Escaping The City

I’m returning from a weekend trip out of the city. The air has begun to lose it’s freshness. I begin to wonder. When we think of heading out of the city, what we are looking to do is escape the limits of the city. As the years have gone on however, I realize that we need to travel farther and farther to escape the city. As even more years pass us by I wonder if the limits of city will ever end. Will we ever be able to escape it’s confines.

What is the reason for this? Am I the only one who feels this way?

Is our burgeoning population finding it harder to secure a place to live within the city. Is there truly no place left in our city? The vast number of homes lying vacant in the city would indicate otherwise. Is the average family being priced out of the city?

Or is it the desire to have a house to call your own, no matter how much it burdens us for the rest of our lives. Is this collective fever dream actually turning the city into a nightmare?

Swiss Food

Having Switzerland be the first destination outside the country that I went to was a scary proposition. It was the year 2008. I was less than 2 years out of college and I was travelling alone. I had only heard about how expensive Switzerland was in general. So when I first landed there for a short work stint, I was handed my spending money upfront. I had to ration that out over the 15 days. My stay was covered separately, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

My hotel stay had breakfast included. I was initially regaled by the wide array of breads and cheeses on offer.

I spent the next five days saving money on food by buying bread and cheese at the local supermarkets. Sixth day onwards I started feeling nausea whenever I thought about food and the bread and cheese I was going to have to eat. One day it got so bad that I decided I would go out and just eat whatever I wanted (that wasn’t insanely expensive). I discovered a local resto that served some decent margarita pizzas. The first time I ordered it I had a hard time even trying to understand what were my options as a vegetarian thanks to my non-existent German language skills. But it was good inexpensive food and I had the same thing several times thereafter. There may have been other vegetarian options but procuring that information was too arduous an exercise so I just settled for the Margarita.

On another day that I went exploring I came across a McDonalds. Again just one vegetarian burger. This again tasted blissfully good. I decided from then on that the few days I had remaining I would have McDonald’s every day if I needed to. It was also when I stopped converting every price in Swiss Francs to Indian Rupees.

Over my stay there I came across several eateries that looked very interesting, that I stupidly refused to try thanks to my fear of running out of my allotment of Swiss Francs. A lifelong regret.

Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery

When I visit a city for the first time, I always make sure to visit at least one museum. It was the last day of a short 4 day trip to Baroda and I took a solo trip to the Sayaji garden that houses both a zoo and the Baroda Museum and Picture gallery.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect on the inside but the building housing the museum with its brick facade was an inviting sight. Its size on the outside seemed normal but actually browsing through entire collection can take quite a while. It is housed on both the ground and first floors with an unexpected surprise in the basement.

For the minuscule sum of Rs 10, I wasn’t really expecting much but at the end of my 2-hour visit I was genuinely impressed by what the museum had to offer. The collection of artefacts, paintings, geological and biological specimens was vast and spanned several different cultures and time periods.

The only unfortunate aspect of it was the poor lighting that was maintained throughout the museum. It prevented me from seeing its most exquisite artefacts and paintings in detail. I found myself squinting often when I stood in front of so many of its displays. Whether this was intentional to prevent damage to the elements or a budgetary issue remains unknown to me. It was a shame nonetheless because they had some truly outstanding items on display.

This includes not just genuine items that have been acquired over the years, but reproductions based on original items as well. In the reproductions, a special mention must go the European section which had a reproduction of statues by the great Italian masters.

The most incredible sight for me though was in the Egyptian section which houses a real mummy. It was extremely well preserved and fascinating to study up close. When I looked up on it later, I learnt that Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the ruler of the city of Gujarat, bought this mummy from a museum in New York in 1895.

There was one more surprise waiting for me just before the exit. A small set of stairs leads you to a dimly lit basement area that houses a 72 feet long skeleton of a blue whale. A slow walk around it gave me genuine chills. The bones have been mounted next to those of a giraffe as well just to give you a better sense of scale. It was a perfect way to end my museum visit and it changed my perception of how good a museum in India can be.

If you are a fan of museums this one is a must-visit. Excusing the poor upkeep, its collection is one of the best I have seen even compared to museums outside of the country

Photography is not permitted inside the museum

Of Switzerland and Contraceptives

It was the year 2008. It was my first time ever outside of my own country. There were many wonderful things that I saw and experienced in my 15 days there. However, this is one experience I have often told people about so I thought that I should put it down in words.

Window Shopping

People had warned me about how expensive Switzerland was, so I didn’t venture out of the city of Basel where I was working at. Most of my free time was spent hopping onto trams or buses and exploring the city by foot. It was during one of the walks that I stumbled upon a strange looking shop. I couldn’t at first figure out what they were selling. Looking through the shop window only showed me what appeared to be strange cylindrical shaped objects of a multitude of colours and designs. It took me a few moments to register that the shape I was seeing was that of a condom. When my eyes drifted next to the name of the shop “Condomeria” I realised that what I thought I was seeing was what I was seeing.

The me from 10 years ago was not a well-travelled person. I was just a kid in 2nd year of his career at his first company. I certainly wasn’t world wise. As the photo below shows I quickly tried snapping a picture from outside and moved on. If I had come across this today, I would have at the very least entered the shop and checked out the goods. Unfortunately, I have now learned that this shop in Basel has closed permanently. I guess it was too high concept even for the Swiss.

Contraceptive Charity

The Swiss Tropical institute with whom I was working had set me up with a small desk within somebody else’s office. When I came to work every day, I noticed these things under my desk. Various flavour names were mentioned on the packing. I initially figured them out to be confectioneries. It’s not that they didn’t look suspiciously like a packet of condoms. I just never thought someone would simply have scores of them lying around under a desk.

A few days later I finally had a talk with my co-worker about this. He had a good laugh when I told him about what I had thought they were. He explained to me that the Swiss Tropical Institute worked with women in Africa to help produce these condoms. The proceeds of the sale would contribute to their livelihood while also promoting their use in a continent with the highest prevalence of AIDS in the world. These were to be sold at the local university festival that was being held a couple of days later.

These things made me realise how open a culture could be about their attitudes towards sex and safety. It has gotten better in India over the years no doubt but there is still a stigma associated with it.