Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trip to Barcelona

Recently we made a trip to Barcelona and I wanted to share the lessons learnt. I’ll try to cover everything under the sky that I can think of.

Weather: I start with the hot and cold because that’s one thing I can never forget about my trip there :). If you’re like me, doesn’t like hot and humid weather, then August is the month to avoid.

Accommodation: If you’re from US, then you need to be acquainted with the facilities provided in the hotels of Barcelona. We stayed in a four star (Hotel Catalonia Plaza, Plaza d’Espanya) and hence I would like to believe that the facilities we got must be above average. The double beds are approximately the size of a queen bed. Iron is not included though the receptionist mentioned that it would be delivered to our room if we needed one. The room had a nice layout: a mini corridor led to the room and had the entrance to the bathroom. The bathroom floors was shining like mirror; and was quite spacious. We had an organization-negotiated rate so we got it pretty cheap for 110 euros (including continental breakfast). The breakfast was separately 16 euros and let me tell you, it was good! There were cereals, fresh fruits, desserts, breads, meats, cheese, coffee and fresh orange juice – the oranges were being juiced right in front of you – that fresh!

Going around: Even though most of the guidebooks that I read suggested that buses were the more common means of transport, we used the metro (or subway). There are two main advantages of using the metro: you don’t need to look at the timings, every train runs every 5 minutes and it’s easier to map the trains than find the routes of buses. The disadvantage is that you would need to walk a lot because sometimes the station is a little far from the sight seeing spots. Also, to reach the spot from the station you would need to ask people on the way – at least we needed to because the map was not always clear at the street level. The people are pretty helpful so that’s not a problem. The two day transit pass (includes subways and buses) costs 11 euros so that’s not bad if you want to do two days of jam-packed sight seeing.

Safety: Ok, that’s something you ought to worry about in Barcelona! Its mostly pick-pocketing/mugging. Among our conference people, there were two who got pick-pocketed, another who was close to getting mugged and another who had a break-in into his hotel room! I don’t want to scare you but that’s the reality. You must watch your purse at every moment when you’re outside. The pick-picketers seem to target tourists only.

Food: Vegetarian food is not that popular here. The options we had were: margherita/cheese pizza, falafel and 1-2 kinds of pasta. We finally found some indian restaurants and that provided a much sought relief! The price differed by location. In popular places, on average you would spend 10 euros per person if you’re economical; otherwise 15-20 euros. Water is not free in restaurant; you need to buy. It could be as expensive as 2.5 euros for a 250 ml bottle!

Language: Mostly you can manage if you know english and soon you can figure out meanings of the commonly used spanish words. If you’re a vegetarian, know that “vegetariano” means vegetarian and “solo vegetal” means only vegetables. That is helpful! Pescu, carne and pollo mean fish, meat and chicken respectively.

Shopping: we just shopped for souvenirs and found that some bargaining was prevalent.

Its been a long post, so I’ll try to cover the places to see in another post.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

My mom gave this book to me. I haven't been particularly fond of Jhumpa Lahiri after reading "Interpreter of Maladies". Ihe stories were good but after 2-3, I felt I only needed to read the introduction and I could pen down the rest of the story. However, this being a largely acclaimed novel of his I thought of giving it a try and yes it was pretty engrossing! At every page, I wanted to know how the story would unravel on the next!

The story starts with an indian couple based in US - the husband did his schooling here while the wife came over by virtue of the marriage. First quarter is devoted to the wife, how she feels alienated initially and has a hard time. Slowly and gradually she gets adjusted and gives birth to a baby boy. The rest of the story is centered around this boy who's named Gogol (after the author Nikolai Gogol). When he goes to the school for the first time, his parents want to give him a more formal name Nikhil; but he likes to be called Gogol. So he's stuck with Gogol to his parents' disappointment. However, as he grows up and has to explain to all and sundry the hows and whys of his name, he realizes he doesn't want to be called Gogol and changes his name to Nikhil. All through this he's angry with his parents for giving him such a name. He dislikes it even more when he comes to know that life of the namesake author was full of sadness; little did he know why his father was so attached to that name. In his youth, he dislikes all things Indian including people and culture. He has an american girl friend, lives with her, in her parents' house, eats american food and in an american fashion. Hardly caring about his own family. Not for long. His father's death jolts him out of his reverie and it is interesting to see how his attitude changes towards his family.

Like his namesake, I think his life was also miserable - all due to his own attitude.

The story is not out of the ordinary. I would say that's the typical story of an American-born Indian in those times and that's exactly the reason we've an acronym ABCD (American-born confused desi); but the way he has written is very interesting.

Bottomline: Good.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eat, Pray and Love

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

As the front page of the book says, its a true story of a woman who travelled Italy, India and Indonesia. Its all about her experiences in those countries. In Italy she savored food, in India she immersed herself into devotion and in Indonesia she found love.

You would think so what is so special about it that she wrote a book?!?! I would say not much, you too could write your own if your experience was as novel as hers. She left America in a mentally devastated state and reached Italy. Why did she chose Italy? Because it was her long time desire to learn the italian language, the italian way. How many people would do that? Doesn't mean all she did was study italian, she enjoyed the good food.

After her stay in Italy, her next stop was India where she went to an Ashram. She'd been introduced to the Guru of the ashram in America and had decided that she wanted to go to the Ashram in India. She spent a few months there, getting up before sunrise, chanting sanskrit shlokas in the wee hours of the day, sweeping temple floor for hours, eating vegetarian food and getting aclimatized to a place so constrasting to her own. It was most interesting to read this part of the novel and I think that was for multiple reasons. Being an Indian, I felt proud reading about India. Then this was the spiritual portion of the book and spirituality always interests me. It was here that she attained mental peace.

Last was her stay in Indonesia where she went because a few years back she'd met a medicine man in Indonesia who'd said that she'd be back in Indonesia and then she should teach him English. Her stay here was in stark contrast to that in India. It was here that she indulged.

It was not an overwhelming novel as I expected it to be based on its ranking amongst the best sellers. What I enoyed reading was her courage and adventorous spirit.

Some take-away quotes from the book:
"Devotion is diligence without assurance."
"You can control a lot of things and one of those is the thoughts that you harbor in your mind".

Bottomline: Ok.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The three qualities of life

Man possesses one or more of three primary qualities (guna): saatvika, raajsika and taamsika. All three qualities lead to different behavioral patterns in a man and bind him to this life.

Saatvika guna, is the purest and healthiest of them all. It doesn’t have any vices and enlightens one’s senses and conscience. A man in whom saatvika guna dominates, has his pain and vices destroyed and attains peace of mind. Laziness doesn’t exist in his world. He no longer has any interest in this world and he devotes himself to the worship of God. However, such a man can become proud of being happy or the knowledgeable one. It is this pride which hinders his unison with God.

Raajsika guna, is manifested in the form of affection for any thing living or non-living. It leads to desires and longing. It has the same relationship with these two as a seed has to a tree. The tree is born from a seed and it is the tree that creates the seed. Similarly, rajoguna leads to desires and it is desires which gives birth to rajoguna. Such a person believes he is the does of all his actions and that he deserves the fruits for them. It is this belief that binds him to this cycle of life and death.

Taamsika guna, as I understand it, is the most inferior of all the above qualities. It’s born from ignorance, where the senses and the conscience are weak and overpowered by emotional attachments. Tamoguna is predominant in a man who has pride and attachment to his body. It leads to ignorance and ignorance causes it. It exhibits in the form of sloth, indulgence and drowsiness in a man and through them binds him to this life.