The harmonious chaos of Amsterdam’s traffic

Compared to India, where cars, buses, bikers, autorikshaws and stray cows jostle for the same limited space, the traffic in central Amsterdam doesn’t feel chaotic. While riding a cab last week, my perspective shifted a little. The cars share the same road with trams. The cyclists and the pedestrians occasionally spill over into the same shared space from their designated lanes. So the traffic here is chaotic too but a harmonious kind of chaotic. That said, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most densely populated cities, but it’s population density is still a third of Delhi. Plus, respect for traffic rules and others’ personal space keeps traffic flowing smoothly.

p.s. I am quite enjoying playing with Instagram’s new Hyperlapse app. Considering how shaky the cab was and how hard it is to hold a phone-camera steady for six minutes at a stretch, I am quite impressed that it pulled out a somewhat usable footage out of the ride. While by default it speeds up the video 6x, it also allows you to save a 1x version which sounds like a great way to get image-stabalised version straight from your phone’s camera.

p.p.s. Here is another, much shorter segment from the same ride:

p.p.p.s. Found myself relating a little to Apple’s misunderstood TV spot – at least one of the persons sharing the ride thought I was taking selifes.

On a boat in Amsterdam

A boat ride through the canals in Amsterdam should be on the itinerary of every visitor. You could rent a pedal-boat or take a tour in a covered tourist boat, but an open motorboat is highly recommended. On the streets by the canals, life marches on at its usual pace. From a boat in the canal, it seems to slow down. The views seem more panoramic, the bikes locked to the railings of the bridges overhead more picturesque. It’s as if the city is letting you in on its grand scheme – one that isn’t revealed to cyclists or pedestrians.

Eiffel Tower collage

Last weekend was the first time we were visiting Paris in winter. Since winters in this part of Europe have been relatively mild, we could walk around comfortably till late. Encouraged by fewer than usual tourists everywhere we went, we decided to give climbing the Eiffel Tower another shot. On our past visits to Paris we had been deterred by long queues at the ticket counter. This time there was no queue. The top of the tower was shrouded in clouds and looked quite surreal. It was as if the top half was never finished. When I craned my neck from the second floor viewing deck to look up at the tower, I was reminded of the postcards you find in the souvenir shops in Paris that show the tower in various stages of its construction. They were also an inspiration for this collage:

Engelberg, Switzerland (Aug 2012)

When your upbringing includes a steady dose of Bollywood, especially the Yash Raj films kind, you associate Switzerland not with cheese and chocolate but with snow covered mountains, rolling hills, verdant valleys and pristine lakes. The dark air-conditioned movie theatre and that imagery on the big screen help you escape the hot, dusty reality of life in a big city in India. Living in Europe means that the imagery doesn’t hold as much sway as it one did, but that doesn’t mean that either the wife or me were going to pass an opportunity to vacation in Switzerland.

We realised, merely two days into our trip, that August isn’t the best time to visit Switzerland. The days were hot. Temperatures routinely crossed 30ºC, which the hotel rooms with their propensity to hold on to warmth made utterly unbearable. With our unlimited access Swiss Rail Pass (wisest purchase ever) we travelled an awful lot in the wonderful, air-conditioned Swiss trains – mostly to escape the heat than to get anywhere particular. The snow-capped mountains in the distance, mocked more than they reassured.

Given this backdrop, we were naturally excited to visit Mt. Titlis in Engelberg. The early morning train ride from Lucerne to Engelberg was quite picturesque. A short bus ride from the Engelberg station got us to the Titlis cable car.

After doing the usual touristy things near the summit of Mt. Titlis – like riding in an open ski lift, tobogganing down the snow, avoiding being clicked with a life-sized cutout of Kajol and Sharukh Khan – we headed back down. Instead of going all the way to the base station in the cable car, we decided to cover the rest of the way on foot. We knew the route was going to be very scenic and since a friend of the wife had done it recently with her husband and their 3 year-old in tow, we figured it couldn’t be all that hard. Sure, I was nursing a wound in my knee from a recent fall from the bicycle, and the wife had been told to rest her left foot but we weren’t going to let such trivial matters come between Mother Nature and us.

If the Gods in Roman mythology were real, at this juncture in our journey you would see Fortuna pointing at us from a window in her abode in heaven and cackle with laughter at our naiveté.

For a long time the breathtaking views of the mountains shrouded in low clouds kept us going. The green valleys echoed with the chiming of the cowbells.

We probably were so busy soaking it all in that we took a wrong turn or two and after two hours of walking began to wonder if we were on the right track at all. We came across road signs every now and then, but instead of mentioning distance to Engelberg, they would mention the minutes it would take to get there. After following a couple of those signs, it became very evident to us that the times were not only loosely indicative, but also meant for people much fitter than us. Several times it occurred to us to turn back but we kept pressing on. The skies were overcast and we were beginning to get worried about being caught in the rain. The wife, being the more paranoid of us set a brisk pace and I limped meters behind her not wanting to miss any opportunity to take pictures.

We ran into people who were clearly more adept at going downhill on rocky paths than us. They’d come bolting down, and lose us behind before we’d say hello. After another hour or so we reached a small restaurant where we caught our breath and treated ourselves to ice-cream. There was a well-paved winding road outside the restaurant that seemed to be leading directly to the Engelberg station so we started walking along it. Several people whooshed passed us on their trotti bikes (basically a Razor scooter with bicycle wheels) making us miss our bicycles sorely. Overhead, in the distance, we could see the cable cars gliding down effortlessly, making us question our choice to walk.

The road eventually led us onto another very ragged, rocky, downhill path. This time we came across many small groups of tourists attempting the same little trek, which was comforting. We were quite relieved to finally reach the cable car station where the bus had dropped us in the morning.

Despite this little adventure, I wish we had stayed somewhere in Engelberg and explored the area a bit more. I hope, one day this post will guide the travel plans of future us.