Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

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Monday, August 29th, 2005

I have to say that having just been in Mumbai and seeing the state of the buldings, it’s kind of unsurprising that some of them are falling down. Even the more expensive apartments looked like they were on their last legs. I’m guessing that the monsoon flooding may have weakened the foundations also.

in india start of day two

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Can�t believe it�s only the start of day two. Yesterday was quite a day. Right now I�m at the desk in my insanely overpriced room in Bangalore. The room is $220 per night, considerably more than the $150 at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, and so far not quite as nice. The hotels are in the same chain but I guess this is a business hotel � the Taj in Mumbai is real touristy and very swank. They did make up for the prices in the coffee bar where I had a snack yesterday afternoon after an exhausting tour. I wasn�t too hungry but at 5pm I thought I should have a wee something to tide me over, not having eaten since breakfast. So I got a coffee, a couple of San Pelligrinos (Pelligrini?) and a dosa: a lentil pancake, which came with a veg curry sauce and a sweetish sauce. It turned out that the dosa was pretty big, with a diameter of around 15�, and the lentils in it made it very filling so I could only manage just over half. That wee snack came to about $28.

After having had the tour I can safely say that coming from serene and quiet UK/USA, Mumbai is totally mad. I�m certainly glad I wasn�t driving � even walking down the street is exhausting. The tour was quite a good deal actually, and I recommend it highly if you�re ever in Mumbai. The hotel provided a car and driver, the hotel cars all being little wee things, but very comfortable. A little smaller than a Prius but that�s just fine in a city where it�s every vehicle for itself, the markings are pretty much ignored and you just push through, honking your horn all the way. The guide was excellent, and four hours of tour was around $10.

The first thing I noticed and continued to notice all day is that if you�re a tourist someone�s always trying to fleece you. I went to the ATM in a bank just round the corner from the hotel and outside a boy tried to sell me a peacock feather wand, and a guy tried to sell me a bizarre five foot long balloon � what the hell would I want that for? They were pretty good when I said no though, and left me alone OK. I think you have to just say no up front. Also every time the car stops at traffic lights, if it�s actually paying attention to the traffic lights, someone knocks on the window to ask for money. That was quite distressing as some of those people were clearly very destitute, but to be honest I didn�t know what to do and was kind of paralyzed into doing nothing and ignoring them, which I feel very bad about. What do you do?

What was more pushy was on the way to the airport in the evening. To get there (and more on the journey later) you go through a suburb where I suddenly saw, amidst the sprawl and shanty town storefronts, a couple of smarter looking stores. The driver had been putting pressure on me to go to Saga, a v posh department store. I�m convinced that he gets a kickback for delivering tourists there, but there we go � capitalism for you. So I got in the store and immediately a couple of workers are all over me: �Hello sir, how are you sir, what will you be looking at sir, just follow me sir�. So I looked at some pretty amazing jewelry, some clothes, all the while with the assistants coming up and asking me how I was, if I wanted to see something else. Then I went past the rugs section and was made to sit down while a guy gave me some Indian tea (very nice) and gave me a demo of how the Kashmiri people make rugs by hand, and how amazing the rugs were. They certainly were, and I must admit I was quite tempted to get one, but didn�t in the end and he seemed kind of mad, even though I�d said up front that I wasn�t going to. Oh well. I did however get a present for Emma at another part of the store, and a pretty awesome present too though I say it myself.

So the tour. It�ll maybe make more sense once you can see some photos, and I�ll try to post them tomorrow once I have an internet connection. At the Taj Mahal hotel you�re very central in the old Fort part of the city. There are lots of English buildings around � I mentioned the church-type building I could see from my room, which turns out to be a college. First we saw the train station �Victoria Terminal. Seriously impressive English/Indian architecture. Then I was taken along the seafront (the Arabian Sea front) through a rather nice part of the city to a Jain temple. Jainism is an offshoot of Hinduism and apparently was partly a reaction against the animal sacrifices, and in its strictest form is very self-denying and respectful of all life. For example, they do not eat vegetables from under the ground, no meat of course, and are careful to brush the street in front of them to move ants etc out of the way. In the temple in the holiest areas the people wear cloth over their noses and mouths so as not to breathe in and kill microscopic animals or insects. It certainly is a beautiful temple � lots of marble and statues, a lovely smell of incense and a sense of calm. We then went to a very nice park � the Hanging Gardens � with some interesting topiary, which is near to a Parsi burial place. The Parsis don�t bury or cremate their dead (so I�m trying to work out how to change that previous sentence to call it something other than a burial place but can�t work it out without making it sound gory or disrespectful) they believe that you give back in death so they have tall towers on top of which they leave the dead for the vultures. There are five towers, two for men, two for women and once for children. We only caught glimpses of the towers through the trees, not anything near close enough to actually see anything happening, which to be honest was kind of a relief. And if you�re not Parsi you can�t go near either.

After that a very moving trip to the Gandhi house � a museum in the building where the great man used to stay when he was in Mumbai. The museum is very simple, as you would expect, and features a library of books on Gandhi and the Indian struggle for independence. Never having read enough about him before, or seeing the movie (that sounds kind of crass doesn�t it?) I had no idea quite how bad India had it, so it was a good education for me. And with all his talk and living of peace you just wish that someone would take the same stand today. There was also a simple display on his life, featuring photos and letters and press cuttings, then some representations of important scenes from his life, done with dolls and models. Again that�ll probably make more sense once you see the photos, and like I said the whole experience was very moving.

The guide next took me to the Prince of Wales museum which contains some very impressive pieces of sculpture and paintings from India. As a foreigner you are herded towards a different admission window from everyone else, and it costs considerably more to get in, but you do get an audio guide included in the price. This was hilarious � the narrator was very informative, but also a real smoothy with a kind of Indian thespian voice and an extra-chummy script. Examples include at the start of a clip �Ah, here we are, in front of�� and at the end, �Now you�ve heard my prattling please take a look around and we�ll meet again at the next stop�. The museum was very warm even with big fans set up all around, but worth seeing. Again with the guys with their arms around each other, or holding hands. I don�t believe that being gay (at least outwardly) is the done thing here, so I think these guys were all just friends but it was like being in a massive gay hangout or something. I�m just imagining if a couple of British or American guys were to walk through a museum and one was to start holding the other�s hand.

Almost forgot � a pretty amazing stop on the tour was the washing area. Again it�ll make more sense with the photos, but we stopped on a bridge to look down on a neighborhood where there were hundreds of people washing clothes in open sinks, where I couldn�t see where the water comes from or goes to, and the water looks quite dirty. These people were working like crazy, scrubbing and wringing the clothes and hanging them out to dry, and the clothes looked amazingly clean. My guide said that these folks are dhobis (interestingly the spell checker knows that word) and they have a home pickup and delivery laundry service. Most people don�t have washing machines because they probably don�t have space, so they get their clothes washed very cheaply by the dhobis.

Last stop was right outside the hotel to the Gateway of India, built in commemoration of the King and Queen (probably in their capacity as Emperor and Empress) visiting in 1911. It�s also where the last British troops left Mumbai (and maybe India, I forgot to ask) so very important to the people of Mumbai. It�s a pretty impressive building and by that time, around 4:30pm, there were lots of people around as folks started to go out for a Sunday night stroll or whatever.

So after my snack it was off to the airport (and I also had rupees by that point so could actually tip my driver). The journey was crazy, apart from the driving and the other vehicles � I saw a guy on his motorbike with one son sitting behind him and two between him and the handlebars, one kid must only have been about two � we saw some huge contrasts in neighborhoods and people. You go from the swankiest apartments on the seafront to total tumbledown shacks, some not much more than tarp tents, in minutes. Past a Hindu temple which was packed with people and had a few cows wandering about outside. Past people sleeping on the sidewalk, next to goats eating trash. Past more and more and more storefronts. It was quite bewildering. Then finally to the airport where as soon as I got in this guy who had an official pass helpfully showed me where to go and how to check my bags, which to be honest I could have done myself but thought it was part of how the airport works, to have people to help tourists. I guess it is but wasn�t expecting (although I should have done) him to tail me to the bathroom to ask me for a tip. I only had 20 rupees, about 50 cents, in my pocket and to be honest couldn�t be bothered looking for more so told him that was all I had. What a huckster. Speaking of the bathroom, for some reason while the hand dryer was running it beeped Jingle Bells really loudly, for obvious reasons. By this point I was pretty wiped and felt hot and sticky and generally in need of a shower. However there�s a fairly pervasive overall body odor here, so I don�t believe I was all that bad in comparison with some guys. The flight was fine, apart from riding right through a thunderstorm which was v bumpy. Cool to see the lightning flashes through the window though, if a little scary. And then to the hotel where again I finally had 100 rupee notes to tip my driver and the bellboy (referred to as a bellperson at the hotel I sayed at in California last week). Had a shower and a beer and called Emma and Toby who are doing really well. It�s really nice to speak to Tobe on the phone and I�m missing them a lot. I�m sure time�s going to go by a bit more quickly now I�m here in Bangalore and it�s a bit more of a business trip. Just about to go down for breakfast, summoning up the nerve to be at a table on my own, before the car picks me up to take me to the office, where hopefully I�ll post this as soon as I get hooked up.

UPDATE: clearly I was brave enough to have breakfast – what a wuss I am sometimes – and I’m now in the office. Where everyone has a newer laptop than me.

in india day one

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

So I’m now in Mumbai, India after two flights of around 8 hours back to back. It’s coming up for 10:30 on Sunday here, so midnight back home (going to have to post this later though because my room doesn’t seem to have web access). The flights were excruciatingly boring but that’s probably what you want in a long flight, all things considered. Toby was very good about saying goodbye – we’d primed him a bit on the fact that I was going away and he waved and didn’t cry when I left, although he did say he wanted to come too. Oh yeah, worst bit about the flights, apart from 16 hours in coach class – the movie “Monster in Law” with Jennifer Lopez. Just dreck.

When I arrived in Mumbai, off the plane and through the rather dilapidated airport past lots of uniformed and mustachioed officials. In fact so far most things (apart from my hotel) seem rather dilapidated on the outside which I guess is a combination of the type of building material used, the climate and the fact that this is an old city. So far the city certainly feels quite chaotic in some ways, although the officials’ attitude to who does what and when seems very strict – they seem quite teachery and bossy towards people.

The ride from the airport, through the dark city, was crazy. Fortunately a driver from the hotel was there to meet me which was a big relief. He was a nice guy too and saved me more than once from being hit by a bike or mini-taxi between the terminal and the car (no multi-story parking lot, just out of the terminal and you’re going past stray dogs and palm trees to your car). The airport actually seemed to be in a quiet run-down area, lots of falling-down types of store fronts and little corner stores, quite a few people around, and we had to swerve a couple of times because of stray dogs. First impressions: enormous city, felt like London in some ways due to its size and general mish-mash of buildings. Lots of people and it seems that when a pair of guys is walking down the street it’s the done thing for one to have his arm around the other. Also a lot of people, including children, sleeping on the sidewalks. Slightly surreal was when the driver asked if I�d mind if he played music � of course not I said, thinking maybe some Indian music, something clubby maybe. But no, crappy American rap which was a bizarre contrast to what I was seeing outside.

Breakfast just arrived – be right back. Although I should note that I feel like a total cheapskate because I don’t have any Indian cash so can’t tip anyone. Hrrmmm. And they’re incredibly polite here so really deserve it.

Back – pretty decent breakfast and good coffee which is just what I needed. Lots of things I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to tell me about being careful with food here, but I would assume that a highly reputable hotel like here would be OK. Arriving at the hotel was a little traumatic. After the very over-stimulating car ride I was quite dazed and when we got to the main entrance of the hotel there were tons of people around all dressed to the nines. There’s a nightclub downstairs here so lots of Mumbai’s wealthy young things hanging around, making me feel totally underdressed in my
shirt, shorts and sandals. Also the commissionaire guys were way indimidating – both well over six feet tall in long coats and turbans and massive mustaches. However I made it in and checked in no prob. My room is on the 19th floor of the tower (can still hear lots of car horns honking from up here) and I have an amazing view of the city, even though it’s hazy this morning. In one direction there are endless tower blocks, with some church-type buildings and domes. In the other is the harbor with cranes galore and around 7 naval-looking ships moored. Plenty of trees too, lots of palm trees near the hotel.

The guy just came to take away my breakfast tray and I’m a cheapskate still.

This afternoon the hotel have arranged for me to go on a five-hour tour of the city which I think I’m looking forward to. The whole place is kind of intimidating to be honest, but I’m sure I’ll be just fine, especially in m’chauffered car with a guide. Then tonight at around 8 I’m flying to Bangalore and have work to look forward to tomorrow morning.

getting ready

Friday, August 26th, 2005

So I’m at work finishing off some things before I head out to India this evening. Marathon flights – 8+ hours to Amsterdam and then 8 1/2 hours to Bombay. Erk. I’m quite excited but feeling sad about not being with Em and Toby for a week. I did tell Toby about it a couple of days ago and he seemed a little downcast so we’ll see how he handles it when I head off to the airport this afternoon. I’m pretty sure he’ll be fine. Next month we’re going to do some travel together – going to Canada for my cousin’s wedding and it’ll be fun to be on the plane with Toby telling me to “go fast on your seatbelt Daddy”.

Also Toby and I have a top culinary tip: Do not under any circumstances attempt to mix corn with your pasta and pesto: it totally doesn’t work and is disgusting, especially if you use cheap supermarket shredded cheese instead of parmesan on top. We won’t be doing that again.

back at last

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

Several irate readers have complained that I haven’t posted for ages. Well, yes. Here’s a selection of excuses/reasons:

1) I got sick. Very nasty, especially as it was timed to coincide with the night Em and I were supposed to go out for our 5th anniversary while Toby went for a sleepover with Lauren and Sam. I felt ill during the day at work and when I got home my fever was 102, which it hovered around for the next 24 hours. Toby still had his sleepover and loved it, but Emma’s and my evening and next morning were the almost exact opposite of what I’d had planned.

2) Been very busy at work – in a good way though. I’m getting a lot more direct reports/responsibility which is great but takes a lot of time and effort to do right. Seeing as my company and not my blog readers pay me, the company wins. Also I’ve had a little travel – down to the Bay Area in California last week which is a very nice part of the world. Pretty productive meetings for two days too. Flying back the view as we left San Francisco was aweseome – ocean, mountains, desert. A full hour of turbulence was less fun and made doing my crossword puzzle a little tricky.

3) Getting ready for more travel. This weekend I’m off to India for just over a week to help set up a new office there. Insanely long trip for only 5 days of work. Fly from Minneapolis to Amsterdam (8 hours) then to Mumbai/Bombay (8.5 hours). I’ll be staying the night there and possibly getting a tour the next day, then to Bangalore (1.5 hours) that evening. I was supposed to be flying over and doing the tour with someone from work but she’s not able to go after all, so it’s just me.

4) Toby, after having been really good at going to sleep for a couple of weeks, is taking forever to go to sleep now for some reason. He doesn’t drift off till 10pm or later which is very frustrating for all of us and means that we don’t really get an evening to see each other. And the worst thing is he’s such a little cutie so you feel terrible for getting upset at him. Here’s a sampling of his goings on:

a) I heard him yesterday in the living room singing away “ba ba baa ba ba”. When I went through I saw he’d taken the thrown and seat cushion off our wooden chair, exposing the slats on the set. He was sat in front of it singing – “Daddy, I’m playing piano!”

b) He’s been correcting our pronounciation and words a lot lately: “Mummy, it’s not maracas, it’s mahraahcaahs”. “Mummy, this isn’t a store, it’s a Target“.

c) He’s been really good at looking after the cats and they seem to enjoy playing games with him on the whole

d) The sleepovers with Lauren and Sam have been quite a hit with both sets of kids. Two weeks after he went to theirs, they came over to our place for the night while Claire and Paul went out. We’re planning to extend this arrangement which seems to work out really well for all (when they’re not sick).

5) Finally on Sunday, yesterday, the new priest celebrated his first service at the Cathedral. As of time of writing, his info is not on our website. It was excellent to have him there – having been the chairman of the search committee I feel very relieved that it went so well and we got very good feedback. He’s got two young kids, the older one is three-year-old Hudson who met Toby in the nursery yesterday morning. They immediately hit it off and played together all morning. After the service we took Hudson down to the coffee room, with Tobe as tour guide: “Hudson these are our stairs. This is where we get our cookies. This is where we sit to eat our cookies. You sit there” and once they’d had a couple of cookies each, Toby and Hudson chased each other around the coffee room for another half hour.

That’s the update in a nutshell and I realize that since it didn’t take long how lazy I’ve been. My apologies, I’ll try to keep up to date more.

vacation

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

We’re really excited right now – we just booked tickets to Calgary, Alberta for my cousin’s wedding in September. We really wanted to go but it was looking very expensive to fly. Plan B was to take a few days each way and road trip it, which would have been about 1300 miles each way – probably a really cool trip to do but maybe not with someone who is 2 1/2.

Anyway I rechecked Northwest’s site on Sunday and it turned out that we had enough worldperks miles to do the whole thing for free (although you still have to pay taxes). We have a nice looking B&B in the middle of town sorted out too, so it’s all set.

there goes that idea

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

And I was so close to finishing my time machine, but it looks like the whole idea is not going to work after all. Ah well.

But – if it was possible to build a time machine surely we’d know about it because people from the future would have told us about it? Surely?

back in town

Friday, November 21st, 2003

Got back last night. The plane journey is theoretically only an hour longer coming west than going east, but that extra hour is an eternity every time. I’m sure this is because it’s a daytime flight, so it’s harder to sleep, and it always seems to take longer going home, somehow. Also we just had a long day, we were up at 4:30am in Aberdeen to catch the early flight down to Gatwick (British Airways: fantastic service, leather seats, delicious hot breakfast with bacon, sausages, tomato, eggs, all for under $100 return) and then some hanging around at Gatwick. Only flaw with that leg was that they didn’t deliver Toby’s stroller to the door of the plane when we landed, so we had quite a trek to the baggage carousel where the stroller didn’t appear. The lady on the enquiries desk was great though, and located it and had it with us in under five minutes, so it could have been worse.

The long flight here was a tad trying, partly because we didn’t have a separate seat for Toby. Usually they’ll attempt to find one for us if there’s one free, but the NorthWest flight from Gatwick to Detroit was “postponed indefinitely” so they all piled on to our plane and it was packed. Fortunately we were in the bulkhead seats and had loads of room in front of us, so when Toby was awake Emma and I took it in turns to sit on the floor while he was in a seat. If we hadn’t done that he would have been off and crawling all over, and besides it was a welcome break from those seats which always leave me with sore thighs for the next couple of days. Service was plain, slightly grim and simple which is always the case on that airline; it was amusingly obvious to spot the folks who hadn’t travelled with them before – one comment was “I think the usual stewardesses [sic - this was a Brit talking so no p.c. "attendants"] must be unwell and have sent their mothers in instead”. The guy next to Emma had Nike “Flight” shoes on, and she reckoned it was useful for him to have what he was doing that day written on his shoes. I had a bloke from London next to me who was going on to Vegas and was frankly slightly wide, so sitting with Toby was a bit of a squash. But when we landed he told me that Toby was the best behaved baby he’d ever seen on a plane which made me very proud.

In fact the little guy was awesome all through the trip. You’d hardly know that he was jetlagged, he was very friendly to all the new people he met, and very calm in the new and different surroundings. It was wonderful for him to meet my granny, and she was sparkly-eyed with him. We got a couple of wonderful pictures of them both, and I’ll try to post them soon. She told me that she’d really fallen in love with him. He got on great with his own granny too. The night Em and I went out with various friends, Toby was looked after by his granny and great-granny, who gave him some dinner (veggies and salmon) and a bath, which apparently was great fun. He also learned loads on the trip, such as greatly improving his standing skills – he’s very stable holding on with just one hand – and the speed of his crawling. We’re noticing with these things that they’re causing a revolution in his whole life and outlook, in a very similar way to when he learned to sit up, as they allow him to do so many more things all of a sudden. He’s also learned to shake his head, although I don’t think he knows that it means “no” – right now it’s just kind of fun and he loves it if you shake your head back at him.

capsule hotel

Friday, October 17th, 2003

Just before I moved here to America, I went to stay with my old university flatmate Andy, who moved to Japan just after we graduated and has lived there ever since. We had a pretty fantastic time – he was a great host and I really appreciated being there with someone who spoke the language and knew his way around.

One night we went down to Osaka and wandered through seemingly endless malls/tunnels/bizarre entertainment and shopping districts till late at night, stopping for the occasional beer or sake. That night we stayed in a capsule hotel, and the memory was brought back today when I read Tokyo on One Clich� a Day in Slate’s diary. It sounds like the writer didn’t have such a plush place as we did – in ours once we’d checked in we went down to the basement to a variety of steam baths, hot tubs and regular baths. You could even pay to have an old woman clean you (which we didn’t do). We were provided with swimming shorts, bathrobes, towels and flip-flop shoes. Sleeping was actually quite comfortable too, and it was quite nice after the crowdedness of most of the rest of Japan to have a little capsule to myself. Only flaw was that the guy in the cube below me snored SO LOUDLY, and that they didn’t serve coffee in the morning. When I found that the Starbucks round the corner didn’t open till 11 in the morning I almost lost my mind. But later that day we travelled to Kyoto for a wonderful walk around the temples in the snow. Magical.

last day

Saturday, September 6th, 2003

It’s the last full day of the holiday and being the saddo that I am, I’m on the computer for a few minutes checking email and stuff. Actually it’s OK to be inside – after a whole week of beautiful sunshine it’s hammering down with hail and rain outside, which is a bit disconcerting for young Toby. He’s had a bit of a funny couple of days: I think his teething is really bugging him at the moment so he’s not always as happy as usual. We did have some fun last night though when we were out in the garden. I showed him some bees buzzing around, and made a buzzing noise for him, which was apparently the funniest thing he’d ever heard.

Today we went out to McMorran’s beachhouse restaurant, in honor of our friend Robin back in London and had a very pleasant lunch. Afterwards we took Toby to a petting zoo where he met some little goats, ducks and chickens. The sheep seemed to bother him a little, and we had some tears when one of them baahed very loudly and gave him a fright. Another reason to leave in a hurry – the baby goats were for sale and Emma wanted to buy Julius, the cutest, bounciest little goat who was born on August 22.

Anyway, we’ve had an excellent holiday and are feeling well rested and relaxed. Hope we’re going to be able to deal with work on Monday – ugh.