The Comic Strip Murals of Brussels

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I was in Brussels for a few hours way back in 2012, on my way back from Bruges. And the only thing I’d had time for was a quick pilgrimage (if there ever was such a thing) to The Delirium Cafe.

When I planned my 2014 vacation, I needed to get some more Belgium in me. So I planned a few days in Brussels. And while I was there, I chanced upon something called a comic walk trail on the Visit Brussels website, that would take up 3 to 4 hours of my time and take me through several streets of the city, exploring murals from several comic strips.

I saw Tintin murals, some Lucky Luke (even though I discovered the awesomeness of Lucky Luke only last weekend, when Suraj picked up a Lucky Luke comic book at a cheap book sale), Asterix and Obelix and a bunch of more really cool art work.

It was a grey morning when I set out, and I started with a beer and some offal at Le Poechenellekelder and ended with my usual Delirium Cafe pilgrimage (I’ve written more about those in my Brussels post, here). I had to open up an umbrella for a couple of minutes a couple of times through the walk, but all in all, it was a half day well spent. I came back to my room and spent a few hours reading up about everything I saw and that made the whole little walk a lot more worthwhile.

Here’s a slideshow of the murals I saw that morning.

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And here’s a Google map of where these are.

Turns out there are 49 in all, and I only saw about 20 and some other graffiti.

There’s also a page up on Wikipedia with details about most of the paintings, for those interested.

Gokarna

I had been nagging Suraj to travel with me just one weekend for several weeks. We’d fought about not doing fun things on weekends. I’d blamed him for just sitting around at home in front of the TV under the pretext of getting work done. And he finally gave in and booked us on a bus to Gokarna. He had to cancel and rebook because the bus service decided they didn’t want to ply Bangalore-Gokarna that weekend. And one Saturday morning, in February (yep, I’m writing this one month short of a year after the trip!), we were there. The bus drops you off just at the entrance of the town, where you can see village folk selling vegetables and flowers. You can walk or take an auto-rickshaw to a beach of your choice, from here.

Gokarna has 6 beaches – the main beach (Gokarna Beach), Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Half-Moon Beach, Paradise Beach and Nirvana beach (which is further down and relatively unexplored).

Most tourists prefer Kudle and Om beach to stay at. And most rickshaw drivers drop you off at the south end of Kudle Beach or at Om Beach. It’s a quick hike down from your drop-off point to the beach. They take you on roads just around the actual village and charge you a couple of hundred rupees to get you to your beach, but our luck got us a fellow who took us right through the village and to the top of the north end of Kudle Beach.

The ride was one of a kind – through the by-lanes of the village and early enough in the morning for us to catch glimpses of a pujari on a moped making his way to the temple and women around the market just setting up their stalls. Over the course of the weekend, we convinced another rickshaw guy to take us down the village roads a few more times, so that we couls take a video and “explore” the non-beach parts of the village. What we saw early morning on that first ride though, was the best of the lot.

It’s a quick walk down through red mud from where the rickshaw drops you off, to Kudle beach. We hadn’t booked a place to say and were told that most people wing it, when they get to the beach.

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The first few shacks, at the foot of the hill, where it just opens up onto the beach looked liked they catered only to non-Indian folk. They have a hippie, white air about them, that almost puts you off. While I have nothing against hippies or white people, it’s the attitude of the owners/caretakers of these shacks that is just disheartening. Asking around the first few shacks should get you a basic room – some are as cheap as Rs200/- a night and are basically just a mattress in a mud hut, and a common bathroom. Others go up to Rs700/- or Rs800/- where you get a very basic room with a fan and an attached bathing area. Of course, taking a rickshaw to a proper hotel, for those who prefer a more comfortable holiday is always an option.

There isn’t very much to do around, really. You can hop around across beaches, hitch a boat ride to see some dolphins, chug a couple of beers and eat some seafood. Or then walk around the village and visit the numerous temples it has. Food isn’t exactly cheap. And options are limited. We didn’t venture into town to eat, assuming we’d get only vegetarian options. Though I have read that streets around the temples are the only ones that don’t serve meat. At the beach, food is inspired Italian/Lebanese/Viennese/American cuisine with some Punjabi flavours thrown in – butter garlic style squid, fish and prawns, gravy and rice, fries, hummus and a few varieties of terribly spelt pasta. They’re about Rs150/- to Rs200/- per dish, and eaters like Suraj and me end up shelling out about Rs1000/- per meal (for two, beers inclusive).

The main temple is the Mahabaleshwara temple built in honour of Lord Shiva. There is also another Shiva Temple called the Uma Maheshwara Temple. And a smaller temple for Lord Ganesh. Gokarna means Cow’s Ear (gau – cow, karn -ear) and it is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow here.

The Mahabaleshwara Temple (maha – large, bal – strength) has two wooden chariots — Dodda Ratha and Sanna Ratha (dodda – large, sanna – small, ratha – chariot in Kannada) – that are decorated and brought out in a processions during Maha Shiv Ratri down Car Street (Ratha Biddi).

We were there the weekend of February 19th, just after Maha Shiv Ratri and got a chance to see both chariots, the larger of the two is usually brought out only for the procession.

Being a temple town, the hustle of foreign tourists over the past decade or so has suddenly led to strict policing every once in a while.

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Day 1, we settled down in our room and then head to check the beaches out. A quick hike (read: 30 minutes) over some rocky terrain brought us to Om beach. When you descend from Kudle towards Om, you can the beach in an inverted 3 shape, which when looked at from the Half Moon Beach side, looks like an Om. That’s where the beach has gotten it’s name from. The original name for the beach, however, is something entirely different.

We lunched at a cafe at the end of Om beach, it’s hard to miss. The beach, sort of turns at a point and there’s just one shack there. That’s Cafe Nirvana (or so Google tells me). But pictures of the place suggest that’s where we ate. We stuck to a couple of beers, some fried fish and some squid.

On our way out, we figured we weren’t all that enthusiastic to hike up and across Om Beach over to Half Moon Beach – partly because of the afternoon heat and partly because we could see construction along the hillside, resorts making way for what used to be paddy fields. Or well, may be because we found a guy in a boat right outside, willing to take us to Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach and bring us back. A foreigner couple hopped into the boat with us, as well.

Half Moon Beach is a crescent shaped beach with no shacks or lodging, as far as I could tell from a few glances, and further out into the sea, beyond it, the boatman takes you to dolphin-watching. Suraj makes some classic dolphin sounds, so we mostly just made sounds and saw no dolphins. But the ride was pleasant.

Paradise Beach, a little further down, is a tiny patch of beach where you can see people with little camp-fire-esque set-ups, hammocks, hoola-hoops, graffiti and the sort.

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Even further down, is a really long stretch of white sand – Nirvana Beach. Going by what the boatman told us, people don’t visit it very much at all because it is fairly far from Gokarna and staying facilities – which is some ways, I think, is a good thing.

The boatman brought us back to Kudle beach where we settled in another shack, while the sun set, over another couple of beers and some Kudle Cake. Kudle Cake is a gastronomic delight, if I may call it that – layered biscuit, caramel and chocolate, frozen and served in little rectangles. It’s addictive. And for under Rs 100/- a piece, it’s bloody delicious.

With the sun going down, we saw people light little fires on the beach, sing songs and swirl little balls of light into the air.

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We head back and called it a day, with a plan to head into town the following morning. We woke up late and head to the climbed up the red mud path to the top of the Kudle Hill where we’d called a rickshawallah to drive us around town. I managed to get a decent video through the market and to the rathas. I do, however, miss the early morning sights from the previous day.

We noticed a lot of women with sarees draped – right around the body, all the way from the top and without a blouse, quite unlike the usual way a saree is draped. We managed to get a picture of a lady and I’m pretty sure we also managed to annoy her in the process.

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The rickshaw ride took us through narrow roads, stores and make-shift shops filled with spices, everyday ware and trinkets, and brought us to the Koti Tirtha. It is an artificial stepped tank, which locals bathe in before and after religious proceedings. 

Neither of us were feeling very religious and skipped visiting the temples around the tank and head right back to where we were put up. A couple of beers more (they’re about Rs120/- a bottle, and with very limited options – mostly just Kingfisher Utlra/Premium/Strong and Carlsberg) and some more seafood and fries, and we head back to our room for the afternoon.

The evening bus back to Bangalore never showed up, and we had to book a last minute cab that overcharged us and drove us through every possible road but the highway. I managed to catch a wink only at about quarter to six Monday morning, when we finally hit a highway and were a couple of hours from Bangalore. Needless to say, a fairly nice trip came to a lousy end, with me stressed out and bedridden with a fever for the next couple of days. And that, of course, led to another series of arguments about how the one holiday we managed to take also screwed up.

We’ve been on one more weekend trip since – to Hampi. I’ll be writing about that soon enough. And that, let me assure you, was far better than our Gokarna vacay.

[Oh, I must mention, I’m an average photographer, at best. And an even poorer photoshopper. All of these pictures have NOT been edited. It’s a pretty place, then, isn’t it?]

Happy BLR to me!

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3 years to the day, a (then)friend Bharath hauled two large suitcases out of a train at the Bangalore Cantonment station.

They’re the same bags I’d packed that’d taken me to USA on July 29th, 2008 and brought me back on May 19th, 2011.

Why I remember dates is still something I’ve never been able to understand, but these 3 years have taught me a lot.

My first year in Bangalore was mostly spent working very very hard. I also found time on weekends to watch plays, cook lots and lots of food and have friends over pretty much every weekend. I did up my matchbox-1-BHK in quaint little ways, filled with DIY and cheap furniture, to make it that place that for the next couple of years got “Oh, how cool!”, “Yaar, yeh toh GHAR jaisa lagta hai.”

Year 2, I had a boyfriend – the kind I wanted to marry. Life shifted from cooking a lot of seafood and baking pies to cooking red meats and baking all kinds of things he might enjoy eating. I backpacked for a couple of weeks in Europe in 2012 – came back a few kilos heavier. And then put on some more over the course of the year and the next. I worked even harder than I had in 2013 with the exact opposite outcome. I lost a bunch of my confidence at work, in the process.

Year 3, I thought I’d make my own pasta and brew my own beer. I did neither. I thought I’d get a new, cool job. I didn’t. I thought I’d travel more often. I did one trip to Gokarna, that ended on an utterly lousy note. I thought I’d save a lot more money. I failed on that count too.

Here I am, 3 years in a city that I, both, love and hate – 20 kilos heavier than what I was in 2013. And demotivated and under-confident in several ways. It’s not a feeling I’m used to. I’m used to being on top of things. I’m used to being ‘that awesome guy’.

Yet, I’ve grown up in ways I never thought I would.

  • I’ve been less frivolous
  • I’ve put on a whole bunch of weight, and also ended up with sleepless nights because of chronic backaches, as a result
  • I’ve tried looking for a new job, failed miserably and made peace on-and-off with my current job
  • I’ve calmed down at work, in the hope that it’ll help me get ahead
  • I’ve learnt that there are an unimaginable number of  asshole-y people in the world
  • I’ve been broke more often than I’d ever imagined
  • I’ve read so little, I’m almost ashamed of myself
  • I’ve fallen in love
  • I’ve lost a large part of the friend in my mother after her sister passed away and become that person who listens to her, instead of being that person who cried to her
  • I’ve gotten married
  • I’ve put in my life’s savings and paid EMIs for a big home to keep people, who until 2 months ago weren’t even related to me, happy
  • I’ve put off travel plans like nobody’s tomorrow
  • I’ve pretty much given up cooking altogether

And today, right now, while I type, I feel sad. It’s not a feeling I like. But it’s a feeling I’ve been feeling for many months now.

As someone who enjoys cooking, not being able to try out new stuff in the kitchen hurt a lot 6 months ago. I claim I’ve made my peace with not cooking at all – except the odd time I’m asked to make chapatis for lunch/dinner. But I know that every time a colleague asks how life is after marriage and how lucky I am to not have to cook because I live with my in-laws, my insides churn and my eyes tear up.

I’ve made my peace (or that’s the fancy term I like to use) by baking every other weekend. But I know, in my heart, that it’s a job half done. Because there’s invariably whipped cream sitting around in the fridge until a few days after, or cake batter that got made into cake pops to de-stress at 2 am, midweek.

I’ve made my peace with trying to do other stuff around the house  – DIY mostly. I won’t say I’ve been entirely successful with that. But I’m trying very hard to not let that get to me.

So yeah, I’ll let this post be about something we got around to make every once in a while this last year – ramen. Or well, cheat’s ramen.

I don’t know if it came out of a very tired day at work or just a need to use up a bunch of green onions I had lying around in my fridge, and I cooked up a semi-spicy broth – with some miso paste and red chillies, tossed in some chicken and some noodles. That’s when I realized I had something that I could add an egg too, a little garnishing and turn into my very own ramen.

Since then, I’ve come across several articles on the web, about different recipes for ramen – most of which spoke about spending hours (days even!) brewing a broth, several ways of making soupy noodles:

  • Serious Eats has a really fun link on how to add hot water to pre-prepped noodles meals
  • This posts on Food52 was one of the first few I’d sent to my husband when he was looking for ideas on what he could add to make his own ramen. He ended up making his own schezwan sauce, a recipe for which deserves to be put up here, when he makes it next, and adding some shrimp into his super spicy broth.

Here’s what I usually do:

  1. Because I’m a sucker for one pot meals, I put some eggs to boil in a pot filled with drinking water. When the eggs are boiled, we usually do hard-boiled eggs at home, (though I’m quite a sucker for the soft-boiled variety too, and your ramen will taste great even with a soft-boiled yolk!), fish the eggs out and let them cool. Keep the water aside, so that you can re-use it to make your broth and boil your noodles!
  2. Toss a few pods of garlic into a half teaspoon of oil and let them brown. Burnt garlic is awesome. Of course, I make sure to not let it go black. Just a nice, rich, caramelized brown. You know when it’s done, really. It just smells great!
  3. Grill an onion on your gas stove, in quarters.
  4. Crush the garlic in with some fresh red chillies (the spicier, the better!)
  5. Add another half-teaspoon or so of oil to a large pot and add the chilli-garlic paste. Saute for a minute or so.
  6. Pick a meat. I’ve usually used bite sized pieces of chicken, or large prawns. Just using bacon, works to. Or if you’re vegetarian, you can skip the meat.
  7. Add the meat into the pot and let it cook for just a little bit. Remember, chicken and prawns both cook really fast and you don’t want to over cook your meat. It’s okay to take them off the heat, even if they’re a little under. They’ll spend a few minutes in the broth and cook later anyway
  8. Add in some halved mushrooms and slices of radish, if you like, as well. You can add just about any veggie in, really. We’ve done bok choy one time, we’ve done a mix of turnips and radishes another. We’ve omitted veggies altogether one time.
  9. Add a dash of pepper, and some salt to taste.
  10. Feel free to strain out the meat and the veggies at this point. I usually do so, to avoid over cooking them.
  11. Add in the water from your boiled eggs to the pot now.
  12. I usually have a few sachets of some miso soup powder lying around at home. I mix two sachets (each sachet makes a cup of soup), with a couple of teaspoons of water to make a thick paste and use those as miso paste addition, to my broth.
  13. Add in a teeny tiny bit of fish sauce, but make sure you don’t make your broth all salty, in the process.
  14. When the broth is just about to come to a boil, add in a few handfuls of noodles. I usually use a local variety of egg noodles I get at the grocer’s. The noodles usually take only 2-3 minutes to cook. Because the broth contains all of the chilli-garlic paste, the noodles cook in tasty broth too, making them all the more delicious.
  15. In a pan, add some sugar and a dash of vinegar. Add in the ginger juliennes and let them caramelize to a nice brown colour and take them off the heat immediate, to avoid burning them altogether. My husband came up with this, the first time he made his own ramen and we’ve been adding caramelized ginger to our ramen ever since.
  16. Add the meat and the veggies into the pot,  a minute or two before serving.
  17. Serve the soupy broth, noodles and meat out into a bowl.
  18. Garnish with chopped green onions, a few pieces of nori (I usually have some of those handy too!), half an egg, black sesame seeds (just for the colour contrast!)

I’ve written this out in a really goody way, where I’ve listed out the how-to bit and not listed out a generic set of ingredients. Hey, it’s been a while! So, here goes:

The ingredients below make ramen for 3 people.

  1. 2 cups of a meat of your choice
  2. 2 tablespoons of miso paste
  3. 8-10 garlic pods
  4. 8-10 red chillies
  5. 4 eggs
  6. 3 handfuls of egg noodles
  7. 4-6 cups of water
  8. A half cup of button mushrooms
  9. A half cup of thinly sliced rounds of radish
  10. 1 onion, cut into quarters
  11. Salt and pepper to taste
  12. A dash of fish sauce
  13. 1 cup of green onions, for garnish
  14. 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds, for garnish
  15. 3 tablespoons of fresh ginger, julienned
  16. 1 teaspoon of sugar
  17. 1 teaspoon of vinegar

So yeah, this has been a good way to get back to posting on the blog.

The picture at the beginning of this post is something we cooked up on Sunday evening, because my mum-in-law takes time off kitchen duties for Sunday dinner.

This one below is when @to_soham was visiting a few weeks ago.

Here’s one from when I tried my hand at summer rolls and made a broth with prawns.

 

And this last one is one of my first attempts at soupy noodles –  a hazy picture with a book that I’ve *still* only read a hundred pages (or so) of.

 

I don’t know whether the first part of this post is a rant. I don’t mean to bitch about people or cry at my misfortune (which I d0n’t think this is, to begin with) or anything of that sort. I just wish I had been strong enough to have done some things differently last year.

This year, I promise to buy myself a pasta maker. I promise to do more holidays, even if it means doing the odd long drive alone or going for a weekend trip with friends. I also hope to get around to lose those 20 kilos I’ve put on because of stress and poor eating habits. I hope to do better at work and make that jump to a new/better place, if that’s what it takes. I want to bake a lot more on weekends and try and be more productive. I want to read – like I used to in 2013 and 2014. I want to update the blog a lot more. And as hopeless as I sound, at the end of the year, I may not be drastically happier than I am right now, but I’ll try to be a better person.

 

 

 

 

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