Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Week In England & Paris (Part 2)

To read Part 1, click here.

Next it was off to Manchester, or so I thought. My sister had made this awesome itinerary for the whole trip but sometimes, things don't always go to plan. We reached the station, which was a 10 minute walk from the dorm, with 10 minutes to spare. Then my sister realized that had she left her id at home and without that we wouldn't be able to take the train. Now, I've always prided my potential to one day run a marathon and so I decided to run to the dorm and back with the id so that we could catch the train. I ran across the street, jumped over a fence, scurried through a park, jumped over another fence and reached the dorm in 3 minutes. I then took a couple of minutes to find the ID and ran back out of the dorm. 4 minutes to go and I was all pumped up.

50 metres down the road and I start to cough. It was 10 degrees celcius, and my legs were fighting a fierce battle with my brain. I slowly climbed the fence, trudged across the park, almost fell off the next fence and then walked towards the station. I now had 1 minute to catch the train and my sister took the ID from me and ran to the platform. I made a final effort to run but I found out that I had lost the will to even walk. The train soon vanished from sight as did my hopes of ever running a marathon of any kind.

Anyway, after I was able to catch my breath, I decided to head to the Lord's Cricket Ground. There are only two sights that have ever given me goose bumps. The first one was when I saw the Taj Mahal at night, and the second one was when I looked out from the dressing room balcony at Lord's, on to the hallowed grass that has meant so much to everyone who has had the privilege of walking on it. It was one of the best moments of the trip and I owe it all to the train that we missed earlier that day.

It was from one sport's spiritual home to another, as I walked about a mile and a half from the metro station to get to the All England Tennis Club. It wasn't as special as the Lord's tour, but still was well worth the walk and the entry fee. They were just setting up for Wimbledon and so most of the courts did not have nets, and the Center Court was closed off due to construction.

There was only one thing left to do in my London Tourist Spot Check List and that was walking across Abbey Road, Beatles' shtyle.

Later that day was the Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, and I really wanted to see Man U kick Chelsea’s ass. So I walked around till I found a pub that wasn’t packed and then parked myself in front of the TV. Something that I hadn’t really thought through before heading to the pub was that Chelsea is a London based team and so there wouldn’t be many Man U fans around. There were two Red Devils supporters that night in the pub – me and another guy who seemed to support Man U just to spite his friends who were Chelsea fans. It was still fun though, to see the Chelsea fans curse out loud when Ronaldo scored the first goal but the best part was when Terry missed the penalty at the end. The pub went completely silent and when Anelka missed the penalty that gave Man U the game, I jumped up in the air in delight. As I began my descent, the world around me suddenly seemed to slow down – I saw the Chelsea fans looking despondent initially but then their looks changed to anger as they saw me descend from my flight of delight. I was out of the pub and back in my sister’s dorm in a flash.

And now, the final destination of my trip - Paris! I reached the City of Lights, with absolutely no knowledge of French. Well, I could say bonjour but I had nothing to follow that with. Luckily my sister knew the most important sentence a tourist can know when in Paris, "parlez vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)".

We stayed in the Aloha Hostel, where we got an Indian room-mate from Manchester who hated Manchester United, and quite surprisingly the cook at the hostel happened to be from Chennai. Our first day there, we had to cancel our trip to Versailles because of a train strike. We, instead, took a tour of the Louvre, following which I was unable to walk.

There were so many brilliant paintings and statues everywhere that looking at the Mona Lisa did not exactly give me the thrill that I expected. The fact that it was facing the biggest painting in the Louvre did not help its cause either.

After recovering from the tour of the Louvre, we went to visit one of Paris’ more popular churches – the Sacre Coeur Basilique. We took a lift to get up to the top of the hill where the church is located, and I was greeted by a breathtaking view of the city of Paris. There was also a dude showing off his freestyle skills. Check out the video below:

The Eiffel Tower was our next destination. I had previously asked my sister what the big deal was about a tall statue made of iron and then I saw it. There were no more stupid questions from me.

The following day was our last day in Paris and the last day of my trip really, since I was heading back to Austin early the following morning. We had seen an advertisement for a four hour long free walking tour around the city, and since it was free we obviously had to do it. We later found out that it was free only if we did not want to tip the guide. Our guide, Narini, was brilliant – full of energy and it would have been criminal to not give her a generous trip. She took us all around the city – starting at the River Seine and ending at Les Invalides. We walked along the Champs-Élysées, almost got knocked down by the motorists while trying to take a picture of the Arc de Triomphe and heard a 500 year long history of Paris in 5 minutes.

As soon as the tour got over, we went over to the Notredame Cathedral, on my sister’s insistence. I had no real desire to check out the church, mostly due to my painfully aching legs. However, I was SO glad that I allowed my sister to drag me there because it was such a special experience. I was taken by the brilliant architecture of the cathedral and the silence, oh my god, the silence was so beautiful. The whole trip came together for me, at that moment. I had at times been grumpy, silent and might have definitely seemed unappreciative of the chance that I had been given to explore London and Paris. It was at that moment that I was thankful for the wonderful times I had had in the trip and also regretful for the times I gave the impression that I was not having fun – because I was.

Early the following day, I took the London metro for the last time as I got off at the airport. On arriving at Austin, I took the university shuttle and reached campus at about 5 pm. The sun was beating down at me, the campus was deserted and I had to walk up the slope that is Dean Keeton Street, with two heavy bags. But for some reason, I had a wry smile on my face.

My parents have moved back to India, my sister is in London and I have no immediate family nearby, but I felt strangely cheerful. I looked up at the awesome university tower, picked up my two bags and started trudging up the slope, happy to be home.


Okie Dokie said...

"Lord's Cricket Ground" :)

I haven't been to either grounds but I would like to believe it more scary to cut your teeth at Eden Gardens. Unfriendly crowds, extremely loud, heat, bad stomach et al.

In fact, I would choose Lords over even Chidambaram if I ever played for India:) It is still a possiblity;). I am just 24:D. So I quit my Ph.D. start playing Div 2 by 25, then Div 1 by 26, Ranji 27, Duleep 28, India A 29 and India 30:D.

Coconut Chutney said...

I'm jealous. The only sight seeing I got to do this summer was seeing the Neel Metal Fanalca men transfer kuppai from kuppathotti into their truck at 5 am.

Idhelaam romba wover.

Madhuri Shekar said...

Such a lovely write-up Niyantha! You've made me very happy. :)

amas said...

Very nicely written. Felt like I was there myself, what with photos and all. Glad to know that you feel at home in Austin.

Neon said...

@okie dokie,

haha, good to see you have a plan and i mean if all else fails you can just play in the IPL and rake in the millions

Neon said...

@coconut chutney,

oh, its not Onyx anymore??

Neon said...

@madhuri and amas,


Coconut Chutney said...

illa, Onyx has been sacked by the Govt. Apparently, they were not very cost effective.
Not a big difference though, same people, instead of wearing PSBB uniform, they were dark green ones.