Trip-ping in Goa

Our drive to Goa was anything but NON-Entertaining, driving 14-15 hrs on a road that went on and on forever. We drove thru a windmill farm, a one lane National highway, then a six lane express way, a jungle, train crossing, a ghat with no street lights and finally we drove parallel to moon lit beaches. Good Fun!

Goa car

It was the shortest route possible, or so said the Yahoo maps! Guess Yahoo is still learning about the good & the bad roads of India. But like I said, it was exciting. We started at 5 in the morning from Bangalore & reached at about 9 in the evening at Sinquerim in North Goa.

North Goa offers glistening sands, hippie culture, ultra fresh seafood, luxury hotels & budget guesthouses and cheep chilled beer ‘n’ friendly people completes this compelling kaleidoscope.

goa Mix

We stayed at Lui Beach Resort a budget resort with all the basic amenities, a functional restaurant, a pool & a/c rooms. We’ve stayed at Taj Aguada &  Goa Beach Apartment earlier & will recommend them both. Kingfisher Villa  is also parked on the same stretch of road, only you’ll need to be Dr Mallya’s guest to stay there 😉 (http://wikimapia.org/449932/Kingfisher-Villa-Vijay-Mallya-s-mansion).

Goa is known internationally for its beaches, be it water sports ace Candolim beach, the overpopulated Baga beach, foodie Calangute beach, rocky Anjuna beach or snobbish South-Goa beach. The golden sand spreads over miles and miles and the sunsets are to die for. One finds people just lazzzing around and getting that sun tan look or enjoying the cool waters of the Arabian Sea.

Since Goa is all about food and wine, we splurged with 4-5 mini meals a day. Some of my favorite restaurants in North Goa include Bristo on Baga, Xaviers on Candolim, and Fisherman’s Cove & Tuscany Gardens on the road to Fort Aguada. In the peak months (Nov-Feb), every courtyard of the houses on this stretch becomes a restaurant; I love the whole hustle-bustle.

We also went to Tito’s which was a big letdown. There wasn’t a valet parking facility and finding a place to park was a pain. At the entrance, their waterfall was spilling water on the pathway; I thought I spotted a stray dog in the restaurant also. Restaurant decor was somewhat akin to a shack. Food n Drinks menu was very limited, and the food was not up to the mark. It looks like Tito’s is just cashing the name. The entire road has big TITO’S signs and is very confusing. Basically Avoid. The disc section opens at 10.00 pm, and the crowd was (sorry to say) ghatti & rowdy. We didn’t even enter. Fortunately there are hundreds of other amazing places to go to.

As far as the drinks are concerned, we had the port wine (I know, I know, it’s not really a wine but I like it). The Kings beer a local beer is worth a try.

Suggested itineraries for Goa generally include attractions at capital City Panaji, Old Goa churches that are a legacy of Portuguese colonization (http://www.goaholidayhomes.com/churches-in-goa.php), Fort Aguda Lighthouse, River Cruise & the beaches.

On the beaches, sit back and relax get a non-permanent tattoo or buy cool trinkets. If you are the ‘lets-do-something-can’t-sit-still’ kind then a variety of water sports options are also available, just make sure you negotiate a good deal.

Shopping in Goa is luck by chance; you may get something incredible or nothing at all. Anjuna and Mapusa markets are famous for traditional curios and handicrafts of Goa. Remember to bargain a lot.

Goa will always be one of my absolute fav places to chill out. It is easy to slip into Goa’s warm effortless existence.

Looking forward to the next year’s trip!

Just what the doctor ordered…GOA!

Picture this ….Beach-Beer-Book on a Sunny Sunday Afternoon. Isn’t that what a relaxing holiday is all about!

Our recent trip to Goa is just what we needed, not that we are over worked or exhausted, but who doesn’t love a little pampering & relaxation.

Most believe Goa to be a place for huge groups of friends, open-top Gypsies, Loud music, Water sports & late nights at Titos. They are right & we have done that a on our previous visits and sure it was fun … but there is another side to Goa, where chilling, taking things slow, (the travel-show-hosts cliché of ‘being spiritual or being one with the surroundings’) is priority.

On our most recent trip, we decided to drive down to Goa, stay in a small resort, chill on the beach & basically make no plans.

I confess, I am a planner, although I’d love to be the impulsive type I’ve never been able to NOT Plan. Surprisingly I got used to an unplanned day very quickly. I guess its easy when all one has to do is lie in the sun & look at the surf, read ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – a trilogy in four parts’ (that’s always makes me smile).

After this trip, I have decided to leave all the planning to hubby dear, I’ll be there to enjoy the moment. WHAT FUN!!

So what were the unplanned things we did? We hit the restaurants, beaches at odd hours of the day. The great thing about Goa is that food & drink is available all the time. The same is true for the crowds at Baga, Anjuna & the others.

Read on about Goa in the travel & review section.

3 days in Singapore (Day 3)

Shopping, packing & Changi were on the menu  for day 3. Unfortunately as soon as we left the hotel it started pouring, I thought all my plans were ruined. To my utter surprise most of the shopping areas Little India, Mustafa, Bugis Street are all covered and street shopping is possible in the rain.

Bugis Junction, located above Bugis MRT Station, has a couple of great food courts where we tried our hand at Japanese Octupus Balls, Crepes and Thai food.

Takoyaki

We walked across to Bugis Street Flea Market situated along a walkway through Bugis Village. Exploring Bugis needs time. It’s like our very own Sarojini Nagar … cheap stuff at cheap prices ;).

I also recommend Singapore Expo, it has some good sales going on & totally worth checking out.

Mustafa Mall (http://www.mustafa.com.sg) is one-stop-shop for everything one can buy. Three floor of Jewelry alone! The sports section was good. There were a couple of floors for electronics and an entire floor for chocolates. So may things so many people and I hated it! After being used to clean calm Singapore this was like Badabazaar of kolkatta with an a/c. The counters were overloaded with stuff which was literally falling on the customers. People love this place because it is cheap. Sure, Hershey is cheaper there than at duty free (I found out the hard way), but I wasn’t in the mood to be in Big-Bazaar Singapore Branch.

Seeing ‘The Merlion’ was the last halt before going to Changi. The Merlion is considered to be the tourism mascot of Singapore. Getting a picture clicked with the icon is a must. There is an 8 meter high Merlion statue at Fullerton Road & another one on the Sentosa Island. In case you didn’t know, the Merlion is a mythical beast – said to be half lion and half fish. It symbolizes the courage, strength and resilience of the Singapore people.

By evening we were off to the airport, returned our Singapore Tourist Pass at the Changi MRT and felt sad that the 3 days were over so soon.

3 days in Singapore (Day 2)

Day two was blocked for the Jurong Bird Park. Even if you aren’t a bird lover, this place is a treat to visit. There are more than 9000 birds here (of over 600 species), in a variety of themed exhibits.

Highlights include a special climate-controlled home for five species of penguins; the world’s first underwater viewing station where visitors can see the watery activities of all seven species of pelicans; the world’s largest walk-in aviary with man-made waterfall and 1500 free-flying African and South American birds; 500 parrots from 110 species; and colorful birds of paradise. You can also feed the birds, watch bird shows, and checkout the sky train (As you can see that I read the sign boards very diligently :).

My favorites were the Eagles, Pelican Cove, Talking birds and the Penguin Expedition.

IMG_0161

To reach the Jurong Bird Park, we took the MRT from the Outram park station to the Boon Lay station, which is the last station on the Green line. Just outside the Boon Lay station is the local bus depot from where we took bus number 194, which dropped us right at the gate of the Jurong bird park.

The park is quite some distance away from the city center in the midddle of the industrial zone. Crossing a bus terminal on to a four lane highway, with the smell of coco from the Cadbury factory, with in 15 minutes, we reached the colorful entrance to the park.

Jurong Signboard

Jurong Bird Park is a 20 hectare open-concept park, open from 9am to 6pm daily. Scrolling around the park would take you more than two hours. It’s a good idea to come as early as possible before it becomes to hot & humid (http://www.birdpark.com.sg/attractions/parkmap.html).

We had some incredible fresh fruit juice at the Boon Lay MRT station, on the way back. Mango & Grape juice resembling what is sold as slush in India (SD$1), very refreshing.

Out next stop was lunch at Plaza Singapura, on Orchard road, next to Dhobi Ghaut MRT. After which we just went around to all the major MRT stations on the NE line and since we had the Singapore Tourist Pass we could just pop in and out of the MRT to see the various places. Very useful! if you – like us want to see the ‘other side’.

Most Itineraries list out these ‘Things to see in Singapore’

  • Civil War Memorial dedicated to the civilians who lost their lives in the Second World War.
  • Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles the founder of modern Singapore
  • China Town for interesting little curio shops, Chinese herbs, mahjong sets & jade. The little red lamps all over the street add to the mystique.
  • Little India is the most crowded & smelly area of Singapore. Mustafa the 24/7 market is its pride & joy. In case you are missing Indian food (!!) you’ll get butter chicken & naan here for sure.
  • National Library Singapore
  • Zoo & Night Safari
  • Botanical Garden & City Hall
  • Marina Bay is the last stop of the MRT North Line (it is undergoing massive renovation – avoid)

There are other places & malls which are highly recommended by others BUT my suggestion – just chill out at Boat Quay or Clarke Quay. For the evening we decided to do  just that. With one hitch -while getting out of the MRT under the StanC building we got lost.

Tip: It’s important to read the signs to which side one wants to get out from. It’s obvious, I know, but still! The walk from the one level below to out of the MRT is about 500 meters and you don’t wanna get disoriented. Although for us some good did come out of this. By serendipity we found Satay Club @ Boon Tat Street & Lau Pa Sat crossing. The aroma of the BBQ satay’s was irresistible and we dived into our mutton, chicken & prawn’s satay.

Satay

Anyway, talking about Boat Quay and Clarke Quay – the view was awesome (and on our daytime visit too we were not disappointed). We sat on the steps next to river & enjoyed the view of Raffels Hotel, Esplanade building, the lit up bridge, boats & the river. We had some wonderful Hoegaarden at a refurbished inn. A great way to end the day don’t you think ?

Why Sing is King?

Uniquely Singapore has some seriously exceptional stuff. Actually, it’s unique because one doesn’t expect such things in such a small area. One has to bear in mind that Singapore is an island country half the size of Delhi. The law & order is amazing, so-much-so that you’ll find T-Shirts mocking it by saying ‘Singapore is a FINE city’.
Here is a list of what I think you might not have known about Singapore … in no particular order…

  • It’s a multi-racial country with the main races consisting of 77% Chinese, 14% Malays and 8% Indians and 1% Eurasians. With 10 official religions in Singapore and 4 official languages are English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
  • In the late 13th Century, a prince by the name of Sang Nila Utama from Palembang came hunting in Singapore and he saw a lion, hence, naming the place, Singapura. Singapura is a Malay word and “singa” means lion and “pura” means city. Thus, the name Singapura (Lion City) or in English, Singapore
  • Nearly 10 percent of its 3.2 million people are in the military – 50,000 as full-time professionals and 250,000 on standby.
  • There is an official Singapore website for almost everything.
  • Singapore is refreshingly different from other countries for a Study-Abroad-Experience. In terms of cutting-edge infrastructure, world-class education system and dynamic cosmopolitan vibe thanks to a blend of Eastern and Western cultures.
  • Changi Airport is recognized as one of the best airports in the world. With 80 airlines serving more than 180 cities in over 50 countries, it has established itself as a major aviation hub in the Asia Pacific region. The airport is more than just a place to catch your plane. This huge airport also features a movie theatre, TV lounges, and several gardens and restaurants where you chill out while waiting for your flight to be called. There are also tones of shopping possibilities.
  • It boasts of a full fledged Amusement Park, Zoo, Night Safari, Bird Park & a Rain Forest.
  • The Singapore Flyer, the world’s tallest observation wheel. The wheel, at 492ft in diameter, beats the London Eye by more than 40ft. From the top, 541ft up, you feel you are looking down from halfway up a mountain, with fine views out over Marina Bay and across to Malaysia. www.singaporeflyer.com
  • The Singapore Grand Prix, staged for the first time in September through the city’s streets, is quite unlike any other – it’s run at night. The 3.1-mile circuit is flooded with powerful lighting to replicate daylight. And this is no urban dawdle – the cars race flat-out (at 200mph) along Raffles Boulevard and make an impressive zip across the century-old Anderson Bridge. www.f1singapore.com
  • Mustafa is a 24-hour six-storey shopping centre stocks everything from Indian chutney and diamonds to plasma TVs and cars. That’s not all, it is claimed prices are cheaper than elsewhere, so insomniacs, shopaholics and jet-lagged tourists know where to head to if they’re looking for a late-night bargain.

Travel Tips for Singapore

The first part is getting there:

Tickets: We went by Tiger airways (nothing to write home about, absolutely no leg room), you can get the cheapest fares here, no doubt. Singapore Airlines is another option & I believe, you can call there call-centers & enquire about special rates. Also, if you book 90 days in advance you may get the cheaper fares. So try your luck!! There are other options – Indian Airlines, Jet and so on.

Visa: TT services in Bangalore is where we got are visa done, it’s reasonable, fast, service is good & most of all they are recognized by most of the embassies (http://www.ttsvisas.com/visa)

Forex: Take some startup amount, as there are tones of Citi bank ATM at almost all major MRT stations. Credit cards are accepted ever where & you do get better conversion rates. Stancy & HSBC also work.

Researching: Information about Singapore extremely easy to find. Singapore has an official website for everything that gives you the cost, timings, FAQ’s and what not. I guess most of the country lives on tourism, so everyone make you feel at home.

Once you are in Singapore– neither is getting around difficult nor getting likeable food. All info is in English, like I said: it is a tourist friendly country, and since it is cosmopolitan – every type of food is available.

Navigating: When you arrive at Singapore, pick up a map at a tourist information booth. In the Uniquely Singapore guide, find out if there are discounts offered for some restaurants and places of interest.

Calling home: Although you do get calling cards to call home. The most convenient thing is to use the local telephone booths. Just read the instructions, a 2 minutes call to India costs about 80 cents.

Airport to City: If you have a large group (more than 3) hire a taxi van called Maxicab, it costs SD$35 from the airport to your hotel. For two or three people a regular taxi will do. Busses & shared taxies are available as you exit the airport. But I feel that the best thing is take the MRT. Not only is it the cheapest but the most convenient. All you need to know is which stating you have to get off. So always ask the hotel/hostel location w.r.t to MRT station, when you book them. Or check all your destinations via www.streetdirectory.com

If you are traveling by a budget airline & get off at the Budget Terminal, you will need to go to Terminal 2; there is a free bus service to get you there. Also see, http://www.etour-singapore.com/singapore-airport-to-hotel.html#airport_shuttle

Singapore MRT Map

Travel within the city: The best way to see Singapore is to get The Singapore Tourist Pass. The STP costs just S$8 per day and comes with the option of 1/2/3 Day Pass. The Pass, if issued in Singapore, comes with a rental deposit of S$10 which is fully refundable at the end of 3 days. This can be used in all MRT & some of the busses as well. It would be a good idea to pick it up as soon as you reach Singapore at the Changi MRT station. www.visitsingapore.com/publish/stbportal/en/home/getting_around/transportation/stp.html

If you feel SD$8 is too much for a day (since a trip anywhere in MRT will cost max of SD$1.75), get the SMART card. That has a deposit of SD$3 and is very convenient. You can use them in some McDonalds also ;).

Eating: The food in Singapore is spicy much to liking of Indians. There are many Indian restaurants in Little India and if all else fails you always have the Singapore Roti Prata which is available at most food courts served with filter coffee.
Vegetarians can hog on the vast variety local fruit. All manner of exotic fruit is available in Singapore, but if you’re feeling brave then why not sample the delights of the durian (kathal). Known as the King Of the Fruits, the durian looks like a big green spiky pear and is notorious for its appalling smell – but if you can get past that, they are actually quite tasty. Or try the Dragon Fruit, it looks good but its quiet tasteless.

Red Dragon Fruit

Weather: Carry good walking shoes, Singapore is a city best explored on foot. Also carry an umbrella or a windcheater. The days can start sunny with a mid day shower & pleasant evening. Be prepared for all of it.

3 days in Singapore (Day 1)

Traveling is fun & 2008 has been a lot of fun for us!! After Srinagar, Goa, Pune, Delhi, Bangkok – Singapore was Unique. Well! I’m not saying the other places were bad, trust me, I had a blast at each & every place. The difference was that this was spur-of-the-moment plan. No research, No itinerary & also No Shopping (will tell you about this one later). But I’d  heard somewhere that ‘Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness’, Now I can tell you…its true!

The weekend & a Monday that we spent in Singapore were packed with things one would not expect on a small island country. It’s just 700 sq km, nevertheless the entertainment never ends.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Atrium, courtesy my brother, on Outram road. It’s a hassle free hotel with comfortable rooms. Amongst other things, the room has a hairdryer, Iron, Coffee-Tea Maker and a Room safe, which were a boon. The only disadvantage is that it’s a long walk from the MRT & one has to take a cab mostly. They do have a hotel shuttle to Orchard Road, but the timing didn’t suit us. www.agoda.com gives the best rates for the rooms.

 hiatrium

Sentosa Island Resort was first on the list. To get to Sentosa we took the MRT going to Harbourfront, the last MRT stop. The station connected to VIVOCITY, a harbor front mall that is supposed to be one of the largest mall in Singapore. On the top floor of Vivocity is where we took the Sentosa Express (SD$3 /per head) to … well Sentosa!

 Sentosa is still a WIP resort & we were told that it will be completed by 2010. Current touristy highlights include a huge aquarium, the chance to feed the tame peacocks that walk around the streets (one of them did a dance routine for us :), and a waxworks museum where you can find out about Singapore’s  history. There are some clean beaches (nothing much if your last holiday was in GOA), a cable car ride and a handful of other things.

Since time was at a premium for us, we didn’t want to look around the entire park. We went to the Underwater World & Dolphin Lagoon (SD$23 per head). Totally worth it. The dolphins put up a great show. We were told that the dolphins are born grey & turn pink as they grow older. One suggestion, if you are planning to go there, check out www.sentosa.com.sg for events, promotions/discounts and schedules, before you visit & make your schedule accordingly.

Chicken rice singapore

We were back at Vivocity for lunch; they had 3-4 food courts apart from the small stalls scattered about everywhere. We had Hainanese Chicken rice. Chicken rice is Singapore’s unofficial national dish, and is a simple combination of roasted or steamed chicken atop a mound of rice cooked in rich chicken stock. The accompaniments   chilli sauce, ground ginger and dark soy make all the difference.

IMG_0123

In the evening of day one, we decided to go to Orchard Road. We got off at the Orchard MRT Station & walked up to the Dhobi Ghaut MRT. The hustle-bustle of people, the Christmas decorations, the street performances & colorful window displays were scintillating. There are a dozen shopping mall in this area, but after the Bangkok trip or even comparing it with India it seemed overpriced.

We ended our evening with some gud’ol Burger King & Ben’n’Jerry sinful chocolate ice-cream.

Review: President is coming

The President Is Coming – 8 Hands , 2 Birds, 1 Bush

President is Coming

THE PRESIDENT IS COMING follows the likes of Khosla ka Ghosla, Bheja Fry and many other films of their ilk? It does seem like a script of a play and also flow the same way; I’d say that it is at least making an attempt in that direction. Low Budget, mainly shot in one room, outstanding cast, witty script & totally entertaining.

The Plot: George W. Bush, President of the United States is visiting India & in addition to the many diplomatic and political things on the agenda, he has thought of a rather unique event- a meeting with one of the young faces responsible for shaping “The New India”. A PR firm has thus been hired to shortlist an Indian below 30 years of age to shake the President’s hand. In a contest inspired by Survivor & Big Brother, 6 contestants are to fight it out in a talent contest to be the ONE to shake hands with the most powerful man in the World.

An out-n-out comedy, the movie is directed by the debutante Kunal Roy Kapoor and carries a star cast ranging from Konkona Sen Sharma, Shernaz Patel, Ira Dubey, Vivek Gomber, Satchit Puranik, Namit Das, Anand Tiwari to Shivani Tanksale. ‘President Is Coming’ is laced with an intelligent script that pours light on the social issues like male chauvinism, gay relations, homosexuality and brain drain and still makes you LOL.

Konkona Sen Sharma plays a novelist, who thinks that she is an ideal contestant because she is a booker prize winner (being manipulative also help). There are other contestants, which include a software engineer from Bangalore, IIMA pass out social activist, Gujju Stock broker, a Page 3 socialite with an MMS scandal history and an American-born-confused-desi accent trainer from Gurgaon. Watch the movie to know who actually shook hands with Bush!

The film has been made in English, hence catering to a niche segment. The publicity is mainly depended on Word of Mouth (I’m doing my bit). I enjoyed the humor, the mud sling, and the humor on region, profession, social status, Language, marital status & obviously G.W Bush J.

My verdict: its sarcastic humor will appeal to only a select section of the audience; the masala-glossy-yashraj-types may find it a bit drab.

Review: Ghajini

GHAJINI

Revenge is what I want to take for the 3.5 hrs of complete torture I had to go through while watching Ghajini.

For once the problem was not with the script. The idea and the story were good; it had (supposedly) a great cast with Aamir in the lead. The movie had a big budget and two good looking women … So, what went wrong?

Firstly, it was way too long. I mean three & a half hours…

Secondly, I wanna understand – Why those songs were shoved in the middle. Have a music album or background music or something else!!!

Then there was the new comer so to speak (She has done a version of the same movie in the south and dubbed for another version so this was her third attempt at the same thing). Don’t wanna comment about her acting skills, but don’t you thing she moved way too much. I mean can’t a person be normal.

Did I mention the bakwas songs? Well! They are worth mentioning again. The songs standalone are good no doubt. AR Rehman is still awesome. It is just that they were not required & made the movie extra long. Aamir’s six-pack … Oh Sorry! eight-pack did not need so much airtime. “We get it Aamir you worked your assoff to beat SRK, but we really don’t care”. The songs were just a ‘look-at-me-I-am –aamir-the- muscle-uncle’ the girls just came & went with a blink of an eye.

Lastly, I have to mention Jia Khan’s Wanna-be-Dr-activist-confused-idiot Item number at college annual day. So-out-a-place.

Ghajini movie is a must watch for an Aamir Khan Fan cause he’s all you’ll get to see.

Let me end by saying that this movie is nothing like the movie “Memento”. Do watch Momento so that at least you enjoy the genius behind the real script/movie.