There’s always more to say when I’m travelling but since working abroad is also a part of travelling (technically) I have sworn to document that as well.
The weekend started with a bang – the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday night and the added bonus of seeing it with other humans! Joy! Drinks were brought in early on Friday evening and most of the office was empty anyway. Some of us were sitting over beers staring at the yachts parked in the wharf outside, when my team assistant asked me where I was watching the opening ceremony. My answer horrified her (home, on my laptop) and she swiftly issued me an invite to her friend’s party. I accepted and a surprisingly peaceful Jubilee line ride later, found myself at Pimlico. Our host was very kind and fed me some pasta right away. Being Hungarian, there was also stuffed cabbage and sour cream but that was off my menu since it was stuffed with meat. It looked good in any case – cabbage always does to me. Most people at the party were very friendly, all were Hungarian and I didn’t feel out of place at all. I even met an old gentleman who was set to retire in September. I asked him if he looked forward to it and if he had any plans. I qualified my questions with “since I am relatively new in my career, I just want to know if there is light at the end of the tunnel”. He was very positive about the whole thing and his only fear was being lethargic and not doing enough. He had a lottery ticket too and was hoping to win (of course). My feelings towards the ceremony itself varied from mild embarrassment to fascination. In any case, some of us including me left after the Hungarian and Indian teams walked by. Luckily both countries are alphabetically close to each other.
The next day of course was the inevitable late start. Determined to improve my life, I went to the bike store nearby to try on some bikes. Having viewed some at a store near the office on Friday and having followed up with some more research I had a better idea of what I wanted. I always wanted something pretty and those retro bikes with their baskets and old-school look make my heart go boom-ticky-boom. They were very sweet at the store, making some technical adjustments to refit the bike to my height. I liked a Firefox Classic, a black hybrid retro with a large wicker basket. I was asked to take it out for a test. I hesitated and asked the gentleman to accompany me. Which he did on his bike, teaching me how to change gears and brake and handle the bike around corners. He asked me how the bike felt and I told him it felt like glory. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been biking all these years. The wind on my face, the sensation of being close to flight. Back at the store, I also asked to try another bike – the Dawes Duchess. And boy did it feel significantly better. Lighter, lower and with the handles a little more forward than the other. I took this out on on my own and even rode along the river path. The only problem being this wasn’t the colour I wanted. They could order it for me. I realised that the store near my office was offering it at a discount which would cover the cost of the lock and partly the helmet too. I told them I needed to think over it and left, feeling extremely guilty.
I got back home for a bit of laundry. One of my colleagues was attending an Olympic event close by and we met up. I showed him around being the regional “expert” and he left impressed with the river and the sail boats, cruise ships and clippers drifting along. Also the brilliant weather and spectacular sunset – anyone would love this place.
I made my way back home thinking how much nicer it would be to bike instead of walk, critically evaluating every passing bike. The cabbage fest continued back home – I tossed some raw cabbage from the previous day in with mustard seeds, olive oil and chilies. Vinit, it’s so simple to make! You have to like it! Entertainment for the night – a few episodes of Mrs.Brown’s Boys.
Another late start to the day. A quick breakfast of tea, toast and honey. Some more laundry (no it never ends!). A cleaning experiment – I mixed sodium bicarbonate with white vinegar and applied it on the grout-inflicted areas in the bathroom. Still waiting to see how this will turn out.
A trip down to the bike store near work. Oh and a falafel sandwich partly shared with a friendly (or just hungry?) pigeon. I knew what I wanted and asked them for it. When the shop attendant was getting my retro bike out for a test ride, one of the other customers – a mother who was buying a racing bike for her little son – mumbled to her partner “looks like Mary Poppins’ bike”. Oh what do you know about beauty.
I strapped on my helmet, wore a neon jacket, paid 1 penny with my credit card and handed in my driver’s license and card to them. I headed out with the bike and it started to pour. I cycled on the pavement, at one point even scaring some pedestrians (hehe) when I was changing gears going “uphill”. I did a turn in the rain and got back to the shop. I must have been out all of 2 minutes and I think they were surprised to see me back so quick. I felt guilt pangs again while placing the order, the other shop was so much friendlier but this shop’s price was so much lower. My cream+raspberry coloured bike will be in on Tuesday. Most people whom I’d shown the bike online to had felt it looked “too girly”. But I think I like it. I hope its looks don’t disappoint me. I’m secretly in love with the Pashley Britannia but that’s really pushing my budget.
On my way back I bought some groceries and a weekend newspaper (bit late for that). Got home, more laundry. Some mild pottering about with the plants. A balcony “brush down” with a stiff broom – I enjoyed that. Caught the last rays of the sun on my balcony.
Made beans for din din. I like to leave the tomatoes fairly fat and juicy and not induce them to “leave water” or too “liquidy”. I also like putting in pav bhaji masala and always some extra salt. That and haldi is all the seasoning you need. If you really want to take it over the top you just need to squeeze a lime and add some coriander. I also feel there is some merit in allowing nearly the same cooking time to the potatoes and beans. That way the potatoes which take less time to cook than the beans become soft and crumbly while the beans are just mildly soft. Overcooking the beans makes them too soft and their flavour changes to one I don’t like as much. A nice variation for a subtle change of taste is to use coarse sea salt instead of fine salt. I had my beans with toasted nutty wheat bread and a sweet salad with a vinaigrette of olive oil + white vinegar + very little salt + mixed herbs. A nice end to a relaxed weekend. I plan to continue reading the paper now for some time. And then “The Balkans” by Mark Mazower closer to bed time.
Vinit – how can you not love cabbage!? This evening when you told me that you had cabbage for dinner but weren’t going to eat it, I started missing it so much. I went to waitrose and got home and made myself an awesome meal. *smacks lips* The only thing missing obviously is mom’s tur daal with rai vagar. Mom, you’re reading this right? 😉
In other news, I realized that I am cheap with the small stuff and waste $$$$s on the big stuff. I’m a small time cheapo haha.
In more other news Vinit I want you to know I was watching Big Bang just before I started writing this. I pulled the lappie to me and the hard disk went swinging. Just want you to know that.
Feeling jubilant and triumphant I went into work today. People asked me about my trip and everything felt alright – the normal back to work day, the same catch-up with all the stuff missed during travel. And then I bumped into one of those people at the coffee machine, the sort you normally just talk to at the coffee machine. You know stray stuff from their lives and they know some little insignificant details from yours. You don’t “know” them, they don’t “know” you. You just exchange niceties. You’re not supposed to disturb the equilibrium by revealing your personal life. The conversation always has to be light so that you can get out the moment your cup is filled. So when I was asked how my weekend was I should have just kept it light, instead I smiled coolly and spoke about my trip to Budapest. Oh Budapest. He was there last week. For a bachelor’s party. With him mates, he was, yes. He asked me what I did, where I hung out. So I told him about my weekend of chilling out. And then he asks, so who did you go with. To which my answer obviously was, no one, I was alone. Oh. Okay. Then I started telling him about how I went down to one of those restaurants by the river and had a lovely meal there. To which he spluttered, no longer able to control himself, alone?! Yes, of course, alone. And then a tad defensively, what’s wrong with that. I could see the pity in his eyes. Asshole. The sort who can never travel for travel’s sake. I felt deflated then. That’s what you get when you exceed the mug-fill time limit.
Always feels like a minor victory to reach back home after these mad trips. That nice, chalky smell. The familiar everything. No more having to dash off outside for every meal, or count in strange currency and convert, not having to psycho-analyse waiters, or take pictures of everything because you don’t see it everyday and therefore must document. No having to rummage in suitcase or wake up and get dressed before you have your first shot of caffeine. Not having to use those silly little bath gels and bottles of “shampooing conditioner/ conditioning shampoo”. But also no new sense of discovery, no surprises around every corner, no exotic foreign language, no coffee house from the early 1800s. Or illuminated bridges and castles upon hill tops. No trams. A fine balance – the reasons for travelling and the reasons for feeling happy to be back home.
Maybe this is obvious to many others but it only today became apparent to me, as is often the case with obvious matters. Restaurants around universities often are cheap, service quick and the variety is usually great. Having to bum around outside the entire day since my flight is only this evening and I had to check out at midday, I sat in an open square near the university looking at pigeons and people, and people feeding pigeons, and pigeons who looked at people hoping to be fed. More than that though I read my book. After a bit the pigeons retreated and I felt the need for a change in scene. I went to the other side of the square to a little falafel place that had a terrace. As I took a seat, the waiter probably a student gave a large bowl of water to a grateful blue-eyed dog who slurped it thirstily. I knew I would tip him. I had a falafel sandwich and lemon juice, very cheap. On the square, a couple made out with the groping increasing much to the distress of the french couple at the table next to me. I was mildly amused. My cheap lunch has allowed me to make a cafe and coffee stop without financial guilt at Central Cafe. It’s one of those beautiful grand looking cafes that stands out in your memory when you think back about a trip.