Sunday, 8 February 2015

the inevitability.

Vyšehrad cemetery, Prague.

The first couple of months of the year usually create within us a resolve to change, to do things we've been putting off for a while. Sometime later that same resolve fades away into nothingness, like the remnants of a weekend dust storm on a Sunday morning in Kuwait.

Last October, I was at the Palliative Care Center—where terminally-ill patients reside—to visit a school friend whose father was dying with cancer. I recalled seeing him, healthy and jovial, from my schooldays over a decade ago. Yet there he lay, on the verge of death, unable to speak from the exhaustion brought about by the disease that was slowly eating away at his body and mind, to the extent that he could no longer even recognize friends that came to visit. He passed away a few days later.

That visit made something in my mind click. My perspective on life—and death—changed overnight. A year or two ago, my bucket list was full of things like skydiving, cliff diving and the like. Now in retrospect, I think any regrets I have on my death bed would more likely be not cherishing the ones I love or doing more good when I had the opportunity to do so.

We all make similar lists to satisfy our vanity with the vague uncertainty that death will one day befall us, but even then we don't really believe it will happen for a long while. We think ourselves to be immortal. But death is imminent. It can strike anyone, anytime. While I was at the center, a patient in the opposite room was no more. A 16-year-old boy with leukemia had been there for a year. An 18-year-old boy had suffered the same fate and passed away the week before. Death didn't care about how young its victims were. Death spared no one. 

The audacity of man to have an ego is so laughable when you realize how fragile human life is. How is it that we go through life so blindly, without ever really thinking of how close the Angel of Death hovers by? 

Some of us receive deadly reminders of the inevitable instead, perhaps through a life-threatening illness or a very near accident. The grim reaper chooses his own means to rub shoulders with us on occasion, as if to mock our complacency. The same newsflash registers with all of us at some point—that life is fleeting and can end at any instant. That we’re just subsisting, too wrapped up in the tedium of our routines to truly live, and live rightly at that. Too often, we ignore the people we care most about and forget those who have played some role in shaping our lives, failing to realize it until it’s too late.

And it finally hit me. All that really matters at the end of your life is the goodness you leave behind. As my friend aptly put it, we're just here in transit. So this year, and for the years to come, live rightly. Make time for your loved ones and hug them a little tighter, a little more often. Be the bigger person and apologize for your mistakes; let go of your ego. Volunteer or teach someone a skill. This can sometimes be challenging, but do good unto others regardless of whether they've been good to you.

Take the time to be the person you want to be remembered as. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

published pieces: March-July 2014

bazaar came out with some beautiful covers this year.
(The cover with the beach, however, is from June '13. Realized it later :/)

While it may seem like my writing has taken a backseat, that's only as far as the blog is concerned. Here are links to my published articles in Kuwait's bazaar magazine over the past few months:

March: The Essence of Travel
For those who were following the Deutschland Diaries, this is a succinct account of gastronomical experiences in Germany :)

April: Why the Litter?
Commentary on littering in Kuwait (beaches in particular) that comes dangerously close to a rant.

May: Prague: Off the Beaten Path
Collaboration with the mother on a few gems of the Czech capital. The digital issue makes for a better read owing to the gorgeous pictures (page 130).

June: Why Do We Love Sports?
Piece on what makes us invest so much of our time and emotion into watching sports.

July-August: The München Marathon: 10 KM Lauf
An edited narrative on the first official run that some of you might have read previously :)

Criticism is always welcome. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Deutschland Diaries Part 3: Lautersee and Beyond - A Pictorial Journey

A bus took us up from Mittenwald to the glimmering lake, Lautersee (see is German for lake).

I turned to get a better view of my surroundings and spotted—SNOW!! The top half of a hillside caked with the stuff! I hopped over the wooden fence, ran across the meadow to get a better look but was called back by the mother who feared I was trespassing. How is it my fault if the snow decides to land on private property instead of on the road?

I needn't have bothered, as we shall soon see.

The lake lay still and clear, allowing one to see what lay beneath the surface, bunches of dried water reeds separating it from the road. A few trees stood bare, having been stripped of their autumn glory. Pine trees surrounded a part of the lake on the farther reaches of its waters, their once deep green leaves fading into ochre and red. The brilliant whites of the snow capped peaks that loomed behind neatly overshadowed those of the sparse clouds floating right above the Alps.

We followed a trail that led up a hill, away from the lake. The weather app foretold the mercury was falling to a single digit and I was still dressed in just my trusty windbreaker, thin sweater and jeans, but the stiff uphill climb kept my blood from coagulating. There was no wind to speak of; the sun shone bright but the trees lining the path before us cast long shadows upon it, so much so you couldn't even make out the colour of the earth.

And what did we see?


So. Much. SNOW!!

I packed some into a fist-sized ball. There was no one around to indulge me with a snowball fight so I told the mother to turn around and tossed it at the back of her coat. When we came to a field by the road where the white fluff lay untouched, I dropped flat on my back and waved my limbs against the snow to make a snow angel. The attempt drenched my jeans, but it was worth it! One-third of #13 on the Before I die list—make snow angels—can now be crossed off!

(Note: All photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 4S and appear before you au naturel, i.e. no edits or filters)

The mother wanted to move in the direction of the Schloss Elmau—going to a castle (the German word is 'Schloss') in the mountains couldn't be bad, right? Distrustful of the signboards that clearly indicated which turn we had to take, she asked a trio of old Nordic walkers passing by which way to turn. They offered to guide us and so we tagged along, pausing at intervals as I gleefully discovered more snow. We passed quite a few hikers, all of whom would greet us with a smile and a cheery 'hello!' =D Nothing quite like brief encounters with pleasant strangers.

First snow angel :)
We continued our hike and came upon another lake called Ferchensee. The air was so still, the scenery and its reflection met to form perfect symmetry. 

We marched on through woods, glacial rivers thundering by us. The trio of Nordic walkers graciously pointed us in the right direction, bidding us farewell. The trees began thinning out and a couple of cranes, almost camouflaged in the autumn hues, came into view much to my disgust. And finally, there stood Schloss Elmau. 

Corny, but I kept singing 'Walking in the Winter Wonderland'

Go forth!
Camouflaged cranes

We had been misled. Schloss Elmau was no castle, just a fancy resort. Disappointing, but the surrounding countryside more than made up for it. The sky is never this blue in Kuwait. 

Schloss Elmau

Lush green meadows lay concealed behind hillocks, and a steep climb on one of these revealed...

a basketball hoop. Strange place to have one but to each his own..

The commotion from the construction nearby was nerve-wracking. Add hunger and weariness to the equation and even a place as stunning as this can't stop irritation from building up. We walked to the resort to grab a bite to it but were daunted by a swarm of bees that were whizzing around. No freaking way was I going to eat there! The receptionist at the front desk arranged for the driver to drop us off at the train station a few kilometers away, without us even making any request of the kind. It was really nice of her. 

Once back in Mittenwald, we had seafood for dinner at a little restaurant. Ah, food. Food makes me happier than it should.

Friday, 7 February 2014

oh hello 2014 or picking up from where we left off

In the last few days of 2013, I introspected on how the year had treated me and imagined a conversation with 2014.

Me: Went on unforgettable trips to Bombay and Dubai, survived CELTA, switched careers, lived in Europe for nearly two months, spent the best ten days ever in Germany, started teaching, was gifted a mountain bike for my birthday, had seven articles published, started running, ran two 10K races... let's see you top that, 2014!

What I imagined 2014 to have said: Challenge accepted.

What 2014 actually said: Bugger off, you twit.


I've been completely brain dead since mid-December, so much so that I've had to shamelessly delay writing my annual resolutions post, which sucks. Two jobs that took up 11-12 hours a day left my mind and sometimes my spirit in shambles at the end of the work week. Thankfully, I get both Friday and Saturday off. I've a new found respect for single parents that work long, grueling hours to support their children.

Why am I working two jobs, you ask in bewilderment? It was just to see if I could handle it. The first is just a temporary one that I'll be done with in 11 days. Hallelujah!

The other's a part-time teaching stint at a language institute. I taught a six-week course that ended less than two weeks ago and I loved it. I've realized that teaching English is a lot about give and take, if you allow it. I learnt so much about my students' cultures, countries, customs and traditions. They loved talking about food and we'd feel so ravenous at the end of class!

The only other interesting thing that happened since this year began is an injury which resulted in my right index finger getting swathed in an over-sized bandage for a week.

What happened, you ask out of idle curiosity? I was blending some meat and some of it got stuck in the blade. So I popped my finger in to dislodge it. Meanwhile, my left thumb suddenly developed a mind of its own and pressed the power button on the blender... while my finger was still in.

Quite a bit of blood sprayed around the kitchen and we might have consumed some that night. My finger however, is firmly attached to the rest of me. I am truly blessed.

My bike is perhaps my most treasured possession right now. I'd been planning to buy one for some time but the purchase was delayed when I traveled. My friends amongst the Q8FootSoldiers gifted it to me (and right in time, I had a meeting planned with a seller the same weekend!). My parents weren't happy at the prospect of me sharing street space with the psychopaths here but since I don't care for cycling amidst the traffic either, I mitigated their fears with the promise of either cycling early in the morning or with friends. The mother said she was glad I didn't tell my friends I want a dog.

I didn't meet many of my resolutions for 2013. And I don't feel the drive to even keep any for 2014. I made a list that I misplaced and I don't really care about finding it.

It's been ages since I wrote the last Deutschland Diaries post and Day 3 has been saved as a draft for over two months. I do intend to continue it, so stay tuned. There'll probably be a long overdue audit first.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Deutschland Diaries Part 2: Mittenwald

Mittenwald is a small town in Bavaria, Germany, that the mother was dying to visit. And so we did.

The train from Munich pulled into the Mittenwald station at 8.30 pm. The town was dark and deserted, as though there was a curfew on. As is habitual with us, we had no hotel booking. It was 6 degrees Celsius, I was wearing nothing warmer than a windbreaker and that damned trolley bag kept slamming into my thigh as I carried it for about 600 metres until a group of young men that got off the train with us pointed us in the direction of what they said was a hotel, but turned out to be a beer garden guesthouse wherein we rented a small room that we later discovered had no heating and no WiFi, all for a ridiculous 80 Euro.

The best of beginnings it was not.

As I dragged the bag into the garden up to the entrance of the guesthouse, I spotted a huge white mass of soap suds by the gate and wondered what became of the normally active environmental consciousness of the Germans.

After a good dinner of pizza and pasta at an Italian restaurant around the corner while fully exploiting its WiFi connection, we spent the night shivering beneath one blanket (the mother refused to use hers after she found strands of hair on it that didn't stray from either of our noggins). After a miserable breakfast, the mother set out to find alternate lodgings, while I got ready to get the hell out of there (I must admit however that I had no wish to venture into what I considered was below freezing no matter what temperature the weather app displayed). It was Monday and apparently the staff's day off; there wasn't a soul anywhere in the guesthouse. The keys to the room included one to the front door, which had to be locked. Nobody had thought of mentioning to us where we were supposed to deposit the keys after locking the front door when checking out. So I kept them (with the key card to the luggage room from the hotel in Munich that I'd forgotten to return to reception), thinking I'd return them the next day

The mother called me to the garden as I got the bags out.
"I want to introduce you to someone."
"There's no one here.."
She pointed to the white fluff. "Meet Snow."
"That sludge is snow?! I thought it was a mass of soap suds!"

The pile of 'snow' was adulterated with fallen leaves, dirt and mud. What happened to its purity and fluffiness depicted innumerable times on TV? I felt cheated.

The second hotel was a far cry from the first. The room we rented (for the same rate) was equipped with every amenity and both the interior and exterior were very pleasing to the aesthetic sense, as the balcony looked onto the craggy Alps that towered over the edges of the town.

The room with a view. Breathtaking, innit?

More craggy mountain tops

My only complaint was of the miserable WiFi connection, but at least it existed.

A walk about the town revealed more of its inhabitants and visitors—old people. There was no one there under the age of 50. I felt weirdly out of place.

It was Eid that same day and the first one ever without sheer khurma. Not that I missed it but the occasion necessitates the satiation of the sweet tooth. We celebrated with baklava from a Turkish restaurant and Kinder Bueno ice cream from a shop selling gelato. A very satisfactory break from tradition.

I might have forgotten to mention that with regard to clothing, I was grossly unprepared. My only thought had been the Munich run, and besides a waterproof windbreaker, compression tights and a couple of tees, all I had for the Alps was a thick sweater and jeans. I moaned as I thought of the warm coats back in Prague. This is the story of my life. Pitiful. Oh, so pitiful.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Deutschland Diaries Part 1: Munich - The München Marathon

Ladies and gents, I give you... The Deutschland Diaries. 

Hereon, I solemnly swear to chronicle the entirety of my experiences in the fatherland in The Deutschland Diaries, with narratives and pictures, no matter how long it takes and not get sidelined until the series is completed. 

If someone had told me last year that I was capable of running a kilometre, let alone 10, I’d have laughed right in their face. But that was before I started running with the Q8FootSoldiers every Friday morning.

It was with trepidation that I registered for the 10km event of the Munich Marathon. I’d run 10km just once, in 81minutes, however this race required completion in a minute less. Even though a trickle of self-doubt seeped into my consciousness like a noxious gas, the excitement grew with each passing day as this would be my first official run.

A few days before the event, friend and fellow runner Lord Aymz—to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for bullying me into joining the Q8FootSoldiers—sent me an image of a runner with the following text: ‘This time I will be great. This time, I will fight harder than I ever have before and never look back. This. Is. It.’

That was the final boost of confidence I needed.

The day before the race, I traversed the picturesque five-hour train journey from Prague to Munich’s main station and then took a tram to the Olympiapark to collect my race kit and number. The lush green park, with its rolling hills and lake, was an unexpected sight. The proceedings at the event arena were so well-organized that despite thousands that signed up, there were no queues. Several companies were exhibiting and selling sporting goods, and I somehow got talked into splurging on a pair of barefoot-running shoes (how’s that for an oxymoron?). There was a pasta party as well, for participants to stock up on carbohydrates that would contribute to their strength and endurance for the marathon the next day.

The Olympiapark. 

Why does this remind me of the Shire?

Who agrees that the Olympiaturn (tower) has an uncanny
resemblance to Kuwait's Liberation Tower? =D Or vice versa
I suppose, since this was built in 1968.

A ChampionChip kept track of pace. After the run one was entitled to a souvenir medal, refreshments like flavoured milk, pretzels, apples and bananas, physiotherapy and showers.

The Day dawned clear and bright. The Underground station was dotted with several dark pink race kits strung over the shoulders of commuters and the exhilaration escalated as I realized I was part of something huge. I befriended two lovely German women who were also doing the 10km run.

Excitement was fever pitch as we walked as close as we could to the starting point amongst the 3,000 or so runners. My breath fogged before me; it was 7 degrees Celsius. I wasn’t used to the chill, having begun my running journey in Kuwait’s sweltering heat, but it was without a doubt much more preferable. I noticed jackets upon the cordons; apparently these were placed there by runners for charity. 

The human barrier at the start line.

The gunshot echoed through the street, the smoke from the barrel rising above the heads of the runners. We were off!

Note the smoke!
It had rained the night before, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the deep blue of the sky, the autumn gold of the trees lining the path forming a stunning contrast against it. As if in agreement, my iPhone played Michael Bublé’s It’s a Beautiful Day to start off with. I could hear the synchronized thudding of feet pounding against the damp road over the music. Spectators stood behind the barricades, cheering us on.
The sun bore down but the canopy formed by branches of trees on either side of the path never let us feel it. 

Autumn gold.
After about 2km, loud cheers and applause rose from around me as a runner flashed by in the opposite direction with a BMW in close pursuit. The car had a timer upon it; 17 minutes. He must have completed 5.5-6 kilometres. I was awestruck. Somehow, witnessing his incredible feat and the determination behind it motivated those present to go a bit faster, as evidenced by runners suddenly overtaking me!

Water was handed out at the 4km mark in front of the majestic Siegestor or Victory Arch. I spotted a bystander holding a poster that said, ‘Good luck random stranger’. Grinning, I went on. Bands played at different stages, bolstering resolve. More water and banana quarters close to the 8km mark. At this point, my knees implored me to stop but I silenced them. Just when my resolution began to waver, I noticed two little girls on the pavement holding their palms out to the runners. I high-fived them and felt a tingle of energy thrusting me forward. I’d never felt anything like it.

The Siegestor in the distance. It has an inscription on the back
that translates to: 'Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war,
reminding of peace.'

The final kilometre led into the Olympic Stadium. With just about a 100 metres left of the track, my iPhone very obligingly played my power song. Adrenaline pumped through me, eliminating the exhaustion. Fussy knees forgotten, I bolted towards the finish line, my spirit soaring as I noted the time displayed. I’d finished in 70 minutes, shaving 9 minutes off my predicted time. If it was possible for your heart to explode with joy and satisfaction, that would have been my moment. I have miles to go in terms of fitness and endurance, but this is a decent start.

At the end of the run, I had a pleasant encounter with a friend of a college friend (this one) from Pune. It was slightly amazing that we found each other in the multitudes of runners, considering we'd never met before. I also reunited with one of the German women I befriended, who invited me to Mannheim and Heidelberg to visit her. I might just taker her up on the offer on the next trip.

There were a few heart-warming moments from the run that have stayed with me. I spotted a family of four running with their two children, neither of which could have been older than twelve, and marvelled at their stamina. At one point, a woman went past me pushing her baby in a stroller. Later, I passed a woman running determinedly with a prosthetic leg. The most touching however was a man charging forth with another in a wheelchair. The runner had a paper pinned to his back with the words: ‘Beste Freund’.

Why do people sign up for runs such as this? For some, it is steeling themselves to completing the challenge without chickening out due to the witnesses present. For others, it may be to share their passion with those that participate. Some might run to raise awareness or funds for a charitable cause, while an elite few for the glory and to officialise their triumphs.

Whatever the underlying reason may be, it’s always you you’re competing against. You that is defying the odds and shattering the limits the voices inside you may place upon you. There is no stronger contender.

Image courtesy: The mother.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

prelude to the lauf.

The prolonged interim in posts has been brought about by an amalgamation of factors, the most dominant of which is inherent languidness, coupled to a degree with not enough time to write, what with the ten days in Germany being very full with activity, explorations and some interesting culinary experiences.

I've been in Europe a month now; I can't keep track of the days and it's not really important to me what happened on precisely which day so the numbering's gone to the dogs. Posts will follow depending on which experience most readily jumped out at me and I felt like writing about at the time.

I had to traverse the distance between Prague to Munich by train for the 10K run (lauf in German), one of the events at the Munich Marathon. As I packed my running apparel, I thought gleefully of the trolley bag we'd be wheeling around as opposed the odious monstrosity I had to struggle with and lug all over the Czech Republic. I pulled the bag's handle to wheel it to the elevator.

It refused to budge.

With just thirty minutes left to catch the train to the beautiful Bavarian city, there was no time to repack. I seem to be cursed to carry malfunctioning luggage if I'm travelling within Europe...

(post on the 10km lauf to follow)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Europa Day 5 and 6: Prague - Embarking upon a Quest

The days are beginning to blur. I'm having a hard time keeping track of what happened when. Guess that calls for more discipline in maintaining this record of my trip.

Moving on to Day 5. For those of you inquiring what became of Day 2 and 4 know that the days that aren't mentioned weren't worth writing about. No epiphanies, glorious discoveries, awesome happenings, explorations or the like, just me being more lazy than usual.

Day 5:

Finally went for a run! While traversing by tram I scout out areas suitable for running. What with the cobbled streets and uphill paths, it took a bit of time (even the parks I'd come across were on hills). Finally, I took to running on a path by the riverside. The view was quite appealing, and the blood congealed in my legs due to the cold finally got moving.

The glistening Vltava

I spotted a dirt trail and followed it.

Gosh it's so pretty. And clean.

To my surprise, I ran 7 km. I hadn't had a decent run in over a week and I still haven't run more than 10 km (which was just once, last month). While running in Kuwait I always stop by one of the four water coolers that lie on my usual route for a sip of that cool liquid; this run was a bit momentous as it was my first without any water breaks, simple because there was no water fountain on the way. And it didn't deter me at all. Just goes to show how you can subject yourself to limits without even realizing your true potential.

I suppose it also helps that the temperature here is thirty degrees less than in Kuwait.

Runners are sparse in Prague (or maybe I haven't come across that many); cyclists on the other hand, are all over the place. So when I see runners, my heart warms to them. Especially when they wave and smile in encouragement in passing just when the aching legs decide it's time to take a breather. Perfect timing!

After the run, I walked to the Old Town Square—MAJOR tourist attraction, also one of the reasons I disliked Prague when we first visited 2 years ago, the zillions of tourists and tons of tourist traps—to meet up with the mother and the sister. While walking past the infinite overpriced, cheap souvenir shops, I discovered a stall where a young man was baking and selling 'trdelnik', a traditional sweet pastry home to this part of Europe. It smelled divine. The board hanging outside the shop stated there were different kinds, and Nutella was one of them!

That did it. I had to have one.

And here we digress for a little background information on my history with the hazelnut chocolate spread:
Nutella is my weakness (one of them anyway, I'm only human). The mother would often buy us a big jar when on the monthly romp to the supermarket and I would clean out the jar straight out with a spoon, having little patience spreading it out on bread for a sandwich which was how the sister preferred to have it. Fed up of the sister's complaints of me wiping out all trace of the delectable delight, my mother bought us a smaller jar each. There was no evidence of the contents of mine in a couple of days. The sister however, is the kind that takes pleasure in every bite over a period of time. She'd taken the pains to hide her jar, but it wasn't hard to find. I then proceeded to serve myself generous dollops of the sweet stuff and soon there was nothing left of it.

As a result of my feeding frenzy, relations with the sister were strained and that was the last time the mother got us Nutella.

*End of flashback*

I stood in queue, feeling a tinge of guilt for the transgression I was about to commit. All the benefits that came from the run were about to be smothered and drowned in the gooey goodness that is Nutella.

The mother called then and I had to leave much to my sorrow, as she was waiting for me to join her for lunch. I left, determined to return and gorge on the Nutella lathered trdelnik. After losing my way a few times, I finally found her and proceeded to feast on the best tuna salad I've ever had (can't recall the restaurant's name but it was opposite the University Bookstore on Ciletna 13).

(Author's note: I am really annoyed right now as I had another 3 paras typed which somehow due to the Blogger app's retardation are currently on a boundless journey through cyberspace, never to return to my blog.) 

I described the heavenly sight I had witnessed to the sister which got her mouth watering as well. We set off to find the stall. There were several baking and selling the pastry but none of them offered the Nutella option and we deemed them all a waste of space. Try as I might in retracing my steps back to the alley containing the original stall, I couldn't find my way. It was like the alley itself never existed, like Platform 9 and 3/4 to a muggle. Disappointed but also secretly glad that my run hadn't been wasted, we gave up the search and went home. But I hadn't conceded defeat.

Day 6:

The sister was busy so I went back the exact same route I'd taken to enter Old Town Square alone, determined to find the stall. Past Charles Bridge, through the tourist trap market (the souvenir shops), past the Museum of Torture and then T.G.I. Friday's and then.. wonder of wonders! There it was!

I stood in queue once again, drinking in the aroma wafting in the air.

The baking of the trdelnik

Life is so much better with a spoonful—or six—of Nutella. 
I had it with cinnamon sprinkled over it. The first bite was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. That right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what good things are made of.

The fifth bite wasn't as appealing. My enthusiasm began to wane.

The eighth bite just made me want to throw up.

I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even look at it. I tossed the last piece (there wasn't really much left) and decided I couldn't have it again anytime soon and definitely not without sharing it. It's weird, maybe the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility is finally beginning to apply to me where Nutella is concerned.

One of the really great things about Prague are the concerts. If you're a classical music aficionado, you'll never be wanting for entertainment in Europe. I bought a ticket for a string orchestra concert and the guard insisted on selling it to me at the student price (half the adult price) despite me telling him I wasn't a student. "Well, if you insist..."
The programme included Vivaldi's La Folia which now tops my list as one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It was an enchanting evening. Live music evokes such strong sentiments in one; there is absolutely no comparison when listening to the same tracks through a device.

That reminds me, I should hit the opera soon. *blissful smile*

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Europa Day 3: Prague - A Walk to Remember

Zooming by the Vltava this afternoon.

Post a core strengthening class at the gym I discovered close to the hotel, I decided to check out the antiquarian bookshop I'd spotted earlier. 

You will NEVER guess the content of a book I saw there. 

Uncanny. Very Uncanny.

What are the odds that I'd find a book on Kuwait in a second hand bookstore in Prague?! Of all places.. I've never even seen this one in Kuwait.
Having made a decision in the morning not to get carried away while shopping, I'd left with just about 500 crowns. 200 went to the gym. Of course I couldn't leave a bookstore empty-handed...

My loot.

With just 50 crowns jingling in my pocket, I debated whether to go back to the room, pick up some more cash and have a meal or risk going out into the unknown in search of adventure, somehow making the money count. 

I'd been cozying up in my comfort zone for far too long. I picked the latter. And then I saw this:

Great advice :)

But what does one eat besides junk with just 50 crowns (about 750 Kuwaiti fils)? The answer lay into two ginormous peaches and a large bottle of mineral water (neperlivá!) bought at a fruit vendor's. Fruit is unbelievably cheap here; I even had some change left over. I set off, munching my juicy peach.

The roads all seemed to be going uphill into a residential area. My legs didn't bother me at all. What might have been an arduous task a few months ago is now just a walk in the park. Guess all the running has paid off! 

Twilight set in and I gleefully stomped the leaves that had been cast aside by the boughs above. It was a lovely area to live in, except for the cars that kept whizzing by. It wasn't even cold. Here's the funny thing about Prague. It isn't as chilly after the sun sets. The wind dies down. It's odd, but I'm not complaining.

I came across a park that seemed to be laid out upon a hill. I climbed up the track, a little nervous now that it was dusk. Since I was a child, the mother would stop me from walking from under the branches of a tree around maghrib (evening prayer) time, warning me that the djinn residing amongst its trunk would possess me. After I read a story by Ruskin Bond in which one of the characteristics of a djinn was that it liked long black hair falling loosely over a girl's shoulders, I started taking this a little more seriously. Call it superstition or whatever you will, but I took extra precautionary measures by putting my hood up, running whenever the track had branches overhead, and praying the ayat from the Quran that wards off evil. No djinn was gonna take over my mind, no siree. 

I left the park, continuing my ambulation and taking turns that led uphill, thinking I'd get a great view of the city from the top. But it never came. As soon as my feet reached the 'top', the paths just went downhill or straight past more houses. There was no view to speak of, just picturesque homes. Unless I trespassed into a private garden and climbed up to a rooftop, I wasn't gonna get a view.

So I took another path that led downhill in the direction of whence I came (or so I thought) to go back to the hotel. Trouble was it didn't lead anywhere to familiar territory. I was well and truly lost, with no 3G—and therefore no Google Maps—and not a soul in sight. Another funny thing about this city? The residents all vanish soon after sunset, as though there are vicious vampires on the loose or some such fantastical creature that has the place terrorized. Even the cars had stopped whizzing by. I like silence as much as the next person, but it wasn't very comforting then. Think more on the lines of unnerving.

A different path went past ramshackle houses and a howling dog. Wary now, I ventured on into uncharted land, hoping to get out of what gave King Minos's labyrinth a run for its money. I walked for about a kilometer and sighed.

The path went uphill again. 

I walked on, finally catching a glimpse of the city from between two houses. No sooner did I have my iPhone positioned and ready to click, a dog started barking furiously from behind the gate, giving me a minor heart attack. View be damned. I fled. It wasn't that great a shot anyway. I walked in the middle of the road keeping well and truly away from the gates, lest I disturbed any more overprotective hounds.

When I reached this point (pic below) I got slightly desperate. Where the hell was I going and would I ever find my way back to the hotel?

Kolonial Charlie. Like Charlie Chaplin.
I've no idea what this is.

And then, hallejulah! I saw a middle aged lady walking in my direction. I darted towards her keeping her well in sight, half afraid she was an apparition that would disappear. I asked her where the mall in the area I was residing in was. She didn't speak English. Another apparition appeared, a man in his early thirties perhaps. He didn't speak English either. I thought of walking back, but then one of them mentioned 'tram' (thankfully most terms of transportation are the same in Czech) and I asked where the stop was (I had a valid day pass). The man asked me to follow him and I thought well, what's the worst that could happen?

Don't answer that.

He led me to an eerie looking flight of stairs going down and instructed to follow the route to the tram stop. I skipped down them, calling upon God to protect me again.

From the top..

..and from the bottom.

It was freaking creepy.

Finally, I was back in civilization. There was a drunk old hobo at the tram stop who started calling out in Czech as soon as he saw me. Suspecting he was passing racist slurs and afraid again, I paid him no attention and hurried on. I passed a restaurant and debated going in. "You stupid fool," I said kicking myself, "you only have 10 crowns!!" I had to cross the road to get to the tram stop. Trouble was the hobo was there too. And he was still going on.. Thinking I'd be safe around the two women that were waiting there, I crossed the road. If he was being racist I wasn't offended as much as I was scared. I didn't give a damn about what a sloshed vagrant was saying, having seen a lot worse in the desert from Arabs and my own countrymen (Indians.. most racist people in the world!). I couldn't understand it anyway. Thankfully, the tram came a minute later and I drowned the unpleasantness by listening to the Man of Steel OST.

There were a couple of street musicians on the way to the hotel. I love the street performers in Europe. Dropped the rest of the miserable amount of change I had for them.

I entered my room a few minutes later with my mind well and truly under my own control, unpossessed by the supernatural, and unhurt.

Lesson learnt: Stay off the streets of creepy residential areas after dusk when alone.