[2008 has been a big year, no doubt ! There's been so much happenning in my life - personally and otherwise; and so many Ups and Downs (..thankfully more of Ups than the occassional Downs :) ) ! The year saw me stretching my travel escapades to unprecedented levels...setting foot in almost 11 countries ! But however much I've been wanting to blog about it all, I 've just not been able to keep up with the pace of events ! So here's an attempt to do justice to it all and look back at the major events that shaped my life in the past 12 months !]
The year kicked-off back at home in Kerala. It was the eve of my brother’s wedding, and it was the first time in ages, that I welcomed the new year with so many relatives around ! The wedding at Calicut on the 2nd of Jan, in itself was quite exciting, except for the fact that I had to leave back to the UK on the very night of the wedding reception – which was held 4 days after the wedding !
However, a few weeks back in the freezing environs of Bristol, got me past the bitter hang-over !
In March, my good old friend from school – Ganesh, left UK to go back to India for good. Parties in London were never the same again :(
The first major trip of the year happened over the Easter Weekend in March. Bharat, his bro Abhay, Akansha, Anil, Rama, Ajitha, Pradeep and I flew in to Belfast, and spent 3 days going around the amazingly beautiful countryside and coastline of Northern Ireland !
The gang at Northern Ireland with Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge behind us
We had hired 2 cars, one of which I drove, and must admit – with winding long roads stretched out in front of us, and the clear blue sea on one side and towering hills on the other, this was the most fantastic drive I’ve ever had in my life ! Over the 3 days, we visited the remarkable Giant’s Causeway, walked across the flimsy, yet breath-taking rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede, became kids again at the Barry’s amusement park, stayed at an awesome house on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea, ran across the beach in the morning, trekked through the forests of Glen Arif, stayed at the Holiday Inn in Belfast and went around the city in an open-topped guided bus tour !
April brought the shocking news that one of my best friends from school in Kuwait – Spandan had passed away ! What was even more shocking were the theories behind his unfortunate accident. I had met him last during my visit to Kuwait in 2005, after a gap of over 7 years, and it was indeed saddenning to realize that we wouldn’t meet again !
When I met up with Spanny at Kuwait in 2005, after a span of 7 years !
Adventure in Lake District :
Come May, and what was meant to be a quiet, peaceful break along the pristine lakes of Cumbria (Lake District) turned out to be the Mother-of-all-adventures !!!
Rama, Pradeep, Akansha, her just-landed-from-India friend Ruchi, Rakesh, Ranjani and I hired a 7-seater Vauxhall Zafira and drove up to ‘The Lake District’ in Northern England, and on the evening of the second day, quite unexpectedly our tyre got pierced by a protruding rock and burst with a loud bang ….almost in the middle of an isolated countryside. Thankfully for us, a traditional pub [which was about the only building in the vicinity] happenned to be right around the corner and we sought shelter there, for well over 4 hours, until the Emergency services were able to recover our vehicle and drive us back to our hostel. The next day saw Rama and I shuttling between the towns of Windermere and Kendal [..an hour apart from each other] trying to get the burst tyre replaced, and finally by noon, we got going again and jammed up at the popular Rookin Farm house for a session of fun-filled, adventure activities !
However, disaster struck again…. when later in the day, while driving to the town of Keswick, a bent suspension [hit from the previous day's incident] rendered the vehicle dangerously unfit to drive. A couple of hours of continuous negotiations with the courteous ladies at the AA Emergency Services, and a very helpful girl named ‘Louise’ from the Enterprise Car Hire company, resulted in them recovering the doomed vehicle once and for all, and agreeing to give us a replacement.
Rama and I travelled all the way to the Enterprise showroom at Kendal and met ‘Louise’ , to realize that the replacement vehicle on offer was a massive 4-wheel-drive, fully automatic, diesel-powered Land Rover :) !!! Had we hired the vehicle ourselves, it would have cost us a cool £150 a day, but we got to keep it for free for the rest of the journey :)
And to top it all, ‘Enterprise’ refunded the full rental amount that we had paid for the original car, as compensation ! Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for more. As they say, ‘all’s well that ends well ‘!
The Championships, Wimbledon:
In June, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams – of watching the Wimbledon Championships live – thanks to Bharat, who offered me company in the venture ! We travelled across to London and queued up overnight at an open field at Wimbledon, braving the rains armed with nothing more than a sleeping bag each, and a pair of umbrellas, one of which was generously donated to us by a sympathetic passer-by :)
[Having slept on the platforms under freezing cold conditions at London's Paddington station not-once, but twice before, and 2 nights on the floor at Heathrow, and 1 night at Luton airport, this was just another great feather in my cap ! ] Ultimately, the struggle had paid-off, as early in the morning, we managed to get hold of Centre Court tickets, and to our luck, the first match of the day starred none other than the King himself – Roger Federer ! The ambience at Wimbledon was so fantastic, that I’m sure even non-tennis fans wouldn’t have felt bored amidst the colourful vibrancy of the place…and the chance to meet 1000′s of people from across the world …..relishing on some mouth-watering strawberry and cream :)
My 26th birthday in August was the first time in years that I had cut a cake on the day – thanks to my wonderful friends who arranged it at midnight ! We later continued the celebrations at Pizza Hut in the mall on the evening of the 5th !
Bharat, Anil, Rama, Akansha, Ruchi, Yathi, Ramappa, Pradeep and I applied for our Schengen visas in August and by the end of the month, flew over the Channel across to Paris – the universal City of Lights/Love/Fashion …..etc etc etc ….
Us, on top of the Arc de Triumph, Paris
Akansha and Ramappa were lucky enough to celebrate their birthdays in Paris, on the very day we landed ! For Bharat and I, it was our second time in the city, and was an oppurtunity to revive our French memories….On the second day, whilst the rest of the gang went around sight-seeing in Paris, Bharat and I took a TGV [First class :)] to the beautiful city of Strasbourg along the French-German border, to spend a day exploring the marvels of the ancient city!
We also managed to cross the bridge over the Rhine, across to Germany and spent an hour in the German town of Kehl, before heading back !
Enjoying some Bordeaux wine in the first class compartment of the TGV !
Also, the one thing we had missed out in our first visit to Paris was Disneyland, so off we went with the whole gang on the last day…ultimately setting a personal world record by arriving at the Charles de Gaulle airport just 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of our flight to Bristol …. and still managing to catch it ! Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooo :)
In September, I bought a brand-new bicycle – to be honest, the very first vehicle that I had ever bought with my own money ! Getting to office and back had never been this easy and so much fun !
My bike !
September, also had us – Bharat, Akansha, Anil, Rama and I heading off to Belgium in the Eurostar for a weekend break ! It was the first time the 5 of us had gone on any trip all by ourselves, and we had one hell of a gala time in the Belgian cities of Bruges and Brussels !
The 5 of us at Bruges !
Adventures and mindless twists of fate, as usual, were never too far away from us, and we ended up missing a train and getting stranded in the cities of Lokeren and Antwerp in the middle of the night ! Nevertheless, it resulted in some unforgettable moments, and as a matter of fact, this was the last trip we went on before Bharat left to India for good !
October – time for more trips and this time we pushed ourselves much farther and wider than we had ever done before ! In 3 days, Rama, Anil, Pradeep and I set foot on 4 capital cities across 4 countries in Central Europe – Bratislava in Slovak, Vienna in Austria, Prague in Czech and Budapest in Hungary ! Akansha had been to these places earlier along with her cousin, and had been ranting and raving about it to us ever since !
And, she had not been wrong at all ! Prague almost swept us off our feet ! The beauty of the place was beyond comprehension ! Vienna and Budapest weren’t any bad either ! With the help of local guides, we were able to explore and do justice to the sights and sounds of these wonderful places !
Finally came December, and it suddenly felt as if time had directly leapt across to this stage from January, with no other months in between ! It so happened that the British altertative-rock band ‘Coldplay’ was holding concerts at various cities across the UK during December …and I managed to get hold of a pair of tickets to one of those gigs from a person in Orange ! Thus, on a cold Tuesday evening on the 2nd of Dec, Abhinav and I drove up to Birmingham in a rented car and had a rocking time at the NIA, where Coldplay enthralled the 13000 strong audience with a brilliant mix of music, light effects and visuals ! It was my first concert here in UK and it couldn’t have been bigger than this :) !!!
In the middle of December, Swetha and family descended upon London, and we had a mini-reunion of sorts; with Sreejith aka Maadan joining us in going around sight-seeing at London !
With Swetha and Sreejith at London !
Though the weather wasn’t all that great, we all had such a wonderful time catching up on old school days, and honestly, never before had we laughed so much in the recent past ! Unforgettable indeed !!!
December was also the month of parties ….especially around the Xmas season…Dinners, team-outings, get-togethers, disco, movies ….we’ve had it all !
At an Orange Xmas party !
But the icing on the cake was my much-awaited trip to the Netherlands to visit my brother and sister-in-law. I spent 4 days there over Xmas, and we went around visiting Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and a few other smaller places.
Ultimately, everything in life has to come to a close and the year finally ended with Anil Curpad, Akansha, Ruchi, Pradeep, Yathi and I braving the midnight chill in front of the ‘London Eye’ witnessing the spectacular fireworks-display that was held there to welcome 2009 !
The gang at London on New Year's day !
I’ll definitely look back at 2008 as one of my most cherished years – the year where I spent some of the best moments with my closest friends, and made some wonderful new ones as well !