Sunday, February 25, 2007

Off to Florida

Finally, off to Florida! This has probably been the one time I have planned a vacation so much in advance. A useful side-effect of all the travel my job requires is that I collect a lot of frequent flyer miles. And so, this time I get to take my family to the USA and back, on business class and without having to pay! However, to get confirmed seats on business class using miles required me to book my seats about 12 months in advance. I am travelling on Air France and Delta.

In an earlier post, I had described the Disney resort I am going to stay in while at Orlando. The last time I was at Orlando was before the days of digital cameras and blogs. This time, I will expect to have pictures and stories to share with the world-at-large when I return!

Here are some interesting facts and trivia about Florida:

  • A Spanish explorer discovered Florida and named it after Pasqua Florida, a Spanish term for the Easter season.
  • Florida is not the southern most state in the USA; Hawaii is further south.
  • Orlando attracts more visitors than any other amusement park destination in the USA
  • The world's first sun-tan cream was invented in Florida by cooking cocoa butter in a granite coffee pot!
  • More hurricanes have made landfall in Florida than anywhere else in the world in recent times


Monday, February 19, 2007

Dream Ice-Creams

That I have all sweet teeth doesn't surprise my friends. Bengalis are known to be great lovers of sweets, and I am no exception. Therefore, I never miss the dessert menu when I travel and one of the things I have been sampling is the ice-creams around the world.

I had earlier posted about the delights you can sample at the Marble Slab Creamery in the US, which in my opinion is the best ice-cream experience in that country. While in China and Japan, I tasted green-tea flavored ice-creams for the first time.

Then there are the 'non-ice-creams': frozen yoghurts and the Italian gelatos that have begun to show up in India finally. I don't think they come close to their creamier cousins in taste; but if you are watching calories, this is your only (good) option!

Recently, at the Oberoi in Mumbai, I had to select from an interesting ice-cream menu that listed the following: Green Tea and Candied Ginger, Wasabi and Carmelized Brown Sugar, Kashmiri Vanilla Beans, Butterscotch, Roast Hazelnut Praline,Star Anise and Rambutan. Sounds exotic, huh?

Yesterday, I was presented with 'fried' ice-creams in caramel at Mainland China, one of my favorite restaurants in Pune which was celebrating the Chinese New Year with a special menu.

However, my personal favourite remains Natural, the ice-cream brand which is sold in their own outlets in the Pune-Mumbai region. These are made with fresh Indian fruits and taste like no other I have ever tasted. Flavors include Chikoo, Tender Coconut, Fig, Strawberry, Watermelon, and Sitaphal (custard apple).


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Snow in Darjeeling

Global warming has been creating undesirable weather patterns and climate changes in many parts of the world. Almost everywhere I travel, I hear of a new story from that part of the world. However, these changes can sometimes result in welcome side-effects. Here's an article in The Telegraph on an unusual Valentine's Day snowfall in Darjeeling:

Feb. 14: Had you been in Darjeeling on Valentine’s Day, you could have said it with snow. The last time you could have done so was 22 years ago, when V-Day’s favourite generation was yet to be born. The next time is anybody’s guess — tomorrow’s forecast does not look too bright. An unusual — but certainly not hot — love affair between a low-pressure zone and plummeting mercury delivered the first February snow in Darjeeling since 1985.

The low-pressure zone is aptly christened “western disturbance”, a term that many would like to use to describe Valentine’s Day, too.

The same dalliance also brought snow to Kathmandu for the first time since - hold your breath - 1944.

Darjeeling today woke up blanketed in four inches of stunning white overnight snow — the heaviest in recent times. Since 6 in the morning, delighted residents and tourists thronged Chowrasta, the town’s famed promenade, scooping up balls of snow and throwing them at each other.

The usual suspect — global warming — was on some lips as a temperature dip is one of its “expected consequences”. But a scientist cautioned that “to pinpoint such changes to global warming, we’ll need to establish an increase in frequency which will take several years of observation”.

Many holiday-makers in Darjeeling, stranded by disrupted travel schedules, happily extended their stay.

“This is such a big surprise that we have decided to stay on for two days more,” trilled Sunirmal Ghosh, a tourist from Calcutta. “How could we miss the snowfall? We decided to come despite the slippery roads,” added Subin Pradhan, an architect from Kalimpong.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Of Friendly Elevators

Ever been in a hotel or office-building with a bank of elevators? You push a button and wait in front of one of the elevator doors hoping that's going to be the one, but nine of ten times, the one farthest goes 'ding-dong' and you have to run to get in before it gets fully loaded.

I was at the ANA Hotel in Tokyo last month and I was pleased to notice a difference. When you pushed the button, one of the elevator doors would immediately light up so you knew exactly where to stand and queue up. Now that's what I call a friendly elevator!


Monday, February 12, 2007

Three Days in Mumbai

I spent part of the last week in Mumbai for NASSCOM's India Leadership Forum. This is the premier annual event in India for IT and is well-attended by the who's who of the Software industry. Like always, I was again charged up seeing how much excitement is in the air and the continued success of our industry in India. Anyway, since I only focus on travel and food in this blog, let me describe the Oberoi hotel I stayed in.

Oberoi MumbaiThe Oberoi in Mumbai is located at the southern tip of Nariman Point, in the heart of Bombay's business and financial district. The cab stopped at the Hilton and I thought he had mixed up my hotel, but quickly realized that the Oberoi in the lane right beside the Hilton. A smell of jasmine was all around as the helpful bellboy escorted me to the Lobby which is located one level above the street level. I like the Oberoi uniforms, very regal and reminiscent of the royal costumes of the era of maharajahs.

Oberoi MumbaiThe girl who checked me in escorted me to my room. The room was well-appointed with a large bath & shower area and a separate vanity area. You can also summon a butler very quickly through an easily accessed button. All through my stay, the service was impeccable, from the bellman to the server in the restaurant, and from the receptionist to the housekeeping person. The Oberoi positions its hotel at the premium five-star segment and it's staff definitely provides an experience that is a couple of notches above the usual five-star hotel.

I sampled biryani and Kandhari kababs (very succulent, marinated in yogurt and a bunch of different spices) from the Kandahar restaurant that serves a variety of Indian fare. I also sampled the breakfast at Tiffin, their lobby level restaurant. Tiffin has low 'sofa' seating, and they only have the cold breakfast items on display in the buffet. You can order hot breakfast items (eggs, and Indian breakfast staple such as idli, dosa, paratha, etc.) which they then get freshly prepared directly to your table.

Oberoi MumbaiThe NASSCOM event was being held at the Grand Hyatt and getting from there to my hotel meant an hour's drive though the Mumbai traffic. This is the only time I actually found myself longing for good ol' Pune roads! In spite of all the talk about worsening traffic in Pune, I think we are still better off than our friends in Mumbai and Bangalore at this point in time!

BTW, here's a snapshot of the Pillow Menu from my hotel room. Sweet dreams! :-)

On a different note, I find Bombay and Calcutta the two cities in India with the most character. While I have never lived in these two cities, I have visited them many times: in a different lifetime when travel meant 48 hours in a train with friends, getting down at every station for 'chai' and smokes. Also, in the current one, when I mostly stay at big business hotels, non-smoking rooms and fly in an out of these cities. I haven't quite figured out what makes these cities special to me: the people, the contant festivity in the air, or the winding roads and Victorian buildings from a bygone era.