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Italy Trip - with 15 of my friends - Part I

Tour to Italy with a 15 member group:

Before we get out of the dream from our Netherland trip and before we get into working mode again, we started the Italy trip last Friday. Manikandan cannot make this trip, due to his trip to India to attend his brother’s marriage. Rest 15 of us left the office around 1pm and boarded the 15+ seater Euro Taxi. Anand, as usual was very busy with his work rushed and joined us around 1.30pm. It was a long Weekend, so very heavy traffic stopped us from reaching Stansted until 5pm. 5.20 pm was the flight, however go-fly Airlines, which always seem to delay taking off helped us to board the flight. People who question the stinginess of different airlines in US for providing peanuts and half cup coke for a $250 local flight will get an answer when they have to pay 50 pence for a 15cl cold drink in this flight. Flight reached Milan around 9.15pm GMT. Local time was 10.15pm that time. Landing by the Pilot can be considered as the worst. Immigration officer seem to have fighted with his wife, so no friendliness was visible in his face. Before we started cursing Italians for the racial attitude, one old Italian man came voluntarily to help us in understanding getting Train Tickets and Train Timings. He was with us for more than ½ hour. Some of us thought he expects some money, however, he just left us without taking any money. Good old man. Flight delay made us miss the last train from Milan to Rome and we stayed in a very posh waiting room in Milan Railway station. So, people who travel to Milan and wants to continue next day didn’t need to book an expensive hotel, just stay in the waiting room.

We started for Rome by 5.30 am train and reached at around 11.30 am. The route almost looked like hot portion of India i.e. dry Grass and mostly landscapes. We took food in McDonalds in Rome and it was the most worst food I have ever tasted. We went to our Hotel, which was not okay. Only Fans and no AC. We proceeded to Vatican (San Petero) by a Metro train from Rome-Termini station. Everybody knows, it is the smallest country in the world. It looks like Vatican is smaller than Mylapore. We went to St. Peter’s Cathedral. The highly ornamental sculptures, paintings and decorations proved it as the richest religious place in the world. We took some photoes of Pope’s security guards also. Then we proceeded towards Colloseum (refer Gladiator movie). View was really very majestic. It still stands as the symbol of Rome as well as symbol of many heartless people. Then we visited Forum, where ruins of very beautiful Roman architecture stand majestically. Next we went to some Government building where stunning statues stood beautifully. I think the name of the building is Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill- the city Square, one of Rome’s most elegant squares designed by Michalengelo, it also features some of the city’s primary classical sculpture. Next is a Fontana di Trevi, the most grandiose and famous of Rome’s baroque fountains. It is a beautiful one. It has become night now and half the group proceeded towards a Chinese Restaurant. Although the price of each food item is in 1000s of Liras, converting them into Pounds came to around £1. So we started with soup and finished with a desert. I took a Chinese Fried Icecream. Icecream is stuffed into a Bajji type flour cover. I may be the first Indian to taste that stuff. It was not bad. Senthil Kumar took more wine and started talking in Chemical terms. Though out the day, Aniruddha was able to tell the Italian names and take us anywhere to Rome similar to a local guide.

Italy and Vatican Trip - Part II

Next day, we went to some place called Spanish steps, it was not okay. Next we went to Chistine Chappel, where the 16th chapel painting by Michaelangelo is present. Each painting has a 3D effect and was stunning. The triumph of Fresco painting, not only of the Vatican Palace, but of the entire world is the Cappella Sistina. The walls are covered in paintings by Botticelli, Pintiricchio and others, but the breath taking star of the show is Michaelangelo’s ceiling. As Vasari wrote ‘ All the world hastened to behold this marvel and was overwhelmed, speechless with astonishment’. Shaik bought Soveniers for around 1 ¼ lakh Liras.
We took 12.04 pm train from Rome and we reached Pisa in the next 2 hours. Pisa station looked like some station in a old Indian village. We travelled by Bus number A. Some of the group preferred walking, latter changed the mind to join the other group. Leaning tower of Pisa is really beautiful and is no wonder a world wonder. A church (Bapistry) and Campo dei Miracoli (the filed of Miracles is a park which overlooks the Leaning Tower and the Baptistry) accompanying the tower is also beautiful. They may have become world wonders, if they would not have stood near the Leaning tower. Some civil engineering details in making the leaning tower straight was written and it is Indian mentality to read each and every board (whether they really want to know the information or not) and everybody did that. Again the jantha bought lot of souveniers.

We left to Florence alias Firenze. We had high hopes about that place. Latter we found it is not really that much WORTH. Hotel Sofia, we stayed is also reasonably unreasonable. The entire group remained a group till the Piazza Del Signoria - the city square that contains a copy of the famous sculpture ‘David’ by Michaelangelo. Latter it become two groups, One is the WAC group (Anupama, Subbulakshmi, Shaik, Karthik, Senthil, Sampath) and another group (Aniruddha, NH Prasad, Dilip, Naresh, Ranjith, Krishna, Anand, Sharat). I joined the WAC group for protection purposes. We saw some places. A lady who sung near a Ponte Vicchio (bridge containing a number of jewellery shops….. quite famous in Florence) sung a song with a very good voice. There were also some people who played voilin and other instruments. We took an Italian restaurant this time. Aubergine topped Pizza was the best one.

Each one of us started next day by 6.30am itself to reach the train. 2 ladies in our group got really tired due to the previous day’s hectic walk and they just got up at that time. However, we still managed to catch the 7.18 am train to Venice. Venice is really a beautiful place with Water Bus, Water Taxi, Water streets, Exceptionally beautiful bridges, Gondola (Kattumaran type boats) etc etc. We travelled by route number 82 via the Grand Canal to reach Piazza San Marco. Someone told, Napolean has mentioned that place as drawing room of Europe. We also saw Basillica di San Marco (a nice church). Among the bridges, Ponte De Sospiri (The Bridge of Sighs) is worth mentionable. Prisoners who are taken to Dungeon to get killed will see the light for the last time from the bridge with sigh, so it got the name Bridge of Sighs.

Ranjith did some Camcording for me. Ranjith considered to be the Don (spelling?) was the only person to lose few money to pickpocketers. Many cautioned Italy as a place for mafia and other illegal activies. Sampath didn’t agree with that. The heat and sweating made us think, we were in India.

Anand seem to have extra talent in making conversation with every Italian. Many in the group were jealous about this.

WAC group minus me lost the chance of seeing the world’s beautiful and big shopping complex in Milan. It is called ‘Gallaeria Vittorio Enamuele’ and is one of the most famous shopping centre in the ‘Fashion Capital of the World’. Dumo present near to that was also worth to be mentioned. Returned to house around 2 am by Euro Taxi. Another nice and enjoyable trip came to an end.

Thailand Trip

Thailand capital Bangkok can be called as - "The Venice of East" in terms of waterways,
"Amsterdam of East" in terms of entertainment and "Rome of East" in terms of history and
ruins. 3 things to mention about Bangkok are Temples, Entertainment and Shopping.

We reached Bangkok at 11:30 pm [12:30 am Singapore Time] by Fin Air. Visa-on-arrival
formalities took 30 minutes to complete. Immigration officer did not talk to us, but
played dumb charades with us, as he did not know English. After crossing lot of fly-overs
reached the Hotel around 2:50 am.

On next morning, we started our 1/2 day guided city tour from Chao Phraya river. Took a
ferry and saw Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kheo and Wat Arun along the banks of the river. Then
our ferry entered the Floating market area. Floating market is where people carry
fruits/vegetables in boats and surround the tourist ferries and sell them. We did not buy
anything here. Then we stopped at Wat Arun, also known as Temple of Dawn. Wat Arun appeared
in one of the recent Surya's movie. Then we were taken to a leather factory. Surprised to
see goods made of leather taken from Snake, Elephant, Lamb, Shark and Crocodile. We did not
buy anthing here also. We next went to a Gem Factory and bought a Garnet and Coral stone.
Travel guide then took us to a Thai restaurant. We had a Steam Boat Lunch and this was really
funny. After lunch, our travel agent related tour was over and we were left independent.
We took a taxi to Grand Palace. A Thai police came to our help, when the taxi driver did not
know what we were saying. You can compare Bangkok taxi drivers to Chennai auto drivers, they
round and round the roads so much that you will finally end up paying 100 Bahts per trip.
Traffic Jams were also very common in Bangkok. It will surely frustrate any one. We reached
our destination. Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kheo's architecture will definitely stun you. After
that we went to Prathunam market to buy clothes for more than 1000 Bahts. It is similar to
Burma Bazaar in Chennai. To enjoy the night life, we went to a Thai show "Mambo Cabaret Show".
You can check in internet if you are not sure of Steam Boat Lunch, Mambo show etc.

Next day, we started our trip to Ayutthaya. State Government bus took us in 1 1/2 hours.
It was really surprising, we were the only tourist travelling in that. All tourist must
have taken an expensive guided tour of 1500 bahts per person. Our to-and-fro travel cost
only 80 bahts. Ayutthaya was the old capital of Thailand. Ruins of majestic old stupas,
templeas give a wonderful look. We returned back by train. As we were late, we got inside
a crowded 3rd class compartment and moved into 2nd class air conditioned one. After reaching
Bangkok, we saw the Golden Buddha in Wat Traimit. History of Wat Traimit will be interesting
one to read. In the evening, we went to a movie theatre with Seperate individual seats, Carpet flooring, Colourful curtains inside WTC.
We stood for one minute to pay respects to present King Rama IX before the start of the movie.
It was surprising to hear Thais pronouncing rugby as lugby and Rama as Lama.

Only 1/2 day left to use on the 3rd day, as we needed to leave to airport by 12:30 pm. Took
a taxi from our 3 Star Bangkok City Inn hotel directly to Wat Pho, where a majestic reclining
Buddha is present. Massage done here will be very rought, so did not go. Then we went to
World's biggest teak wood palace, Vimanmek Mansion. There were some cultural dances too in
the palace.

As we were short of time, we bought few souveniers in airport only. It was little expensive
compared to one available inside city.

Notable things that happened in Bangkok include, respect given by Thais to monks, Thai
alphabets resembling our Oriya alphabets and Thai dances looking more with Oriya touch.
I went for a Oriya wedding and my friend's brother joined both hands and welcomed me.
Same thing we were able to notice in plenty of places inside Bangkok.

Millenium Celebration in London - 2000

I with my friends got a chance to participate in London Millennium Celebrations. Although we are afraid of racial as well as other attacks initially, Scotland yard officer's interview, "We are giving asylum to almost anybody here, so the wrong people would not do anything that would spoil their existence" gave us courage to proceed to London.

On the New Year's eve at 2 p.m., we reached London from Bristol. Crowd started thronging Central London. In Piccadilly Circus there were colourful advertisement boards stood well illuminated. At around 5.30pm Nescafe advertisement changed into a New Year Countdown clock of millennium for Bangkok. People shouted with happiness, when it was millennium in Bangkok. Near Trafalgar Square, a big Christmas tree was kept. Also 2 more big TV Screens were giving information about New Year Celebration in different places. At around 6'o clock, BBC news gave information about Yeltsin resignation and also the end of hijacking drama. I with my friends rushed to Piccadilly Circus back to see India's New Year. Unfortunately the time has crossed 6.32pm and India's New Year was over.

At 8.30pm there was fire display for 30 seconds, we stood opposite to a big millennium Giant Wheel. Giant Wheel was supposed to carry people, unfortunately it failed the quality test, so now it stood idle. For four hours, same type of Laser shows bored the viewers. People start to entertain themselves. An old lady near me started singing loudly "Common Barbie Girl". Another lady opened a newspaper and started telling clues for the puzzle. Leg started paining after 2 hours. We started cursing the British Government for poor organising of the function. VIPs however had the chance of enjoying the programmes inside the newly constructed Millennium Dome costing around 450 million pounds. At 12.00 midnight, fire crackers show started and continued for 15 minutes. It was really world class. We thought our waiting was really justified.

On return to railway station (Name: Embankment) pushing through 2 million gathered crowd, we saw the station closed. We cursed the British Government again for not caring for normal people. We praised our Tamil Nadu Government's extra buses during exhibition time in Island Grounds, Madras. We walked to another railway station (Name: Charring Cross), after a wait of 30 minutes in queue the result was same. Finally we got our train at Victoria railway station. During our walk, we saw the road fully occupied by beer glass bottles (full and broken). Lot of people walked in nearly falling down condition due to heavy drinking. I was really shocked to see Indian & Pakistani youngsters including girls fully drunk and received kisses from many persons making use of this opportunity. I really got concerned about lot of new entrants in US from India, who should really see their sons & daughters won't behave like this after 15 or 20 years from now. A middle aged Indian (may be Pakistani) is one of them enjoying this happy moment. Also I saw one person bleeding in the face all over and murmuring in a feeble drunken voice for help. We diverted a police towards him. As the crowd was in millions, people don’t want to wait in queue for available toilets and part of British Parliament (ofcourse outside) become an open toilet ground.

People who have visited Atlanta Olympics will remember the crowd behaving like Kandivilli crowd in shouting and pushing people due to overcrowdedness.

This incidents should show appreciation and respect to our Indians in India who want to be polite and show decency inspite of our huge population problems.

My trip to USA and Canada

I was in Louisville, KY from 3rd May 1996 to 5th May 1998. As I don't have the habit of writing stories of my trips that time, I was not able to give my tour details and the people I was with.

The people I can remember of during that time are Sriram Krishnamurthi, Sandeep Chavan, Lakshmi Valada, Mandar Joshi, Ninad Manelkar, Sanjay Shetty, Asim Chowdhry, Cathy Kupper, Christopher Hudson, Ayan Chakaraborty.

The places I have seen in US are
- Washington DC (Memorials, Capitol, White House)
- Boston (Boston Common, MIT, Harvard)
- Niagara (Falls)
- Chicago (Sears Towers, Gandhi Street, Temple)
- Florida (Universal Studios, Disney Kingdom, Water World)
- New York (WTC, Empire State Building, Manhattan Area/Bridge, Time Square)
- Indianapolis (Casino)
- Nashville (Temple)
- St. Louis (Arc)

The places I have seen in Canada are
- Montreal (Olympic Stadium)
- Toronto (CNN Tower)
- Niagara (Falls)

My Malaysia Trip

"Malaysia - Truly Asia" is the slogan given by Malaysia Tourism Industry. Its a Vesak's (Buddha-Poornima) 3-day holiday and half the Singaporeans headed towards Malaysia for spending something different. Long queue awaited us the Customs/Immigration cells in Malaysia-Singapore border. Ultra-luxurious 24 seater bus carrying us started its journey towards Kualalumpur, capital of Malaysia at around 9:30am. Expressway is neat and broad resembling one in western countries. Greenery especially Date trees occupied the entire road sides. Bus stopped at one of the motels. It was not posh. It resembled Sriperumbudur's bus stand. Chinese song was broadcasted through Loudspeaker. Either one minute, one hour and for hours, same music was repeated with different "chi", "ki", "wee" sounds in that Chinese song. Still you will enjoy this. Malaysia Ringitt is half in value compared to Sing Dollars. So everything we bought looked so cheaper. Last stretch of 20KM got covered in nearly one hour due to traffic congestion. Reached KL Pudu Raya Bus Stand around 5pm. It is worser than Parry's Corner Bus Stand in terms of Pollution, Space, Toilets and Cleanliness. Malaysia government should do something on this. We saw all roads starts with word "Jalan" or "Bukit".

Due to late arrival we missed the booked Hotel Florida. Our Tamil helped in talking to a Taxi Driver and he was friendly to take us to one of hidden reasonable hotel. We then went to Batu Caves and it was world class. You can see Underground Mamooth Caves of USA in a hilltop here. One Murugan Temple was situated inside it.

Next day, we covered KL Towers and Petronas Towers. World Tallest Building Petronas Tower glitter in Silver Steel. Next we went, National Monument and War Memorial and are okay. We wanted to go Islamic Museum and National Mosque, but left due to distance and lack of time. South East Asia's Biggest Mall is not posh, but is a place to do any shopping you wish to do. We then went to Merdacca Square meaning Place of Freedom and it resembled low graded version of Trafalgar Square. Malaysian Highcourt was opposite to it. China Town and Little India (Masjid India) resemble T-Nagar, Chennai. Crowd is also equal to that. Get Windows-XP VCD for 10Ringitts here!!! I didn't buy it as I respect Anti-Software Piracy. Also get latest English movies 3 per 10 Ringitts. Lower Taxi charges, Low cost restaurants and cheaper garments are really notable here.

Next day we went to Genting Highlands. We felt the climate dropped to less than 18 degree Centigrade. Lovely weather. 3 ringitt Cable-Car travel above a thick forest is world class and amazing. Casino eaten 10Ringitts from me. Theme Park trip is okay. Galleria Observatory gave a bird's eye view of Genting Highlands. We saw Chin Swee Caves Temple from the observatory. Missed going there due to lack of time.

We got last few bus seats on onward journey. We got last few rooms available in Town Inn. We got last few bus seats available on return journey. We got last few free-tickets to climb bridge between Petronas Towers situated in 42nd floor. We got last trips to one of main rides in Genting Highland Theme Park. "Something" gave chance for make the trip an enjoyable one. Thanks for the "Something".

Reached Singapore at 5am. Lovely trip.

My France Trip

My Paris Trip:

Saturday morning left our place by Taxi. Taxis are old model cars here. 7 of us left from Bristol at 5.50am. Express Bus reached London at 8am. Eurostar Train left London Waterloo Terminal at 9.53 am. No passport/visa checks here. This train reached a speed of 186 miles/300 kms. For 20 minutes, this train passes through an underground tunnel built in English Channel. Reached Paris at 12.53 pm London Time (1.53 pm Paris time). Station name is Gare Du Nord. No passport checking again. Only when we return they keep a note of that.

Everyone bought a 3 day pass at 120 francs, which can be used in any Train & Bus. First day itself visited Eiffel Tower, made fully with steel. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower to get the glimpse of entire Paris. Then when in cruise which crosses so many beautiful bridges. Food for vegetarians are really horrible. Later, we found

out there is a place called La Chappelle, where plenty of Tamil Hotels are available.

Second day, my colleagues left for Disney land, I left to tour places in Paris, as I have seen Disney Land already in Orlando, Florida, US. I used the Underground Railway network very effectively. I visited Arc De Triumph, which is exactly similar to our India Gate, Delhi. Even the road name is Army Road, which is the same as in Delhi. Lot of beautiful buildings in that area. One of the building houses Napolean II tomb (Napolean really terrorized English). Then I visited three churches (beautiful as well as very old). Name of one is Notre Damme and another is SacreCoir). I also visited around 3 museums that day.

Third day, we went to a museum called Louvre, where very famous paintings /sculptures are present. Significant among that is Leanordo Davinci's Original Monalisa Painting and Venus Sculpture. Then went to Picasso's museum. Not able to follow any of his drawings. Returned back by Eurostar/Express Bus/Taxi to Bristol.

Really excellent trip. Learnt few French words like Sortie (exit), Merci (Thank You), Rue de (Road of) and some more. Traffic is little bit more and people are little bit rushy. Many are not good in English, but we can adjust with actions. I already had a feeling of French, when I visited Quebec, Canada 2 years back.

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