Jul 31, 2010

A European Journey - 2 (July 12)

Onwards from Brussels and on to Eindhoven.. The Netherlands, or Nederlaand, or Amsterdam, or Orange Country as one would call it in various names. The Journey from Belgium to Netherlands was an absolute pleasure to the eyes. Miles and Miles of greenery, of course you also had the concrete buildings en route, however the amount of farmlands that we passed through were amazing. The pasture lands, the canals, the farm houses, the animals, simply out to pasture on the farmlands.. a sight that remains with you etched for ever.

The Drive was quite pleasurable, what was also amazing with the common structure of Europe. You are in one country and you just drive along, to any neighbouring country. Not a border, no stoppages, you are in Europe. Of course the remnants of the old border post were still there, however the ease with which you pass from one country to another, reminded me of the complications that one goes back in India, when at times crossing one state into another. Excise / Octroi / Road Tax.. blah blah.. Every thing was automated.

We drove into Eindhoven, a small out on the outskirts of Amsterdam, nothing much great, however a very quite place. The hotel was indeed a shocker.. No Aircon, no Fans.. Imagine, a heat wave going on in Europe, and no AC.. Well all the Europeans live that way, so why could we not? The evening was managed somehow, the night even worse, coming from the Middle East, one being so used to Airconditioners, you simply get spoiled rotten.

Start off from Eindhoven onto the Hague. The Political capital of Europe, the seat of the International court of Justice. A modern city, having considerable political importance, and still retaining its old world charm. A quick tour through the city, the first stop was Madurodam, mini Holland. Holland in its entirety in miniatures. A similar take off from Mini Europe (which covers all of Europe’s main attractions), Madurodam showed Holland in its entirety. Wonderful creations, miniature masterpieces, hand crafted to perfection, where it came to details, one visit there, one covers a country in its entirety.

The added attraction was the weather, which turned out to be amazing with rain coming out of nowhere and temperatures going down quite a few degrees. Madurodam over, the next stop was the Cheese and Wooden Clogs factory, a first hand view of how cheese and clogs were made. The journey was amazing, with once again, a wonderful view of the country side and the canal structure. Miles and miles of fields, all wonderfully green, with cows lazing around pasturing. All interconnected through canals, never a land showing up as barren. A blend of the old wooden windmills with the new high rising metal windmills of the present. Amazing, how the country had set itself based on its prime resource, rains and farmland, making it amongst the richest countries of Europe.

Come the Cheese and Clogs factory.. A view of how these are made. A brilliant introspective by the concerned people, it was indeed an amazing lesson, as to how cheese was formed and what all went into the making of cheese. This was no normal kraft spread cheese, these were cheese blocks, which when explained made it so very complicated. The clogs workshop was another eye opener as to the making of wooden shoes, which served so many different purposes and were also steeped in tradition.

Lunch over, the next stop was the diamond factory, an opportunity to see what goes on in the making of a diamond and also an opportunity to buy some. Of course, the price factor was a dampner, that having done with, a tour of Amsterdam through its wonderful canals. A sail through on a boat, as to how the entire city was interconnected through the river. People living in boats, people enjoying their weekends moving around in boats, a city that had made full use of its both strong and weak points.

Back to the hotel in Eindhoven (not very keen due to a lack of airconditioning), we made our way through in the hope that tomorrow would be another day, and not spent in the summer heat that all of us had left in the first place.

All in all, a wonderful two nights in Holland, yet another example of another country so steeped in tradition and history, yet moving along with the present. Of course it was not difficult to see the present soon overtaking the past, and one wonders what would be the status 30 years from today. Some of the European countries are facing a huge identity crisis, with their own populations diminishing, and other cultures taking postions. Not realized first, they are now facing this huge issue, and there is no denying the fact that one day, there would be no Europeans in some countries (Belgium / Holland, to name a few).. Until then, the culture remains, the past still steeped in tradition.

On to Germany...

Jul 15, 2010

A European Journey - 1 (July 10)

I have been lucky to visit Europe quite a few times. No doubt it was all courtesy my work, with all my visits leading to me spending much more time at work than I normally put when I am in my own office, with very little time for sightseeing, still, how many people get to go to Europe regularly.

This time was courtsey the wife, who planned out an European tour for two weeks. I have not been on a vacation for a long time, and seriously, was happy, that my wife had planned this out (leaving it to me, would have taken another two years). So the plan final, the tour was to Europe for two weeks, and ofcourse, my plan was no work.

And so we started, with the first day (July 10), leaving for Belgium. Midnight flight, via Amsterdam, a four hour halt at the airport, sans any veg food (the agent forgot), we finally reached our hotel, after nearly 12 hours since we left Dubai.. Was I ever dead.. But alas, being a Saturday, and ofcourse Europe, they never give the rooms prior to 4 PM.. Checkout is always 12 PM. Hello Hello.. Welcome to another part of the world, which is not Dubai.. Checkins are not when you land up at the airport, and you will not get help to get your baggage. We all work for ourselves.

All settled in, food was ofcourse the first thing on mind. Voila, what does a veggie eat when he goes out of Dubai.. Pizza!! Luckily there was a joint open, and we could savour something into our empty stomachs. The rest of the afternoon / evening was just a stay at the hotel, as most of the places were closed by then.

Come the next day, a checkout, and onwards to the beginning of the journey. Pickup near Grand Central, the bus finally came about an hour late. Either way, a tour around the Grand Palais, the Central, the Mannekin Pis, and of course the St. Michel Church. I had been to the area, around 10 years ago, of course nothing had changed, however they were now on a cleaning spree of cleaning all old buildings and bringing them back to their original glory, ie. clear them of all the soot that they have been collecting. And is there a change? The buildings sans their soot and dirt, are simply un-recognizable and beautiful.

A tour of the Central area complete and a few Belgian chocolates down, we headed off to the Atomium, where an Atom has been expanded 160 billion times to create a building in the shape of atoms. Amazing what has been built. That and a few scenes of true Belguim, we headed off to Netherlands, our next stop.. Eindhoven.

Amazing thing was how the country manages to keep itself clean (of course there will be poverty and dirty areas, but on an overall basis), and the amount of greenery available. Wonderful weather, amazing atomosphere (sans the heat wave), beautiful greenery, and without a doubt, an absolutely beautiful country...