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Travelogue-IV(PARIS)

I fell in love with the city, the moment we reached its center. I loved Queenstown, NZ too, because of its serenity but with Paris, it was true love. What a vibrant city with lot of well dressed people. Wow! We had just two nights & one full day in Paris, but it was amazing. There is every chance that we might visit it again in our next trip to Europe.
The evening started with an interesting note when an amused taxi driver looked at us incredulously and refused to accept that we could be staying in the city center ( where the accommodations are a bit expensive), right in front of the Notre Dame church, at St. Michel’s Blvd.Yes, we radiate that feeling wherever we go. Am not sure if it is the way we dress or is it just because we look very young for our age.No, it is not the dress..I like to think we resemble some college going backpackers.Anyway, at 10:00PM, we decided to go for dinner and a walk, wondering if restaurants would be open and Viola! A crowded street full of people, every one busy and bustling around ,clients still standing in line at restaurants..and I fell in love.
The next day, we started our customary visits at Eiffel Tower. Seriously, how can one visit Paris and not boast about the single most visited monument in the world and its beauty. It is a huge iron structure and definitely has a Wow moment , the first time. We did not bother standing in the long line to reach the top.If there is one thing that both of us hate, it would be long lines and all the monuments in Paris are stuck with them. We decided to enjoy the city than the monuments.

From the Eiffel tower, on to Notre Dame, a Gothic Style Church. It was constructed in the 12-13 centuries and though we had visited a lot of churches by then, this was refreshing as the Gothic style is very different than the Roman Dome style.

It is very good to have the hotel nearby as one can go back to refresh every now and then. Most of the sites were walkable from St. Michel’s Blvd. As I said,we wanted to feel the city,and so walk we did. Apparently, it takes more than two days to browse all the paintings at Louvre and may be more to understand them. With our schedule,deeming it impossible, we walked around Louvre,took some Patel shots. Can you recognize the pyramid from DaVinci’s code.That is so PATEL.

How can a visit to Paris be without Avenue_de_Champs_Elysees(pronounced Shampselize),known as the most beautiful avenue in the world, full of theaters and shops. It almost became a bit boring, if I may say so ,if not for the crowd.

We found the French very helpful.When we were standing in the opposite platform, looking at the subway map, a lady approached us and confirmed that it was the wrong way,without us asking her. How nice.Even in the restaurants, the waiters went out of their way to talk to us in English. Totall unexpected and different from all the stories I have heard. May be, they have got used to Indians with so many of our country men visiting from London.
How can one not view the Eiffel Tower in the night. Our paris visit had to start and stop there..

Did I say it was cold?Especially, by the Siene..

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Posted by on February 18, 2010 in Informative, Trivia

 

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Poor Pandu

One day,little Pandu and Gundu are walking down the street. Here is some history. Pandu was an average worker who did not have a sweet tooth where as Gundu, in spite of diabetes, just loved candies. Pandu liked to plan and execute whereas Gundu was a big time risk taker. Gundu was aching for sweets very badly on that day.On their walk, Gundu meets Mr.Seth , a nice broker ,who offers him $20 as an interest only loan ( ~ 7% APR)to buy some candies, duly getting the proper loan papers signed.

Now, our Seth is a shrewd man who likes instant money and sells these loan papers to a local money lender( Mr.Vangi) for $30, citing all the interests that Gundu would be generating every month.

But, the money lender , even wiser, pats himself in the back and sells the papers to a huge Investment Shark( Mr.Annamalai) for $40. Mr.Annamalai was like the local Dhadha and was relying on all the mamools from people like Gundu. But, he had to have insurance. And Mr.Mandu, a man who prides himself on doing the right thing with a keen eye, assures Mr. Annamalai that he guarantees the money. Gundu, Seth, Vangi, Annamalai and Mandu could all be seen ,hand in hand,singing “Happy, Indru Mudhal Happy”.

Unfortunately, Gundu’s diabetes became worse and he lost his job. There was no way he could pay the Seth that money. But, in the chain ,Annamalai is the party affected……Now, Mr. Annamalai is panicking and turns to Mr. Mandu…”Well….you gave your word”… Mandu realizes that he is actually a real fool and turns to the local arasanga association , where Pandu and others have donated their money. The Arasanga association decides to help Mandu by loaning him $30 , making sure he returns it back by March of 2010 , as it is the hard earned money of Pandu and others.

What does Mandu do? He knows he has to return the money but since he loves candies for himself, uses the $30 to get himself all kinds of chocolates, cakes and what not….. Poor Pandu …..Stupid Arasanga Association to have been so gullible… Idiot Gundu……. Mr.Mandu is the only guy who has profited so far……

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100203/ap_on_bi_ge/us_aig_bonuses_feinberg

AND ALL WE PANDUS FEEL OUTRAGED !

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2010 in Informative

 

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Travelogue- III ( Rome)

I have to start logging in my travel before I forget. Starting with Rome( Roma), the capital of Italy. Rome, as we all know is seeped in history and was the most prosperous empire in the late BCs and early ADs. I don’t want to write about Rome’s history.We can always refer to Wikipedia for that.

We landed in Rome, fully jet lagged and ready to hit the bed. Our hotel was right in the city center, in a busy street Via Nazionale.Next morning, fresh, we headed out , armed with the city map.

First and Foremost: The Vatican including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum

Since we were in Rome on 25th and 26th when the Vatican museums were closed, we could not visit them, but could check out the Pope on Christmas Day and visited the San Pietro Basilica(St. Peter’s Church) interior on 26th.
It is definitely a Wow moment, the biggest church in the world and one that can hold 60000 people along with some popular sculptures(Michelangelo’s Pieta, the one seen in this photo) and paintings. Just beautiful and awesome.
Apparently, one should never miss the Vatican museum, which holds Michelangelo’s most popular painting ever( Creation of Adam) , but obviously we missed it.

The Colosseum:
After seeing Russell Crowe as THE GLADIATOR, the Colosseum and its vast arena just fits in. Constructed between 70 – 72 AD, it is definitely one of the greatest works of that century. Makes you wonder how humans built these structures without any technology. I guess we are used to seeing such sturctures in our temples as well. We went to the Colosseum on 25th and visited the interior on 26th.

The Palatine Hill/Forum
The Palatine Hill is one of the seven hills of early Rome and a very ancient part of the city. It is approx 40 meters about the Roman Forum , the area around with Roman civilization developed. You can see the vast ruins that was once the Forum, where Caesar and numerous others ruled. A sight worth spending some time. We spent some time here, though not a whole lot. Also, from the Palatine hill, you get to see the Circus Maximus, ( Remember Ben Hur?? )

The Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum are right next to each other and you can ideally walk. Hmmm. Well, a fair amount of walking as they are all quite vast. The road called Imperial Way leading to the Colosseum was built by Mussolini , enabling a view from his apartment so that he could show off the Colosseum to Hitler on one of his visits during WWII.

And, if time permits, one can enter the Vittoria Emmanuel Monument which also hosts the tallest equestrian statue in the world. IT IS HUGE AND MAGNIFICENT! We were satisfied with just looking in awe at the exterior.Do you see the two guards standing at the bottom of the statue? Apparently, the hoof of the horse is as tall as a human being.

After these major sights, the additional ones are


Pantheon : The ancient temple of all gods.In the 7th century, it was made into a church.
Right next to the Pantheon is Piazza Navona.When we visited it in the night, there was a fair going on. It has three magnificent fountains and is nowadays well known for having featured in Angels and Demons. I think one of the priests is found in the The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or “Fountain of the Four Rivers” ( the one in the photo) A famous touristy place.

Trevi Fountain: We did not visit this. A fountain where one throws pennies hoping for dreams to come true. It was walkable from our hotel and so was not interesting. Its really a mystery how human mind works. Anything close loses its value.

Trastevere :

This is slightly away from the City center. Just a place where locals meet and which has become more touristy now. Full of restaurants . Since we went on a rainy night,during christmas vacation, the streets, rather narrow gullies were mostly lighted with stars. In case you are wondering, the photo is showing a new( it said 2010) restaurant in an old dilapidated building.We walked in the rain, had some excellent local food and loads of fun just wandering.It was raining and the photo was taken from our autoshot. Finally, with help from some guys, signing our way and talking in Italian English , we found our bus stop and reached the hotel safely. It is such moments, when one is very carefree , that defines a vacation.

For traveling,we had bought the Roma Pass for 3 days with which one could travel in any public transport and also the first two sightseeing places free. All the other places were discounted. Defintely a very good buy. Interestingly, the guy from which we bought the Pass was a Pakistani who was elated on seeing us. Of course, started talking in Hindi and when I asked him if he was from India, he replied, ” Pakistan. Ek hi tho baath hai.” Touched my heart. I guess we all feel closer in Pardes.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2010 in General, Informative, Trivia

 

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Travelogue – 1

The only church I had ever visited during my teen years was Velankanni , in TamilNadu and another Infant Jesus Church in Banglore, to which my Dad had taken me once before my marriage. And there stops my brush with Christianity and churches.With my recent visit to Italy, I can guarantee I had my fulfillment of visiting a lot of cathedrals and churches. An Amazing Experience.

I spent Christmas at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, waiting to see the big man, the Pope. Just the energy of the crowd was amazing , though most were tourists with cameras which made us easier to blend.




Last Christmas, I spent the whole day reading the book “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet. A historical fiction novel. A must read for everyone. One gets absorbed into the building of cathedrals at Kingsbridge. In the fictional town of Kingsbridge, the cathedral is finally completed, in the “French Style”, and becomes famous around England for its beauty: it is the first Gothic cathedral in England. While reading the book, I regretted the fact that I had not paid attention to the cathedral structure while visiting the West Minster Abbey in London , two Christmas ago. Another church devoted to St.Peter.I was more interested in the people buried there, William Blake, Wordsworth, Charles Dickens,Elliot to name a few and of course all the kings and queens who ruled. Never paid much attention to the structure. It is a classic Gothic style Cathedral. While reading Pillars of the Earth, the mega saver, Wikipedia helped me understand the book.


This Christmas, when we visited the St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican,apparently the burial place of St. Peter, I absorbed the whole structure of the church with the dome and all the different naves, chapels ,frescos and paintings. A WOW MOMENT! Building such a huge church( it can accomodate 60,000 people) is not a joke and it took a better half of 16th and 17th centuries with numerous architects, ideas, change of plans to build the biggest church in the world. The dome of St. Peter’s rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world.I think the final dome structure is credited to Michelangelo.




And to be blessed by the man of the hour, though not understanding a single word of what he was saying, gave me goose bumps. OK,the goose bumps were because of the cold wind..Let me have my moment.


After visiting all the churches in Italy, with their classical domes, I could appreciate the Gothic Style of Notre Dame in Paris, another cathedral that’s construction span two centuries.

I tried to focus and capture every nook and corner with all the windows, engrave it in my mind and get geared for another session of “Pillars of the Earth” . Oh! Yes, this defintely calls for a re-read before I forget my dream vacation.

The Chapel at Notre Dame..

Just wish we had bought even a wider angle lens. Well, next time. Yes, there were signs showing a camera with a slash on it, implying no photos. There were some places that we visited, where they did not allow video cameras but photography was allowed. Seeing numerous others clicking to glory, almost blinding you, we decided that the Arch Bishop of Notre Dame will forgive us this sin. Just to explain it better to Anand, who asked us not to do that.. 😉 😉

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2010 in Books, Informative

 

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Belur – Halebidu Trip

My parents have been wanting to take us to Belur since our marriage with “Chenna Keshava” ( the deity at Belur) being our house diety and all. Is house deity the right word? Its called “Kula Deivam” in Tamil or “Man Devaru” in Kannada. There stops my knowledge about these deities.Actually, it is very interesting. We are supposedly Smarthas ( people who worship Shiva) but our deity is Keshava ( who is Vishnu ) LOL..Strange!! Wonder how that works out.. Anyway, we finally made it to these places during our recent visit to India. I have been to Belur several times and have always loved the temple premises, as it is perfect for kids to play.Yes,I know, it is also known for the various sculptures.

Halebidu is around 16 kms from Belur and is beautiful too. But, it is definitely haledhu..( Old in Kannada) .Apparently, Belur was built by King Vishnuvardhan of the Hoysala Empire and Halebidu , by his minister. You will find more interesting information if you google it..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belur
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halebidu

Tip: Please make sure you have a guide when you visit these places..

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The above photo is from Halebid.This sculpture represents Krishna lifting the Govardhana Mountain. You can see all the animals on the mountain. On top of the hill, the sculpting is very intricate, where you get to see a lion entering the den, a plantain tree with a monkey..and lot more. Yes, you definitely need a guide to explain it all.

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-This one stumps me. I know there was something significant about this when I took the picture. I can make out some kind of Rakshas on the right and thats pretty much it.If you can make out something, let me know.

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Also from Halebid. The outer wall of the shrine is arranged in 7 rows , with one row full of erotic figures. Look carefully at the top three . Makes you wonder why Sex is taboo in the land of KamaSutra…Huh?

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in General, Informative

 

Sun Screens

I have been trying to zone in on a sunscreen for the past few days. There are just too many around and searching for the safest is a humongous task, IMO. We all know that sunscreen provides a shield against the harmful UVA/UVB rays . I was really( or) rather am afraid of getting skin cancer , especially with my immunity, and so I lather on sun screen liberally when going out in the sun. I think we have some five different brands of sun screen at home.But, doing further research has shown that the chemicals used in sunscreen are linked to cancer as well . Now, for a person with compromised immunity and a thin, sensitive skin, what is the choice? I searched for some natural sun screens available in the market. I searched the FDA website to see if they have come up with some regulations regarding the safety of the drugs used in sun screens, but couldn’t find any.

According to the EWG( Environmental working group) , a non profit organization focusing to prevent toxicity for children, the FDA rules for sun screens are not yet fully finalized. So, manufactures can make whatever claim they want . According to them,of the 832 most commonly marketed sunscreens, only 16% provided adequate protection from both UVA & UVB radiation with few ingredients linked to known or suspected health hazards.

A study by The American Cancer Society has stated that 80% of our total lifetime sun exposure occurs within the first 18 years of life ,so children in particular are at risk. Children are probably the most likely to be to be smothered in sunscreens . Worldwide, the greatest rise in melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical sunscreens have been heavily promoted The rise in melanoma has been exceptionally high in Queensland, Australia where the medical establishment has vigorously promoted the use of sunscreens. Queensland now has more incidences of melanoma per capita than any other place on Earth. (Garland, Cedric F., et al. Could sunscreens increase melanoma risk? American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 82, No. 4, April 1992, pp. 614-15). In India, we never used Sunscreen as kids and the incidence of skin cancer is lesser there than in other developed countries.

There is a very well organized, consolidated database at
http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens2008/findyoursunscreen.php , a website worth checking out. Please spend some time and go through the webpage to decide on what you want to use for the summer. It gives ratings for the sun hazard and health hazard for most of the brands. The low ratings are the best and the highest ones are the worst.

Here are some tips

Ingredients to avoid

Oxybenzone
A BIG NO would be any suncscreen using Oxybenzone or Benzophenone-3. Most of the high SPF ones like Neutorgena , Coppertone, Banana boat use Oxybenzone . It has been proven to be a known photo carcinogen.

Parabens
These were supposedly non toxic until a few years ago, when some studies proved otherwise. Some scientists believe that it may be correlated with breast cancer, based on a study by UK scientists in which preservative chemicals were found in samples of breast tumors. There is still a major controversy about the toxicity of these chemicals.But, I would suggest not using these.

Avobenzone(Parsol 1789)
Some studies have shown this to be a free radical generator.The free radicals then react with other molecules and produce damage to the fats, proteins, and DNA of the cells – the types of damage that produce skin aging and the development of cancer.

Many sunscreens also contain triethanolamine, a compound that can cause the formation of cancer causing nitrosamines in products by combining with nitrite used as preservative and often not disclosed on sunscreen labels.

The safer sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which occur naturally and also because the scatter the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them like the others.The ones without any nano particles that don’t get absorbed by the skin are the best. They leave a white streak on the skin and you will know the difference when you apply. I bought Burt’s Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen SPF15 and it was so sticky and left this streaks of white on my skin. Well, if you look for all natural, that is what one would get, I guess. You get sunscreens with micro titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and they might be better for applying than the macro ones.

In January 2006 the TGA conducted a review of the scientific literature in relation to the use of nanoparticulate zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens. The review concluded that:

There is evidence from isolated cell experiments that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can induce free radical formation in the presence of light and that this may damage these cells (photo-mutagenicity with zinc oxide). However, this would only be of concern in people using sunscreens if the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide penetrated into viable skin cells. The weight of current evidence is that they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer dead layer (stratum corneum) of the skin.

The Medicines Evaluation Committee endorsed this conclusion at its meeting on 2 February 2006.

Here are the top ten recommended by EWG

1. Blue Lizard (anything without oxybenzone)
2. California Baby (anything with SPF 30+)
3. CVS with zinc oxide
4. Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas Mineral Based Sunblock
5. Kiss My Face “Paraben Free” series
6. Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunblock
7. Olay Defense Daily UV Moisturizer (with zinc)
8. SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense
9. Solar Sense Clear Zinc for Face
10. Walgreens Zinc Oxide for Face, Nose, & Ears

Some more can be added to this list

11.Badger Face and body sun block SPF30
12. Dermalogica Face Block SPF 25

I have ordered the California Baby SPF 30 , which uses micro titanium dioxide.

Also, most importantly,don’t forget to wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2009 in health, Informative

 

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Riches to Rags

I was browsing through a newsletter from Schwab and found certain things about retirement and investing that I found rather interesting. I just wanted to capture it in some place. Where else would it be ? Though any of these may not have a significant impact to most of us, it is a good thing to know.

Firstly, about tax implications due to President Obama’s budget. The tax is going to increase from 33% to 36% and from 35% to 39.6% for the top 2 brackets of income from Jan 1, 2011. For all other tax-brackets, it will be the same as before ( single earning less than $171,550 or married filing jointly with an earning of less than $208,850). If you think your income may exceed just a tad bit more than the 3rd bracket, it might put you in a higher tax-bracket. In that case, it is a good idea to invest extra money towards 401K if you are not making full contribution to 401K already. You not only save on your taxes, but have that money grow tax deferred in your 401K. Remember that the 401K contribution will be excluded from your income for tax calculations.

The capital gains will be taxed at 20% from the 15% that exists today (if the family joint income is greater than $250,000), again from Jan 1, 2011. If you have long term investments that you plan to sell, it is a good idea to sell it off before Jan 1, 2011 so that you don’t have to pay the extra 5%. This applies only if you intend to sell of your investments anyway.

I was surprised by a couple of facts that I read about retirement. If you file for bankruptcy, apparently, the creditors cannot come after your retirement accounts. So, point being, if you are already in heavy debt, looks like filing bankruptcy and protecting the retirement account is a good choice than liquidating your retirement account to pay off the debtors. Sounds a bit unethical… But hey, that’s the law..:)… Also, if you have loan from your 401K account (remember the 401K sayings that the interest on a loan towards 401K goes to your account and hence you don’t lose money) and if you lose your job, there is a 60 day grace period after which the loan will be considered a distribution with the penalty deducted. In other words, your loan should be repaid if you quit your job (within 60 days). One of the best alternatives to getting a 401K loan is to get a Home Equity line of credit (HELOC). Not only you can move some of your higher interest credit card debts to this low interest alternative, it also gives tax exemption on the interest paid. Remember that, if you are in the verge of losing a job, it is a good idea to get a HELOC while you still have a job (otherwise, you wouldn’t qualify for a HELOC). If worst comes to it and if you file bankruptcy, your 401K will still be intact… That’s all folks!

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2009 in General, Informative