As I researched Indonesia for my Bali visit, I realized there was a lot I didn't know. Indonesia is vast! The country is made up of 18110 islands of which about 6000 are inhabited. The distance between Aceh and Papua on either end of Indonesia are about 4000 kms apart (about the same distance as between San Francisco and New York City).
Indonesia has about 400 volcanoes of which about 130 are active. And with well over 210 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world after China, India, and the United States. Indonesia is also has the largest Muslim population in the world (which I did know).
A wealth of information for aspiring travellers is available here.
Friday, December 29, 2006
As I researched Indonesia for my Bali visit, I realized there was a lot I didn't know. Indonesia is vast! The country is made up of 18110 islands of which about 6000 are inhabited. The distance between Aceh and Papua on either end of Indonesia are about 4000 kms apart (about the same distance as between San Francisco and New York City).
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Looks like I will ring in the New Year about 2.5 hours earlier than friends and family! I had initially planned a quiet New Year weekend with the family at the Leela in Goa or at the Le Meridian in Mauritius. But finally, we are going to the Laguna Resort & Spa at Bali.
The resort is part of Starwood Hotels' Luxury Collection and promises to be a great experience. I have always wanted to vacation at Bali since it is off the beaten path of most Indian tourists (who tend to travel to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore).
Bali has an unusual history and a lot of things going for it as a destination of choice, but on the downside, the two terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005 have made this destination less popular with western tourists in recent times.
While I am not planning sight-seeing tours during this visit, I may try to see one of their many Hindu temples. Hinduism arrived in Bali around 100 BC (refered to as Balidweepa in ancient inscriptions); however, the religion evolved independently after that and therefore has its own distinct identity. Bali has also been ruled by the Dutch and Japanese before becoming part of Indonesia. Watch this space for more when I get back... Wish you all a Very Happy New Year!
Other Bali posts from this trip: Indonesia, Islands of the Gods, Gourmet in Bali, The Laguna Spa & Resort
Saturday, December 16, 2006
The Disney World in Orlando, Florida is special to my wife and I. We spent a memorable long-weekends here when we both worked in North Carolina during 1995-96. We then followed up with a 'trip-down-memory-lane' visit in 2001. During this visit we had stayed at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. We loved the place! And now we are taking our daughter there on our next vacation for an entire week (Feb 27-Mar 05 2007).
The Animal Kingdom Lodge recreates the feel of a South African wildlife reserve lodge. Rooms follow the Kraal African village design, a semicircle concept, offering a view of close to 100 grazing animals and 130 birds on the property and in the private savannas.
Like Disney's other resorts, this Lodge has a distinctive theme carried throughout its architecture, landscape and interior designs. As you drive up to the resort, all you see is a small gathering of huts. The incredible size of the resort is hidden from the front, so it will be like driving up to a small safari village.
The Lodge is 6 stories tall. You enter the expansive lobby on the 3rd floor of the resort. There is a huge picture window which looks out upon 30 acres of land. From here, you can walk out onto an elevated viewing area (Arusha Rock) and enjoy the roaming animals.
All three savannas are special areas built specifically for the Lodge and are separate from Disney's Animal Kingdom. There are over 100 Sand Live Oak trees and 35,000 shrubs in the savannas. Seeds for many of the plants were supplied from Africa.
Throughout the rest of the lobby, there are examples of authentic architecture and design, from thatched ceilings to golden tones reflecting the richness and diversity of an African landscape. Rich wood tones surround a large mud fireplace and natural lighting will celebrate dawn and dusk with features that accentuate spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
In the hallways, there are alcoves with glass windows providing savanna overlooks. Altogether, more than 200 mammals and birds of nearly three dozen species populate the 33-acre area. The savannas surround the lodge on three sides. You can view the birds and animals from resort balconies or from several viewing points -- including a landscaped rock outcropping called the Arusha Rock -- 24 hours a day.
Related posts: Africa Recreated, Off to Florida, The Magic of Disney, Downtown Disney
Saturday, November 18, 2006
My return flight from Los Angeles to Singapore had a scheduled stop-over at Taipei. While I was in the airport waiting to re-board, I wondered if this counted as a 'visit' to Taiwan. I guess not, even though I was on Taiwanese soil, and buying local merchandise and mementos at the airport shops!
So, let me see if I can count the countries I have landed in, but haven't exited their airports: Switzerland (Zurich airport during my first foreign travel in 1992, and also the first time I was flying), Germany (Frankfurt airport, one of my favourites especially the Delta business lounge), France (Paris airport, not among the best in Europe), UK (Heathrow airport, classy but expensive), Netherlands (Amsterdam airport, one of the better ones in Europe, and great if you want to buy cheese or tulips!), Hong Kong (Cathay's lounge is one of the best in the world), Korea (Seoul airport) and now Taiwan.
Posted by Shantanu Labels: Air Travel
Thursday, November 16, 2006
After an intense day-long meeting that began at 8AM and ended only at 7PM, we walked down three blocks (from the Four Seasons) to the Moonshine Grill. Everyone chose Texan beer, while I decided to go with martinis. Their 'corn-dog' shrimps are truely unique and taste great and I finally got to eat fried green tomatoes (seen that movie?), but the entree took the cake that day!
I decided to go Texan and ordered their Texan Flat Iron Steak, which the waiter said was his favorite item on the menu and also the most popular! When I said I wanted it well-done, he gave me a very disapproving look. And so, I decided (for the first time) to have it cooked 'medium-rare'. I have to admit the steak was fantastic; better than any steak I have had before!
That was followed by some great desserts that I could only sample: skillet apple pie with maple ice-cream, white chocolate bread pudding, etc.).
Everyone was looking happy and contended after that dinner as we walked out into the cold evening to our hotel.
BTW, I surprise many when I polish off Texan-sized dinners with elan! After I had polished off a large serving of Fajitas at a Mexican diner called On the Border in Dallas, our waiter couldn't help exclaiming "I am proud of you, man! Who would have thought a small guy like you can finish off that!". Since he was a towering, big, black guy, I didn't protest at being called 'small' :-)
I had a very early morning flight to catch to Los Angeles, but was able to sleep on the flight. My work got done by early afternoon and I strolled down to Santa Monica Place and the 3rd Street Promenade. With the Holiday Season around the corner, the malls and streets are lit up, decorated and there is festivity already in the (cold) air.
I decided to have some Thai food at a place called the Yangzte Express. I ordered something called Fire Rice (very accurately named), and I swear I had smoke coming out of my ears by the time I got done!
This has been a long trip away from home, and I am very happy to be catching my return flight back home tonight.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Arrived in Austin, TX today; this is the first time I have set foot in the state capital of Texas, which also claims to be the Live Music Capital of the World. Austin, to us techie types, is also known as the home of Dell.
The Four Seasons on the banks of the Town Lake oozes class right from the sandstone lobby to the rooms (mine had a great view of the river and the setting sun). And it is only a few blocks away from 6th street, the heart of Austin's nightlife.
Unfortunately, I was too tired to stay late; I also had an early morning meeting; so I downed some Guinness Stout at an Irish pub, and walked back to my hotel. The pictures here are of my hotel room and the view right out of my window. But perhaps the area's strangest attraction is the nearby Congress Street Bridge. The bridge is home to North America's largest urban bat colony and in the late evenings you can watch almost 1.5 million of them take flight. These bats can consume upto 30,000 pounds of insects in a single evening; residents who initially fought to eradicate the bats, backed off when they found mosquitoes become nearly extinct on the lake, thanks to their neighbourly bats!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I am back in San Francisco, this time for a couple of dinner events. The first one, yesterday, was a cocktail cruise on a luxury yatch. The San Francisco Spirit has three decks and an air-conditioned interior, which was good because the temperature had dropped considerably. We tasted wine and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres, as we cruised in the San Francisco bay taking in stunning views of the city's skyline, the Golden Gate and Alcatraz at night-time (picture below).
The Palace Hotel where I am staying has a long history; it is one of the oldest hotels in San Francisco, and it's old-world charm remains intact. The wide corridors, the ornate ceilings, and winding staircases are a welcome change from the other hotels. The picture here is of one of the ornate main doors to the hotel.
The majestic Garden Court banquet area in the lobby level was earlier the Grand Court which served as an entry area for horse-driven carriages.
The hotel is also home to The Pied Piper, an Olde English style martini lounge that has been serving drinks since 1875. I had lunch at Maxfield's Grill, within the Palace Hotel. Lunch consisted of North Atlantic Salmon topped with a spinach pudding and garnished with baby carrots, followed by a sinful delight called Cookie-baked Alaska with Raspberry Ice-Cream.
I also visited a museum with a group of colleagues: the California Academy of Sciences & the Steinhart Aquarium, which is is one of the ten largest natural history museums in the world.
The museum is undergoing major renovation until 2008 when it will reopen in a new and impressive building. Until then, the dinosaur section and the aquarium are open and housed near the Moscone Center in downtown SFO.
And finally the day ended with a formal cocktail reception followed by a sit-down dinner (cool reception committee, huh?)
Monday, November 13, 2006
That brings me to my renewed passion for fine teas. Like most Indians, I was brought up with the morning and afternoon tea rituals. Tea in India (cha in Bengali and chai in most of North India), is almost always served pre-mixed with milk and sugar.
Tea made by Indian chai-wallahs (tea vendors) and restaurants are usually prepared by adding tea leaves, sugar and milk together to the boiling water. It is also common to add cardamom or crushed ginger to the boiling tea for flavor. Other spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon are used to make Masala Tea.
Tea at our home has always been special, made with a blend of Lipton Green Leaf (for the aroma) and Brooke Bond Taj Mahal (for body and color). We put the tea leaves in boiling water, cover the tea-pot and remove from direct heat. Warm milk and sugar are added only after the tea is poured out into tea-cups.
The Kashmiris make tea which is quite distinct from anything else I have had in the rest of India. The tea is thick, sweet and garnished with finely chopped nuts. They call it Kehwa.
Many of the fine teas are best had without milk or with very little milk. The exquisite flavor and taste of Darjeeling tea, Jasmine Tea or Earl Grey have revived me after many a long journey in hotels and flights around the world. ‘Beats going to the bar sometimes!
Here's a short video of the Garden Court at the Palace Hotel where I was contemplating all that is Tea over a cuppa Darjeeling :-). The ornate ceilings and large dimensions seem more European than American!
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Aware of my constant hunt for new dining options, my friends decided to take me to Ra, a newly opened Sushi bar in Houston. For some reason, we ended up ordering more sushi than we could eat.
The sushi here was very good: in addition to the California, Shrimp, and Tuna rolls, I decided to be a little more adventurous and try their Octopus rolls (picture below)! If you enjoy your sushi and like a bar-like ambience with loud music, this place may be just for you!
We also decided to have desserts at the Marble Slab Creamery. For those who haven't been to one, this is an ice-cream place with a difference: the ice-cold marble slab on which they mix your selection of ice-creams and toppings before placing it in the cup.
Here's the recipe for the Murali Special (named after the genius who gave me this treat!): two scoops of butter pecan ice-cream mixed with pecans, shredded coconut, fresh stawberries, and finished off with a light topping of hot caramel). Try it, it is delightful and different from anything you have had before.
And then I was off to Dallas to spend (part of) the weekend with old friends. We decided to see a movie together; the one I selected turned out a disappointment (The Prestige, directed by Nick Nolan of Memento fame). We then decided to spend the evening at Billy Bob's, which is a honky-tonk place in Fort Worth. The band that weekend was an unknown Herman's Hermits from the UK. Eventually, we hit the bar, and after downing some scotch, the evening felt much better!
I get to read a variety of newspapers when I am tralleving, and this time was no different. A couple of interesting articles caught my eye. One was about www.legacy.com which has carved a niche business of online obituaries, where friends and relatives can mourn and leave comments on a departed loved one. The interesting thing, however, is that in the online world people display more candour than usual. Therefore, these companies have had to hire an army of people who now scrutinize every comment for 'appropriateness' before they are posted, adding to their costs! From claims of illicit love, to abuse, these 'editors' have seen it all. However, Legacy is a profit-making companies and gets paid by the newspapers that run obituaries and links to their sites.
The other article was about the lobby at the Hyatt in Guatemala which is always filled with American couples with newly acquired infants. Apparently, Guatemala now is the third largest among countries from where Americans adopt babies (Russia and China are the first and second respectively). And so, if you enter the Hyatt here, be prepared for crowds of wailing babies and doting parents. The gift shop in the hotel sells diapers and other baby stuff as well :)
Thursday, November 09, 2006
In good 'ol Houston, Texas this week. Besides long meetings, I visited some good dining places for the first time: Americas on Post Oak and Sullivan's Steakhouse on Westheimer. Great food, but the Texan-sized servings can leave you feeling really, really full! Here are the 'before and after' pics of an 8-lb lobster (translation: really big!!) we ordered along with our entrees at Sullivan's.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Chào ông, Chào bà! Hello again! Today was the day of the grand dinner event. And what a day it was! About 200 of us put on straw Vietnamese hats and set out in a long procession of cyclos.
The cyclos are like the cycle-rickshaws you see in smaller Indian cities with two differences: the passenger sits in the front with the driver behind him; also the cyclo can take only a single passenger. It was a exciting 15 min ride to the destination, cutting through traffic all the time (these guys can give the Pune auto-rickshaw drivers a run for their money).
The boat had two decks, brightly lit, with tables set up for dinner. We were welcomed by a bunch of waving guys and gals lined up on either side of the ferry in white sailors' uniforms.
The friendly crew, exotic drinks, and the good food had already gotten me in a happy state of mind. But when the horn sounded, the crew lined up smartly saluting the shore, and the boat took off on the Saigon River, I knew I would remember this evening for a long time!
Food contained fried sushi, mussels, sea bass, skewers of meat, fried rice, and exotic desserts. There was local beer, Pepsi that tasted different, but I stayed with the red wine.
Our dinner entertainment consisted of the cheerful man in the suit; he first played the flute with his nose, followed by many musical instruments he had created from ordinary objects (window pane, fluoroscent tubes, bottles, chinaware, etc.).
But the highlight clearly was what followed. The beer drinking competition followed by one where you had to drink vodka with fried scorpions!
The young lady from Japan and her colleague (in the pic here) have just tasted their first scorpion! They had no idea they were signing up for much more than a vodka drinking contest. Doesn't taste too bad from their expressions...
Other Posts from this Trip: Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, Other Ho Chi Minh Moments, The Entertainer in Saigon.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Damn! Even Vietnam has modern, gleaming, and clean airports!! That was my first thought as I walked out of my Singapore Airlines flight into Tan Son Nhat International airport, Ho Chi Minh City.
I landed in the morning hours under clear visibility conditions, and from up there in the clouds, it almost looked like Pune below - sparse vegetation, tracts of reddish soil, clumps of housing, and winding roads.
However, the airport was modern (even better than Mumbai airport after the recent renovation), and not a speck of dirt or stain on the floors and walls (no public place in India can claim this; I guess we only have ourselves to blame!).
As I was driven down to my hotel in downtown HCM (which is how the locals refer to the city), the streets looked even more like Pune! The roadside shops, shops, and also the girls on two-wheelers with most of their faces covered in scarfs :)
The Saigon Sheraton is a pretty large hotel and good if you compared with some of their other properties in the USA. The Signature restaurant on the 23rd flooor is very elegant, and offers stunning panoramic views of the city. This is where I had lunch today; a medley of food from different regions of Asia; food was generally good, different in flavor and preperation, and less spicier than those I have had in China and Singapore.
I was feeling so rich when I exchanged money here! US$100, and you are a millionare (in Dong, the currency here which is approx 16,100 dongs per US dollar). Never seen so may zeros on a currency note before!
Lots of options of shopping or eating within this large hotel; planning to check out the rooftop Club and the Spa in the coming days.
Tam biêt or goodbye for now!
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I was part of a team dinner at Lei Garden, within walking distance of my hotel, the Grand Hyatt, Beijing. The dinner had been set up in a private dining room; there were two large circular tables that seated the team of twenty-five.
The restaurant featured Guangdong delicacies (more commonly known as Cantonese). Guangdong is located in Southern China, and its cuisine is unique among Chinese cuisines.
I noticed all waitresses wore Bluetooth headsets, allowing them to speak with each other in low voices. Dinner consisted for multiple soups, meats, and vegetables; exotic preparations that were put in front of us, one after the other.
This was also the first time I tasted the famous Peking Duck. Dessert consisted of a sweet dumpling filled with a dark brown gooey concoction that seemed to be made of sesame. All in all, a dining experience that was quite different from the regular Chinese fare in India.
In addition to Peking Duck, the other 'must-have' dish in China is Beggar's Chicken (see attached story for why it is named so).
The waitressess positioned themselves at the doors of the dining room, the elevator, and the entrance of the building waving us good-bye at the end (sort of like the flight attendants do when passengers disembark from the plane).
Many have asked me if the Chinese food in China tastes as good as it does here in India :-) Actually, I loved the food, and I think anyone who is non-vegetarian and enjoys sea-food will do so as well. One difference I noticed was the use of bowls instead of plates to have your food. I was initally a little confused; didn't want to find out I was eating out of a soup bowl or, worse, a finger-bowl!
And, I discovered Jasmine tea! One of my colleagues had asked me to get some for him. When I entered a tea shop, I immediately discovered the many varieties. The good quality one is shaped like 'pearls'. Long tea leaves are wound until they form 'pearls' and then covered with Jasmine petals. When the tea leaves have absorbed the jamine juices/flavor, the petals are removed.
Great after-dinner tea; I am now a convert!
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Beijing literally means 'northern capital' (jing stands for capital). While all signs around you point to a city on the move... huge buildings of glass, steel, and concrete coming up on the roads from the airport, to the Great Wall and as you move to the industrial parks in the suburbs, you also see signs all around you that this city has a past. Beijing existed as a city almost all the way back to the first millenium B.C! The city has been burnt down and re-built several times during this period, mostly by the invading Mongols from the north.
I tried to cram in as many sights and sounds of this exciting city during the four days I was here. Before I flew back, I was able to see the Llama Temple, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Tiananmen Square. I thought the Temple of Heaven was really the best of the lot; intricately decorated structures, very peaceful place, and a huge garden all around with lots of greenery. Another thing one notices in the old Chinese relegious artifacts (the original relegion, Daoism or Taoism pre-dates the other modern religions of China such as Buddhism by many years) is the similarities with some Indus Valley and Egyptian ones as far as their gods are concerned. They are mostly combinations of different animals in one, such as a dragon-faced horse; they also have artifacts of the Mother Goddess, common to all these religions.
I wasn't too impressed by the Forbidden City, from which almost ten emperors ruled China. It's like one of our palaces in India (of course, architecturally quite different); currently it houses museums from the dynasties that ruled here). This can easily consume 2-4 hours of your time depending on your interest level. BTW, Much of the Forbidden City is under renovation right now (probably in preparation for the 2008 Olympics).
Tiananmen Square is about 440,000 square meters, making it the largest public square in the world! It was windy and there was a chill in the air, so I didn't stay too long here. Temperatues in Beijing can go down to -16 C during winters; however, there hasn't been snow in recent times. The elaborate flag-hoisting ceremony at Tiananmen Square is sort of similar to our own version at the Indo-Pak border, but all of this is like a time-warp and doesn't fit into today's world...
Our most fun experience was the shopping and haggling to get to the right price... well, actually you never quite can figure out the right price. That leather Gucci handbag for US $8... too expensive? How about an Geogia Armani leather belt for US $5... hmm... And btw, these aren't cheap looking imitations. The quality and workmanship are good, and they look like the real things.
All the vendors seem to be school and college girls specializing in the art of marketing; they have mastered the basics of the English language: 'moment' (hold on, don't go, I will come up with a better price), 'how much?' (don't like my price, well, what price do you think this is worth?), and it goes on... Interestingly they all have handheld calculators on which they tap out the price, and then push it to you so you can do the same... the trick is to start at least 70% lower than their initial price: learnt that the hard way :(
Ate at a awesome place in the Grand Hyatt. The restaurant is called Made in China, and has been rated the best place to eat in all of North East China. Splendid ambience, food, and service.
The restaurant serves contemporary Chinese cooking... please note that their specialities, Peking Duck and Beggars' Chicken have to be ordered in advance when making reservations (at least a few hours in advance; they get sold out quick!). Multiple show kitchens, innovative presentation and a great wine selection complete the experience.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Everything so far has been impressive! Everywhere I have been in Beijing so far is clean, has great roads, and seems no different from any modern capital city in the Western world. Certainly much better building, roads, cellphone coverage, etc., than most cities in India.
The Grand Hyatt in Beijing is impressive too. In size, fit & finish, and service! Great restaurants -- traditional Chinese, contemporary Chinese, Italian, sushi bar and cafe; live entertainment in the evening at the lobby area. Also the hotel is within walking distance of Tiannenman Square and the Forbidden City. Strongly recommended for those who can afford to stay here!
Went to visit the Great Wall today at Badaling, which is about 90 mins drive from the Tiannenman Square area where my hotel is located. The Wall was every bit as impressive as I expected it to...but you really need to climb up some steep slope/steps to get to the highest rampart.
After about an hour or so or climbing up and back, tried my hand at shopping for souvenirs! You have to excel at bargaining; after I bought a Chinese doll for RMB 200, I realized that the same could have been bought at RMB 75 after some tough bargaining, but I learnt quickly and the rest of the shopping was quite a lot of fun. The vendors were very persistent but went about doing this in a lighthearted and disarming manner :)
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Got back at 4AM from Goa and had to start packing the same day for my Beijing trip. Decided to fly to Mumbai and spend the night there so I could get a good night's sleep before catching the 11AM Singapore Airlines flight.
The Grand Hyatt had put me on their Executive Club floor, and walked me to my room... One look and we realized something was wrong; the room was being cleaned and not yet ready... They were most aplogetic and promptly upgraded me to a suite on the Exec Club floor.
Slept like a baby...after the previous night on a second class sleeper and after a quick breakfast was off to the airport. Oh miracle! I have never seen the International Airport so free of crowds... have to always take this flight! The entire airport was free of the usual crowds; seems like this is one of the few flights that take off during this time.
Now that Singapore Air upgraded me to PPS Club (they do that if you accumulate enough miles through Business or First class travel on this airline), I was able to check out their First Class lounge. They had a lot of good food from one of the good Singapore restaurants this week (some special promotion). Great full-service bar, but more crowded than I had expected.
Time to kill, which is why I am writing this from the lounge at Changi Airport! More later...
Monday, October 09, 2006
Just came back after yet another awesome long weekend at Goa. We were a group of about 50+ people travelling together. Stayed at the Radisson White Sands Resort Hotel for the first time; the resort is located in South Goa, about 20-30 mins drive from Margao railway station.
Yes, that's another highlight of this trip: a train journey after almost five years! And that too, in second class...the great Indian travel experience after years of Business Class travel In spite of all the horror stories a few of my colleagues primed me with before I set out, the train journey was actually fun! And this in spite of the 3 hour wait at Pune Station for a late-running Nizamuddin-Goa Express.
Anyway, the Radisson White Sands is pretty similar in design to the Park Hyatt Resort hotel, also in the South Goan beach-front. However, I think the Park Hyatt has better designed rooms (one of the best I have stayed in ever with open-sky shower areas and excellent sunken bath).
The seas were rough, and the high tide most of the day ensured that we didn't venture too much into the waves. However, the resort has a long, winding and excellent swimming pool (or a series of interconnected pools). Nandini just wouldn't come out of the water, and so I stayed put too most of the day.
The water was a little cold, but the pool-bar (with the barstools underwater and great music!) served a mean concoction called Brain Damage...a couple of shot glasses later...there was enough warmth inside of me to have survived the Arctic :D
The Spa has authentic Kerala Ayurvedic massage and therapy sessions (btw, the Park Hyatt at Goa has a much larger menu). The wife and I tried out their 60-minute Rejuvination Massage, that includes a Steam Sauna and Scalp Rub, on the last day -- very nice, relaxing yet not intense -- and reluctantly packed up up to return to the madness of daily life...
Oh, and btw, I finally had dinner at Martin's Corner... had been meaning to do this for ever but never got around to doing this before. Turned out to be a nice evening...gorged on seafood (so much that I had to stay away from breakfast the next day!).
Posted by Shantanu Labels: Go Goa
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I have my China visa now and looking forward to my first trip to China. It is going to be a short 4-day trip, but I am hoping to cover as much of Beijing as possible and a quick trip to the Great Wall too. Flying Singapore Air as usual, which means this will turn out to be a 18 hour journey! But I will get to try out the First Class lounge in Singapore since I now am a PPS Club member. Among other things, I have been told, you can order your own masterpieces on canvas in China (Mona Lisa, or the Last Supper) for considerable cheaper price than anywhere else in the world...sounds interesting!Read More...
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I was in Bangalore on Saturday, Sept 16, 2006, for a speaking assignment... An event organized by Silicon India that was focused towards experienced IT professsionals; sort of like a job fair, but targeted towards those who are more hardcore.
This was probably the shortest trip I have made anywhere other than when I am transiting through an airport ... And the traffic at Bangalore keeps getting worse every time I visit the place; a far cry from how the city was from early childhood memories.
Surprisingly, over 200 guys and gals turned up at 9AM for the job fair...we had a decent sized booth and our staffing guys were kept busy with resumes and queries.
The panel discussion on Product Development Trends in India (for which I was here), started 45 mins late from the scheduled time; somethings never change, I guess ... and I had to be back at the airport before 1PM for my flight.
The presentations were not of the greatest quality with the other speakers focusing solely on what their companies were doing; also given the late start, the moderator decided to entertain only one question!!
After a quick stop at a handicraft store (Karnataka handicrafts are still special to me from my childhood days), dashed back to the airport... Was returning to Pune via Bombay, but after we boarded, the Pune guys decided to keep the flight waiting for an hour because of some reason... got back home only at 7PM.
Nandini immediately decided she would keep the handcrafted peacock and hawk and wouldn't let me take them to the showcase. I hope they are not broken by the time I can do that :(
Posted by Shantanu Labels: Bangalore Tidbits
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
If you are travelling from India to the West Coast of USA over the Pacific, the two best airlines for Busines Class travel are Singapore Airlines and Cathay-Pacific. While both of them have the best-in-class audio-video on-board (on-demand, larger screens, noise-reducing headphones, etc.), these are almost always only available on the US-leg of the travel; the India-leg has older cabins and is not upgraded to the latest equipment.
Singapore Airlines provides 80+ movies with many foriegn language selections (including Hindi and Tamil); gave me an opportunity to watch King and the Clown, a Korean block-buster set during historical times. Must say I liked the movie, but some things did strike me as surprising...no female lead; gay characters in a mainstream movie, etc.
For sleeping through the flight, I think Cathay has a slight edge...the seat recline and ergonomics are better, though only slightly. The Singapore Girl does make up for any slight edge Cathay's seat may have... and I mean hospitality, of course!
Food on Singapore Business class is great (or as great as airline food can be!). The Indian selection is quite good too; probably the only airline on which I choose Indian food some times (Sanjeev Kapoor is on thier culinary panel). Always choose the Satay chicken for starters; it is awesome!
Since I end up spending hours at the airport (Singapore or Hong Kong) many times the lounges in the airport make a big difference to my travel experience. I have realized that those travelling over the Pacific definitely have an advantage over those that travel over the Atlantic. European airports have a long way to go before they can catch up with the quality of Asian lounges (Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.)
The Business Lounge at Hong Kong airport is all grey granite...stone everywhere. Design looks like a large maze with comfortable sofas and chairs everywhere...partitions of low height provide privacy...shower stalls (better than at Changi/Singapore with each shower stall provided with a suite of shampoos, conditioners, moisturisers, toothbrush and shaving sets, etc.). The Noodle Bar serves great noodle soup and dimsums, always hot and fresh from their kitchen. Internet areas and music stations with noise-cancelling headphones.
Singapore/Changi airport has a great lounge too for business class. Great bar and good snack items always available including sandwitces, local decicacies, soups, etc. The best thing here is the Slumberette section which is darkened and has pillows and blankets for a quick nap. Shower rooms here too, but smaller in number and not as well equipped as the one in Hong Kong. Much better shopping choices in this airport for those who want to...
Posted by Shantanu Labels: Air Travel
Sunday, September 10, 2006
San Francisco after a zillion years (seems like!)...I was looking forward to it... but had to make a quick stop at Santa Monica first. Singapore Airlines again, and the upgraded security checks weren't as bad as I had thought they would be. Didn't buy any 'liquids' though, this time
Strangely wasn't able to sleep through the flights this time, like I usually do...ended up watching the Da Vinci Code (not bad, even though I had read the book), XMen III (gr8), and The Sentinel (you can miss this one; time Micheal Douglas retired gracefully...he's no Clint Eastwood)...
BTW, if you are travelling Business Class, you should try some of the local food they always serve in the Kris Flyer lounge...I really liked some of the Fish-ball Soup thingy I found there... also the Curried Vegetables and Fish that they have for breakfast.
I was in the Doubletree at Santa Monica; closer to the 3rd Street Promenade and walked down during the evening... Puzzle Zoo on the 3rd Street has some real cool toys and games for kids (3-10 yrs); I always get something for Nandini when I am here...
Went to Monsoon Cafe for dinner...great place... had Sake for the first time...didn't know what to expect, but liked it... warmed me up enough to not feel the cooler night as I walked back to the hotel...
San Francisco was chilly (always seems to be that way during the evenings). The hotel (St. Regis) was great: 24-hour butler service, two plasma tvs, everything controlled from one bedside panel, etc., etc... it's fun when you stay at these expensive hotels, especially so when someone else is paying :)
The ambience at the bar was great...flames all around, black and amber...and the restaurant at the lobby level serves great Fusion food (Japanese-American) too.
Friday, May 19, 2006
I have stopped at Changi Airport many times; in my opinion this is one of the world's better airports for lazing around, shopping or eating. However, this was the first time I was going to visit the city-state itself. We stayed at the Plaza Parkroyal Hotel on Beach Road which is close to Orchard Road, home to Singapore's best known shopping centers. Also close by are Bugis Village, a restored old-world shopping plaza and night market, and Boat Quay with it's many al-fresco dining options.
Our days in Singapore were very busy; in fact, we crammed more site-seeing trips in this time than we ought to have done. We saw the Jurong Bird Park - which the kids loved, the Night Safari -which I think is over-rated, Sentosa Island - always take the cable-car at least one way, the views are awesome, Underwater World at Sentosa, and a city tour which covered the spot where Sir William Raffles landed and 'founded' the city that later went on to become Singapore. The national symbol of Singapore is half lion and half mermaid, in other words the Mer-Lion.
We shopped at Mustafa (Himesh Reshammiya here too; God save us!) which is the largest Desi shopping complex here and is said to sell everything from gold to watches, from cameras to stereos, from toys to jewelry. We went there after our cabbie informed us that Indians have to go there; it's sort of like a pilgrimage spot for Indians (even those who live in other countries!).
In the mornings and after a long day we would unwind in the hotel's roof-top swimming pool surrounded by scy-scrapers, which made for a completely different and awesome sight.
Here I have added a picture from our visit to Little China and one of an Indian temple in Little India. Most of the Singapoeans who have roots in India have originated from Tamil Nadu. Therefore, when anyone here says Indian, they usual mean South Indian (food, culture, gods, etc.).
Food was excellent everywhere we ate. The picture is at a Chengdu speciality restaurant in the Parkroyal hotel that served excellent Chinese cuisine. Here the waitress is pouring us some Jasmine tea in a rather exciting manner, and one that requires considerable skills given that the teacup is small, and she didn't spill a drop!
Thursday, May 18, 2006
We flew into Kuala Lumpur Airport early in the morning. This was the first time we were travelling outside India with our 3-year old daughter, but she had company. Two of our friends were sharing this vacation with us along with their 4-year old son! This worked out rather well! The kids kept themselves busy with each other and let us adults get some quality time together. We already had visas and therefore immigration didn't take time. We only had to get some local currency (Ringgits) and we were ready to go.
The drive to Genting Highlands was very impressive. We were surprised by the good quality of roads and the modern looking buildings that lined them as we drove through the city of Kuala Lumpur (or KL as the locals like to call it). But what really made the 60 min drive worthwhile was the greenery all around when we left the city to drive to Genting.
Thick, lush green vegetation everywhere! As the road wound through the mountainside, we could see the faint outline of a building at the very top through the misty clouds that shrouded the tops. Imagine our excitement when we realized that was our hotel! Genting Hotel is a large hotel (like the other two hotels on the top of Genting Highlands) built to Las Vegas specifications! Its in-house casino, maze of basement level malls, and underground walkways to the nearby amusement parks takes time to discover.
Genting Highlands has two amusement parks and one of them is completely indoors (roller-coaster rides and all!). There are multiple restaurants and fast-food eating choices within these hotels. We loved Ming Ren, which is a lamb speciality restaurant. We also recommend the variety of fresh dimsums at the Marketplace in First World Hotel which houses the indoor Amusement Park.
We had day-passes to both amusement parks and made full use of them. The kids loved the rides and kept repeating them, while we tasted all the delicious Chinese and Malay street food on display. And finally it was time to go! Everyone was exhausted from being on our feet the entire day, and we tried to nap on our drive to KL.
Hotel Istana where we were staying is in the downtown area and within walking distance of the Minara (revolving restaurant on top of a pencil-thin tower), upscape malls, and the monorail station. We spend some time walking through the city and sat down at a streetside cafe for dinner. While I was going ga-ga about how modern KL looked, my wife was not as impressed. She thought the city looked a little artificial since we didn't see any of the 'real' people. All we saw in the downtown areas were the westernized youth of the city. KL looked like any other Western city; the only thing we noticed that was distinctly Malaysian were the headscarves on the sales-girls who otherwise donned western clothes.
The bell-boy wished us Namaste and asked us if we were here to meet Shah Rukh Khan! Apparently, SRK was shooting for Don in an adjoining hotel leading to much excitement in this part of the city. Before we left Malaysia we ended up seeing an IMax movie, took a city tour that included some museums, the Petronas Towers, and a govt. batik production facility.
The strongest impression of Malaysia that I carried back was how green the country is. From the skies, as you drive and everywhere you look! I would love to come back and visit their forest the next time.