Belgium – A Fine Food(s) Galore

I always envision, when I say Belgium, people’s thoughts wander off to the capital, Brussels. The place to try the Mussels or the place for famous chocolates or the place the Brussel sprouts were invented. And although, Brussels is most likely the only place ever visited when one visits Belgium because I imagine it would be silly to go to the country and not visit the capital, it most entirely can be skipped if on a euro rail. You wouldn’t miss much.

Yes, you would miss the Atomium (Heysel Area) which is this giant model of the iron crystal cell unit of nine spheres connected by tubes. I don’t know if it is worth going inside the Atomium but from what I have heard it wasn’t, just take pics from outside at all different angles and admire the Brussels Landmark designed by André Waterkeyn for the World Expo of 1958 which he didn’t take down after, yes you would also miss mini Europe which is this miniature model park covering around 75 cities in Europe with all their famous landmarks (Even Lux has the Adolph bridge yayy) and all monuments scaled to their exact mini size. It was a cute miniature park to spend maybe an hour or two in and then you realize crap there is so much out there to explore so why the hell am I wasting my time in a miniature park when I could be out there checking out the monuments for real? So after spending some time in the park and admiring the Atomium from the Outside, I accidently happened to have come across the exhibition of Tutankhamun’s Tomb and because I am absolutely fascinated by Egyptian artifacts, I decided I could squeeze in time to enter the place and boy was it worth it. The discovery of the tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter had apparently made significant worldwide media coverage and if you enter the exhibition, you will know exactly why, not only was the tomb discovered completely intact but along with it came all kinds of artifacts made of solid gold that was supposed to be used by the Beloved Egyptian Pharaoh in his afterlife. Entering the exhibition made me feel like Howard carter himself who was entering the shrine discovering it all, the stair case, the anti-chamber and then finally the burial chamber. It was all so exciting that I could barely contain myself to see what was in the other room. This exhibition was the highlight of my trip to Brussels, but do note it is a travelling exhibition so essentially it could have been my highlight to any city of the world it had travelled to.

Heard of the peeing boy? Sure u have! Manneken piss. He is this little bronze and not so impressive statue that ‘pees’ all day. Many legends have that a boy once put out a fire in Brussels with his pee (say what) hence the statue is dedicated to him, or the more believable one, a tourist once lost his son and the villagers helped him look and eventually found the boy peeing at a bridge hence the tourist gifted the statue of the boy to the villagers in the position he was found in as a token of his appreciation (hmm ok this one isn’t so believable too, why would the villagers want a statue of a peeing tourist boy? wouldn’t money have been a better alternative to those poor villagers?) but either way the peeing boy is a symbol to the country and if u have come all the way you have to take one pic of it come on. Only I wasn’t so lucky in finding it. See when I got to Grand place during the beer fest weekend I didn’t expect so many people in the city that there wasn’t even space to move and I certainly was not expecting a street parade. But since I was traveling alone, I decided to join the street parade and try well ok just try and sing their national anthem (I am going to assume that is what they were singing), so I spent the afternoon following the parade around while I was trying to look for the damn Mannekan piss only to realize the statue had been all along right in front of the parade leading the way and peeing on everyone who came across and blocked the way of the parade, pretty smart if you ask me and if you are terrified of naked boys well then you get lucky 30 times during the year because they do put clothes on him! And I was lucky enough to see him in a costume during the Beer Festival Weekend! Did you know Mannekan piss has a female counterpart known as Jeanneke Piss? Not as popular and built-in the 1980s she is a little bronze girl statue peeing…well wait for it…sitting down. I will tell you it took me 2 hours to find her because no one had heard of her and I will also tell you if peeing boy wasn’t so impressive then a peeing girl isn’t going to make your eyes boggle out either. There is just something not so elegant with watching a girl peeing in public. Oh well, it’s a gender bias thing what can you do about it?

My next day visit took me to two absolutely enchanting towns – Ghent and Brugge. Brugge is touristy but I loved Ghent so much more. It was like Flemish’s best kept secret. It felt I don’t know kind of funky. It made sense because it is a university town so there are many youngsters in the area. The city was a wonderful mixture of historical and modern architecture. The houses seemed centuries old and the people seemed more hip than ever. Castle of the count, an opera house, museums, churches and well of course the Ghent Altarpiece (the famous mystic lamb) is a combination of 12 paintings in total done by Hubert and Jan Van Eyvk and is proclaimed to be the single most influential painting ever. Notice the leftmost painting in the bottom row. Apparently it’s not the original. The reason? It is the most frequently stolen artwork in history! Forget influential, that fact alone was enough to impress me.

Brugge is the chocolate capital of Belgium. Did you know that? I did! I found out when I was in Brussels chit chatting with the local tour guide taking a bunch of people on the chocolate walking tour. He said forget Brussels and try the finest chocolates in the world in Brugge. Yum. That was enough for me to visit the place, Brugge and Ghent almost seemed too similar in beauty, the only difference is in Brugge you see a lot more people around hustling bustling and in Ghent it’s quieter and a lot more peaceful. So I spoke to tons of people along the way, made two good friends by the end of the tour, tried all the home-made chocolates at all the shops possible, almost got trotted on by a horse, tried the mussels and beers and took loads of pictures to share my secret with everyone back home.

My last adventure coming back to Brussels was COMICS! An avid fan of Superman, I had to chuck my DC’ness aside and focus on the characters that originated from Belgium, Tintin! Astix! Smurfs! I took a stroll down the comic strip center and visited the tin tin museum, unfortunately not that much fun for all the comics were written in Dutch. So if you don’t speak it, don’t bother.

All in all, keeping aside the fact that I was reading tin tin comics after ages or that I was talking to a bunch of strangers out of my comfort zone or that I was exploring the big city subway all on my own. The icing of Belgium was and will always remain food food and more food. There is just something thrilling about trying waffles in Belgian, having the mussels in Brussels, tasting the types of beers and sauces to go with frites, buying all kinds of Belgian chocolates and finding out the origin of Brussel sprouts! It was a food galore weekend indeed and nothing could beat that. Well, nothing but a Midnight in Paris.


Trier – The Little German Surprise around the corner

How I stumbled onto this little city was honestly by chance. It’s a half hour bus ride from Luxembourg and essentially just 6 miles from the country border. I had never heard of the place but when I found out it was Germany’s oldest city, the history nerd inside of me started to twitch and I decided to hop on the train (45 minutes) and explore the city on my own only to find plenty more surprises in this pleasantly small town.

As soon as I stepped out I got a feel of a historic city. There must have been so many stories to this place so I decided to look up some facts.

  • Trier celebrated its 2000th birthday in the year 1984. Blimey!
  • Legend has it that in 2000BC, Trier became a favoured residence of several Roman Emperors including Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor. Ooh Ooh yes I have heard of him!
  • Trier’s population is only 100,000. Although I swear it felt like only 10,000 people lived here

Trier is situated on the Mosselle (Mosel) River and is a treasure trove of Roman Ruins, it is known as the Rome of the North. The first thing you notice when you reach the main district which is the Triers Market square is this big black stone sort of structure, which is known as Porta Nigra, it was essentially one of the four gates that protected the Northern entrance to the Roman City in umm well Roman Times. For some unknown reason, the construction of the northern gate remained unfinished, I like to think is because the Romans didn’t except many intruders from this particular region, and out of the four gates only Port Nigra survived making it a world heritage site protected by UNESCO. In the Early Middle Ages, the Porta (like the Germans call it) was transformed into a church and then upon Napoleon Bonaparte’s orders transferred back to its original form and here it was this fascinating piece of monument right under my very own eyes.

As I walked along the market square also known as the Hauptmarkt which is a major junction and a lively, colourful marketplace, marked by a replica of the original stone cross that dates back to 958; I came across another fascinating church. Yes Yes, churches are everywhere I know, literally every European country I must step into a church, some are beautiful and some are small but this one in particular had one unique thing about it. It was the Trier Cathedral build by the emperor Constantine and contains the holy relic, the Holy Robe of Christ. It is for this reason that this city still receives gazillion catholic pilgrims every year. History has it that the seamless robe worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion was sent to Trier by Empress Helena who was Constantine’s mother and has been deemed the authentic one by historians, However, there is another version that it was sent to France but I like to believe in the former because here it was right in front of my very own eyes. Although you do wonder that this robe just couldn’t be in such mint condition in front of you if you believed the Mel Gibson movie passion of the Christ really. But here it was, like another seamless seemingly normal robe that seemed less dramatic in front of my eyes than it did in my head (No pics allowed)

I took the city tour bus from the market place all around the city and the two sites that caught my attention apart from Porta Nigra and the Trier Cathedral and the market place were one the house of a very important German philosopher named Karl Marx, I mean who hasn’t heard of him come on, the founder of the philosophy of Marxism, as soon as I heard his name on the tour, my heart skipped a beat, I had no idea he was born in Trier. How cool was that! Like I said little surprises just around the corner. Another exciting building (well which I thought was exciting) were the imperial baths; in ancient Rome, thermae (hot) were bath complexes used by the Romans for if you will ‘socializing’, it was a place to bathe and meet people and just chill I guess because there probably wasn’t much to do in those days I am guessing. For the list of all the ruins left of public baths, refer to  Near the imperial baths are the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, dating from the first century AD. The amphitheatre was used in the Roman imperial era (until the 5th century) for gladiator fights and animal contests. In my head I could totally picture Russell Crowe in his metallic suit charging for a fight in the middle of the hundreds of people watching and cheering or something like that. The entire structure, consisting of an elliptical arena and a stepped auditorium, was surrounded by a high wall, divided into individual stories by colonnaded arcades. The complex could seat up to 25,000 people. Underneath the arena is a vast basement where gladiators, criminals, and exotic beasts were kept prior to their release into the arena. The amphitheatre is now used for concerts and other festivals and along with the Porta and Imperial baths is also a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.

Apart from that you can admire the view from the top of the Mosselle valley and walk along the market square and do some shopping. I had learnt so much in one day. So much I didn’t know, so much to learn in the world out there. Life was short and time was just not enough to absorb it all. But for now, I had had enough of German History; I was ready to explore more parts of Europe, parts that weren’t just famous for their medieval architecture but also for their fine passion for food. A country with a fame of perfection that was proud to introduce their best and finest. Waffles, Beers, Frites, Mussels or Chocolates; Belgium had it all.

Damn you AmsterdamN!

I have always heard so much about Amsterdam.

Like you, I have heard that w**d and Prost******* (I hope I got the number of stars right) is legal. Oh and the unasked advice of ‘you must so visit the red light district’ from anyone and everyone even those who have never been to the city.  Naturally, my impression of Amsterdam wasn’t too hard to form. Yup it’s a party place alright and what’s the best way to enjoy partying it up? Stay in Hostels! With a bunch of complete strangers! And then you can party all night. Drink beer and eat loads of goodies and just never sleep. I am just kidding. Haha. The only reason I stayed in hostels was I’ll admit – cheap prices!

As soon as you step out of the central station, the first things you see are canals. Canals, canals everywhere, not surprisingly, this place is known as the Venice of the north (along with Brugge, Brussels). It’s quite easy to figure out the maze of waterways around the city because it is honestly not so big.

So I wanted to start off my day by renting a bike and going around the city. Well big mistake. The weekend I chose to visit was the Rainiest weekend EVER (you will notice all the pics are quite gloomy looking too).

My first stop was the Museumplain (Museum square), see I was determined to see the Van Gogh Museum while I was there, right opposite is also the Rijksmuseum but the only painting I have heard of Rembrandt is well of course the Night Watch so I decided it wasn’t worth visiting an entire museum for one painting and let’s face it, I could not spend another minute in the pouring rain. I had to get in somewhere nice and warm and museums are my favourite things to do. All I had on my list was the Vangogh Museum and Anne Frank’s Haus and of course the Dam Square and Red-light district.

The Vincent Van Gogh Museum wasn’t just a museum filled with his paintings. It was a museum filled with paintings of famous painters who have inspired or influenced him through his years as an artist. When Van Gogh started his work, he started with drawings when he was working in Antwerp (Belgium) and soon he moved to Paris and started to paint which led to the introduction of his famous work ‘The Potato eaters’, after which his paintings became more and more say colourful and that’s how he ended up with the artistic break through with the Sunflower series. I love the sunflower series paintings; of course there are many versions to it. The best one is in the National Gallery in London and the one in the Van Gogh Museum was very similar just not as bright (yes neither is my knowledge with paintings so much as you can tell). All in all it was interesting to see the transformation of the works of Van Gogh from his drawings to his paintings which all just seemed very structured and gradually improved with the years. It’s also ironic because a person who suffered from anxiety and mental illness through his life and who was unable to maintain an orderly lifestyle had surprisingly managed to capture the growth of his passion in a highly disciplined way. Van Gogh killed himself at 37.

Anne Frank’s Haus was my next stop, it was the last thing I had chosen to do on the Sunday and I was insane because there was a huge line outside and people including myself were crazy enough to stand in the strong winds and fierce rain storm with nothing but an umbrella. I was cold, I was shivering but this was something I absolutely wanted to do. The book chronicling her experience during the World War 2 had grazed more than one classroom over the years so it wasn’t surprising so many people wanted to see the place she talked about in her diary. An hour later I was inside, it was the most depressing feeling ever. It felt like all the words in the book started to gush right through me; the secret entrance, her room, her sister’s room, the tiny washrooms, the boarded up windows and the infamous tree. Secret Annexe was only a fiction of my imagination when I read the book but now I could actually picture it right here in front of me. It was so touching to see so many people gasp during the tour and some started to cry and one or two even broke down. I think that’s the beauty of the book. She was ONE girl, part of ONE Jewish family that went through the tragedy amongst a million others. I would personally recommend reading just this ONE book because I don’t think any human being has the capacity of sinking in the torture of the million others. Just ONE was enough to break us down.

(Pics are not allowed inside, but I just had to take one of the secret entrance, it was my fav part of the book so here it is)

There is so much more to the city if you don’t like to do boring stuff like museums and art galleries, you can keep walking on the famous Leidseplein which is a district with all the shopping and all the international restaurants to eat in, also lots of salsa clubs you can just take a peek in and practice your moves and run out before you start to look like an amateur in front of all the professionals (haha yes indeed), you can walk along dam square district which is the historical district and landmark of Amsterdam, take a tour around the inspiring historical churches and buildings in Amsterdam such as the Oude Kerk (old church) Amsterdam’s oldest parish church, located on the borders of the red light district and the Royal Palace, former city hall, built in 1648 and  situated in the west side of Dam Square.

Finally, Saturday night, a visit to the red-light district became an important part of my experience in the damn city. I would love to write about what I did and where I went but all I can say is that the place is probably their own little times square of Amsterdam; people come from all over the world just to visit this district. It’s supposed to be an area that Amsterdam is actually super proud of. A tourist attraction, a place filled with tons of people all happily and cheerily wandering about in the city in the middle of the night like newly freed spirits with that absolute high knowing that no one can touch them here. In a place where woman are showcased in their bare necessities in these little red rooms who ignorant tourists point at trying to make negotiations or just float by as smooth talkers. No one ever wonders what got them there in the first place, no one ever thinks about these women during the day, no one knows if they are forced into this, no one knows about the cruelties that take place in the brothels. Why bother? Everyone is here to have a good time right? Maybe this will catch your attention – No one knows that the prostitutes working in the red light district of Amsterdam are not required to be tested by law. No one knows what a disgusting, filthy and criminal sewer it really is. So next time, you take a stroll down the red light district of Amsterdam, you should know that no one not even Amsterdam has the right to be proud of such an area.

I learnt that the best kept secret of exploring Amsterdam (actually any city perhaps) is just to have an idea of a couple of places that you really want to visit and then let the rest pour in on an instinct basis. There is literally something new on every canal street and if you keep exploring you are bound to find a little surprise of your own just around the corner.

A Fairy Tale Beginning – LUXEMBOURG

Once upon a time, an Indian woman named Simran i.e. yours truly, found herself in a country known as Luxembourg; right in the heart of Europe for a month. She was initially supposed to be vacationing on the Eurorail for the month but she had missed the train Raj was on so instead her company shipped her off to Lux city for work. Luxembourg is never the place you think off when you think of Europe, you think beautiful cities such as Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Prague, and Amsterdam but never do you once think of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. But here I was in a place I have to admit I found out only existed three years ago. A place I had heard absolutely nothing about.

But this little country is in fact well-known as the fairy tale land; filled with fortresses, castles, and streets with little corners & cute boutiques. Lux boasted a population of over half a million primarily French-speaking with German and a trace of Luxembourgish. I had only just landed and even though I was jet lagged as hell I couldn’t wait to get out there and start exploring this beautiful city. Not knowing where to go at all, my first stop was obviously the tourist office. The lady at the tourist office was over enthusiastic, she spoke English but barely, with her hand movements and gestures she clearly was dying to help a lost poor soul like me or Luxembourg just didn’t get that many tourists and I was probably the first person to walk in that day. I am betting the latter.

If you do ever land up in the capital of Luxembourg, you should start with the visit to the casemates, the bock and the petrusse casemates; a tour of this abandoned fortified castle gives you a good idea of the history of Luxembourg. What was fascinating about these places that it was used as a military aid for thousands of civilians during both World War 1 and 2 where they would hide during air raids and shelling. I preferred the petrusse casemates over the bock ones because petrusse felt more authentic and bock well sort of felt like a tourist trap (but they are not surprisingly more famous). But never the less, the casemates are the cradle of Lux city and one must start their adventure from there (although I sort of ended up there by chance). The chill spot for all the tourists to hang out after work hours is Place D’armes which is bustling past 7 pm not a trait many other places in Luxembourg share. Its interesting that not many people know that the Dukè’s palace, the Grand Ducal Palace is actually open to visitors for viewing in the months of July and August (closed in Sep because he is back home duh). You might also want to check out the largest church in Luxembourg, Notre dame, nothing compared to St Pauls Cathedral in New York or Notre Dame Paris but still it’s something to admire while you’re there, Casino de Luxembourg, is not a casino, yea unfortunately that was the reason I entered the place, but it’s in fact an art gallery, a pretty smooth place to check out in the city for contemporary and out of the box art. Apart from the centre Ville, you can head out to Kichberg, the area my clients are based in, which is the home to the European centre headquarters and all the skyscrapers of the city including the Mudam (Museum of Modern Art)etc. It’s the area that houses the biggest mall Auchan as well as the biggest cinema in the country Utopolis. Nothing spectacular really but then again Europeans aren’t exactly big on indoor activities so one can’t complain.

Outside of Luxembourg city, you must definitely visit 3 out of these 4 cities, north of the country is Viandan, a city so beautiful that it will take your breath away (that’s not me it’s the brochure talking) but when you do get there, the first thing you do see is the castle of Viandan, you can’t miss it, it’s probably the main attraction to see in this city, a renaissance styled built architecture that was once the home of William I of Netherlands (ask me no more for that is all I learnt) along with its cable car ride leading up to a panoramic view of the entire city, You can explore this small little town in little under 4 hours; like I said, charming but still small. Oh and it also was the home of Victor Hugo, the famous French writer for some part of his life, in fact you can take a peek at his humble abode where he lived when he resided in Viandan. Half hour away from Viandan is Ettelbruck, I don’t know why people told me to visit this city, and I honestly didn’t see the big deal in it. I mean the grass and cows are cute really, coming from my home city that is truly nature starved, this was a real treat to the eyes at first and while I don’t agree that it gets boring to keep seeing the cows and grass, you do get used to it after a while so Ettelbruck wasn’t such a big deal for me, it was a lot like the main city but with probably 1/4th the population. However, the biggest surprise ever was Echternach! Wow absolutely loved it! It was hustling bustling with mostly Germans in that area on a Sunday. Everything was open! Hop on the mini train for a ride in the beautiful city or go canoeing and kayaking by the water stream, this place was filled with tons of activities to do and the town is right outside from a Cinderella story. You could just sit and admire the architecture and the medieval buildings forever; it is in fact the oldest city of Luxembourg. You could also just keep walking ahead of Echternach to hit the Mullerthal region, which was so gorgeous that it is actually termed the little Switzerland of Luxembourg. Something I found out only once I got home. There you go; I don’t think a trip to Zurich was even needed at this rate. I didn’t understand why the tourist lady hadn’t told me to come here first; it was absolutely breath-taking.

A weekend in Luxembourg is honestly all that is required to explore the Country, it was a relaxing weekend well spent and a perfect start to Simran’s DDLJ one month-long adventure in Europe, but the next weekend had to be a place away from the country. A place she could dare to be different and not herself; a place that could damn well take her to hell. Amsterdam.

My Manhattan Diaries

#1 The Evening Gown Hunt.

You might think buying an evening gown in NYC is a piece of cake, but when someone is looking for a cheesecake with just that little bit of cream, crumble base so perfect that it melts in your mouth right away and doesn’t add a calorie to your hips then buying that gown isn’t all that easy.

I was on a mission. To find reasonably priced evening gown from a designer shop and? Find Santa Claus while I was at it.

Not having any female friends around the area, I turned to my next best friend, They directed me to Jovani fasions up on 37th street and 5th avenue. So I walked a couple of blocks and found the place, staring into the glass walls all these beautiful gowns priced at $200-$300 I couldn’t wait to try on. Problem? They are wholesale! Say what? But the lady directed me to a couple of retail stores that sell her dresses so I went to these places one by one. Great variety. Problem? They are wholesale but they will sell you one piece if you really beg and plead and are ready to try on the gown at the back in their storage rooms with cartons and no mirrors. So you could try Viver (64 west 37th street) or RK Bridal (318 west 39th street) or even Lafayatte on 6th avenue and 37th street. They all sell Jovani dresses and if you are lucky you might just find the one you are looking for. But after the 7th shop, I had had it. I wasn’t going to buy a dress that was hanging around in a shop with 100 others of her lookalikes. It didn’t make me feel so special you see. So I decided to leave the Fashion district and go to some “real shops” after searching at Macys and Bloomys (way over my budget) I landed at BCBG and there I saw it.; a gown with scuff sleeves and the perfect fit. Price $495 OH NO! But wait 60% off ..ah yes god was too kind.

I picked up the dress with the biggest smile ever handed my credit card and walked out patting myself on the back.  Mission accomplished. Now all I had to do was get the dress fitted to my height.

Little did I know what an Everest it is to find a tailor in NYC reasonably priced.

I was on a mission.

# 2 Pottermania

When I saw the ending credits of the last harry potter movie ever, I closed my eyes and thought. This is it. No more new harry potter experiences. No more books to look forward to and after this no more movies.

Boy, was I wrong.

A week later I found myself on 44th street and Broadway staring through the glass doors at the discovery times square at the harry potter exhibition. My mother looks at me and says “Ah yes $26 looks too much to me too” I looked at her aghast. I wasn’t DEBATING whether to go in or not, I was merely staring in disbelief. All those feelings came gushing back at me, another new experience? The harry potter exhibition, I just had to go in.

As soon as I walked in, the sorting ceremony began. After stretching my hand high above desperately just like Hermione in the movie I got picked third! And didn’t want to copy the others and be sorted into the Gryffindor house (although I know secretly that’s where I belong) I chose to be one of the clever Raven claws. After the sorting ceremony we were directed into the exhibition, which started off with entering the Hogwarts Castle and exploring the dormitories of the witches and wizards of the Dumbledore’s Army. Everything we saw were real artifacts used in making the movies. Once past the Hogwarts castle we found ourselves in the forbidden forest, which seemed as spooky in real as it does in the movies. For a real harry potter fan this was quite the treat. You get to pull out screeching mandrakes, pose on platform 9 ¾ and take a peek into the daily lives of the students. To top it all you get to purchase the every kind flavored beans from bertie botts (I started off with dirt flavor – gross I know)

I left the exhibition. Thinking this was it no more new harry potter experiences. I closed my eyes again. I then opened them and saw a poster and smiled. Staring in front of me was an advertisement of the newly opened Harry Potter theme park in Florida.

I guess some symptoms never do completely go away especially if you have the Pottermania.

# 3 The Alterations shop

I wake up early next morning. Yes. Must find a good tailor in New York City. Hadn’t forgotten my mission to search for Mr. Claus either. I googled a couple of places, put on my sneakers and hit the road. First stop. Sew Elegant – 108 west on 39th street. The lady was super sweet. She made me try the dress and complimented me endlessly. Ok then I thought. I don’t look that stunning also I know. Then she says “where are shoes?” huh what shoes? I thought. “Your heel size” she asks blatantly. “Oh, I don’t know, around 3 to 4 inches?” I said admiring the other gowns there. She frowned. “3 to 4 inches? So which one 3 or 4? Please be exact”. “Uh I don’t have the shoes yet you see” I told her bewildered (I mean seriously is it that big a deal) Yes it is apparently! She said demanding “You go get your heels and I will keep this dress ready for you”. Ok great I thought. How much? “Ah yes for you I give best price only 2 hundred dollars” Faint. That’s more than my freaking dress (yes you should’ve done the math already). Walk Out.

I wasn’t too lucky with the next two tailors either; I managed to get a quote close to 120 dollars at the legacy garment care on 26th street and Third Avenue though. But finally, I landed up at a great tailor. His name was Adele and he was Egyptian. Not only was he reasonably priced (for a tailor on 5th avenue hello?) but also he knew exactly what he was doing. He did insist on me being absolutely certain about the height of my heels and after much arguing I decided to buy the shoes first. Gosh. But because I have had so much experience in shoe shopping (Thank you S), that wasn’t quite hard. The dress fittings in all at the alternations shop cost me a total of $65. This is a highly recommended place for the lost new Yorker’s out there.

# 4 Dis & Dat

Tip 1 – When exploring the MOMA – museum of modern art on 53rd and 6th avenue, don’t forget to stop by their gift shop after. You will regret it if you don’t. It is probably worth a 100 Jackson Pollock’s out there. Ha-ha Just kidding. But their gift shop ideas are extremely creative. Not that that’s any surprise.

Tip 2 – Broadway shows are expensive. Your best bet for good seats and cheap prices is to go at 10 am in the middle of times square at the Duffy red carpet area and buy the shows available for their matinée afternoon ones at 50-60% off and great seats are usually guaranteed. We saw the phantom of the opera for $60 (original orchestra seating is $150) Absolutely Worth it!

Tip 3 – Walk like you belong. Wear comfortable shoes. Talk to Strangers (coz they will definitely talk to you)

Unfortunately, there probably isn’t anything more I can write about New York that hasn’t already been written, all I can do is account for my experiences as a person who is not an oblivious tourist and not a bred New Yorker but is someone in the middle. In the middle of Manhattan.

PS Believe it or not, Santa Claus is doing absolutely fine.

Through the London Eye

An overwhelming sense of culture, a magnificent ingredient of history, a city adorned with beautiful architecture and a little bit of Harry Potter magic; a potpourri of all offers you the luminous city of London.

Spotted! Meg & I out and about in good ol London Town. Six days of fun, frolic and all kinds of cuisine imaginable. Whether it’s shopping at Harrods, Soho, Westfield Mall or Camden Street, London has it all; everything the world can offer you in one great city. While, all Meg had on her mind was to shop for six days, I wanted to sight see everything under the grey weather. So a pact was made, Meg would accompany me to St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey as long as we never forget to visit the gift shop and buy her something to fulfill her sense of achievement for the day . There was so much to see, from the Piccadilly Circus at Leicester Square to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square; the city of London was set in the Monopoly mode and we just didn’t care where the dice would roll.

Penny joined our gossip girls crew two days later and we had to have dinner at this amazing Italian place down the road from Harrods, called Ciro’s Pizza Pomodoro, recommended by many a muggle folk back home, this was a must place to try for their infamous celebrity pizza’s and all other kinds of Italian food. Apart from Ciro’s, one other personally recommended place to eat is this cute little Thai place on church street in the town of Windsor right opposite the Windsor castle known as Thai River. Set inside a picturesque white washed pub complete with a cobblestone Alfresco terrace and a cozy homely vibe, you are sure to experience a country feel sitting out with fantastic food and wine. But honestly, the food anywhere in London was anything but disappointing, whether it was the Mexican food @ Chiquito or it was any restaurant in China town, you are sure never to experience a letdown with whatever cuisine you choose to eat that day. As a completely put off by salads person, the beetroot salad at the Brasserie Joel French restaurant at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London in particular was the most memorable dish ever  to take back home.

Once you decide to move on past trying out the food and stopping by the countless Pret A Manger’s around the city, you will come to realize that there is a lot to learn out there too. Try stopping by the Tate Modern near the Shakespeare Globe Theatre along the River Thames which has on display Ai WeiWei’s sunflower seeds until May 2011, not only is this one of the most controversial exhibitions in Britain at the moment, the artist himself has been missing since 4th April 2011 after his house arrest trying to board a plane to Hong Kong. I am no expert at art but when you look at the billions of sunflower seeds lying in front of you, you think of two things – Where the hell did he get so many sunflower seeds? And then you realize you need to ‘Dig Deeper Dee’ and wonder – How small and insignificant are we to the universe out there? The exhibition had more of a spiritual impact on me than its intended political impact by the artist and it did turn out that these seeds weren’t real sunflower seeds so my first thought did actually made sense, they were made of porcelain, each seed stroked with lead paint and no two sunflowers seeds were exactly the same which was easy to comprehend and at the same time would have been hard to prove wrong.  At the Tate Modern, some of my favorite art included Guano by Judith Reigl, Naked man with Knife by Jackson Pollock and all the six paintings in the room by Gerhard Richter depicting continual uncertainty. In the chapter of surrealism, one should not forget to check out the works of Pablo Picasso especially the sculpture of the head of a woman (Tete de femme) and what I thought was the highlight of the exhibition, A Mi Voix by Dorothea Tanning, a painting that was intended to be primarily set in white and grey tones but contained an embedded sense of color visible to the naked eye which I thought was quite remarkable.

The National Gallery like the Tate is free for admission and is home to some of the many famous works done by artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Monet. For people with very short time to spend at Trafalgar square (shame on you), the highlight tour is highly recommended with over 30 paintings to express visit which includes the self portrait of Rembrandt at the age 34 (also a part of the royal collection at Windsor Castle), sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (such a blissful painting), the Ambassaders by Hans Holbein (don’t forget to check out the skewed skull at the bottom of the painting), the entombment by Michelangelo and my personal bestest (I know that’s not a word), water lilies by Claude Monet

Exploring London using the tube and the infamous red Double Decker buses is the best way to see the city for what it has to offer you, the high’s and the low’s. The people are friendly and the tube map is darn easy to read. Whether it’s getting lost on Baker Street trying to find your way to the Shakespeare Museum or it’s stopping by to buy chocolate pasta at the Borough Market, the public transport gets you to all the nooks and corners. We covered a lot! we lost 40 quid at the casinos on Leicester square trying to figure out the game of black jack, we saw the most popular west end production Wicked (which btw is totally wicked) broad way show at Apollo Victoria Theatre, we hopped on a train from Paddington to the outskirts of London to visit the Windsor castle, we spent a bomb shopping at New Bond and Oxford Street and once the budget bubble had finally burst, we decided to soak up some well deserved sun at Hyde Park for free.

By the end of the week, the last dreaded day had finally befallen the gossip girl crew and with nothing else to look forward to but the airport, we maneuvered our way towards Heathrow to board our plane with crestfallen and dejected faces only to look up at a billboard that read ‘Welcome to Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport – makes the world seem smaller’. We smiled at each other; it was like we only just realized we were hardly a few hours away by flight and were absolutely certain we would come back.

So although I may not know the A for Art, the F for Food or the H for History but starting to learn ABC is easy once you get a great teacher; so thank you London, you have been great indeed.

You know you love me,