Jan 3, 2018

Travelogue - Washington DC

"I have a dream" Thundered Martin Luther King Jr standing in front of Lincoln Memorial on 28-Aug-1963 . He did have a dream..Everyone who flocked to America had a dream. What makes the United States a land of opportunities ? To feel the answer, you have to visit Washington DC.

I visited Washington DC before NewYork . Yet, I chose to write about New York first and then DC.  Thats because to illustrate USA, the best metaphor is NY. But to understand why USA has been so and so, there is perhaps no better substitute than Washington DC.

Lincoln Memorial

The answers to that is present in the National Archives building made famous to the young generation by the movie National Treasure. In there lies three important pieces of history that has defined America - Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Constitution . To most visitors, Declaration of Independence is the central piece of attraction here. To me, it was Bill of Rights.
Everyone picks up a copy of Declaration of Independence, I picked up a copy of Bill of Rights.

FDR Memorial

Korean war memorial - 19 soldiers scanning 360 degrees
Written by James Madison in response to the demand to safe guard individual freedom and liberties, Bill of Rights is the set of first ten amendments to the US constitution. The first glance at Bill of Rights is sure to give you an 'ah its so out-dated' kind of feeling.  While that feeling to a millennial won't be unsubstantiated, the essence of bill of rights is that United States placed individual liberties as of paramount importance even above the constitutional limits.

These set of amendments gave foundation to the thoughts of inspiring leaders like Martin Luther King Jr to challenge the state, Rosa Parks to challenge the black-white segregation in public places, it gave countless others the belief to challenge the status quo and fight for a change through lawful means

Wright Brother's Aircraft - @ Smithsonian National Air 
and Space Museum
In this age where the national boundaries are getting more firmer through the political events happening around the world, Bill of Rights ( which has to be read in conjunction with the 'Federalist Papers' )  is a wonderful and inspiring pointer for the lawmakers today towards a set of questions - What should be the central philosophy of lawmaking - Nation  or People ? What exactly is Nation ?  Does it make sense to preach the concept of Nation to a set of population which is deprived of basic human necessities ?

DC houses some of the most visible symbols of United States - The Capitol ( Parliament equivalent ) , Whitehouse ,  a huge number of memorials and museums.

Touching A Piece of Moon @ National
Air & Space Museum

The FDR memorial is  one of the recent ones as well as most impressive ones. Dedicated to Franklin D Roosevelt who led America through the tumultuous part of 20th century inspite of this disabilities,  this place captures various phases in his life and career through a series of quotes.

Smithsonian museums are treasures of humanity .  This is a place in America where you should take your school going kids to.  The air and space museum explains various aspects of aviation so beautifully. You could see the original aircraft that aviators like Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh used . You can even touch a piece of moon! And all these are free for public (Read the story behind Smithsonian here )

The cold war era has got two outstanding memorials here -Korean War and Vietnam war memorial. Korean war memorial is an architecturally and symbolically interesting place. 19 soldiers scanning 360 degrees around them. The reflection plus the original 19 soldiers refer to the North 38 degree parallel which separated North and South Korea.

A thought is left at the end of national archives referring to Vietnam war - Why did these mistakes happen inspite of having such robust and well debated bill of rights and constitution ? Thats something worth examining in detail for someone interested in modern American history.

At the end of the day after experiencing DC, one can't help, but acknowledge that this city on the banks of Potomac River is indeed the guiding philosophy behind the fabled American dream

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Dec 31, 2017

Travelogue - New York

Immigration Officer : What is Your Name ?
Boy Doesn't answer.
Officer : C'mon son.. What is your Name ?
Boy Doesn't answer.
Translating Officer : Tuo Nome ? ( Italian )
No answer..
Officer looks at the card..
Translating Officer :  Vito Andolini from Corleone
Immigration Officer :  Corleone.. Vito Corleone

Godfather Part - II,  backdrop . - A young boy, Vito , from Corleone arrives as an immigrant at Ellis Island, New York..  To countless immigrants in the earlier part of 20th century, Ellis Island was the gateway to a land of opportunities. It was an age where people immigrated to the United States through this place. While Statue of Liberty was the symbol of hope for an immigrant, Ellis island was the ultimate test.  Immigrants got screened here for a variety of diseases, went through multiple rounds of paperworks and went into the place where capitalism cut its teeth - Manhattan.

Over the last few years, one profession that I've started to admire is that of a tour guide. Thats an area where I've seen people scoring in  8 - 9 on my ten point scale of perfection. From Jess who took us through the world war and cold war ruins in Berlin to Nobu who narrated the poignant stories in Hiroshima,  Adam in New-York was just as good as them. Passionately narrating the stories behind Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty, there was never a dull moment with him.  Few videos embedded here

The modern sky-scrappers that adorn the NewYork skyline is built on the sweat and blood of immigrants who flocked here from around the world.. True to that spirit, the five Uber rides that I took here where manned by drivers from five ethnic origins . -  Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Colombia, Fiji , Jamaica.  As you walk through the iconic places like wall-street , WTC memorial, Times Square , Central Park,  you hear that cacophony of ethnicities and cultures.. You hear about bitcoins being used as ransoms, you hear about the anguish towards new immigration,  at the same time you hear people openly criticising ( or at times, abusing ) the new political order.  Yet, a common thread unites everyone - a free spirit.. A free spirit or freedom to express yourself, a don't care - come what may attitude, a firm belief that you can challenge anything - thats omnipresent.  And thats perhaps what's made NewYork what it is today, the rock-bed of free markets and trade.. Thomas Friedman's 'World is Flat' finds its essence in NewYork.

Downtown Manhattan for a tourist is perhaps one of the most densest populated parts on Earth today.  Crowded subways, sky-high hotel room rates, a series of hop-on-hop-off buses - but none serving the purpose as traffic is too crowded, impossible to get parking places,... As you cut through the bylanes near Times Square & mid-town, you wonder about what is so magnetic about the place. Madamme Tussauds as they say is better in London, Gulliver's Gate meets its match even in a city like Hamburg, Burj Khalifa is higher than Empire States building... The success of New York is its crowds..More crowd bringing in more excitement , and that works as a self reinforcing model.

As we waited in a Panera bread outlet, I saw a young Indian origin man placing his order.  I see his surname on the display board. I hear him introducing himself  (first name ) in a confident manner over the phone to some business contact... Out of curiosity, I searched for him on LinkedIn. And the his profile made me - wow!.. True to the spirit of free markets and trade,  the best of the best flock here. And that'll drive NewYork and America forward for years to come , regardless of the political order.
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Aug 4, 2017

Travelogue - Amsterdam

"Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin"

-- John Green

Amsterdam has quite a few of the things that many parts of the world consider immoral or illegal. But the beauty of this is that,  if you go through the crime statistics you tend to realize that the Dutch have found a way of alternative Governance suited for them. As Rick Steves puts in one of this travel videos (The Value of Travel - A gem of a ted talk that you should watch )  , it is a different way of addressing a common problem. Indeed in Amsterdam, you run a higher risk of being knocked down by a cyclist than being a victim to a crime.  Apparently, about 15000 cycles are retrieved every year from Amsterdam's canals

The 12th century dam on Amstel river that gave rise to this teeming metropolis of modern world is a treat for tourists. It has evolved from a trading outpost to one of the most liberal cities in the world. Just like any other continental European city, the traumas of 19th century wars are evident and preserved.

"I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." 
- remarked Anne Frank in her diaries during her hiding from Nazis.
Anne Frank's Statue in front of house where
she stayed during hiding

Anne Frank's house - perhaps the most visited landmark in this city - is a place that one should not miss.  It tells us the story of a brave little girl who defied great odds to leave an everlasting message to the humanity. It is perhaps the best place in Europe that one should take their teenage son/daughter to instil in them good perspectives for the rest of their lives.. Just like Berlin, Hiroshima and Dachau has taught me, Anne Frank's house reemphasises the message that there there is no glory in war. There is just suffering for the humanity. When you walk around the Jewish quarters, you stumble upon these Brass bricks known as Stolperstein ( Stumbling Stones ) with names of holocaust victims and dates  which serves as a grim reminder of the past.
Our Daughter's remarks @ Anne Frank's house

Reading Anne Frank's story - Back @ Dubai

Stolpersten (Stumbling Stones)

The liberalism which is the hallmark of Amsterdam finds its ethos in multiple places. The Heineken Experience which tells us the story of how a small company grew up to be conglomerate. A can of Heineken in Amsterdam is cheaper than a bottle of still water.  The free spirited and hippie nature of Dutch is also evident in Amsterdam Arena - the home of Ajax - the cradle of total football.  The no-14 jersey of Johan Cruyff who passed away last year is preserved in the stadium.

Vincent Van Gogh - another famous icon of Amsterdam has a large museum dedicated to him. I've to admit that I'm not a great connoisseur of art . So, I wouldn't comment much about this place. However,  judging by the numb
Number - 14 Jersey of Cruyff
@ Amsterdam Arena
er of visitors to this place, if you have some affinity towards art - you should not miss Van Gogh museum as well as the nearby Rijksmuseum

A city where the primary modes of transportation are bicycles , tram, metro and buses ;  the fitness and sports culture is essentially an integral part of youth. A powerhouse in Hockey, Football , Athletics and Swimming,  Netherlands figures quite regularly among the top 20 countries on medals per capita in Olympics

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Netherlands is how they have kept a popular city like Amsterdam not spoiling the beautiful country-side of Netherlands. 20 minutes to one hour drive from Amsterdam, you get to the quaint villages of Marken , Volendam and the famous windmills of Zaanse Schaans.   The journey towards those places cover another engineering marvel - The Dutch Dikes. Many parts of Netherlands are below sea level. The Dikes restrict sea water from flowing in and creates large volume of fresh water reservoirs and it has an interesting history in itself

 Zaanse Schans with its windmills is a UNESCO heritage site. This is actually a reconstructed version of old Dutch wind mills which was done in 1960's and 70's . Being a windy plain, these type of windmills dotted the landscape of Netherlands hundreds of years earlier. You can see one even in Amsterdam city.  Many of these were moved to Zaanse Schans to reconstruct what was once a thriving commercial centre in 18th and 19th century.

As we were not equipped with an age-appropriate , yet truthful explanation for an inquisitive 4 year old kid, we decidedly gave a miss to De Wallen and Coffee Shops :)

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