Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Goa - Criss crossing the countryside

Anjuna Beach
Vagator Beach

I thank myself for choosing to stay in the less frequented Varca. This holiday was meant to be a break for me. I wonder if that would be possible had I stayed in the bustling areas of North Goa. My trip to North Goa, zipping through Panaji, Anjuna, Vagator, Chapora and Fort Aguada on the motorcycle was fun, but made me feel really happy that I chose the beautiful Varca beach to stay at. The beaches at Vagator and Anjuna are nothing to write home about. In fact, I'd recommend that one gives them a miss. The flea market at Anjuna is great if you want to pick up some junk jewellery and some sea shells, but nothing that you cant get in Bangalore or Pune. There arent too many good places to eat close to Anjuna either.

The "special" menu @ Willy's

The squids + rice + chips

We did find a good place close to Vagator, called Willy's. Now Willy's is quite impressive as you will see from their special menu, notwithstanding the fact that they take almost 50 minutes to serve their food. I'd definitely recommend this place if you're passing by Vagator.

With some food inside of us, the next thing we needed to do was ride to Fort Aguada. This meant driving through Calangute and Candolim, both beautiful localities; quite similar to Koregaon Park in Pune. I must say that this to us was the only attractive locality in North Goa, with Taj Holiday Village and Kingfisher Villa in the vicinity. Add to that some nice eateries, tailors, pubs and Ayurveda centers and you have a bustling, fun, neighbourhood. If we do stay in North Goa, during another visit, I'd perhaps want to stay in these parts.

Moi at Chapora

Interiors of Fort Aguada

Having seen the "Dil Chahta Hai" (Chapora) fort in absolute ruins, we didn't have very high expectations of the Aguada fort. The fort however surprised us with its fine, strong architecture and amazing views. I must say that while everyone advised us against taking a bike to North Goa, I found that doing exactly that was perhaps the best idea. It helped us see fine views of the countryside and frankly I don't feel tired at all. The very fact that I can sit up to write this blog entry is perhaps testimony that it isn't such an arduous journey after all. As always, another of my recommendations -- travel across goa on a motorcycle/ scooter.

Tomorrow, I am off on another food expedition. My destination -- Sahakari Farms in Ponda. Another of Outlook Traveler's helpful hints, Sahakari Farms is reported to an excellent food destination serving some typical Goan food after an enlightening tour of the spice plantation. I'm hoping when I pick up my laptop tomorrow, the food at the farm remains something to write home about.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fine Dining at Goa

Today was a great "foodie" day at Goa. I'd already planned to go on a bit of a food adventure and so I started the day late to head towards Quepem, 27 kms from where I am. My destination was Palácio do Deão at the town of Quepem. Dont be taken in by the name -- it is no palace; it is a mansion though and a big one at that. I was surprised to know that its home to a family that maintains it and entertains hosts. The house does have a bit of history attached and Ruben, the owner lets us understand that it was home to the priest that founded the town of Quepem.

Well, after a tour of the house and lots of trivia, Ruben lead us to the belvedere where we were served some prawn starters followed by spicy, barbecued sea bass; some prawns in the traditional Goan Caldine gravy and a rich gourd stew. The dessert - bebinca and caramel custard just topped off what was an amazing dining experience. What you eat is completely Ruben's choice and you dont have much of a say in selecting the spread. While what i ate was awesome, I did feel racially discriminated a bit when I saw foreigners being served lots of variety and really large portions. Having said that, I understand that theirs was a big group and merited some of the big servings they got.

My evening ended at Benaulim beach at the shack called Johncy's. Now Johncy's is amongst the most talked of shacks at Benaulim along with Pedro's next door. I must put in a word for the professionalism of the staff and the way the folks there have maintained the facilities (I have a special word for the restroom - modern and just too clean for a shack!). But lets cut to the cheese -- the food. I ordered a sea-food salad, an apricot hookah (!) and a masala fried sea-food platter. The platter's a foodie's delight -- sea-bass, king fish, shark, prawns, squids and mackerel; they all team up to be what's an absolute fantasy. The best use of Rs 500/- that I've seen in recent times. My vote goes to Johncy's. Do visit if you're in the vicinity.

I'm looking forward to some more food and a few more adventures in coming days. Hope there continues to be lots to write about.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Goa - first few days

Goa is a bundle of surprises. I always thought of Goa as a crowded tourist spot with few sights to catch. For me Goa was always my idea of a cheap, no-frills, no thrills, no beauty vacation. As it turns out, most of those conjectures were untrue. The hotel is expensive and so is the food (a minimum of Rs 1k a day for a couple). There's a bit of adventure on offer with dolphin cruises, para sailing, jet skiing and what have you, but I find the time and money ratio to be grossly overrated.

However, as they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and you should be willing to grab a scooter/ motorbike in Goa and just explore the country-side and hop from beach to beach. Luckily I am put up at Varca, which is one of the less frequented beaches in Goa. Its white sand and good beach food make for hours of idling away at a time. Its also cleaner than most of the other beaches. Just 5 kms from here is Benaulim, which is again a relatively tourist free beach, but has a huge number of shacks that seem to serve good, wholesome sea-food. Benaulim connects to Colva and Sernabtim which are all essentially one stretch of beaches, but Colva seems to hog the crowds, with all the shrieking Indian families running there.

Its fun to do little over 3 days, but laze around the pool, sit by the beach shack contemplating the meaning of life, admire the beauty of the sun going down at three different beaches and eat good food.

I do have plans for a food adventure today. My stop is 27 kms from the resort, a mansion called Palácio do Deão, that (as per Outlook Traveller) seems to serve some really amazing Goan food. Well a food trip is definitely my idea of fun, and I hope to be able to write good things about my experience

Monday, January 21, 2008

National Treasure - Book of Secrets

When I am sad and really down, watching a movie helps. Last evening was no exception. I had to put up a smiling facade through the welcome dinner for the Immersion guys; hell! I had to, I lead the initiative. But then the false impression of happiness is no match for the real thing. I cant say I was happy by the end of the evening, but yes I can say I was ready to face things once again.

Dinner at "All Stir Fry" was good as usual and I went for my usual fare of Pepper Barbecue, followed by a Szechuan toss up with the conclusion being my favorite selection of squids tossed up with green chillies, coriander and oyster sauce. Sluuuurrp!

While National Treasure is one of those "Yeah, it'll all be ok, dont worry" movie with its own set of cheap thrills, I didnt mind too much cuz it was entertaining, funny in patches, had its share of picks from age old urban legends. The few laughs and the couple of thrilling sequences made me forget what my pre-movie state of mind was. I hate the experience of watching a movie alone. What I love is the fact that it helps me balance myself. Something's gotta give, I guess... Its just a matter of choosing what its gotta be.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Five Recall Factors

One of the most interesting training mnemonics I talk about. We had a reasonably engaging discussion about this so that was nice.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Now how cool is that!

Yahoo goes one up on Google with this one. What I hated about Google maps was that in my own country, if I had to find the way from A to B, I had to rely on asking and that wouldnt get me the best directions. Yahoo, gets me Indian directions. Check out the image. This is just fascinating!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

London by night

Trafalgar Square
Buckingham Palace

Despite the fact that I still believe that Europe lacks Asia's vibrance, colour and enigmatic appeal, London's definitely a beautiful city and a photographer's delight. I have always had an interest as an amateur photographer and it was such a pity that I had to wait till I got to the end of my rope to be able take pictures of London by night.

The London Eye
Big Ben & Houses of Parliament

It wasnt a really good effort trying to get all those pictures. Some of them are just awful and thats what happens on a windy night in London. I did exasperate myself with the efforts and my batteries dying out on separate occasions wasnt much of a help. What was good despite such a fiasco, was that I was able to buy my wife something -- 4 pairs of the exact same shoes that she was looking for. I hope they fit; she's had little of my support in the past few months and maybe this will bring a smile to her face. She loves shoes :-).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Living in the UK

Over the last few days, one of the lingering thoughts in my mind has been around getting a hang of what attracts Indians to the west. This being my 3rd visit to a western country, I can to a great extent understand the usual reasons for attraction. I myself have always wished to be able to live and work in Australia (amongst other countries!) for a period of time. I am not sure if I want to settle down there though.

In India its obviously cool for people to say, "Hey, I work in London!" and the "Wow!" that you get is obviously exciting. Being a country that has a history of western rule, its also a nice proud moment for parents to say, "My son is in New York right now. He's doing really well." Its also something girls in India want -- to marry an Indian boy settled in the west.

I try to look at things differently. Yes, for me its exciting to stay in a different country and I dont mind if its China, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, England, Italy or the US. Maybe even Pakistan! I enjoy travel and I find it exciting to explore cultures and be able to understand people from various parts of the world. To make another place my home, is something I tend to find very difficult. For an Indian, earning in INR, its difficult to immediately match the buying power of the west. So your start in a western country is obviously trouble ridden. You never have enough money, some people have a tendency to be racist and to measure you by the amount of money you earn and you stay miles away from work in suburbs like Wembley and Southhall in London. On the contrary in India, your salary (thats petty by international standards) can buy you a lifestyle, a car, dinners at theme restaurants, the occasional night out at a discotheque/ pub and all that you really want.

For me settling in a foreign country means not having to make a choice between being a somebody in my country and being a nobody in another. I know thats a risk averse way of speaking. But so be it! My wife, my dog, my parents are really what my life revolves around. I'd rather be a first class citizen of the third world than be struggling to keep them comfortable in the first!

Crucial Confrontation

Today at work I did my bit to be assertive, though I start to think it was in a negative sort of a way. While the details are things that I'd like to keep away from my blog, I have made up my mind to confront the issue head on, since I believe I am experienced enough not to be talked down to.

Well simply speaking, its feedback to be given and taken as well, because I'm sure I need some myself. I hope it happens with the right intentions, mindset and environment.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Woah! Long walk...

The Magnificent St Paul's
The London Eye by Night

Today went as planned. I am left with the huge fortune of £4.97 and have had no casualties but bad pictures. Have walked the length and breadth of London today, eaten at the "all you can eat" joint at Southbank -- Chopstix... and ... I absolutely hated it!! Well, that's left me exhausted!

That's me at Nelson's Column
Romancing the stars

Yeah, and thats what happens when you ask strangers to click your pictures. Well, trust the forgetful me, to forget my tripod at home. Have broadcasted to the London office for some good Samaritan to lend me a tripod for a night photography trip across Southbank.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Getting around as planned

The London Eye Changing Guard (Horse Guards)
Mr Squirrel @ St James Park
My English Breakfast

So the £32.25 challenge that I set myself for this weekend in London, is still on. I have in fact amazed myself by the limited casualties of today. I lost the maps I'd printed off Google. Its a real pity since they were handy directions to some of the places I was planning to visit over the weekend. I also lost the complimentary map that the hotel gave me, but I aint too stressed about that since I have a reasonably better map at my disposal. On the money front, I have the enviable fortune £ 16.20 in my pocket and considering I was generous enough to pay £ 3 to street performers at Covent Garden, I've done a remarkable job to stay within budget. My Oyster card's intact with all the money still on it. At the same time, I've made no compromises on the way I wanted to go around London.

Plans for tomorrow -- start the day by walking on Southbank, catch a few sights around the place with enough time to get photos (!!); take a detour around 11 to Buckingham Palace to view the change of guard; walk back to Picadilly Circus and hop on the tube to Baker St station and then visit Madame Tussauds; I am still debating what I should do after I'm done with Tussauds. I guess I'll perhaps go up to Covent Garden and enjoy a few street performances and top that off with dinner at the Waterloo Pier or Leicester Square. Sounds like a plan? Lets see if it meets the £16.20 challenge!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Plans for a London weekend

I do enjoy planning touristy stuff, but I havent had the time to do so on any of my business visits. The last two days in London have been spent living on fast food and I've mostly got through on impulse and instinct. I'm counting on my poor sense of direction and bad tourist instincts to get me through the weekend. Dont have much of a plan. My kit for the week is above.

Clockwise from bottom left: Tube, rail and bus maps; my Oyster Card with £10 on it; £32.25 -- the cash I've rationed for myself for the weekend; a nice big London Map; flyer for the "Original" London Sightseeing tour; ticket for the "Original" London Sightseeing tour; a Southbank walking tour map; my USB wireless modem; Google maps I've printed with directions from the hotel/ work; a walking tour map of Southbank for the young and restless; a ticket for Madame Tussaud's for Sunday.

I hope I can make the most of my weekend with that kit.

Cant ever get lost!

Its lovely to never be lost in a big city. 2nd day in London, with little clue about directions and I trust Google to be my saviour to lead me to work. So it did! All hail the mighty Google!
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