Trip to the western edge of eastern Europe: Chapter 6 – Budapest

Our bus trip to Budapest was memorable for several reasons – one, it was easily the most luxurious bus rides we have ever taken – with large seats, in bus entertainment, free tea and coffee, magazines etc. and two, because we got really really late in reaching Budapest.

Thankfully, we discovered as soon as we reached, that our hostel in Budapest was extremely well located. Just a short walk from the metro station and more importantly, a short walk from practically all the major touristy places like the St Stephan’s Basilica, the Spanish Synagogue, the CEU, Academy of Science, and the Chain bridge which took you across to the other side of the Danube to Buda.

Pest is the cheaper and seedier part of the city – but it certainly has more character than Buda which is full of rich people. And we lived in the centre of Pest – right in the pub district. Totally lucked out on acco!

The first night was spent in trying to find places to change currency and then finding some food. After ordering a large portion of red meat for dinner was when Enthu broke the news to me that he does not really have meat – and I had to finish it on my own. One unnecessarily heavy meal later – we headed back to our hostel and went to sleep. The next morning, we got up and leisurely lazed about for a while – and did something we were looking forward to for the last few days – washing our clothes. Getting currency was a nightmare and we soon discovered that no-one in Budapest speaks English. Several frustrating interactions later, we finally put together enough coins to get our laundry done.

Once we were done with laundry we got down to trying to figure out the rest of our trip in Budapest. We started by making friends with the receptionist who was super happy that finally people were asking her stuff other than “Where can I buy cheap booze?” and helped us a lot in finding cool things to do, nice restaurants, live music and other attractions.  We also met an American group who had just come from Croatia – these guys gave us a lot of gyaan about Croatia which helped us quite a bit in our time there.

The first day, we had lunch at a local eatery which was football themed. Images of the Hungarian football team adorned the wall – but we noticed that they were all pictures from the 1950s. Pictures of Puskas, Kubala, Czibor, Hideguti, Kocsis, and Grosics et al are all over the place[1]. It was a sad realization that this country is so deprived of sporting heroes that they have to go back over 60 years to find one person they can be proud of.

Also, literally everyone has heard of Puskas. Not just heard of, everyone knows that Puskas was a great player and almost worships him. I found this remarkable – that’s like Indian kids singing of the glory of Vijay Hazare even today.

After lunch we roamed about the city and saw all the old buildings, went across the chain bridge and saw the Buda castle and the St Matthias cathedral and the Fishermen’s Bastion.

We got back to a small place where we were to catch some live Gypsy music along with dinner. While the music was good – it was slightly disappointing that it wasn’t truly gypsy music. As soon as they saw us, they first gave us a weird look as if to say “Brown people here? HERE?” and then proceeded to play some songs at other tables ahead in line (they go one by one to each table and play songs). When they got to us they asked us where we came from and stuff and then confidently added that ty are playing only traditional Hungarian music. They were in for a bit of a surprise – for we had both identified the first piece as “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss (not remotely Hungarian ) and the second piece as the Russian folk tune “Kalinka” – much open mouthed gaping later we were asked if we were really from India or just pulling his leg. When we assured him we were – we were asked if we were musicians. Then they at least played some music we hadn’t heard of earlier – but it didn’t sound very much like gypsy music.  I also had a lovely meal of a traditional roast duck.

That night we went out to explore the ruin pubs of Pest. These are essentially abandoned buildings which have been converted into pubs. They take ambiance to a whole new level and the one we went to first – the oldest and best known one called Simpla was something else  – neon lamps, graffiti on every inch of the walls, stuffed toys, CDs hanging from the ceiling, broken tables, trees, car lights and everything imaginable in one room together giving a surreal feel to the place. After a drink and much bonding with Swedish guys and girls over how bad the weather in Budapest was[2], we left to find some other Ruin Pubs.  Much pointless roaming about and fruitless searching later – as we were walking down the road, a large burly Hungarian man came up from behind us and said something very loudly in Hungarian. Both of us turned around with a start and he realised we do not speak Hungarian (and also that we were obviously not from here). He proceeded to ask “I am sorry, did I scare you?” We said “No, why would we be scared of you. You seem like such a nice guy”[3]. A conversation started – names were exchanged – his name was Levante – a Turkish Hungarian. Some conversation around meaning of his name followed. Levant means “rising” in latin – but when he said he didn’t know what the name meant Enthu proceeded to tell him “it is a north African origin word which means the eastern wind that gives solace to the weary traveller”[4].  We told him we were looking for a ruin pub and he insisted on buying us a drink. He said he would take us to a nice bar (called Piritosh) and buy us a drink. So we went to Piritosh and had a drink and a conversation. He revealed he works for Citibank in IT and said he could easily get us jobs there. Also he said we looked like “those people who were in terrorist groups[5]”. A lot of “No, we are not from there” later, we moved on to other conversations. We had initially planned to hang around outside for just a couple hours and be back in the hostel by 1am. It was already 2am when Levante said – “Now I take you to discotheque”.  One coordinated panic attack followed and we protested profusely and said we are late and we are really not interested but he would have none of this. We were particularly freaked out because he said the place is not walkable and we would have to take a cab[6] – last thing we needed was to be far away from our hostel at an ungodly hour. He would not listen and practically threw us into a cab to take us to another ruin pub cum disco called Instant. Once in the cab, I was thankful that drinking in Europe is so expensive and that given our budgets, we were almost never high. Both of us were on high alert and noting the route the taxi was taking, and names of roads where we could. Our worries were unfounded as Instant was barely 500m from Piritosh and Levante simply was too drunk to guide us there on foot. So we went into Instant[7] – which also had a superb ambiance. We drank some more – tried Palinka[8] – Enthu danced with random Spanish people and we finally said our goodbyes to Levante and got back at 4 am.

The next day we decided to take the walking tour – which was largely underwhelming as we had seen most things and knew most of the stuff the guide said anyway. We had a nice lunch near the Buda castle and then proceeded to visit the Szechenyi baths – a series of Turkish baths in the Pest side of the city. We spent about 2 hours at the baths – going from pool to pool with varying temperature (the lowest temperature they had was 100C and we were to finally work our way up to a 700C sauna).

We then headed back by the metro to our neighbourhood. Small digression here – one of the most interesting things about Budapest is its metro system. Some of the trains as well as stations are obviously remnants of the communist era with harsh metallic colours and no effort to conceal the brute power of the machines. Some of the stations on the more restored parts of the city especially Andrassy – are like out of a movie from the 1930s – beautiful tiled walls, quaint little ticket boxes and vintage furniture.

After the baths, we went to watch the Hungarian Folk Ensemble Orchestra. The Orchestra put up an amazing performance where they played Bohemian music and folk tunes (lots of Berzsenyi Meszaros), tunes made famous by Hungarians or which were about Hungary (such as Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5). The only issue I had was the dancers which distracted from the music for the most part – they were great dancers but given the gypsy-ness of the performance they were required to make shrill sounds and shriek in the performance which killed some of the musical effects for me.

We decided to spend a quiet night in the hostel and finish the bottle of wine we had been carrying with us all the way from Krems. As we drank in the common room, there was a bunch of British kids (all under the age of 20) who were also drinking the Hungarian equivalent of tharra and ….quizzing! They asked us if we wanted to join in the quiz drinking game, and we of course did. A while later we were bonding about football and taking each other’s case about which football clubs they support when we were joined by Jose. He was returning from Romania and had with him a bottle of wine – which needed to be finished as he wasn’t going to take it with him on his flight the next day. It was excellent wine and we were not going to protest – so a quiet night turned into downing 2 bottles of wine between 3 people and we went out again with our Brit friends to Simpla for a drink to end the day in god-awesome atmosphere.

The next day we walked down Andrassy Street which has all the good buildings in Budapest. Sadly we could not see the House of Terror (a museum dedicated to the communist atrocities the people of Hungary had to suffer) as it was closed that day. We had lunch at a little Jewish place and had some excellent Jewish food. As expected, Flame Rouge again – a short run later, we were on our way to the Train Station to catch our train to Zagreb.

[1] Along the way also we had seen huge hoardings celebrating the great Hungarian Laszlo Kubala’s career at Barcelona all over the roads and assumed it was just a weird thing that Barcelona were doing.

[2] I do not exaggerate when I say the weather was horrendous. And I mean Calcutta level horrendous.

[3] Sarcasm was probably not the best course of action at this point

[4] This guy would make a great consultant with those bullshitting skills

[5] At this point it is pertinent to mention that Levante had just had a fight with his girlfriend and was drunk

[6] Our receptionist friend had also told us to avoid the immediately adjacent neighbourhood which was super shady. This came to us as we got into the cab.

[7] We found out the next day that this is one of the best clubs in Budapest. Whodathunk

[8] Traditional Hungarian drink – very strong schnapps. Sucks. Feels like drinking ethanol.

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Trip to the western edge of Eastern Europe : Chapter 5 – Bratislava

This is not the chapter I had originally written, but one which evolved into this piece which was carried by Mint Lounge on 23rd May, 2015

“Bratislava? Did you buy a hotel there?” one friend laughed when I told him I had spent a couple of days in the capital of Slovakia on a trip to Europe. His impression of the city was defined, as many people’s is, by Bratislava’s appearance in EuroTrip, the cult 2004 teen movie. In it, the city is depicted as a hellhole with no law and order and completely in ruins due to the ravages of war—in reality no major war has befallen Bratislava since World War II. It is shown as a place with a comically weak economy and currency, where a nickel buys you a hotel. Hence that initial question.

In the heart of central Europe and surrounded by prime tourist cities such as Vienna, Warsaw, Prague and Budapest, Bratislava is not a city many people visit. Indian travellers prefer Yash Raj film locations such as Switzerland and Paris. Unlike them, Bratislava does not have monuments that your friends will recognize when you post photographs on Facebook.

Perhaps it was this impression that piqued my curiosity about Bratislava. A little reading online told me the picture painted by Hollywood was entirely incorrect. Also, Bratislava fit nicely into my European holiday plan as it was a logical stop between Vienna and Budapest, both on my itinerary.

I took a 7.30am bus from Vienna and was in Bratislava barely an hour later. I was surprised how close it was to Vienna—barely 80km by road and closer by ferry down the Danube river—and how different the two cities were. Vienna is a cultural hub and a true global metropolis while Bratislava is still a typical Eastern Bloc city.

Within 5 minutes of being there, I realized how small it was. Barely 10 minutes of walking and I was in the old city. In about 20, I was out the other end. The old city reminded me of the peth area in my home city, Pune; all the old buildings and heritage sights are concentrated here while the locals live in more modern parts of the city, where most business and day-to-day life unfolds.

Finding a place to stay was a concern. Slovakia’s other major popular culture appearance was in the horror movieHostel, in which unsuspecting teenagers on a trip across Europe find themselves confronted with a sadistic hostel owner who kills them in brutal ways in a fictional town near Bratislava. My mind was set at ease when I saw that the two major hostels in the city—both across the road from each other and barely a 5-minute walk from the city centre—had received positive reviews online, were well done up, seemed safe and were popular with travellers. I proceeded to embarrass myself by asking the hostel owner about the exchange rate in Bratislava (damn you, EuroTrip). He gave me a wry smile and informed me that Slovakia was one of the first countries to adopt the Euro as its official currency.

Once I got over the shame of that episode, I decided to take a walking tour of the old city, which began at its heart. The main square is called Hviezdoslavovo námestie, after Pavol Hviezdoslav, an acclaimed poet, dramatist and translator. He made Slovakia’s heritage more accessible to the rest of Europe, wrote about the state of the nation in trying times and served as the head of the Matica Slovenská, a cultural institute that kept alive the flame of Slovak literature through the dark days of Hungarian suppression at the end of the 19th century.

The square has a pedestrian-only cobbled street lined with shops and restaurants, and a large garden and fountain in the middle. We started at the statue of Hviezdoslav, walked around the square and then went to the Old Town Hall, which today hosts the City Museum. It is a stone tower built in the 15th century with a cannon ball embedded in its wall that was supposedly fired by Napoleon’s forces in 1809, during his conflict with the Habsburg monarchy. We then covered other attractions, including the National Museum and the Slovak National Theatre. In one of the old city’s lanes, the Man At Work statue, a quirky little sculpture of a man coming out of a manhole at the end of a workday, draws in crowds. We stopped to rub his nose for luck.

Next, we saw the Primate’s Palace, a lovely neoclassical structure built in the late 1700s, and had a quick look at some churches and cathedrals. Barely an hour into the tour we were done seeing everything in the old city. We ended it by walking along Coronation Road, a trail on which at least eight Hungarian kings over 300 years walked to their coronations, which took place at St Martin’s Cathedral. The road, which has crowns embedded in its stonework, starts at the cathedral and ends at St Michael’s Gate, the gate to the old city beyond which one comes to new Bratislava, where the majority of the local population now lives and works.

In Bratislava, you will constantly be told that much of the city’s history has been destroyed and that it is trying determinedly to reclaim some of its glory. For centuries, Bratislava, or Pressburg, as it was known then, was a part of the Hungarian empire and enjoyed a place of great geopolitical importance in the region. So much so that in the 1500s, when the Hungarian empire was facing defeat by the advancing Ottomans, Bratislava was made the capital of Hungary. As a part first of the Austrian and then the Austro-Hungarian Empires, Bratislava was the seat of the Hungarian crown jewels and saw concerts by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. It had a thriving industrial scene and was a multi-cultural centre with a mix of German, Hungarian and Slav residents.

All this changed after World War I, when the region was absorbed into the then Czechoslovakia against the wishes of the general population. The city lost its multicultural character and much of its vibrancy as industry and recuperation took precedence. Sadly, these changes continued post World War II and, in fact, got even worse as the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seized power and Bratislava became part of the Eastern Bloc.

While Prague’s architectural beauty was left largely untouched, the communists destroyed most of the physical remnants of Bratislava’s historical and cultural heritage. The idea was to turn Prague into a centre for softer industries such as services and tourism while Bratislava became an industrial hub. A lot of the traditional and central European architecture in the city was looked down on and, in some cases, actively suppressed.

Recently there have been attempts to recreate some of Bratislava’s historic structures. The Bratislava Castle, once a spectacular piece of medieval European architecture, was served a rather unfortunate, and somewhat ridiculous, end in the early 1800s when a few still burning cigarettes thrown around carelessly by guards started a fire that burnt down most of the castle. In 2008, the castle was rebuilt, but with its pristine white walls and sparkling stone statues, with name boards written in English for the benefit of tourists, it looks obviously artificial, almost like one of those reconstructed exhibits at museums.

The physical history may have been destroyed but what remains in Bratislava are the stories. Most of the residents know their city’s history and speak with great fervour about the significance of Bratislava in earlier eras.

While its history may be the most interesting thing about Bratislava, there are other enjoyable aspects of the city. It is remarkably clean, hostels and hotels are safe and well maintained, signage is efficient and tourist-friendly, most people in the popular tourist areas speak English, and the food and drink is excellent. There are several establishments that serve delicious local food. At a place called Slovak Pub, you can get a sumptuous zemiakova placka (potato pancake), a thick red Slovakian-style goulash and a glass of Zlatý Bažant dark beer, an excellent local brew. Meals and entertainment are much easier on the pocket than most European cities.

Bratislava charms you with its little cobbled streets, small local markets and its friendly and hospitable people, who are great story-tellers.

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Trip to the Western Edge of Eastern Europe: Chapter 4 – Zis is all ze fault of ze Breetish

The next morning, we left for Vienna using a popular carpooling service called Blablacar. The guy was chatty but thankfully spoke only German. This helped both of us – as Enthu never gives up on a chance to show off his German and I wanted to sleep.

We reached Vienna and checked into our hostel – we almost had a scare when we found out how far from the main city centre Vienna was, but these fears were unfounded as the place was just 500m from the nearest Metro station. Once we had changed and settled in, we started figuring out our plans for the next 3 days and that’s when the mountain of pamphlets hit us – there was so much to see and do in this city! Tonnes of art / culture / performances / movies / music / architecture / animals / palaces / bars / cafes and what not. Three frustrating hours later, we had something that resembled a plan. We headed out to the city centre where we got off a Karlsplatz and walked.  Vienna is essentially a large museum in itself – a collection of architectural marvels. Perhaps a remnant of the Habsburg way of doing things – everything was aesthetically superb.  After going around Karlplatz and Stephansplatz and wandering around and taking a million photographs, we ate at the famous Bitzinger Wurstelstand right outside the Albertina museum. A good snack of wurst and beer later, we went along on our way. Eventually we stumbled upon a lovely complex – with large arches and green domes adorning the top of a magnificent building. We went through the gates and noticed a sign – Spanisher Hofreitschule. We had inadvertently walked into the Spanish Riding School[1] ! This meant we were just outside the Hofburg Palace. We walked through the large white arches along the roped walkway and there it was – a mountain of intricate windows and doorways bathed in yellow light. If you go to Vienna make sure you go see the Hofburg only at night. We indulged in some awestruck gaping and took pictures of the surroundings – the equine statues which we had gotten used to now, the church in the distance with only its clock tower lit up against an otherwise black structure, and the main gate to the complex.

From here we headed into the Museum Quartier and roamed around till we reached Stephanplatz again where we ate a slightly disappointing dinner – all cafes close by 10, so we had to eat <gasp> chicken wings!

The next day we split up. I went ahead to see the Schönbrunn palace – the seat of the Habsburgs for a few hundred years (which interestingly started life as a hunting lodge – just like the Palace of Versailles). I took an extremely good guided audio tour for 21 rooms (didn’t have more time than that) which covered the personal chambers of Maria Theresa and Francis I as well as their many children including some fascinating stories about the marriages to form alliances with other kingdoms (one of these kids was a lady by the name of Marie Antoinette).  Once the tour was done, I was joined by Enthu and we then roamed the grounds of the palace including the large open space filled with white sand behind the castle and the majestic statue of Neptune which stood at the other end overlooking the fountain. We contemplated going to the Tiergarten – the oldest zoo in the world – but decided against it to go up the hill to the Gloriette – a large arch type structure built to oversee the palace grounds, the Palace and the entire city of Vienna behind it – once again a spectacular view.

Lunch was spent at a traditional Viennese café, where we had local wine and Wiener schnitzel.  The afternoon was spent in the Albertina museum which was running a nice exhibit starting from impressionism (Monet and others) to abstract & modern art (Picasso, Appel, Giacometti etc.). One regret was not going to the Belvedere and seeing the works of local art-hero Gustav Klimt. That one is filed under “Vienna trip agenda when we have more money” – along with a concert at the Wiener Philharmonic and a performance of the Spanicher Hofreitschule.

We then went to one of the recommended bars and the night just took off from there. It was a place called “Travellers Shack” – which the guidebook said was the best place to drink for travellers because of two major reasons. One was that everyone else is mostly a traveller – so you don’t have to worry about culturally fitting in and the other was the Austrian locals who did show up were the types who wanted to hang with travellers anyway and hence were super friendly. The ambience was insane – with posters of kangaroos, semi naked women, rock bands, alcohol related humour on the walls.

Anyway, we started drinking the usual local beer (Kozel) and Enthu starting doing his thing – talking to random people. A few drinks later, we were surrounded by a bunch of Austrians. The first order of business was to curse the Brits.  Enthu tends to speak in the accent the other guy is speaking – so we were now speaking English in a German accent. Outrage was poured on the Brits for not being able to hold their drinks which is why the bar had to resort to plastic beer mugs (you can imagine how German blood boiled at the prospect of drinking beer in a plastic mug) “What ze fuck is zis? Plastic coops?” “Zis is all the ze fault of ze Breetish. Fookers can’t hold zeir drinks”. We were mildly worried when the bartender started looking at us funny – but then he said he was Irish and he shared our view that the Brits ruined everything.

One of the more interesting people we met was an IT professional from interior Austria who was working in Vienna at the time. When he found out we were Indian, he said “Oh! That’s great! I’ve been to India”

“Oh really? That’s great! Where have you been in India?”

“Mostly the north”

“Oh where in the north?”[2]


“Wait what?”

“Ya. My mother lives there”


“Or rather my father’s wife lives there. She is actually my step mother.”

Wow. Imagine meeting a white Viennese guy who has family in Bathinda. We also met a german girl who spoke remarkably good English, her Austrian boyfriend, a Croatian dude Ivan who gave us a lot of gyaan about places we should go to in Croatia and, after a few more drinks, also offloaded a lot of post Homeland war frustrations on the table.

By the end of the night, we headed back at 2 am. As we got into bed at 3am, we realised that we had to leave early morning the next day – to catch a train for Krems an der Donau where we would be taking part in a bicycling wine tour of the Wachau valley. We cursed ourselves to sleep for a short 4 hours.

We mostly slept on the way to Krems once we crossed Tulln[4] – which is a small town an hour away from Vienna. In Krems we picked up our bicycles – which looked heavy and primitive at first but as we started to ride, we realised they were excellent bikes with very smooth gears and easy to control (mostly[5]).

We rode all along the hills, going from one vineyard to the next – tasting great wine and enjoying some lovely weather (it had started raining in the afternoon). Cycling around in the rain with ponchos on was quite an experience.  We stopped for lunch at the little village of Dürnstein – an ancient town which developed around the castle there. It is said Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here for at least 6 months while being held by the local king as he was returning back from the Crusades. We are told he wrote songs here and when they say “imprisoned” they actually mean kept in a luxurious house and allowed to do everything except for go to England.

We climbed up the Durnstein castle where Richard was supposedly kept – and were treated to some brilliant panoramic views of the Wachau Valley and the Danube going through it.

A lot of roads and buildings allude to Richard’s stay here. We ate lunch on one such “Richardstrasse” –  in a small cottage restaurant which served us traditional drinks (Spritzers and wine and beer) and food (Austrian Goulash/ Schnitzel and Potato Salad)

Once this was done, we were on our way to the last vineyard – the smallest one. Here Enthu jumped into the Danube and went for a swim[6]

We came back to Vienna tired and dirty and decided to have a quiet night and ensure we reach the bus station in time for our trip to Bratislava the next day.

[1] The Spanish Riding School is famous for having ridiculously well trained horses do ballet. Yes, ballet!

[2] He MUST have gone to Agra and Delhi. Hmph. Tourists.

[3] Errrmmm. Okay so we got that one wrong

[4] The birthplace of Egon Schiele can be seen from the train. Don’t ask me why we get excited about seeing houses in which artists were born a hundred years ago.

[5] Brakes were the other way around. So we fell twice in the first 100 meters because we jammed down on the front brake

[6] Enthu is very sanskari and needs to take a dip in all water bodies like a good Hindu. This is just the beginning. Wait and watch.

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Trip to the Western Edge of Eastern Europe: Chapter 3 – Weltmeister!

Some of the most memorable hours of my trip (life perhaps) were spent in the Eastern German city of Dresden. We reached the central station at around 6pm and made our way to the hostel and checked in. We had figured out a public viewing on the banks of the river Elbe right across the river from the Frauenkirsche, Opera House and the Theatre. Sadly the Elbe valley is no longer a UNESCO world heritage site and lost this status a few years ago because of a dispute between UNESCO and the City of Dresden – the city had plans to construct a bridge across the Elbe which, in UNESCO’s views would have defaced the historic site.

We reached the public viewing and found that thousands were already inside and thousands were already in line ahead of us. The line did not seem to be moving so we went from the side and did “Indian-giri” and found that people were just walking in from there. We just entered happily and after an awkward conversation with a German guard where I was trying to convince him in English that a) I am not Russian and b)No, I am not carrying vodka in my bag – we were through.

The set up was phenomenal with rows after rows of seats already filled with people and a huge 40 feet tall screen broadcasting the match. Obviously everyone was drinking already (now 2 hrs before the match) and some had even bought six packs of beer to start off their day there.

The match itself was obviously a lot of fun – I was taught German supporter songs which thankfully are very simplistic. Most popular one was “Olllee Olllee Ole Ole Ole Super Deutschland Super Deutschland Ole Ole Ole”. Also it turns out Germany has exactly one pop star – Helene Fischer. I heard her song “Artem Los Durch Die Nacht” literally 10 times that night.

Post-match, the crowd went mad much as expected – but the biggest party was at the public viewing itself. The roads were filled with drunk Germans – who partied till 2 am and then went back home (in order to wake up and go to work at 7am the next day). Hyper efficient freaks.

On the way back at 2am under lights, we noticed that Dresden is incredibly beautiful. A large number of extremely beautiful old buildings punctuated with newer architecture which has been carefully crafted to ensure blending in with the rest of the city. Dresden was one of the most affected cities in World War II being the target of relentless bombing and was nearly completely destroyed.

Unluckily for Dresden, the period of total devastation had to be followed by close to 40 years of pseudo-Soviet rule in East Germany. They say Dresden (and much of Eastern Germany) has never really recovered economically from the effects of Communist Rule. The cultural isolation is also evident in the extremely few non-Germans one sees in Dresden as compared to some of the western cities.  For a city that has gone through a lot, it is quite remarkable how the city has been restored.

The next morning, we left for Vienna – which needs a chapter to itself.

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Trip to the Western Edge of Eastern Europe: Chapter 2 – Are you Hinduist?

We reached Prague at around 11 am and headed to our hostel. After that we immediately changed and headed out to catch a walking tour[1]. Our tour guide, Adam, was this super jumpy Half Czech – Half Brit kid who made Enthu look sober and sedentary. The tour itself was fantastic – informative, inclusive, well planned and entertaining.  Prague is an extremely beautiful city with processions of baroque and rococo masterpieces lining the roads. Particularly beautiful is the Jewish quarter – which began life as a swamp and is now one of the most attractive and exclusive parts of the city. On the tour we also saw two of the oldest synagogues in continental Europe. Our tour guide explained that despite Hitler’s forces being in possession of Czechoslovakia for 7 years, they were ordered to not destroy its rich Jewish heritage – because of an odd reason that Hitler wanted the Jewish quarter to serve as “a museum for the extinct Jewish race” once he was done cementing his supremacy over the world. Chilling thought, but glad the madman had it – for the Jewish quarter owes its existence to it. Adam ended the tour with an explanation of Prague’s long and glorious (well okay, mostly KLPD but sometimes glorious) history right from the Celtic tribes that founded civilisation in Bohemia to the struggle between the Communists and the independence movement (the Velvet Revolution) led by Vaclav Havel.

We then walked across the Charles bridge to the other side of the Vltava river and were treated to some more beautiful, albeit modern architecture in the Malastrana region of Prague.

After all this serious history and art and culture inculcation, we were then treated to some surrealism. On the way back to the Hostel after dinner, we were randomly accosted by a guy whose questions were as follows:

“Does your phone have internet?”

“Can I use your phone?”

“Are you hinduist?”

“Oh ok, do you worship the blue guy Shiva or the Monkey man Hanuman?”

Before we got around figuring out whether it is a good idea to go into why neither of us are believers and more importantly, that “hinduist” is not a real word, the chap just ran into a bar when he saw some friend of his.

At the time, we really didn’t know what to say, but we saluted the guy for knowing more about Indian worship systems than we knew about Czech traditions and went on. Just a small incident, but “Are you Hinduist?” is something that has remained with me with quite some clarity. (Digression – in terms of most surreal conversations I’ve ever had – this ranks just ahead of  my “Why my washing machine is my best friend” conversation with Hari .)

Next day we headed to a village called Kutna Hora, about 2 hours from Prague. On the way we met two Americans who lived in Prague and taught english. At this point we had another major cultural learning – Americans for some reason never introduce themselves as “Americans”. We introduced ourselves as from India; they said they were from Maryland and ‘Mass’. (The same thing was repeated throughout our trip and also my later travels to the UK.) Much sniggering was done.[2]

Anyway, we reached Kutna Hora on a strict timeline. We had to see the Sedlec Ossuary (the famous church where all the interiors are made of human bones), the St Mary’s Church (only because we had paid for it[3]) and St Barbary’s cathedral, and then we had to go back to Prague and go on a pub crawl. As it happened, we saw the first two churches and missed the bus to the city to take us to the third. So we walked 3.7km to the city. We stopped for lunch at an Italian place and had a local beer – and after a few sips – we came to the conclusion that we are incapable of making any major decisions without alcohol as we simply do not have the clarity of thought without it – plans just align by themselves after a drink. This was the point where we questioned ourselves “Do we REALLY need to go on the Pub crawl today?” and our minds immediately came back with a “nah, not really. Let’s take the later train and go straight for dinner”. Then we just soaked in the atmosphere for an hour, went to the third church leisurely and spent a good hour and a half there. This was an excellent move as St Barbary’s is a stunning piece of architecture with intricate towers and facades. Multiple chapels line the interior and the central chamber’s ceiling is painted with crests of the neighbouring kingdoms which supported the building of the Cathedral.

We really enjoyed our time in Kutna Hora as it was the “idyllic European experience” that we went looking for – cobbled roads all over lined with small independent houses on either side of the street, the little cafes on the roads serving excellent food and beer and people walking their dogs without leashes.

Next big item on the agenda was to watch the World Cup 3rd place match – turns out the Czechs don’t care much for football unless their team is playing. So we went to a Brit bar hoping for the Brits to have some sense. Sadly, karaoke night was going on. We grumbled and exchanged disgusted looks and resigned curses with the waiters and waitresses who wanted to watch the match as well.

The final item on the agenda in Prague was seeing the castle – one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. While the castle is very impressive and loaded with history, what makes it really worth it are the phenomenal views of the city across the Vltava river from a height.

The last 30 minutes in Prague was what we came to refer to as “Flame Rouge”[4], a Tour De France term for the last 1km of the race where all the frantic action takes place. European weather is not like Indian weather with designated seasons at times of the year for rain and dry weather. The funda in Europe is simple – it gets hot, water from rivers and lakes evaporates and it rains a couple of days later. After a couple days of sunny weather in Prague – it decided to pour cats and dogs just as we were about to leave for the station. We had split up – so there was the added complication of picking up bags from the hostel. Thankfully, we had gotten used to Prague’s ridiculously complicated railway stations[5] and could make it to the station a good 5 minutes before our train was to leave[6] for Dresden.

[1] “Apanich wo chutiye hain jo dupari bina lunch khaye 4 ghante ki walking tour ke liye bhaag ke jate”

[2] Temptations to introduce myself as “from the Islamic Bolivarian Jamuriat of Golibar” were controlled

[3] lulz, paisa wasooli

[4] Happened far too many times for my liking

[5] They seem to have designed them specifically to troll tourists – multiple signs pointing in opposite directions for supposedly the same location (one is the scenic route perhaps?) across multiple levels under the ground

[6] I was shitting bricks but apparently all Europeans run on this model of reaching mere minutes before the train leaves

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A Trip to The Western Edge Of Eastern Europe – Chapter 1: There

Let us begin, as most things do, at the beginning. I took off from the new terminal of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai on the 8th of July and took a Swiss air flight landing first in Zurich and then a connecting flight took me to Frankfurt.

Oh wait, that is not the beginning.

It all started sometime in January, when my friends from Germany descended upon Pune to get married. Naturally, we all got drunk thereafter. One of these friends (Aadinath – hereafter referred to as Enthu[1]) told me of a plan he had to go to Central Europe. He is the types who would have gone for this trip irrespective of whether I joined or not. My joining just gave him a sense of comfort that if he does drink himself to death / gets killed after inadvertently insulting some local deity – someone will be around to transport his corpse back home.

Anyway, this idea being in my head happily coincided with the time where I was realising (the hard way) the absolute futility of trying to plan a holiday with 2 married couples. So one ghastly summer day in April, I thought “Fuck it, let’s go to Europe” and mailed Enthu asking him to count me in. In a week, I had taken leave and booked my flight tickets. In a month we had chalked out an itinerary and booked all our accommodation. My visa process was a breeze and before I knew it, Gupta and Korni[2] were driving me to the airport through mad pouring rain (or what Bombay people call “a light drizzle”) to take my flight.

Now coming back to where I left the first paragraph off. My adventures started as soon as I landed in Frankfurt with Swiss Air forgetting to put my bag onto the Zurich – Frankfurt flight. The lady smiled and said “Your change- over was only 40 mins[3] so while you can run, your bag can’t. Makes sense right?”. Of course my first thought was to shout “THEN WHY THE FUCK ARE YOUR CHANGE OVER TIMES SO TIGHT?” – But I settled with “Fine, when will I get my bag and how”.  Some polite cursing later, I gave her the address of the friend[4] I was staying with in Germany and took my train.

The train journey was a new experience to someone like me used to travelling Indian Railways and expecting delays, random stops and eunuchs demanding money. For starters, when the Germans say the train’s 2nd class compartment will arrive at 10:23am in the E section of the Frankfurt station, come hell or high water the train’s 2nd class compartment will arrive at 10:23am in the E section of the Frankfurt station. Also in the Frankfurt – Cologne stretch, no other trains allowed to run, which also meant the train I was in had the freedom to rip it. So I was actually travelling at over 300 kmph in this stretch. A short 2 hour journey later, I was at the other end of Germany – right on the Western border, literally the last city in Germany – Aachen.

My time in Aachen was not touristy at all. Friends had come from Stuttgart just to meet me and I already had several other friends there. I indulged in typical German things to do such as drinking beer at home, eating döner kebabs, drinking beer on the streets, eating Lebanese food, drinking beer in bars, taking Lebanese food from local shop to bar and eating it along with beer, watching football while drinking beer and coming home and closing the day with a glass of beer. This is also where I saw Germany thrash Brazil 7-1, but that match was so eventful that it was boring and the celebration was fun but subdued. German laws don’t allow drivers to honk, play loud music or drive while drunk – all this happened after the match. Of course, all of them were still driving in lanes and would have moved aside for an ambulance in a jiffy – just shows that Europeans are spoilt with success and have no idea how to celebrate it Indian style by fucking up life for everyone else. Hmph. N00bs.

The next day was spent in chilling and cursing the rain (while my friends were cursing me in the background because I apparently got bad weather to Germany) and booking the last few bus tickets and arranging for some last minute changes in plans.

The next day, Enthu went for his Master’s thesis defense while I went to Cologne to see the city. I loved the fact that you literally walk out of the Railway station into the main square which also houses the stunning Cologne Cathedral. Most of my time was spent in ogling the spectacular cathedral, one of the largest in Western Europe – a magnificent structure that took close to 600 years to complete, from all angles. It took a while for me to completely wrap my mind around the fact that there were literally hundreds of years of history to explore in this one building. After spending about an hour in the cathedral, I took a very stupid decision and proceeded to climb the main tower. When you see pictures of the cathedral you will realise that the tower is very tall – and has over 500 steps. Also if you know me, you will know that I am not fit by any stretch of imagination. Also the charges to climb up to the top are 3 Euros. Long story short – I paid 3 Euros to climb up a medieval tower and almost gave myself a heart attack. To makes things worse, the view at the top was slightly underwhelming. However, this climb was important for one major cultural learning. People from all over the world have vandalised the top of the tower – with “Ian & Jennie from New York were here in 1998” type messages. This is a theme that would come back to us several times in our journey – sometimes we give our own countrymen a little too hard a time for lack of civic sense and discipline but the truth is that these idiots exist everywhere[5]

After nearly dying of exhaustion, I went for a walk around the city centre and relaxed (with Lime juice – because beer after nearly dying didn’t seem like the best idea at the time) and waited for KB to show up. Once KB got there, he took me to get one of more prized souvenirs of my trip – the original “No. 4711” Eau de Cologne named so because the original shop was at 4711, Glockengasse. After this we went to a local brewery and had some delectable Rhineland food – Himmel und Ääd (a blood sausage with apple and potatoes)[6] and Sweinbratten (grilled pork) with the local beer (called Kölsch) served in the traditional manner in thin long glasses of 200ml each. After this we spent some time on the promenade watching the Rhine go by before going to Papa Joe’s Jazzlokal – a local Jazz club with Rhinelandish uncles singing in the dialect of the region (also called Kölsch) – which is so odd that even other Germans don’t understand it.

At the end of the day, after much needless exertion, I proceeded to treat my body to some needless sleep deprivation to catch our 3:45 am train to Nuremberg from where we would take a bus to Prague. Enthu had not slept for 2 days prepping for his presentation and as you can imagine, we hardly slept in the journey and reached Prague nearly dead.

[1] We started with calling this guy Enthu Fresher in 2007. Over the last few years, we have realized the need to drop “Fresher” from the name

[2] May or may not be one of the aforementioned married couples

[3] This was true, I had to run for my life just to make the flight.

[4] A character named Kaustubh Bhat (aka KB) – a freakishly intelligent anti-social creature (much like me, well, except for the freakishly intelligent bit) who disdainfully agreed to come in contact with another human to collect my bag.

[5] Our exact words were “Saale, sab chutiye hain.”

[6] Incidentally, the name means “Heaven and Earth” to depict the contrast of the sauce ingredients used – potatoes which grow under the ground and apples which grow on tall trees

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Here we go again

If there is one line I have written on my blog a number of times knowing full well that I am lying its this one “Long time since I wrote something. Hoping to be more regular this time”

And here it comes again – more than a year since my last post. So writing something here after a while – or rather – I wrote this a while back and am just publishing this now.

Last year, I went on a trip to Europe which covered Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro and France. (I also stepped into Netherlands and Belgium once and on the way from Zagreb to Dubrovnik the bus stopped for a bit in Bosnia and Herzegovina – so 12 countries yay!)

A bunch of friends asked me about the trip and after a while I figured its best to just put it down on paper and send it to them. That piece written last year is what I am publishing now.  A good part of the motivation to write this piece was to record memories for myself and also to see if I could put down 10000 words on anything.

So here it is  – will be posting chapter by chapter to not overload people at the first go.

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Why I changed my mind on Moyes

When Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United, fans of the club worldwide were filled first with disbelief for it happened so suddenly and once that had settled in – with morbid fear. Fear because deep down we knew that Man United weren’t the greatest team in England on basis of the team composition – nowhere as good as Chelsea or Manchester City. We knew that a large part of Man United’s success was directly attributable to Sir Alex’s genius. Naturally parallels were drawn with Busby and visions of the aftermath of Sir Matt Busby’s retirement came thick and fast – a period of turbulence and almost no success – even relegation! 

When Sir Alex hand picked David Moyes the United fans were divided. Some said the club was making the same mistakes as they did after Busby – others said Sir Alex has chosen him and he has credentials of performing within constraints with Everton (and there are constraints at United)

I was in the second group – saying that he has done well with Everton – a club that once considered itself lucky to finish in the top 15 and is now a club that is knocking on the door of Champions league football consistently. Plus we need longevity, not someone who will come here and leave for greener pastures in a few years.

Man United predictably did not too well. I and most fans had expected this – there is a transition period. I didn’t really expect United to win the league but certainly expected a fight and gradual change for the better. I expected that Moyes would use his footballing talent and his decade+ experience and move to the next level. At this stage of the season, United will probably not even finish 7th. We all expected a drop – but not this big. At some level, it is not even the drop that is worrying – it is the complete lack of idea around what to do about it. United have a good keeper in De Gea, good defenders in Vidic, Rio, Smalling, Rafael (not world class, but certainly significantly above average), some great players in the middle of the park including the peerless Ryan Giggs and of course the fantastic pairing of Rooney and Van Persie up front – certainly not a side that should finish outside the top 4 with any manager leading them.

He has the team, he has the support of the management, he has the money to throw – but still there are no results. This is the big difference between Moyes and Ferguson – when some argue that even Ferguson was given time, I come back with but Ferguson produced results as soon as he was appointed. Last place to 11th place in half a season meant that Ferguson deserved that chance. Moyes does not deserve the chance because he has made United into another Everton – dreadfully predictable 7th place side.

Which is what has pushed me to change my mind about Moyes. I am all for giving him a chance – but he seems to not be learning at all from his mistakes. And my biggest worry is that Moyes is pulling United down because he is not running the club as one would a title contender – he is running it like one would a club which is happy to just make the Europa league. 

So I was wrong – Moyes needs to go. I agree with the overall strategy of longevity, but the man chosen for the job was not the right one. 

Hopefully United get in someone like Simeone or Klopp or Blanc who are young and have many years ahead of them in their managerial careers. Most of all, I hope United’s leadership understand that managers like Ferguson don’t come by every day – you may need to go through 3-4 managers before you really find the right person.

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Dear Tendlya

Dear Tendlya,

Can I call you Tendlya? Or do you prefer Sachin? Either way – I have always referred to you in this fashion – like a friend, never as some Mr Tendulkar who plays cricket and has no direct connection with my life whatsoever.

Before I begin, let me just say that I got into cricket late for a typical Indian kid – I was 9 years old and was wondering what the big deal was that the entire family had to sit around the TV to watch a bunch of people playing this game I still hardly understood and was more or less completely aloof towards. I saw a few balls , then stayed on for a few overs and ended up watching the entire match . You see India was playing Australia, chasing (what was in the mid 1990s) a huge 258 runs and tottering at 7-2, but I was told “Sachin is still playing, so there was still hope”. You ended up scoring a superb 90 runs and falling to Mark Waugh (of all people). The living room went silent – my grandmom said “Only a miracle can save us now” and went to her room. And that was my introduction to cricket – a typical Indian match – you play well, everything else crumbles and India lose. The only positive for me was your innings so it could be said that you are the reason I started watching cricket.

For all these years – I have either watched every game India played or followed it. When I was out and could not watch the game – my inquiries to random strangers was always two-fold – “Whats the score?” and “How is Sachin doing?”. The second question was always what I gave more importance to, for the biggest thing I will miss about you is the feeling of reassurance that I felt – the comfort that you are still there. If you were batting – anything was possible. No target was too large, no bowler remotely threatening, no amount of sledging of any consequence whatsoever. Irrespective of the score, irrespective of how many wickets had fallen, or how high that required run rate was – the thought always was “The best batsman in the world is at the crease, batting for us right now. What could possibly go wrong?” Yes, I know this was irrational and somewhat stupid, but this is something that I could not help feeling – perhaps it is the infallibility that comes with the deification of someone (that I, like many millions in this country, have been guilty of) or perhaps it is simple bias that comes from seeing only one person carry the country for so long, a bias that started building for me from the very first cricket match I saw.

I always tell people that cricket is one sport where the softer aspects take precedence over statistics and numbers. You can measure an athlete’s greatness by looking at medals won or world records held, but this does not work in cricket. There are times when a 134 at Sharjah is a bigger deal than 200 at Gwalior; times when a century in vain in Chennai is way more impressive than any test double century. So, if 20 years down the line, some young cricket fan asks me “What is the big deal about Sachin Tendulkar?” – I would scarcely mention the 100 centuries, or the 33000 odd runs. I would certainly speak of how you so often dominated some of the best bowlers in the world –  of those few overs when you took apart Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar in 2003, or of the time you hit Andy Caddick out of the ground, or of Desert Storm and THAT six off Warne, or Brett Lee in Sydney, or so many more such instances.

I would speak not just of you playing well, but also of the rest of the team not showing up at all on so, so many occasions.

I would speak of that sublime straight drive, exquisite cover drive, the effortless flick off the pads, the six over the bowlers head, the paddle sweep and of course, the stunningly beautiful, down-to-the-microsecond timed punch down the ground – no effort, no movement, no follow trough, just perfect, bloody perfect timing.

I would speak of how, beyond a point, it is impossible to put in words what you meant to cricket fans and what joy, what euphoria your batting generated.

You leaving the game is certainly the end of an era in cricket, but it is also the end for some part of my life as well, for this is the one thing that has remained constant ever since I started watching cricket 17 years ago – which won’t be there anymore. That permanence, that rocking of the foundations on which my love of this game was built is perhaps what makes all this so hard.

Thank You Sachin, for everything. Its been a privilege.

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Top sports moments of 2012

2012 has been a pretty big year for sports. I’ll put down my pick of a few of my favourite  sporting moments from this year in this post.

Cavendish wins on the Champs Elysée

Mark Cavendish celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win final stage of 2012 Tour de France

The Tour de France is undoubtedly the toughest cycling race in the world and, sadly for people like Mark Cavendish, heavily favours climbers. Cavendish, widely regarded as one of the best road cyclists in the world, had not had the best time at the 2012 Tour de France. He was not even close to winning the coveted green jersey for the points classification and his teammates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were stealing the show. His victory on the final stage – a stage which prefers sprinters  – was one of the best moments in sport for me this year largely for two reasons. This day coming less than 2 weeks before the Olympics, there was a lot of talk of Cavendish getting his last chance at an Olympic medal in London and people kept reminding us of the fact that he was the only member of the Britain cycling team who did not win a medal in Beijing. So in light of all this – I really wanted him to win. The past two weeks or the next two weeks meant nothing and the Champs Elysee was his and his alone. The other reason I rate this as one of my favourite moments from sport in 2012 is that Bradley Wiggins – holder of the yellow jersey and on the verge of becoming the first Briton to win the tour said before the stage that his only goal was to ensure than Cavendish won. And did he live up to that promise or what! Normally we see the yellow jersey holders just chill out in the final stage of the tour – wave at the fans, soak it in etc. Bradley Wiggins kept pace for Cavendish himself. How many times do you see a yellow jersey holder bursting to the forward of a crowded peloton on the last stage of the biggest race in the world ? I’ll tell you – Never. But Wiggins did it. He stormed to the front with Cavendish in tow and when the time came, the Manx Missile went through the gears and showed the everyone that he was indeed the best sprinter in the world.

Europe wins the Ryder Cup 


I must confess, I have watched very little golf in my life. I follow the sport, but hardly ever actually watch it on TV. This changed with the Ryder Cup. The Europe team in their blue sweaters – a tribute to Seve Ballesteros – were down and out, written off . The US – historically the much more successful side in this tournament – seemed to be on their way to win the Ryder cup for the 26th time. Europe were no under-dogs of course having won the cup in 2010, but with the score at 10-6 on the final day with the US needing just 4.5 points to win out of a possible 12 on the day, things looked really bleak for the defending champions. I started watching out of curiosity – more to do with the fact that I was awake and had nothing else to watch on TV at the time – and I witnessed the one of the most amazing comebacks in golf history as Europe won hole after hole and took the score to 14-13 with the last hole still to play. Then of course, Tiger Woods, who has had quite a terrible year, missed his putt on the 18th hole and the point was halved giving Europe the extra satisfaction of not just retaining the Cup on a draw, but winning it outright.

Zambia 2012 wins it for Zambia 1993

If one has to list down all major tragedies in the history of sport – that of the Zambian team from the early 1990s would be up there with both the Munich disasters. In 1993, Zambia, one of the better teams in Africa, at a time when African football had not reached the heights it has today, lost 18 players (almost their entire team) in an air crash just outside Libreville on their way to a World Cup qualifier there. Their captain, Kalusha Bwalya survived as he was on a different flight. A team was hastily assembled – from scratch – for Bwalya to lead in the remaining qualifiers as well as the African Cup of Nations. Despite the massive tragedy, Zambia reached the finals of the Cup of Nations in 1994, they even took the lead, but then Nigeria were just too good on the day. This was the backdrop as Zambia went back to Gabon in 2012 to take part in the African Cup of Nations. Zambia played some great football to reach the final against arguably the best team in Africa – Cote d’Ivoire. The Ivorians with their superstar line up including Didier Drogba and the Toures were overwhelming favourites to win in Libreville. But the Zambians had other plans. The match finished 0-0 and went into the most dramatic event in all of sport – a penalty shootout. Both teams scored their first 7 penalties. Then to add to the drama, both missed their 8th penalties. Then Gervinho (who plays for Arsenal) stepped up and missed. And finally, the moment of glory, 23 year old Stoppila Sunzu scored! Zambia won their first African Cup of Nations beating the favourites. It was a perfect moment and poetry of the fact that just a small distance away was the exact the venue of that fateful crash that would set back Zambian football significantly just makes it all the more perfect. The side fittingly dedicated their victory to those who died in 1993.

Federer’s Wimbledon No. 7


Roger Federer is special. At least for me, he is one of the greatest sportspersons of this or any era. What makes him special for me is that in a time when tennis was starting to move towards a brutish game where more power and more stamina meant more victories – Roger Federer showed us that there was a place for elegance and beauty in the sport. And this started 10 years ago, at Wimbledon, against the Scud. Since that day, I have been a Federer fan and despite his performance or age or the effects of both, I wanted him to match the feats of the greatest from the previous era. Everyone knew Federer was probably not at his best when his supremacy at Wimbledon was looking suspect. And in the last few years as he goes past 30 years of age, I am sure he is thinking of retiring in the short term. Given that, and given how he had lost in the previous two Wimbledon editions really did not matter – for every Wimbledon I expect Fed to win, much like every time Sachin walks in to bat, I expect a century. And this time, he did not disappoint. Not only did he show his former class, he also beat the best player in the world at the moment to get to the final. And what a performance in the final against Murray. Absolutely sublime. The Federer of old – turning the clock back 5-6 years. A very special performance and a very special record that came with it.

Bolt’s double triple


Most sprinters are arrogant. But sprinters tend to be arrogant in the way that pisses me off. Like Justin Gatlin or Maurice Greene. Too much attitude. But Usain Bolt does not show attitude nor is he arrogant. He is simply telling the truth. When he says he is fastest man alive, he means it very earnestly. I also like the fact that his arrogance is less aggressive and more on the playful side. Like most Indians, I too stayed up till ungodly hours of the night to watch Usain Bolt in the finals of his three races. The ‘will he-won’t he’ was getting exciting, especially with Yohan Blake’s amazing performance in the Jamaican trials. Then came the actual races – the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m relay – and the actual victories. It took a while to sink in – that in a sport where athletes are lauded for even making it to take part in multiple Olympics – this guy just won 3 golds in three of the most competitive races in the world – in back to back Olympics. To me, it just shows his dominance that a few of us were actually feeling a wee bit disappointed that only one world record was set. What an athlete – what a moment.

South Africa beats Australia in Australia

I, like most Indians, have had my share of watching the Indian team getting walloped in Australia. And I mean absolutely hammered. The only time India did not lose a series in Australia – we considered it a great success, a moment to be celebrated – and I found this quite sickening. And I, like most Indians, have known only an era of Australian dominance in the sport of cricket. A few anomalies here and there, but Australia are an amazing side and unbelievably consistent. At this point I should also say that I have a bit of a soft corner for the South African team. I like a lot of South African players and the fact that the team lost out on so many years of possible greatness always stings. so needless to say I get particular satisfaction when South Africa beat Australia. And in 2012, South Africa beat Australia in Australia. First a run fest where the South Africans held their own. Then the amazing century by Faf du Plesis to save the 2nd test. So much for the chokers tag!
Then the clincher. Great job by the South African bowlers to restrict Australia in the 1st innings and the superb 196 by Amla to set Australia a ridiculous target. Then a routine job by the South Africans to take out the Australians and win the match by 309 runs. Not just a victory, but a resounding thumping in just 4 days. A great way to end a great series and all in all a memorable moment for South Africa.

Kimi on the radio

kimi tshirt.png
Unlike the other top moments on this list, this one is not one of great glory or a great underdog story or any deep historical story finding an appropriate end in 2012. It was simple, humourous and simply put, fucking awesome. I was sad when Ferrari kicked out Kimi Raikonen – and I was especially sad they did it to bring in Alonso. So sad, that I stopped watching F1. Then Kimi – the Ice Man – came back. This time with Lotus. Team radio conversations are always fun to listen to – it gives you some idea of the kind of things a team thinks about and the kind of information that drivers need to know. All said and done at the end of the day, it is all about the driver. And Kimi drove home that point at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when he asked his crew to stop bothering him with the now legendary “Leave me Alone, I know what I am doing”, did his thing and went on to win the race. Nothing particularly dramatic about it – just so different, so cool – that this moment had to be on this list.

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