Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A visit to Melbourne and back!

The muted sunlight that streamed through the windows forced me to open my eyes. The unfamiliar surroundings caught me by surprise and I sat upright, still confused about my whereabouts.  I looked around me, trying to recollect where I was when it hit me that I was in Melbourne. I smiled to myself as I stretched myself out, reveling in the fact that I was finally here, after the long wait. 

 I got out of the bed gingerly and walked into the shower, excited and nervous, all at the same time.  I was preparing a mental list of things I wanted to do while in this city but not reaching a consensus Humming a song to myself; I stepped out of the cute Bed & Breakfast I was staying in, having decided that for once, I will throw caution to air and let the city lead my way. 

I knew that I wanted to start off with a taste of the heritage and history of this country. So it was confirmed that I will start with Melbourne Museum. It wasn’t a wrong decision, as this museum gave me a peek into the flora, fauna and history of Melbourne. Ranging from a display of bugs and insects to skeletons of a variety of animals, this museum had everything covered. And to add to this list, there were displays about the incidents and people who played an important role in making Melbourne the city it is now. There was  an Aboriginal Cultural Centre that was set up to provide information about the local Koorie culture which helped me understand about the purposes of different plants found in the area as well as admire the artworks of Koorie artists. 

Having satisfied my curiosity with regards to Melbourne’s cultural heritage, I decided it was time to satisfy my hunger as well, as my stomach was making its dissatisfaction known.  I stepped into one of the roadside cafes next to the museum. The café offered a series of mouthwatering pastries and pastas to choose from, along with the perfect coffee ever. The walls were covered with artworks from various local artists which not just gave a chic look to the café but also were available for sale as well. While ordering for breakfast, I asked about places to visit and allowed one of the friendlier waiters to guide me to my next destination. A few minutes later, I walked out of the café, stomach filled, and my mind racing ahead of me to the next place I would be visiting, the Lost and Found Market.  

What was a girl’s trip without a little shopping? And if the shopping involved unearthing a treasure trove of everything quirky, crazy and vintage, how could anyone say “Nay” to it? Though not crazy about shopping, the idea of fishing through vintage clothes, jewelry accessories and books intrigued and excited me to no end. The market amazed me to no extent as it looked like a shopper’s paradise to me.  The crazy and eclectic mix of items I found there made me forget the “travel light” promise I had made to myself. As I was rummaging through the wide range of items, I struck up a conversation with one of the shop owners, Alice, and she helped me choose out some nice items for myself.  I walked out of the Lost and Found Market a good two hours later, my hands filled with vintage jewelry, mugs, mantle pieces and clothes and my wallet just a little light. I couldn’t help but smile widely at the bargain I had struck, the only thing worrying me being how to carry all this stuff back home.

Having dropped off my finds back at the B&B and grabbing a quick lunch on the go, I was pondering about an idea my shop owner friend had suggested. Juggling between the Melbourne Museum and City Circle Tram, I decided to leave the museum for another day and prepared to jump on board on the City Circle Tram. I walked to one of the boarding spot and was surprised when I caught sight of it. The red and gold tram reminded me of a mini Hogswarts Express, with its bright red and gold exterior. Though fairly crowded, I managed to grab a seat next to a smart looking guy who seemed to catch onto my enthusiasm, and offered the window seat to me.  Thrilled by the offer, I readily accepted the switch and thanked him.  He introduced himself as Ryan and seemed more than happy to act as my temporary guide and point out the Parliament House, Docklands and Melbourne Aquarium.

While enjoying the sights, I saw a building which looked like a patchwork of multiple colors and looked like a wind had rearranged the building into this haphazard but strangely attractive structure.  When I asked Ryan about the building, he chuckled while informing that it was the Federation Square, a major tourist attraction, which had also been nicknamed as one of the world’s ugliest buildings just after its construction.
 He also pointed out to me the Princess Theatre that has been around ever since 1854, now renovated and being used as a venue to present even international musical productions. Maybe in attempt to impress me, he also mentioned about the ghost sightings that had been experienced in the theatre earlier on. I didn’t disappoint him and had my eyes the size of saucers when he mentioned the sightings.  I managed to step out whenever there was a stop anywhere, to click a few pictures to carry back home the memories. Ryan didn’t mind being the impromptu photographer as well and we had fun striking crazy poses. 

Once the tram trip was over, I stepped out of the tram along with Ryan. I offered to buy both of us dinner as a gesture of thanks but he refused, mentioning that he had promised to meet his girlfriend for dinner. However, he invited me to join him and his girlfriend the next day and offered to take me to St. Kilda’s beach the next day along with them. 

I took a taxi back to my B&B, running through the day’s incidents, recollecting about my new friends and browsing through the pictures I had clicked. I laid my head on the backseat, imagining the salty breeze, foamy water and the sound of waves and sea gulls I would experience all too soon. It was then I sensed a burnt smell permeating around me.  I suddenly opened my eyes and realized that I had been miraculously transported back to my couch back home. The burnt smell appeared to be getting stronger and I remembered that it was the milk I had left to boil before browsing through my emails a while back.
I hurried into the kitchen and switched off the stove; when I came back, there it was, the homepage of Melbourne, Australia,  www.visitmelbourne.com/in and the word document with “‘…it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!” blinking on the monitor, laughing at me, and perhaps, the dream I had conjured up when I had dozed off. 
Written as an entry to be submitted for "...it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!" competition held by Indiblogger.in

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Family That Took Me In

When I read about the contest Expedia and Indiblogger is conducting, I was excited. This was because I am someone who loves to travel and who had written in her scrap book at  the age of fifteen how I wanted to travel all over the world. But then it was the guidelines that got me stumped. I was to share a story about an exciting person I had met on one of my trips. You see, I am not really a people person and definitely not someone who would jump into a conversation with the next friendly stranger I’d see. So then I kept running through all the memories I had collected from the trips I had been to in all these years. I kept racking my brains to try and think up the most exciting encounter I had had.  But then, in the middle of all this racking, what I forgot was about the family I had stayed with when I went to Calcutta recently for my friend’s sister’s wedding. 

This was a trip I had decided to go on alone; it was my attempt to go on a personal adventure. I had planned about all the things I wanted to do, all the places I wanted to go and all those exciting adventures I would have. But the one thing I didn’t foresee was how homesick I would feel and felt the moment I reached Calcutta. My friend was busy with the wedding preparations and I felt a little overwhelmed in a city where I knew neither left turn from right nor the language. 

It was with trepidation I entered my friend’s home and in an instant, it felt like I had gone back home. Of course, the language I couldn’t understand, the culture was definitely different, but the clamoring, laughs and the hullabaloo, definitely similar to what I experienced when my complete family of more than 50 close relatives came together for an occasion. 

I have read somewhere a quote of George Bernard Shaw which goes like this: “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad”. But on this occasion, when a small part inside me definitely wanted to go back to the warm security of my nest, it was this family who adopted me and treated me like one rather than as a guest. I made new friends, learned about rituals different from what we follow back home, and spent the time loitering around sipping tea and reading books, side stepping kids and running around with arms full of gifts, being a part of the bride’s party. I fondly remember how, by the end of my trip, my friend’s family would talk to me in Bengali and then follow it with a smile and a light tap to their forehead with “I forgot you don’t speak the language”. 

I met aunts and uncles who ranged from absolutely conservative to completely modern, joked and laughed with cousins who are friends now, and enjoyed every bit of the attention that was showered on me. 

What I have realized is that it is not the most interesting or the most exciting person who helps create a memory; but it is someone who makes you feel that you belong, people who give you the feeling that you have been let in on the secret joke only they share. This is a trip I reminisce about with my family even now, and it has definitely made me promise myself that Calcutta is a city I will go back to, not for the sights or the food, but for the people and the fond memories they help create in a wanderer's mind.