Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Hell They Call Heathrow

How can you tell than I am not enamoured by Heathrow today?! Actually, it's not that bad. . .hell, it could be the Delhi International Airport. We landed at Heathrow and I don't know where the hell the pilot parked us, but it was no where near any gate - just kinda out there on the tarmac. Then we had to wait 20 minutes for some stairs to show up, even though they promised the pilot they would be there (or so he told us). Then we got to board a bus and ride through the bowels of the airport. Lord only knows where the hell we went but we eventually turned up at the terminal. Given that I am travelling onwards, I had to go through British security (Lord only knows how lax Indian security is. . .I don't even know if they guy had the x-ray machine on!) and that is where I experienced more stupid people.

By now, I have had enough of dumb people and pushy people. (As you all know, I am not that tolerant of dumb people) Indian people aren't very good at cueing up - they just seem to push ahead whether you are there or not. Case in point - there is a line-up of 4 people waiting for the bathroom on the plane. I am next in line and what does this lady do - she just goes in front of me - and I am pretty sure she used the "western" style toliet as a squat toliet b/c the seat was up when I went in next. And when will people realize that that cue once you have gone through the security screening and you are waiting for your bag isn't the place to stop, put on your belt, take your time and reposition all of your things while everyone else's stuff is piling up behind you - some people truly are stupid. I mean, you grab your crap, you go off to the side and you reorganize. . .I should give lessons. . .along with lessons on how to ride the escalator. . .stand to the right, walk to the left - not hard - or you can even reverse it in those parts of the world where they do things on the opposite side!

Oh yah, this morning - nice bright and early - I got a cab from my hotel to the airport - keep in mind, I am all of about 3km away. The hotel had a car and driver take me over there and when I got there, I asked the guy how much - he said R 500 - which is about $12 - for 3 km and I paid R 150 the night before to go from the airport to the hotel. Of course, all I had was R 1000 and R100 and 2 R 50 and he didn't have change. I told him that I was not giving him R 500 and ended up giving him R 200 - still -highway robbery. I have to admit, I did experience some of that while I was in India - I learned that you always negotiate the fair upfront (or go by the prepaid booth) or you can end up with one hell of a price shock! I was also told yesterday that I tipped too much - I gave some guy R 20 or about $.50 for taking my bags out to a cab for me and helping me arrange it - he told me that was too much and that I should tip smaller - go figure!

They have these computers in the lounge locked down worse than my work computer - I tried to upload some photos (and I even broke into where the CPU was) but still to no avail. . .so wait until tomorrow or the next day and I will populate some of these blogs with pics. . . .

And lastly before I go and grab a bit to eat and maybe a Starbucks.. . .yummy.. . Starbucks - I will comment on British Airways. I know that comparing Executive First on Air Canada and Club World (Business) on BA isn't exactly comparing apples to apples, but I can honestly say that after experiencing the two, Air Canada kicks BA's ass. The service is far more superior (and attentive), the food is better, the seats are more comfortable and better configured and get this - BA does not have on demand video! I know that I shouldn't be complaining after experiencing extreme poverty - but really now. So unless you catch the movie right at the start, you are shit out of luck if you want to watch the whole thing. As for the lounge - BA has a better lounge than Air Canada and way better food, although Air Canada does have a better magazine selection.

So those are my last words for today. . .I think. I land in Calgary at 7:15pm and will have been travelling for 24 1/2 hours - I am sure that I will be a site to behold! I am looking forward to my bed (all the beds are hard in India) and the ability to pluck my eyebrows - I forgot my tweezers and they ain't looking pretty! I am also looking forward to my digestion getting back to some form of normal and for my appetite to return - although I am curious to know how much weight I have lost, if any. And oh yah, I need to exfoliate. . .my poor skin needs a good scrubbing!

Have a good one!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Small Pleasures

Greetings from Chennai! I am just waiting for my flight to board for London and thought that I would use these few moments to talk about small pleasures on my trip. I had the great opportunity of flying through Bangalore yesterday (and I am not being sarcastic here) - what a beautiful airport. It could rival any new airport in the west. It had some greats shops and was incredibly clean and modern - not like the airport in Delhi or Chennai - the chaos also seemed to be a little more constrained. I thought that I was flying on Kingfisher Air but actually it was on Jet Airways - which is essentially just like Air Canada. The service was pretty good, the plane was new and the safety demonstration was pretty much the same.

Given that my flight is pretty early this morning (8am departure) and figuring that I needed to be at the airport about 5:30am (see - I don't cut it close all the time mom), I opted to get a hotel close to the airport and booked into the Trident, which is a four-star, business oriented hotel. Overall, it was a pretty decent hotel, although my room did smell like someone had died in it! Here is where some of my small pleasures began - fresh fruit! I had 2 apples in my room, along with a plate and knife. . .to have some fresh fruit was incredibly nice! Then, I was able to have a bath! Not just a shower, but a bath. All of the places that I have stayed have only had a shower, so to be able to linger in hot water was awesome. Then to top it off, my bed had not one, not two, but rather 4 down feather pillows - small piece of heaven! Another way that I could tell that I was staying at a good hotel was the toliet paper - we aren't talking 1-ply stuff here - but rather some more along the lines of Charmine soft. . .oh how nice it was. And (yes there is still more), they used fabric softener on the towels! I haven't had towels that soft at a hotel other than the Four Seasons in Whistler! Overall, my body was happy.

The other small pleasure that I have had today was an orange. I have been craving an orange for about a week now (would also like some pasta too) and in the lounge here in Chennai, I noticed they had oranges, so I asked for one. Thinking that I would get an orange and would peel it, I thought I was off to the races. . .but no. The girl brought me my orange, all nicely peeled, cut into segments with the skin removed in a bowl. . .talk about a small piece of heaven in my mouth!

So those are just some of my small pleasures from the last day or so. . .I should run as my flight will be boarding shortly. I just was to leave this note on a more spot, I was reading in the paper this morning (I actually quite like Indian newspapers) about a new old age pension for those over 65 and living below the poverty line. It will guarantee them R 200/month with the expectation will contribute another R 200/month - for a total of R 400/month. In USD that equates to about $10. Unbelievable isn't it?!

Remember to count your blessings today and remember all of your good fortunes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Taxi Ma'am, Hello Ma'am

I am getting very used to being called "ma'am". Everywhere I go, one of the first things I hear and it does not matter what I am doing is "taxi ma'am?" Actually in Goa, they seem to add the "ma'am" part more often than other parts that I have been to - more often than not it was just "taxi" - it seems as though walking isn't encouraged around here. Mind you, if you ever saw the traffic up in Delhi and the lack of infrastructure, you would quickly realize why you want to be enclosed in some sort of metal as opposed to being on the side of the road. I will be sure to post some pictures (I don't have my camera with me right now). Traffic in India is interesting and I am noticing some regional differences. For instance, up in Rajasthan, if there is a tiny opening in the traffic and when I say tiny, I mean tiny - like centimeters, they just honk their horn and move into it and hope for the best that the person besides you pulls over. The roads do have lane marked but I often wondered why b/c most 2 lane roads had about 5 lanes of traffic running up them.

As with England, they drive on the opposite side of the road here. So if you want to pass someone, you honk (you get very used to honking) and then you just move up and in. If you want to turn, you honk. If you get pissed off, you honk. You just seem to honk whenever. There were a few times where I feard marginally for my life, but not very often. I did have to tell my driver in Jaipur that he could slow down on a narrow and winding road up into the hills and that I didn't want to die on this trip! I have also been pleasantly surprised that most of the taxis that I have road in have had seat belts - I guess it is the law around here to wear them. There also seems to be a pecking order to the roadways - big trucks, cars, autorickshaws, bikes and then animals and people walking. Driving, particularly up in Rajasthan is survival of the fittest! Down in Goa, the driving and the traffic seem to be more civilized. They seem to acknowledge how many lanes of traffic that a road was built for and don't seem to be as kamikazee in their driving. Let's put it this way - I never once walked on the road in Rajasthan but I go for walks almost every day in Goa. . .I feel much more confident that I won't get hit by a car!

The other mode of travel I have embraced is the train system in India. It is cheap and comfortable (if you pay for the A/C cars). I think my trip from Delhi to Jaipur, which was about 4 hours and included breakfast cost me about $10 cdn. The train car I was in had cabin service, I was given a big bottle of water, my own pot of tea and a hot breakfast. When I was coming back from Agra to Delhi in the same car class, we were given a hot supper and ice cream for dessert (both of which I declined as I had just eaten). Once you figure out how to book your ticket, travel on the train becomes quit easy. As most of you know, I am big fan of public transportation, particularly in foreign places - it gives you a chance to really see people. I also found it to be quite relaxing. The train stations on the other hand are another story - talk about chaos - particularly early in the morning! Arriving at the train station at 5am - there are people lying about everywhere and when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere! If there was a free inch of space, there was someone lying on it - usually with a piece of newspaper under them. Then when the trains pull in, it is a mad, chaotic rush to the cars, particularly to the 2nd class, unreserved cars. There where instances where people were going in through the windows - to hell with the doors and the stairs! I ended up taking the train 3 times - Delhi- Jaipur, Jaipur-Agra, Agra-Delhi - I think it cost me about $40 CDN total for all 3 legs.

I have also taken the local bus down here in Goa. On Saturday, when I had gone up to Panaji in north Goa (and when I had my gastric distress) I finally gave into the "taxi ma'am" and took a taxi up to Panaji. It was about a 30-40 minute drive (although only about 30km) and it cost me $20 CDN (and that was without A/C - that was another $5 - open windows achieve the same thing). I had decided before I left that I would take a taxi up and the local bus back. Well the local bus (which by the way was quite nice and comfortable - no A/C but open windows), cost me $.50 CDN - yep 50 cents. So really, if you want to do India on the cheap, take either the train or the bus!

I have also had the opportunity fly one of the local airlines - SpiceJet. I flew with them from Delhi to Goa - cost me about $165 CDN and all in all, was very good. The check-in was very smooth (they have separate lines at security for women, that are curtained off for when they pat you down), they flew newer planes like an Airbus 320 and they were very professional. They did however charge for drinks and snacks on board. Tomorrow I am flying with another local carrier - Kingfisher Air to Chennai - will see how that goes.

As you can see, I have really covered the whole transportation gamet here in India short of riding a camel or an elephant (although I did look into it!). I survived it but can honestly say that I never want to be the driver here!

Conceding Defeat

Well, I hate to say this but I am conceding defeat here in India and I am coming home early. As much as I would have loved to have stayed for Stephen & Shuba's wedding (and the reason that I came over here) the thought of being here for another 2 weeks makes me want to cry. I have been nauseous since I arrived here and have now realized that it is a side effect of my malaria medication (which I am not prepared to stop taking - like I need malaria!) Another side effect is loss of appetite - which I have also had - which has lead to me not eating very much which leads to me feeling more sick. . .I am sure you can see the vicious cycle that I am in. It's not that I don't like India - b/c I have a found an area that I do, but I am not enjoying myself. Now I know that there are a bunch of you out there who are going to say - "tough it out - you can do it" - I am pretty sure I could, but I wouldn't be enjoying myself and would be miserable the entire time - so thus my decision.

So in other news, I finally experienced by first bout of gastric distress on Saturday. . . and I have figured out the cause. I have been drinking dairy, in the form of a very delicious vanilla milkshake in the mornings - I am supposed to take dairy with my malaria pills. Well Indian dairy is not sitting well with me. . .it is far to rich and is playing havoc on my tummy. So where was I when this distress hit you ask, in Panaji which is a small city in north Goa. Do you think I could find myself a "western-style" bathroom - oh no - yours truly got to "squat" over a pit while her guts gave out. Thankfully I travel with a lot of kleenex and my vat of Purell! Needless to say, that was not an experience that I want to repeat and have since laid off the dairy!

Well I should run. . . I am just making the final changes to my flight home. . .will try and blog somewhere along the way.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm Married!!!!

Yep - you read it right. . .I am now married. Those of you who really know me well, then this shouldn't really come as a surprise now should it?! I always said that it would be quick and fast and come right out of left field and boy does this ever! Seriously though, I figured about 4 days ago that I would be better off married while I am here - so 4 days ago, I found myself a husband, he doesn't have a name, he is a businessman and he is coming over to join me at the beginning of September. In other words - he is fictious - sorry for the heart attack mom. I have been routinely asked, mainly by my taxi drivers, if I am married and have realized it is much easier to answer "yes" than "no". Funny thing is, none of them seem to notice that I don't wear a wedding band (but I do have an explanation for that - my fingers swell in the heat, had to take it off). I have found that by having a "boss", as one driver called him, makes my life much easier and I don't have to answer so many questions.

Well I am about a week into my experience/holiday and I can finally say that I am starting to enjoy myself. I flew down to Goa from Delhi on Tuesday and let me tell you what a great change in scenery it was and it immediately put me in a better frame of mine (let's put it this way - I was looking for the first plane back to Canada by Tuesday!). Goa reminds me a lot of the Carribean - it is very lush and green, the roads are narrow and the people are friendly. I have booked myself into a resort in South Goa called the Royal Orchid - I found it on Expedia when I was in Delhi and it looked pretty good. I can tell you that it ain't no Four Seasons but it sure in the hell a lot better than some of the sh*t holes I stayed in in Rajasthan for double the price! All it all, it is a 3 star resort - rooms are clean, bed is comfortable, they have a nice pool. Given that it is still monsoon season down here, the resort is anything but busy! Speaking of monsoons, the only rain that I have experienced was this morning when I woke up - it was pouring out but it only lasted about 20 minutes and then it was blue skies and sunny all day! I even burnt the marshmellow. . .dumb me! I decided to take a walk down the beach and ended up going about 8km down to a little town called Colva. There I found a restaurant that is owned by a British guy and managed to finally eat some comfort food - mashed potatoes and chicken pot pie. The chicken in the chicken pot pie had a little too much chicken flavour to it, but the mashed potatoes were real and made me feel a whole lot better. I then spent the next hour teaching my waiter how to do Su Doku - we did 3 puzzles together and he didn't want me to leave. . .maybe I should have mentioned my husband! LOL! Given that I was pretty toasted by then (and had no sunscreen in my bag) I opted to take an auto-rickshaw back to my hotel - which was a good thing when I realized just how far it was. . . I am sure that I would still be walking!

So my thoughts on India (I know that you are all wondering and given that I haven't blogged much about my first week, I figure I should share with you a bit now) - well let's just say that the none of my pre-trip nerves were worth it. I have mentally prepared for the worst, but experienced something a lot different. Delhi was a lot less crowded than I expected, it didn't smell as bad as I was expecting and the proverty wasn't as extreme - don't get me wrong, it was bad (will blog about that later) but then again, maybe I was too sensitized before I left. Delhi was also a lot less cosmopolitan than I was expecting. I was expecting it to be much more of a commercial/business hub with some large office buidlings/downtown core or something but it had none of that. Rather, it was a dump. Yep, a dump - or at least I thought so. The only redeeming feature of Delhi in my opinion was the Domestic Airport - which was very nice to fly out of! After about a day in Rajasthan (which is the state that Delhi is in) I wanted to leave! I will fill you in on my Rajasthan experience in my next blog.

In the mean time, I have come to these conclusions. . . I am much more of a Four Seasons/Westin type of holiday person. I thought that I liked to do the "cultural" thing - but I want to do it by nice little day trips from a really nice resort! I have really learned a lot about myself and my travel preferences on this holiday and I am sure that I will keep on learning considering I still have almost 3 more weeks! Until tomorrow. . . .keep smiling!

Monday, August 18, 2008

I am Alive!

I know, I know - you have all been waiting for me to start blogging but finding internet around here is kinda hard. I had it at my hotel in Jaipur yesterday however the space bar stuck and it was a bitch to type with so I thought -to hell with it. I am now sitting in some little hole in the wall (literally) about 500m from the Taj Mahal. I am not going to blog too much on this go around, but don't worry, I have 4 days to share with you, including photos. I guess you are all wondering - am I enjoying myself? Well, I don't know if enjoying myself is the right description. I can't say that I am loving Rajasthan and honestly, I can't wait to leave. I am not yet ready to write off India but I am ready to write off Rajasthan. Will explain more in future posts, but that pretty much sums up how I am feeling.

India hasn't been the shock that I was expecting. It isn't as loud, smelly or crowded as I was expected - it is however very chaotic. I have experienced a few things that I like - like Delhi in the wee hours of the morning when everything is quiet - by Delhi standards, or riding the train (that is a whole other story) and seeing the country side - that has been cool.

I am heading back to Delhi (from Agra) in a couple of hours and tomorrow morning I am catching a flight down to Goa to plant myself on a beach for a week. Hopefully that will be more my speed in terms of a holiday. Actually, now that I write that, I think that has been part of my problem - Delhi is not a holiday but rather an experience and I wasn't prepared (mentally) for that. . .I was in holiday mode.

Sorry this is so "blah" and short but really, I am not in the mood to type but rather I figured that I should post something so my mom knows that I am alive! I love you mom! (and Dad!!!)

Here is a picture of the Taj Mahal - truly a sight to behold!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

India - The preparation

I am leaving tomorrow for India. Once again, I am being a princess and am flying business - do you honestly think that I could ever go back to coach long-haul after my trip to Australia. . .yah right! I couldn't afford British Airways First Class, but BA Business - which still gives me a bed, was doable. Beyond having my flight booked over there and back, I really don't have much else booked. I keep telling myself that I am going to book my hotel in Delhi tonight. . .mind you, I have been saying that for 2 weeks now. But really, I do have to do it tonight b/c I leave tomorrow and I can't land in Delhi without a scheduled car & driver! I have pretty much decided to wing it. That really doesn't go well with my mom (I had to break the news to her last night) but really, I am not a huge plan person.

On the packing side of things, I have laid out almost everything on my bedroom floor and just need to put it in the bag – believe it or not, I am travelling light, but not as light as the lady at the travel store thinks I should. She thought that taking only 2 underwear was wholly appropriate – you know, wear one, wash one – not really my cup of tea – plus underwear don’t take up that much space! She also didn’t think that taking my flat iron for my hair was necessary but I beg to differ! I am however only taking 3 pair of shoes –including the pair I am going to wear. I know – hard to believe – me with only 3 pair of shoes! If I didn’t have the wedding to go to, I would only take 2!

So keep checking back here for the next month or so as I am sure I will having some amazing experiences to share. . .or at least good stories!

For those of you who want to keep in touch with me, feel free to email me at and I will also be posting pictures both on my blog and on Facebook - which I will link to here.