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A few final thoughts on my India trip - RonO's Ramblings

Nov. 2nd, 2007 01:48 pm A few final thoughts on my India trip

A bit less than a week ago I left India for what I'm now hoping won't be the last time. A few final thoughts and trip details follow:

For most of my trip I was staying at the Palm Meadows Club, but for about half of the last week I was staying at the Taj Residency instead.

In many ways I could say I preferred staying at the Taj. The room was a bit bigger and nicer, it had a much nicer shower and a flat screen TV. It is also in a more active neighborhood. Had I stayed there over a weekend I probably could have safely ventured out on my own and done some shopping and exploring along MG road and perhaps further without a whole lot of personal danger from human predators.

But it has a big drawbacks at least for where I was working. First the Taj is downtown, located just of Trinity Circle at one end of MG Road. The Motorola offices I was working out of are in Marathalli which is towards the eastern edge of town past the HAL Airport just off of Airport Road. If your not familiar with Bangalore, let me just say that Airport road through the HAL Airport and other HAL facilities is a major choke point, not that the traffic anywhere in Bangalore is good. This made my commutes 45 minutes to an hour each way.

On the other hand, the Palm Meadows Club is located west of Marathalli, further down Airport road (which has a different name at that point) giving me a 15 to 30 minute commute -- mostly a problem in the evening where I had to wait in the traffic that was heading towards the city on Airport road so we could head away.

Another big difference was the prices. The room at the Taj was a bit more than the one at the Palm Meadows Club, but the other prices were much more. At the Palm Meadows Club, breakfast was included in the price of the room, where I had to pay over Rs 600 for a nearly equivalent breakfast buffet at the Taj. The dinners were more, to much more expensive -- a couple of dinners at the Taj were more than twice what I spent on the most expensive dinner at the Palm Meadows Club. Perhaps the biggest obvious price difference was the water. If I ordered a bottle of water at the Palm Meadows Club I got a bottle of Himalaya water (a premium Indian spring fed water) for Rs55. At the Taj I could get a bottle of Aqufina -- which was reverse osmosis filtered Bangalore tap water -- for Rs135 (and if I'd asked Himalaya for a fair amount more). Now, granted, the Taj gave me more water in my room, at least once housekeeping noticed that I was drinking all that they left me, so I might have been able to get away with not ordering it in the restaurant.

Although somewhat different, I got equally good service from both hotels. The Palm Meadows Club probably has nearly a 1 to 1 guest to staff ratio -- supported because much of their business comes from the club members in the neighborhood. But I got quick responses to most requests, had my room very well cleaned and got a basket of fruit and some cookies for tea each afternoon. On the other hand, the Taj had a much large guest pool and still managed to recognize me consistently.

I got unexpected services from both hotels. At the Palm Meadows, the first day when my room was cleaned, housekeeping cleaned off the spilled shampoo on a bunch of my toiletries and cleaned the toothpaste that has caked on my electric toothbrush and its case of the last couple of years. At the Taj, housekeeping kept leaving more bottled water in my room each day. The last day I was there, which was a partial day since I checked out at about 10:30pm, I was given a total of 6 or 8 liters of water.

My last couple of days were fairly uneventful. Wednesday and Thursday were normal days in the office giving training. Thursday would have be a half day, except that we had a bunch of computer problems on Wednesday so I had to hold a lab make-up session in the afternoon.

Wednesday night I ate at Graze, the Taj's fairly new (opened in June I later learned) restaurant featuring "The lighter side of European cooking." The head chef -- at least if he is really the guy I met -- is Australian, and from his name and picture in the hotel chain's magazine, of Chinese decent. But the food was more European than Australian in style (although the steaks were from Australia -- and if I'd still ate red meat I would have loved to have one). I had a vegetarian risotto. The only problem I had there was not realizing that I had to ask for my check, so I sat for about 30 minutes waiting for it.

After work I had the driver take me someplace to look at Saris for Tara. I was able to find one that cost a bit more than I'd hoped. But it is a very nice Mysore Silk sari with a lot of hand stitching and beading. I'm sure Tara will enjoy wearing once she gets the right things to wear under it.

Friday, I decided to make a half-day in the office and left at lunchtime (about 1:30pm). I went back to the Guarda mall and had a lunch at Kobe Sizzlers. I then walked around a briefly looked at the prices for men's traditional Indian clothing. I would have purchased some but I'd spent enough on my formal suit and I wasn't sure when I'd wear them. I priced them in a department store that had a limited selection but posted prices, and then saw a place that had a much broader selection where I might have actually looked if I hadn't already ruled it out. I then picked up some cookies at the "Cookie Man" (Home Made Australian Cookies according to their sign) and went back to the Taj.

At that point, I tried to take a nap, but failed. I gave up after an hour and took a shower and got dressed for the trip. I had picked up some polo shirts at Arrow the Sunday before, so I put on one with some jeans and packed the other in my carry on to wear after a shower (if I could get one) in Frankfurt. I then packed and wandered around the hotel for a while before getting dinner. I wanted to wait until at least 8 for dinner both so I'd hold longer and to keep me awake longer.

On my wanderings I discovered that on the first floor -- which is two levels above ground -- I could get out to a back lawn which had a pretty good view of the side of the hotel away from my room. My room overlooked Trinity Circle which was interesting, if a bit noisy. I was a bit nervous about spending time back there since the lawn was wet and I'd quit wearing bug repellent after just a few days, but I didn't get bit.

I went to the coffee shop for dinner about 8. expecting to order from the menu. However, it turned out they were doing a buffet that evening, so I went with that. I very carefully kept my portions very small and dragged my eating out to maximize the time I spent eating. I went back to my room about 9 and found something to watch until it was time to checkout and leave for the airport. I hadn't sat for long when I got a call saying that the person from the taxi company was downstairs to get my payment. I went down and took care of the payment (except for the tip, which they didn't give me a chance to put onto the credit card form). I went back upstairs and then waited until it was time to leave. I then called for the porter and went to check out.

My check out was delayed slightly because I had grabbed a Diet Pepsi out of the honor bar just before leaving, and had to pay for it. I then had to wait a few minutes for my driver.

The drive to the airport was fairly quick since traffic had died down. However, it was obvious that 11:00 on a Friday night was anything but a dead time in Bangalore. Many of the restaurants, even fairly small ones, were still open and busy, and the streets weren't deserted.

Once we got to the airport, I gave my driver a tip that wasn't quite as good as I'd wanted (I was about Rs 500 short of 10%, the standard tip in Bangalore). Before I had a chance to object someone had loaded my bags onto a cart. However, I didn't have to wrestle them away because someone from the Taj appeared (with a name tag to confirm he was from the Taj) to escort me through the check-in process. I didn't worry about him since I'd tipped the whole hotel at checkout (an odd practice to me, but one I realized was normal in India or at least Bangalore).

My return trip started at the Bangalore airport. At check in the Lufthansa agent gave me a coupon good for a drink at Cafè Coffee Day since the Bangalore airport doesn't have a lounge area. (I'm sure the new airport that opens next year will). I went through security and found a single waiting area that was already crowded even though the Air France flight had been canceled. (On the way to the airport, I'd actually thought that it might be nice to be on Air France instead of Lufthansa since at least according to one report -- in Wikipedia if I recall correctly -- premium customers for Air France check in at the Leela Palace instead of the Airport). I walked around, exploring the shops and then sat for a while and read. I did get my drink from Cafè Coffee Day, which turned out to be the riskiest drink all trip, it had ice in it.

Shortly before my flight, they called for pre-boarding and then said that they would board Business and First class before coach. However, almost before they announced premium boarding, the line had formed and I had trouble getting over to the correct line. I did get on fairly quickly, and without the extra security that the American flight from Delhi has. I got to my seat -- an aisle seat in the middle of a cabin behind the stairs -- and settled in.

The evening before leaving, I had gone to the Lufthansa site to try to see if I could get a better seat. Unfortunately, all of the available seats were middle aisle seats against bulkheads. In retrospect, I should have taken one since they were both in the forward cabin and would have been better than the area behind the stairs which had been, I'm guessing, fairly recently changed from a coach cabin.

I had briefly thought about staying up for the food service, but as soon as the plane took off, I realized that I wasn't going to do that. So I reclined completely and fell quickly asleep. I had to wake up twice to climb back into my seat having slipped off before I remembered that there was a foot rest I could flip out and stop my slide. I slept most of the flight, waking up when the flight show said that we had about 2 hours to go. At that point, I ate the second meal, and watched Evan Almighty (I'd watched Bruce Almighty on a previous trip to India so I knew that it wouldn't be horrible from a theological perspective, or as a movie, and it wasn't. But I wouldn't have paid to see it.

Soon enough we arrived at Frankfurt, and had to park on the apron for a "bus arrival." Unfortunately, Lufthansa didn't treat Business class as premium customers for the bus trip and we had to wait for the bus to fill with business class and coach passengers before it drove to the terminal. Once in the terminal I found my way quickly to the United First Class Lounge.

The first class lounge didn't have much more than the Red Carpet club as far as food went. I did manage to get some pastries and something to drink so I could take my pills. I then left and found some drinkable water and fruit at a shop in the center of the terminal. I decided that I wouldn't be hungry for lunch before leaving and had already had two breakfasts, so I didn't eat at the restaurant there. I went back to the First Class Lounge to wait for my flight.

At Frankfurt there is a security checkpoint between the "B" and "C" gates and I had to pass through it twice that morning. The first time there was no line and I went through quickly. The second time, however, there was quite a line and I had to wait listening to an American griping about having to go through security in the middle of the airport. I seriously wished I could pull off a convincing non-American accent so I could point out that the checkpoint was, probably, added at the request of the US TSA -- signs near a similar checkpoint in the A concourse said as much -- just to see if that would shut them up.

I managed to get a shower in the lounge shortly before catching my flight to Chicago.

When I went to the gate, I had to give them my passport since the Lufthansa agents in Bangalore hadn't captured the necessary information. During this time I entertained paranoid thoughts that they would have decided that I hadn't checked in and that my seat would have been given away bumping me back to coach. Of course, none of that happened.

I got on board and settled into my seat -- one row forward of where I had sat on the Chicago to Frankfurt flight -- and settled in. I ate the first meal, and then slept for much of the flight

For the first time in my experience, I could actually listen to the cockpit communications on an overseas flight, and so I listened to that during much of my meal. I also noticed that the person in the seat across the aisle from me was probably listening as well before take off, since I watched him sit up as soon as we were given permission to take off, but before the plane had actually started moving.

I was also able to get a real nice look at Greenland as we flew over, but didn't have the camera with me to take any pictures. I'm still impressed by its landscape since it is so different than anything else I've ever seen.

We landed in Chicago and I got through customs and out to my limo without any problems. I was tired and glad to be home, and Tara and Derrick were very happy to see me.

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