Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tis' the season

This year's Christmas season began with decorating my fake tree with Kamalika. It was quite exciting since it was her first time decorating a tree. Its just a 2.5 feet tall tree that Merwyn and I got a couple of years ago hoping to bring in some xmas spirit to our lives here.
We miss celebrating Christmas in the way we spent it back in Mumbai. It just doesn't feel the same anymore. I guess for me the essence of the season is defined by the way I spent as a kid.

Back then the Christmas feeling crept in right from when we would plan on what to wear and shop way in advance to get our tailored clothes in time for the 25th. It officially started feeling like Xmas when Mama started preparing the sweets and the Christmas carols would play at home. Mama made Christmas simply amazing with all the wonderful sweets and food milk cream, marzapans, coconut cake, kulkuls, neories, sorpotel and of course the traditional Christmas special...stuffed chicken!!!!

We always had a very tall X'mas tree which was our pride and joy. Papa always made a wonderful crib, set in a foil cave with tiny statues of baby Jesus and sheep and camels. He would have a red bulb set up to act as a fire in the cave and an angel strung up above the cave. Needless to say there were a number of chips on the angels due to the countless sky diving accidents it had to bear. We always had a big star put up on the window and debated whether it was time to buy a new one or if we should wait for next year.

Christmas eve was always a mad rush with the last minute preparations from the food to the ironing of clothes. We always reached church almost an hour early in an effort to get the best seats for mass. I always had trouble keeping awake through the midnight mass :P but was wide awake to wish my friends afterward and was even more awake to see what Santa had laid under the tree for me. And he never failed to put presents under the tree. Early on, the presents magically appeared there when we got back from church and the gifts matched the letter we had sent to Santa a couple of weeks earlier. So we very much believed in Santa. (Spoiler alert ahead!!...) The magic was made possible by dropping of keys at my uncle's place before we left for church or by Papa being the last one to leave the house while we all piled up in the rickshaw on the way to church. Even when we solved the mystery of the appearing presents, Santa continued to leave me a hefty envelope signed by Santa in the tree with my name on it.

After mass, when we reached home, we would all sit in front of the crib with all the lights out and only "the fire" in the crib glowing along with the tree and the star light and would thank God for giving us yet another wonderful season to celebrate together. Then we cut some cake and would discuss the most ridiculous outfit at mass :P I would fall off to sleep looking at the lights change from red to blue to green to yellow.

The next day the stuffed chicken would be carved at lunch and we ate to our hearts content while sipping on some port wine. Of course, it was always followed by a nap and in later years excitement about going to the all night dances. I miss all of this.. the preparations, the hustle and bustle, the noise and the inevitable fights :P

There is nothing like home for Christmas. But I guess I can say that things have changed at home too....parents have moved to a new place, a new church, have a new tree and a new crib. The dances do not go all through the night anymore and friends have moved across the world. Papa and Mama miss having us at home. We have not celebrated Xmas together for a long time. Maybe soon Chris, Mama, and Papa can spend a white Xmas with Merwyn, Karl, and me here in the US.

I hope to slowly succeed in recreating some of the Xmas spirit, I have come to associate with my childhood. Now that we live in a foreign land it is difficult but hopefully new traditions will get started. I tried cooking stuffed chicken the last few years. Merwyn and Karl made a superb star 2 years ago which we now put up wherever we are celebrating Xmas. We have our 2.5 foot tree and this year we made some bath cake and vindaloo. On the 20th, we had a small get together with friends at my place in Baltimore. We had a nice time over dinner, chatting and playing games late into the night. Merwyn and I will try making milkcream this year and I hope to find a church with a large choir to go to for midnight mass. And Santa will definitely be leaving presents under the tree ;-)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Trip to Lacs Robert and Archard in Chamrouse

Today, I went to the Chamrousse mountains with a group of people from xrce. These are the same mountains that I can see from my apartment window. The place is a popular ski station in winter and in summer people usually hike around the lakes as we did today.

We took a bus to the top of the mountain ....yeah it is too high to hike all the way from down :) and there was a wood festival going on there...we could see men sharpening their axes and also people carving statues out of wood with a electric sawing machine...they were competing in the wood carving competition.


We then took a cable car to the very top of the mountain....(it is very high, we had to conserve some energy to hike around the lakes)


View of Grenoble far below...


Us marching on to lacs robert! I was trailing behind..
The snow had mostly melted, but there were a few patched in some crevices and also we could see a glacier in the distance...


The lakes..view from the top where we had a little picnic.



We stepped in the water for a bit and it was icy cold. I guess if we were brave we could have had a swim, but we were afraid that once we got out of the lake we would freeze because of the wind.

We then continued on to lake Archard...


Finally, we headed back to the bus.....phew...exhausted!
..The route we took was somewhat like this... http://randoalpes.free.fr/lacsrobertachard/texte.htm



Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hike in the Chartreuse

Today after work, I went for a hike in the Chamrousse mountains with a French collegue, Gilbert. He was about to go on vacation...(he is going to India to trek in Lei :) ) and had promised to take me to the top of the mountain overlooking XRCE, so we went today. I did not have my camera, so no pics :(

But it was a wonderful hike. We drove to the valley and were surrounded by wonderful peaks on all sides. We then walked up a gentle slope for 2 kms, through fields and along the edge of the smaller hills, avoiding cow dung ( all over the place). The air was still and cool and the only sounds were that of insects. For most of the journey we were in the shadow of one of the peaks.

At first it seemed impossible that we would reach up the mountain but slowly climbing and chatting all the way, we finally did. The view from above was spectacular. It was nice to be on top of the mountains and not in the valleys below. We could see some snow capped mountain in the distance and got a good view of all the three mountain ranges surrounding Grenoble. Each of the peaks had a character of its own and Gilbert knew the names of so many of them. He was saying it helps to know cause sometimes one can get lost in the fog on the mountains.

The mountain overlooking XRCE is very strange. From down it looks like a vertical wall but when you get around it to the other side it is sloping and looks like a wave...you know sloping and leaping forwards at the top like it is about to drop down and then suddenly vertical on the other side.

We came across a few people at the top. There was a couple camping up in the mountain and another running across one of the trails and two guys mountain biking-i was a little scared walking there and they were biking down hill so easily!

This view gave me a whole new perspective to the place and made me think about how things look so different from above as compared to when you are down and looking up to the obstacle ahead and how things are never as tough as they seem at first.

We then traced our steps back to the car chatting away about India and France and soon we were back in the valley.....was very calming to go for a hike in the middle of the work week.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tour de France

The tour de France rode through Grenoble today! It was the 18th stage of the race and started at Bourg-d'Oisans heading out to Saint-√Čtienne (196.5 km). I went with a couple of other interns to the city to watch it.

About 1-2 hours before the cyclist arrive..there is a procession called the caravan....of the sponsors and cars, motor bikes, people dancing on trucks and plenty of freebies :D and the police. It was fun waving and catching the freebies, it built up the atmosphere for the race.

I also purchased a tour de france umbrella and a tour de france hand band and pen and a poster ;)

About half an hour before the cyclists were scheduled to arrive I went to pick a sandwich from the store next to the route and guess what!! the cyclists arrived early....I ran out of the store and watched them ride by ...they just zoomed by sooooo fast...zoom zoom zoom ...they were doing close to 60 km/hr. It would seem impossible to cycle so fast on the city roads.

So there are a few cyclists that break out of the peleton and ride a little ahead and then the huge bunch (the peleton) follows and then there were two that were trailing behind...since they had lost time due to a fall earlier in todays race. I do not understand how the cyclists in the peleton manage to cycle so fast when they are so close to each other....it seems quite dangerous.

So I didn't get to take many pics of the cyclists myself since I had left my camera with my friends at the place we had picked for taking good pictures and I ended up watching it from elsewhere :P They were so fast that none of us were able to spot the one sporting yellow jersey.....i guess he was in the middle of the peleton i guess...even looking at the pics we have we couldn't find him :P

Will soon post pics of the caravan and also get some pics of the cyclists from my friends

I hope I can catch the tour again someday up the Alps when they navigate the 21 hair pin turns to the Alps d'Huez...it is very beautiful up there and ofcourse they won't zoom by so quickly and yeah I won't leave my camera behind to go get food for even a sec! yeah and one more thing I am gonna buy a cycle when I get back to Baltimore, if i practise hard maybe someday i will be able to go up the alps d'huez..ofcourse i may take forever to get up there...but i am thinking of giving it a shot :D

Monday, July 14, 2008

Annecy

A month ago on a Sunday, I went with another intern to a quaint little town called Annecy. We caught the train from Grenoble and it took us two hours to get there. Was a very rainy and dull day but the trip was still very enjoyable.

Annecy is to the north of Grenoble. It is called the little Venice of the Alps because of the canals that run through the city. The bridges, canals, arched walkways, pastel colored houses, old churches, and castle are enchanting.

The picture below is outside the church -Notre-Dame de Liesse. The fountain in the middle of the square had water spouting from the lions mouths and the obelisk in the middle supported on the backs of the turtles. When we went into the church, mass was just over and we met an Indian priest at the entrance :)

The canals had some locks built in them and plenty of ducks and swans were lazying around.

Below is one of the most crowded bridges in the town and it over looks the Palais de L'Ile


The Palais de L'Ile below, I read somewhere is one of the most photographed monuments in France. It served as courthouse and prison for centuries and is now a museum.
The Castle de Annecy below is I think the first real castle I visited :)..
The castle is located on the limestone spur of the Semnoz mountain. The oldest portion of the castle dates back to the 13th century.


It was inhabited by the Counts of Geneva and then by the Dukes of Savoy and after World War II by homeless people. The castle also survived a fire and after the restoration it has been used as a Museum.

Below, me! In one of the large rooms which I imagined to be a ballroom :P


View of the town of Annecy from the chateau.
The view of the castle courtyard from one of its towers. I was imaging how it must have been in the old times..with royals, soldiers, and horses ;)
Inside the castle, one of the tiny rooms which looked like they were built only to look outside.
We got a glimpse of lake Annecy and the sail boats on it from this window.
Check out the archways in the ground floors of the buildings. They were of great use when we visited cause that day it was raining soo much all the time. There was a statue of our Lady built into one of the wall of the buildings.
We had lunch and dinner at the same place, I loved the crepes soo much...they are like dosas with meat and other fillings

Lake Annecy is the cleanest lake in Europe.. there was a time when it was endangered but much effort was made over the decade to protect it and now it is the cleanest lake!

The water is very tempting and you can see the sand at the bottom where it is shallow, it is amazingly clean. There was a diving tour in the middle of the lake, like the ones you see at swimming pools and also the lake had metal bars to step in and out like the ones in swimming pools. I haven't seen many lakes but I don't think it is very common to have these things in a lake :P

Le Pont des Amours crosses the Canal du Vasse below in the distance..


We sat at the edge of the lake and ate chocolate and peanuts :)...looking down at the bottom of the clear lake and wishing it was a warm sunny day...would have been nice to dive in...I hope to go snorkeling here someday...seems like I have to visit all these places again sometime....

Theater Festival

Last weekend, I spent Saturday in the city with three other interns from XRCE. There was a theater festival in the city and we caught part of an adaptation of the beauty and the beast. Even though I could not understand the language, it was very entertaining.

There was a narrator who played a guitar and ofcourse beauty and the beast along with a bunch of people who would run around becoming chairs and tables and everything needed for the scene and used a long bedsheet to cover themselves. They sang along with the narrator and repeated words that the lead characters spoke...they were very good.


Other than a couple of plays, the other one we did not understand at all :P...we just rambled from one cafe to another enjoying the city and company and ended the day with some nice French dinner.

Villard-de-Lans, Goulets, et Pont-en-Royen

This post is long overdue. Last weekend of June, Eniko and I set out for a day in the mountains- the Vercors. We met at the Gare with our cycles and got on a bus to Villard de Lans. We could take our cycles with us for no extra charge, just had to put them into the baggage compartment underneath the bus.

Villard de Lans is high up in the Vercors mountain range. We started our bike ride here and followed the road downhill. We were on the roads meant for the regular traffic and not a biking path, so we had cars driving along side and the drivers are quite nice about cyclists-they waited for us to move to the side and also slowed down to let us navigate the sharper turns without rushing past us. The roads in some places were cut into the rocks and the rocks formed a ledge over the road.



Riding in the mountains was awesome. Many times we were at the edge of the cliff and was a bit scary to see the valley just beyond the edge of the road.

At some points, we were high above the valley and at other times we were close to the river below.




Down hill was always super awesome but uphill killed by legs. I had to stop every now and then and if it wasn't for Eniko, I would still be up those mountains.

Along the way, we rode through small tunnels- petit goulets. We had seen pictures of the goulets online and they were our main motivation for undertaking this ride.



Can you spot me on the bridge in the picture below ?? :P

I was terribly famished at one point and we stopped for beers at a small place on the way.

That is enika and me a little high and enjoying a bit of gossip :D

For some reason, the bails of hay in the farms on the hillsides, fascinate me to no extent.


The grand goulets was something we really wanted to ride through but it was closed and we had to ride through this long tunnel alongside the goulets instead. It was quite something riding through it, the noise from the cars was soo loud and a little frightening.


The road was very steep downhill from here and we had to tighten my breaks as I felt I would fly over the ledge into the valley while navigating the hair pin turns.

Our next destination was Pont-en-Royans, a small town overlooking a river. The houses are built into the cliffs and the balconies suspended dangerously over the river.

We stopped for some beer at a cafe on the bridge overlooking the river...can you see the umbrellas of the cafe in the picture below?

The view from the bridge was even better and you can see how the water was so clear and clean.
Try spotting the man mid air in the picture below....diving into the water from the edge of the cliff.
We then continued on the last leg of our journey to the city of Saint Marcellin, where we got on a bus heading back to Grenoble- tired and happy with our adventures for the day. We had cycled more than 42km that day.

Here is the link to the map that outlines the route we took :)
http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=2032335

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Garden Party in the Chartreuse

Last Saturday, I was invited to a party at the home of a Professor I got to know through my Phd supervisor. His house has the most amazing location, set on the mountain slopes with an old church on one side, neighbors who have a flock of sheep, an angled view of a mountain, and a path leading to an icy cold stream in the valley below.






The food, cheese, and wine was amazing! Had a very relaxing afternoon with the kindest people-we had at the party the members of the profs lab and their families..French, Italian, Iranian, and Australian (ofcourse we discussed cricket and Bret Lee's hindi music debut).

Will post more pictures of the home and the party if I get permission from the folks to put them online.

More Music

Last two weeks have been super busy, packed with wonderful experiences and many new friends. After the fete de la Musique two weeks ago, I have had a couple of musical experiences.

An Italian friend introduced me to the underground concerts here in the city. One Saturday evening, we went to this concert where two bands played. One played trash music....very harsh and loud and I thought I'd go deaf...but entertaining nonetheless. And they were followed by another band, about whom the most interesting part was...the bass was provided using a tuba (i think thats the name, check out the pic). Was a very nice evening- great conversation, local beer and loud music :P


Also, Morcheeba gave a free concert last Thursday in the city- I had never heard their music before and the tempo was too slow for me initially but then I began to like it and will be listening to their music from now on and I am now a fan of the lead guitarist.

The concert was at the Parc Mistral and below is picture of the Tour Perret at the park taken on another lazy Sunday evening. This was the luckiest spot in the park..it made me 1.5 euros richer :D


The same evening I tasted the most delicious chorizo pizza ever and the sausage a very similar flavor to our Goan chorizo.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fete de la Musique

France celebrates the Fete de la Musique every year on June 21st. The festival has been around since 1982, and the initiation can be attributed to the then Minister of Culture, Jack Lang and Director of Musique, Maurice Fleuret. Through a study, they discovered that among the 5 million French people, 1 out of every two children could play an instrument but did not have an opportunity to show off their skills. Also, 75% of the 4 million instruments owned by the French, were deteriorating away in cupboards and rubbish. So they came up with a plan to find a way to get people to pick up these instruments, restore them, and come out in the streets to 'enchant anyone who cared to listen.'

A request was sent out to "Faites de la musique"- Make Music, between 8.30 and 9 in the evening on the summer solstice. Needless to say, it was a dream come true and now not only in France but in countries all over the world the day is celebrated with people coming out and playing a variety of instruments on the street corners, the market squares, the gardens..

Yesterday, I got to witness my first Fete de la Musique. I went to the city along with a new friend, a French intern who started at XRCE on the same day as I did. At each corner, 'place', garden, and also, at the Bastille, the fort on the mountain overlooking the city, there were concerts. The atmosphere was awesome!



Here are some pics of a few bands, some seemed like professionals and some soon to be professionals and they played French music, Jazz, Rock, English (knocking on heavens door!, Wonderwall!), Rap.


We walked around in the city and kept meeting people we know cause the entire town was out on the streets. Then we took the cable car up the Bastille. The ride was free, this evening because of the Fete :) You can see the bubbles as they are called here, climbing over the river in the pic below.

The view from the Bastille is spectacular and one can also catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in western Europe, the only ghostly white peak on the horizon (BTW, don't want you straining your eyes to catch it, I have not put a pic of it here).


I love the color of the roof tops and even though it is so high, you can see different architectural elements of the buildings and I think I could spend hours looking at the city below.




I plan to explore the fort, with all its ramparts, steps, banquettes ... in the future



but for yesterday it was all about the sound of music... we went back into the city and caught many more mini concerts and ofcourse, some French food- crepes and apple cider. Love both! The cider is less strong as compared to beer and has a very refreshing taste.

One day is too less and I was left wanting more..... many more Fetes de la Musique.