The towns in Provence and Cote d’Azur

Posted October 20th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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My sister and family went back to Dubai after Paris. However my mom, Seejo and I traveled South to the French Riviera. We spent 3-4 days in the South Of France enjoying the beauty of French Riviera and Provence.  I have several lovely memories of the time we spent there including the train ride there where an elderly couple entertained Annika for a long time, the classic sight of  folks playing Petanque, the little dinky Cannes railway station, the sight of a mountain goat up on the Gorges Du Verdon loop, walking up and down tiny towns selecting sachets of lavender, grocery shopping at French malls and so on.  This is not to discount the marvelous natural beauty that we were fortunate to see.   We visited several small towns and was enthralled by the changing landscape. Also we were fortunate to be there during lavender season (albeit a week before peak) and got to see the fields of lavender as well. A brief description of the various little towns and cities we visited is below. Continue Reading »

Castles of the Loire Valley

Posted October 20th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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France-LoireValley-Chosen-45Loire Valley lies in central France about a two hour drive to the south of Paris. Situated on the banks of the river Loire, this is prime wine and Chateau territory.   I am not sure how many castles are in this region—the guidebooks varied from 50 to 300. Most of these were built or rebuilt during the 1400s to the 1700s and served either as primary homes or hunting lodges or summer residences to the various monarchs that ruled France during that time.  Many of these chateaux are still standing and now are open to the tourists for sightseeing.  These chateaux vary in size and shape and original purpose but were presumably built with no real budget limit.  They are magnificent structures and each of them has its own characteristic feature and so it is difficult to choose the best one among them. And in many cases these chateaux are surrounded by  splendid gardens. Infact you could easily spend a day just in one of the gardens! Continue Reading »

A second visit to Paris

Posted October 20th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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France-Paris-Chosen-022There is not much I can say about Paris and its tourist attractions that hasn’t been said before. In fact I wrote about it myself when we were here in 2004. So instead of providing a daily report of what we did and saw, let me write about what was new this time.

We were in Paris for 4 nights and instead of staying at a hotel, we (mom and sister, Brother in law and nephew) rented an apartment about two blocks away from the Eiffel tower.   While the idea of staying in an apartment over a hotel has its pluses (very useful with toddlers and vegetarians) and minuses (no room service L) , we really lucked out because our apartment was at an amazing location. It was a short walk away from the Eiffel tower : in fact we could walk home after seeing  the Eiffel tower light up at night. And from my bedroom, I could even see the beams of light from the beacon on  top of the Eiffel tower sweeping across the sky.  One thing that we could do (and which I did) was actually visit the boulangerie for fresh bread and the fromagerie for a variety of cheese in the morning.  Thanks to the whole “living like a local” concept, we also visited the local grocery store and purchased milk and fruits and yoghurt – and it was fun. I always make it a point to visit a local grocery store when I am in a foreign country because I believe that it gives me a wonderful insight into the local cuisine and tastes and also introduces me to novel food items. Continue Reading »

Dutch Memories

Posted October 4th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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The Pakistani cab driver dropped us off at our rental  apartment  in Amsterdam with only one warning.  He pointed out the pale pink pathway through the center of the sidewalk and said “That is the cycle lane. Stay away from the bicyclists. They will not stop for anyone.”

We soon learnt that it was true.  The cycles and cyclists were one of the most interesting aspects of Amsterdam.  Everybody in Amsterdam uses a bike to commute including frail looking old ladies driving back Amsterdamfrom the grocery store, young parents with modified baby carriers attached to their bike, professionals with crisp blazers and blackberrys,  teenagers, school children and of course wide-eyed tourists.   And the locals know that this is an attraction in itself.  In fact the bicycle parking station at Amsterdam’s Central station was one of the highlights  pointed out to us by the tour-guide when we took a canal cruise that evening. Thousands and thousands of bikes in a four storey parking lot!  What was strange to me is that these cycles were not spanking new sports bikes with several gears and fancy features and multiple cup-holders that is the usual bike in the US but infact quite shabby and run-down basic models.  Kind of strange to see a guy in the latest three piece suit with a smartphone clipped to this ear drive a cycle similar to the doodhwala. Continue Reading »

Iceland Adventures

Posted October 3rd, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel, Uncategorized
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We spent two days (and two nights) in Iceland on a stop-over while returning from France to the United States. We were flying Iceland Air (highly recommended: wonderful staff) and as they don’t charge a premium for a break journey, we decided to take advantage of the situation.  The flight from Paris landed at around 10 am on rainy morning in late June and after getting our rental car & a quick lunch stop, we were out of Keflavik airport and on our way to Thingvellr National Park.

Within minutes of leaving the airport town of Keflavik, we were already marveling at the beautiful and pristine landscape that seemed miles away from any civilization.  All along the way to Thingvellr there were no houses and no discernible signs of a township or settlement. Fields of purple lupines stretched all the way to the green mountains in the distance. Waterfalls were abundant. Majestic Icelandic horses dotted the landscape and in between them we could see sheep grazing in the pasture. Later we were told that the horses didn’t outnumber humans in Icelend but I am not sure that I believe it!! Continue Reading »

A cancer story

Posted October 3rd, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Uncategorized
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I have been working in the field of cancer research for about 14 years. During this time I have heard thousands of cancer stories, met hundreds of cancer patients and survivors and discussed all aspects of cancer care with many folks.   But these cancer patients were strangers: I was fortunate that it didn’t happen to people I knew.  But sometimes they do affect you personally.

About eight months ago our office shifted to a brand new campus and as a result my commute route changed.  The bus driver for this new route used to greet me every day with a loud “Hey Pretty Girl” and I used to give him an awkward smile and rush to my seat.  This continued for about a week and then one day he asked me where I worked.  As soon as I said National Cancer Institute, I could see that he had a million questions.  His mother had died battling  skin cancer and during the 30 minute ride he proceeded to describe the entire story from the initial diagnosis, treatment, recurrence and eventual death.   The next day he wanted to know what treatments are being developed for cancer. He had heard that cancer differs from person to person and so during the half hour commute I tried to explain the basics of personalized medicine and tailoring treatment therapy to someone with fairly limited knowledge of science. I could see that he wanted to talk more about it but I was getting irritated. My commute was the precious time that I had to read and I resented anyone cutting into that time.  To avoid answering yet another series of questions, I printed off some basics of skin cancer information from our website and handed it to him.  The next day he had more questions.  How does cancer originate? How does it spread? What does metastasize mean?  I tried my best to explain these concept to him quickly but he wasn’t done with questions.

I needed my reading time.  Finally I started ignoring him. I pretended to be on the phone or busy with my blackberry. I even changed seats and moved to the one right behind the driver so I was not in his line of sight.   He took the hint and  started talking to the other passengers.  My timings changed and I stopped taking the same bus every day and then soon never saw him again.

Last week I had to go to the main campus and so I took a different bus from Germantown.  And lo & behold the driver was my old chatterbox friend.  As soon as he saw me he smiled and said I want to talk to you. Resigned to 30 minutes of non-stop conversation, I nodded.  But he waited till all the passengers climbed on, parked the bus and motioned to me to get down. Now I was intrigued. When I got off the bus, he took me aside and said “Thank you, you saved my life”. I was completely taken aback and could only goggle at him.  It turned out that after hearing me talk about cancer and/or reading the information he went to get a checkup.  Perhaps it was prompted by the stuff he read but he asked the doctor to check for cancer.  And he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and was scheduled for a prostatectomy in three days. He was very grateful to me and said that what I did saved his life.

I wasn’t sure what to feel. On one hand I was elated that I could help but more than that I felt guilty and embarrassed and remorseful about my earlier attitude.  I was upset at not being able to read in peace but the few moments I did give him (albeit resentfully) mattered a lot to him. Truly a very humbling experience.