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‘Forbidden Porcelain’ at the Prinsenhof Museum, Delft

My first experience of Delft was a gloriously sunny Saturday in May, spent walking around the town square; with some serious efforts invested in climbing the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

On my second trip to Delft, I spent the day at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition.

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Entrance of the Prinsenhof Museum

This exhibition centers around the exquisite porcelain that was made specially for Chinese emperors by the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, but which was later discarded and destroyed, as it did not meet the high standards expected of royal wares. I was very fortunate to have the company of the museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Ms. Suzanne Kluver, who shared her in-depth knowledge of the subject.

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The opening panel of the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition

It is the first time that these reassembled porcelain wares, originally made for Chinese emperors, are being seen outside Asia. Several of the artefacts in this exhibition are on loan from the Archaeological Institute, Jingdezhen, China.

In an article for the Jul-Aug’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, I share about my visit to the Prinsenhof Museum, and briefly explore the centuries-old connection between Chinese porcelain and Delftware.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

So if you happen to be in Delft (or in the vicinity), do consider visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain’ exhibition at the Prinsenhof Museum. The exhibition runs until 9th July 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Prinsenhof Museum that could not be included in the print article….

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Bullet holes from the 1584 assassination of William I, preserved in a wall of the Prinsenhof

 

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Sunlight streaming through a window in the basement of the museum

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Loved the look of this window!

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A lamp post adorned with the trademark blue & white delftware designs, on the premises of the museum

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A seat in the Prinsenhof garden embellished with beautiful pieces of delftware

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delighted in Delft!

To say I’m enamoured by Delft, would be an understatement! Since our move to Amsterdam 3 months ago, I’ve made 2 day trips to Delft, and my fascination for the town has grown exponentially with each visit.

The town’s name is said to have its roots in the word delf (meaning canal), which in turn came from the word delven (meaning digging). The name Delft is probably in reference to the digging of the Oude Delft, the canal around which the town developed in the 12th century.

On my first visit to Delft, I had the pleasure of darling hubby’s company, who of course, wanted to do something adventurous. So we resolutely climbed 376 steps in an ancient, spiral staircase, to reach the top of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) tower, for some spectacular views of the town. Of course, there was lots of huffing and puffing involved, along with several short breaks.

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At a height of almost 109m, the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk is the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands

What made it even more interesting was that the staircase was just about wide enough to accommodate one normal sized person. So the experience of squeezing past people of all sizes going in the opposite direction from you, without losing your footing, was an adventure in itself. Definitely not for the claustrophobic or clumsy, I tell you!

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On the way to the top…

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On the way down…

But the view from the top was well worth the effort!

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View of the Delft Town Hall (the erstwhile Stadhuis) & the Markt (market square) from the tower of the Niewe Kerk

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View of Delft town from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk

The ‘Father of the Fatherland’, William of Orange is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk. He was a key leader in the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, enabling the formation of the Dutch Republic. In 1584, he was assassinated in his home, now the location of the Prinsenhof Museum. The bullet holes from the assassination are well preserved in the museum.

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The mausoleum of William of Orange, in the Nieuwe Kerk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The preserved bullet holes in the wall of the Princenhof Museum, where William of Orange was assassinated in 1584

Nieuwe Kerk may seem a bit of a misnomer today given that its original construction began in 1381! But back in the day, there was already a church in town, St. Bartholomew’s Church, now referred to as the Oude Kerk (Old Church). The Oude Kerk’s 75m tower tilts slightly, earning it the nickname ‘Leaning Tower of Delft’. Famous Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer is buried in the Oude Kerk, though we did not manage to spot his gravestone amidst the several Dutch luminaries buried there.

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View of the Oude Kerk from the Nieuwe Kerk tower. The lean of the Oude Kerk tower is not very apparent from this angle.

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A street image of the Oude Kerk, with the visible lean in the tower

Delft’s historical position as one of the main ports of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) has had an undeniable influence on this quaint town. The Chinese blue & white porcelain imported into Delft by the VOC in the 17th century led to the creation of a local adaptation, now famous worldwide in its own right as ‘Delftware’ or ‘Delft blue’. Many stores around the market square, sell Delftware souveniers, in every conceivable shape and form.

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An artisan paints a souvenier plate in one of the Delftwares stores. When the plate is fired in a kiln, the black paint will change to a bright blue.

On my second visit to Delft, I spent a considerable amount of time at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through their permanent collection as well as visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain‘ exhibition, which is on till 9th July. More about that and Delftware in a subsequent blog post.

For now, I leave with you with a few more pictures of this absolutely delightful Dutch town….

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Tulip extravaganza at Keukenhof, South Holland

It is impossible to live in Amsterdam in spring and not hear the name ‘Keukenhof’ tossed around a fair bit. This being my first spring in Amsterdam, I was not going to let my allergies stop me from visiting this floral wonderland.

The literal translation of Keukenhof is ‘kitchen garden’. It is said that in the early part of the 15th century, the Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland, gathered fresh produce for her kitchen from the woods surrounding her castle. Soon enough, the area began to be referred as ‘Keukenhof’.

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The main entrance to Keukenhof

Over the centuries, the area went through a series of transformations and today, Keukenhof serves as a platform for Dutch floriculture suppliers to showcase their best, spring-flowering bulbs. In the current edition of Keukenhof (held from 23rd Mar till 21st May 2017), an estimated 7 million flower bulbs were planted in the 32-hectare park, by nearly 100 suppliers.

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One of the many stunning tulip patches

Visiting Keukenhof is a highly sensory experience. Interestingly shaped flower patches, the vibrantly coloured tulips, cultivars with flowers in every conceivable shape, a medley of floral scents – all  dazzle the senses. The many passerine birds that dart furiously across the shrubs and trees, provide a cheerful background symphony.

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Vibrant colours everywhere! 

Beyond the periphery of Keukenhof, are privately owned tulip fields. These fields are harvested by end-April, so be sure to go early if you’d like to pose amidst long rows of brightly coloured tulips. I went mid-May and sadly, missed seeing the tulip fields in bloom.

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Harvested tulip fields as seen from the viewing platform of the Keukenhof windmill

I have however, seen the tulip fields from a distance, during a train ride from Amsterdam to Delft. A real feast for the eyes, despite the distance and the speed of the train.

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View of the tulip fields in Lisse, from the train

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Another view of  tulip fields from the train

On the subject of tulips, few people know that these flowers, so synonymous with the Netherlands, are not actually native to the country. They were introduced here by botanist Carolus Clusius in 1493, when he served as Director of Leiden University’s Hortus Botanicus, now the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. To cut a long story short, it was those very tulips that birthed the Dutch tulip industry.

The name ‘tulip’ is widely believed to be derived from the Persian word dulband, meaning turban; possibly in reference to the shape of the flower resembling the male headwear that was popular in the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, in those times.

Back to present day! Both Keukenhof and the tulip fields are located in the town of Lisse, an easy day trip from Amsterdam. The connectivity via public transport is excellent. For exact directions, click here.

During the 8 weeks that Keukenhof is open, there are several events and activities – a delightful Flower Parade, flower shows, flower arranging demonstrations, guided tours and the likes. You can read more about that here.

I leave you with a few more pictures from my visit to Keukenhof….

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Windmill at the edge of the gardens

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Chessboard display at Keukenhof

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By the sea at Scheveningen, South Holland

I first heard of Scheveningen thanks to Van Gogh’s 1882 painting ‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ (also known as ‘Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather’). This was one of the two masterpieces stolen from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam in a brazen heist in 2002. The other stolen painting being ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen’, originally painted by Van Gogh in 1884 and then modified in 1885, possibly immediately after his father’s death in March 1885.

Thankfully, both paintings were recovered in 2016 after a lengthy investigation by the Naples police and were put back on display at the Van Gogh Museum on 22nd March 2017. On that day, amidst a sea of tourists and Van Gogh admirers, I caught a glimpse of the two paintings. Photography is not allowed inside the Van Gogh museum, so sadly, I have no pictures of the two paintings.

But I digress. Since the move to Amsterdam, the Hubs was missing the beach and blue waters, which we had gotten so used to in Asia. So we decided to head to the beach we had read so much about – Scheveningen. It was a cold and cloudy day and I was hoping people would stay indoors, but they obviously thought differently. Apparently Scheveningen is a popular destination, even in winter.

A train and tram ride later (about 1.5 hours in total), we were at Scheveningen beach. Wanting to pay our respects to the North Sea, we dipped our feet in the water, knowing fully well that the water would be freezing! Suffice to say, we were cold for a really long time after!

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Feet in the freezing water – definitely a first! 

We wanted to get to a quieter part of the beach, so we walked past the pier to the northern end and stopped at the furthermost restaurant on that stretch, Het Puntje, meaning ‘the tip’ in obvious reference to its location.

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View of the pier at Scheveningen, from the northern end of the beach

Rarely do I recommend restaurants (I find most of them pretentious and impersonal) but stepping into the Het Puntje felt like visiting an old friend. A cozy fireplace, rustic wood and rattan furniture, quirky accents – it had all the elements of a charming country home. The friendly owner (and his dog!) kept checking on us throughout our meal and we chatted with him about our lives, the restaurant, the WWII bunkers nearby and so many other things. The food was absolutely fantastic too! Well worth the long walk on a cold beach. By the time, we done with our meal, the sun was out.

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Sunny view of Scheveningen pier from Het Puntje

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two of the many WWII bunkers built by the Germans as part of the Atlantic Wall

Wanting to grab some sunshine while we had the chance, we climbed the steps next to Het Puntje, leading into the Meijendel.

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Entry to the Meijendel Nature Reserve from Scheveningen beach

Meijendel is the largest interconnected dune area in South Holland and stretches between Scheveningen, Den Haag (The Hague) and Wassenaar. And while on the subject on South Holland, please allow me to clarify that ‘Holland’ and ‘Netherlands’ are not synonymous. Holland is the collective term for only two of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands, the two provinces being North and South Holland. The reason behind why the two terms are used interchangeably goes back in time to the Dutch Golden Age. But once again, I digress.

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Dunes of the Meijendel Nature Reserve from a distance

We entered the Meijendel and took a leisurely stroll along its periphery. Heard several bird songs but no luck with reindeer though.

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The one black sheep in a large herd grazing in the Meijendel

Post lunch was not the best time to go hiking, so we made a mental note to return to the dunes, and walked back to the pier. Meijendel ranks as one of the top-10 bird rich areas in the Netherlands, so a second visit is a definitely on the cards for me.

Schevenigen is an easy day-trip from Amsterdam. Take the train to Den Haag and from right outside the Den Haag train station, board Tram 9 (direction Scheveningen Northern beach). Disembark at the Kurhaus, an ornate historical building originally built in 1884-85, that now functions as a hotel. The pier is only a couple of minutes away.

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The Kurhaus from the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Under the pier at Scheveningen

As we walked along Scheveningen beach, it was a joy to watch the tall grass sway in the wind, the oystercatchers pecking in the sand, the antics of the pet dogs and their owners. And not to forget the mysterious-looking WWII bunkers in the dunes, which I’m told are now closed to the public.

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A doggy enjoying some sun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Oystercatcher digs in the sand for its meal

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An European Herring Gull basks in the sun at Scheveningen promenade

All in all, a lovely afternoon at Scheveningen beach! Highly recommend a visit, if you happen to be in the vicinity.

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Birdwatching in Amsterdam

Following my birdwatching experiences in Singapore, India, Seychelles and Sulawesi (Indonesia); I’m delighted to add Amsterdam to the list. In the 6 weeks that we’ve lived in the Dam, I’ve been able to observe and photograph a good number of birds. Staying in the vicinity of Vondelpark has its advantages.

I know very little about European birds, so this is a great opportunity for me to educate myself on the subject. And make some great additions to my ‘Life List’ too. Here goes….

In our garden / neighbourhood

Common Chaffinch

A female Common Chaffinch enjoys the onset of Spring

Eurasian Blackbird

This is the legendary Eurasian Blackbird, popularised in the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of six pence’

Common Wood Pigeon

The Common Wood Pigeon is a large bird in the pigeon/dove family

Tufted Duck

A male Tufted Duck photographed in a neighbourhood canal

Eurasian Coot

The white frontal shield of the Eurasian Coot gave rise to the phrase ‘as bald as a coot’

In Vondelpark

(photographed over multiple visits to the park, including a Amsterdam Bird Walk led by Arjan Dwarshuis, the record holder for the Global Big Year 2016)

European Robin

The adorable European Robin is called ‘roodborstje’ in Dutch, in reference to its red chest

Long-tailed Tit

The tail of the Long-tailed Tit (at 7-9cm) is much longer than its tiny body (5-6cm)

Eurasian Blue Tit

The Eurasian Blue Tit is a delightful little bird with a blue crown

Great Tit

At 13-14cm, the Great Tit is a larger in size that other species in the tit family

Eurasian Nuthatch

This is the Eurasian Nuthatch. The name ‘nuthatch’ comes from its tendency to hack at nuts it has stored  away in crevices

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The male of the Great Spotted Woodpecker exhibits red markings on the head/neck

Carrion Crow

A Carrion Crow walks around looking for food

Eurasian Magpie

The Eurasian Magpie, a species in the crow family, is a highly intelligent bird

Egyptian Goose

A family of Egyptian Geese. This  species is native to Central & South Africa but there is a self sustaining population in the Netherlands

Common Moorhen

The Common Moorhen is part of the rail family

Grey Heron

A Grey Heron watches the water for its prey

Male Mallard

The blue speculum feathers of a male Mallard visible as it preens itself

Female Mallard

A female Mallard enjoys the water

Indian Rose-ringed Parakeet

A sleeping Indian Rose-ringed Parakeet. This tropical bird has made Vondelpark its home

In Zaanse Schans

(a charming Dutch town on the outskirts of Amsterdam)

Northern Lapwing

The Northern Lapwing is listed by IUCN as ‘Near Threatened’, due to habitat loss and the fact that it’s eggs were once considered a delicacy

Black-tailed Godwit

Also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN, the Black-tailed Godwit was once highly prized as food

Eurasian Oystercatcher

The national bird of the Faroe Islands, the Eurasian Oystercatcher is also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN

Caspian Gull

A Caspian Gull rests in the grassland

Greylag Goose

The Greylag Goose was revered in ancient European cultures

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There are many more species that I’ve spotted or heard. Hopefully, I’ll be able to photograph them in the days to come. So do check back for more pictures of birds, seen in and around Amsterdam.

Tot ziens! 😀

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Our first month in Amsterdam

Can’t believe an entire month has gone by since the Hubs and I arrived in Amsterdam! Of course, it has all been about moving into our apartment, setting up things, formalities and other mundane details that needed to be taken care of, before we can actually start enjoying the city. But despite the fact that it has turned out to be such a busy month, we did have some interesting times.

For starters, we’ve had to learn the life-saving skill of dodging cyclists. Doesn’t help that I keep forgetting about the cycling lane! Cyclists have the right of way here and they RULE the road (sometimes even the pavement!). Several misadventures on this front but I’m not complaining. I love how great cycling is for the environment!

Here are some of our memorable ‘firsts’ in Amsterdam……

The first Dutch snack we tried

I like to call them ‘little balls of heaven’ but they are known here as bitterballen (plural). Always served with a side of mustard.

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These usually get gobbled up before I can even think of taking a picture! 🙂

This savoury bar snack has a crispy fried outer coating that perfectly complements the mushy beef filling inside. I’m told that back in the day Dutch housewives created this snack as a way to use up leftover meat. Pure genius!

The filling inside is a mixture of puréed beef, butter, flour, beef stock, herbs and seasonings, but it’s the subtle hint of nutmeg that really takes this snack over the top. And be extra careful when you bite into a bitterbal coz the filling tends to be piping hot. Lesson learnt the hard way 😦

Even for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy meat, this crispy delight is hard to resist. As the Dutch say, ‘lekker’ (yummy)!

First time eating out of a hole in the wall

Well, not really a ‘hole’, more like a vending box.

We had heard so much about the legendary ‘Wall of Fried Food’ before we even got to Amsterdam, so we were looking forward to finding one. This is basically a vending machine but for hot snacks like krokets (croquettes), frinkandel (a deep fried sausage), kaassoufflé (a deep fried hot pocket with a cheese filling)….. you get the drift. Burgers too.

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Spoilt for choice!

FEBO and Smullers are the two brands that offer this service. So if you’re feeling peckish anywhere in the city, just find the outlet nearest to you, drop your coins in the slot and grab your hot snack! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

First bird I photographed in Amsterdam

Having lived in Asia for most of my life (India & Singapore), I know nothing about European birds. So every new bird species I see and photograph here is exciting. I’ve photographed several birds over the past few weeks (helps to be living in the vicinity of Vondelpark) but the first bird I photographed here, the Eurasian Magpie, will always be special. For my post on birdwatching in Amsterdam, click here.

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The highly intelligent Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)

The Dutch take birdwatching very seriously and the record holder for the Global Big Year 2016, Arjan Dwarshuis, is from Amsterdam. Arjan traveled to 40 different countries and observed a staggering 6,850 bird species over a span of 366 days.

First day trip out of Amsterdam

This past weekend, our itchy feet led us to make an impromptu day trip out of Amsterdam. A short train ride and we were transported back in time to the Dutch town of Zaanse Schans, which showcases Dutch life in the mid-19th century. We went for the windmills but were pleasantly surprised to observe a variety of birds in the grasslands.

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Windmills everywhere you look!

Coming soon an entire blog post dedicated to this charming town.

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There have been so many other wonderful experiences – the onset of Spring, exploring my neighbourhood, going for walks at Vondelpark, receiving my museumkaart, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum with my museumkaart, seeing the 2 stolen Van Gogh paintings back on display at the Van Gogh Museum……I’ve lost count.

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A serene morning at Vondelpark

As our seemingly unending list of ‘Things to Do’ gets a bit shorter by the day, we can’t wait to explore Amsterdam, Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Stay tuned!

For now, tot straks! (See you later!)

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Welcoming the ‘Year of the Monkey’ in Mumbai

‘Chinese’ cuisine has been extremely popular in India over the past few decades. Known as ‘Indian-Chinese’ in the rest of the world, this fusion cuisine originated in the eastern part of India (around Calcutta), thanks to the Chinese that settled in that region. Popularized across the country by a few Chinese-origin, Indian restauranteurs, this delectable cuisine combines the staples of Chinese cooking (like noodles, sauces, cooking techniques etc) with Indian spices and seasonings.

But despite being born and raised in Bombay (now Mumbai), until recently, I knew very little about the Chinese who came to British India and made it their home. So I decided to dig a little into this aspect of Indian history.

The earliest Chinese came to Calcutta, the capital of British India, in the late 18th century. The port city of Calcutta was vital in British – China trade. Chinese tea and silk was shipped to Britain via Calcutta. Trade between British India and China multiplied when the British began to export opium from Calcutta to Canton. This led to several Cantonese moving to Calcutta on the ships that sailed between the two cities.

By the 1850s, several Chinese had settled in Bombay, especially in the leafy suburb of Mazagaon, close to the Bombay docks. It is said that till the early 1960s, there was a distinct ‘Chinatown’ in that vicinity. Today, there are about 400 Chinese-origin families living in various parts of Mumbai and they congregate annually at Mumbai’s only Chinese temple – the Kwan Tai Shek temple – to usher in the Lunar New Year.

And thus began my search for Mumbai’s only Chinese temple. The timing couldn’t have been any better. It was the first day of the Lunar New Year (9th February 2016).

After a long wait for a taxi outside Bombay Central train station, I found a cabbie willing to scour the streets of Mazagaon to find the temple. Despite being a local taxi, the cabbie had never heard of a Chinese temple in the neighborhood. We made a few stops for enquiries and were directed by a group of friendly strangers to 12 Nawab Tank Road, where the temple is located.

As soon as we entered the quiet lane, a pair of gold rimmed, bright red, half-doors caught my eye. That had to be the temple! My cabbie was really excited at having located the temple (I’m glad I could brighten up his day!) I thanked him for his enthusiastic company and alighted. The temple, along with the 3-storey, wooden-frame building in which it is located, are both nearly 100 years old.

IMG_0378On the ground floor of the building is a small shrine dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. An air of reverence prevails with joss sticks, candles, fruit and flower offerings made to the deity. IMG_0348The main shrine, on the top-most floor of the building, was set up in 1919 by a group of Cantonese migrants who worked at the nearby docks for the East India Company.

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Dedicated to General Kwan Tai Kon, this mighty warrior is venerated for being a paragon of justice and a great guide. The room is resplendent in red with gold accents and is decorated with paper lanterns and elaborately embroidered silks.

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As I entered the shrine, an elderly lady (of Chinese origin) had just finished paying her respects. I enquired about the New Year celebrations and she replied (in chaste Hindi!) that nearly 300 people had gathered the night before to usher in the Year of the Monkey and watch the dragon dance.

Well, I had missed all the action but what better way to start the Year of the Monkey than with a visit to Mumbai’s only Chinese temple.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah! (Happy New Year! Be prosperous!) 🍊 🍊

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Pilgrimage in the Pyrenees

Paulo Coelho – one of the most prolific writers in the world (and one of my absolute favourites), spends half his time in the south of France only to be close to one place – the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

July 2011. We were already in Toulouse. Lourdes was just a couple of hours away. We decided to pay a visit. An idyllic town, Lourdes is nestled at the foothill of the Pyrenees.

It is believed that in 1858, a poor peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary, in a cave by the Gave de Pau river that flows through Lourdes. This incident repeated itself on 18 different occasions and soon, people from nearby villages began to flock to the town with their prayers and petitions.

These days, over 5 million pilgrims of every religion and nationality, come to Lourdes every year. To meet the ever-increasing flow of people, this little town has nearly 300 hotels – the second highest density of hotels in France, second only to Paris.

We set out in the early hours of morning and the drive past rural pastures and green open spaces, was very refreshing. As we approached Lourdes, the majestic Pyrenees began to loom on the horizon.

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Approaching Lourdes, at the foothill of the scenic Pyrenees

We parked at a distance from the shrine and walked there.

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The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

It was deeply moving to watch the old and the sick make their way to the Sanctuary with their chaperones. With their unwavering faith, they had come from far away lands, in the hope of a miracle, a panacea for their pain, in the waters of Lourdes.

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The sick and old in their wheelchairs headed to the Sanctuary

We walked around the Sanctuary that includes 3 basilicas, 2 churches, 2 chapels and several other places of worship. Here are a few pictures from our time there:

A view of Rosary Square and the town, from the Upper Basilica. Lourdes Fort is on the horizon.

A view of Rosary Square and the town, from the Upper Basilica. The medieval Lourdes Fort is in the background.

The Virgin Mother handing a Rosary to St. Dominic, depicted in marble at the entrance of the Rosary Basilica

The Virgin Mary handing a rosary to St. Dominic, depicted in marble above the entrance to the Rosary Basilica

Inside view of the dome of the Rosary Basilica, built in Byzantine style

The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary depicted in mosaic on the walls of the Rosary Basilica

The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary are depicted in mosaic on the walls of the Rosary Basilica (circa 1900)

Masabielle - the grotto where St. Bernadette saw a vision of the Virgin Mary

Masabielle – the grotto where St. Bernadette saw visions of the Virgin Mary. The water that springs from this grotto is believed to have miraculous, healing properties.

The Upper Basilica seems to emerge from the Masabielle rock

The Upper Basilica seems to emerge from the Masabielle rock

The faithful in prayer, outside the grotto

The faithful in prayer outside the grotto. The Gave de Pau flows alongside.

We spent the day visiting the various places of worship in the Sanctuary and paying our respects. Soon it was time to head back to Toulouse.

I was told, Paulo Coelho, lives in a nearby town, about 10-15 miles from Lourdes. Maybe a detour was in order. That would have been a pilgrimage of another kind 🙂

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Amsterdammed!

What better time to write about Amsterdam than right now. The tourist-favorite ‘I Amsterdam’ sign on the Museumplein celebrated its 10th birthday earlier this week.

Famous signage on the Museumplein

The famous signage on the Museumplein

 

Aaah Amsterdam! The city of all things trippy 😉 

We spent a weekend there en route to France in March 2008. The main reason for the detour to Amsterdam – the iconic Van Gogh Museum.

The Van Gogh Museum at the Museumplein

The Van Gogh Museum at the Museumplein

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands. It is only fitting that the largest collection of his work is housed at this museum in Amsterdam. The exhibit includes 200 paintings and 40 drawings by Van Gogh and about 700 letters, mostly to his younger brother Theo, with whom he shared a close relationship.

Van Gogh illnesses – both physical and mental – added great emotion and depth to his work, making him one of the greatest painters of all time. His use of vibrant colours, thick layers of paint and distinctive brush strokes also made him one of the most recognizable artists in the world. His tragic death at the young age of 37 added immense allure to his work.

We spent a good part of the day immersed in Van Gogh’s dramatic world. Photography is not allowed inside the museum and hence, I have no pictures of the masterpieces. But the museum shop had an amazing array of merchandise with prints of Van Gogh’s paintings on them. With a bagful of Van Gogh souvenirs, we set out to explore the rest of Amsterdam.

There was so much else to see and do in a span of 24hrs – the concentric canals, the multitude of bridges, the forward-leaning narrow houses, the tram, the cycling lanes, the Heineken Museum, the Red Light district…….

Amsterdam holds the distinction of being the most bicycle-friendly, capital city in the world. But did you know that every year, nearly 30,000 bikes are tossed into the canal by drunks and vandals? I’d have had a huge padlock on mine, for sure!

A parked ferry on one of Amsterdam's canals, the Damrak

A parked ferry on one of Amsterdam’s canals, the Damrak

The oldest operational erotic art museum in the world - The Venus Temple on the Damrak

The oldest operational erotic art museum in the world – The Venus Temple on the Damrak

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam on Dam Square

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam on Dam Square

Wanting to make the most of the little time we had left in Amsterdam, we spent Sunday walking around Dam Square. Here a few glimpses from our day:

A cycling lane around Dam Square

A cycling lane around Dam Square

A tram passing through Dam Square. The Royal Palace is in the background.

A tram passing through Dam Square. The Royal Palace is in the background.

The rustic horse carriages that ply around Dam Square

The rustic horse carriages that ply around Dam Square

Amsterdam is an exciting blend of the old and the new! A weekend was woefully inadequate to experience this buzzy city. That evening, we left the ‘Venice of the North’ promising to be back for more.

Tot ziens, Amsterdam!  

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Time travelling in London

London has long been an intriguing melting pot of cultures and nationalities, a place where edifices from its glorious past co-exist with modern-day goliaths like the Shard (the tallest building in Europe) and the Gherkin (30 St. Mary Axe.)

The Tower of London with the Gherkin in the backdrop

The Tower of London with the Gherkin in the background

February 2013. London was in the middle of long winter. But that wasn’t going to stop me from exploring the Swinging City.

I grew up listening to the powerful balled Baker Street by Scottish singer-writer Gerry Rafferty and that’s exactly where I started. My first stop on Baker Street – the iconic Sherlock Holmes Museum. This is the first museum in the world to be dedicated to a fictional character.

The charming bobby outside the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Notice the deerstalker cap on his right.

Run by the non-profit Sherlock Holmes Society of England, it is a recreation of the life of the celebrated detective. The museum’s doorway is even marked as 221B, though it actually lies between 237 and 241. As soon as I set foot inside, I was transported to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian world of intrigue and mystery, of deerstalker caps and smoking pipes – a magical realm I quickly got lost in.

An antiquated rotary phone at the Sherlock Holmes Museum

An antiquated rotary phone at the Sherlock Holmes Museum

Sadly, I was running out of time. I only had the weekend in London and there was so much to see and do. I dragged myself out of the Sherlock Homes Museum and walked over to Madame Tussauds, located a short distance away on Marylebone Road.

Madame Tussaud (born in 1760 as Marie Grosholtz in Strasbourg, France) learnt wax modelling at a young age and created her first wax figure, that of French philosopher Voltaire, in 1777. During the French Revolution, she was forced to make masks of guillotined nobility. In 1802, she came to London and after nearly 35 years of traveling across Britain with her wax exhibit, she set up base at the Baker Street Bazaar (on the west side of Baker Street). She died in 1850 and her grandson moved the collection to its present location on Marylebone Road in 1884. Talk of travelling back in time!

Madame Tussauds at Marylebone Road

Madame Tussauds at Marylebone Road

After some quick hobnobbing with celebrity wax figurines, I headed back to Baker Street for a long evening of shopping. Baker Street is dotted with stores selling music memorabilia and I spent hours browsing at It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll.

London’s music scene, both past and present, is unparalled. It is the home of some of the most revered acts in music history – Queen, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Coldplay, Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. It was also the base of the legendary band from Liverpool – The Beatles.

The Beatles store at 231/233 Baker Street

The Beatles store at 231/233 Baker Street

That evening, I left Baker Street with a ton of band merchandise, pictures autographed by music greats and a much lighter wallet 😉

Sunday morning, I took the hop on, hop off bus and paid my respects to the British monarchy at Buckingham Palace. The weather was nippy but I enjoyed watching London’s many landmarks whiz by from the comfort of a sheltered bus. Soon, it was time to fly back home.

So long London! Till we meet again!

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