Archives For Travel

Postcards from London

February 13, 2012 — 1 Comment

I was in London, UK recently and spent very little time there. Actually, I spent 5 days there, four of which was spent at the conference I was attending. Before I caught the flight back, I told myself I had to see some part of London. So I caught the tube (underground railway network – it is one of the most fascinating networks I have ever seen) and got down at Covent Garden and took a long walk.

Here’s what I saw in the Queen’s backyard.

Big Ben in London (View on Flickr)

Trafalgar Square Street Performance with Guitar (View on Flickr)

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Foggy morning in Kerala

November 22, 2009 — 1 Comment

Proof that winter has started in South India. I haven’t seen a foggy morning in Kochi for a long time. Pretty cool here but it would get warmer during the day.

dubai-post-titleIt has been a hectic week. Setting up for Gitex 2009 in Dubai followed by five fully packed days. I have been wanting to write here but I am so tired by the end of the day, I just fall on the couch and sleep. Even now, it is 3 a.m. in the morning but I wanted to quickly upload some photos of my trip so far. I did fall asleep when doing this last night. So here’s the first upload of photos from Dubai 2009. Not much really. But it should give you a glimpse of Dubai – of what I have seen so far.

Diwali-Crackers-Store-DisplayOct 17 is going to be a big day in India. The festival of lights, Diwali or Deepavali is going to be celebrated.

(Note: Diwali is not India’s Independence day. Our Independence Day falls on August 15th.)

Diwali is an important festival for the Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. But it is a festival that is celebrated by the entire country. In places like Bombay (Mumbai), where I grew up, everyone joined in. Buildings were lined with diyas (oil-fueled-tiny-clay lamps), children got together to have fun with fireworks, sweets were distributed among friends and relatives. It is generally a fun time and schools and offices had holidays.

But over the years, I have grown weary of the firecrackers. They are the noise-making fireworks. Just a lot of noise. In fact, I remember last year, Chennai sounded like a city at war around Diwali.

The picture above is taken at a store in Chennai and those are fireworks on sale. If you enlarge the image, you will see how creative firework companies get when naming their products. There’s actually a box that is called “Dog Fight” in there. I definitely don’t want to hear how that sounds!

And since these fireworks are burst on the road, they make a mess of the place, with burnt paper and whatever stuff is used to make these pollutants.

austin-4-july-fireworks

July 4th Fireworks Display in Austin, Texas (2008)

To solve this problem (I am not sure how many see it as a problem in India), I would recommend the system I have seen in the US. (Again, I am not sure if this is a prescribed system there..but I think it would work.) A common place where people could gather and watch a stunning fireworks display. The fire power could either be pooled in together and arranged as a major fireworks display (like the 4th of July celebration) or we could have smaller groups spread across the city doing the same thing.

Of course, this would bring questions about pollution and related issues like RSPM (respirable suspended particulate matter). But that is something the government can look into and I hope they do.

Request: If you are going to burst firecrackers this year, the least you can do is clean up the mess you make, the morning after. Thank you.

Can we try make this year’s Diwali a real festival of lights and not noise? What do you think?

Currency-Exchange-Tips

  1. Do not change currency at the airport.
    If you are traveling to another country, it is always recommended to not change your currency at the airport. Generally, these places charge higher transaction charges and don’t give you the current exchange rate. If you have to change currency at the airport, make sure you keep it to the bare minimum, enough maybe to cover your taxi fare or a cup of coffee.I recommend using a currency exchange trader. In these parts of the world (Asia and Middle East), I have used UAEXchange and they did give me a fair deal.
  2. Check online for current rates.
    This should give you your starting point. I use x-rates.com or oanda.com. Oanda.com has a good feature where you can get exchange rates for any particular day of the year. They also claim support for 164 currencies.
  3. Check multiple currency traders/banks.
    Don’t believe the first trader you meet. If you have the time, get a couple of rates from different traders or banks. You should be able to know what is a good rate after your second or third trader or bank. This will also help you understand who has the lowest transaction charges. There are traders who do not charge any transaction charge. I think it depends on the country you are visiting.
  4. Ask for recommendations.
    Recommendations are always a good thing. If you know anyone who has lived in that city for a while, they would be the best person to ask. You could also ask the hotel staff (they would generally recommend the hotel services), cab driver, cafe waiter etc. Warning: Don’t make it too obvious that you have a lot of money to be changed. You could get mugged, depending on where you are.
  5. Bargain.
    Yes, you read that right. Always ask for a better price. The traders are never giving you their best price. So asking for a better deal is not a cheap thing to do.

Region-Specific Tip: If you are traveling to the Middle East and if you are carrying dollars, remember that the dollar has a fixed exchange rate. This is because the dirham (UAE currency) or any other Middle East currency (e.g. Saudi Riyal, Qatari Riyal etc.) is pegged to the US Dollar, which means that there is very little change in the exchange rate.

Do you have any tips? Share them here.

Posted via web from ashishkuriakose’s posterous

Dad, look what I found!

September 26, 2009 — 1 Comment

Kirbys-Dropwing-7 I was going through my parents’ garden in Kerala and taking pictures of some flowers when I noticed this guy. A dragonfly. Handsome chap. I wasn’t sure if it would stay long in a place, so I kept getting closer with every click. This photo is as close as I went.

Check out the slide show below and you will see where I started from. The dragonfly flew off a couple of times but always came back to the same spot.

This guy is called Kirby’s Dropwing or Trithemis kirbyi.

Some interesting points about dragonflies, mostly from Wikipedia:

  • Dragonflies are valuable predators that eat mosquitoes, and other small insects like flies, bees, ants, and butterflies.
  • There is another species called “damselflies” and I don’t think they are just the female dragonfly (a specialist wants to confirm?)
  • Oding is the hobby of observing dragonflies and damselflies. “Just like birding and butterflying”, Wikipedia says. That means Oders don’t kill these creatures. They just observe them, take photos of them..you get the idea!
  • I searched the Internet for Oders (no, not guys who trip on a lot of drugs!) and found this guy. Not many of them out there. There’s another guy who has caught the Kirby’s Dropwing in Africa.
  • I have seen a lizard hunt a dragonfly. I remember, the dragonfly made the lizard run quite a bit and I don’t remember the lizard getting the fellow. The dragonflies are quite fast. This website says they can fly 30 and 60 km/h (19 to 38 m.p.h.).

Now you know!

Got back last week from the US. Have been busy traveling and lot of catching up at work – so no posts here. Have a lot of pictures that I hope to upload soon.

While I was there, I visited Las Vegas, New York and Princeton, NJ. Apart from work, the things I did included:

  • Travelled the NJ Transit and Path trains (part of the Subway in New York).
  • Visited Ground Zero (the World Trade Center site).
  • Attended Times Square Church (amazing experience).
  • Attended the Princeton Alliance Church in Plainsboro, NJ
  • Made new friends in America
  • Saw Princeton University.
  • Visted the Apple store.
  • Had coffee from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts (It’s true – America runs on Dunkin).
  • Was there when Starbucks closed shutter for a whole evening and actually saw Americans run helpless for a cup of coffee.
  • Ate from McDonalds and Burger King (Burger King is definitely better!).
  • Also ate from TGIF, Chillys and some other places I don’t recollect now.
  • Saw, touched and threw real snow! :)
  • Visited or/and shopped at Staples, Kohls, Radio Shack, Circuit City, Famous Footwear, Lids (cap shop), Marshalls, Burlington, Walmart (wow! it’s big)…
  • Gambled in Vegas.
  • Learnt Blackjack and gambled some more.
  • Taught a friend Blackjack and… :)
  • Stayed at the Bellagio (Oceans 11 was made there).
  • Saw the Dancing Fountains, Caesar’s Palace, Eiffel Tower at Vegas.
  • Walked the streets of Las Vegas and New York.
  • Spoke to three police officers of the NYPD (to ask directions to the subway).
  • Saw the LAPD Bomb Squad in action at the LAX airport (there was a bomb scare before I caught my flight to Las Vegas).
  • Wore 6 layers of clothing to protect against the cold
  • Saw migrating geese and one squirrel

The Squirrel in New York

Vegas view from my room

February 18, 2008 — 1 Comment

Last (Sunday) night..

Las Vegas by night - view from my room

Las Vegas by night - view from my room

Las Vegas by night - view from my room

This (Monday) morning ..

Las Vegas by day - view from my room

Las Vegas by day - view from my room

Las Vegas by day - view from my room

Las Vegas by day - view from my room

Writing from Vegas

February 18, 2008 — 1 Comment

27 hours of travelling, 1 bomb scare and a 10 cups of coffee – here I am in Las Vegas, writing my blog. Reached here last evening at around 6p.m. (local time). Left India on Saturday night 9.30p.m. (and when I reached Vegas, it was already Monday morning there).

Vegas from the airplane

But thankfully, I was not very tired yesterday. Did catch quite a few winks on flight. I would have written this last night but I had to get a converter pin for my laptop. Interestingly, I went out for a walk and couldn’t find an electronics store anywhere nearby. Finally got one at a camera store for $11.

Staying at “The Bellagio. Beauiful room and an excellent view (even though it does not include the dancing fountains).

And in case you are wondering about the bomb scare – it happened yesterday at LA airport. I had checked in my luggage with Southwest for my flight to Vegas. And when I walked to one of the exits, they had already blocked it. When my friends and I stepped out of the airport, I saw the LAPD and Bomb squads rushing in and making sure the situation was in control. Thankfully, I was able to get in back on time to catch my flight. I am sure there were many who missed their flights. (It looks like the airlines don’t wait here for booked passengers even when it is caused by the authorities!)

Bomb Scare at LA Airport

Anyways..here’s some more pictures of my trip:

Franfurt Airport

Pictures from Franfurt Airport

View from Frankfurt Airport

Franfurt Airport

Air Car at Frankfurt Airport

View from Air Car at Frankfurt Airport

Air car at Frankfurt Airport to transport between terminals

In flight

On flight to LA from Franfurt. Sorry for not smiling! :)

It has been a while since I wrote here. So to start with – here’s wishing all of you a happy and blessed new year.

It has been hectic at office and church – hence the lag. Right now, I am on my way to Goa, sitting in the Bangalore airport. My flight is at 1.30 p.m. Got a Tata Indicom WiFi Connection – 1 hour for Rs. 50/-. Pretty decent speeds and I am able to access my office mails here too (via VPN). For those of you who came here looking for that information – you need to access the WiFi Hotspot and you can pay online using credit cards or net banking. It’s quite easy to set up but I don’t know about security.

Purpose of my Goa trip – 3 day church meeting. Will try post pictures of the trip. Here’s what Bangalore airport looks like from where I am sitting right now (11.55 am). The Cafe Coffee Day has a Cyber Cafe written on the display but when I inquired with them, they don’t seem to have any Internet access at all!
Bangalore Airport at 11.55am (15 Jan 2008)

Bangalore Airport WiFi Access

If you’re visiting Dubai..

September 27, 2007 — 5 Comments

Well, I am no expert! But here’s my experience from the couple of days spent in Dubai. So if you are visiting Dubai for the first time, this can be your quick guide to the city (definitely, not comprehensive).

The three things that you must check out are:

  • Shopping Malls
  • Places to see
  • and Food (of course!!)

Shopping Malls: Dubai is supposed to be the shopper’s paradise. You can get anything you want there – branded or fake, chinese or american..you name it, you will find it. If you are looking for good bargains on electronics, watches or gold, try Mina Bazaar. A full set of streets lined with shops, where you have work on the bargain. Hypermarkets are very popular. Carrefour and Lulu are huge and you will find some good deals there too, if you don’t mind the crowd. Spinneys and Mercato are nice too if you want a peaceful shopping experience.

Make sure you visit the Dubai Duty Free shops at the Dubai airport. In fact you should get all your chocolates, alcohol and smoke from there. There are two advantages here –

  1. Your check-in luggage will be lighter
  2. Dubai Duty Free have good deals

The Mall of Emirates is also a popular hangout. Ski in DubaiIt also has an indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai. Another place I visited is the City Centre Mall. Both these malls have Carrefour.

Places to see:

I was recommended to visit Sheikh Zayed Road. Sheikh Zayed Road DubaiAnd it is definitely worth one. It has all of Dubai’s sky scrapers, including the soon-to-be tallest building of the world, Burj Dubai. There is the seven star hotel, Burj Al Arab. Burj Al Arab 7 Star Hotel in DubaiI don’t know if you can go in but it is worth the sight from outside, especially after dark. There is a beach near the hotel. You can get a good camera angle from there!

I just enjoyed the long rides in Dubai. There are also some good amusement parks and of course, the indoor ski slope (both places, I didn’t go!)

The artificial islands, Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali are for real. You may have seen the Google Earth pictures. The Palm Jumeirah Main Trunk RoadFor a man-made structure, they are quite impressive. Entry is restricted to residents and officials on the island. So we were able to see only the main trunk road of one of the islands – Palm Jumeirah.

Food:
You should try lebanese cuisine. I missed it!! It’s basically clean and healthy food – not much spice and no much oil. You should definitely try the shawarma. I love it. Laban is Arabic for buttermilk and is available in tetra packs and plastic pet bottles. It is awesome. A famous company is Almarai.

You should also try out the Indian and Pakistani restaurants too. The biriyani you get there is very different from the ones you get in India. Karachi Darbar, Pakistani Restaurant in DubaiWe visited a place called Karachi Darbar – nice place and good food.

If you are keen on Indian vegetarian food, there is the whole host of Indian vegetarian restaurants in Dubai including Saravana Bhavan, Vasantha Bhavan and Sangeetha for the South Indian fare.

If you like chocolates, you will find all variety there. Another must-try is the date biscuit. Date Biscuit - MaamoulThey are called Maamoul. It is biscuit with serious filling of fresh dates. I absolutely go nuts over this. My favourite brand is Al-Karamah. A box of 16 biscuits costs around 7-8 AED.

Other pointers:

Stay. Hotel apartments seem a good option. They have all the amenities – phone, washing machine, microvave oven, electric stove etc. We stayed at Golden Sands in Bur Dubai.

Communication. There is only one provider – Etisalat. A new mobile connection would cost 165AED plus recharge. If you have a contact in Dubai, check whether they’ve a free sim card and just recharge it.

Internet. Hotels will have Internet but they’re very slow..even late in the night. We used to frequent an internet cafe in Al-Ain centre in Bur Dubai. They have wired and wireless connections and you can either use your own laptop or one of their desktops. The speed was decent enough and an hour cost 10 AED.

Language. If you know English, you can get around town without much issues. Knowledge of Hindi or Malayalam can have its special benefit. Lot of Indians and Pakistanis there, especially as cab drivers.

Also remember that UAE follow a Sunday to Thursday week. Most of the other GCC countries follow the Saturday to Wednesday schedule. Some companies in the UAE still follow the same schedule.

Hope this helps someone who is visiting Dubai. If you have anything to add to this list, please feel free to add as a comment here.

Update:
Transportation:
Taxis and buses are available as part of the public transport system. The buses look comfortable and in some places, even the bus stops are air-conditioned! Like I mentioned in my previous post, taxis are not freely available everywhere, everytime. There can be a waiting period before you get one. The other way is to book a taxi via telephone. But during peak hours in peak seasons (like Gitex), they don’t even pick up your call! I guess all their taxis are taken.

I don’t know about bus charges. But taxi fares start at AED 3 and during night hours, AED 3.5.