Ambition

The word “ambition” has such a proud feeling attached to it. In my world, it’s the ultimate driver. This desire to achieve, make a difference and be successful is applauded and thus, addictive. It’s born out of this dog-eat-dog environment that I have been engulfed in – always surrounded by overachievers, raised by truly successful parents that made a lot out of little, and thrown into different continents where the single common factor that the majority of the people around me possess is a desire to get somewhere, before embracing what is already there.

Ambition is tuned in my mind to be positive, and good, and healthy, and the right way to go about living my life. And all this is great – the daily dose of food is never an issue, the world suddenly makes sense because I can afford to see a lot more of it, and the ladies enjoy the talk that comes along with it. There is also this voodoo sense of superiority that lingers over. All hunky-dory, of course.

But, also omnipresent is stress, hair loss, a lack of time and the constant feeling that there is a lot more left to achieve. And, when all that loads itself into my drive, a parallel ambition-less universe becomes a lot more interesting. In the end, ambition is a social construct severed by society that we succumb to believe is the right path. Throw that in the trash, and my mind seems revolutionized. I suddenly like not being ambitious. That itself is ironical, and well, sad. Just doing enough to make ends meet and living an eventful, joyous, stress-free spirit should not be revolutionary.

All this is easily said and thought. Doing it is extraordinary, because for me, ambition is now the safer path. Wow.

P.S. All this eerily comes down to the overused and annoyingly true “grass is greener on the other side” metaphor.

Four Midnights In Paris

Not enough. Four days in Paris is nearly not enough to get a decent grip of the city. Paris was my last stop and like every journey, the end is the hardest. On my way to Paris, I thought I was burning out. I was getting focused, making plans and generating lists of all the errands I need to get at once I go back to Texas. And amidst all that focusing, Paris came alive, and it wasn’t only at midnight.

Like all good movies, the best bit is normally at the end. And the end is sometimes what is least expected. Just when I thought Europe could not get any prettier, Paris trotted in with its sensationalism. Paris is so precisely pretty. The buildings, the roads, the gardens, the picnic spots, the cathedrals, the sky and the river are all so much more defined than the rest of Europe. It’s a combination of contrasts, comprising both grand palaces with massive gardens and small stone-paved streets with cute houses. It has the rich, sophisticated, touristy Eiffel tour, and the more raw escape that is Montmarte. There is so much to see and absorb and experience. Paris was the climax I didn’t expect.

There were two main elements of Paris that I endeared. The first was simply a bridge, the Pont Alexandre III bridge. It was this semi-short bridge with massive statues at its ends, serenely decorated with intricate carvings all around and consistently sprinkled with gold. In my opinion, it kicked Prague’s Charles Bridge’s butt. The second was the Montmarte area. Montmarte is on a slope of a hill, with this raw community of French people, French bars and French restuarants. The best part about Montmarte was that it wasn’t touristy, and had its own local flair with some beautiful escapes. The only un-local aspect of Montmarte was Sacrè Coeur, but Sacrè Coeur had a great view of Paris, so it’s all good. Ooh, and let me add a third – the Gardens of Versailles. They were truly breathtaking. Imagine waking up to two kilometers of the most symmetrically beautiful gardens in the world. It’s one of those must-see things that must be seen and even after all the high expectations, it is a must-see-again. The Eiffel Tower was good. Champs-Elysees is a good street, but way too commercialized.

The biggest downer of Paris was that it is a bloody romantic city. If Europe in general is considered romantic, Paris is a hundred thousand million billion times more romantic. There are no single people in Paris, only couples and umm, children. With every beautiful monument comes a wet kiss, or a solid make-out session. It’s in-your-face romantic. Do not go there if you’re single, but make it your first destination with a new girlfriend, fiance or wife.

Oh man, the women. The women are beautiful, so so beautiful and when they speak, they suddenly become goddesses. It’s a pity that there are no single women in Paris. And the people in general are extremely friendly, and the friendliness seems starkly genuine, in comparison to the States. The Parisians only dislike Americans.

Lone traveling is defined by the wondrous people that you run into. I ran into these two super girls that I had randomly hung out with in Prague. The world is small, and Europe is smaller. I met a long lost Texan friend in Paris and we shared two milestones together – watching the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in Stade de France, and the Euro 2012 final on Champs-Elysees. Both were fantastic. Flea makes the Chilli Peppers an awesome live band, and I have never seen so many honking cars with Spanish flags on a street that is not in Spain. Both were true spectacles. I met these two fantastic Israeli girls who were just fantastic. They burst into songs and accents on call, and had the maturity to laugh at themselves. Refreshing. I also met a close friend’s doppelganger, a couple of delightful Italian girls and another crazy Australian who was only living in a hotel (and not a hostel) because he followed a girl to Paris.

Paris, at the core, is a great city. They have a square named after a dance-pop pioneering French singer, Dalida, who tragically killed herself after all three of her husbands took their own lives. Heavy stuff. But, this was as early as 1987 and it’s telling when a city commemorates a pioneer who did not live 500 years in the past. It was a fitting end to a great holiday.

I did not see the Monalisa. Apparently, it’s small or something.

I have a thing for large statues with horses.

Texas.

P.S. Local beer = Wine.

Oh Bless’th Rome

Rome was my 6th stop. I thought I had seen enough history in the past 20 days to not be overwhelmed. But oh boy, Rome ruffled that belief. There is just so much to see in Rome. Every 50 metres there is this fountain, or this statue, or this monument, or this tomb, or this church, or this ruin. It’s just so majestic that all I can think of is this bimbo of a woman saying, ‘Shutt uppp!’

Rome ignited a lot of mixed feelings about religion. Religion is such a history-shaping concept that is so prevalent not only in Europe, but everywhere sunshine touches. The fact that Rome is the home of Christianity just gives me more leverage to magnify my heresy. The first major part of any tourist’s Romexperience is Vatican City. The Vatican is the home of the Pope, the home of Christianity and the home of all controversy. It is beautiful, historic, rich and the cause of all the madness history has to offer. On a superficial level, the Vatican museum is insightful. The Sistine Chapel is serene. The works of Michelangelo and Raphael are full of double-meaning, precision, depth and character. Leonardo Da Vinci is an absolute genius. The Last Judgment is even more incredible when you know what all its elements stand for. The School of Athens in the Raphael Rooms was my favorite. The fight between fact and belief, thought and blind faith, is so daunting. All this makes the Vatican truly wonderful. But what the Church stood for and stands for, is such a mess.

I am not religious. I dislike the Pope. Yes, today’s progressive correctness involving matters such as pro-choice and gay-marriage makes the Popes job hard, but he needs to get with the times. Being a ‘leader’ of a major chunk of the world, you cannot go to Africa, an AIDS-ridden country, and tell them not to use condoms. ‘Sexual abstinence’? You’ve got to be joking. And it’s not just that. The Church is a sexist, selfish, backward-thinking enterprise that has led to more wars than anything else. It is corrupt and severely money-oriented. The public can’t take pictures in the Sistine Chapel because the photography rights have been sold to a Japanese Corporation, in exchange for ‘restoration money’ and God-knows what else. Literally. Here’s a quote from this article:

“The Vatican avoids Ici tax on about 100,000 properties, classed as non-commercial, including 8,779 schools, 26,300 ecclesiastical structures and 4,714 hospitals and clinics.

Estimates of its annual saving from avoiding the levy range widely from €600m to €2.2bn.”

Why does the Vatican get to evade Property Tax and then charge 15 Euros for entry? Why do you have to cover your shoulders and knees to enter St Peter’s Basilica? Sign of respect? It’s so hot in Rome right now God, respect our God-given warm-bloodedness. Yes, I am biased and supremely skeptical, but I see little rationality in religion.

I could go on endlessly about this.

There were three monuments that I really enjoyed for reasons more than just their awesomeness.

The Colosseum, obviously, was fantastic, especially because it was fantastically old. I loved how its origin revolved around political power. Kings and senators wanted to win the people over, and so they gave the people what they wanted – blood. And, they loved the kings for it. Humans were the same even 2000 years ago. Yes, the last bit is kind of from Gladiator, but that’s my favorite movie of all time, so it’s okay.

The Trevi Fountain is beautiful but what it stands for makes it that much more spectacular. For once, a monument was not named after the Pope or the artist or its fund-ers. The Trevi Fountain was named after its most important facet – the spring that fed it its water. It’s design is inspired by the spring’s discovery and commemorates how the spring was a reviving relief of water that Rome needed. Nicola Salvi, then a nobody, was given the honor of building this symbol of Rome. There was so much pressure on his shoulders to perform, especially because he was chosen over other more renowned sculptors like Bernini. And he really delivered. I like this underdog story. I can relate to it. We all can.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is just so friggin’ majestic. It’s snow white and stands tall in front of a cascade of Roman towers – so grand, so commanding. It really leaves an impression.  I stumbled upon it while getting lost in the city and yes, that did help make it mean more to me than the usual monument. But seriously, why can’t more architecture today be so bold?

Besides all this sightseeing business, I continued to meet some wondrous people. The stand out was this pretty and petit woman. She is a film-editor based in London pursuing her dreams of becoming a feature-film editor. We spoke for hours. I also ran into a Turkish folk-dancing group that comprised largely of girls. They thought that my random friend and I looked like a couple of Turkish actors. They took our picture and promised to send us a picture of those super-handsome Turkish actors. Oh yeah, baby. I’ll see them in Istanbul someday. I also had some awesome Mutton Biryani. Twice. I miss home.

Paree next along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers!

P,S, Local beer = Peroni = eh.

Florence Florence Florence

I was not alone in Florence. There was this best friend of mine and at least 672 American girls to give me company. Again, the Firenze experience was mighty different. I spent a lot of time talking, drinking, laughing and introspecting with somebody I am extremely close to. We met in Dubai, have chilled in Mumbai, have watched an Arsenal game together in London and have now partied in Florence. A friendship as global as that is rare.

Florence was almost this fancy, historic background, full of statues of naked men. Yes, these statues are beautiful, but there is only a certain dosage of penises one can take. But, this abundance of nakedness explains the abundance of girls. It is mind-numbing how precise these monuments are though. They are real, grand and symbolic. I also saw the Diome and the age-old bridge. The dry nature of the previous sentence kind of sums up the “sightseeing” I did here. I wish I could have dived more into the history Florence had to offer, but this part of the trip was less about seeing and more about reconnecting. I’ll be back here to really soak in the culture.

I have never been more annoyed at hearing the American accent than when I was in Florence. I am not in America and therefore, I don’t want to hear the God-damned American accent.

Florence is full of expatriates and full of camera-carrying, map-reading tourists. It’s like Dubai in a sense, but the “local” culture is defined by the shenanigans of the expats. In that sense, I was with an expat and did what him and his expat student-friends do. We drank, “played” football, drank, chilled in “Piazzas,” drank, partied, drank, watched Italy beat England, celebrated Italy beating England with the Italians, ate Kebabs, drank, ate Pizza, drank and drank a little more. I have no idea where we lived and this is the one city I never used a map in. In my defence, I was with college students and a ridiculously close friend. There is nothing like living like a local in the least likely of places.

I feel that the most important part of this little trip was the conversations I had. Traveling, to a decent extent, is about finding yourself. And it’s through conversations with people you know and you don’t know that you gauge who you are and where you want to be. Corny as all this sounds, it’s extremely earth-shaking and rewardingly refreshing.

On to Rome and the history it has to offer.

P.S. Local beer = I don’t know = blur.

Praha!

The getting-tired stage also arrived with Prague. But, I was going to be around for a whopping five nights, so I had time to recuperate. And, oh yes I was excited. I remember when Mum and Dad came back from Prague, Dad’s favorite attraction was, “Anish yaar, the women in Prague are so bloody beautiful.”

I then looked awkwardly at Mum and she reaffirmed, “Their skin is so white and so beautiful.” So, when your parents rave about the women of a city, you can’t really forget about it. I entered Prague and looked for these mystical creatures and maybe, I looked too hard. Anyway, so yes, the women are pretty and I was glad I was spending the extra time here.

All historic European cities have hints of similarity – the Old Town with its narrow stone roads, cathedrals with their spiky Christian stokes, the frugality of cars and the abundance of tourists, tour guides and cameras. Prague was no different. The Charles Bridge was spectacular but underwhelming, and the Castle was interesting, but castle-like. The city center was nice but all too familiar. There was this Jewish Synagogue with Moorish (Islamic) architecture to thank the Spanish Muslims for their generous hospitality. So ironic. Prague didn’t have the novelty bonus points that the first destination of my trip had. For once, my favorite part about the city was this non-Christian, unconventional structure that was just a wall. It’s called the Lennon Wall and it is amazing. It’s a wall full of graffiti, but with a lot history and significance attached to it. It stands for the freedom of expression and was a symbol for the Czechoslovaks during the oppressive communist days – every individual deserves the right to think differently. The wall was a tool for a peaceful rebellion that made the communists feel so impudent about themselves. It was whitewashed multiple times only for the graffiti artists to re-garnish it in the early hours of the day. They even had an officer on duty to make sure nobody paints on the wall. He stood around for two weeks and as soon as he was removed, the artists brushed away again. This wall never remains the same. It’s constantly changing as people from all over the world express themselves and commemorate what John Lennon stood for – the right to imagine. All this was like good music to me.

The most memorable, literally memorable sight I saw was the Bone Chapel at Kutna Hora. It was this chapel made of bones. Human bones. Thousands and thousands of HUMAN BONES. There were damaged glaring skulls and teeth and fingers and legs. These were bent and connected to make “creative” things like a coat of arms and a pyramid. There was a chandelier made out of every single bone in the human body, apparently. Pictures can’t do it justice. There is a difference in being there, around these bones, in this cave-like chapel with some solid negative energy around. What was the priest thinking while making this “creative” coat of arms from dead human bones?

The extra time gave me extra opportunities to do what I love doing when I am traveling alone – go on tours. I did the Free Walking Tour, the Castle Tour, the Kutna Hora Tour, the Beer Tour, the Pub Crawl and everything else possible. The Beer Tour was especially entertaining. I tasted 20 different types of beer including the incredible Chocolate Beer, this Rose Beer, some lagers, etc, but the best was the Pearla. Anyway, the purpose of doing all these tours is two fold. First of, I am no historic genius so I find statues and art useless without attaching any meaning to them. Once a statue has a (true-ish) story behind it, it makes a lot more sense and is a little more entertaining. And the second reason is that I get a chance to meet people. Oh man, people are so important. I met this Brazilian I am going to party with in 2014 when I go there for the World Cup, this girl from Houston, TX whose sister I know decently well because she went to UT, this possibly gay guy from Arlington,TX that is going to start teaching in Dubai, this Canadian girl who teaches in Dubai at the same school that the gay guy is going to be teaching at, a lot of Ozzies, a friend-look-a-like who also parties like that friend, a delightful young British couple and this six-month pregnant tour guide from Australia who moved to Prague for a Czech man she met in Dublin at 5 AM, hungover, and eventually ended up marrying. Awesome.

I also spent an evening with one of my favorite people from Texas who just happened to be in Prague at the same time as me. We got soaked in the rain, and sneaked into parks that were not welcome. So awesome.

P.S. Local beer = Pinsler =  tasty.

 

Amsterdamned

I was not in Amsterdam for a bachelor party. It was a part of this Eurotrip-thing that I am currently vagabonding on. This bit of the adventure was supposed to be intentionally different. I was not completely on my own but instead, with a set of friends from Texas. Together, we were six and that’s six times more than my original crew. The whole ambition of this holiday was tenporarily rearranged. There is a stark contrast between traveling alone and traveling with a group. Traveling alone is more about doing things, quantity, where as travelling a group is more about spending time with close friends, quality. When I am alone, I cannot fathom the idea of doing nothing but when I am in a group, it’s more lax-ed. It’s more about conversations, laughter and company, with this fancy country thrown in the background. It’s a healthy combination of lethargy and excitement that has its own sense of smile. But, for optimal enjoyment, it’s crucial to be with close friends. If you’re not comfortably close to your group than the double dose of discomfort dis-configures your sense of fun. While I was with a delightful group of people, I didn’t know them as well as they knew each other. And then, I felt I was intruding. That doesn’t help, now does it?

I am not a believer in this ‘love at first sight’ business, but the tingling I felt when I first glimpsed Amsterdam was serenely pleasing. There was this signature about it. And it had nothing to do with Red Light fantasies or with excessive freedoms of intoxication. It was just that Amsterdam seemed so proper, so defined, so precise. There was this beautiful combination of water, roads and bikes. The openness of Dutch culture echoed through the city with a stamp of  “highly progressive”. The mass reliance on the greenest means of transport – bicycles – is refreshing and so well, practical. The arrangement of canals and stone-streets, and the minimalistic commercialization of the city is pride-worthy. There were not too many touristy sites and sounds. As a group, we explored the city on foot and bike, did the pub crawl, ‘visited’ the ‘coffeeshops,’ tried to pronounce Dutch street names and also drove into the country-side. We tasted Holland’s cheese, went “window shopping,” tried to comprehend the logic behind wooden shoes, and ate a ton of hot dogs. We learnt how beer is made, and why Heineken is the best beer in the world. I will be back in Amsterdam sooner than later. I want more of it. I want to live here and really get immersed.

The most betwixting part of Amsterdam was the languge. It seriously sounds complicated and hard to speak. The street names are bombastically, harrypotter-esquely epic. Vondelstraat. Vossiusstrat. Paulus Potterstraat. Utrechstse. Domselaerstraat. It sounds so baldardash-ly brash and is probably my least favorite part of the city. But, they also speak excellent English. They are friendly (besides the bike rages – I was more scared of the ripping bicycles than the modest cars). I attempted indulging in one of the multiple museums. The Van Gogh Museum, despite my lack of sobriety, was a complete waste of time. I even spent 5 extra Euros on an audio guide to get a deeper understanding of Van Gogh’s paintings but I still found it all a little too pretentious. Maybe, I am just not tuned to that kind of art.

All in all, Amsterdam is definitely more of a bachelor-party paradise, but it also has a distinct Dutch culture to offer. Every city has its own way of doing things and I love how Amsterdam does its thing. Kudos kudos.

P.S. Local Beer = Heineken = truly awesome.

 

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