Monday, January 26, 2009

Back in NYC

I figured I would post one last time to let everyone know I made it back safely. Got home at around 4:30pm yesterday. William enjoyed his present - a coconut carved in the likeness of me, but as a monkey - but I think I enjoy it more. I fell asleep by 8:30pm, woke up at 2am, woke William up and told him to entertain me, then fell asleep until this morning and am now back at the office. Jet lag is a bitch.

In any case, India is choice. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. I'll post pictures when I've had a chance to go through them, but I have a lot of TV to watch first...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

London, Ho.

Just landed in London to find a text message letting me know that Matt [did something hilarious] without knowing it. Hilarious. A much needed laugh in an otherwise pretty weak 18 hours.

You see, the email that told me my flight from Delhi was delayed came from some cryptic non-British Airways address, so I asked the hotel to reconfirm my flight. They tried calling the Indian British Airways desk, but they had gone home for the evening, so they called the airport, who said the flight was on time. Then they called the airport again, and they said it was departing at 4:10am. Then I checked online, and British Airways said it was departing at 6:26am. Then the hotel called the airport again, and they said it was departing at 3:30am. So I just went to the airport and figured I would sort it out there. After all, there wasn't much of a difference sitting in the hotel lobby than sitting in the airport.

Sure enough, 6:26am was the actual departure time, not anywhere near 3:30am, but I settled into the "Oberoi Clipper" lounge and did a whole bunch of nothing from about midnight until boarding (the internet was down). People say the Delhi airport is a zoo, but it was totally reasonable, like any other airport. Maybe its because there are so few tourists, or maybe its because Delhi has made a lot of improvements in anticipation of the Commonwealth Games coming in 2010 (including a metro), but it was totally fine.

I did decide that I would take some of my six hours there to try to rejigger my flights and see if I could avoid having to go through London AND Toronto to get to New York, and sure enough I managed to get a flight from London to JFK on American last minute - way easier than trying to deal with the people on the frequent flyer mile travel desk who came up with the initial three-leg journey as my only option.

At first, I was a little sad to have lost the privilege of the British Airways Terminal 5 lounges at Heathrow, as I had really been looking forward to that travel facial, and American Airlines is supposed to be a lot less nice than British Airways to fly on, but getting in 6.5 hours early even though you left 3 hours late is worth it. Plus, British Airways turned out to be no Jet Airways at all. First of all, the pajamas are way less comfortable. Two, the plane is a lot older and dirtier. C, their flight attendants are British ("Computer says no..."). Fourth, there is no top-but vibration feature. And fifth, there was only one way that my body would fit in the seat if I put the bed down (I had to cross my ankles). I did manage to get a decent bit of sleep (having been exhausted from staying up till 6:30am at the airport) and taking an Ambien just to be sure, but this monkey likes his sleep time and needs more of it.

I leave soon for New York. I am excited to head back to the city after a wonderful trip. In my experience, all of the horror stories you hear about India are totally wrong. Nothing was really that shady, the people were amazing and friendly, the sites were absolutely unreal, and Cynthia, Christina and I had a blast seeing it all together. Thanks India, for being so awesome.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Delhi at Leisure

Well face-pagans, my time in India is fast drawing to a close. Now both Cynthia and Christina have left, and I am spending my remaining time sitting in the hotel lobby smurfing the internet, awaiting my flight.

Today was so low key that I'm exhausted. We didn't do that much, but what we did do involved walking, which requires significantly more energy than sitting in a car.

First, we walked to the National Gallery of Modern Art because Christina and I were tired of seeing old things. We entered its "New Wing", which turned out to be the only wing that has anything in it (literally anything; I think they just moved all the old stuff to the new wing) and which is so new it looked and smelled like it had been completed and opened to the public ten to fifteen minutes before we got there. And by completed, I mean that it was still totally under construction, and there was construction dust everywhere that the docents were beating away with wet towels. But I digress...

The gallery was actually hands-down the most well organized thing we saw in India. The exhibit chronicled the development of Indian art from cave paintings to the Indian Modernist and Post-Modernist schools, showing the influence of western and eastern art styles and the development of a distinct Indian style. How do I know all this? Because, for the first time, things were actually labelled, in grammatical English, with descriptions. Nice one.

Second, we walked back to the hotel to pack up our stuff and check out of the hotel.

Third, we walked to the concierge to ask about how to get to a handmade paper bazaar in Old Delhi, and were told that we didn't want to go there. Fair enough. Instead, they suggested we walk around the corner to the Kahn Market, which turned out to be awesome.

So fourth, we walked to the Kahn Market. This market was a lot like some of the other markets we had been to, but with some important differences: (1) the stores had doors on them, (2) the stores had names instead of stall numbers, (3) the stores took credit cards, and (4) the "carefully arranged presentation" had replaced the "pile" as the primary display technique for the stores' wares. In other words, they were actual stores.

In all, it was a nice way to ease back into living in the Western world; we even walked into one store that looked like I was having a garage sale in my apartment back in NYC - I don't think there's a single thing there I wouldn't have been in the market for had William and I not already reached the absolute limit on household goods and decor items that 500 square feet can hold. I did walk away with a few wedding magazines and a book from a very respectable bookstore, that had a surprising number of design books from all over. A good experience day.

And that's all there is to report. I hear the airport is a disaster, so I might write about that in a few hours when I have nothing else to do. Wish me smooth sailing!

EFF, I spoke too soon. I just checked my email, and my flight out of Delhi has been delayed three hours, until about 6:30 am. Great...

Monkey sightings: No change. Except that I assume my plane's engines must be clogged with monkeys. Son of a %)#@$*@#$.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bringing Back the Caprioska

So, today was our last day of real touring around India.  Cynthia is currently peeing in the lobby because she couldn't make it upstairs (well, the lobby bathroom), and then she's packing and heading off to the airport.

Today, we toured around Delhi with the best tour guide we've had yet, Anil.  We saw lots of amazing things, like the world's tallest brick tower (which is like saying the world's most beautiful ugly girl), some tomb that was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, a mosque, a really awesome modern B'hai temple that was shaped like a lotus flower, and a Hindu temple that was very pleasing to the eyes (like Cynthia's features).  Also, you should know that everything in India has a gift shop, and if it doesn't, your guide will be sure to take you to 'a really impressive demonstration of traditional handicrafts' where you will be asked to 'just look even if you don't buy.' In other words, a gift shop.

No monkeys today, probably because I forgot to ask for them in my last blog post, but we did see a child doing the kind of tricks a monkey would do.  Somehow it was less impressive, as I feel like children are easier to train.  I did learn at the Hindu temple that the monkey god is actually an angry monkey god, a god of power who is known for tearing your sniz up with his hot monkey attitude.

Today would have been a hard day for William, as we were constantly surrounded by swarms.  Granted, the swarms were of kids in their school uniforms, but they came in some seriously major quantities.  Cynthia asked a bunch of them to wave for a photo and then immediately regretted it when they started coming towards her.

After sightseeing, we returned to the hotel, and after googling hot Delhi restaurants for an hour, went to Insomnia, in the lobby of our hotel.  The place was actually really decent; we had truly amazing starters and respectable entrees, and, most importantly, they played Elvis, Sinatra, the Carpenters, Rhinestone Cowboy, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and similar hits.  At first, I thought the selection was pretty cheesy, but then we really got into it and it kind of made a lot of sense.

The bar/lounge was pretty hip, though we were the only customers.  Our waiter/manager was also great, and gave us free Indian rose.  They've only been open for four months, but on account of the recession and the Mumbai attacks, don't really get anyone except the occasional businessman looking for a drink, so they were excited to have us.  Sad, because the ambiance, food and service, as well as our Caprioskas, were all very good.

Christina and I are keeping it low key tomorrow, but we'll see what develops.  More monkeys tomorrow, please?

Monkey sightings: no change.

P.S. Cynthia pulled the trigger tonight, but just a little bit she said.

P.P.S. There is a Hindi/Punjabi song about Obama, in which we learned that many Hindi/Punjabi words rhyme with Obama.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Don't Shower with your Mouth Open

Sorry blog fans! Came down with a wicked fever yesterday afternoon and couldn't post. William had assumed that I had either lost my blackberry or died.  Both were equally likely, but neither true.

In any case, before the hallucinations set in, we had a big day.  We woke up early in the morning to tour around Jaipur (home of the Monkey Thieves) with our misogynistic tour guide.  Let me tell you, the roofs of Jaipur are literally paved in monkeys.  There were monkeys everywhere.  Awesome.  None of them did tricks, but they did play in trees and jump on stuff.

We saw the Palace of the Winds (still not clear what that was, though it has lots of little windows for lots of little women to watch little parades without being seen), the City Palace and Textile Museum (home of the current Maharaja and of the biggest silver objects in the world - urns), and the Lake Palace (former summer home of royalty built smack in the middle of a lake, soon to be a hot new restaurant).  We also saw an eighteenth century observatory, which was quite possibly the coolest thing yet.  There was a sun dial for everything - for the time, for the astrological sign we were in, for whether it was summer or winter, and I think even for telling you when brunch was ready.  I'm always amazed when eighteenth century hicks are better at math than I am. Our tour guide made sure to find ways to point out that men were smarter than Christina, so I took comfort in that.

After all those sites, we went to the Amber Fort, which I kept calling the Agra Fort, even though we weren't in Agra.  It was also similar to the Agra fort, and also had lots of little windows for little women.

And then I got sick.  Luckily, we were driving from Jaipur to Agra, so I basically passed out the whole way.  Not sure what I had, but I think I'm killing it softly with antibiotics.  Oh well.

More this evening, space people.

Monkey sightings: so... many... monkeys...

P.S.  If you're going to have a bumper sticker on your rickshaw that says spitting causes TB, maybe you should think about not spitting out of your rickshaw.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jaipur? I Barely Even Know Hur.

Today, we drove from Agra to Jaipur.  Along the way, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, a 'ghost town' outside of Agra, but only in the sense that it is a really old town, like the Agra Fort we saw yesterday, but just not still being used as a barracks.  No actual ghosts.

We walked around the abandoned red-stone city, spending most of our time fending off tour guides.  Seriously, because there are so few tourists, every amateur tour guide at the place tried to lead us around.  One of them even started giving a tour, claiming he worked there, but providing lots of wrong information directly in contradiction to several carved stone plaques that we were standing in front of, until I shouted, 'thanks for the information, but we'd like to look at this in silence!'  Unfortunately, we were in an echo chamber, and I was overheard by several dozen British tourists who must have thought I was just about the worst person they had ever met.  Luckily, that's how the Indians seem to feel about British tourists in India.  Wasn't the occupation enough?

On the way from the ghost town to Jaipur, we saw four monkeys, about one hundred camels pulling carts, and one-half a puppy.  The monkeys were awesome, as usual.  The camels were so plentiful that there were even camel-only rest stops, where you'd see several camels just sitting there.  Like when you had to rest your oxen in oregon trail.  The half-puppy was decidedly less cute than a puppy that hadn't been ripped in half, and also decidedly less cute than a live puppy.  Oh, and we also saw a giant statue of the Hindu monkey god.  Brilliant.

After making it to Jaipur, we checked into the hotel, which is really quite spectacular, as it was previously the palace of the former prime minister.  I also really approved of their choice of fabrics, which prompted us to go fabric shopping again, this time in Jaipur's old city.  There, I got lots of amazing stuff (as I had to cancel the order I had placed in Mumbai, as they couldn't get what I ordered), and it was worth it because shopping here at the fabric factory stores was way better than what was in Mumbai.

When we returned to the hotel, we ate dinner outside, watched some traditional Indian dance, browsed the outdoor shopping market, and played life-sized chess on the outdoor chess board.  You know, typical Wednesday night stuff.

After all this, we returned to the hotel room, and just when I thought I wouldn't see any more monkeys today, we flipped on Nat Geo, which was showing 'Monkey Thieves', a reality tv documentary show ABOUT THE MONKEY GANGS OF JAIPUR.  OK, I know you're probably all tired of my obsession with monkeys, but everyone go TiVo this show right now.  To give you a taste, I just watched a gang of monkeys break into an accountant's office to throw tax returns out the window into the street.  Try telling THAT to a client.  And all this was shot a few blocks from where we're currently staying, right where we were fabric shopping.  I hope to meet the lead monkey, Zamir, when were touring around tomorrow.

Monkey sightings: approximately 20 real, 1 fake, 1 Zack Efron.

P.S. Everyone in India is super into Obama, and lots of people have been asking about him.  Much like the tour guides, I have just been making stuff up about him and his xray vision.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Um, Did I Just See a Taj Mahal?

Oh man. I should ask for monkeys every day.  Once again, when you ask for monkeys, India delivers.

We woke up early this morning and met our driver to make our way from Delhi to Agra.  During the drive, we had to stop at the side of the road for a few minutes while we waited for our driver to pay a toll, which apparently was an invitation to every street peddler in a 20 mile radius to come accost our SUV.  It was like being at African Lion Safari, except that all the lions were Indian not African, and the lions were also selling jewelry and little drums.  Luckily, during the previous two weeks, we had become experts at ignoring all of these peddlers and just minding our business, which we did with aplomb.

That is... until the man with the monkeys came.  This man had four monkeys on leashes, and, unlike the previous monkeys we had seen, these monkeys did awesome tricks.  And they had come to our car!

First the monkeys bowed for us.  Then they bowed again.  Then we got tired of the bowing, and without us even asking, the monkeys switched from bowing to doing backflips.  STRAIGHT UP MONKEY BACKFLIPS.  Then they climbed a pole, climbed down, and did more backflips.

In case you can't tell, these were some awesome monkeys.  If it weren't for the fact that they were on leashes and the fact that there's nothing more sad than a sad monkey sadly doing backflips on a leash, I would have declared the trip over and requested to return to Delhi to await my flight home in a closet, so as to have nothing tarnish the memory of the monkey encounter.  But, the sadness overwhelmed, and when the guy started to look like he was going to ask for money, we all pretended like we weren't interested.  This was very hard for me, as I was really, really interested, but nevertheless, I bit my tongue and pretended not to pay attention.

But the thing with monkeys is that they make you pay attention, and this one monkey decided to make us pay attention by jumping up onto Cynthia's window and pressing his jumbly bits against the glass.  This made Cynthia screech like a monkey and caused me to exclaim that even the monkeys in India were fascinated by the Korean.  I wonder if this is the case with any of the other colors in the yellow rainbow.

And this all happened before we even got to Agra!

Eventually, our driver came back, the monkey jumped down, and we continued on our way.  After checking into the hotel, we met our driver and guide to go on a tour of Fort Agra, the old fort city, much of which seems to be designed to give you picturesque views of the Taj Mahal, despite having been built before the Taj Mahal.  We looked around, it was totally awesome and unreal, and, most importantly, it also has a monkey.

This monkey was a bit less active, as it did nothing but drink water out of a puddle, but I nevertheless missed a solid five minutes of the tour.  I did learn that the fort was built over a number of years by someones grandfather who was locked in a tower where he could see some sort of mausoleum he built out of white granite for his dead wife plus also it was a barracks now sometimes.  I didn't really catch the details.  Hello, I had just seen a monkey.  I was recovering.

After the Agra Fort, we drove over to the Taj Mahal (apparently pronounced Tadz Meh-hell), which was absolutely incredible.  The terrorist attacks in Mumbai basically made it feel like we were the only people there and had a total run of the place, as there has been something like a 90% cancellation rate since the attacks.  So, we ran around, took photos until our batteries ran out, and then stayed another hour to watch the sun set.  The sheer size of the thing was incredible, despite Cynthia's declaration that it looked bigger in her head.  If that thing can fit in your head Cynthia, damn, you've got a HUGE head.  But seriously, the whole thing was unreal.  If we couldn't still see it from our hotel room window, I wouldn't believe it was real.

So, its pretty clear today was amazing.  Tomorrow, we're off to see Jaipur.  Top that, India.  Oh, and dear six-pound eight-ounce baby India, please oh please bring me more monkeys tomorrow.

Monkey sightings: approximately 16 real, 1 fake, 1 Zack Efron.