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Entries in family portrait (7)


Tamil New year 2019

Another year rolls by.. and this year I had to explain to kids why Tamil New years day is as important to me as Jan 1st. They saw it as something less to celebrate.. the world turns irrespective of our celebrating and all these days are random markers in time .. birthdays, new years based on different dates.. etc.

I had to tell them about the history of New years on Jan 1st and how things have changed just in 2000 years with respect to Jan 1. The Tamil year system is more complex but the new Years is April 14th. 

We went to the temple yesterday given it was Rama Navami and decided to stay put at home today. There is 4 temples in the area and they are all super crowded. So we prayed for a good new year on "new year's eve" I guess! 

We were glad to have some friends visit us for lunch. The highlight was San's friends parents who came and blessed us with all their heart. To me, that is always what I miss about Tamil New Year here. When in India, you go to older relatvies and get their blessing.. Here I look around and realize that I AM the older relative!!! (when my MIL is not around). 

My MIL was happy today as well as she was superseeded by folks who could bless her! 

and what is a new years post without a family portrait?!

I am not exactly jet lagged but tired. It was time to turn on the sprinkler system today and I have not spent much time in the backyard in ages.. so went to check on things and ended up pulling out a lot of weeds.. some of them got to me. So I had puffy eyes for the pictures.. 

My saluations to all the elders on New Years and my blessings to all my younger family members.. Yes, I am now old enough to start blessing people as well as receive blessings.. 

This years name is Vihari, which is the 32nd of the 60 year cycle.. Wikipedia may not be the best source for this information (whenever westerners get to write or rewrite history..  a lot is lost in factual accuracy and translation)..but for what it is worth here is the link..

Given 2019 as a year did not start well for me.. counting on Vihari being a good year for me.. we can always count new years different ways, no?! 

That alone tells you that it really does not matter where the count starts. It is a good reason to celebrate, thank your stars and more importantly thank your elders and make sure you understand your responsibility as an older person to set an example for the young ones on this pretext.

The earth continues revolving and that is a good thing..


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!



Vaguely remember a TED talk where the author talks about Happiness being in Love in a Paris Cafe while drinking coffee or some such thing..

The three women in the house have been in love with the concept of being in Paris for a long time. That said they were all way too excited and I was worried that there is no way they can end the day happy, and I was almost right!

The previous post in this series is here...

We went from the Louvre for a short walk to the Cruise boat stop. It was a large boat.. must have had a few hundred people on it. The ride was a loop and we had an all day pass as part of the package. The group went on the boat and got off at the Eiffel tower.

There was a long line at the security checkpoint that cost us dearly in time. There was no bypassing that. After we got through, the guide quickly took us to the first level of the tower, we learned a few things about the place (like how the names of famous French scientists was written along the rim of the tower) and our pre ordered vegetarian option for lunch was served in the restaurant at the first level of the tower.

We had great views (no good photographs unfortunately as the windows were bright and the insides were dark) and the lunch was excellent. 

That is the happiest I have seen this kid in recent times and this is a happy go lucky kid we are talking about!

We were then told that our tickets were not for the elevator to the 2nd level landing, but it was 500 steps? one way and if we could run up and down and make it back in 30 minutes we won't miss the group on its way out. 

San decided to sit this one out and the girls and me ran up the steps as fast as we could. After a heavy lunch it seemed to be an ordeal but we did it and were not disappointed. The views were much better from the 2nd landing and we took some photos...

got a lot of Pano shots of Paris from the 2nd level..

then we ran back down in time to take the elevator to the ground. 

The girls actually had enough energy to run all the way to the ground floor from the first level. We still had to wait another 20 minutes for the group to gather after we reached the ground.  There is always the one family within the group that has to be 10 minutes late.. was telling myself "next time I want to be that family!" and realized it was not in our nature to be that family. 

We spent the 20 minutes wandering through the gift shop on one of the legs of the tower, bought a nice miniature replica of the Eiffel tower for 25 Euro, walked out of the tower and saw a bunch of African immigrants selling the same thing without the box for 8 Euro, smiled at how the kids were saying "but the one we got is in a box and is better quality Appa!"  and went back to the boat stop. Today was not the day to have any conversation about objects, value, economics, etc. etc. Today was their day.. 

Slide shows of the pictures from our Eiffel Tower Visit..

It was time to see the famous Notre Dame cathedral!

So far it was so good. The girls were on cloud 9 after this experience and I wished to freeze those moments for a long time..


The wait was over 

If there was one place that came to the top of the list on the Europe tour, it was Paris. The kids have been wanting to go see the Eiffel Tower and see Paris with dreamy eyes for at least a few years now. Many of their classmates have visited Paris over the years and they were itching to go.. 
It was surprising that they allowed us to start the Europe tour in a place other than Paris and waited till day 9 of the trip to go see the sights there.
The previous post on this series is here...
Day 9 came and we were on an all day tour of Paris which started with two hours at the Louvre. The tour covered three famous ladies including the Mona Lisa and three hallways and galleries.  The Louvre being huge, this was like a trailer for a movie.. a  two hour trailer! 
The Louvre was amazing. The entryways, the grand staircase below the glass pyramid, the hallways, the water fountains! (yes, they were a contrast to the Palace of Versailles where one could easily faint of dehydration), and the amazing art work were a treat. 
We also were fortunate to have a great tour guide for the day. This lady knew what she was talking about and paced things resaonably well.
We saw the Mona Lisa and took a selfie. There was a huge crowd just to get to take a selfie.. We did the "engaththu kaararum kutcherikku ponar" shot with the Mona Lisa.. I never realized the actual painting size was so small!! Once the guide told me that this was different from previous portrait styles in the day, I humbly bowed and moved on..
I was amazed by some of the art that I did not know about before.. the paintings were amazing as were the sculptures.. 
This one piece with the sunlight on the marble made the whole thing surreal.. how a person could sculpt something with marble like this is beyond me.. truly amazing.
The rest of the art looked vaguely repetitive because we had seen them at the Vatican or Uffizi or Vechchio museums or we had just seen the same stuff at the Versailles palace the previous day.
Here are slide shows from the Louvre Visit..
We were rushed to see as much as possible in two hours and were happy to be rushed. We absorbed what we could, told ourselves that someday we should just do a one week tour of the Louvre and walked out with the rest of the group.
It was time to go on a boat trip on the Sienne to see the Eiffel tower! 
The video that captured the entire days trip!
The video has the entire day 9.. will be breaking the other places we visited as separate posts..
It was a packed day!

We made a "final family video"

This is part of the Europe trip posts.. The previous post on this series of the trip to Mt. Titlis is here..

Our adventure on top of Mt. Titlis deserves a post by itself.

We had reached the top, and started walking to the "glacier walk". That meant going up the Ice Flyer. 

The kids wanted to go on their own and we said "NO". That actually turned out to be a good decision.

A lot of people were turning back because there was no visibility. The traveling Narayanans were not going to turn back. Not when their leader was wearing shorts and a T-shirt to Mt. Titlis. 

So we went, sat on a ski lift type thingy with a pull down plastic cover that comes almost to the waist and the operator gave a tap on the plastic shield and off we went..

We settled in and took this picture.. we were all smiles..

It was a fast steep climb and after just a few seconds on the thing, hail started hitting our feet and the shield. The noise level was unbelievable. When we reached the top, we could not even put our foot down because everything had frozen and the operator at the top told us "you are not getting down here. the ride is closing and you have to keep going down". So we sat on it as it turned around and started coming back down. A flash of lightning and boom, the transformer was out. 

We were just hanging in there for a good 15 minutes with hail and snow coming down. I slowly stopped feeling things below my knees.. then after a few minutes below my waist. My reproductive system I could not care less about, but my ankles and knees and hips.. how will I do yoga? lots of thoughts going through my mind.. when the family started thinking out aloud.. 

one girl started praying to Vembadi Vinayagar (the local Chennai temple favorite) and another girl started talking about her last days on the planet.. we made a video while being stuck on the lift.. and then the backup power came on and very slowly we got down to the stop. There were folks stuck in the operator room (almost 40 of them) and all of them cheered when we came down. Then two more lifts came and we cheered. Apparently four lifts were stuck out there for some time and they were working very hard to get everyone down. 

The view below from the stuck lift.. blue glacial ice!

The organizers of the place told us they did not expect the storm to move in so fast and that usually they will close the ride the minute they see a storm like that move in. We told them we were good and got an adventure and will remember this for a long time. The lady smiled and said "unfortunately none of you can walk back to the building because there are still lightning strikes. please wait till we get an all clear"

We joined the crowd in a small room at the base of the lift and waited for almost 30 minutes before we were all escorted at a slow pace to the main five story building. 

We were badly in need of some warming up. A hot cocoa had never looked so appealing in my entire life. After a few minutes and a realization that we were about to miss the ride down, we ran. 

We were the talk of the bus as everyone had heard about the four lifts that got stuck. At least we made it up and came down.. most folks just ended up spending the entire time in the five story building with restaurants and shops watching the hail pound on the glass. 

This hilarious video pretty much caught the whole thing in bits and pieces.. wish I could have subtitles for it.. 

All said and done, Vembadi did his job.. we were back and had an interesting family adventure! 

This definitely helped change plans for the next day. We were to visit Grindelwald and possibly go to the "Top of Europe" or "JungFrau" but given the weather, we decided it was pointless to do the same thing again the next day and pay 500+ $ / person to go up that mountain on a train... 

turned out to be a wise decision. We actually ended up having a great time in Grindelwald.. that will be tomorrows post..