Stop 1 : Paris
Arrived on 27th June staying close to the infamous Moulin Rouge - which looks so tame in real life. Its quite close to the historic Montmartre. So just a couple of hours after checking in - couldn't wait to get out even though I was quite tired as I had not sleep much on the flight - found myself in the midst of history. Sacre Coeur was so peaceful. The walk simply amazing. Everything is so well preserved - so many creative geniuses stayed/ worked here from Picasso to Renoir to Matisse to Van Gogh. What happened to our history ? We have no meaningful literary or cultural history - would we know where Premchand was born or Amir Khusro's grave or ... Had gone to Lothal in 1998 it was a real disappointment - first there were no signs to guide us there and the site itself is quite run down. After walking for almost 3 hours was too exhausted and found my way back to the hotel. Went for a walk in Pigalle in the evening - hear about poppers for the first time in my life (yes ! people don't gasp) and saw the porn booths. Decided to turn in as I was dead tired and the next day was a big day.
Got up in the morning and rushed to the Tourism office in Champs Elysee to find out the route and took the metro to the start point as I wanted to be there from the start. My first Gay Pride - wow it was so much fun -
have the album in front of me -was using a non digital camera then hence no pics to upload. The cross-section of the gay community from the queens to the dykes , from the twinks to the bears, they were all on the streers in full force. It was awesome - to just be there walking thru the streets of paris - people all over - some dancing on top of bus stops - drinking all the way - a concert on the streets - lay in the garden nearby with strangers - danced away to glory (got carried away by everything and took off my shirt for a bit too !). By evening it all wrapped up as people started to move towards the numerous parties slated for the night. I walked a bit in Marias. Of all things in the world ended up in a straight bar in Marais !!
The next day I decided I wanted to visit Versailles. How well it has been restored by recovering the original works. Sigh the Indian treasures are still spread all across the globe. Two days of Champs Elysee and walking by the Siene , the gardens and the museums, the notre dam , the latin district. Dropped my camera and conked it somehow and it just rewinds the roll to the start. Went to a shop - huge language issue to explain what was wrong with it - when a 60+ guy cycled in to give some pics for development. He happened to be an Indophile and he helped me out though to no avail - so now I am on a vacation without a camera. He talked about India and asked me why I dont know french (like all civilised people). We talked about this and that - really warm - and all this just because I was from India.
Why on earth do i need to leave Paris ? I had a reservation in Amsterdam. 4 days in Paris are just not enough - I am not sure a how long is ... There is just so much to do and its so beautiful.
Had booked myself in a train which I needed to have a transfer is 12 mins. The precision of the Europeans it takes almost exactly 9-10 mins to collect your stuff change platforms and board the train - so if u r lazy or procastinate and don't follow the signs u miss the connection.
Stop 2 : Amsterdam
Stayed in Flying Pig based on the reco of a friend - just not my scene - and my first and last attempt to stay in a hostel. Its just not me I need comfort and space. The only advantage of the hostel was its location you could just walk to Dam Square.First thing after I reached Amsterdam was that I decided to buy a camera - of course I had no clue so went online and spend lots of time with Anand on the phone and finally made the choice. Spend valuable hours doing it.
It can happen only in Europe - to find an art reference in something as mundane as a food stall - this one sells potato fries - to have a painting of "The Potato Eaters" by Van Gogh as the board to shut shop. Fries are almost everywhere in Amsterdam - big fat crisp ones with variety of flavoured mayo based dips - how the hell do the dutch stay thin after eating it almost all the time. Amsterdam really is a quaint small town much contrary to the image of being the sex city. Yes there is an open street where you can gawk at the girls but for the most part as you take the tram/ walk/ cycle around the city and you are struck by how nice it really is. Have heard similar thoughts from other friends who found it very relaxing compared to bigger european cities like Paris or Berlin.
One of the first places I visited was the Anne Frank House. Her story is something which has touched so many of us. From there to the Homomonument. The alignments of the three points of the larger triangle of the Homomonument are symbolic. One points towards the National War Memorial on Dam Square. The second points towards the house of Anne Frank. The third points towards the headquarters of COC Nederland, the Dutch gay rights group. Wild Reeds wrote evocatively about it in his post on Brokeback Mountain. The moments are unforgettable - it was so heart wrenching to be in these two places but at the same time it was inspiring & exhilarating.
Went to a couple of bars in the evening. A guy in his late forties from the suburbs of Amsterdam came and sat next to me. A big plus in amsterdam is that most dutch speak english really well. He was a journalist and we talked for almost an hour about all sorts of things from international politics to gay life in Bombay. He was getting late as he needed to take a train back and he asked me if I wanted to come with him. I said NO ! damn - Am I still not ready for this ? Go with strangers to their house. Scared what might happen - not sure.
Did the sights of Amsterdam the next -couple of days surprisingly the canal tour was good was thinking of avoiding it as a very touristy thing to do. Wanted to do something exciting and wanted to go to a "coffee shop" or buy some mushrooms or something - but chickened out . It was embarrassing as I even entered one coffee shop and then abruptly walked out . I suppose being alone was what played in my mind, and also that I have never even done grass in India. The Brat was supposed to get some for one of my parties at home !! I just want to try and see what the big deal is. Just walking about Amsterdam is such pleasure. Went to visit a few places around Amsterdam - e.g. Zanse Schaans - a quaint hamlet recreated by moving buildings from other parts in the 60s & 70s - with its windmills and well preserved buildings of 17th -18th century - and all this just a 20 min train ride from the city.
And yes, I was up to naughty things in Amsterdam - Thermos - My first sauna in Europe - very different from Babylon, which is really leagues ahead of anything anywhere in the world or so I think. Met Robin, a blonde tall and very very cute Dutch boy, and after some time we found ourselves in a room, he was so good and gentle (for someone with as big a frame as him) and it was really really very nice. To my surprise he was a bottom but had still not got into that stuff - so we had a lovely time for an hour or so and then we went for a shower together and then bid adieu. In a bar I met a really camp person who worked for Elite - was flattered he was interested in me but he really was not my type. Secondly I was not sure if I wanted a threesome with him and his boyfriend, specially when he was not in the bar. Also explored the seedier/ more risque/ kinky side of scene . Walked outside the bar n times - before I got the courage to get in - I was told if I knew today was an underwear party - meaning thereby you were supposed to have only your undies and footwear on. I freaked and started heading out - when this guy at the counter stopped me and said - Don't tell me you have never been to one - There's nothing to worry about as there would be lots of people of all ages - and I really must try it - and for me he would allow me to keep my shirt on till I felt comfortable. I told him I needed time and I paced outside and finally decided to go. The place was four floors -the basement was the dance floor with the dj , the next two floors where bars and the top floor was a dark room. Suffice to say saw a lot of things which were shocking to say the least and I stayed most of the time at the bars. After a while went to dance and slowly I felt stupid being the only one with a shirt on - as lots of people were not even in the undies - so took of my shirt too and danced till early morning. Please no sniggers
Amsterdam was a good mix of fun and relaxation, culture and craziness, the people are really warm and approachable - definetely going to visit again and perhaps do a few things which I wanted to but didn't do last time
End of week 1 - may continue this later sometime ....