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Sunday
Sep162018

What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does... 

This is the last post on the Europe trip. The previous post on the series is here..
The last day (day 13) of the Europe trip was spent on two things. Most of the day was an Evans and Evans trip to Hogwarts.. let's just call it that. It was actually the Warner Brothers studios shooting location for all the Harry Potter movies over 10 years that is now a Studio tour. 
As usual we had to go from Kings cross station to Victoria, then board the bus which took us to the studio in a little over an hour and we were handed tickets and told that we had a little over 4 hours to come back to the bus. We will be back in Victoria Station area at 5:15-5:30 PM. 
We also had tickets for the London Eye that evening. We wanted to see the views of London as the sun set so I could get some pictures with the daylight and some with the buildings lighting up.
First it was almost our last day and this would be almost the last time leaving the Kings Cross station. The kids were eyeing Lola's hand crafted cup cakes two days straight.. so today was their day! 
Then we were off.. 
Full disclosure. I had not read a single Harry Potter book to date. Have only watched the movies as they came out in theaters. Missed the Order of the Phoenix in theaters and caught bits and pieces of it at a later date in someones house but that was it. Was and still am a big fan of the whole series of movies. Who can resist magic?
Don't think there is a picture of me and San being happier in this trip! 
We had four hours to spend at the place and we walked through every room, exhibit and hallway and when we came out of the place it was exactly 4 hours. This included a 20 minute break to have lunch before going into the studio. 
The kids were given little Hogwart's passports and they had to find the 7 secret Horcruxes in the place.. so they were busy searching for those in the various rooms.. 
Then there was the butterbeer, which can give kids a brain freeze, has unknown health effects on muggles and gives dads wallets a cold.. 
The whole experience was amazing.. our 4 hours is condensed into the video below.. 
The skies were brilliant and my hopes for great pictures from the London eye were already high..
We reached the Victoria station, walked towards the London Eye and realized that the entire area was a circus. Apparently there was a large protest for DJT's visit to London and the wife and kids had heard about it through social media and our tour guide from the previous day's trip.
The whole place was crawling with people who had signs in their hands. 
It had become hot and a little on the "about to rain" side and I removed my jacket to avoid going into one of those dangerous "avalanche sweats" as I call it. Was also proudly wearing my 60 day Challenge Bikram Yoga San Jose T-shirt to announce to the folks on the street that I was American. 
Given the generic anti-American sentiment on the streets that day, was thinking if I should buy one of those London T-shirts.. then we realized no one cared.. The London protesters were an interesting bunch.
We got some great views of the city from the London Eye after we saw a 4D show at the basement that was part of the ticket.
A video of the London Eye experience ..
Got two pano shots from the London eye..
One from either side as our little carriage made it up and down over 40 minutes.
Slide shows of pictures from Hogwart's and the London Eye 
When we came out it was about to rain, the streets were extremely crowded with protesters and we wanted to find dinner.
San's classmate had recommended a Chat place which had 8 branches in London and was very popular, but based on the 1 hour 20 minute wait time (there were 100+ folks standing in line knowing the wait time) we decided to take his second recommendation. A place called Shapur's in Strand area.
We went to Shapur's and had a nice dinner.. 
We walked to the train station from there past the Royal Opera house which was beautiful..
Then it started raining and we realized (were actually told by someone) that this is the "typical" London weather and we were really fortunate to miss it over our three day trip. 
Apparently that is what London looks on an average day.. "like Seattle" is what we all said at the same time and walked down the steps to the train station.
The next morning we were going to take one last train ride on the Europe trip to Gatwick airport and it was going to be back in the US.. 
We thoroughly enjoyed this 14 day trip. It took a lot of planning from San and the kids and San pretty much arranged every little thing. I was happy to be on package tours so I could also play tourist and enjoy the sights with the lens or my eyes.  
It was also a blessing to be able to meet San's Sister and her family during this trip, not to mention two of her classmates and one of our family friends.
We would definitely recommend the tours we took and the Air B&B's we used in various locations. 
I also loved writing about this trip.. even though it has taken two full months to finish writing about a two week trip.
This blog is my pensieve! 
Saturday
Sep152018

Like a flower petal blooming

As most of you know, I have been doing Bikram Yoga for the eighth year running. You also know that I make it a point to do Yoga at least 200 times a year and there is always some new thing that I learn with respect to the Yoga, myself, and the connection between my self and the yoga. 

It is a never ending practice to find new edges, improve on posture, breathing, reaction times and being able to listen and implement directions.

Today we had Joseph Encinia come teach a workshop at BYSJ. This is the second time he is teaching this workshop at BYSJ. Two years ago when he came, got to attend his talk but could not attend the workshop because of travel. This time I was lucky to be in town. 

It was a four hour workshop which would have gone on for 5 hours were it not for the fact that there was a regular scheduled class after the workshop.

Have posted blogs on special classes and workshops in the past at BYSJ and every one of them has been eye opening.  For example, I learned that drinking water was not a necessity in class after the last workshop. Have not had water during class since March 22nd and it is almost been six months. Putting that into practice and sticking to that for day after day to make it the new habit is one of the things that this Yoga teaches me. 

Yes, you do something for ~1600 classes (excel spreadsheet says 1597 to be exact) and find out that you are still not doing something right or you are not using the right muscle to do the right thing (it might look okay in the mirror but you are not doing it right) and you start correcting it. Maybe after another 200 classes there will be another correction, but it has to be made the new habit or else this doesn't work.

Joseph was amazing today. He did a demo before class to go over the entire sequence in under 10 minutes. Then he broke down every pose and explained the do's and don'ts. Some of us also got to go show him our poses that we thought were messed up and he helped figure out what was wrong and what needs to change. 

When he started doing this and everyone took our their phones to take videos, I looked at it through the iPhone and said "no. I just want to record this in my brain.". You know how sometimes you are in a national park and you just put your Camera back into the bag and just stand there and take it all in. It was like that. Have the beginnng few minutes of the workshop in this video. (I am sure BYSJ will post more information or Joseph will post information on his website)

He was not going to show us fancy poses but how the breath moves through the body and that he demonstrated in 4 hours with is own body as well as ours with amazing clarity.

As in most classes, even if I learn a 100 things, only 5 stick to my mind and can be made into a habit. The rest wait. Folks who know the yoga poses will be able to follow the below. Someday when I can show the difference between pre and post, will post a video of myself doing things the right way. That day will come sooner than later.

Ardhachandrasana or Half Moon pose: Have always struggled to push myself at the end of the half moon pose because of my attempt to keep up the breathing at 80/20. Keep 80% of the lungs full and just breathe 20% in and out. However, my lungs have had difficulty doing that, towards the end, trying to breathe. Today I learned that the trick is to use a lung, instead of both lungs. There is one lung that is compressed and one extended in Half moon pose. Use the extended lung to breathe comfortably. Apparently the "flower petal blooming" is to help drive that point home when the teacher says it in every class! The flower petal blooms from the inside out.. that lung was supposed to do that. I never got that in all these years. 

Dandayamana Janushirasasana (standing head to knee) : The second thing I learned today was that the three bandhas or locks have to be done for a lot of poses. In some poses only two are used, in others three. But the pelvic lock is mandatory. You lose that, you might as well come out of the pose and start all over again. I had no idea how many times I was unlocking it and trying to relock. It simply doesn't work that way. There are also poses where that lock implies pulling your navel straight back in vs. pulling your navel back and up. Again, these are things that you get to see only when you see a teacher demonstrate this up close and personal. I was on the floor and Joseph was standing 6 feet away and I understood. Many teachers have tried to show us this from the Podium and I still could not see the difference.

Purna Salabasana (Full Locust pose) : The third thing I learned was the shoulder joint when rotated outwards makes it easier for the neck to curve upwards. This might seem intuitive to some, but it was not obvious to me.  There is always a balance between strength and flexibilty, and maybe my body is different or my brain is, but it was another thing that I understood only after watching this close.

Tadasana (Tree pose) : Number four was that, a little pull in the inner thighs can straighten your legs and knees in multiple poses. Locking the knee by default pulls the legs outwards and to compensate, pulling in your inner thighs up works wonders. 

Janushirasana and Paschimotthanasana (Head to knee pose and stretching pose) : The last one was ingenious. When doing a separate leg stretching pose, if you push the bone below your big tow away from you, it magically straightens your entire leg on the floor. Just recently one of my task masters, Brad, taught me how to pull my ankle bones towards each other to rotate my feet right. That correction has been going on for almost two months now..and this gets added to it!

Those were things to remember and apply. Then again, there was what he left us with. No amount of teacher instruction, workshops is going to improve what we do unless we OWN it and work hard for it. 

We had a girl in the class who has been going through severe arthritis for 20+ years and we could literally see the surgery marks on her for various corrections, and she showed us what real dedication, drive, intent and intensity meant. I have no excuse after seeing that. 

Joseph himself had a heart attack at the age of 13 after he had a lot of treatments for his Arthritis and he turned his life around. He is vegetarian and does Yoga every day! 

He almost choked when he said "some of you lucky to be here without any chronic conditions. some of us are here because of chronic conditions. Doesn't matter why you are here. Own your practice and you will see results. Some of us have to work a lot harder and overcome challenges, but at the end of the day it is the same for everyone. don't be stubborn. don't be too patient. Dont be too determined in a stubborn way. have the right intent and intensity in your practice"

On a side note to my wife and kids and other close friends who keep asking me "how come you do all that yoga and never have six pack abs?".. Joseph answered that one too. Six pack abs are good for body building but it is difficult to back bend with those and back bending is key to a healthy spine. So I would rather have my back bend than a six pack, not that there is anything wrong with a six pack.

The thing that impressed me most was how down to earth Joseph is and how sincere he is in spreading the knowledge he has acquired over time and by experimenting with his own body.  

Was really happy that BYSJ brings teachers like this for such special workshops, so regular students can learn more and improve. We also get to see stuff up close and personal and understand body mechanics, something that is difficult to do watching Youtube videos or even teachers on the podium doing the occasional demonstration.

This was a beginner workshop, but in a way I was glad to take this workshop now and not six years ago. Most of the stuff he said would not have registered then, as I would have constantly doubted if I had certain muscles he was talking about. Takes a few years to realize that we all have the same muscles.. just that some are never used or activated in normal life, and we use the most dominant ones to make the poses look like the end result without doing it right. . . slowly things normalize and the body changes.

The learning and discipline continues. Maybe the next time Joseph shows up, the top five things that I managed to remember at the end of class will be the new normal!

Saturday
Sep152018

London in a day..

We were almost at the last leg of the Europe tour. We had visited Lords, gone to South Wimbledon to meet friends, put on a sad face and made it back to Kings Cross after England lost the semi final of the world cup.

Day 12 was going to be interesting.. Would the people of London bounce back or would it be a day of mourning? We were booked on an all day tour with Evans and Evans to catch the best sights of London. It was a 7AM to 5:30 PM tour...

We were up bright and early and made it to the train station. We had to go to Victoria terminal to catch the bus tour. The kids raced ahead to do the ticket entries (we would just do the credit card sliding at the end) and they had checked out local London maps and they really enjoyed figuring out the London Underground. 

The previous post on this series is here..

We made it to the bus stop where all Evans tours left and found breakfast there. Then we were off with a bus full of folks and a very chatty tour guide. She was nice and made sure she crammed an all day tour with all the jokes in her script. It was almost like she was auditioning for a late night talk show job with us. 

We sat at the back of the bus with a Canadian mom and her two daughters who were the same age as Jr. and the Little one. This was good for us as we took family pictures for each other throughout the tour. 

The first stop was the cathedral. It was very cold and we did not want to hang out. It was also early in the morning. So we spent little time there and went to our next stop, the Palace to see the change of guard.

After so much hype for this by the tour guide, we were almost there when a Palace employee who recognized our guide gave her some information in private. She turned to us and apologized. Apparently the guards will not be there that morning as last minute security changes had been made. DJT was visiting London and it was a surprise. We were all upset and there were lot of jokes from the group. We made it to the Palace, took pictures, then walked back along a park. 

There was still one hope. There was a horse guard change that we could catch if we all walked fast enough. Walk we did and were not disappointed! 

Then it was time to board the bus again and go to the St. Pauls cathedral. We went through it but I really wanted to go to the whispering dome. During an earlier visit to London 20 years ago, I had been up to the whispering dome and it was interesting.. Still remember trying out the whisper thing with my friends who kept experimenting multiple times till the whisper came back with the exact message sent out. (note to self, should find out what Weeshie is up to these days!)

We were however told that there was a narrow staircase and we had only 20 minutes to go back so there would be no climbing up. I tried to tell the lady that the same thing had happened at the Eiffel tower and we did make it up and down by running, but she would not let us go. She said there was no time. We all had to go down to the crypts! So off we went to the floor below the church to see all the famous people in their resting place and the history behind it. The kids enjoyed that part of the tour.

This was followed by a quick lunch outside where there were long lines in every restaurant thanks to the local business folks standing in line. We were all to gather outside in a courtyard after finding lunch. The courtyard had a big screen TV playing tennis matches and there were seats for people to just come sit and enjoy during lunch. The whole place had a relaxed atmosphere and the coulds made sure some of the heat was not felt. 

We enjoyed waiting there for 20 minutes for everyone to gather and went to our next stop. The Tower of London. On the way we were passing Trafalgar square, Picadilly circus, etc. etc. and got a lot of interesting tidbits from our guide. 

The tower of London was interesting and hindsight being 20/20 we should have just gone and seen it on our own. A lot of folks in our group split as soon as we entered the tower. ONly later we found out why. It was the last official stop and after that we got tickets for a Thames river cruise that would take us to where we wanted. We walked with the group and found that the tour was dragging.

Then we also took our cruise tickets, stood in line to go see the "crown jewels" which were mostly taken from India, all the while shaking our heads in disbelief on how the winner always gets to rewrite history.  There was no photographs allowed in the crown jewels museum. The security guards actually went after folks who took pictures and made them delete it off their phones. That automatically challenged a bunch of tourists in front of us to go take cell phone pics when no one was watching.. we found the whole thing to be very amusing..we went up to one more tower where two kids were said to have been killed in the succession wars and walked towards the cruise stop.

Here are some slide shows from the day..

The weather was perfect, contrary to what we keep hearing about "London weather being drab" and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride along the Thames.

Got some nice pano shots from the slow moving boat..

When we finally got off, we had to go to the closest underground station to meet San's college classmate for dinner. He lived 40 mintues from London but worked in the Charing Cross area. It was going to be one more exercise to find the right station and get there.

We ended up in the wrong station! We took another train and finally found him. It was another busy area with a lot of restaurants close to the Opera house. It also started raining heavily by the time we reached there, but it was pleasant. Picked a mexican place to eat dinner. The food was very yummy and we said our byes and walked back for one last subway ride for the day. 

It was a very good day as all day tours went. Would definitely recommend Evans and Evans for this tour. To quote my grandma "alangaama kulungaama kootindu ponan" .. it was a no stress tour with the right pace and right breaks.

A video of Day 12 is here..

Day 12 was great. We walked a lot but some how were not tired. We were smiling throughout the day, enjoying the sights, having a good day. I learned that it takes the family almost a dozen days to hit true vacation mode and to let go of little things and be okay.

The last day of the tour was Day 13 and was to be THE highlight of the London leg.. Hogwarts!

Sunday
Sep092018

The home of cricket

After saying bye to Paris (the ladies were emotional, I was happy to move on.. except for the Louvre I was not going to come back for anything.. well maybe the Laduree macaroons and that was it), we got up reluctantly on Day 11 to drag our suitcases along Parisian pavements for 30+ minutes to go to the Gare Du Nord station. 

There was a long line to clear immigration at a train station so we could board the Eurostar to London. We made it two mintues before the train took off. It was a pleasant ride and given we were hungry, we ate some of the desi snacks that had been in our bags all along for breakfast. 

The previous post on this series is here...

The train stopped at Kings Cross station, one place we wanted to visit. We didnt realize we will be visiting that station that many times as our hotel was right across from the station. 

We were told that the earliest we get our room is 2PM. That was a challenge because we were booked on a tour of the Lords cricket ground from 2-3:30PM not to mention plans after that. 

So we left our luggage next to the front desk and tried to find something to eat. It so happens that in England, the most common restaurant is Indian food. A word of warning.. the Indian food joints serve a version of Indian food that is not exactly Indian. Some restaurants serve you food that is frozen in pre-independent India times.. things that bring back vague memories of when your great grandma used to cook at family functions when you were 4-5 years old. Others make you question "what exactly is the Indian part here other than the color of the food and the Paneer in it?". Then again, there are some that hit the right notes and make you eat way more than you normally would..

Our first search (stepping down from hotel entrance) showed 3 Indian places just looking across. We found none of them opened before Noon. So we wandered around for some time, got the kids food at a 5 guys burger joint and went to a Tandoori place for the adults. Then it was time to hit the Lords ground.

I have more family portraits with smiling faces at this one location than any other place in the entire trip. Must have been the perfect English weather which happens so rarely..

Also please note that usually I am allowed to post one family portrait per post based on censor restrictions.. but in this post there are 4. If you note carefully, my hair actually is going through what the grass surface goes through during the first 4 days of a Test match at Lords..in just under 90 minutes... 

This was a much anticipated event for me on the trip. The kids were also looking forward to it, given all the IPL watching in recent times and the test cricket they catch glimpses of on weekend mornings with me.

They don't play but they know the game. San was also excited to see Lords although she wanted to see a game there. Unfortunately the game with India was just a few days away and we were leaving Europe that morning. The tour was actually great. The guide was great, giving us a fun fact filled description with enough jokes to keep us laughing throughout. 

Two slide shows of what we saw..

I did not know that the Lords board for hundreds does not have the names of Sachin or Lara but has Agarkar in it...also did not know that Stuart Broad is the only guy who has hit a 100 at Lords, taken 5 wickets in an innings and 10 wickets in a match at Lords. Always had mixed feelings about Broad because he didnt walk once after he knowingly hit a ball and was caught, but he is a damn good all rounder. Let's just say I did find some new respect for him after this tour. 

We walked the entire perimeter of the ground and went into the press box as well as the players rooms, and the pavillions. It was an experience that will be cherished for a long time.

Panos of Lords ground..

After this we got back to the Kings cross area and put our luggage in our room. It was actually as small as the room in Paris with only one bed. We had to change rooms in the morning or later that night. The next stop was south Wimbledon to meet San's childhood friend. 

We took the train again and visited her friend. We all had a great time at her friends place and after dinner we all sat down to watch the second semi final of the World cup. We had booked tickets for this trip almost 8 months in advance and if you had told me then that we would actually end up in Paris on the night of the France semifinal and in London the night of the England semifinal, I would not have bet on it. 

England lost the game and given the English history of reacting to loses in big matches, our friends told us to put up a sad face and stay quiet on the underground. It was a long ride from South Wimbledon to Kings Cross and there were a lot of drunk folks on the train, but they were trying to sing songs that still supported the English after the loss. 

Our family looked as though we just came from a funeral, maybe we over did the sadness part.. but all said and done we made it back to the hotel. Folks were all red eyed and crying as we watched a contrast to the previous night.. 

Day 11 was done. . it was a tale of two cities.. in a much different context!

Saturday
Sep082018

Picking your battles

When you are on a busy holiday where nine days of traveling where you are on your feet for 12+ hours a day, the choice of places to visit makes all the difference as you get close to the end of the trip.

Pick places with plenty of options for folks to sit down every now and then, places without long lines, places with decent restrooms (a big thing when traveling with wife and two girls).. these are lessons that should have already been learned.. somehow I keep failing at it.. classic example was day 9 (previous post on this series)

So on day 10, we all woke up late. There was a small Indian restaurant right below our Air B&B and I got some rice pulav and rotis to go first thing in the morning. We had been lugging around these MTR packets of instant Dal, Mattar Paneer etc.. we "cooked" (or hot watered is more like it) those, and ate a directl early lunch.

Then I told them we could go to a quiet small museum which was on my list. The Monet Museum. It was a 90 minute to 2 hour spend at the most and there would be no rush. The family having decided that being nice to each other was a pre-requisite for the day, all agreed to go. 

So we took an Uber and went to this place. I left my heavy camera bag in the room. It was going to be casual snaps on the iPhone if any for the day. In the middle of a residential area, is a three story building which is the Monet Museum. 

It is quiet, clean, the exhibits are done nicely and the write up to the exhibits are done equally well. However, one has to have a certain appeal for this type of art. I like it, but the family was just plain giggling. 

Appa, anyone could have done that.. 

Appa, those are supposed to be what? Lilies ? how? 

Did this guy have fogged up spectacles while painting all these? 

etc. etc. an endless list of questions that usually mocked me, not the artist for picking this place.. but was done in a very roundabout way. 

My kids and wife were smiling and laughnig and being happy, so it didn't matter if they thought my choice of art was funny. We did enjoy two of the rooms (other than the Monet hall) where all the paintings were done by a guy called Jean Baptiste Corot and a lady called Berthe Morisot. Her paintings were amazing. Wondered why we never heard of her before..

Here are two slide shows of most of the stuff that was impressive in this museum.

 

After we went through the museum, we exited into a park where we watched a bunch of school kids doing their PE class. There was an afternoon to spend with no particular plans.. so we were off to Champs Elysses by day. 

No one minded waiting in line for Macaroons and other stuff at Laduree and they were absolutely delicious. My kids declared that going to Paris and not eating at Laduree is like going to Benaras and not having chai at Bihari's for me.. I kind of missed the logic as I had lived on that Chai for four years, but they had never been to this store.. but kind of realized that it was the "importance" that was the connecting factor.

Then we walked through the Louis Vutton store. There was a long line just to enter the store.. My job was to steer them clear of their wants changing to needs and I succeeded in a big way. 

Saw people ring up 4000$ handbags and my jaw dropped. The bags looked great but I could not figure out the price tags. Maybe I never will. 

We wandered around a few more shops, spent some time at a starbucks and it was time for an early dinner. The decision was to make everyone happy, so we all ate crepes at a Brittony style restaurant (which is famous for crepes, highly recommended by three Uber drivers.. the La Petite Bretonne)

and started walking back towards Saravana Bhavan.. The streets were getting tense because France was playing the world cup soccer semi finals.

Roads were jammed, crowds were gathering in large numbers, our drivers had warned us to get to where we need to get to before 6PM.

So after crepes and dosas, we walked to the Air B&B to watch the semi finals. France won and we were not prepared for what happened next. The entire apartment complex had a noise level increase at that instant. It was like a mini earthquake. We opened the door to the balcony and could hear a collective roar outside. Folks were coming out in their underwear and shouting from balconies. 

In short, it was crazy!

The honking and shouting did not stop all night. The sound level dropped to bearable around 1PM. We were going to leave for London the next morning on the Eurostar at 9AM and given we had to go through passport checks and security, were told to be at the station by 7 AM. It was a 30 minute walk to the station. 

We were not sure if we would wake up and rush in time. We had had a pretty relaxing day and there was no exhaustion to force us to sleep. The kids were already reminscing about Paris while we were still lying in bed. It was weird. 

The video of the day is here..

It was time to say bye to Paris and move on.. we were already into day 11..