Saturday, 29 August 2009

Second Impressions

22:00 hrs,
August 25, 2008,
Jet Airways,
Somewhere above the Arabian Sea.

I was watching 'Luck by Chance' (Farhaan Akthar is one helluva talented person!) on the in flight entertainment system, when all of a sudden the air hostess announced in a highly put on accent,

'Ladies and Gentlemen, we have begun our descent. We will arrive in Mumbai in about 20 minutes. Fasten your seat belts, fold your tray table and keep your seats upright'

She continued to bark out some more instructions. 20 minutes! Damn! I still had 35 minutes of the movie left. Seeing my frustrated look, the techie on the other side of the aisle told me that the Jet guys allow you to sit in the aircraft for an additional 5-10 minutes in case you wanted to complete watching the movie. I told him that I was not going to give him company. I was in a hurry and wanted to catch a full nights sleep. And considering that I normally sleep at 9 30, I had already lost out on valuable time. So even if it meant sacrificing the climax of a movie on which I had wasted the best part of the last two hours, I was game.

I scrambled ahead and was among the first few to alight. Before immigration they had the swine flu screening. It was a total farce. We were given a simple form to fill which asked us how many times we had sneezed in the last week and whether we were in contact with anyone affected by the virus. That form was then stamped by a group of sleepy officials who every five minutes removed their masks, to squeeze in a long yawn. The female operating the thermal sensor had dozed off and switched it on after a dozen or so passengers had already passed her.

After immigration, I proceeded to get my luggage. The baggage belt is the greatest leveler. For 20 minutes, all of us, economy class, club class, first class and crew members were waiting for our luggage. Then the initial set of bags came. I spotted my techie friend arriving. He picked up the first 2 bags he could lay his hands on and left. Some times life just isn't fair.

After I finally got my luggage, I completed the customs formalities. With the free allowance substantially increased in the last few years, the custom officers are a pale shadow of their former blood sucking selves. The half an hour night ride home took me 45 minutes thanks to the Ganesh Chaturti festivities. I finally reached home at one in the night and as dragged my bags to the elevator I did something I hadn't done even once in the last 24 days. I took out my kerchief and wiped the sweat off my brow.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Niagra - In, Around and Beyond!

This weekend I went to Niagra to see the world famous Horse shoe falls. I had been there before, but from the American side. If the view from the American side is good, then that from the Canadian is purely brilliant (as you can see in the picture above). There are three falls in all: the horse shoe falls, the bridal falls and the Niagra or American falls. The horse shoe falls gets it name because it is shaped like a horse shoe! The bridal falls is located on the American side and is the smallest of the three, though I have absolutely no clue why it is called so. Incidentally, Niagra is called the honeymoon capital of the world! Apparently, a huge number of couples flock here for their honeymoon. I always thought that the honour lay with Paris, cause Eiffel tower is way more romantic. You even get to drink champagne right on top of the tower!

Besides ogling at the falls (and the honeymooning couples) for hours on end, there are quite a few other things you can do at Niagra. There is this extremely popular boat ride called 'maid of the mist'. It takes you right beneath the falls. It takes a lot to wow me but this boat ride sure did. Then you have the 'journey behind the falls'. You get to go in a man made tunnel and see the falls from behind! Another wow moment. And finally just a kilometer away from the falls is Marineland - an amusement park with a lot of sea creatures on exhibit. Here are some pictures.

That boat is the maid of the mist. You get to wear a blue raincoat. The raincoats can be kept as souvenirs.

This was part of the journey behind the falls. Yellow raincoats here! And that is as close to the falls as you can get. Almost impossible to stand there with the strong winds!

That is what the falls look like from behind!

This is the view from my hotel room. I stayed at the Sheraton, 17th floor! Life is beautiful :)

That ride in the background is the sky screamer. Absolutely scary. It takes you to the height of about 30 storeys and drops you down at the speed of gravity!

A beluga whale at marineland. Managed to click him just when he looked up!

And in case you want to see the video of sky screamer, you can see it here!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Train of Thought

Everywhere my dad goes he gets asked the same question by every second person. "Air India is suffering from such huge losses. Will the airline recover?" I totally empathize with him. I can understand how it feels to get asked the same question over and over again. Especially when you don't really have an answer to it. I feel the same when ladies in my building keep asking me, "So Shawn, now you are done with engineering. What next? The whole day I see you playing down. You don't have anything to do? You were such a bright student. What happened? Ladki ka chakkar toh nahi?"

The last time I was here dad said he would 'consider' letting me drive his car. So this time around I brought along my driving license with me. However, it turns out that my dad has got himself a new car. A spanking new Corolla '09 edition. I keep telling him that if he lets me drive, he may just have to get himself the 2010 edition releasing next month! He remains quite unimpressed though.

When I visit a country I believe in embracing its culture totally. And for that very reason for the past twenty days I have being using paper instead of water (ewwww), having bath in a tub as opposed to using a bucket and greeting people with a 'hey, how ya doin' even if they are my grand dad's age.

Speaking of greeting, I really like the way people greet each other here. I mean, the girl may be very good looking and may never have seen you her entire life (nor want to see you again), but she'd still smile at you. Anything of that sort happening back in India would be reason enough to treat your close friends.

Dad and I both don't really cook great. So every evening we go out for dinner. The leftovers act as my lunch the next day. But cooking is quite easy. It is not as tough as people make it out to be. The tough part is eating what you cook!

I have finally learnt to click pictures on my digital camera and upload them on the computer. My sister made it seem like the process was as hard as getting a doctorate in molecular biology, but believe me it is a whole lot simpler.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Once bitten, Twice shy?

First, this happpened

And then, this:

Surely Obama doesn't believe in the saying, 'once bitten, twice shy'

Monday, 10 August 2009

1000 Islands

On Saturday, I went to this place called 1000 islands. It is a 315 km drive from where I live, but we covered the distance in a little over two hours. As the name suggests 1000 islands are a group of 1856 islands (to be precise), situated in Saint Lawrence river, on the US Canada border. A grand majority of these islands are quite small in size and inhabited, but some have beautiful villas built on them. One of the larger islands has a permanent population of 80, with 2 churches, a shopping center, a fire department, post office and a community hall! To qualify as an island, the criteria are:

1. The body of land must be above water all the days of the year.
2. It should have a minimum of one tree on it.
3. In area, it should be larger than a square foot.

We went on a lazy two and a half hour cruise. I must have seen about 200 islands. I didn't have the chance to set foot on any of the isles, but if you take the five hour cruise, you are allowed to spend two hours on one of the larger islands which has a lovely castle (forgot the name!) The cruise was quite a novel experience but after an hour or so, it became monotonous. The islands are so very similar that it is hard to distinguish one from another. On hind sight I should have opted for the one hour cruise. I have uploaded some pictures on my facebook and orkut profiles. The picture on top has a villa named 'Just Room Enough' lol

This is my personal favourite. The white bridge is the shortest international border. It has Canada on the left and the United States on the right. By the way, 1000 islands is also the largest unguarded international boundary!

On Sunday, I went to the town square with dad for an India day parade. The parade was held in honour of India's 62nd annual day. Before the parade as usual there were patriotic songs sung and speeches were given by some dignitaries. Every person who spoke praised India so much that one East European tourist standing besides me remarked that India must be one helluva country. It was ironic to see these guys, some third generation migrants harp so much about how great a country India is and how patriotism flows in their veins. The parade in itself was quite a bit of fun. There were these huge floats, each representing a state of India. The Goa float was the best. It had sunbathers, footballers, dancers, fisher folk, hippies and every other thing you associate with Goa.

Most of the people were dressed in traditional clothes. Seeing me dressed in a short shirt and jeans, a gentleman asked me if I had left my patriotism at home. To which I replied, "Patriotism is not leaving India for another country even if it promises you the best education and a future you can only dream of. I got admitted in some of the best colleges in the States, but chose not to go. Cause I feel that it is each person's responsibility to contribute to their country's progress. I have stayed back in the hope that my children won't have to make a tough decision and leave their homes, parents and country, just so that they can have a better tomorrow. That is patriotism. Turning up every year in this costume of yours with the tricolour pinned to your breast is not patriotism."

Post Script: Patriotism was the 4782nd reason in my 4783 reasons not to do MS in US, the 4783rd being sisterly affection. But it helped shut the man up!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Return of the Legend

He is back. Michael Schumacher has announced his return to Formula 1. Following the injury to team mate Felipe Massa, Schumacher has accepted Ferrari's invitation to fill in for him till Massa fully recovers from the accident. Schumacher's return has created a frenzy both in the racing world and outside. Current champion Hamilton dubbed it as an honour to race against the legend. Championship leader Jenson Button welcomed the move while bitter rival Fernando Alonso said it would be good for the sport. This is definitely the boost Formula 1 needed. With viewership dropping, sponsors backing out and teams in financial disarray, Schumacher's move could set a lot of things right, considering the popularity that he enjoys. But what interests me is the motive behind this decision of his. There will huge expectation from him for a podium finish at least, if not a race win. Nobody doubts his genius, but with the car Ferrari currently have, it will need more than Schumacher's superhuman skills to get him on the podium. And currently being the 'expert consultant' at Ferrari, Schumacher would be the first to know that. So then why would he do something which seems so foolish to an outsider like me? Why would someone as ruthless as Schumacher want give the likes of Button and Webber (for those of you who don't follow F1, these guys were never any where near Michael) the chance to brag to their grandkids that they beat the legend at this own game? Why? I think the answer lies in the fact that the champion has listened to his heart. It must be paining him to see Formula 1 die a slow death. Even if reviving the sport means putting his reputation on the line, he is game. He is selflessly giving back to the sport, which has made him what he is today. And that is precisely why Schumacher is by far the most loved racer in the world. Not as much for his genius as for the person he is.

Footnote: I am not a Schumacher fan. I think Fernando Alonso is the best racer F1 has seen. But that for some other time.

Post Script: Enjoying myself in Canada. So much to do that I hardly have time to blog.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Adios Amigos

I am leaving for Canada in another 73 minutes. Will definitely post from there. Have learnt to use my digital camera. So you can expect some pics! Getting ready for another really long day in my life. This one doesn't promise to be anywhere as good as my last one. Anyways, last minute packing left. Have to leave. Bye and happy friendship day!

Barbeque Nation - The World on a Grill

If you are looking for a place with great ambiance, multiple cuisines, all-you-can-eat food at an affordable price, your search ends right here at Barbeque Nation.

Location: Dr. ambedakar Road, Junction, Pali Hill, Khar (West)

Price: 550 bucks on a Sunday, 450 otherwise.

Menu: 6 non veg starters, 7 veg starters, 1 veg and non veg soup, main course and 7 desserts!

I was initially supposed to go to Barbeque Nation last Sunday for a friend's treat. When I called up in the morning to book a table for 4, I was told that their reservations were full! So if you want to go there on a Sunday (which I advise against, the extra 100 bucks is not worth it) you must book at least a day in advance. Finally, I ended up going there yesterday for lunch. The interiors are really good and I liked the lighting. Not too dim nor too bright.

All the tables have a cubical cavity bang in the center, which is covered with a wooden lid. As soon as you sit on the table, they put a vessel with burning coals in it and cover it with a skewer stand. You are then given a choice of complementary drinks. Kingfisher beer, ice tea, fresh lime soda or a soft drink. I advice ice tea because the aerated drinks occupy space you see. Barbeque nation seems to have a tie up with Kingfisher. Even the mineral water they serve is manufactured by Kingfisher. I never knew Kingfisher water existed before I visited Barbeque Nation. I thought only one bottle must have been manufactured for that surrogate ad.

Skewing your own food is truly a novel experience. It is optional actually. You can have the starters without skewing them. But I like skewing my starters. Made me feel like a chef and all.

There is this small flag on each table (you can see part of it in the background in the adjacent pic). Whenever you are done with the starters, you have to put the flag down. The flag says 'Stop the starter service'. With a very heavy heart and a heavier stomach I had to put the flag down. The only low point of the day! The charcoal vessel is taken out and the wooden lid is put back on the table. Since they have this 'globe on the grill' tag line the dishes are named after countries. Like Tunisian lamb and Lebanese mushrooms. The Cuban potatoes are excellent. I had decided to keep off the grass (veg that is), but just couldn't resist the potatoes.

Main course is like the normal food you get in most restaurants. I gave it a miss and headed straight for the desserts, which once again were exceptional. So after a fulfilling 3 hours, I finally left barbeque nation, totally content and vowing to come back soooooon.