Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Leaving Vienna

It's been about 10 days in Vienna and sadly time to move on to the next place. Am getting a ride to Salzburg tomorrow so will spend 2 days there doing some hiking in the Alps, then take a train to Munich and spend the weekend there. Oktoberfest is on so it should be quite crazy. Finally, on Sunday I'm getting another ride to Regensburg where I'll be based for the next 2 months.

The last 2 days were fairly quiet. Now that I'm very familiar with the city I spent most of my time walking around without a map, browsing a couple of bookstores and sitting and reading at a few cafes. The weather is perfect and nobody minds it if one spends 2-3 hours at a cafe just reading. It's also reassuring to see a lot of other young and middle-aged people spending a long time at a cafe, talking and reading. Having spent a lot of time in the city exploring and feeling comfortable here I felt very happy doing what I would have done in a place like Boston.

On Monday night, H took me to his favourite club, the Flex. That place lived up to all the hype I'd heard from him and somehow partying late on a Monday night felt great. The 2 unemployed doctors had no work or studying to get back to so we were there till 4 in the morning. Felt very hungover this morning and didn't wake up till it was time to get lunch.

I had a great time in Vienna and apart from the sightseeing, concerts and partying I really enjoyed meeting H's friends and family. It felt comfortable hanging out with all of them and I can see myself coming back here regularly and spending time with them again.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


The last three day have been slightly overwhelming with a heady mix of traditional Austrian music, wine and food. A couple of concerts, some vineyards and some great homecooked food.

On Friday, H's parents had given us 2 tickets to go to the Musikverein for a concert. The whole family is involved with music and they have season tickets and a great pair of seats. It's also a very formal place and I had to out and buy a decent jacket and a pair of shoes. My hiking boots and T-shirts didn't quite fit in. It's one of the most famous concert halls in the world and the moment I walked in I was a bit open-mouthed. I managed to sneak in a picture before the concert started.

The concert was great though the elaborate chandeliers gave off a lot of heat and the last 20 minutes were a bit uncomfortable as slight movements and noises are frowned upon. Went out to a slightly upscale bar for a drink since we were both fairly well dressed. After the grungy underground bars and clubs this was a bit different.

Woke up a bit late on Saturday and we missed the train to Burgenland. Hung around in the train station and had a coffee and then caught the next one. Burgenland is the wine country of Austria and that's where his girlfriend and his parents live. Reached H's parents lovely house around noon and had a fabulous meal. I'd asked for traditional Austrian food and I couldn't stop eating. Relaxed in the house for a while and enjoyed the view.

Headed out to meet H's girlfriend C, who lives about an hour away and it's a nice drive through vineyards. It's the harvest season and there were a lot of grape-pickers all over. Picked her up and drove to a vineyard run by a family they've known for most of their life. Their son D now runs it and he studied with C in school so he gave me an extended tour of his winery. Explained all kinds of things in detail and then brought out about 10 different bottles. His family joined us soon and we spent about 2-3 hours just sipping wine and getting more and more drunk.

Drove back to C's house and had dinner and more wine. Hung around for a while and then drove to a weird event. It was the annual festival for the local arts. The art was pretty bad and the music even worse, so after an hour of sitting around we drove back and opened a couple more bottles. D and his sister came by around midnight and we were up till 3 drinking, smoking and fooling around on the piano. C is a professional pianist and after much coaxing sat down and played for everyone.

Woke up today around noon, hungover and hungry. Drove back to H's parents' house for the sunday lunch. Lazed around most of the afternoon and then headed out to another winery run by another childhood friend of theirs. Had a special drink called stürm, which one gets only for a few weeks in a year because of the harvest. It's the wine before the first fermentation and it tastes a lot like grape juice with some soda. Drove back to Vienna around 11 and since we were close to the border with Slovakia and Hungary saw signs for towns in those places. A big part of the vineyard is in Hungary but I couldn't go in. Unfortunately, an Indian passport doesn't allow such easy travel.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Vienna diary

It's been about 4 days in Vienna but I just love the place. My friend, H, stays in a great flat in the heart of the city. Everything is easy to explore on foot and the weather's been perfect.

My typical day starts off by waking up late around 10 and getting ready. Head out to the first district and then explore some of the museums. The whole museum quarter is a bit overwhelming and it took me a day to get over the grandeur of the place. In between , there are a few crazy looking modern buildings but somehow they don't spoil the ambience of the place.

After a lot of aimless walking, I usually end up finding some coffeehouse and sipping some strong coffee to wake myself up, read a book and munch on some great snacks. Street food is cheap in Vienna and I've taken a strong liking to schnitzel. It's a compact city and within a couple of days it was easy to figure out how to get around on foot. Since the weather's been perfect, the whole city is littered with open air cafes where one can sit for a long time without being disturbed. Also took the metro out to Schonbrun, a huge castle, which has a great view of the city if you walk up to the top of the hill.

During the day, I guess I've been doing the normal touristy things one does in a city like Vienna. At night, H has taken me to places I doubt I would have found on my own. A student lounge cum bar where I met a bunch of his friends who have all lived in and around Vienna all their lives. A small hole-in-the-wall eating place to meet his ex-girlfriend K, where we ate some great fladen. A quiet evening at home where 2 other people I knew from the math dept in Vienna showed up. A small shop cum gallery which sells stuff made by 2 designers from a century ago (wiener werkstatt). They were strongly influnced by Klimt and the exhibition was small but quite mindblowing. Another crazy bar with H's brother who stayed on till late even though he had to wake up 4 in the morning for a concert. The cliches about Vienna being a laidback city have been pretty true. Each night, all it's taken is another round of beer, or another bottle of wine for everyone to stay on till late even though it's the middle of the week and everyone, (except H and me) has a job.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Reached Vienna

It was a fairly long day (and typing on a German keyboard isn't easy) but I finally reached Vienna and Schengen land today. Got up around 7 in the morning and had to repack a lot of stuff as European airlines only allow one carry-on and one check-in bag. This meant my main backpack was stretched to the limit and and I was scared it might be overweight as I'd stuffed everything inside it. Left G's flat around 8 and after changing 2 trains reached Tottenham Hale for the Stansted express. My flight was around 11:15 and I reached the airport at 9:30 and felt I had enough time to get breakfast and buy a book. The check-in took ages though. My backpack weighed in at 19.7 kgs (My entire life's belongings plus a laptop) and though it was just under the 20 kg limit I had to go to the oversized baggage counter. Took a while to clear that and finally had to sprint through security to board my flight. I was flying Ryanair so there's no assigned seating so I got one of the worst seats on the plane. Slept througth the entire flight.

I flew into Graz (about 150 km outside Vienna) and C was supposed to pick me up but turned out that she couldn't as she had a recital so I had to take a train to the main Graz station and then another train to Vienna. This was my 5th train for the day but worth all the effort. It was one of the prettiest train rides I've ever taken and sipping a nice chilled beer, listening to my ipod and watching the Austrian countryside unfold in front was a great experience.

H was at the Hauptbanhopf to receive me and asked me immediately if I wanted to do something illegal. Couldn't figure out what he meant since the last time he and I had met we'd had a few crazy experiences in Toronto. Turned out the Vienna subway has no security and he doesn't pay for tickets - he gets caught twice a year which is still cheaper than buying passes. Reminded me of DTC buses in Delhi. Decided to stay legal (not for long though) and reached his flat around 7. It's right in the heart of Vienna and I can't wait to head out tomorrow and explore the city.

His brother M came by soon and we polished off quite a bit of wine and then headed out to one of their favourite bars - a cross between a lounge, bar and a cafe with a DJ. But a very comfortable place and they seemed to know a lot of people there. Hung out there till well past midnight and followed H in not paying for tickets on the Vienna metro. Let's see how long this will last.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I reached London 2 days ago and thankfully the heat wave is over. Reached Heathrow in the morning and took the tube straight to Covent Garden. My advisor's moved to London and we'd scheduled a meeting for the afternoon as that was the only day he was on campus. Since I had 4-5 hours to kill before that I decided to drop off my backpack at M's office, one of his students who just moved from Boston to London with him. The campus has a great location and it's right in the heart of the city. A huge change from B which was 15 miles outside Boston. Took me a while to find M's office and the security wasn't too keen to let me walk through with my 2 backpacks. Went out and had coffee and lunch near Covent Garden.

Toyed with the idea of getting a beer closeby but decided to stay sober before my meeting. It was fun walking around with M in London. We used to get lunch/coffee frequently in B and always complained about the lack of a decent place on campus. This was bang in the centre of everything and walking between the different depts involves walking through central London. Felt a bit envious of him as I'd considered delaying graduating in May and moving to London as a visiting student. I doubt if I would have been motivated to finish though. Picked up the keys from G in his plush corporate office a few minutes away from the maths dept. Different world compared to the cramped offices and shabby students hanging around. Getting back home wasn't easy as I ended up taking the tube during peak rush hour and my 2 backpacks made things even harder. What made it worse was no air-conditioning and I sweated as much as I would have on a hot day in Delhi in a crowded DTC bus.

The last 2 days I've just walked around aimlessly during the way in London, browsed a couple of bookstores and met some other friends in the evening for a drink. The pubs and streets are so packed in the evening (especially on the weekends) and I love how one can take a drink and stand on the streets or sit on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, in the US, that's something one can't do and I wish some places would allow it. A nice place to drink is on one of the cruise boats on the river and watch the sunset and the riverbank light up.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The travelling math show

For the last 6 weeks, I've been travelling a lot in the US. I am now basically a travelling mathematician and almost all my stops were related to *work*. There was a workshop in California and after that I went to various places giving talks on my thesis. I managed to get paid for most of these things and so financially I've been able to survive. Since I don't pay any rent or bills now, it's not too hard as I've stayed with friends or in some accomodation arranged by a math dept (or a tent). Food and bus/airline tickets are the only thing I've had to spend on.

Yesterday was my last stop in the US in Philadelphia. On sunday, I took a bus from New York to Boston, then on Monday morning another bus to Philly and back the same day. I gave my last talk yesterday and for the first time realised what it might be like to be a performer on tour. Till a few minutes before the talk I felt a bit fatigued and disoriented with all the travelling. I was wearing my *talk shirt* to appear respectable (I have a spare one in case it's dirty or smelly) and trying hard to talk to the other profs and seem alert. The moment my talk started I felt comfortable and by now I can give the talk half-asleep. The audiences have ranged from being hostile, friendly to ignorant and it's been a great learning experience being on the other side of the fence.

It's Tuesday today and I'm about to leave for JFK to catch a flight to London where I'll meet with my (former) advisor. I'll hang around there for 5 days and then go off to Vienna and stay with another friend who has a spare room. I won't give a talk there but from October 1st I'll be in Germany giving a different lecture series for about 6 weeks. After Dec 1st it's a bit vague about where I'll be based but if someone offers me money and/or a room I'll show up with my backpack.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


It's been a week in Boston now and almost everyday has been a bit disorienting and weird. Boston was home for 5 years and to come back to a place after leaving just 3 months ago meant things hadn't changed at all. Almost all my friends are still around and almost all of them are doing the same things. The main problem was that since most of them are in grad school or postdocs, they were all busy with the beginning of the semester. Before reaching Boston I'd emailed most of them and gotten myself invited for dinner to a different home each night. Met some other people for lunch and drinks later at night and felt like my social live was on steroids.

Being a bum, I hung around Cambridge a lot and went to my some of favourite haunts and spent a lot of time just reading, writing and surfing. My favourite spot is the 3rd floor of the Harvard Coop and sitting on the chairs which overlook the square with a few books is a great way to spend 4-5 hours. Other than that, I spent most of the day in some of the cafes in davis square. Never went there in the middle of the week in the mornings so it was pretty quiet and not busy unlike the weekends.

Leaving for New York on Sunday, Philly on Monday and then flying out to London on Tuesday. Greyhound has kept me going up and down the east coast.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bumming around in New York

One of the problems about being broke is spending time in an expensive city like New York. Sightseeing and exploring the city on foot are fun things to do the first 2-3 times one visits. I've had enough of both over the last few years and haven't budged too far from where I've been staying. Since I've been a student for so many years finding ways to keep busy without spending much isn't that hard. Midtown Manhattan is a very convenient place to live in but there are no cafes or coffeeshops to spend most of the day reading/surfing/working. Starbucks is an option but the ones in New York are very cramped and don't have free wireless internet.

I discovered the New York public libraries for the last 4-5 days. There are 2-3 of them very close to D's apt and they have nice tables, free internet and an atmosphere where one can spend 4-5 hours at a stretch without realising it. I managed to finish writing and reading up on a few things quite comfortably in the libraries and it's safe enough to leave one's laptop and browse their collection of books and music. The one thing it lacks is coffee/tea but 4-5 hours is enough to survive without either. The weather was nice for the last 4 days and in the late afternoon, walking down to central park and hanging around sitting in a nice spot, reading a book, listening to music and watching other bums hanging around was a great way to spend some time doing nothing. Felt tempted to join the frisbee and soccer games going on but didn't feel safe leaving my laptop in the park. Just sat and watched people enjoying the weather.

There are a couple of Barnes and Noble bookstores closeby and I've had a habit of reading books in instalments for many years across various big bookstores. For the last 2-3 years I felt too guilty reading a book at home (thesis stress!) and found reading a book in instalments far more enjoyable and productive. I've spent a considerable amount of time reading all kinds of books I didn't have time for the last few years and I wouldn't be surprised if they banned me from the corner bookshop for not buying anything at all.

I started this blog to stay in touch with friends scattered all over and meet up in case I happened to be in the same city as them. Dr M saw my blog and he's visiting New York and we hung out at night a few times. Went up to a nice bar in harlem playing great calypso music and then the village for a few drinks. Also met another former roomate D and met his friends and brother on the west side.

Leaving for Boston tomorrow for a week. Feels strange going back as a visitor to a place which was home for 5 years.