Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Discovering the Mir tribe of Gujarat

The Mirs of Gujarat are a Muslim tribal community who are descendants of the Butt tribe in Kashmir Valley. They were nomadic, and now live in little settlements in the Rann of Kutch. Their housing conditions are relatively poor,-  temporary shanties with tarpaulin roofs. They make their living by selling hand made crafts- jewellery, keychains, beads to the tourists.

Those who talk about the progress should come and witness how some of these remote tribes fight to survive each day.

When I asked the guide about why the government hash't done more for them, his reply was that 'these people' are happy with their current state of living, though they have been offered homes with toilets and electricity. 

I find that a little hard to believe. Everyone wants to progress. Everyone wants a roof over their heads and their children to have an education. Or maybe I'm wrong.

Vintage Red Bus

The vintage red buses are on the London streets again, thanks to the tube strike. A silver lining as I see it. But over the last couple of days I have been seeing so many old red buses, and even some retro blue, yellow and green ones. Like little candy buses from Toyland.

I'm hoping to hop on to one of these on my way home today.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Discovering Orcs Nest - Quest for the Unusual Games

London is brimming with pubs and restaurants and events, lots of things for couples to do, but heading out every other day is quite an expensive affair. What are the fun things we could do at home, that doesn't really burn a hole in the pocket?
Ram loves playing games. But games involving some amount of creativity and strategy as opposed to just luck. So I wanted to get an interesting game, board game or cards. But where? Argos?

London has a few 'specialist' game shops. One of them is the Orcs Nest, near Holborn. Walking into the place was quite intimidating to me, it looked like a shop for serious game geeks and I felt like a lost puppy. The nest is tiny, but full of stuff, stacks and rows of board games, cards, books and magazines. A wide selection of RPG, miniature and cards games. Dungeons and Dragons and a dozen in that league.

It was interesting to see that most games have a 'Cthulhu' version!  I was happy to find some that were more 'beginner friendly'. Games involving medium amount of strategy, that did not go on for hours. Party games, and games for couples. The lady behind the counter was very helpful in suggesting and recommending games according to my 'specific' requirements.
I picked up 'Gloom'. Only because the cover said 'The sky is grey and the tea is cold, and there is a new tragedy around every corner'. And it didn't disappoint. Super fun game, (although I lost both times), but I think i'm getting better at the devious plotting. The artwork is fantastic, the cards are transparent which i thought was very cool.

I'll definitely be back here soon enough, to pick up even more wicked games.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Discovering the Isle of Wight

Two hours and change, from London Waterloo, are the 'summer isles', The Isle of Wight. Walking along the long pier, the first glimpses of the Isle reminded me of the small towns in Europe. The promenade, the little cafes and restaurants, houses on the hill slopes, gentle rolling down to  the beach.

Famished after the train and ferry ride, we headed to the first restaurant we spotted, Michaelangelos, on Ryde pier. Maybe we were just hungry, but the food was amazing. I had a simple parmesan-aubergine bake. Parmesan can make anything taste like heaven I suppose.

lunch at Michaelangelos

All our bookings were last minute, so we paid a heavy price to book a hotel in Ventnor. It is a good hour and a half journey from Ryde, but no reason to complain, as the bus takes a route through the heart of this picturesque island, the quaint villages and the lush countryside farms. Ventnor itself is very beautiful, not too crowded and the Esplande has a number of really nice cafes, bars and restaurants.

Shanklin is a more popular and populated part of the island, which we realised later, and has all the 'touristy' attractions around it. It totally depends on what you want to do, visit the botanical gardens, parks, sanctuaries or chill by the beach. From golfing to dinosaur expeditions, there are enough activities, tours and treks to keep you busy for a week at least.

We realised it was impossible to do the touristy stuff, as traveling within the island can get quite tiring. The Southern Vectis buses are not as frequent as the buses in London, and traveling from one end of the island to the other takes a couple of hours at a minimum.

We visited the Adgestone vineyard in Brading. The audio guided tour nicely captured the story and history of English wine, and also explained the process of wine making and what makes English wine and sparkling wine, different from the rest of Europe. The tour ended with the sampling of the house wines. It was interesting to note that just 10 acres of land, can produce about 13,000 bottles of wine. We followed it up with lunch in the vineyard cafe, fresh basil soup and bread was divine.

Adgestone vineyard

The Roman Villa, also in Brading is an interesting place to visit. Just the location and the randomness of it! In the middle of literally nowhere, in the countryside, this villa probably constructed around 300AD was accidentally discovered by a farmer and excavated in 1879. Parts of the floor mosaics have been restored, but it gives you an idea of how magnificent it would have been at one time. Utensils, roof tiles and coins are also part of this well preserved exhibit. It is a must see.

Back in Ventnor, we discovered the most amazing spanish restaurant. El Toro Contento. It's always crowded and bustling, so we had to book a tables way in advance. The menu is typically tapas style. Ram tripped on the wild boar stew and chorizo. My humble vegetables and lentils was surprisingly so flavourful. We had our dinner here on both nights.

Ventnor beach

We spent the rest of our time reading, long walks, and collecting pebbles on the beach, enjoying every bit of the ocean and the sunsets. What I really missed, and probably will do in another trip is visiting the Needles. It was quite far from where we were staying and none of us were up for the long bus journey. All in all, two days is too short a visit, but definitely a good sampler or 'Tapas' that's going to keep us coming back to the Isle of Wight for more

Getting there: London Waterloo- Portsmouth by South Western trains (1.5 hours)
Portsmouth- Ryde pier by Wightlink Ferry (about 20 mins)
London- South Hampton by train
South Hampton to East Cowes by Red Funnel ferry

In and around the Island:
Souther Vectis unlimited bus pass for 2 days- 15£ per person

Where to stay: Shanklin/ Sandown/ Ryde/ Cowes (touristy, good location if you don't mind the crowds)
Ventnor, Totland (quieter but far)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Discovering the Hunterian

What's super awesome about the city are the free museums. I'm trying to visit as many as I can on the weekends. This Saturday we went to the Hunterian Museum. I had read about the museum on TimeOut, and it sounded interesting.

As we entered we were confronted with enormous glass displays of the weirdest specimens in jars. Animal parts to human, random stuff like an ox heart or a lizards intestines. Dissection of diseased body parts, bones affected with cancer, cross section of a foot! monkey heads, wooden planks with the nervous system, and even a skeleton of an Irish giant! What freaked me out was the foetus in different stages, looked almost alien like.

There were some sections that were truly morbid. Two headed creatures, animals with four legs, John hunter might have been a genius no doubt, but he surely was a freak. And apparently this was not even one fourth of his entire collection. The Historical Surgery Instrument display is totally worth the visit to Hunterian. There are instruments dating back to the 17th century. Some more recent used by the Japanese during the world war.

The collection is so extensive, after a while we were just skimming through the sections, but I can imagine how fascinating it would be for students of science and biology. Or perhaps Dexter.

It's definitely worth a visit once, and when it's free, why not?

 how glorious it must have been

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Discovering Alternate Tube Maps

London makes a lot more sense now. I don't know how accurate this is, but it seems a lot more realistic. Circular Tube Map design by Max Roberts.

And on other occasions where you go through various permutations, combinations and changing lines to get somewhere when all you needed to do was just walk across the street! Yes, sometimes it is quicker to walk. The tube map can be deceiving, makes you feel like a dodo, and sometimes you just need to pop your head up from under ground, and smell some fresh coffee!

The 'Quicker to Walk' tube map by Rod McLaren

I'm lost!

And a fun link :o

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Discovering the canal

One of my favorite books in childhood was 'Three men in a boat' by Jerome K Jerome. The adventures of three guys with their dog Montmorency (can never forget that name!), and their journey through England on the river Thames. Such fun.

It's pleasant these days with spring setting in, flowers blooming, birds chirping, we thought of walking down to Kings Cross for lunch. Walking by the Regent's canal is lovely. The sun peeping out from behind the puffy clouds, making the waters sparkle. Pretty boat homes lining the canal on the sides.

Further down, there are boats you can hire, to go to Camden lock. There are these cute little corners and patches of grass in between where you can spread out a towel and soak in the sun and read a book. Live music, doggies day out, cycling along the canal... it all looks like something out of an Enid Blyton book.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Discovering Camden Market

Be warned: If you detest crowds, traffic, noise and narrow alleys, Camden Market is not a place you would want to be especially on a weekend.

But these are some of the things I don't mind, so we landed in Camden on a bustling Sunday afternoon. I think it's one of those streets where you have to walk down, looking at the shop facades, more than the shops themselves. 

If Brick Lane was all about the street art, Camden is all about shop fronts. It's loud, 'in-your-face', pulls your attention. There is the Camden market, which is a labyrinth of shops selling clothes, shoes and art, and it's the first 'bargain all you can' market I have been to in London. Some of the jewellery I saw looked straight out of Colaba. In fact the entire market was like a Colaba or a Chatuchak Bangkok market on acid!

I guess you need to spend a good four to five hours, to settle in and figure out this market.  Endless stalls selling unique artefacts, vintage prints, and lamps, and some of them hidden so deep you need to walk around patiently or do your research in advance. I unfortunately had to deal with a husband allergic to crowds and fast running out of patience.

Street foodies will be will delighted at the stalls and variety of offerings at the Camden lock. It's quite a lovely place where you can have your lunch sitting on one of the 'scooters' overlooking the canal. Food from all over the world, fresh juice, ice creams and smoothies.

Over all, I think Camden is worth visiting once, or maybe another 'less crowded' weekday when one doesn't have to constantly worry about being shoved aside or stamped upon.