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Entries in church (8)


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!


My love for stained glass windows

The first time I saw amazing stained glass windows was in a Church somewhere in the Ohio/Kentucky border when I went to present something as a grad student in Cincinatti. We had half a day and I was on a package tour as a grad student and remember going to a magnificent church with stained glass windows. 

After traveling a lot more, have seen many more churches and stained glass panes, but the ones in the Notre Dame cathedral are by far the best I have seen.. Mind blowing large and intricate pieces that bring on a light show as the sun moves across..

The previous post on this series is here... Yes, we are still on Day 9 part 3 and it was a packed day! 

We went from the Eiffel tower with smiles all around back on the boat to the cathedral. The views of the place from the boat gave us a sense of grandeur that was to follow. 

There was no "jump the line" tickets at Notre Dame and the tour guide told is it was free and therefore everyone had to go stand in the line. There were a 1000 people in the line in front of us and the line went to the other side of the yard in front of the church which was the size of a football stadium.

We were walking slowly listening to the guide on the headphones about the history of the place, how many times it was built and rebuilt and extended, etc. etc. and before we realized were at the entrance. 

There was a wedding photo shoot going on and we watched it for a few minutes

and it was our turn to enter.. 

This is one beautiful place of worship! You see hundreds of people sitting in silence and that silence has a power. Whatever can hold that many people to silence commands respect!

The slide shows hopefully do justice to the views we got.. but it will not reflect the sense of awe felt inside the halls.

We sat there for a while and walked out with the group. Most of the folks were very silent. We had not got this introspective even at the Vatican!

The tourguide told us that the guided part of the tour was over and we could use the boat ticket to hop and off on any side and keep seeing Paris.. 

The girls who had so far been giggly and happy were tired at that point. It was almost 5PM. We had to find dinner and go to my next planned stop.. 

The next blog post might come under heavy editing by the Censor board of Traveling Narayanans, so I will choose my words carefully..

Day 9 was not over.. 


Lean baby Lean..

The previous post on the Europe trip series is here...

Day 3 of the Europe trip was visiting Pisa. Now Pisa is neither here nor there on the big city list. So we did not want to stay overnight in Pisa. 

The plan was to take the first available train to Pisa from Rome (which is via Florence with a 10 minute window to change trains) and leave the luggage in the cloak room at Pisa station. Now you know why each of us was allowed only one check in bag and a backpack. 

We dragged the check in bags from train to train and from train to baggage room. My suitcase handle broke. I had to improvise and used Jr's bandana as the handle and dragged the suitcase along. We were on a tight schedule. Once we paid and gave the luggage in (6 euros per bag), we had to go to the leaning tower by 11:45 and that meant 45 mintues to walk there.

It took us almost 35 minutes to walk and we did stop for 5 minutes to get some ice cream for the kids. They were tired. We did stop for a few seconds every now and then to take pics on the way..

If you are going up the tower, you have to book it well in advance. They have a limit on how many people can go up and down the tower and you have time slots. We reached at 11:45 and found out that no backpacks allowed (even a camera backpack). So we walked across the field to a locker and put the handbags/ camera bag there. When we walked back to the line, it was our turn. 

It is a narrow walkway with pretty much one person at a time except for few niches where you could let someone pass through. We climbed up and got beautiful views of Pisa and the Cathedral. 

After coming back down we went to the cathedral. The tickets were included with the tower. So we didn't have to stand in that line. We strongly recommend buying tickets well in advance for this or you cannot cover the cathedral and get back to train station if you try to do Pisa as a half day stop. Remember the Florence to Pisa train is a local train that is not fast and most trains to other important places are from Florence. 

This cathedral was beautiful. Amazing ceiling, altar, paintings on the walls. We spent 30 minutes walking to the sanctum and back.

From the top of the tower, realized that we had taken a longer route to come to the tower. So on the way back I suggested a shortcut. The family came along reluctantly. Then I made one mistake. That almost proved costly as it took us to a city center courtyard. Once we figured it out we were off by one block. Luckily I asked for directions and we were back on track. I got yelled at for the next 15 minutes by all three for losing the 5 minutes. We ate lunch at a quiet restaurant. The service was excellent as was the food. For a guy who eats cheese sticks at Denny's, cheese balls were a novelty. Had that for the first time in Pisa. 

Here are two slideshows with pictures..


and a Pano slide show. The Panoramic views at Pisa were amazing!

We made it back to the train station and waited for our luggage to be handed out. The cloak room is all the way in the back of the platform. So yet again we barely made it to our train to Florence and then to Venice.. I was already limping by then with the hardened skin in my foot hurting me every time the foot touched the ground.

The video highlights of the trip.. including a time lapse of my entire walk down from the top of the tower.. 

So it was a relief to sit on the train and catch our breath!

To be continued..


All roads lead to Rome...

Within Rome, all roads also lead to a central point.. in spite of this, it is possible to get lost in Rome today. Google Maps comes in very handy!

The previous post on this Europe trip (day1) is here..

On day 2 we got up, had breakfast at Hotel Canada (they have a very good breakfast for 10$/person) and walked to the train station. We were taking a local metro to the Vatican. The local metros in Rome are really good. On time, every efficient and people on the trains are friendly. The ticket buying system is also very easy to use. 

We were to meet our tour guide at the bottom of the steps directly opposite the Vatican entrance per instructions. This is like telling a Penguin, you walk up that island of ice and your partner will meet you there.. It looks like all of Rome is at those steps, trying to find their tour guide. There are a zillion tour guides holding flags with the tour company names and some other little beanie baby or toy tied to their little flags. The trick is to go early so you can be united with your guide. Then it is easy.. or not.. depending on, if you belong to our family.

The tour guide looked at San and the girls and shook her head. My guess was she was thinking "if you girls dress like this to Vatican, what do you wear at home? do you wear anything at all?" and my answer would have been "I have been married to this woman for 19 years and I have seen her ankles only three times in public and her knees once when she came to our Christian friends wedding in Napa. she is usually covered head to toe and gives middle eastern burka wearing woman feeling under clothed!"..

Anyways, I don't know what got into San and the kids. They decided that given Europe was going to be hot and all we had was one carry on and a backpack each for this trip (to save time at airports), they packed and dressed "light". Short skirts and shorts everywhere for the most part. Out of all of those, they decided to pick the shortest for Vatican day. Turns out the Vatican has a dress code. No exposing shoulders or knees when going into the place. 

This was interesting because most of the tourists were stuck. This problem was solved by a bunch of African and Middle eastern immigrants who were selling scarves with pictures of vatican for anywhere from 10 to 3 Euros.. "knee cover. shoulder cover".. they kept shouting and were walking among the penguins trying to find their guides doing brisk business. We bargained with two or three of these fellows, found the LCM on the price (kids, note how math comes in handy) and got three of these. The boys just pulled down their shorts to cover the knees and started walking funny with a rap star gait! I now know why these rap star folks walk funny.. when you are constantly trying to avoid your shorts from falling off your hip, you walk like that!

Where were we? yes, Vatican..

We had booked trips on Viator. The tour guides were good. They had all the tickets pre booked and it was all "jump the line". Also they made sure most of our group was from USA/Canada and they grouped families with kids together. We had a 14 people group and the walking started. 

The Vatican museum is amazing. The Christian leadership went out of their way to create this place and they made sure it will be preserved well. 

We had seen a lot of stuff in Uffizi that was repeated here, which was good. We had already been conditioned on what to expect. There is a lot of history in this place... and also some statues that put the previous one in Uffizi to shame.. like this one..Take that Uffizi!

The photographs in Portrait format in slide show..

another slide show..


We went to the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately there were no Photographs allowed. Some of the folks in our group were taking pictures by holding their iPhones at waist level. I thought that was not right. If me being a non Christian could accept the rules there and put my camera inside, these folks with their Crosses on their neck chains could have done better.. San told me to mind my business and we kept walking out. We also found that there were lot of folks who did expose their knees and shoulders and no one said anything. But the scarves were not exactly returnable..  I liked the ceiling but thought it was too depressing. Loved the ceiling in the Palace de Vecchio better. 

I did find a new favorite painter after this trip. Raphael! The one painting on a wall above a window where he painted a prison room with amazing shadows stayed with me for a long time. Pity this guy died young. His work was the best in that place..

The basilica is a completely different story. The place is well lit compared to most of the other churches we visited and I loved it. I like places of worship that are not dark and dinghy.. a place that can lift up your spirit. Saint Peters Basilica is amazing. I could kneel down there and say a prayer and feel a sense of calm that you get in some of the grand temples in India. Totally awe inspiring place.

Once we were done with the Museum tour, the Sistine Chapel and Basilica, the morning part of the tour ended with us in the open courtyard. That in itself is grand. (see the Pano pics below). The Pano feature on iPhone was best to capture these places.. 

this is a Vertical Pano shot by doing backbends.. 

We had a tricky situation. it was already 12:30. We were supposed to be at the Coliseum to find our guide there at 1:45 for a 2PM tour. Now that we knew that finding your tour guide takes time, we rushed out to the metro. It was a 20 minute walk. We took the train, changed trains, then went to the stop for the Coliseum. Our first thought was let's get there, check in with guide and hope to find something to eat. The kids were starting to strike saying "lets eat here and then go there". 

Eventually we ended up right in front of the Coliseum and there was a restaurant where we found food. They had sandwiches, fries, juice, etc.. so it worked out. The outside temperatures were close to 100F. There were no trees in the area. Mostly ruins for touring around. It is a good idea to have a hat or an umbrella if you are doing these tours in summer. We walked through multiple levels of the Coliseum with our tourguide Ursus. He was a family man with three kids of his own and given our group was just the 8 of us and a Canadian family with two kids and a grandma, he made sure the kids were the focus of the tour. They were all attentive and he was giving them a history lesson. The adults mostly trudged along taking pictures. 

The Coliesum in an interesting place. Human depravity knows no bounds. At least that was my one line takeaway after walking around this place and the surrounding ruins for almost 4 hours. Good news here? Free water fountains everywhere in Rome with great cool drinking water! 

After the tour, he gave us an option to continue on the other side. We said "we are all extremely tired. We will pass". Handed him the head phones and went back to take the metro to the hotel. 

A video to cover our Day 2 of the Europe trip..

We did laundry at a Laundromat near the hotel, the ladies decided their hubbies should get something for being nice the whole day and sponsored a Thai massage at a place one block from the hotel. I promptly got an allergic reaction from the oil the lady used for the massage. We ate a nice dinner again within a block from the hotel at a restaurant that played world cup games on the big screen. Think it was the Belgium Japan match where Belgium came from behind and won. It was a Monday evening.  After the dinner we called it a night.

We were going to go our different routes on the trip. We said our byes and it was time to pack up everything. The hotel part of the trip was over.

It was B&B time.. 


Peru- Night 1 : Lima Plaza

Throughout 2016, I travelled for work. We closed out 2016 with a family vacation to Peru between Christmas and New Years. 

When you travel so much as part of work, you just want to stay home and relax and wake up late and maybe laze around on a long weekend. It would be a wrong thing to do as it is probably the best time to go spend with family and take in some sights, spend some good times. 

2016 had many defining moments. The most significant one I can think of was when San had an accident and was in the hospital for a few hours getting her head scanned after she hit her head on the pavement.. on my birthday!  Everything turned out okay and she is the same old San, thanks to all the gods I know and don't know. That moment made me realize yet again, how fragile our lives are and how one mistep can change things. 

After that happened I still had to go to Asia with her recovering. So I made a resolution on my return flight. We will go on this trip to Peru and I will try to be the bestest most obiedient hubby on this trip. I almost succeeded. 

We left on Chirstmas eve and came back on the afternoon of New Years day. It was an amazing trip, with great sights, challenges we had to overcome as a family, interesting twists and turns.

Given this is going to be the first in a series of posts, here are some takeaways from the entire trip.

1. We were glad that all four of us were in decent shape. If you are older, have heart issues, are not in the best of shape, have small kids, talk to other folks and travel agents.. if you choose to follow our itinerary. In spite of all the yoga, there were times when I thought my heart could not take the strain. Also given my pores open up so easily, it was very difficult to manage the abrupt changes in weather and what I was wearing. The little one was going through altitude sickness practically the entire time, but she managed to brave it!

2. There is no shame in packing enough food. I was tired of all the curd rice and idly packing to Asia. We were told that there are vegetarian options and food should not be an issue. Not true. Vegetarian food and finding the right food can be a big challenge. So take those Maggi noodles and MTR pongal mixes.. you can thank me later.

3. Use a travel agent. We used Peru Expeditions and a guy by the name of Andres, who we did not meet, but who did an excellent job of co-ordinating things from the phone. When you have a busy schedule with taxi, van, bus, boat and plane rides with tight connections, you don't want to take chances.

4. My family was amazed that I remembered Spanish from College days ( I had taught myself Spanish from Primsleur for two years just to understand lyrics of what I was dancing to.. ) and San actually said "some good came out of all that dancing! We are able to communicate with folks here thanks to your dad!". So brush up on some Spanish! Especially when you bargain for those Alpaca sweaters... comes in very handy. 

Now for the travelog!

We left Christmas eve on a red eye flight to Panama City, spent 4 hours in the Panama City airport which constantly reminded me of Kuala Lumpur's Air Asia area from the recent India trip. You are kind of trapped in an enclosure with minimal options for 5 hours. As usual, something intersting happened.

There was a Copa Airlines lounge. So I went there with my United card and lo and behold, they said they will let me in with one guest. So the little one tags along. She walks into the lounge and goes "so you get to stay in lounges like this on your way to Asia. I have no sympathy for you anymore. This is nice compared to how we wait at the gate!". Told her to hold her thoughts. After 30 minutes of sitting in that leather seat, she said "you are right. it is boring after 30 minutes. they have juice and crackers and stuff and the rest room is nice, but we are still waiting". Told her it gets worse when the plane is delayed and that is usual for China flights. So daddy Narayanan won back a point! 

After that break we flew into Lima. We went to our hotel which happened to be in a very nice area called Mira Flores. The family noticed that there were no english signs anywhere on the 50 minute ride from airport to hotel. I spoke to our driver in Spanish and all those words came rushing back. Suddenly I was mixing Hindi, Tamil, English and Spanish and the kids were like "what is going on in your head"?. then the translate module in my head kind of stabilized and we had a decent conversation.

We were given a little under 1 hour to get ready for a "Lima by Night" tour with a guide. There were lot of folks driven in multiple vans to a common location. Then we split. Practically eveyone went in a big bus that was the "spanish tour" and the four of us and another couple from Kentucky ended up in a small van that was the English tour. Our tour guide told us he has spanish, local Inca and Japanese ancestry and he wove an interesting story line on the history and culture of Peru in 3 hours.

We did a brief stop (didn't get out of van) at a place called Huaca Pucllana which was an archaeological dig site. Apparently Lima is built on one large burial ground and there are sites like this cropping up everywhere and the folks today prefer to have their city develop instead of become pockets of archeological digs.

Initially the van did not stop anywhere in downtown plaza area as there was no parking and it was Christmas day. Most main streets were deserted, but the Plaza was a different story. 

It had a street fair atmosphere that evening. 

Then we walked through 300-400 year old streets. Every building was amazing. Just look at this door knob on one of the buildings! 

Or the balconies. They were really ornate and had different roots w.r.t. where they originated. 

Then we visited two chuches that were very popular in that area. It was a good thing to visit Churches that were hundreds of years old and get to say a prayer and take some pictures. 

There is San walking in.. These Churches were amazing.. they were just the starting point. Over the next 5 days we would visit so many old Churches (mostly photography not allowed) which had so much gold and silver and amazing paintings in them it was breathtaking!

We continued to drive past the Plaza and things were winding down. This was shot from the moving van..

Then we walked through a few streets in the Plaza which were restricted only to pedestrian traffic. The narrow roads were full of shops, with really inexpensive goods, but we had to keep walking. We did stop at a bakery to have some paneton bread which is a must have delicay on Christmas (Peruvian tradition) but the bread has Italian origins in Peruvian culture. The bread was delicious!

and before you know it, you are in the Plaza. It was full of people. There was a large nativity scene on one of the buildings, a tall light tree and steet vendors selling things to kids. We had a great time wandering around and our guide was nice enough to click a family picture!

The gold plated water fountain in the middle of the Plaza was beautiful. We kept thinking, why dont we create these beautiful things today? Why did we stop 400 years ago or so? Even in India, you see the palaces in Jaipur and wonder why there are no new palaces which are being built that might last a few hundred years at least...

Remember, the default water you will get there contains gas. We learned that the hard way. So you have to explicitly say "Agua sin gas" before buying your water!

Once we were done walking around the plaza, it was time to head back to the hotel. We had a busy schedule for day 2 per tour guide. on the way out we saw four santas playing different instruments and folks getting portaits with the four santas.. Given Jr. is a saxophone player, captured this for her!

This was the last picture clicked on way back. There was a lot of traffic and our van was at a stand still. So I made a request to the guide and we both ran to the end of the street to get this pic and we ran back to the van just as the light turned green. 

It was an evening well spent and a unique evening at that, it being Christmas! 

The next morning we had to wake up at 3:45AM as there was a flight to catch from Lima to Cusco.

Day 2 post to follow! 

ps. There are also wide pano photos and videos that were taken on every day on the iPhone. Will be posting the collection of Pano Photos on a separate page.

pps. "people photos" goes to FB!