Friday, 29 February 2008

Vadodara - anything else

Late today but I've been travelling again - I've left the delights of Vadodara and am just settling into |Delhi. So I have a final couple of comments on Vadodara.

Firstly, it seemed much more civilised than Chennai – there were pavements on almost the roads and there are not piles of rubbish all over the streets. Additionally, the shops and restaurants all look very respectable and the buildings are generally in good repair – all of these things were unlike the bits of Chennai that I saw.

However, there seems to be a BIG pollution problem here. The first night we drove into the city from the airport we noticed a haze in the air but couldn’t agree what was causing it. However, it is there every night and (even in an air conditioned car) by the time we get back to the hotel my throat is burning – not nice.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Commuting in Vadodara (its worse than Chennai)

Like in Chennai, the office we are working in is about an hour drive from the hotel. Now there seems to be less traffic here than Chennai (a lot fewer cars, buses and Tuk Tuks on the road but more pushbikes, motorbikes and lorries) but this causes its own problem – people can drive faster on clearer roads. Actually, I say there are fewer buses, but that may be because some of the lorries seem to be replacement buses:

Also, there are more animal drawn vehicles (typically water buffalo but I’ve seen one camel drawn cart and apparently there are occasional elephant drawn carts too) and the Tuk Tuks here are like clown cars – how many people can ride on one? We counted 20 people on this one:

There are a few roundabouts in the roads here and they generally seem to be approached like a big game of chicken with the biggest vehicle (or occasionally weight of numbers with bikes) getting the right of way.

We had been amazed that we had never seen an accident in Chennai despite the idiotic driving here. Well that’s all changed now - next to the office we are in are the remains of a truck which apparently came off the road a couple of days before we arrived:

Rather more disturbingly was what we saw on Monday when we passed the recent aftermath of a motorbike which had ended up under a lorry (complete with mangled bike under the wheels of the lorry and the body of the biker in the road covered by a blanket). Actually, the remains of the bike is still sitting at the side of the road and we pass it every day. No more jokes about accidents from the three of us now...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Welcome to Vadodara

The next venue on my tour of India takes me to the city of Vadodara – if you’ve never heard of it before (and I suspect you haven’t) then you may have heard the name of the province it is in which is Gujarat. This is a Muslim state and as such there is a major disaster in my life – no bars!

All is not lost however as it is possible for foreigners to obtain drinking licences from one of the 29 licensed premises in the state (almost all of which, unsurprisingly, seem to be in hotels). So I now have my Gujarat drinking license (valid for 10 days) which allows me to buy beers in the hotel:

I also have a stamp in my passport indicating the same thing.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Two nights in Goa

Firstly, for anyone sickened (for one reason or another) by the picture of me in the pool you'll be glad to know I was scarlet by the end of the day and am still feeling the pain of sunburn.

But to business - with Friday and Saturday nights to burn we headed off to look for the nightlife of Goa. Recommendations from various people including taxi drivers, bar staff and the concierge suggested we had the choice of two areas next to each other in the North: Calangute; or Baga.

On Friday we headed to the slightly closer location of Calangute and found, well nothing much really. Also, from the few bars we did wander past we reckoned we were well down on the average age of the other tourists. In fact a couple of Convicts who had been travelling joined us saying exactly the same thing. They had been planning Goa as a blow out to end their three weeks of travelling and were struggling to find any life.

So on to Saturday and a late start due to the 6 Nations – after a day of burning by the pool I spent ages trying all the streams I could to get the rugby on my computer (the concierge had been unable to find any bars showing anything other than the England game at 1.30am). In the end I had resigned myself to the 5 Live commentary but somehow I was able to the BBC pictures online too (which I don’t really understand as you’re not supposed to be able to do that outside the UK).

After the latest rugby shambles we headed off to a club called Tito’s in Baga at 12.30am – this place was similar to the Brits abroad type of hellhole you find all over the Med and after about and we only lasted to about 2am before heading off to the sports bar which I had been told was showing the England game. There were about a dozen people watching it whole mostly seemed to be from a wedding party which was here for a couple of weeks.

We joined the last folks standing from this as they headed off to a club called "Butter" at about 3am which was pretty cool – it was outdoors and had pool tables and a good number of armchairs and sofas to lounge around on. We variously made it back to our hotel between 6am and 8am that morning so weren’t exactly flying on Sunday (but what the hell – we were only travelling then).

As for Goa itself, I don’t think I can really recommend it to you as anything that is there seems to be available, with a lot less travelling and clear blue seas, in either the Mediterranean or in the Caribbean (depending on where you start from).

Right, tomorrow I’ll start my report from my next destination and it’s an odd one.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Travelling with work is a tough life…

WARNING: Some (well one) of the pictures below may be offensive.

Friday, 22 February 2008

GOA!!!

I don’t think I mentioned but my three weeks in India are actually split between three separate locations so we’ll be moving each weekend. We finished up in site one on Thursday so decided to run for the hills a day early – actually that’s not quite right, we ran for the beaches.

So last night we were scrambling to book flights and a hotel for the weekend in Goa and scrambling was the right word. The flights we ended up with went via Mumbai (but the airlines computer system crashed while we were booking so although we had the flights booked we had to pay for them at the airport the next day). The hotel was an issue as well as we tried about a dozen before we managed to find one with any space.

The flight was due to leave Chennai at 9.15am so we booked a car from the hotel for 7.30am – should have been plenty of time and would have been if it had been there at 7.30am. It actually showed up at 8am which left us scrambling at the airport.

One of us went to pay for the tickets, one to check-in and one to scan the bags for check-in. Not unexpectedly, by the time we reached Goa our bags hadn’t made it further than Mumbai.

As I write this (at about 8pm) we are still waiting for them to arrive at the hotel although apparently they were arriving in Goa on the 5.30pm flight…

Anyway, welcome to Goa:

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Temple architecture

In Chennai the predominant religion is Hindu and there are temples of all shapes and sizes all over the place. When I say all shapes I sizes I mean from the size of a garden shed up to the size of a small sports stadium.

The common factor between them is that they all have intricate architecture and in many cases are very coluourful:


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Commuting in Chennai

The office I am working from is about 35km from the hotel I’m in so each day we have a reasonable commute to work. The roads here are hilarious – on a fairly major two lane road traffic can easily be four abreast (that’s on two lanes remember) with a mixture of beaten up buses, cars, Tuk-Tuks, motorbikes, pushbikes and carts pulled by cows – seriously.

Virtually every road has some sort of central divide in the middle – my theory is that if it wasn’t there no one would pay attention to which side of the road they should be driving on, they certainly pay no attention to the notion of lanes.

Also, the it appears that it is accepted that no-one uses their mirrors and when you are behind another vehicle you sound your horn (and flash your lights if its at night). This makes for a rather noisy trip.

I’ve taken to having my camera to hand for all the journeys in order to try and grab pictures of the more insane things we see – in fact our driver is helping out by pointing out things he thinks we might find funny (we tailgated this bus for about 20 seconds for this picture):

As well as the guys hanging onto the side of the bus you can see a barrier blocking the left most lane of the road. These are put in place by the police and are quite common - in English they say “Accident Prone Area – Go Slow”. I’m not sure they help as all they do is force whoever is in the blocked lane to swerve into the next lane…I also love the fact that they all advertise hospitals. I’m amazed we haven’t seen an accident (or the aftermath of an accident) yet.

So far the journey has taken anything from 1 hour to 1 hour 40 minutes but its always interesting!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Free day in Chennai

So having got to sleep at 3am I was thenn up and running at 10.30am on Sunday to explore Chennai - not that there seems to be much in the way to explore for a tourist. We asked the Concerge in the hotel what to see and he looked at us as if we were nuts.

However, undaunted we headed out to see what we could find - first stop the beach. No hotel cars for us either, all Tuk-Tuk (actually I think they are called auto-rickshaws here but I like word Tuk-Tuk better). So we bomded through the streets to the beach (no rules on the roads here that I can see) via a couple of "sights" (the St Thomas basilica and another temple which was apparently 500 years old).

The beach itself is HUGE (one of the longest in the world apparently) - the area we walkd along had a fish market on at the time from a fleet of fishing boats pulled up onto the beach behind:

Wow did that smell bad. At this point we had been walking for about 30 minutes and we had been followed by a Tuk-Tuk driver who was adamant that he was a very good driver and could show us around for the afternoon - we relented and jumped in and he took us around for a few hours via the British Fort Museum, a couple of temples, a tourist trap shop (where he apparently got a petrol voucher for bringing potential customers in) and finally a bar...

As a slight aside we asked the Concierge (different guy this time) later in the day if he could recommend a couple of bars outside the hotel - again a look of bewilderment a a suggestion that all bars outside hotels were unsafe and unclean...but back to the bar we were in. The driver ordered three 630ml Kingfisher beers - two normal Kingfisher for us and a Strong (6% ) for himself. Not being a big guy he wasn't going to hold too many of these and still be in any state to drive (although he was adamant that he could have 4 and still drive). As we headed off back to the hotel he was singing as he drove his Tuk-Tuk...


Now coming to you from India

For the next three weeks or so I'll be bringing you stories from India which is where I am with work. I nearly wasn't though as the Visa process nearly left me marooned in New York. If you're a Yank its same day processing (drop your passport off in the morning and get it back in the afternoon) whereas for a foreigner like myself processing takes 4-6 days. Given I was in San Diego until Sunday I had to take an overnight flight from the 7s to get to the Indian Embassy first thing Monday morning to drop it off.

The days past and no Visa appeared and on Thursday a message appeared on the website indicating that due to a "Systems Update" Visa processing delays were to be expected. I thought this was going to screw my chances of getting the Visa in a week but come Friday it was available for collection at 4.30pm...just three and a half hours before my flight was due to leave from JFK. So I pitched up to the Embassy with my suitcase in tow, got the Visa and ran for the airport.

I was flying Jet Airways for the first time (changing planes in Brussels) and was very impressed with the business class seats - probabaly the best I have come across so far. Good food too actually. Crap films but that's more a reflection on the film industry in general I think.

Anyway, after about 20 hours travelling we arrived at 2am on Sunday morning to 25C heat and pleant of humidity. Considering that was 2am you can imagine how much fun the days are...but we'll get to that tomorrow.

Friday, 15 February 2008

San Diego International 7s

My day started about 4 hours before the 7s kicked off on Saturday – I had brought my computer with me so I could watch the 6 Nations online but as luck would have it I found a bar which was showing the games which was only 5mins from the hotel and the 7s. So, 6am for the Scotland v Wales game and I’m in a bar. I’m not going to rant about how f##king awful Scotland are but you can’t seriously expect to be in a game when you are only in the opponents 22 twice in the whole game!

When the Ireland game finished at about 9.45am I was already about 5 pints into the day – makes for an odd experience to walk out a bar at that time!

But to the 7s – and a very nice weekend it was too sitting in the 20ÂșC sun (directly on day one and in the shade on day 2) watching rugby.

There were some odd teams in the competition including West Indies and Mexico – I felt a bit sorry for the Mexicans as the draw was pretty tough on them as they ended up playing SA, England, USA, Canada and the Convicts. They’re best result was a 45 – 0 loss against Canada and they didn’t score a try in any of the games.

The best game of day one was easily the last between Fiji and Samoa with the loser playing NZ in the next round. Fiji ran out to a 17 – 0 lead at half time and the game looked to be over but Samoa came back to win it 21 – 17 in the last minute.

But what of Scotland? Well their last game saw them needing to lose to NZ by less than 31 points to go through to the next round…and a more impressive display of time wasting you will struggle to see as they walked to every kick off, scrum and line out. In the end (with one man in the sin bin) they held on to lose 27 – 0 and progress to the next round.

Day 2 of these competitions always has better matches and there were some real crackers on Sunday: Wales and the Yanks coming from behind to beat the Convicts 17 – 12 and France 12 – 10 respectively were very good; the Yanks and Wales in the Bowl final was good too as the Yanks missed a last minute conversion to lose 21 – 19; and the Plate final between Fiji and Argentina went to extra time before Fiji won 26 – 21.

The main competition was won by NZ who beat SA in the final 27 – 12 and never really looked like being beaten in any game (they are unbeaten all season so far and have won something like 36 matches in a row). Having watched the 7s circuit for a few years I don’t think they are any better than usual (although they’re defence and work at the breakdown are damn good) but all the other teams aren’t as good as they have been.

This brings me to my highlight of the tournament:

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Tijuana

Picture what you think a stereotypical Mexican would look like – does he have a moustache? If not, add one – seriously as I watched the world go by from the balcony of a bar in Tijuana ($0.85 a beer) it struck me that about 90% of blokes in Mexico have moustaches.

But I’ve jumped into the middle of my story again so lets back up a few hours to the Mexican border – as I waited to go across it occurred to me, what could Mexico possibly be worried was being smuggled into their country from Yankland? That could well explain why it only took 2 minutes to get through – not quite the same going back to the US but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

I was in Tijuana for about 3 hours before heading back to San Diego so didn't have a huge amount of time to see the place but I did spot a few interesting things: firstly "Zonkeys":

These are donkeys which have been painted with black stripes so they look a bit like Zebras. Why? Well tourists get their picture taken with them and apparently the donkey wouldn't show up well on old black and white film - don't know why they still do it now but that was apparently the original reason.

The first bar I ventured into (most people were going shopping but I had no interest in that) was a pretty big place called "El Torito" - this place included free mechanical bull riding, free Orbitron rides and - most worryingly - a Tattoo parlour…

I next decided I had better try some real Mexican food seeing as I was in Mexico so I ordered something called Molcajete and proceeded to make a damn good mess trying to eat it.

The next bar I ventured into was HUGE. Really, it was massive. Three floors and all of them massive (this seemed to be common to most of the bars in the area and it must be nuts at night). This place was also serving free Tequila with every beer...

Last story for today takes us back to the border - unsurprisingly the queue to get back into the US took a bit longer than the trip into Mexico but being on a bus (about 30 minutes wait) was better than a car (queue backed up for about 2 miles I reckon).

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Kooks (BONUS SECOND POST OF THE DAY)

As I went to see The Kooks in concert last night, and I'm not too busy at work, I'm adding an unprecedented second entry today.

The concert was at the Music Hall of Williamsburg which is in Brooklyn - this marked my first foray off Manhattan itself. It really is rather annoying that concerts here don't start until 9pm as it means they don't finish until midnight so you don;t get to sleep until near 1am. But to the bands:

Nat Jenkins
- this guy was ok but sounded a bit Country & Western for my liking.

The Duke Spirit
- I wouldn't rave about this lot but I did start to get into their stuff by the end of their set. Reminded me of Blondie but that could just have been the lead singer.

The Kooks - I really did quite like their first album even though it is probably a bit "pop" for my normal listening. They were fairly good and played a lot of new stuff which sounded as good as their old songs.

One thing I did notice that this was by far the livliest crowd I have seen in New York. Normally th crowd is a still life but this lot were bouncing around and singing along - not quite the same as up the front at Brixton Academy but much more active than usual.

Right, last thing today, here are a couple of links to sites which have posted mp3s of The Kooks:
- "All That She Wants" - a cover of the old Ace of Bass Song (seriously)
- "Naive" and "She Moves in Her Own Way" acoustic versions live at Abbey Road

San Diego

I had two days to look round San Diego before the 7s at the weekend – I did a bit of research and came across two slightly different tour plans which would put in a day each:

  1. Old Town Trolley Tours
  2. San Diego Grand Bus Tour

The big difference between these is that the Trolley Tour allowed me to jump on and off at half a dozen of the main tourist areas in downtown San Diego whereas the Bus Tour was much more structured time wise but did cover more of the city and included a harbour cruise and a trip to Tijuana (tomorrow for that one people).

Unfortunately, with the Tijuana write up tomorrow and the 7s to write about on Friday, I’m not going to be able to fit too much about San Diego without this post getting ridiculously long which is a shame as I really liked the place – so I suppose I better get on with it.

Coronado – this place used to be two separate islands off the coast o San Diego but, by dredging the bay, the two islands were connected together and connected to the mainland. There is also now a rather large bridge which connects the island to the mainland. The most famous building on the island is the Coronado Hotel which was built in 1888 which stands on the beach looking out across the Pacific:

Balboa Park – this is a 1,200 acre park just North of downtown San Diego and includes the famous San Diego Zoo as well as loads of museums (I spent an hour in the aeronautical museum but could have been in there all day) and a couple of outdoor amphitheaters. Most of the buildings in the park are what seem to be modeled on old style Spanish/Mexican architecture which was quite interesting:

Old Town – this is considered the birthplace of California as it was the site of the first Spanish settlement there in 1769. Being honest the area is a bit of a tourist trap now with basically a bunch of restaurants and tat shops. One thing that I did go and see though was the Whaley house which claims to be the most haunted house in America:

Gaslamp District – the downtown bar and restaurant district with loads going on at night. Its also close to the bay which includes the maritime museum (which is actually a bunch of real ships) and the Midway museum which is a decommissioned aircraft carrier (unfortunately I just didn't have to to go onboard):

I have enough material that I could do two weeks worth of Blog entires on the place but in summary, I really like San Diego - the place isn’t too big, is very clean, the climate is great (between 18-26oC all year round), has beaches, is a one hour flight from Las Vegas, apparently is 2 hours drive from ski resorts. Can I find any faults with the place? Well than San Andreas fault I suppose. Also, it has a lot of military bases around. Still, its going on the list of places I could happily live. Recommended.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

More flight issues

As you’ll have noticed I’ve been away for a week on holiday – I was off to San Diego for a long weekend (specifically to see the USA 7s which were there but also because I’ve never met anyone who has had anything negative to say about San Diego).

But we’ll get to the 7s, San Diego and Tijuana later this week – firstly I’ll run through my latest flight problems. I was due to fly from Newark to Chicago and then connect to San Diego from there – everything was going smoothly until we were all seated in the plane at Newark about 5mins before scheduled the take off time when the captain announced a delay of at least 2½ hours. This of course would have stuffed my connection.

It turned out that there was pretty heavy snow in Chicago and nothing was going in or out – so even if I did eventually make it there the chances of me being able to then make it to San Diego that day were slim. I got off the plane (thankfully hand luggage only) and managed to get on the next flight out to Dallas to connect there instead – I was literally handed my new boarding pass as the last call was made…eventually I made it to San Diego only about an hour later than I was originally scheduled.

So, new lesson learned here, if you need a connection in the US it is probably best to avoid the North if possible in the Winter as the weather could screw you over.

That would have been the end of the story but the flight back was also eventful. I was on an overnight flight with a connection in Las Vegas - on paper I had an hour and a half to change planes there so no problem there. However, my plane in San Diego had issues with hydraulics and some screen heating system so was about 45 minutes late taking off. Also, upon arriving in Vegas I found out I had to change terminals which meant going out of and back through security. Put these together and I made the flight with only a couple of minutes to spare.

That still wasn't then end of the excitment though - half an hour in to this flight and I hear the following announcement: "Would any passenger with medical training please make themselves known to the cabin crew"...at this point I was now thinking that there was a chance the flight might have to land early in some US backwater - luckily not and it made it all the way to JFK where fate threw me one more bit of fun - the jetramp wasn't working so the we sat on the tarmac for half an hour before getting off.

Flights and me really didn't have a good week.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Other minor sporting event this weekend

So obviously the big event was the 6 Nations kicking off but the Yanks had there own little sporting event too on Sunday - the Superbowl. Just what I needed after a heavy weekend of 6 Nations - a sport that takes about 4 hours to play on Sunday evening.

To be fair I had a limited amount of interest as the New York Giants were playing and I recently found out that the kicker was originally from Scotland (until he was 10 and then he moved to Yankland). The expectation was that the Giants would be stuffed by the New England Patriots as they had been undefeated all season but somehow the Giants won what was a fairly exciting game (by American Football standards you understand) by 17 -14 with a touchdown with only 35 seconds left to play.

Almost more interesting than the game was the TV coverage of the event. At 9am when I left my flat to watch the Scotland game the pre-game coverage had already begun from Arizona (where it was still dark). I watched a bit of the pre-game show in the afternoon and it was just devoid of any useful or interesting information. It seemed to be little more than a number of product and TV show adverts and plugs - in fact they had a special segment dedicated to the ads that would be shown that night...I get the sense that a fair amount of people were annoyed that some sort of sporting event was getting in the way of all the marketing crap.

Anyway, last post until Tuesday next week from me as I am off on hols until then.

Monday, 4 February 2008

6 Nations (Weekend 1)

Scotland were awful, there really is not one thing I can say was good about the performance against France. Scrum started well but fell to pieces, never looked threatening in the backs, lost line outs in the French 22 - just dire.

At least England were almost as bad - Wales weren't great but England's 2nd half was really awful. Ireland won but weren't great either against the usual Italian performance.

My weekend was spent propping up the bar in the Red Lion watching this stuff - 9am start on Saturday (finally stopped drinking at about midnight) and then again from 10am on Sunday...probably caught up with all the beers I missed in January now.

Friday, 1 February 2008

First beer of 2008

OK, so I broke early - but only by 5 hours and that means that it was into February in the UK even if it wasn't in the US. Do I feel better or the month off - as with last year - can't say I notice any major difference.

Anyway, you can blame P'Robert as he is over in NY for the weekend - that along with the start of the 6 Nations should ensure I catch up on all the beers I missed in January...