Saturday, October 5, 2019

Belgium: Ghent, Bruges & Brussels

Bruges - Belgium
Tintin &the Gang

There is little contention that there have been many influences that have shaped us, structuring the way we think and the way our minds behave. Admittedly, this stands true for me, and amongst people, I have many to thank: my wife, parents, loved ones, Robert Pirsig, Akio Morita, Gen. Rommel (Desert Fox), Keynes, Taleb, Our scriptures, the list is a bit too long.

The list above is pointless, but I cant help highlight the one queer outlying influencer amongst the above- Tintin. The Belgian reporter created by Herge/ Georges Prosper Remi.

Tintin features here because the Belgian reporter brings back to me a memory and mindset of a picturesque European background - and regardless of age, it takes me back to that faint memory when as a child, I would experience Tintin's world. So pristine, so perfect, where people were concerned  about mysteries, adventures.
I use that memory quite often, and it is immensely therapeutic. I see hunger, murder for survival and treachery for miniscule awards in my world. Just as I am about to lose faith in humanity, I go and touch upon that sweet memory - the world of Tintin.

Ghent - Belgium
Needless to say, Herge is no fool. The real Belgium was hardly different from that utopian feel that I talked about - that is; if you stay away from the big cities.

So with a resolve to keep you away from Brussels and Antwerp, I wish to take you to Ghent.

There is a fascinating history to the town. Which I forget. But what Gent is to me is that perfect utopian world of Tintin. People are spotted laughing in merriment, evenings are marked with slightly loud conversations in the city centers - where it is difficult to find food, but you have a variety of 220 beers to keep you busy and your volumes up.

Ghent Square
Mugs of beer, hale and hearty conversations in the evenings, in the backdrop of constructions of 650 BC. Don't get offended with the measly history, for Ghent has archaeological evidence of human life from the stone age and iron age as well.

In the city center, you park your cars well outside, and walk through the doors of history, all for beer (be well fed in advance, hardly any food around) and a conversation with your buddies.
Sounds like a good plan? Imagine if you have to do this everyday!

Welcome to Ghent.

At meine bruder's place, couple of queer things noted:
  • Magpies are not that big a menace (remember Castafiore's emerald and havoc at Capt. Haddock's Marlinspike?). The bubbly birds are cute and keep hopping around harmlessly, with no stealing of silverware et all on their agenda.
  • A person dressed for office, with a tie, etc. along with his office bag, is surprisingly crossing the  road carrying a canoe twice his size.
  • Is it the 240 different variety of beer playing tricks on me? I rubbed my eyes. No.. A canoe it is. confirmed.... And a set of oars. Yes..
  • The follow crosses the road, dips his canoe in the stream, hops in and pedals away!
  • At this juncture, may I ask how do you get to work?

If Ghent was not adequate to pique your senses, give Bruges a try.
This is a fairytale land indeed taking us back by a couple of centuries. With its cobbled roads, the Flemish city can take you from the first century to present.

Our recommendation on must do:
  • The Belfry
  • The Markt (square) - UNESCO world heritage site
  • Delirium, Brussels - Max Beer Q
  • Torture museum

We came here to meet Vikram, and that was our number one high for the city.

Thanks to Vikram, we did get to see the palace, the Squares. Most important find was Delirium - the only one on the planet to offers this kind of variety on beer.

Swiss adventures (contd..)

Next two days, we scoured Interlaken; or should I say Switzerland. Our hosts were kind enough to provide us a local transport pass. (tourists- focus only on the rail pass, don’t get conned into pre-book local transport passes remotely through your devious agents - almost all hotels/ Air BnB will provide this free of cost.). They say to see Switzerland, flock to the trains. Right they are; for we North, South East or West. You can get anywhere to anywhere in a couple of hours.

Touristy pressure means that you will have to go to either to Jungfrau or Mount Titlis are a must. So off we went to Mt. Titlis.

It is a picturesque ride in the train, with lake Breine and lake Lucerne (try to camp here; as against more expensive and commercialized Interlaken).

At Interlaken - not to be missed: the rail up to the top

Our recommendations:
  1. Harder Klum:
The affordance and convenient ride on an aging Funicular (gear train) is a great experience in itself. The ascent is startling and the fact that this simplistic machine does it many a jerks may get you anxious enough.
The view from the top is something to die for. Pictures say better.

  1. Any small town outside Interlaken
The lake is a good sight; but we fail to see the charm (and expense) of Interlaken. Should one rather fan out to the surrounding villages? Cleaner, cheaper? Any small village Lake Breinz, Sarnersee, Lucerne? If anyone is up for the adventure.

Swiss Adventures - Zurichhhh... Ringenberg

The most beautiful place on Earth - or so they say.

With that image-  was even conned into visiting Khajiaar, which advertised itself the 'Switzerland in India'. With such hype around the name, we were pretty excited to finally be here.. Here at the Zurich airport. Pardon me, Sona says it better - Zurickkkkhh Flughghaffen (airport).

Yes. Zurickkhhh (cough cough)


Our adventures began immediately. The car rental agency we were booked with plainly declared that there were no cars available . Would we be fine to wait for a couple of hours (without any guarantee of another car)? So much for Swiss efficiency.

After some wait, they offered us a Mercedes Vito. Growing up in Ghaziabad, I have learnt 2 issues about the said vehicle category:
Mercedes Vito - 2 big for 2
  1. They are a major hit in the kidnapping business
  2. Mileage of 12 seaters would never be great.

Reason 1 was a major deterrent, as two of us would look silly in a twelve seater; plus - the idea of being interrogated as suspected kidnappers at every check post did not seem inviting.

So we fled back towards the trains. Now is when the real issue of Switzerland becomes apparent. The place may be beautiful, efficient, whatever. But it is ridiculously expensive.

With a heavy heart, I walked back from the ticket counter. I had just traded my lifetime earnings for two sets of three day Swiss rail pass.

In the process to get to Ringennberg, we were supposed to change two trains with a difference of no more than 3 minutes each. Initially the idea seems preposterous, and to a seasoned Indian rail traveler, the following doubts prop up:
  • Average delay of a train will certainly be more than 3 minutes, and you are bound to miss your connection.
  • Also think of : will we get a place in the crowd. What if platforms are so crowded that we are not able to get to the train (We live in Mumbai)
However, the western Europe would have none of these problems. And over the next few days, Sona had mastered the art of switching trains to transcend maps and borders in couple of hours.

In the picturesque train ride, we did get to Ringennberg, just as sun bade goodbye.

Now another set of problems waited to assault us.

Loneliness.. And darkness

Getting off in Ringenberg, we realized there was a pronounced dearth of humankind. Or any other organism for that matter.

Deserted Ringenberg (day)
Our plan of living in the interior had raged its vendetta against us here.. Let me elaborate the scene there.

As soon as the train left the station, there was pitch black darkness on all fronts.
What Sona was trying to explain a few days back, became very clear to me thanks to the live example:

Black Hole radiation power law equation

The impact of the above equation dawned to me now - black holes  do not let even light escape. Which was precisely the case here. Darkness. Pitch black. Black hole..:

So we are 2 backpack laden tourists staring at black holes on all sides.


No signboards

After scavenging for our AirBnB host address, we were enlightened with the following:
Claudia, ####

No street, no area, no chowk/ nagar, near neem tree, etc.

After spending 10 minutes discussing our chances of survival, we decided to start  to the left.

We kept walking on a meandering road with meagre lighting which seemed to be leading to nowhere.. There were a few homes, one on that mountain, another on another mountain. The question was, was it worth trekking up and knocking the door?

A modest inn appeared and we rushed in the hope to make contact with humanity again. Fortunately, there were was one aged lady at the counter. We were so relieved to see a fellow homo sapien.

Another challenge came up. The homo-sapien knew no English.

In my broken Deutsche, I tried to explain the problem at hand.

The Alte Fraulein (Old lady) asked for the address and number, which I was happy to share. However, she got really upset that she had never not heard of a 'Claudia Ringennberg' (as stored in my phone)- in her little village. I tried to reiterate that Claudia was our host and Ringenberg was the destination (both mutually exclusive), which we were happy to be at, but she would have none of it. Remember Amrish Puri asking his evil henchmen.. Mr India…? Misterrr India…?

We witnessed a same trance here.. Claudia Ringenberg?? Claudiaaa …Ringenbergg??

She hollered her husband, who knew some broken English. Between one broken English speaker and a horrible German speaker, some communication commenced. The result was assurance from the property-owners that though they knew of no Claudia Ringennberg (Yes, even after killing minutes, I failed to communicate her surname),  they would be happy to spare a room -should we fail to find shelter tonight.

That was a big assurance.

The mind dropped from panic state to a more measly troubled state. And we marched on in an unknown direction again. Since the mind was working again, it reminded us that we were carrying the Tom-Tom GPS device, purloined from my brother (we were supposed to be in a self-drive - remember?). We immediately opened and presto - it was alive. Fed in the address and after a few decoys, we did reach our destination.

The spectacular AirBnB stay @ Ringennberg
Claudia was not home, but thankfully her Musser welcomed us warmly and led us to her abode. My o my - what a spectacular chalet!

Recounting our adventures for the day:
  • Car rental screw up
  • Forced to trade my lifetime earning for Swiss rail passes
  • Passed one of the most depressing cities - Bern
  • Almost stranded at night on the Swiss alps

Our only achievement was that we survived.


A trainer by profession, my wife often coaches me on different personality types.

Conveniently forgetting all the psychometric models I had been taught, I concocted my own.

Categories here -

Apt Cat (Aptivaa category) 1: Adarsh, Paras, Ashley, Jagan, Ganesh, Dinesh, Sreejata, Satya: Their demeanor and confidence proved that they were in their home turf. Looking at them you start pondering - nature is what maketh a man/ woman. One look at their face, and you could see their minds screaming - "Good to be home again"

Apt-Cat 2: Vivek (BB), Sandip, Nyati, Sayan are the ones who were in the phase of extending their relationship with nature from casual acquaintance to deeper love . 

Apt-Cat 3: Vibhor, Deepak: Though this was not going their ideal way, with the route* decision overridden by Group 1, they were  enjoying the journey  and the sights nonetheless.

Apt-Cat 4: Abishek- battling a sprain, Manish - warring perception and Shweta - cursed with inappropriate shoes - battled on. When guessing what strength drove them to fight all odds, one may conclude that their love for nature was perhaps fiercer than Group 1 

(Note: Jagan could not be grouped here. A careful observer could decipher that his seemingly boisterous exterior clearly belied a turmoil raging within… find out why ->here)

While a psychometric professional could create better groups and model the characteristics, what I am concerned within my framework of groups is the common underlying factor amongst all humans -
respect for nature
and the connect with it,
Be it in varying degrees of intensity.

We had seen quite a bit of Bali - some enchanting temples, the party places of Kuta and even the beaches. But this is when we got our minds free.

The trek offers picturesque views and the summit is a treat in itself.  Up here, do savor the fresh eggs - boiled in volcanic steam.

No money can buy you cleaner air, or fresher views.

What this did in the end was getting us understand each other better - with nature playing the most important and equalizing catalyst here.

* There are multiple routes to get to the summit, offering differing degrees of vigor - upto you to select your own. Our travelogue documents one of the tougher routes, based on Group 1 overrides and absence of a democratic process..

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Bali- Conquering Fear

The beauty of Bali is known for its mystic effects on the human mind. Cataloging our experience, we would like to share the curious case of our dear Jagan, who was redeemed by Bali..

It seemed like yesterday that they had landed. Couple of days earlier, the gang had conquered Mt. Batu. They had seen the famed Tanah Lot, hit the hip party place at Kuta (where the ghost of Michael Jackson had possessed Kingshuk). Darn Vivek- the one responsible for conning him into nefarious potions, which meant that the lot missed the whale watching. Now, they were at the Uluwatu temple.

Uluwatu & the Ocean beyond
He viewed the ocean. Those conversations with self started in his head. Admittedly, this was nothing like he had ever seen before.  

Jagan's boisterous exterior: belying the turmoil within
He was glad to be here. Here in Indonesia, things were similar to the way it was in rest of Asia (his beloved India included). Failure was not tolerated socially. Precisely the reason why he hated some of the western civilization, where those nitwits glorified failure in the name of calling themselves 'resilient'. Although now, the failure to live upto his own expectations and timelines was turning out to be a constant haunt.

The beauty of Bali was on the verge of pulling him out of the overwhelming horror weighing his mind.

Mind you, he was no stranger to fear or pain.. Through the paths he had traversed in his life, he had witnessed a range of emotions-
  • He had endeavored fear of failure, fear of losing everything, which had threatened to drown him. Yet he had fought and succeeded valiantly (until now)
  • He had escaped from the jaws of death 5 times (which incidentally; was precisely the number of times he had driven pillion to Vivek on a motorcycle). With those gravity defying experiences, he was confident of hoodwinking death, should it loom again..
  • Yesterday, he had been to the water temples, where Sayan had made him worship a snake.
  • He had sampled the extremities of all human emotions - pain and losses on the love front [both on short term monthly Point in Time PIT love & long term Through the Cycle TTC love] 

But this particular venomous fear paled the above emotions and was eating him from inside since the past few months. Just reminiscing it made him shiver. He pulled back to focus on the surroundings.

He had to let Bali help him conquer the biggest challenge of his life.

There was this infinite  expanse of ocean in front of him. It was as if the waters were calling him.

Trying to free his mind; An instinct within beckoned him to jump off the cliff and start swimming. If he were to remember his geography lessons right, he could swim to the next land mass - Antarctica (or Australia perhaps, if he were to meander to the east ).  He was viewing the endless sea from an advantaged height; a look to the sides presented the spectacular cliffs  - their steepness and ferocious ruggedness was intimidating. Just as you got your focus back from the sea, you were greeted by the fauna sprawling across the cliff edges, a few inches from where he stood - followed by rich flowers and never seen before foliage of nature.

He shifted his vision to his immediate surroundings. He was at the ancient temples, dating back to the 11th century. It was impressive what mankind could do, battling the fury of nature, to have built the beacons of peace here.

If our ancestors could do so much with their will power, so could he.

Suddenly, his biggest fear did not seem that big after all. . Not anymore.. Escape was not his way, he took a deep breath. He was a spiritual engine, built for greater things - and he would not let this drudgery hold him in its shackles.

In the midst of these surroundings, he suddenly felt liberated of those three dreadful letters. He was willing to let go of this fear and decided to set to rest that modeling splinter in his mind, that was driving him mad.

He wanted to express it in finality and bury it. Now was the time..

As the current performers cleared the amphitheater stage, he purloined the mic and ran to the stage.
The Amphitheater - readying for Jagan (courtesy - Mazurkevich)

On the stage, he fed his voice into the mic, so that the civilization at Uluwatu could hear him.

I am a boy man who walks alone
And when I'm walking a dark road…
At night am strolling through Solitaire park...

When the methodology begins to change
I sometimes feel a little strange…
A little anxious when it changes again….

Fear of the Observed Default Rate (ODR), fear of the ODRrrr
I have a constant fear that the ODR's methodology is going to change…

Fear of the ODR, fear of the ODRrr
(He let the Rrr's drawl to emphasize his Punjabi-ness)
I have a phobia that my PD term structure is going to change

Aptivaa on Stage
He turned to look at Vivek and shifted his gaze to Sayan, Paras, Abishek, Yagnesh. Not a word was said; the connect was instantaneous amongst the fellow sufferers. The gang ran and picked the guitars, while Yagnesh made a dash for the drums.

Have you run your fingers down the keyboard
And have you felt your neck skin crawl
When you're analyzing your R code… (Kya?)
Sometimes when you're scared to take a look
At the core of your code
You've sensed that something's changing in the data frame...

At this moment, he looked at the crowd. Convinced that the pain in his eyes was conveyed indeed, he paused, and turned the mic to the crowd and shouted: "Your turn Bali…"

The crowd, which had forged a connect - encored..

Fear of the ODR, fear of the ODR..
I have a constant fear that ECL's gonna change
Fear of the ODR, fear of the ODR.
I have a phobia that ODR methodology's gonna change

A Yagnesh hammered the drums and the rest were at it with the strings, Jagan dispelled his final fears..
Have you ever been alone at night
Thought you heard chimes of mails coming in with all might
And turned around to find a new account in cross default…(Kya?)
And as you quicken up to prepare the data set
You suspect that dplyr() is playing tricks
Because you're sure that ODR has missed 12 month survival ..

Fear of the ODR, fear of the ODR
I have a constant fear that ODR methodology is going to change
Fear of the ODR, fear of the ODRrrr.
I have a phobia that the ODR is going to change

When I'm writing the dark code
I am a man who walks alone…