Edina! Scotia’s darling seat!

July 4, 2017

Day 4

Stansted is a very small airport. For such a small airport, they sure have crazy security procedures and a very long walk to the gates. Also, what’s with the carry-on bag sizes? It’s like the world of flying shrunk overnight. I feel ridiculously out of place with my regular sized carry-on. The husband is sent back to check his in. When he gets to the counter, he realizes he has no cash or card, because his wallet made it through the scanner and is with me on the other side of the security barrier! Finally, they just let him through with the bag. In all this, we make it to the gate just about in time to board our flight. A short nap later, we land in Edinburgh.

IMG_1045.JPG

“But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream.”

-Hugh MacDiarmid

 The second leg of our adventure is about to begin and boy, are we excited about it! Excited and hungry. We head into town, check-in and almost immediately head out to grab lunch. I ask the girls on GirlsLoveTravel FB group for suggestions and reviews and ultimately head to pie maker. Now while two or three pies did fill me up, I would recommend this place more for a late afternoon/early evening snack.

Edinburgh2

 Almost as soon as we step out, we see a hop on hop off tourist bus turning into the street. We happily hop on. We complete the entire loop, napping between the dignified old stone buildings on either side of narrow streets, before we hop off at the Edinburgh castle.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

We join the free tour and get a short lesson in Scottish history. We didn’t get to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham, but we were in time to see it here. Nothing as grand and elaborate, but it still was the changing of the guard ceremony. We explore the old castle a bit and head out into the Royal mile. Back on the bus, we weigh our options – the Queen was in residence at Holyrood palace and throwing a tea party, which we could see from the bus, so it was pointless hopping off there. We get off at the last stop and take public transport to the library. “Which one?” growls the driver. I don’t know! The driver on the other bus said I was to take this one and ask to be let off at the library. The nice ladies behind us offer to show us. There are two libraries in the city, but only one on this route.

IMG_0704

Elephant House Cafe

Edinburgh is  associated with many writers, philosophers, scientists and academics. The one I’m interested in now is J.K. Rowling. We get off at the library, but our destination is not the library, it’s the Elephant Café – the birthplace of Harry Potter (the series, not the character!). Having fulfilled my fan fantasy*, the husband asks, “What’s next?” We hop back on the tourist bus and head to the End of the World.

DSC_6882.JPG

There’s no table available, but we squeeze in at the bar. The husband gets his fish and chips (finally!) and beer. When he’s done, we head out in search for a battered Mars bar and dinner for me. The server at the Tavern lets me order even though the kitchen is closing down, only because the battered Mars bar is the only thing I want, and I suspect mainly because of the bump. Satisfied we head towards the Nepali-Indian restaurant for momos (dumplings). We even give up the free ghost tour only for the server to forget – forget to put in the momo order! I was soooo hangry!! Luckily for her, I had ordered an entrée while I was waiting. That, and the husband’s let it go demeanor are what keep me from creating a ruckus. It didn’t stop me though from giving the girl (and her manager) such dirty looks, that she refused to come out of the kitchen the whole time after that.

We walked back to the tram station/bus stop taking in the sights of this old city, letting its character seep into our memories.

 

*  My true fantasy was to meet J.K. Rowling there and have her autograph the Harry Potter series for me and my fanmily.

Advertisements

Tennis Treat – Wimbledon

July 3, 2017

Day 3

Wimbledon. Oh how I’ve dreamed of this day! I found this from a few years ago –

Go watch a Tennis Grand Slam match

With the American Open right around the corner. I might be able to check this off this year. Ideally, I’d like to go for the Wimbledon finals or the French Open, but hey a grand slam is a grand slam right? It would make it even special, if I could see Federer play. It would be like watching Sachin bat, except every time I’ve seen Sachin bat he never it past single digits, lower ones that too.”

Wimbledon

For years, it has been my fondest wish to see watch the Championship live (that or the French Open). Today, we are going to try our luck. Tickets to the Championships get a sold through a lottery system almost a year in advance. A small number of tickets can be bought online on the previous day, but they go fast too. Our best bet was to turn up early and hope to get a grounds pass.  Wimbledon is just a short train ride from London, so we hop on and make it there by around 8:00 a.m. Our number in the queue is eight thousand and something. Here’s where being pregnant worked wonderfully to our advantage. We didn’t get to cut the line, but we are seated comfortable in the “mobility” pavilion till our number was called, as opposed to waiting for five long hours in the heat, in a two-mile-long line.

phone4

It is almost one o’clock (1 p.m.) by the time we get in. We head straight for Court 18, where we know Ferrer is playing Gasquet. After waiting almost an hour in line outside the court, taking turns to wander around and catch bits of other matches, we give up. In the meantime, I also find out that Roger Federer was practicing on Court 10 at around noon, meaning we just missed him. Heartbreak! After spending an hour futilely waiting to get into Court 18, we decide to get some lunch with strawberries and cream after which we have a big decision to make – do we stay or leave; if we stay do we head up to the hill to watch Federer play on a big screen or do we pick a court a watch (relatively?) unknown players play live. We decide to stay and watch a live game. We pick Harrison versus Coric and it turns out to be a very interesting game. Again, the bump gets me a seat. Later, the husband gets to sit too. The game is replete with good tennis and drama, with Harrison lashing out at the chair umpire for what I think was a very valid warning. I am seated next to a little boy, who is cheering hard for Coric. His zeal is so infectious that I find myself rooting for Coric too. Down the game, we are joined by another little boy, cheering for Harrison. Too late, I’ve picked my horse. Too bad, he loses.

We walk around, catching the ends of other interesting games being suggested to us over Whatsapp. Technology, I tell you! Simultaneously, I am also trying to co-ordinate dinner with friends in London. However, it gets too late by the time we reach our hotel and we need to check out and check-in closer to Stansted airport from where we fly to Edinburgh tomorrow. Dinner plans are hastily re-written to grab something on the way.

We are staying at Holiday Inn Express tonight, and I have to say the service was simply not upto the mark. The room was matchbox sized; this is London, we get it, but there is simply no excuse for poor service. We spent the last two nights in a Best Western at Vauxhall. The room was tiny and windowless, but our stay was comfortable. 

Edinburgh, we are coming!

London Baby!

July 2, 2017

Day 2

Ganesh3N will be meeting us at Leicester Square. We have no data, so we are coordinating over (read surviving on) free wifi. Here, we start our tour of London. It’s a very pleasant day; no jackets or hats needed. We walk down to Trafalgar Square, where much to  our amusement there is a sign prohibiting people from feeding the pigeons, prompting the husband and N to comment that it probably put there because of and for tourists like me. Now, if you grew up in India in the 90’s, you must know, that’s what you do at Trafalgar Square!

Ganesh2

Buckingham palace is right around the corner. When we get there, much to my surprise and delight, we see the horse guard marching past. I so did want to see the changing of the guard at the palace, but our delayed flight had put an end to that dream. Unexpectedly seeing the horse guard absolutely made my day. Hereon, nothing could go wrong!

phone3

We are now in  London’s tourist district (I think). One simply needs to stand in the centre and turn around to see most of London’s most iconic landmarks – Westminster Abbey, the houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the fake red phone booths scattered all over London for tourists to pose in. I want to go inside the abbey to see the graves and relive the climax of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code, but the line is too long. We walk down to 10 Downing Street and then take the ubiquitous London tube to Borough Market. I imagined Borough Market to be a livelier farmer’s market sort of place, but it turns out to be covered marketplace, with designated stalls.  Strangely, many of these are shut. A joins us for lunch. The boys have been absolutely wonderful hosts right from finding us places to order food from late night to accompanying us around the city. They even called Scotland to see if we could try our hand at falconry and looked up last minute tickets to the game at Lords. I suspect they might have ended up seeing and learning more about London than they wanted to!

Ganesh4We stroll down  London Bridge to the Tower Bridge, where we get some amazing pastries while we wait for our boat cruise on the Thames. We can barely hear, much less comprehend what the captain is saying but it’s nice all the same. The new buildings juxtaposed against the old make the waterfront an interesting study. We pass Shakespeare’s Globe, the Shard, that crazy building that melted roofs of parked cars and go all the way to the London Eye. We hop off here and take the underground to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We reach a few minutes before the last mass of the day ended but cannot go in because I was dawdling along, taking in the outside. Next stop Kings Cross.

DSC_6702-1.jpg

We don’t have time (and the others don’t have the inclination) to head across the city to the Fortnum and Mason’s flagship store, so we visit the little one in St. Pancras station across the street from King’s Cross. My big belly gets us/me ahead of the winding queue of Harry Potter fans at Platform no. 9 ¾. Good thing too, as the husband is throwing up his hands at my willingness to wait in queue. The rest of our little group seems more done with the day than I am!

We head over to Dhishoom – the promised Mecca of Indian street food. This place is wildly popular to be prepared to wait. Again, my growing bump gets us place to sit while we wait.  The food surpasses my (admittedly low) expectations and sets a new standard in my eyes. Food is good. Everyone is tired, except me, but I suppose I could use some rest too.

Goodnight London.

London, London, STOP

June 30, 2017

Day  -1

I’m having a crazy day at work. We’re at a day long workshop, trying to understand two probably super big ticket solutions to a large looming problem. I receive a text from the airline (Norwegian, if you must know), which I missed. Subsequently I get a text from the husband that says “We can’t reschedule our tickets now and other airlines are too expensive to re-book.” I panic and call him as soon as we break for lunch. Turns out our flight is overbooked and the airlines is offering to rebook volunteers on another flight and 400 euros as compensation. That’s 400 euro’s each. Long story short, the husband has managed to get us tickets on a flight that leaves earlier the same day, but reaches Gatwick around the same time as our original flight. The flight is from EWR (Newark), which suits us so much better than the original JFK (New York). The only catch is there is a stopover in Iceland. We don’t care. We are super elated.

July 1, 2017

Day 1

We’ve boarded the flight and are waiting to take off – for the next three (3) hours. All flights out of this region are delayed due to bad weather.

phone2.jpg

Result – we miss our connecting flight from Reykjavik and are forced to spend more than eight (8) hours at the airport. We can’t get out because we don’t have Schengen visas. We can’t even get to the only lounge here because it is on the other side of passport control. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. the terminal is deserted. The airlines staff has disappeared. We have food vouchers but the only two delis/shops are shut and will reopen only at 1400 hours. There are two other stranded passengers ( one desperately looking for a Dunkin’ Donuts!!) and occasionally, some cleaning staff. Thankfully, there’s free wifi and we can book our stay in London.

That, dear reader, is the story of how we’ve lost an entire day and ended up with half a dozen bars of Icelandic chocolate.

We reach London pretty late. By the time we get dinner and reach our hotel, it’s almost midnight. We’ve had to rearrange plans in the interest of making the most of our limited time here, so we won’t be staying with the boys as planned. This remains my only real disappointment.

London Dreams

May 2017

I’ve made Scotland/ London/ London-Scotland plans so many times and not followed through that people don’t even take me seriously about it now. Classic case of the boy who cried wolf. Honestly, it’s a little hard for even me to believe this is actually happening. It’s feels unreal.

DSC_6579-001.JPG

We’ve hatched a plan. We’ve blocked vacation time and applied for our visas. We’ve sent the embassy our passports and with great trepidation, our green cards. Our passports come back, green cards securely taped to the back, single entry visas stamped inside. It still doesn’t feel completely real. We book our tickets, and now I know we’re really going – YAAYY!! We still need to figure out our itinerary details and make reservations, but we’re going for sure.

I plan and re-plan, and drive everyone around me generally crazy. That’s too much you’re trying to do in too little time, they say. Slow down. You’ll be seven (yes 7) months pregnant, have you taken that into account? You’ll be big and slow, your feet will hurt and you’ll constantly want to pee…

To my credit, I did cut myself enough slack. Even though we were one day short (more on that later) and started much later than planned on other days, we did do 90% of what was planned. For everything that we didn’t do, there’s always a next time.

Zion National Park

November 8, 2016

 

We are headed to Zion. We couldn’t get reservations for the wave, but Zion has a lot more to offer. Ideally, I would love to do the narrows, but we may not have enough time, plus we need to rent out gear. Back in day, I have walked through and up several of streams, and never did I need river sandals and a hiking stick. Tops, a sturdy broken branch was used. Mostly, we just held hands for stability (think human chain).

 

File_002.jpeg

We lost an hour since we forgot to allow to daylight savings and reached the Visitor’s Centre only around 2 p.m. Wanting to make the most of our limited time, we did as the ranger suggested. We took the park bus all the way to the last stop, and worked our way back based on time and interest. Since we really wanted to do a hike and there was no time for the harder ones, we choose to start with the Riverside Walk – a simple walk on paved paths along the river. We are now down in the canyon. How different it is down here! Just as the landscape at the top is bare and barren, at the bottom it exudes life. The gurgling sound of water, the heavy green of the dense foliage, the dappled light, the gentle moisture in the air – life. The feeling is so palpable, that if you stick your tongue out you could probably taste it. The tall mountains that felt claustrophobic in the vast expanse of Badwater Basin, give a sense of protection in the narrow canyon.

dsc_0933Did you know, that the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon?

dsc_0949As we made our way back, we spotted little families of deer. The other walk we took was to the Emerald Pools. Here we found that Fall had followed us all the way across the continent to make an evening of it. The ranger had warned us that there was not much water in the falls, and there was just a trickle at the Lower Falls. The light was close to fading out completely. We decided to turn around as skip the chance of a moonlit stroll, as we didn’t want to miss the last bus back to the Visitor’s Centre.

Waiting for the bus, we browsed the gift shop and found out all about Kokopelli and more. Before we knew it, we were on our way to Vegas!!! The original plan was to hit the casinos, play some roulette (me) and some black jack (the husband), and end our trip city style. By the time, we got to Vegas we were knackered. After two days of sleeping on the ground all the husband wanted was to rest his back on the comfortable mattress. Also, after our last trip to Vegas, we didn’t feel like we were missing much.

A good night’s sleep and we were so ready for our long flight home.

Sunrise at Death Valley

November 8, 2016

dsc_0728If you wake up sometime a little before dawn, you can hear the coyotes howl. I unzip our window just a little bit a go back to sleep. When we step out of our tent the next morning, there is one constellation looming large over us, piercing bright stars on an electric blue sky – the Big Dipper*. In Hindu mythology, these stars represent seven (7) great sages. There is however, an eight star in this constellation. Hindu mythology calls her Arundhati, she is the wife of the star-sage Vashista. Together these two stars form their own twin star-system. This binary star has long been considered by Hindus, as the symbol of a perfect marriage. Unlike other twin star systems where one star revolves around the other, both these stars move around each other in synchrony. They stand for complete devotion, steadfast loyalty, and a union where two entities shine together as one for all eternity.  As part of the wedding, Hindu couples gaze upon this binary star (interestingly called Arundhati-Vashista and not Vashista-Arundhathi) and pray for a similar union.  The husband and I got married in broad daylight, so our priest asked us to spot it ourselves at night. All these years later, we finally got to it. We do not have the time to gaze and contemplate. We have a sunrise to catch. We hurry on to Zabriskie Point.

dsc_0780I opt to set up on the mound suggested by pamphotography below the view point, much to the annoyance of a few spectators up there. Hey, it’s not a perfect world and nobody stopped them from coming down. Just prior to sunrise, we see a pink glow above the tips of the Panamits. As the sun starts to rise behind us we see the mountains slowly wake up. As the golden light spreads across the valley floor, more rocks shake off the shadows. The red cathedral seems to glow, as though from within. This play of light and shadow is what all the early risers are here for. Once again, we breakfast on bread and cheese in the parking lot and this time head back to the campsite to pack up.

dsc_0831

 

* This is also the only constellation I can identify without help.