Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A real vacation! Take III - Afterthoughts

It's not like I have anything much left that needs saying about that trip :). But you know, a fair bit has happened since, it's been almost about as hectic as it always is :)). And when things did occur to me, there wasn't necessarily the time to think them through.

I'm planning another trip by the way, well, sort of. Don't know if it'll work out. But it'll be nice if it does. Here and there, bits and bobs around the West Indies. Places I don't need a new visa for :). The low key kinda stuff. Yup, I'm beginning to really warm to this no office during break deal :D.

I'm glad this trip's turned out like this so far though. Helps to calm things down a bit. And not in the enforced, lid screwed on top of boiling pot kinda way. Actually letting things slow down a bit. On their own. Now there's a thought. It's called not over-cooking it. I wish I was better at it.

Too bad we got shooed off the jetty though. Right when I'd decided I should go get a new pair of sneakers to leave on the boat! My old Nike Air's are just literally falling apart now :-<. I really like those shoes though, it's a shame I never managed to find another pair quite like them...

It is a good feeling, to know you are missed :). Sad, a little bit, maybe, but nonetheless true.

salty (from an unexpected, and unexpectedly fun, boat trip!)
Listening to: DJ Shadow - What does your soul look like, Part 3

Monday, 28 September 2009

Peace and quiet - listening to the pelicans swoop and the little waves splash the bow

I'm sort of half-way between bored and comfortably content :). This place is great!! Of course it helps that we have almost nothing to do :D. Be that as it may, there's always something or other keeping me that one step away from proper full-on boredom :).For example, there was the trip to the beach :). Friday morning some of us managed to get the morning off, and headed up to the monastery on top of the hill I'd mentioned the other day! The view all around was quite spectacular... I just wish there hadn't been that annoying haze obscuring the distant horizon.
Next stop was the beach on Boca Grande, a newer part of town with all the tall posh skyscrapers and what not. The trouble usually in these places is the sheer number and persistence of the hawkers! I quite smartly avoided all of that by staying in the water for the entire time, bobbing on the waves, occasionally dodging the big one rearing up to crash on top of us :).But for that one foray off the boat, I've stayed in. Too many trips into town would have been detrimental to the general state of health I think :P. So in the mean time, I managed to finish up with The Golem's Eye. Yes, it wasn't as fantastic as the first one, maybe, but I loved it nonetheless. Now I'm moving on to Ptolemy's Gate. It's just too hard to resist :). I can always get something else to read on the way back!
All in all the week's gone by pretty nicely. Honestly, I'm in no hurry to sail off, and neither, it seems, are the powers that be :P.

Currently: anchored!
Listening to: Ingrid Michaelson - Corner of your heart

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

All done but for that big lump of ice!

It's been an interesting few days, here in Cartagena. And by the looks of it, we'll be here alongside for some time longer :). I have absolutely no problem with that!
As it turned out, I was somewhat cheated out of a look into the city at Madrid by some inaccurate weather forecasting :(. They said it would rain in the morning, so by the time I woke up, it was too late to make the trip. Unfortunately, it was also very bright, sunny and dry :|.

The rest of the trip to the boat went quite nicely. Seeing how I'd left my jacket back home this time, I froze a bit in Madrid, and a bit more in Bogota. (Which may come as a surprise to some, me included :|, but is because of the elevation.) Clearing into Colombia was a breeze!! Which, given the last country I went into for work, was a huge relief!By the time I got off the flight in Cartagena though, the weather was, not unexpectedly, almost uncomfortably equatorial. The next couple of days I took the opportunity to look around town a little. Cartagena, as it happens, is pretty steeped in Spanish colonial history. What with this being the prime location for the conquerors to stash their gold and other valuables and loot before shipping it off the King Ferdinand back in Spain.The old town is quite beautifully preserved! And when I say preserved, please do not imagine this to be so in a sterile protected sort of way! It is vigorously alive! The cobbled alleys, the squares, the parks, all throbbing with life, people milling around, more locals than visitors by far! The old town is enclosed within the still-unbroken wall of the fortifications.
Not far from the walls, across the channel of water, stands the proud and sprawling Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, one of the several castles part of the city's fortifications. And that flag? Wow!! Barring that monstrosity hanging across the face of the NYSE, this would be without a doubt the biggest national flag I have ever seen. Looks nice on the big castle though :).There is of course, the newer part of town, the beaches, the hotels, the casino(s?)... but so far I haven't ventured there. The beach, one can see easily enough. And I have to say, it looks very inviting... The one place I haven't been to yet, and do very much want to visit is the Convento de la Popa, a monastery perched rather precariously on top of the hill overlooking the city and the entire coastline! I imagine the view would be quite spectacular. Now if only I can figure out a proper time to go visit.Ah, and this of course would mark the sixth continent! Now if only they'd do something far enough off the bottom of this continent, might just manage a peek at Antarctica :D.

Currently: idling
Listning to: Audioslave - Heaven's dead

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Overcast, with significant possibility of downpours :(

So I did get the Colombian visa, but not without some undue drama. Well, not that some drama wasn't expected, it's just that the rather forgetful old lady in the Embassy definitely added a degree of confusion to the complications :|.

But despite all that, I managed to make the designated flight out of Delhi, and thus, ended up with this, my longest stop-over ever, all of about 28 hours :). Unfortunately, although the place is Madrid, one I've never been to before, the weather's absolutely awful!! :( Cold, raining, dark clouds imparting a rather gloomy atmosphere to everything.

Hopefully I'll manage a trip into town tomorrow morning. Assuming the weather cooperates that is. Doesn't look good so far :(. As much as I'd like to have a look around, I'm not planning on getting wet. I'm miserable enough as it is at the prospect of having to head back to work :|.

Oh well, the one decent thing so far this trip is the X-mini II I spotted in Frankfurt airport, and promptly bought :). Perfect for the light-travelling, laptop-lugging (and hence, thoroughly irritated by laptop speakers) type of people like me who are overly dependant on music for the retention of their sanity :D.

Right, now if only the rest of the trip would get done without any alarms or undue drama... One can always hope :).

Currently: loving the posh airport hotel :P
Listening to: DJ Shadow - Building steam with a grain of salt

Saturday, 12 September 2009

'Available wherever books are sold'

Pretty cool gag eh? :D

It's been a while since I read a book at once this hilarious and with such a breathtaking pace :). Yes, I've been temporarily weaned off the planned Asimov 15 book run by an almost accidental interception by The Bartimaeus Trilogy.

So since I'd started with the Robot novels some time back, my plan was to follow through all the way, I, Robot, the 4 Robots, the 3 Empire books and finish off with the 7 Foundation books, this time in chronological order. One thing got in the way. I didn't realise the Empire novels, not Asimov's most famous or celebrated, would be this hard to find in paperback!!

Right, so I have nothing against hardbacks per se. It's just that with my kind of luggage restrictions, the extra weight is a major, major pain. To date though, I've only managed to get Pebble in the Sky, that too, only thanks to some enterprising second-hand book searching by friends looking for an ideal birthday gift. Needless to say, I was quite thrilled :).

In the mean time, I'd started getting together the Foundation books, and even started reading Prelude to Foundation. I was looking for some more Asimovs, incidentally, when I noticed The Amulet of Samarkand in a nearby rack. Almost on a lark, (and a suddenly remembered suggestion from long ago) I decided to get all three books and started reading.

Took me less than 2 days to get through the first :). I'd say closest to this much fun was probably the first Game World book. But not really. I guess it's just the irreverence that brings a similarity to mind. That djinni is definitely one major piece of work :D.

Having started with the second book, I'm going a lot slower. It might be all the visa and flight drama that's somewhat overbearing at the moment, and the packing. But I'm also carrying only these two books with me this time, so in case I can't get The Currents of Space and The Stars, Like Dust (the two Empire novels I haven't got yet) any time soon, I don't want to run out of reading material :P.

The other good thing is, this way I'll get to keep the Asimov reading in proper order, hopefully :).

On a completely unrelated note, it looks like I might get a day in Madrid on my way to Colombia next week. I will probably have only about 24 hours. Any suggestions would be welcome :). Oh, right, and tomorrow I'm off to Delhi to get that elusive Colombian visa first.

Currently: already beginning to miss the unlimited sleep schedule :)
Listening to: The Fray - Look after you

Thursday, 10 September 2009

A real vacation! Take II - The experience

I'm not quite one for first impressions. Unlike some people I know, I don't think they are most often correct, or at all particularly insightful. However, one can't avoid forming them. My first impression of the new country was, over everything else, of a surprising familiarity.I'd been warned (read scared) by some regarding the troublesome nature of US immigration. Thankfully, I managed to breeze through. The only eyebrow that got raised was when I was asked about my bags at customs and I pointed to my one backpack. The guy was surprised, probably understandably, that that was all I had for a three week trip :). He wasn't the last.
My first look at New York City was from the cab on the way into Manhattan. And I regret not having clicked a couple of photographs of it. As it turned out, I never got another chance. The next few days at New Haven were probably the most laid back I've been allowed to be in a while :). And while I did indulge myself a fair bit being lazy and just plonking on my butt, that isn't all I did :P.The Yale campus, unlike some (probably a lot, but I wouldn't really know) others, is spread out all across the town, more or less. So it's quite natural to turn a corner of mostly ordinary looking houses and being faced with some hall or some other part of the university. I'm not a particularly museum kind of person, unfortunately (with one exception). Otherwise I'd probably have gone into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.As it turns out, I didn't. But I did manage to walk up to East Rock. And tag along for an attempted meteor shower viewing :). It went well, I thought, with the moon as bright as it was and the lights. I saw almost a half dozen, and at least one of those was about the brightest one I've ever seen!! All those nights staring up from the Trident's helideck notwithstanding :).The second and proper foray into New York City was pretty heavy on the sight-seeing :). Times Square at night, breakfast at Tom's Restaurant, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Battery Park and sunset over Ellis and Liberty Islands, and Brooklyn Bridge at night more or less covers all the major bases I think. And of course a look in and around Central park and down Museum Mile.An attempted meeting up with a few friends got somewhat affected by sleep (not on my part). As did the planned participation in the New York Half Marathon (this time on my part) :|. No, unlike Bolli, I didn't sleep through when I was supposed to run (that of course is another story, and one which others might be better placed to narrate :D), I was merely supposed to be cheering contingent. Who would have thought that would prove to be such a tough task... tsk tsk, yes. But hey! My alarm was otherwise engaged :P. I know, I know, but I really don't have a better excuse :).Thereafter the holiday relocated further south, to Asheville. No, I didn't spell it wrong, and it's neither Nashville nor Knoxville! And I thought New Haven had the small town feel :). My aunt was pretty excited, seeing how she'd been hoping to see me in the US a good four years earlier (when they'd hoped I'd be a good boy and go do further studies :P), or at least two years ago, when I'd finally managed to get the visa after months of 'I just haven't got the time to do it!' :)
Between getting to know my now 6 year old cousin all over again, and realising that babysitting is a completely different ballgame once the 'baby' isn't quite as much a baby any more, it got pretty exciting :). On top of that I spent one of my days looking around America's largest home at Biltmore and went off on a couple of trips. Asheville is nestled between some pretty extraordinary landscape, located as it is with the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side and the Smoky Mountains on the other.Then it was time to head over to the Pacific coast! I don't think I've ever had to deal with three flights for a trip that wasn't at least inter-continental :). But that's what you get for visiting the smaller places. The planes are so small, they actually stow away your 'carry-on' baggage if it's beyond a certain size! Needless to say, my Zoomiverse XL was beyond that certain size :D. I think I got a peek at the Grand Canyon on the flight into Phoenix, but I can't be sure, and surprisingly, I didn't have a cam handy :(.
Now I've seen the Pacific before, from widely varying angles, in the North Pacific while skirting Sakhalin, what barely qualifies as the South Pacific while hiding out from the squalls off New Zealand, and what should probably qualify better as the South Pacific from Sydney's Manly Beach, but it's an altogether different view from the coasts of California. Santa Barbara, or Goleta, rather, offers some really spectacular views. I suppose the backdrop of the mountains being this close adds something to it.I spent the better part of the day I was supposed to look around town just perched on an outcrop above the part of the coast where people go surfing. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot by way of surf :). The next day we rented a car, and took off for Los Angeles :D. Now I really wanted to get the Mustang parked in the lot, but turned out it didn't have a GPS, and neither did we :-<. So I had to settle for the Camry automatic, but one look at the LA traffic, and I wasn't altogether too unhappy with the auto shift :). One of the most exhilarating memories of the whole trip for me, would have to be the drive down the Pacific Cast Highway, CA - 01 :). We stopped often, took in the wild and windy, oh so blue ocean, as we went by Malibu and Santa Monica. I originally didn't have any particular plan for visiting places in the city. But having been issued orders, I started looking, and got rather carried away, I think :P. In the end though, the only thing we missed that gave me any grief was the Petersen Automotive Museum. (Yup, that would be the exception to the museum rule :).) What we did though, was stroll about on Hollywood Boulevard, and on the Santa Monica Pier, along with a lot of driving around in the heart of the city. It was all we had time for, and it was time well spent :). The drive back, with the cities spread out in their twinkling glory as we came over the hills was a nice final touch. And I suppose I could call that the last bit of travelling I did. Barring dinner and a walk around the rather quaint town centre of Santa Barbara. Then it was back to long haul flights. I don't recall the last time I had this hard a time trying to switch back into 'seasoned long distance flyer' mode :-<. But as they say, all good things come to an end. And sometime during that transit in Los Angeles' Bradley International, my vacation was finally over.
Currently: wondering if I should have looked for the corner of First and Amistad in Manhattan :)
Listening to: The Fray - You found me / The Shins - Caring is creepy

Good news first, or bad?

I thought getting a visa for Angola was a pain :|. I won't go so far as to say Colombia's that bad yet, but it's climbing the charts...

So I got the passport, (hold your breath...) and no mistakes this time!!!! :D :D The names, the address, the dates, everything as it should be!! Oh, but they've stopped issuing 'jumbo' passports from here, so I'm probably looking at another attempt at this feat in roughly two years :(.

Just to put this in perspective, it's become such a regular thing, errors in details on new passports issued from RPO Kolkata, that hardly anyone bats an eyelid. They just direct the affected party to the waiting official, whose only purpose possibly is to rectify errors as 'observations', eroding pages off your booklet even before you've started using it.

But I had to deal with none of that. Unfortunately, sending off the Colombia application to Bogota may not have worked. So I now need to go to New Delhi and get it done in person from the Colombian Embassy there :|. Most likely, I'll get to meet my two kid cousins living in Noida, so it's not all bad. Still, lack of consistent communication and a rather flaky net connection do make life a little harder than is necessary.

The big question now is, when on earth am I actually going to make it into Cartagena?!!

Currently: a little annoyed
Listening to: The Fray - You found me

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Real world blues

As it turns out, my relaxing holiday was over right about when I stepped on that first flight out. (I still managed to have a pretty good time that last day, despite running around trying to send off my Colombian visa application. Yes, I was doing that even before I left the US. But we will not go into that here.)

Turns out that a 16 hour flight, a 6 hour stop-over centred around midnight local time, and then another 5 hour flight that drops you off early in the morning, again, by local time, isn't the best recipe to feel all fresh and bubbly at the end of it :|. (I can't sleep on flights, remember? Unless I'm otherwise hammered that is, of course.) Add to that a couple of hundred k's of driving. (Albeit in the new, much better, car that my mum drives around these days. Oh yeah, I drive my mum's car when I'm in Cal. Have I mentioned? I'll go into the several levels of irony involved, but again, at another time.) End result? I had the worst case of jet-lag in, like, forever!!! I was actually falling asleep while practically in the middle of conversations!!!

All for a good cause though :). I figured, whatthehell, I'd missed out on 18, 20, 21 and 25... may as well enjoy what I did get :). I drew the line at candles though :P.

The next few days did little to completely resolve the matter of semi-zombie-fication. Too many late nights and early mornings :-<. And then there was the new passport I had to go apply for today. Why they make you feel like you've made the biggest mistake in your life by seeking an Indian passport, I'll never know X-(. But nine hours and several seemingly interminable, on occasion rain splattered and definitely unnecessarily convoluted queues later, I was left feeling somewhat paradoxically glad that I can't go pick it up tomorrow. I have to wait till Monday. Yay :|. (Imagine suitable version of a very very tired attempt at a wide-ish grin here.)

That of course means that I'll miss my flights out to Trinidad and instead, maybe go join the boat straight in Colombia. Ah yes, we are headed to South America next :). I think I'll like the extra couple of days, just try and pack in as much sleep as I can :). And maybe get around to uploading some of those photos from the trip :P.

still jet-lagged! or is it just queue-lagged?
Listening to: Portishead - Sour times