Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crepe and British

Definition of Crepe - a very thin pancake usually made out of wheat flour.

Not that pancakes are new to me but I was fascinated by the T shaped stick that they use to spread out the batter evenly on the hot frying pan.

You can have them with different fillings and I chose banana and chocolate. When this young boy was making this he made sure that his hands did not touch any part of the pancake or the fillings. (note how he is cutting the banana without peeling it fully)

Then comes the chocolate

And finally it was neatly transferred to the paper napkin and handed over to the customer.

Here is another guy near Notre Dame cathedral, serving us crepe (he told us he was from Pakistan)
While chatting with him he told us the proportion of the batter and how to make it.

While I was having the crepe, these two cops passed by. Noticed that the cops that are on the beat are mostly in pairs (or sometimes more that two) Makes sense in case of an emergency.

At Mount St Mitchel one of the tourists had some health problem (could be due to the climbing involved) and I found that the authorities were there in no time with medical assistance.

Some cops are friendly and chat along with the tourists

While some have a bored look on their face (could be due to the repetitive action of giving directions)

The only place I was stopped by a cop was at Paris central station. The minute I took out my camera, a plainclothesman planted himself in front of me and asked “Do you speak English?” When I answered in the affirmative, he pulled out his I Card and said, “I am from the Police dept, you are not allowed to take photographs here. You can click out side the station” I nodded and moved on. Security reasons I suppose (or did I have a suspicious look?)

At stations its best to ask a ticket checker for directions.

And talking of ticket checkers I noticed that they also had to do the multi task of giving the signal too.
Its like this, as soon as the train stops at a station, the ticket checker (from the train) comes out and stands on the platform. He makes sure that there is no one left to alight or board after which he blows the whistle and closes all the doors (by pressing a switch in his cabin)

Then he goes to the nearest pole having the signal button, inserts his special key, and turns the switch (to change the signal?)

 and makes a dash back to his cabin and presses the button to close his cabin door (which is independent of other doors) and the train moves on.

Did travel on the High speed train (Thalys) twice and found their service quite good. Even though it moves at a high speed (max 300 kmph) it is pretty stable inside and you hardly feel any movement.

For a change we travelled in comfort 1. You get good bargain fares if you book well in advance. The food is complementary in comfort1.

I liked the design of the head rest of the seat. (prevents you from falling into the co passenger’s seat when you fall asleep)
Talking of trains we were staying at this place in Ponterson which was diagonally opposite the station. There were only a handful of trains that pass through this station and even the trains that come are of two or three bogies. After 4 pm there is no activity at the station.

The level crossing has only one bar and the drivers obey and stay behind the bar (something that cannot be thought of in India !!)
A special mention should be made about Mr Robert Holyoak who drives the bus between Ponterson and Mont St Michel. He helped us a lot in giving us information about the area and train/bus timings and how to get back to Amsterdam via Rouen.

Initially when we asked him “Speak English?” He gave us a worried look and said “I think so, if I am born and bred in Stratford I think I should speak fairly good English”

Our mistake. . . . . . . . we should have guessed that he was British.

(by the way eventhough I am not featured in any of these pictures, I am still visible in two of them  - Hitchcock style)
In case you want to enlarge the pictures, just click on them.

Friday, September 23, 2011

If its Tuesday this must be Belgium

I know there was a song by that name and a movie with a similar name but when we were there it was not Tuesday. While in Belgium we covered three places. Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp.

Staying at Antwerp we visited Bruges & Brussels.
But before I talk about these places let me tell you that we had an excellent host at Antwerp. We call him Phanee though that is not his official name. Not only did he see to it that we felt at home, he even cooked for us. The first day he made lovely chicken curry and the next day it was a special type of Andhra fish curry with the right amount of spices. I don’t think I ever had a fish curry like that even in India so I can safely make the statement that the “the best Indian fish curry that I had was in Belgium”
That’s Phanee in a relaxed mood with his lap top

A quick peep into the kitchen to give the final instructions

and with us before he was dashing off to office.

The place was  walking distance from the Antwerp station, the same station where 200 danced to the tune of Do Re Mi about 2 years ago. I loved that video.(can’t believe that they did it with just 2 rehearsals)

The same station was used in Agatha Christie’s movie  The Chocolate Box
Now coming to Bruges, I was not all that impressed with the chocolate factory (choco-story) , and the demonstration of chocolate making that was held there. I found it more interesting to observe the students (or was it a paid batch) trying out various items with chocolate.

There were many items made of chocolate

 and the latest addition was this !
Yes thats a statue of President Obama in chocolate.
I wonder if Obama would head for the chocolate factory or Madam Tussand’s museum (if he was given a choice)

Some lighter moments at the factory.

The best part that we liked in Bruges was the Belgian Navy Band that performed there at the city square on that day. What a treat. I did get a lot of footage of it mainly on video. I have complied one and uploaded on YouTube.

A special mention should be made about Kapelmeester Bjorn Verschoore. (Kapelmeester = Conductor)

He did a wonderful job of not only producing good music with his band, but also made the audience participate and enjoy the whole show.

These pictures show how the audience loved it.

While shooting, wifey wanted to tell me something, not realizing that it was getting captured in the audio part of it. I had to slowly tell her to keep quiet and that too got captured !!

I could have erased it or superimposed the music over it, but then what is the fun if everything is perfect, so I let it remain for posterity. You can hear it at 4.00 mts

I captured this from various spots but the best vantage point was from the back of the stage where I could capture the guy on the drum set (and the Kapelmeester) in full action.

Those of you who want to enjoy it, here it is : 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tablets and Kindle

In the good old days, friendship was just going out for a walk and talking to each other with only your dog eavesdropping.

Now friendship is talking to each other on Facebook with the whole world eavesdropping.

In the good old days, tablet was something that my dad used to give me to swallow with a glass of water when I was not feeling well.

Or the word kindle was something the Famous Five used to do in Enid Blyton’s book when they went camping and wanted to light a fire.

Today you ask any child the meaning of Kindle and they will rattle out “ let me see…….. do you have a Android phone ? Then maybe I can tell you the compatibility chances of…..”

“What do you mean Android? And its an Android phone not a Android phone. Have you not learnt about the vowels in school? A E I O U “

“That’s kewl, now as we were talking about this Kindle thingy, its really awesome especially if you are going for the Amazon Kindle. Its just mind boggling and ……”

“Wait a minute, what are the advantages of this Kindle thingy, I mean thing?”

“Well if you are not satisfied with Kindle, you can go in for the Nook”

“The what ?”

“Well, Nook by Barnes & Noble is something where you can download millions of book and read them, and it has this touchscreen thingy ……..”

“Aha touchscreen, yes I have seen that. Look here, why don’t we just simply buy a book from the bookstore and curl up in a corner on a rainy day and  read and enjoy the book. Do you know the joy of the lovely smell of a new book? When one page is over you simply turn the page and continue reading. And when you want to keep it away you simply put in a bookmark……. yes that long thing is the bookmark…… which shows you from where you have to continue reading”

“No probs there, I will Google it up”

Google it? What about the good old dictionary?”

“Oh my Gawd, you are so boring, come on, you have to move with the times…… why don’t you just twitter it and you will get lots of …..”

“I don’t know how this twittering thing works and has never done it. I only know that someone twittered and then he had to resign and had to move down south and is now happily married and settled down in God’s own country watching cricket”

“Now I am off to the corner book store”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Flowers and artists

At Avila in Spain we came across this painter who painted landscapes and sold them. He was happy with his sales, and asked me to click his picture with the sale that he just made. He even gave us his website and asked me to look it up and post this picture there. But I kept wondering how he stood there under that hot sun all day to complete his paintings.

I did come across some other good artists too in Paris and Belgium and really appreciate the work that they have done.

We too bought a couple of these paintings in the hope of putting them up at home. (20 Euros for two of these is a fair deal I suppose)
The most common sight that you see in almost all of Europe are the flowers. Practically everything is decorated with flowers. The lamp posts, the railings, the balconies,

the buildings, the street corners, you name it and it is there.

The same street corner in the night from another angle,

It gives a pleasant and happy atmosphere to the whole place.
Some may like the flowers in the picture below and some may exclaim "wow Harley Davidson"

This one below was clicked in Belgium ( Bruges ) where this lady was just opening her shop and arranging the flowers.
Flower shop in Bruges
© Photographer: Joezachs | Agency:

While I was at it, I could hear the clipetty clop of the horses and swerved around to see a horse drawn cart passing by. I almost missed that shot. Sometimes its a dilemma as to what to click and how and when.

For example we were cruising down the Seine river listening to the recorded commentary which is attached to the individual chair. You have to take out the handset and hold it to the ear. (so one hand is engaged there) I had a tough time holding the hand set as well as taking in the sight (and correlating with what I saw) and clicking with the other hand.

And then came the announcement “Now we will be passing under the famous bridge where you can make a wish and kiss your partner”
That was one more task to juggle for me. So wifey held the hand set and I kissed her and Christine took this shot from behind. Just in time before the bridge passed over us !!

Now I am trying to figure out the wish that I made :-)