocked anything that one could think of. From candle and soap making stuff to doll houses, stained glass essentials, glitters, doll houses just about everything for all age groups.

We went back to the hostel, cooked and ate our noodle preparation, a little watery and a little salty to our liking. Our bags were already packed and carrying our backpacks and day packs, G and I walked towards the bus stop excitedly after checking out of the hostel. We still had some time and this time G entered another exciting shop called Ting. It was a home decor shop with some interesting stuff on display. The mud in our shoes disrupted the decor and the shoppers and staff gave us such looks that it made sense to leave them at peace, soon.

The bus ride was uneventful except for a few boisterous youngsters. One of them had his jeans slung so low that G and I feared the boy will walk and the jeans will remain back, lying in a heap. Well we reached the airport an hour early and realised that due to the weather and technical snag the flight is delayed by an hour. We had passed through the customs, so we had nothing else but to explore the duty free shops and drink coffee at the lounge and stare at all the other plane's taking off. The flight was further delayed and the weather also wasn't looking too promising (like I mentioned, Bergen had other plans). We were anxious because David had promised us to pick up from the airport. David and Ann a lovely couple, G had befriended few months back over the internet. They had a common hobby - soap making. When we were making our plans, they had offered their residence to us to put up.

The flight offered us a large chocolate muffin and more coffee and in the meantime G picked up a nice bottle of local Vodka for David, hoping he enjoyed the drink.

Finally the flight was announced and the impatient passengers that we were, quickly boarded the plane. The pilot and the staff made some serious attempts at humor but it failed on us. On board we had wine and tuna and mayo sandwich, which I greedily ate.

The flight finally landed at Aberdeen at about 9 pm in the evening. Dark clouds carrying rain, covered the sky and it looked they were bursting in their seams. The lady at the passport control was not particularly friendly at seeing two dark skinned youngsters with heavy backpacks. After she was suitably answered we were allowed to step out of this small airport in Scotland. We realised we were the last of the passengers walking out in the nearly empty waiting halls. We were upset because of the delay, questions and the inconvenience that David would have gone through (we had asked him not to wait for us, we would come by a cab) But to our surprise in a corner of the waiting hall, a pleasant looking and an anxious David waiting for us (it seemed he had just aged waiting for us, and we felt very guilty).

He offered us dinner, which we declined and made our way to the car park. After fumbling with the car keys and then the parking slip, we made ourselves comfortable in the cute little Volkswagen. It was raining heavily with practically zero visibility and we began our long drive to Forfar, a small little hamlet. David was a funny guy with a great sense of humor. Although we were comfortable with each other but throughout the journey we all were very guarded in our questions and replies. I think so because we were strangers to each other at that point in time.

It was about 12 am that we reached their home and Ann was out walking the dogs. We sat at the conservatory which was pleasantly warm. David was visibly tired and had a beer and offered me one. We exchanged notes about our backgrounds, how long we intended to stay, where all we had been and where all we wanted to go. We were carrying colorful cushions and a paisley designed beaded handbag for Ann which they were very happy to receive.

Ann was participating in the yearly horse fair, where she was selling her soaps and had to leave early the next day. It about 2 am, I think we finally went to bed. As we lay there we thought how readily they had accepted us as a part of their family and done everything possible to make us comfortable. They had prepared a very cozy room for us, with separate beds and duvet. This was luxury and home after sleeping in impersonal bunk beds in dormitories for so long. Sleep came easy.