Sunday, May 24, 2009

"...of Cabbages and Kings..."

Are you ready for a nice long post? Well, get ready. I promise it is weird, interesting and decidedly English. So grab a cup of tea, or coffee if you must, and settle in for some stories of ghosts, kings and queens, witches, cats, rats and a-maze-ing adventures.

Yes, it is time to play catch up. It has been a fairly packed trip thus far and I have not even started my school course yet. I am, as stated before, in Paris now- but I would like to share with you about my trip to England.

Really, I did love London. It is busy, alive, interesting, friendly and I felt completely at ease walking its streets on my own.

Helpful British directions...

A wander down a random street would almost always lead to an interesting discovery. I never got lost and I enjoyed myself immensely. I wondered towards the end if I would regret leaving London to visit friends in the hinterlands of the English countryside. Not to worry... England has an interesting story at every turn and I was not disappointed.

I traveled by train to Ipswich to visit my friend Sally who is a former Bangalore expat. A quick one hour trip, only slightly complicated by my bulky luggage (it is hard to pack lightly for a 5 week trip!), and I was in the hands of Sally who turned out to be a most excellent and interesting tour guide! We started out right away by driving into the center of Ipswich where Sally pointed out many amazing examples of pargeting, a traditional plastering technique common to the area. Truly amazing stuff! Do look at the link for more information on how this is done.

Free form plastering artwork!

After a wander around and a bite to eat at a local pub we decided to visit a couple of castles that were in the area. First we went to Framlingham (c. 1190 a.d.) where they had an audio tour that was decidedly humorous and Monty Python-esque, though perhaps not quite as informative as I might have wanted- but that's okay- I also bought the guidebook.

Inside the Framlington Castle walls

It is an interesting castle in that it has a house/building still standing inside (likely re-built and such), but this allows you to envision how it might look if you were living inside a castle wall. The internal area is smaller than you might think and apparently this is one of the larger ones. My first castle! We then traveled to the previously mentioned Orford castle (last post). This one was more of a "tower castle" but was fascinating for all of the nooks and cranies that you could climb through and explore.

My most excellent tour guide!

We did climb all the way to the top where there was a view of the North Sea in the distance. At the top we also encountered a stiff, chill wind that sent us scurrying back to the car in short order.

Orford Village

That evening, for dinner, we went to The Butt and Oyster, a 17th Century pub on the banks of the River Orwell. For the record, the "butt" part of the name refers to a type of barrel used to transport oysters back in the day. If you thought otherwise, well, I suspect you would not be alone. This was apparently quite a smuggler's haven in the 19th century and it is said that the proprietors would leave a lantern in the window if it was safe to unload. The pub is quite close to the water's edge and at high tide and they can and do serve pints through the windows to boats who come close. The essential thing about the place is that they serve a good meal with a nice view, both of which we did enjoy!

Pinmill view

We ended the evening with a drive around the local area and passed by the house pictured below. This is Erwarton Hall and was at one time the home to a relative of Ann Boleyn's. She is said to have spent many memorable years here in her youth as well as some of her last days as she awaited her destined end. She loved the place so much that she gave orders for her heart to be buried here upon her demise. Quite the story, huh? Well apparently they found a small casket that contained human remains- now dust- some years back. The story is that they removed it to London for investigation, but after some strange occurances in the house, it was decided that the casket should be replaced. So the heart of Ann Boleyn is at rest once more.

Erwarton Hall

An alternate history, one that was published in the New York Times of November 13th, 1881, states that her heart was buried, and discovered, at nearby St. Mary's church (c. 15th Century) in Ewarton. Either way, her heart clearly lies in the local area. A beautiful peaceful spot worthy of her affections.

The next day we were off for a visit to Bury St. Edmunds. Another fine name for a fine English town. And what is Bury St. Edmund's known for? Well, for being the home of the ruins of the St. Edmund's Abbey-

the shrine and supposed home to the buried remains of St. Edmund of course! Local people will tell you that they would prefer that St. Edmund became the patron saint of England as opposed to St. George. Primarily because St. Edmund was actually English, while St. George was either Turkish, or African, or something else, but definitely not English. There is also the fact that St. George, lovely admirable man that he may have been, never even visited England. Interesting point!

Besides the ruins of the abbey, the area is also home to a Cathedral, recently visited by The Queen, it's lovely gardens, a brewery (I could smell the brewing beer as we were walking through the town!) and the smallest pub in England, measuring 15 x 7 feet, The Nutshell.

We cracked the door to The Nutshell and entered for a bit of refreshment. We encountered a friendly informative barman who filled us in on some of the history of the pub. The most entertaining of which was about the remains on the ceiling. Confused? Look closely below...

Do you see the dangly thing behind the front ceiling light? That would be the remains of a cat. Discovered while re-doing some brick work, cats were apparently buried alive within such constructs in years past as a means of keeping away witches. We were told by the barman that it doesn't work, as he knows several who visit the pub on a regular basis. The cat also has the company of a rat (seen dangling to the far right of the cat above) that was brought in by a customer some years ago. Since that time, the cat and rat have been joined by a human leg bone, the skeletal remains of some other unidentified animal, a blown up blowfish, and various other oddments. This pub is apparently also inhabited by several ghosts, though how they fit inside is beyond me!

After our bit of refreshment/entertainment, we departed for the coast. These are some English Beach huts. Another odd piece of British tradition, they are usually owned, though sometimes leased, and offer a bit of holiday getaway for their occupants. You are not allowed to sleep in them- only use them during the day while at the seaside. Though judging from the brisk, crisp air there, I think they are on to something!

Well, seeing as how the British are such brave souls I decided to dip my feet in the water as well. Refreshing!

The next day it was time to depart from Suffolk and travel over hill and dale in a roundabout way to Cheshire. Time to visit another former Bangalore expat, Andrea.

Now Andrea and her husband David are more recently arrived from Bangalore but they willingly put me up in their home (their shipment from India was due to arrive shortly after my visit) and treated me to the lovely sights and sounds of Macclesfield.

We started out that night with a visit to the nearby Bollington Festival. It seems that Andrea is not only a dear friend, she is also a talented performer and I was able to see her in a performance of the opera, Tobias and the Angel. This tells the story from the Book of Tobit (from the Apocrypha) about Tobit's son Tobias and his experiences with the Archangel Raphael. It was quite fun, accessible, and a wonderful way to spend the evening. After this performance we also enjoyed a tango performance. The dancers were good (though young and slightly lacking in emotional depth), but the music was fantastic!

The next day was a rainy one, so we ventured across the nearby Peak District (beautiful hills and valleys filled with farms, sheep, and lovely scenery) to Chatsworth, the estate and home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Wow. What a place. I am not sure that I would be as generous as they are- to open it up to the public 364 days a year. Entry fees do help pay for the upkeep of the estate, but I might want a few more days to myself there. It is stunning. The house is amazing enough, but what I really loved were the gardens. Really, as far as the eye could see is part of their estate. The estate has also been in several films, most recently and notably, The Duchess, staring Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes. This film was actually based on the story of the real life Georgiana, 18th Century Duchess of Devonshire. She was apparently quite scandalous!

We explored the house...

We explored and enjoyed the gardens...

And then we ventured into the maze. Okay, mazes should be logical, right? There are only so many entrances, only so many possible turns, and once you have tried and eliminated all previous possibilities you are led to the center of the maze. Easy. Well, we tried. We did all of the above to the best of my knowledge, we saw the center of the maze through the shrubbery, we heard a delighted child in the center... but we could not, would not, find the actual path to the center. We finally gave up once the rains stopped threatening and started falling with a peal of laughter in our general direction. We were defeated.

Ah well. We did enjoy ourselves and I felt like I had gotten a true taste of "The North" of England. Another beautiful spot in the world.

Phew. Still here? Wow. I'm impressed! I hope you enjoyed my quirky stories of England.

"...and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings."

Lewis Carroll- who totally makes sense to me now!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bonjour et bon nuit!

This is going to be quick. I am tired. It has been a long and wonderful week. I am in Paris. I managed to order dinner in French without the handy French phrasebook that I had bought and then helpfully left in Bangalore (I know a little, "un petit peu", French that is so rusty you would need a tetanus shot with it.) Yeah- my spelling probably isn't so great either.

I promise that I will get a nice long blog post up in the next couple of days. I owe you. In the meantime.. here is a castle that I saw in Suffolk with Sally this week! This is Orford castle and it is tres cool!

A bientot!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A day late...

...but not a dollar short. It would have to be a pound since I am in London!

I love London.

I walk down the street and hear English. But it is like 31 flavors of English. And then there are all of the other languages. In 48 hours I have heard German, Italian, Ukrainian, French, Hindi, Urdu, Scottish (definitely qualifies as a different language to my ears!) and several other languages that I cannot specifically identify.

I walk down the streets and see shops. Lots and lots of shops. Shops that have things that fit me shops. Shops that have shoes that fit me shops! Really, I haven't done that much shopping. Honest. But I have enjoyed wandering into quite a few of them and admiring the styles and fabrics and such. Don't get me wrong, I like Indian clothes, but it is nice to see something different as well.

I really can't make a long list of London sights that I have seen. I have mostly just been wandering around and soaking up the city, while trying not to get soaked myself. I did enjoy the London Eye yesterday, an exhibit by Annette Messager (weirdly comic and grotesque at the same time), as well as enjoyed the Tate Modern. Fantastic museum that. I wandered back to my hotel after that and happened to catch a bit of weather. I made it about half way and realized that I was starting to get a bit soaked- so I hailed a taxi, "Where to, love?", and avoided another 30-40 minutes of walking in the rain. 10 pounds well spent.

Today I got a late start and in the end just sort of wandered aimlessly throughout Marleybone, Regent Street, Carnaby Street, and surrounding areas. The crowds were out in droves. Walking down Oxford street was a bit nuts. It was like the traffic on the streets of Bangalore except all of the autos (rickshaws) and two-wheelers (motorcycles and scooters) are people - and you have to weave your way through without getting hit. Except I think that Bangalore drivers are better at manuvering than the people I saw today!

Now I am in my "cozy" hotel room (it is quite small!) watching Eurovision. Some of these people are really quite bad. Ouch.

Here is the "Eye" view of Parliament and the Thames!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

T-minus 3 days...

T-minus 3 days and I will be on my way.

Wait... have I told you? I am off on a great adventure. On my own. Well, mostly anyway.
On Thursday I board a plane and fly to London. I will explore London and visit friends in the UK. I will travel to Paris where I have a few days on my own. I will meet up with fellow classmates from my school in SF for a three-week Art History course that will take us from Paris to Brussels and to Amsterdam. Then, my classmates will return to SF while I spend a few days in the Netherlands with some of Bryan's family and finally I will make my way back to London to return home to Bangalore. 35 days.

Will I miss my family?

Am I looking forward to my trip?
You betcha.

I have never in my life done anything remotely close to this. I have never traveled in any of these countries. I have never traveled on my own. Somehow it feels like something that everyone should do at some point in their life. It's my turn I guess. I will miss exploring with this guy:

But I will take lots of pictures and will keep in touch!

Still Friday :)

Yes, I am late, but I know that it is still Friday somewhere... like in Hawaii!
(although given how s-l-o-w Blogger is these days, it might be Saturday even there by the time this goes up)

So, this will be quick, I have finals to get back to and photos from a very busy shooting week to process, but I wanted to share with you... Though since I could not pick just one photo you get to see a few :)

The Bangle Ceremony

Last weekend we went to a wedding. Indian weddings are full of pomp and splendor. An "old school" Indian wedding would typically last one week. Now they have the abbreviated version which lasts 2-3 days, but they are VERY full days! So we arrived at about 6 pm, stayed until about 1:00 am, headed back to the hotel, slept (some), woke up at 7 am, returned to the wedding hall and stayed until about 12:30 pm. We had far more rest and far less to do than the bride and groom, but they held up very well and seemed happy once the day was winding down some...

Blessing the Bride and Groom

South Indian Silk Sarees

So here are some images for your enjoyment. I am still in the middle of processing all of them, but once I have I will post them to Flickr and make sure that I get a link here for you. They really are fun to see!

Saree Ari!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sumptuous Santorini!

Wow. I am really grateful that we took the many recommendations to visit Santorini. It is absolutely stunning.

We arrived on Wednesday, after a barely 45 minute flight from Athens and were picked up by a charming young man who gave us lots of helpful tips about the island (several of which we didn't get to make use of!) The plan was to do some serious relaxing on the island and we got right to that.

We stayed in a hotel that overlooks the caldera, or the sea that has filled in where the rest of the island was before the massive eruption that took place a long time ago. We had gorgeous sunsets, saw the cruise ships coming in everyday, and had a mostly sheltered spot to absorb some sun while staying out of the still slightly chilly breeze. What more could you want?

Sunset from our hotel

It wasn't long before we were itching to get out and take some photos though. It was really apparent that the island is probably one of the most photogenic places I have been in my life. I obviously was not the only one who felt that way as we saw photographers everywhere that we went. Who can blame them. The light, the colors, the fresh air and calm atmosphere make this a true paradise. We felt like we were living in a dream. The buildings on the island have a real sculptural quality to them, born out of the traditional construction techniques that combine rock walls and then stucco. As we were arriving at the start of the season we saw quite a few places getting a fresh coat of whitewash and again saw many flowers in bloom, among them one of my favorite flowers, scented geraniums.

We stayed just outside of the town of Oia (pronounced "ee-ah") that is just plain beautiful. It is filled with cliffside cafes, shops and hotels that descend down sets of steps, but no worries, there are donkey taxis that can help you get up and down! It is said that Santorini is the most beautiful Greek island, it is also said that Oia is the most beautiful spot on Santorini. Dang. We soaked it in, enjoying our many strolls to and from the town, often accompanied by "stray" dogs following/escorting us home. Not sure that they expected the tasty "tips" that we gave them once we arrived, but they certainly enjoyed them and we would sometimes wake to find the same dogs waiting outside our door in the morning :)

We did do a little exploring on this not so big island. One day we ventured out to get to other end of the island but due to some road work we were diverted through a little town (a "traditional settlement" as the sign called it), got turned around and ended up headed the other direction. Given the size of the island, it is actually quite amazing how easy it is to lose your sense of direction and get turned around! We decided that this is because the island is shaped like a large crescent. Hard to explain, but trust me, it was confusing. (add to this the fact that maps are a little vague there) but regardless, given the size of the island, you are never lost for long. It is merely an opportunity to find a different place or a different way of getting to some place you didn't think you were going to!

Santorini is also known for their wine. So naturally, we stopped at a couple of wineries while we were there and tried some. Some may have even made its way back to India.

Easter on Santorini:

On Friday, which was the Greek Orthodox Good Friday, we were told that there is a not to be missed experience at a village called Pyrgos. They celebrate the burial of Christ and then the whole town is lit up with lanterns. We observed on our way there that most other towns also had lanterns (large cans filled with sawdust and some flammable material) lining the roads awaiting lighting, but Pyrgos has the fortune of being at the top of a hill so it looks a lot cooler once all of the lanterns are lit. It really was a treat to observe this. We had also intended to attend a church service Easter Eve... they are suposed to be incredibly special and beautiful, but instead we were all quite tired and ended up tucking into bed quite early that night. Sometimes that is just the way it works out.

Finally on Sunday, Easter Sunday for the Greek Orthodox, we had the fortune to go to Santorini Mou for a traditional Easter meal. What a find. Good food, serenades by Mihalis, even stray cat and dog company (truly, all of the island owns and cares for the animals there!). If you ever get to Santorini, do drop by and have a meal there, I promise that you won't regret it.

Finally, I took many more photos than I will post here... do go take a look and enjoy a bit of Spring from the Greek Isle of Thera/Santorini.