for fellow travellers

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Notre Dame de Paris

The silhouette of Notre Dame in the setting sun
A single post on Paris (my first post on Paris) does not do justice to this lovely city. I found a video which we had shot in the summer of 2004. That had been our first visit to Europe. We had taken a tour from Cox and Kings. It covered Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Holland and England. We had taken great pains at that time to shoot videos, to show it to the family back home. We had fallen in love with Paris during that trip.
The advantage of going on a guided tour was that we were provided with the services of a qualified guide, at all the places. We had a nice guide in Paris. She gave us insight into the lives of the parisians. I particularly loved the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It has innumerable stories attached to it. This video shows Cathedral Notre Dame from inside also.

The Notre dame de Paris ('Our Lady of Paris' in French), also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral, is a Gothic, Roman Catholic Cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, France.
Besides the cathedral there is the Cathedral tower visit The Notre-Dame tower visit is a trip through all of the upper parts of the western façade, dating from the 13th century, where visitors can contemplate the gargoyles and chimera built by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century and the 17th century Emmanuel Bell. 387 steps (there isn’t an elevator) to the top of the South Tower. It’s best to be in good shape !
Crypt of Notre Dame de Paris
Under the square in front of Notre Dame de Paris is one of the largest archaeological crypts in all of Europe. Before the 1860s, the area in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame was filled with buildings, some dating to the middle ages. When the buildings were torn down remnants of foundations and artifacts dating back to pre-Roman times were discovered. This area on the banks of the Seine has seen human habitation since the early Paleolithic Period, some 500,000 years ago.

If you like this post you will also like Paris - I love this city

Friday, October 23, 2009

Traveling to the moon

This is a video we shot at the Kennedy space centre in the summer of 2007. That was our last day in Orlando. Shaleen drove us in our rented car to the Centre. After 6days of covering the theme parks, one on each day, we saw the Space Centre on our last and seventh day. It was a fantastic experience. I am sharing this experience of the Apollo 8 launch with you.

The furthest destination for a human spaceflight mission has been the Moon, and as of 2009 the only missions to the Moon have been those conducted by NASA as part of the Apollo program. The first such mission, Apollo 8, orbited the Moon but did not land. The first Moon landing mission was Apollo 11, during which—on July 20, 1969—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the Moon. Six missions landed in total, numbered Apollo 11–17, excluding Apollo 13. Altogether twelve men walked on the Moon, the only humans to have been on an extraterrestrial body.
Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight mission to achieve a velocity sufficient to allow escape from the gravitational field of planet Earth; the first to be captured by and escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body; and the first crewed voyage to return to planet Earth from another celestial body - Earth's Moon. The three-man crew of Mission Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes, as well as the first humans to see planet Earth from beyond low Earth orbit. The mission was accomplished with the first manned launch of a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 8 was the second manned mission of the Apollo Program.
After launching on December 21, 1968, the crew took three days to travel to the Moon. They orbited ten times over the course of 20hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. The crew timed this reading to coincide with a full view of planet Earth hanging in the empty blackness of space, clearly showing the rich diversity of the living planet, as indicated in Earth's colors, seas, landforms, and weather patterns, rising over the dull gray horizon of the lifeless Moon. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo8's successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the Moon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Problems with Indian credit cards while traveling esp. in Paris.

Special chip missing in Indian credit cards

While boarding from Paris' Gare du nord we almost missed our Thalys train to Brussels because of our credit cards not being accepted by the ticketing machine. During international travel we usually ensure that we reach the airport or railway station well before time.

Gare du nord, Paris but this is a photo while arriving via the Eurostar from London

But somehow we got delayed the day we were leaving Paris and barely managed to reach the station about half an hour before the train was scheduled to leave. At the station in Paris one usually does not come to know the platform at which the train would be arriving till the very last. So the kids and all our luggage was near the ticketing windows and we had to walk a bit to reach our train and the reserved compartment. We had bought our tickets in India through the net and now we just had to retrieve our tickets from the machine. We tried to get our tickets from the machine without any luck and we panicked as there was very little time left and we were carrying loads of luggage.
Meanwhile Anupam, our friend had already joined a queue at the ticket window as he had lost his wallet with credit cards to a pickpocket in a parisian metro!! Yes a man had taken advantage of Anupam as he was traveling with family, a baby and a stroller and was a tourist - yes this also happens in Paris  and we thought that rogues were mainly confined to Italy!. The story goes like this  - As Anupam with family was entering the metro station his paris visite card got folded in his pocket and the machine would not accept it and would not allow him to enter.

This particular man helped Anupam with his card and the stroller and all. He walked with them till inside the train. Now most Paris metro trains open from one side only. At this particular station the doors on both the sides were open. At the last minute the man picked his pocket and ran out from the other side. Meanwhile Anupam came to know immediately he got his family out fast and followed the man. But he lost him in the crowd after a while. It was a planned and targeted pickpocketing.
Coming back to the original story, Anupam joined the queue immediately as we entered the station and so he got his tickets just in time. Meanwhile we tried at the machine and lost precious time. Then we joined a queue and were literally going berserk at the slow pace with which it was moving. It seemed that no one was in a hurry except for us. The clerk would exchange pleasantries with each person first. We were literally jumping up and down with frustration at the etiquettes which the parisians were observing and we were wishing that alas they would behave like Indians. (Do Indians need lessons in etiquettes?) There was no provision for providing tickets to people whose trains were leaving first. We would have stood on the station and watched our train going by.  But it was not to be so and we managed to get tickets in the nick of time. With our friends help we got our luggage and children near the train and literally threw our luggage in the train and got in.
We could not get our tickets from the machine because our cards, which rely on magnetic-stripe technology for transactions, lacked an embedded microprocessor chip, which stores and processes data and is now commonly used in Europe. Such chip-based cards — commonly referred to as chip-and-PIN cards because users punch in a personal identification number instead of signing for the purchase — offer an extra layer of protection against the theft of cardholder data and counterfeiting, and they are designed to replace magnetic stripe technology and signature payments.
The chip-and-PIN technology usually isn’t much of an issue when making purchases at a store, or paying for a meal in a restaurant, as most of those merchants still have credit card terminals that can read the magnetic stripes. Likewise, A.T.M.’s typically recognize and accept many cards whether they have a chip or a magnetic stripe. We could easily draw money from the ATM almost in all the cities we visited.
But Indian and American cardholders have had their cards rejected by automated ticket kiosks at train stations, gas pumps, parking garages and other places where there are no cashiers in Europe. Yes americans are in the same boat as us. It is also important in so much as we had no problems whatsoever in travelling across America in 2007, our credit cards worked everywhere.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Yesterday we were searching for travel videos to upload to a website as an entry for a competition to travel to Philadelphia. As usual it was the last day, when we got round to doing it. But in this confusion I discovered a treasure of travel videos very carefully shot in 2004. I am posting one of them here.
This was a trip to Europe. We started from Rome to Pisa, then Florence and onto Venice. This video has been taken in the field of miracles.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Stonehenge tour

It was possible for us to visit Stonehenge this time in UK, because of The Stonehenge Tour. Most of the tours going out from London leave in the morning as a full day tour usually also covering Windsor Castle and Bath. But as we had to reach London from Hull, it was not possible to reach London early in the morning. We decided to take this tour from Salisbury.
We faced the toughest part in London (which is usually so easy to move around) because of a metro strike. We reached London - King's Cross Station. Here we deposited our luggage in the cloak room at 8 pounds per suitcase, there were four pieces. Then we took a taxi to Waterloo station @22pounds.
On reaching there we bought our tickets from the counter as the ticketing machine was not accepting our credit cards. The ticket to Salisbury which the machine was selling us was costing us 88pounds for a family of four, where as at the window we got it for 55pounds because of discount for the family. This option is not available in the machine. If you are traveling as a family preferably buy at the ticketing window you will get at a discounted rate.

On reaching Salisbury the bus was standing just outside the station and left exactly on time. Salisbury is a quaint town, most famous for its cathedral but we were did not get down to see the cathedral. Inside the bus  there was a recorded commentary about all the sights we crossed.
At Stonehenge we got down and had ample time to explore at our own pace. The audio guides provide a wealth of information. It was quite windy over there. We sat down on the grass and enjoyed a snack as well. In the summers there is a bus almost every half an hour back to the station. It has a stop at Old Sarum, where one can get down and then again catch another bus back. The tour is well organized and punctual and we enjoyed ourselves on this trip.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oyster card London

We went to meet my husband's colleague who is working at Royal London Hospital, London. When we reached the tube station 'Whitechapel' and came out of the underground it seemed like we had stepped in Aminabad of Lucknow. Inside the tube station the officials were extremely helpful as Shaleen had to swipe his oyster card twice to come out. An official came forward immediately and checked his card in a hand held machine and told him that he had been charged twice for the same journey. At the ticket window he requested the clerk to return the money to Shaleen's card and meanwhile he saw that we had been charged extra for our first trip from the Airport to Embankment that was because we did not know that the card had to be swiped again at the exit and with a lot of luggage we had got out from another gate meant for luggage and handicapped people. The nice clerk at the ticket window returned the money back on all our cards. They also told us that we need not have bought an oyster card for my eleven year old son. We could have bought a one pound ticket everyday for him for the whole day. If you are traveling to London and plan to use the metro a lot, its best to buy an oyster card from the VFS-UK. The card extracts the minimum fare from you for every journey you make and a maximum of five pounds in a day.
Despite the surroundings the Royal London Hospital itself was an amazing piece of architecture. It was beyond what we thought possible inside especially the labs and the lecture theatres.

Below are the labs and there are lecture theatres above, suspended, all in the shape of organelle's of a cell.
From the Royal London Hospital we went to St. Paul's cathedral. The cathedral was grand and I was particularly awed by the crypt which is the cathedral's foremost burial place, and the place where those who have made an outstanding contribution to Britain now rest. Chief among them being Admiral Nelson.

The ceiling of St. Paul's Cathedral
From St. Paul's Cathedral we walked across the millennium bridge to Shakespeare's Globe theatre.

We were lucky to see the rehearsal of "As you like it" which was going on at that time, but we were not allowed to take photographs of the rehearsal. The guide at the theatre was very amusing and told us some remarkable facts. One of them was that the costumes which the actors were wearing had never been washed and that the actors wore a slip next to their skin which was washable and the costumes were never washed. The Globe theatre was strange because the stage had no props no background scenery. The actors costumes and their dialogues were the only things available, for the rest you have to use your imagination. This is one theatre where the audience is fully visible to the actors and if you fall asleep you may be pointed out by one of the actors in the middle of the play. The people standing in the front are very close up to the stage, so much so that they run the risk of being sprayed by saliva.
Then we went to Kensington Palace and gardens. I loved the palace it had an exhibition on debutantes and many of Lady Diana's dresses were on display. The exhibits at the palace gave a closer view of the life during Victorian times.

The ceiling of one of the rooms in Kensington Palace.

This was clicked by Shaleen in the gents toilet at Kensington Palace. I on the other hand had found a very sweet notice stuck on the door of the Ladies toilet which related the details of the first meeting between Queen Victoria and prince Albert as entered by the queen in her diary.
We enjoyed the gardens as much as the palace. They were amazing and everybody seemed to be having a gala time there cycling, skating, etc.


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