May 5, 2016

Travelogue - Budapest

Two of the things that I definitely wanted to visit in Budapest were statues. One was of a person whom I googled up couple of weeks before - Imre Nagy. The other one was of Ferenc Puskas, one of the greatest footballers ever.

Imre Nagy Statue Overlooking Hungarian Parliament 
Imre Nagy was out of a peculiar novelty. One of the best political satires of all time in Malayalam - Sandesham - has a reference to him amidst a political conversation . Something that highlights the ubiquitous political awareness of a keralite in the early 90's.

Ferenc Puskas who led the invincible Magic Magyars of 1950's is part of football folklore. Someone who failed at perhaps the most important game of his career - World cup final 1954 .  Hungary of today seems to have totally forgotten him. There is a stadium dedicated to him in the city. But other than that, Puskas seems to be totally forgotten. We had quite a bit of difficulty in tracing out the exact location & identifying the correct tram & metro tracks. It was pretty disappointing that the city does not have anything better to celebrate the Magic Magyars
Ferenc Puskas statue at Becsi Ut, Budapest

 The turning point in Puskas & Nagy's lives was the soviet invasion of  1956. Puskas returned to Hungary only in the 90's .  Nagy was incarcerated & executed , and secretly buried , only to be  re-interred in the late 80's after the soviet withdrawal . Nagy was a communist, who fought along with Bolsheviks, but later-on fell out of favor with the Soviets because of his disagreement with the Stalinist policies .

Glittering Hungarian Parliament overlooking Danube
Hungary as a nation suffered under two of the most notorious regimes of 20th century - Nazis & Stalin. Many of the survivors from the concentration camps of Nazis ended up in Gulags of Russia. This history is captured in detail in Terra Haza ,a Nazi & Soviet torture cum prison complex converted into a museum. It is a testimony to the fact that extreme policies on any side of political spectrum can be extremely dangerous to the humanity. It is also a reminder to the society that one should not color a political philosophy as good or bad. In this case, many of the victims were members of the Hungarian Communist party ( Like Nagy ) and perpetrators were also from a section of communist party who agreed with the Soviets.
Beer Bike / Pedal Bar on Budapest Roads

Present day Budapest is a thriving Metropolis .  I could spot offices of many modern technology companies like Flextronics , Microsoft  & Samsung.  Heard from a fellow traveler who came all the way from Durban to attend a tech conference that the Government is grooming up this place as Silicon Valley of the Europe. Public transport is excellent . The oldest subway in continental Europe is an engineering marvel just like Moscow Metro .  Trams criss-cross the city. It is a reminder to modern day city planners that a city need not be very rich to develop public transport infrastructure.
Szechenyi Baths, Budapest

The home town of Harry Houdini, really has a magical charm. Perhaps most evident in the night-time view of the parliament building & Buda Castle from the Danube.

Hungarians has a special way of relaxing. The public baths are a common sight. People from every strata of the society come to places like this for a relaxing day. These are mixed baths . I guess places like this are much needed in Indian society . It removes ones inhibitions . And it promotes a habit between men & women to see each other respectfully, irrespective of what an individual is wearing.

Goulash / Beef & vegetables soup &  Chicken Paprikash  are the speciality dishes in Hungary. Indians would definitely like these.  A bit spicy & really tasty

Budapest is like a phoenix raising from ashes. A city that has been unduly oppressed for long seems to be finally getting its due in the 21st century   

Mar 31, 2016

Travelogue - Rome

Roma ? Roma ? - Quipped a long faced gentleman who walked into our waiting area for EK095 at Dubai T3 -  to make sure that he's getting into the same flight.. He reminded me of Paolo Maldini, former Italian captain and one of the finest footballers I've ever seen.

This was a much anticipated trip for me. The cradle of modern civilization, legal systems, urban planning - all could be traced to this city.  Like most other European cities, the city & civilization developed around a river (Tiber) and the seven hills surrounding it.

Raphael's "School of Athens"
Huge crowds throng the Vatican city - the center of Christianity , but more importantly, the place that houses the artworks of Raphael and Michaelangelo.  Incredible Frescos dominate the Vatican Palace. Every picture has a story behind it. Not just the Biblical stories, but images that capture various phases of Roman & Greek times. I remember this particular painting by Raphael where he combined the times of Aristotle, Plato to the younger self of Michaelangelo and numerous other philosophers & scientists. Just after Raphael's Rooms, you get to Sistine Chapel where you can see the full glory of Michaelangelo's skills. No photographs permitted in Sistine Chapel unfortunately though.

Just like Cairo, Vatican City is a place that you should explore by a guide. As you would be lost in this place without someone who can explain the significant places & exhibits with the stories behind it.   The smallest city state or country has only about 400 odd citizens including the cardinals & Swiss guards.
Colosseum - From the top

Colosseum - The scale & enormity of this structure is really imposing. Multiple restoration attempts are going on to repair parts of that which have been damaged. The grandeur of this structure has been truly captured in Ridley Scott's Gladiator. If you visit this place, highly recommended that you take the ticket to see underground chambers or dungeons as they call it .

Roman Forum - Site of Marc Antony's Speech

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears ..."  - The legendary speech by Marc Antony after Caeser's murder happened right in the midst of these historical ruins,
collectively called as Roman Forum.  The ruins are again best explored with a guide. It has numerous monuments touching practically every Roman historical figure that you would have heard of from the time of Romulus & Remus to Constantine & even beyond.  

Pantheon - One of the ancient pagan temples

Indeed the influence of Roman culture & systems were so profound that all the following empires adapted many things from them. The word Kaizer & Czar often tagged to the emperors in Germany & Russia comes from the word Caesar.  The Aqueduct systems used by Romans to bring water from distant places to the city is still used in a few places.

Rome will make us think about the humble beginnings of many things that are the bedrock of modern society.. An empire that was more controlled by a Senate ( sort of a Quasi - Parliament ) , the birth place of  Republicanism and much more.

And Italian food that you get in Italy is very different from the servings in most Italian restaurants in India or Middle East.  Pasta, Pizza , Wine, Gelato - Without these, the Italian experience is incomplete !!!   

Nov 10, 2015

Travelogue - Bali

So we were at this island two weeks before the 'Rinjani' explosion & Chotta Rajan's arrest here made news.

Uluwatu - One of the best Views in Bali
      Indonesian Rupiah or IDR is one of the most depreciated currencies that I've come across. People discount the last three zeros in the currency :) .. Despite not being a net exporter of fuel, Indonesia seems to have kept the fuel rates at very low levels ( Actually comparable to middle east levels ) , thereby resulting in huge pressure on currency . Most of the fuel consumed here apparently comes from Brunei.  

Rice cultivation / Rice Garden
    On the demand side, the tourism industry is booming.  The Island seems to have emerged from the downturn that came along with the bomb blasts of 2005. Even though the currency is very weak, nothing from food to souvenirs is cheap for tourists. Essentially, as the demand is there, the prices are also marked-up  . Government seems to be investing well in the infrastructure as well.. Largely good roads, an exceptionally large airport, very little law and order problem.

  One of the most fertile countries we have been to - practically all varieties of crops and fruits seems to grow here. Probably, that's because of the volcanic soil .Organic farming & associated culinary is a major tourism activity here. And if you are into that, I would say, don't miss out on that aspect in Bali.  The way in which they cultivate rice is quite interesting .  Hill slopes are leveled to create a terrain with many steps where paddy is planted.

   Highlight of Bali was  'Luwak Coffee' for me.  Apparently, one of the most expensive variety of coffee sold across the globe ,  it tastes good as well :) .  And you should not miss the Luwak coffee plantation tours if you are in this island. We picked up a packet of Luwak Coffee :)  .. Believe me, you won't have any apprehensions in tasting this once you see them making it
Luwak Coffee + a variety of others

Bali has something to offer for all segment of tourists -- From the party hopping crowd to the old age couples, you have a range of attractions from water sports to spirituality available here.

 I got a feeling that the Balinese population is deeply religious . Every well-off family apparently builds a temple next to their house. So, this temple building  is probably the next biggest economic activity after  tourism & allied businesses.

 The interior roads of Bali gave me a feeling that I was travelling in Rural Kerala ( especially Northern Kerala - minus the political part )  .. Curved roads, small rural shops , lush greenery all around .

As usual with any island nation, many spots with good views,  apparently you need to spend time to travel to North Bali if you have to experience the natural splendor in its full glory.