We’re home. More on the journey and other miscellaneous thoughts, soon.
The last time I drove long distance mostly by myself, was when the boys cycled to Wayanad and I tagged along in the “support car” with all their supplies. Today, I drove halfway to Goa mostly by myself. I say mostly because I was in the car, all alone, but I was driving alongside (not literally) VC who is riding his bike to Goa.
With a car stuffed to the gills, and a bike strapped to the back, it really felt like a fugitive-on-the–run kind of scene this morning as we set off. And yet, it just doesn’t feel like goodbye. It’s the strangest, strangest mixed-up, turnaround of emotions that I just did not anticipate.
Few things make me feel like my father’s daughter like long drives and road-trips do. Today, all by myself, I felt it even more so. Maybe it’s so deep in me, this ease to get on the road and get going, we’ve done this so much growing up that I don’t give it much thought. I just agreed when VC asked if we could split the driving. 24 hours ago though, I was suddenly not so hot on the idea. A massive resistance to pack and get going came over me. I put it down to everything — PMS, the very full moon and even just the strangeness that has been this entire month. But it was too late to back out anyway.
So here we are. Thankfully, I had a really good drive. It was punishingly hot and dry, there was an inordinate amount of traffic getting out of Bangalore, but even so, once the road opened out and my playlists kicked in, I felt like I had slipped out of the funk and into a new energy.
Skimming the road, keeping an eye on VC either in front of me or like a dot in my rearview mirror, I enjoyed my music and solitude, the frequent chai breaks, the oranges I ate peeling them with one hand. It was a long and exhausting drive today. Strange, considering it’s only half the journey, and we usually do the whole 670 kms in one shot. I’m super glad we decided to break our journey, and so I get to post this from the comforts of my hotel room, where I am under the covers as I munch on pakodas and chugging a Coke, waiting for room service to arrive.
Driving alone means you usually have just your thoughts for company. And I had plenty today. Music-related thoughts, Bangalore thoughts, and thoughts about the twists and turns life has made this past year. Maybe some of them will make their way into subsequent posts. Maybe, maybe.
I’m determined to slow down the hectic energy that has consumed me in October, reminding myself to just keep flowing, just keep flowing. If today — it took us twice as long as it usually does to finish this leg of the journey — is anything to go by, things are on track to slowing down for sure.
Heaven, let your light shine down
I’ve thought long and hard about how I can sum up September. I’ve written, re-written and written again, this post collating all that happened in the month, and yet the right way to put it together has eluded me. Continues to elude me. It’s odd because so much happened in September. I was busy, the days were long, I was out and about, and then I went away on what can easily be called one of the best holidays of the last decade for me. Somehow, I’ve been lost for words.
This morning, I realised that perhaps it’s okay. That perhaps I must post this anyway, without neatly tying everything up with a bow. September was over-stimulating. September was snappy and brisk. And yet, September has left me silent. September has made me sit down and be still again.
For far too long now I have been seeking this stillness within. The sort of stillness that steadies me even in the midst of bustling action. Suddenly I realise, September was all about that kind of stillness deep within. Stillness that anchors, steadiness that fills a space. Somewhere, unbeknownst to me, that steadiness has crept in making space for a quiet assuredness that makes it possible to rest without my fingers fidgeting to hold something, to flow from one thing to the next without always knowing how or what or why, to be busy on the outside and calm within all at once, and to let go of the answers knowing that I can sit still with the questions swimming within.
Uncertainty, quietude, surrender, unsettling — there has never been a time in my life that I have enjoyed any of this. And somehow, here I am today doing exactly that. So here goes.
Despite that, there’s been that stillness I mentioned. Peaceful, easy days with emotions running high, thoughts astir.
I feel a deep sense of contentment for where I am right now and all that life has brought for me, especially this past year.
I pondered about inclusion and what it means to evolve and think back wistfully, to older versions of myself.
On distraction and my relationship with screens.
Thoughts on social media, as a result of unrestricted screen-time I had.
Writing every single day this year has been not just exceedingly joyful, but also beneficial.
I’ve also found a new dimension of friendship that fuels me.
I spent a large chunk of the month in Europe and I posted every single day. Sometimes with words, sometimes without.
Enroute: Day 0
Paris: Day 1: Hello Paris, day 2: walking about, day 3: more aimless wandering, day 4: in love with the city of love
Brugges: Day 5: rainy welcome, day 6: all is forgiven, day 7: lessons in uncertainty
Amsterdam: Day 8: sensory overload, day 9: catching sunrise and sunset, day 10: last day reflections
Gratitude, as always.
For choosing the slow, flexible life that supports my inner being.
For the abundance that has come my way in recent times.
For love: in strong friendship that has grown unexpectedly, for family that comes through against all odds.
For friendship across continents, timezones and life spaces.
One month ago: Day 246: August
Two months ago: Day 219: July
Three months ago: Day 184: June
Four months ago: Day 152: May
Five months ago: Day 134: April
Six months ago: Day 92: March
Seven months ago: Day 60: February
Eight months ago: Day 32: January
Reporting from the comforts of my home. With over twelve hours of sleep under my belt, three cups of filter coffee, an entire meal with dal and veggies included cooked by me, two loads of laundry done and the extreme luxury of a bum-spray in the loo. I am truly home now.
It was a whirlwind of a trip, to be honest. Not our usual laid-back, unwind kind of beach holiday. We’ve clocked some crazy kilometres on our feet, seen every sunrise and sunset, and used every mode of public transport available in these cities (ferries included!) over these past 12 days. Such a far, far cry from our usual beach holidays. It wasn’t just the walking that I’ve mentioned so many times before. There was something very different about the energy on this holiday — the keenness to get out and explore, to see things, to push ourselves rather than settle for the usual wind down, find a spot on the beach/on an island and not move till the end of the holiday.
It’s also the holiday we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones. Took buses instead of flights. Chose hostels instead of hotels. Did things I thought I was done doing — sharing a room and loo with complete strangers. But it all worked out, and I’m a bit chuffed at how it did. This has clearly been a time for discovering unexpected things about ourselves. Yet again.
As a result, it’s also been a bit emotional. I’ve had a world of feelings surface. From overwhelming excitement, incredible wonder at little things I observed about city life and people in Europe, to touch of regret about how little of it we see back home, a realisation that I have quite a bit of harboured shame about being Indian, and a rekindled urge to live overseas. Some more regret about not having chased that dream sooner too. And a heart burst open with the realisation that it’s not too late to do it over now.
However, the overarching emotion has been a lot of love and gratitude. And nothing sealed this more for me, than coming home after a 12 hours (with over 24 hours of no sleep), when I could have been very crabby and cranky, but I returned happy and content. Not all holidays end this way, you know.
There’s always the usual blues I feel even just coming back from Goa. But to have a full heart and to actually look forward to being home again, said a lot about how fulfilling the holiday has been. I feel like I had the best time I could have possibly had. I got a lot from this holiday — expected and unexpected. And it was just so satisfying.
We ended up staying with S in Paris for one night. It wasn’t even remotely part of our plan. And then J flew in from Hamburg to surprise us. And suddenly our time in Paris changed dramatically, unexpectedly becoming a reunion that stoked a warm fire of forgotten memories as we conversed endlessly, laughed and gossiped. There was also so much wandering wherever our feet wanted to take us, picnicking in parks, lounging on street corners, eating wherever and whenever we pleased, some pub hopping and LOTS of wine.
I had a moment when I realised that I’ve known these boys for almost a decade now. There are few people I think of reconnecting with the way I do with these fellows. In the years since they left Goa, and we did too, we’ve all gone wildly different ways. They’re not people I actively stay in touch with. No social media means I have to make the effort, and I haven’t been very good at all with that these past few years. I might send the occasional text, J relentlessly sends me postcards from his travels, but that’s about it. We’re not clued in on the little ins and outs of each other’s lives anymore like we used to be. But it always happily surprises me when time and time again we manage to snatch chances to catch up. It’s nearly not as frequent as we’d like it to be. But we do manage it, and when we do, time rolls back and slips effortlessly right back to the way things used to be. Distances diminish, boundaries collapse, timezones melt down and we’re the same four bodies drinking and eating and listening to good music and having a laugh all over again. In fact, this was the fourth continent that I have caught up with S in. Over our third bottle of wine and an elaborate snack plate at S’s on our last evening there, I actually told them this — there’s not a lot of people I have the liberty and good fortune of doing this with, but with them I know it will always go back to being easy like we know it, and that’s what makes me want to do it again and again.
I ponder over friendship a lot. I have a lot of different kinds of it in my life at the moment — a whole varied assortment of friends — but even so I am a bit raw about recent experiences in this respect. And this realisation — of what we have with J and S — was soothing like balm. That afternoon, I might have healed a long sore wound and filled up a little emptiness in me.
VC is easily my best travel mate for a range of reasons, but mostly because of his keen sense of curiosity and ability to go all out to get what he wants. It means if he sets his mind on something — a spot for his evening shot, or a particular cuisine we feel like eating, or finding the most uncommercial things to do — he will go all out to make it happen. This compliments my low-key, go-with-the-flow attitude completely.
The rest of the trip had VC going a bit batshit with the photography. You can see his pictures from the trip on his Instagram page. All the aimless wandering certainly helped, and if it weren’t for him and his obsessive commitment to getting all the good pictures, I might not have explored these cities the way I did with him. Ever so grateful for that. Ticking off museums and sights wasn’t on our agenda, so we just took every day as it came, deciding in the morning what we felt like doing, which direction we wanted to wander in, with no real fixed agenda.
It was my second time in Brugges too, so things felt a bit familiar up until them. Amsterdam, on the other hand, was a whole other story. A massive cultural onslaught that smacked me in the face. I thoroughly enjoyed, for obvious reasons bahaha, even though it felt like an odd mix of Bombay and Goa at times which disoriented me in the beginning.
Of course, I’ve left a piece of my heart each in Paris, Brugges and Amsterdam. But I am also feeling so content. I’m so full of love for the experiences, gratitude for how everything worked out despite minimal planning, and I am most thankful for how much the holiday has triggered in my mind, pushing me to get out of my head, and the amount of fodder it’s given me to move ahead from here on.
Two years ago: Day 274: For every down, there is an up
Amsterdam. Day 3.
It’s been ten whole days since we left India and finally I’m craving a good hot frothy sugarless filter coffee. Even though the frothy hot chocolate I’ve been having everyday (sometimes twice!) Has been excellent. I could also do with some veggies that are not lettuce and tomatoes. The food has been stupendous on this trip. We’ve had everything from local favourites wherever we stayed to fancy Italian and picnics in the park, overstuffed cheese platters, Lebanese, Asian and even so much dessert! I can’t think of a single meal that disappointed me, honestly. And that’s not just my easily-satisfied side speaking. Even so, it’s time for some veggies, I think. And some cold home-set dahi. Those are the basics. And I guess I’m that person who will in cliche fashion want those basics after ten days in a continent that loves white flour.
Im most surprised at not getting any reading done. I knew this was going to be a high activity, lots of getting out kind of trip. Even with all the walking, I’d assumed there’d be lots of lazy spaces and pockets of time — a day in the park, some hours ago a coffee shop, an evening by the sidewalk — where I could read. You see, that’s typically what I do on holiday. But this one has been so dramatically different. And in such a refreshingly new way — to be out and about in three different countries in such a short time — I’ve observed, internalised and learned so much just from watching. And like I said before, I’ve been so full with the experiences that I haven’t felt the urge to reach out or need a change of pace.
We have walked so, so much. That was a given when we planned this trip. Even so, the amount of traversing we finally have done has been overwhelming. We bought day passes for the trains, buses and trams everywhere and virtually took no cabs. This is a first for us.
The other thing I’ve watched with amazement is how we’ve so easily skipped one me everyday. Either breakfast or lunch depending on how we’ve felt at the start of the day. This was done for no other reason than that all things edible here come in such generous portions, the meals we have eaten have been large and sumptuous. Even with all the walking about we’ve eaten two big meals a day and felt completely fine.
This trip has really rekindled the explorer variety of travel that I thought I was done with. I was definitely in a space where all holidays were about winding down and relaxing, but this time I outside my own expectations of myself by exploring every place we went to. Doing it on foot probably added to the experience, because there’s something about getting a grasp of the place on foot that’s unparalleled.
This has also meant a lot of wistful longing for my 20s. Seeing my friends in Europe, with the life and opportunity for so much we can never dream of in India made me really think about how I might do my 20s over if I had the chance. Seeing them reminded me of dreams I’ve let go of and just pass me by as inaccessible because of the way life has come to me.
I have a deep longing to fulfill some of those forgotten dreams of travel and living. But on the other hand, getting out like this without a plan and seeing how easy it has been to navigate the place On my own has also infused me with a new excitement that maybe I will make up for lost time in my 30s.
This is movement for me. And it really made me warm and fuzzy with new eye and virgin excitement, like the world is my oyster right now. The months ahead literally have so many options open. VC has been throwing very tempting life plans at me, planting multiple seeds of possibility and I’m stunned at how longing for lost time quickly becomes excitement for the time I have. This is definitely a movement towards a healthier space.
Two years ago: Day 272: I am eager
Amsterdam. Day 2.
Amsterdam Blues. And how. The good weather streak is back.
At first hit, Amsterdam Centraal felt like a mildly sophisticated Bombay. The inner lanes we wound or way through felt like Baga. And then we went down to China Town and had a noodle lunch. Listening to the restaurant staff chat away in what sounded to my ignorant ears like Chinese gave me a proper mind-bending WTF-am-I feeling, because suddenly I felt like it could have been Bangkok or Singapore.
Or it was just that Amsterdam air kicking in good and solid.
I’m amazed by these buildings, the incessant cyclists and how is the prevalent form of transport here.
I’ve been on VCs holiday schedule these last few days, which is to catch the sunrise and sunset everyday and work everything else we want to do around that. It’s settled into a nice rhythm and I realise there’s no other way I’d probably ever wake up this early on holiday and walk about a new city so much on my own. This has been a fun new thing to do. And a great way to explore the non essential sights.
And when the city and skies look this good, it’s worth it.
One year ago: On letting go of what is meant-to-be and enjoying what-is
Two years ago: Day 271: Control issues, part 2
Amsterdam. Day 1.
We’ve gone from great blistery weather to impossibly cold weather back to really toasty crisp weather again.
I’m really getting used to this layering business and find myself illogically drawn to staring at people’s extremely cool sneakers and catch myself daydreaming about building my own collection.
Riding the metro in, I realised that this wasn’t part of the plan, but happily so, we’ve experienced three wildly different cities with wildly different cultures and entirely fresh vibe each.
I didn’t anticipate how freeing this mingling with people would be. It’s been a proper sensory overload and my brain hasn’t been able to do much else.
My loaded up Kindle lies untouched, my notebook has 2.5 entries. My days are going by in a haze of thoughts, contemplation and happiness. And lots of walking and wandering.
Okay, Amsterdam. Let’s do this.
Two years ago: Day 270: Control issues
Bruges. Day 3.
What does it really mean to pause, when presented with the opportunity, unexpectedly, out of line?
The process of becoming has so much more silent staying than moving. The becoming happens almost in micro-mini movements. It can only be felt and known in the pauses.
This holiday, in the most unexpected way, is testing my capacity to let go of the need to get out and get moving and forcing me to choose staying in spaces I thought I couldn’t.
I’m trying to trust the uncertainty. The tentative, slow steps. Quite often it is when things are uncertain, that anything is possible. And I have not been too good at waiting to give that a chance.
Bruges. Day 2.
This is what I like to call tiny interventions of divinity. How else do you explain how the weather goes from being pissy, continuously raining with dull grey, flat skies. To this. Overnight.
This is what we woke up to. And immediately grabbed the opportunity to get out and explore.
We pretty much lost track of time and only the belfry that chimes unmistakably on the hour, in what is almost an entire recognisable tune, brought us back to reality.
Bruges in the sun is stunning. Sparkly, stark, simply gorgeous. The skies have cleared up entirely and the blue is starting to hurt my eyes. The clouds are unreal and racing by fast. It’s still windy and there’s a chill in the air.
I’ve had to bring out the big guns given my low tolerance for the cold. A beanie, muffler and woolen gloves. Over a full sleeved tee, sweater and jacket. Toasty as fuck.
Right after this glorious morning we tucked in a Panini and hot chocolate each. But since no hot chocolate here is matching up to what we had in Paris, VC is known a mission to find the best one around.
The rest of the week promises to be sunny. Life goes on. With tiny little divine interventions.
Bruges. Day 1.
We set off at the crack of dawn, at 5 am, from a cold, dark and drizzly Paris to catch a bus to Bruges. The drive was stunning, with rolling meadows and countryside, interspersed with the odd fairytale like town complete with cottages bearing smoking chimneys and picture perfect autumnal trees lining the avenues for miles. All excessively pretty from the safe haven of a heated bus. But the rain got progressively worse and we arrived at Bruges in the midst of a proper downpour.
After about an hour of waiting under the bus shelter, when we thought the rain was slowing down, we decided to make a dash for it. The nearest busstop was just 700 Mt away. Bad call. Because as soon as we dashed out, back packs, bags and all, it came down again so bad. We got drenched trying to run back for cover.
And that’s pretty much how it stayed for the rest of the day, forcing us indoors for the most part. The rain also made it horribly windy and temperatures ten degrees lower than Paris.
The day was almost fully washed out with just one dry spell at lunch time when we ducked out to the first charming bar we spotted. It is the land of beer, after all.
A forced siesta happened because what else was there to do but sleep? But we eventually got out again at sunset, when it slowed down a little, just enough for us to venture out in search of food.
Even so, Bruges is charming. Like stuck in a weird timewarp of sorts, dating back centuries and still mimicking the typical slow town life, while also having a chic, modern, hipster vibe on the inside. It’s one of the few European towns that survived both wars with virtually no damage, even though it was occupied both times.
Such a pretty town, this. It’s my second time here too, and I was keen to walkabout with VC. But it’s been an uneventful day overall and being cooped up in the tiny bedroom at our air bnb depressed me thoroughly. But maybe it’s for the best, we were forced to nap and catch up on some rest after the endless walking in Paris.
Paris. Day 4.
There’s just so much to say, about this city, about how not having a plan when we travel worked out for us, about intersecting with friends in parts of the world and about just how incredibly overwhelming beautiful this has been.
We’ve been so lucky with the weather this week, even with the spots of rain, we had J fly down from Hamburg to surprise us and S who anyway lives here now, which dramatically changed the way these four days have been.
Mostly, I’m grateful for life’s little surprises and how things always work out. I came without a plan, just a vague idea of what I would do, and it didn’t involve a single museum. I had no idea it would turn out that I’d spend my time the way I did, but somehow it has been exactly what I wanted.
My brain has been shutting down from the sheer sensory party that this place is. I can’t seem to string one sentence straight even though they’re all there in my head. Try as I might to invoke them, all I get is a bunch of superlatives that still fall short.
I’ll have to try once again in a few days after I’ve had a chance to process it all.
Paris has my heart. Good and proper.
Paris. Day 3.
All the walkabouts around Paris have really brought home the fact that it’s been years since I even had a holiday of this nature. For almost the last decade we’ve only been taking beach holidays (save for Singapore, but that doesn’t count for other reasons) where I only ever have a singular agenda. To sit. Also known as, to not move. I haven’t had to pack sneakers for a holiday since 2009. So you get the idea.
This has just been so exciting for me, walking around, having all the sights and sounds and smells just in my face, all the time. Of course it means I have been stopping all too many times to snap bits of it.
The weather has been so great. It’s one of the warmer weeks of autumn so far. With highs between 27-30 degrees C between noon and sunset, it’s actually sweaty when were walking around. The mornings are delightfully crisp and cool, with gleaming blue skies. As soon as the sun goes down, the wind picks up and the temperature begins to dip. But it hasn’t been unbearable at all, which is saying a lot for me.
Basically, it’s facilitated a lot of my aimless wondering. I’m thrilled because it’s all I wanted.
Every street corner is oozing with charm and prettiness. Even the tiniest stores have that little something that gives them a charm, makes it that much quainter and inviting.
Paris has a way to make even the dullest, most mundane fixtures look designer and pretty. Street lights, metro signs, bike parking stands.
CANNOT STAND THE PRETTY.
Two years ago: Day 265: Today, on the internet
Paris. Day 2.
It’s was a day of extreme touristy-touristing, ticking off some Parisien staples and just so much walking.
I totally dig cities with great public transport and that facilitate easy walking around. It’s an extreme luxury where I come from, and a definite sign that authorities care for people. Paris was always well connected by public transport, but it’s gotten even better, if that’s even possible.
I remember how easily I crisscrossed the place in 2004, armed with just a weekly metro pass and a map and only occasionally needing to ask someone for help. This time around, it feels like the number of stations have increased and there’s a far superior level of interconnectivity between the metro, the RER (intercity train system), trams and buses for the last mile bits. And what’s better is that tickets bought for any of these systems apply across all others too. Which means, if I buy a metro ticket, I can even use it on a bug or tram to get to my destination once I get off the metro.
There’s also bicycles on hire which is so great. And in general, I’ve seen so many cyclists, people on those two wheeled scooter thingies, rollerskates and skate boards, self-balancing electric unicycles and segways as legit means of transport, and not just fun things to do. There’s dedicated cycling lanes most everywhere.
Of course all of this means there’s far fewer cars on the streets, which is so wonderful overall. So many thousands of people take to the streets to walk to get to places. It’s the most normal thing. In fact I’m beginning to think that brisk, purposeful walk in the highest heels is also such a quintessential Parisien thing to see.
I’m aware how much this makes me sound like a villager out from the boonies, in the city of gleaming lights. Let me assure you, in this respect, it is 100% true.
Excellent public transport makes me irrationally happy. There is something so empowering about being able to wander freely, regardless of the time of day, distance you have to go and your age or gender.
So of course, to make full use of this we began wandering — which is my only non-agenda for the entire trip. I don’t have a list of places to see and things to do. I want to get out everyday, pick a neighbourhood and just wander. Loaf. Roam.
Ended the day with this view, watching the sun go down and the Eiffel Tower shimmering classily on the hour.
It was a steeply priced ticket to get up here, but easily the best Euros spent in the last two days because we got to be up on this observation deck for almost two hours just sitting and watching.
Umpteen train rides have happened, over 10km clocked by foot, and the day ended with a glass of wine at a bistro, more walking to one of the best Falafel spots, and a one hour bus ride back to our hotel.
I passed out on the ride back. The kind of pass out one has from extreme exhaustion, every inch of my legs wanting rest. My body hasn’t been used and moved around this much, since the OXFAM walk. It’s a thoroughly satiating way to get to know a city — by foot. It’s down and dirty, mingling with it on the ground, so much touch and feel that adds granularity to the experience. I was so, so tired, but so satiated and happy. And that’s a pretty good way to end the day, in my (holiday)book.
Two years ago: Day 264: Perch
Paris. Day 1.
Back in Paris after 15 years and the last thing I expected to feel as we stood in the airport queue to enter the country, was anxious. As much as I love being in big cities that take me completely out of my comfort zone, I realised that in the last decade I’ve only travelled east, which feels neighbourly and therefore has a sense of familiarity.
Being in the West, amongst so many white people on the other hand feels overwhelmingly new. I was surprised at how anxious I felt facing the newness, walking the streets and trying to find our way around. It made me think back to 19 year old me, who was obviously much more open to negotiating a new experience. I felt an overwhelming sense of kindness and respect for the person I once was who thought nothing to pick up and go to a new country all by herself. There’s a sense of heart-wide-openness that I remember from then, which made it possible to wander the city with nothing more than a backpack and a map. It was long before smartphones, and I feel that lack of feeling tentative and to go all in made it a special trip.
Wandering around this city yesterday, I had a deep longing for that kind of uncertain wandering. Of eagerness with no plans. And I felt a renewed sense of what I want to work towards next. Here’s to growing up and staying young and to bringing back that unfiltered curiosity and softness in my heart.
Two years ago: Day 263: All you need is less — projects
En route. Day 0.
No matter how many times I do this, no matter how many borders and miles I cross, the idea that we can jet across entire timezones and mammoth continents in a metal capsule hurtling through the sky, never ceases to blow my mind.