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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Disney World - Trip Log - Day 7

It was day 7 here at Disney World and our last day at the Walt Disney World Parks here in Orlando, Florida. There is not too much to report from the theme parks. We visited both Disney-MGM Studios and Epcot Center again to experience some of the attractions one last time before our flight departed this afternoon.

Just before we headed to the parks, we checked out of our rooms and went to the main depot to check-in for our airlines and stow our luggage. This was a VERY convenient way to get checked in and receive our boarding passes for our flight. Kudos to Disney for this setup -- it's great!

On the other side, the real story was with our trip back, and specifically with Disney's Magical Express, which is the Mears shuttle system. Let's just put it this way -- it was less than Magical. Disney has what they consider to be a "great" reservations system. Basically you are supposed to call 24-48 hours before your departure to make a reservation. You even receive this snazzy piece of paper that is supposedly your reservation for the trip. But, that's actually not the case.

When we arrived at the depot of the Caribbean Beach Hotel around 2:55pm (our reservation was for 4:00pm), there was a small line for the next Mears shuttle bus. We jumped in line with a few other folks only to quickly be made aware that the line was a "first come, first serve" line and our reservations were nothing more than something to keep the Magical Express aware of how many people were needing to go to the airport.

At first, we thought that was a good situation for us and we would get to the airport earlier than expected. The first Magical Express Shuttle arrived at 3:00pm almost full, so the first couple of people at the front of the line were able to get on and head to the Orlando airport. Things went quickly downhill from there.

First 3:30pm passed and no shuttle came. Next it was 4:00 and still no Magical Express. The bell and luggage desk seemed to pay little attention to the situation as now more than 100 people were waiting outside with their luggage trying to get the airport. At first, the bell desk and staff were relatively non-concerned. Then as we and the rest of crowd became more insistent that there was a problem, the finally called the folks at Mears. This was probably the most disappointing thing, that Disney Cast Members were not aware of the situation and initially did not understand that there was a problem.

Finally, a bus showed up at 4:45pm. We were lucky enough to get on and make it to the airport with enough time. Others were not so lucky. The lady and her daughter sitting next to missed their flight by the time we arrived at the airport. Since the departure was pretty late in the evening, it was possible that they were going to have to spend the evening in the airport or have to find another option. I hope in the end, Disney did something to make it up for them, as they likely would have to pay a ticket change fee to board a later flight.

Once we arrived at the airport, we headed down to our gate for United. Just a side note, that section of the Orlando airport is getting pretty run down. Hopefully some remodeling is due soon! The flight home luckily, was uneventful.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Disney World - Trip Log - Day 6

Our 6th day here at Walt Disney World was my favorite. I make no secrets about the fact that Epcot Center (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is my favorite Disney Park. So, as you might have guessed, Day 6 was spent almost entirely at Epcot Center; split between Future World and World Showcase.

Our day once again started out with a quick bite to eat at the Old Port Royale here at the Caribbean Beach Resort. I have come to like the little food court they have here. And the good thing is that if you are an early riser like us, it is empty!

Leaving the resort, it was the normal amount of bus mayhem to get over to Epcot Center. However, once we got to Epcot, everything was good. The rides of interest in Future World and our opinions of them include:

  • Spaceship Earth. A great journey through the Epcot Ball through the history of communications until now.
  • Test Track. Ashley and I were pretty proud of ourselves that we convinced my mom to go on the ride given her resistance to most roller coasters (Big Thunder Mountain is pushing it for her). However, she rode it like a trooper, and even though the acceleration around the outside of the track surprised her -- it was a great ride.
  • Mission: Space. I choose the easy (green) route. I am usually pretty tolerant but given the stories coming out of the attraction from the first few weeks, I thought it was better to be safe than sorry. In the end, it was not all that intense and I will make sure to try out the orange and difficult route.
  • The Land. Oddly, this may be my favorite ride at Epcot Center. It is simply because of the hydroponics. I like the innovation and testing that they show, and the options they give us to one day have crops that need less water. In addition, the fisheries are used to produce fish that are used in may of the restaurants at Walt Disney World.
  • Soarin'. Basically a copy of "Soaring over California" at Disney's California Adventure. It is a fun ride, although the line in Florida was exceedingly long -- about an hour and a half. Quite a long wait for that ride.
  • Innoventions. We spent a couple of hours in here having a grand old time. While we did not try the Segway Human Transporter (long story), but many of the other attractions were great. "Where's the Fire?" was our favorite.

After spending our morning in Future World, we headed over to the good old USA in the World Showcase to eat at the Liberty Inn for a counter top on the now famous Disney Dining Plan. The best part was that shortly after lunch, the early opening for the "Food and Wine Festival" at Epcot Center started which means about 70 or so different countries were added to the World Showcase for this special event. As we meandered through the various countries we were able to take part in tasty foods and drinks from each region. Great fun!

Then, dinner time came around. Probably, the only disappointment for something we really wanted to do. The Le Cellier steakhouse in the World Showcase is one of the best restaurants at Disney. This is especially the case when you consider the meals that only count as one table service meal on the Disney Dining Plan. We had tried for several months to get reservations without success and were hoping that walking up when Le Cellier opened would get us into the restaurant. To make a long story short, the downside of the Disney Dining Plan and the promotion that gave everyone who went when we did a free dining plan was that the Le Cellier was way overbooked. So, unfortunately we had to move on.

We ended up eating at the "Cantina de San Angel" in Mexico -- and it was a pretty good meal while we enjoyed the sunset over the lagoon. Shortly after dinner, we enjoyed Illuminations for our 3rd time, albeit from a different view from the side nearest to Future World.




Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Disney World - Trip Log - Day 5

Our trip should be interesting today. We’re going to be spending the day in Disneyland, err – I mean the Magic Kingdom here at Walt Disney World. And today, we have a special treat – as we will be eating breakfast at Cinderella’s Round Table, rather than at the Old Port Royale. Cinderella’s round table does take two “table service” meals from the dining plan, but it is a good experience that my mom had not done yet. So, it made perfect sense for us to go.

The meal was good, and it was fun to eat in the castle. Although it took us quite awhile to be seated – what appeared to be poor organization at Cinderella’s Round Table was simply that there was a brief issue with Cinderella. Once that was resolved – we were able to enjoy our meal and experience.

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is very similar to Disneyland in southern California where we have had season passes in years past. The rides and areas that were most interesting for us include:

  • Lilo and Stitch’s Great Escape – interesting experience, not in Disneyland.
  • It’s a Small World – Small World in the Magic Kingdom is completely enclosed in a building, including the line (queue).
  • Tomorrow Land – Remains “relatively” unchanged, where it was updated at Disneyland a few years back.
  • Space Mountain – In the Magic Kingdom, this is the old Space Mountain that did not get the same upgrades as Disneyland received for the 50th Anniversary Celebration. You still sit in single file, and the ride is pretty poor in comparison.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – Somewhat similar, although there is only one drop vs. two drops in Disneyland.
  • Overall – Because the park is much smaller than Disneyland, there just are not as many rides. This makes a lot of sense, and you see several of the other attractions spread throughout the other parks.

After spending the greater part of our day in the Magic Kingdom, we headed over to Epcot Center (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) for dinner at the Teppanyaki Dining Room, located in the country of Japan. If you have ever been to a Benihana Japanese Steakhouse – the experience at Teppanyaki is the same. Our meals were tasty, cooked properly and our chef was friendlier and more engaging than many I have experienced. The Teppanyaki Dining Room definitely gets high marks.

To end the evening, we wandered around the World Showcase just to spend some time before catching another showing of Illuminations, with its 6 million LED lights. My opinion is that Illuminations, although more than 7 years old is still the best nighttime show at Walt Disney World.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Disney World - Trip Log - Day 4

September 27th, 2006

It’s our third day here at the Disney World Resorts and today we’ll be off to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to check out the animal and have a little adventure. We continue, what is becoming our morning tradition – start off with a quick bite to eat at the Old Port Royale and then headed to our destination.

We became a little smarter this time. Meaning, we left a little more padding in our schedule for the transportation to the Animal Kingdom. On the bus ride over, Ashley made friends with a lady from Pennsylvania who had been going to Disney World for the past 19 years. Apparently, her newly married son who was on the trip with her – even had a girlfriend that did not make the cut because she did not like Disney. I often give Ashley a hard time about her Disney addictions, but I do need cut her some slack now.

The Animal Kingdom is a fun place to go, especially early in the morning. For those West Coast folks who do not get out to Florida much – it’s somewhat a cross between the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Disneyland – meaning both animals and a few attractions.

Our first stop was our favorite – the Kilimanjaro Safari that takes you through Disney’s 500 acres of open spaces 1700 different animals representing 250 different species. Going early in the morning gives you the additional opportunities to see the most exciting animals including the lion – which we were able to see a few of. There have been a few complaints in the past that the Safari jeeps do not slow down enough to allow for good pictures – however, our guide was excellent and we took many pictures!

Next we went on the Maharaja Jungle Trek which has a bat cage which is a little creepy. Also, there are opportunities to catch some glimpses of Tigers and Gorillas which are always entertaining!

Then, we hit up the newest Animal Kingdom attraction, Mt. (Mount) Everest – Expedition Everest. This is a fun roller coaster ride with a great theme as you progress through the line – seeing many of the things that a mountain climber on their way through Tibet might run into. The most surprising part of the ride is that after some quick turns and a ride up a hill, the coaster goes backwards for a short period. Definitely fun!

Our last major ride of the day was Dinosaur ride – which has a lot of similarities to the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland in Anaheim. From there we grabbed a quick counter service meal from Pizzafari and enjoyed and excellent Chicken Parmesan sandwich.

After lunch, we checked out the Festival of the Lion King which is a great show for kids and adults alike. The costumes and music is impressive and it is a festive time.

The one downfall about the Animal Kingdom is that the park feels very crowded and cramped. While attempting to create a outdoor and jungle feel, many of the walkways are tight and as the park becomes full during the day, bottlenecks and throngs of people form all over the park. Many times, there is only one direct way to get to specific attractions, so everyone is forced to go that way. One thing, it seems the Disney planners missed was that this park is extremely attractive to kids and lots of kids equals a ton of strollers – this means even less available walk space. In fact, as we left the Festival of the Lion King all of the strollers had 90% of the walkway was blocked. It is not a complaint about strollers, rather about the planning of the walkways and stopping areas.

My advice? Get to the park early, at open and leave by 2:00pm. You will get to see everything and miss a majority of the crowds.

That night, we enjoyed a fun dinner at Downtown Disney at Planet Hollywood. Planet Hollywood is not particularly interesting or worth mentioning as it is the same in almost every location – ok food, poor service, and great surroundings. No complaints, you just need to know what to expect when you arrive.

After dinner, my parents decided to get some rest while Ashley and I headed to Disneyland – err, I mean the Magic Kingdom to check out the fireworks. We got there just in time to see them and their “Wishes Spectacular” fireworks show is a good one. The only downer, it took an hour and a half to get back to the Caribbean Beach resort after the show, some of the reasons that I will mention in my summary post.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Disney World - Trip Log - Day 3

On our second day of Disney here at the Walt Disney World Resorts our main destination for the day is MGM Studios. We started off with a nice and quick breakfast at the Old Port Royale Food Court at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Since we are on the Disney Dining Plan during the trip, we are electing to use our “snacks” for our morning breakfast, which includes things like donuts, muffins, and pastries. In addition, we purchased our “free” refill mugs at the beginning of the week, we kept the morning and evening drink costs down.

After breakfast, we had a little adventure attempting to get to the MGM park. There are no time tables or estimated times of arrivals for the buses that transport you to the various parks. You have no idea if one will arrive in 2 minutes or 40 minutes. Definitely something Disney could approve on – communication. That being said, we made it to MGM Studios.

My favorite ride at Disney World is the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith. So, first thing upon entry we headed to that side of the park so we ride both the “Coaster” and the Hollywood Hotel. Dad, truth be told – had never been on a upside down roller coaster, but it was not hard to convince him to go. After a very short wait, we rode Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and now the “Coaster” is my dad’s favorite ride! Then, we enjoyed the haunted Hollywood Hotel – Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride – which has some interesting differences from it’s sister ride at Disney’s California Adventure in Southern California. At the end of our first ride in the Hotel, a cast member pulled my father aside. Our first thought was – what did Dad do? Well, nothing it turns out – the cast member singled us out to ride the ride again. So, he took us through the back entrance and right to the front of the line. Twice was nice!

On this day in MGM Studios, there were not a lot of crowds. So, we were able to meander though most of the rides – here were some of the highlights from the day:


  • Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt show, which is on load from Disney Paris and well worth the time
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
  • ABC Commissary, for a pretty good lunch for walk-up service under the Disney Dining Plan
  • Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour, some of the special effects were broken so we skipped the wait and just rode the tour to catch some scenes from Catastrophe Canyon

The highlight of the day, and perhaps the trip was our meal at the Brown Derby Restaurant (counts as 2 table service meals) which was combined with the Fantasmic Package. We had a great meal and experience there, the service was excellent and the food was prepared exceptionally. If you visit the Disney World Resorts – the Brown Derby in Disney-MGM Studios is a must eat!

After our meal, we wandered around the park until it was time for the Fantasmic show. The weather was overcast and threatening, but no severe weather came – and the show went on. Truth be told, the Fantasmic show is still great – however it is becoming a little dated. I find myself being disappointed with most shows after Disney’s 50th Anniversary Fireworks show. That one is simply amazing!

When we got back to the Caribbean Beach resort, we were in for some unexpected excitement. As we walked across the bridge to the Old Port Royale to grab a refill on our drinks – a large section of beach was taped off. What happened is that there was an alligator in the lagoon in the center of the resort. According to the maintenance person, it was the first one he had seen within the resort in his 10 years. The alligator was small (2-3 feet), but was entertaining to see none the less.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Disney World - Trip Log - Day 2

Ashley and I arrive into the Orlando International airport just short of 6:00am. On the way in, Disney's Magical Express works like a charm for us other than having a little difficulty finding the Disney arrival area in the beginning. We check in, get on a bus and leave within 5 minutes. Since the Magical Express luggage tags are there, we do not even have to worry about heading to baggage claim. 15 minutes we are at the Caribbean Resort. Check-in goes fine, other than no upgraded rooms being available. Now it was time to find my parents, at 6:15am.

My parents, who flew out of Bakersfield, CA have already arrived; as you will read - we had some pretty different experiences. They had actually come in the night before around 2:00am and it had really been a nightmare of an experience. It seemingly took them forever for the Disney Magical Express to arrive, they picked up their own luggage since an agent told them it would take 3-4 hours for their luggage to get to their room, and once they got to the Caribbean Resort - the customer service was awful. No one was manning the front desk, and they had to locate a janitor to call someone to help. Then that person could not find their reservation. By the time they were finally able to get to room with their luggage it was almost 4:00am.

So we dropped by their room and they were really good sports, given that they had really just gone to bed. We hung out and relaxed for awhile before making a run for the parks. First, we headed to the Beach Club Character breakfast at Cape May Café. We somehow managed to take the longest walking route possible, and found we were already wearing my parents down before we arrived for breakfast. Ashley and my mom thought the world of the mini Mickey Mouse waffles, both tasty and cute.

After breakfast, we were off to Epcot Center to check out Future World, we even managed to get my mom to ride Test Track. We wandered through a few of the nations in the World Showcase as we made our way to Les Chefs de France for dinner. Everyone but Ashley started out with the French Onion soup, which is highly recommended and filling, which was a good thing for my dad. Once the main course came my dad found himself disappointed in the flank steaks tenderness, the reason I did not order it, the cold fries, and the French customer service which only frustrated him more. Luckily for Ashley & I the desert was Crème Brule which helped to sugar coat things.

We left the Chefs quickly in order to find a great viewing area for Illuminations, which is my favorite show there. We were surprised that we were a mere inches from one of the main firework cannons which would continue to make Ashley jump every time it went off.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Disney World - Trip Log - Day 1

Trip Log
Sunday, September 24th:
Travel to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to catch a red-eye flight on United Airlines. As usual for a Sunday night LAX is in chaos. In fact, the United terminal is especially in disarray. With the new travel regulations that the TSA put in place, United has separate entrances for coach and Premier / first class. However, no agents are present to direct people in the right direction so everyone is in the wrong line. It takes quite a bit longer to get through to the agent then we are used to, check our luggage and get through security. We are plenty early, so we are not stressed out - and we have some time to hang out at the gate and that means a chance to play my PSP. We board the flight, have a quick snack and go to sleep.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

We're going to Disney World!

The last time that we traveled to Walt Disney World, (as Ashley correctly calls as opposed to the usual "Disney World"), it was back in September of 2001. In fact, we flew back from Orlando, Florida on September 10th, one day before 9/11. Whether it is because of the tragedy of that day and the aftermath or whether it is simply because I am getting old(er) - I do not remember much of that trip other than to know that we definitely wanted to go back.

Then, June of this year happened. Disney decided to run a great promotion for September on the Disney Dining plan, similar to what they are running now. Basically, when you buy a package for a pre-determined date range, you eat free - for the most part. In addition there were some room discounts. While we had not planned on this particular vacation given that we had just come back from vacations to Germany and New York, we thought it was a cannot miss opportunity. So, we booked the trip through AAA Travel - they throw in a couple of extra goodies - and invited my parents to join us.

While some of you may think that we were ready to go, the work was just beginning for Ashley. Armed with a spreadsheet that few can rival, Ashley put together a detailed agenda that include parks, events, and meals - including reservations for the entire trip. (If you're interested in the Excel Spreadsheet, just email me a leave a comment on this post) The meals were carefully selected based on ratings from both Internet and book sources including the one we found to be the most helpful, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2007. Then Disney Dining was called to make the reservations - the one reservation that is highly recommended but we were not able to get is the Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada. We have been a couple of times and it is worth it, if you can get in. In most cases, reservations for this restaurant fill up right at 180 days - so you need to plan ahead if you want to eat there!

Update: The spreadsheet is now available online! It includes trip planner, park guide, restaurant guide, and budget. If you try them out, please come back and leave a comment to let us know how it worked for you.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details:

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Friday, September 15, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/15/06 - The Road Home

What a relief, the Lufthansa agent in New Delhi was wrong! Our Boeing 747 jet to Los Angeles is a long haul jet, which means.......lie flat Recaro seats. ;-) I am definitely happy. And because of that, this will be a short wrap up post because I am going to get some serious sleep.

I stayed awake on almost the entire flight from New Delhi to Frankfurt for one main reason. Our flight lands in Los Angeles arrives at just about noon. With correct timing of my sleep, I can manage to avoid any jet lag. It is about 10am here as we leave Frankfurt and I met my two goals in the Frankfurt airport. #1 Another German beer. The best in the world, hands down. #2 German (Heidi) Gummi Bears (Golden Bears) for Ashley. Ashley will be very excited at that four bags that I am bring. She's right, they are the best in the world!

Wrapping up this trip to India, here are a few thoughts and memories that I have.

  • Language: There was no visible language barrier for me in the cities I was in. Everyone I met (vendors, hosts, or random people) spoke very good English. In addition, most of signage everywhere were in English.
  • Hospitality: The service and hospitality of everyone we met was phenomenal.
  • Hope: A real sense of hope permeates people from all walks of like in India. They believe that the future of their county is now, and that they are well on their way to being the next world superpower.
  • Dichotomy: There is a huge discrepancy in incomes and living styles between the "haves" and the "have nots". And the gap appears to be widening in the society.
  • Infrastructure: In two of the cities I visited (Bombay & Pune), the infrastructure -- roads and buildings -- were extremely lacking and cannot support the populations. However, in New Delhi -- the problem was much more muted, and especially in cities like Noida -- do not even resemble a "3rd world country".

In all, my visit to India was impressive. I enjoyed it and would love to go back and spend some more time. The unfortunate thing looking back, that coming so far -- and being so close -- that we did not take the opportunity to visit the Taj Majal. I am sure I will have the opportunity to visit it some point in the future.

Read about the entire India Trip:
India - Trip Log - 09/08/06 - I am leaving for India today!
India - Trip Log - 09/09/06 – Halfway there!
India - Trip Log - 09/10/06 – A long day
India - Trip Log - 09/11/06 – Getting to know Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/12/06 – Our Second Day in Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/13/06 – Travel Day to New Delhi
India - Trip Log - 09/14/06 - Goodbye New Delhi, I’m heading home.
India - Trip Log - 09/15/06 - The Road Home

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/14/06 - Goodbye New Delhi, I’m heading home.

I am sitting here in the New Delhi airport and it is shortly before midnight, waiting to catch a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt on our way back to Los Angeles. Again, we avoided the “friendly” confines of the business class lounge because of the intense haze of smoke and are waiting patiently by the gate for our flight to board.

Trying to catch my breath from this whirlwind trip, I also just had a run-in with the Lufthansa Customer Service counter regarding the contents for my carry-on. Apparently, Lufthansa at the New Delhi airport is concerned about extra batteries that you may carry on in your luggage. So, since I am carrying 2 extra batteries for my Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), as well as two extra batteries for my trusty Canon Powershot S410 – they are recommending I re-pack them in my luggage as they check me in. That means, I need to get out of the line, go back to the baggage screening and have my luggage re-certified again. It also means the juice in my PSP will probably last less than a quarter of the 18 hours I am about to spend flying home. Bummer. In addition, the Lufthansa representative informed me that the final leg of the trip home would not be on a long haul version of the Boeing 747, so no Recaro lie-flat seats for the final leg. Things could be worse.

Our day in New Delhi (Noida) was quite busy as well. We completed the last of our vendor meetings, had an enjoyable dinner at the highly rated "Made In India" restaurant at the Noida Radisson. From there, it was a quick freshening up and head to the airport to catch this flight.

The trip to the airport was fairly uneventful, although as with everywhere else in India -- New Delhi has some pretty significant construction going on near the airport. I cannot imagine what all these cities are going to look like in 10 years.

Lastly, I need some rest -- although this has been a quick trip, it has been packed full. I am looking forward to sleeping on the plane!

Read about the entire India Trip:
India - Trip Log - 09/08/06 - I am leaving for India today!
India - Trip Log - 09/09/06 – Halfway there!
India - Trip Log - 09/10/06 – A long day
India - Trip Log - 09/11/06 – Getting to know Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/12/06 – Our Second Day in Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/13/06 – Travel Day to New Delhi
India - Trip Log - 09/14/06 - Goodbye New Delhi, I’m heading home.
India - Trip Log - 09/15/06 - The Road Home

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/13/06 – Travel Day to New Delhi

Today was our bridge or travel day here in India. I am now in a suburb of New Delhi, called Noida -- east of the city. Noida is a city that was setup specifically for technology and new industry growth a few years back that included large tax incentives to the companies that established themselves in the city. For that reason, the city has had explosive growth over the past few years.

Getting to New Delhi was farily simple and problem free. We checked out of the Le Meridien in Pune and drove the hour or so to the airport, which is a shared military base. The airport was completely under-construction, and although we were flying business class on Jet Airways, the lounge was not much better than the waiting area. When I travel on business, I am highly organized, having helped to plan and coordinate much of the trip. However, when I arrived at the airport, I did not have my printed out eTicket. That provided a couple of stressful minutes, but the staff at the airport was able to resolve. Then, when going through security -- I still had a water bottle in my laptop backpack. Fortunately, the water bottle is not banned in India for travel. So, all I had to do was take a quick drink from the bottle and then I was allowed to go in.



On the plane, I ended up sitting next to the same person that I had flown from Frankfurt with was sitting next to me. It was very interesting that they were on the same basic schedule that we were on, even though the focus of their trip was slightly different. They worked for a division of IndyMac bank called "Financial Freedom" and they were observing their existing operations in India, and visiting the various cities in which they were. We said goodbye at the airport, and met our contact in New Delhi.



New Delhi is a completely different site from either Bombay (Mumbai) or Pune (Poona). The infrastructure is significantly more developed, and a novel idea -- lines on the roads. On our trip out to Noida, both the development of the roads and structures appeared to be more advanced and expanding quicker than the other cities.



We arrived at our hotel, the Radisson in Noida. After settling in, we met with our contact and went on a brief tour of the city, seeing the India Gate in the city. Finally, we went to a government sponsored shopping area to get a few souveneirs and other momentos from our trip.

Read about the entire India Trip:
India - Trip Log - 09/08/06 - I am leaving for India today!
India - Trip Log - 09/09/06 – Halfway there!
India - Trip Log - 09/10/06 – A long day
India - Trip Log - 09/11/06 – Getting to know Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/12/06 – Our Second Day in Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/13/06 – Travel Day to New Delhi
India - Trip Log - 09/14/06 - Goodbye New Delhi, I’m heading home.
India - Trip Log - 09/15/06 - The Road Home

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/12/06 – Our Second Day in Pune

This post will be be shorter, relatively speaking. This is day two here in Pune (Poona) and today was a lot like yesterday. A long car ride across the city of Pune to the outskirts -- although this time, it is back towards the highway on the "spur" that goes around the city.
One of the most interesting sightings on this today is the "Super Techie" billboard, advertising for job boards. Specifically, it was for technology jobs and it is the company "Dice" that has a large presence here in the United States for Technology jobs.

When we arrived to our vendor's facility, it was as impressive as anything you see here in the United States. Similar to yesterday, large building with a ton of granite and marble flooring and walls everywhere. At this particular vendor, a third main building was completing construction. Again, the need for infrastructure in the county was emphasized during our visit -- the power went out three different times during the day. The facilities themselves were not impacted by the power loss, each time their generators fired up appropriately -- it was still noticeable.

Tonight, we went to the Taj Blue Diamond Hotel here in Pune for dinner and it was quite and excellent experience. We ate at the Mystic Masala and the highlight of the evening was when one member of our party, who normally does not eat spicy foods tried a green chili. While it tasted like a cucumber at first, once the seeds broke the heat from the spice was hot and lasted about 30 minutes. I tried them as well, and although I like spicy foods -- they had a little burn to them. The other interesting taste at this dinner was the Sweet Paan -- Leaf-wrapped betel nuts, which is supposed to help with digestion. I was not a big fan of the betel nuts, these particular ones had a soapy sweet flavor. However, I tried them!

All-in-all, a pretty good day in Pune.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/11/06 – Getting to know Pune

Today, I feel like I got to know Pune (Poona), India a little bit. The first thing I know about this town is that it takes a long time to get anywhere. We had a driver who spoke good English and the drive is comfortable, it just to quite awhile to get there. It took us about an hour and a half to go about 15km (10 miles) from the center of town, to a technical development center on the outskirts.

Starting out, the Le Meridien hotel in Pune is a great place to stay. I highly recommend it! For starters, the service has been first class, since the instant we arrived. One member of our team needed to have some shirts pressed late last night (10:00pm) for today, and the staff was quick to make the accommodation.

This morning, awaking after a good night's sleep -- I had the pleasure of taking in a sunrise here in Pune. My window looks out the back of hotel into an area with trees and I can see the Pune train station just to the south of the hotel. Given the proximity, it is still relatively quiet at the hotel. The only unfortunate thing is that the gym at the Le Meridien in Pune does not open until after 7:30am in the morning. Unfortunately, a little too late for our schedule this morning.

The breakfast buffet at the hotel is excellent here as well. There is a full set of what I consider to be both American and Indian foods. To some extent, if you chose to -- you may not even have to try Indian food here in India. The hotels definitely cater to their international guests. In addition, there is a full juice and fruit bar worth trying. (On a side note, all of the information provided by the CDC recommends AGAINST trying the fruit, juices, or other prepared foods while in India because of the risk of several diseases. Based on the experience at the hotel, I chose to go ahead and try them -- and was fine.)

As it approached 7:30am, it was time to meet our driver. We headed across town for a days worth of meetings, but again I was impacted by the dichotomy separating the classes in India. It was apparent as we traveled across town. Under a badly run down neighborhood, there would be large billboards advertising luxury apartments and health spas. This is becoming very apparent to me quickly, that while there are a lot of people benefiting from the growth by high-technology outsourcing in India -- the county is still a 3rd World country where people are struggling to survive. There is a huge chasm between the classes here and one has to wonder how it can be sustained, even if 200k+ students are graduating from the top universities each year in country of 1.2 billion.

Our meetings were good. As I mentioned in my first post, I am not going to go into details -- but there is no questions that I am impressed this first group of Indians that I meet. To be brief, the people I have met are very confident about the future that is in store for them, their families, and their county. This is not something I come across here in Los Angeles.

After our meetings, we traverse the route we took to location, again it takes about an hour and half to go about 10 miles. This is a city that needs infrastructure badly. Street by street, it is hard to believe that this town supports over 6 million people. While there is a lot of construction everywhere you look, there is still a lot to be desired. One who was not aware of the geographical statistics might think the infrastructure in Pune only supports a city of 100k or so.
Tonight, the evening is pretty basic, and fortunately none of our team is suffering from jet lag. We have a nice dinner at the "Spice Island" restaurant in the Le Meridien hotel with our vendor and then enjoy some drinks in the Entresol bar. A very enjoyable and relaxing evening!
On a side note, telecommunications are a very important piece of our travel. I have my trusty Blackberry 8700c with me, and while the data functions worked great in Mumbai(Bombay), service has been completely unreliable in Pune. Hours at a time go buy where I have no service, then suddenly service is available. Apparently this is the norm for Pune (Poona), India. I am barely able to keep in touch back in the United States. With a 12 1/2 hour time difference, it is really not that big of a deal.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/10/06 – A long day

Well, now it is late Sunday evening and we have already made our way to Poona (Pune), India. It seems like it has been a long time since my last post back in Germany and much has happened in that time. In fact, I have already completed my short time in Bombay (Mumbai), which was really just a landing point for our trip. I will take you through how we ended up in Poona (Pune).

We boarded the plan in Frankfurt, and unfortunately to my disappointment – it was not another long haul jet on Lufthansa like we had out of Los Angeles, more of the standard business class equipment. While it was still enjoyable, it was no where near the comfort on the first jet. Then, what may end up being the oddest moment of the trip occurred a few hours into the flight. I was looking up from my meal and saw on the GPS tracking that we were flying over Iran and that the monitored showed this city on the map called Tehran. I look out my window to the left and I see the city lights of Tehran. Normally, this would not mean too much to me – but I was surprised this was the route given the current geo-political climate. Then we continued over Pakistan and then into Bombay (Mumbai), I guess our only other real option was over Iraq and Afghanistan – so, makes sense. This was not necessarily life changing, just surprising given I had never really though about the route from Frankfurt to Bombay.

We landed at the airport about 1:00am, and the first thing I noticed getting off the plane is that the airport is pretty old and run down. There is some construction under way for potential improvement – but I was expecting the “International” terminal to be pretty nice given the new found wealth of the past 15 years due to Information Technology and other outsourcing arrangement. Getting through customs was quick and easy – and more than I expected most of the signs were in English, even more than were in Hindi.


Walking out of the international terminal into Bombay, India was what people told me it would be – a very crowded welcoming area with mobs of folks trying to get you into their cars and or carry your luggage. Lucky for us, the vendors we were visiting pre-arranged everything and there was a plaque with each of our names on it. An oddity is that an individual driver was sent with each of us. Being almost 1:30am in a new country, we decided to all ride in the same car and just have the other two follow us.

It was only a quick 3 minute drive to the hotel, the ITC Hotel Grand Maratha Sheraton & Towers. The hotel was pretty nice and impressive, with the doorman saluting us as we exited our car. Given the time of the morning, check-in was a breeze. Since the bar was already closed, we enjoyed a brief drink in one of our rooms and shuffled off to bed to some rest.

6:30am came pretty quick. When I am traveling, especially long distances – I like to get into a routine immediately. So, I made sure to wake up then and headed to the gym for a quick jog and felt great. We had the standard hotel buffet which was excellent – and surprisingly a mix of both Indian and American foods – everything from Pancakes, Waffles, & Omelettes to several India dishes. I tried some of both and then we were on our way to touring the city by private car.

Leaving the hotel, the first thing I noticed was the humidity, even in September. The monsoon was supposedly running a little late this year according to the concierge. Then from there, in the daytime the infrastructure was in much worse condition than I had thought and the roads were crowded. Now, they were not just crowded because there were a lot of vehicles on them. They were crowded because there were no lanes in the road and everyone squeezes as close to possible and around you at the signals. It did not matter whether you have an oxen-drawn cart, a bicycle, rickshaw (ricksha), car, truck or bus. Everyone just crowded together and ended up existing it pretty good harmony. In Los Angeles, this would have been an all out war with profanities and middle fingers extended upward everywhere you looked.

The next thing I noticed was the extent of the poverty in Bombay (Mumbai). Just as we left the area by the hotel and headed into the city, the landscape quickly changed. I saw what I considered to be miles and miles of lean-to shacks and housing with thousands (millions?) of people living out of them. The walls were broken down and made of cardboard, corrugated metal, and other material strewn together, but they stretched out over a long way. Crowds were also all along the streets and in the little communities. I had seen poverty like this, in fact relatively often in Mexico during several trips – but the sheer volume here is something I had not seen before. It was impacting.

We made our way through the city and into an upper scale area along the Bay of Bengal where we were able to see the water. There also happened to be a lengthy festival happening in the area at one of the local churches, with people buying candles and marching a couple of miles to complete their trek.

Next we ended up near the Gateway of India, a monument that commemorates the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay – back in 1911. It’s an impressive piece and we take a few pictures in front of it. What I immediately notice is that I am the only person in shorts – even though the weather is in the upper 80’s. Then we make our way across the street to the Taj President Hotel and enjoy a nice Indian lunch.

After driving around Mumbai for a little while longer, we begin to head to Poona (Pune), which is our destination for a few days. The drive is about 100 miles or so, and takes us through a lot of hills and mountains. Of course, we have to pass a McDonalds, I do not think any international trip is complete without seeing at least one. Then we run into a monsoonal rain and it rivals some of the thunderstorms I have encountered in Texas. The trip in all takes about 4 hours, mainly because the last 10 miles once we are off the highway is down a very crowded 2 lane road running through town. We spend about 2 hours in traffic, and that’s on a Sunday night. In Pune, the road and transportation infrastructure is much worse than Bombay. If one did not know better, you might think that Poona was a small town, rather than having a size and population greater than that of Chicago. In addition, we encountered an elephant in the middle of an intersection just before we arrived at our hotel, the Le Meridien Pune. We check in, relax for awhile and have a number of appetizers for dinner before getting to bed to prepare for our big day the next day.

It’s been one long day, and I am looking forward to spending a few days in Pune!

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/09/06 – Halfway there!

This should be a brief and short post from the Frankfurt Airport here in Germany. (Known as the Flughafen Frankfurt am Main to the Germans) It is hard to believe I was just here back in May during out visit to Munich, Berlin, and Heidelberg just before the World Cup. The airport, which was under major construction back in May, is still under major construction now. And I am realizing this is only about 12 hours since my last post, but a lot of things are happening!

However, the flight was from the United States was quite enjoyable. Flying in business class on Lufthansa turned out great for the two of us coming from Los Angeles. The Boeing-747 that we flew on was considered a “long haul” jet, so that meant the seats in business class were the “lie flat” Recaro seats that are usually only First Class were on the plane. Also, there was a good personal entertainment system, so I did not plan my Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) much, instead choosing to watch Mission Impossible III (enjoyable, saw it in the theaters) and The Sentinel with Keiffer Sutherland (nothing to write home about). I was even able to catch some good sleep in addition to meeting a nice gentleman that was heading to Italy to check out some job prospects for an internal transfer at Boeing aircraft. It was his first time to Italy and he was checking it out before deciding to make the multi-year commitment and bring his family over.

Upon meeting up with the rest of my group in Frankfurt, I learned that those traveling out of San Francisco did not have the same fortunate Recaro seats that we had in Business Class. There were more of the standards of what you find here in the United States. I will make sure to count myself lucky on this leg. I wonder what the Bombay (Mumbai) leg will bring. Although I did learn that one member of our group loves the little “towels” you get in Business Class on take-off, before meals, and before landing. I sense this is going to become a fun theme for this trip.

Now that we’re caught up, and in Germany – I am on a mission to have two things on our short layover here in Frankfurt – Beer and Bratwurst. I would prefer to have an Augustiner Brau, but all we can find is Paulaner – so it will have to do. We have a quick bite to eat and then a couple beers at the central marketplace in the airport. One thing I have to remember on the way back is to go downstairs and shop for some Heidi Gummi Bears (Golden Bears). They are by far the best in the world and Ashley loves them – she will really give me a hard time if I do not come through for her.

We head back towards the gate and decide to check out the Lufthansa lounge in the airport terminal. We spent about 30 seconds in there and exited stage left almost immediately. The smoke was absolutely overwhelming. While this is my fourth visit to Germany, and I lived in Heidelberg for 4 months at one point – the smoke always gets to me. Otherwise, the lounge was nice with great beverages and food available.

Well, look like we will be boarding our flight in a few minutes here, so that is all for the post. Next time you hear from me, it will be from India!

Read about the entire India Trip:
India - Trip Log - 09/08/06 - I am leaving for India today!
India - Trip Log - 09/09/06 – Halfway there!
India - Trip Log - 09/10/06 – A long day
India - Trip Log - 09/11/06 – Getting to know Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/12/06 – Our Second Day in Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/13/06 – Travel Day to New Delhi
India - Trip Log - 09/14/06 - Goodbye New Delhi, I’m heading home.
India - Trip Log - 09/15/06 - The Road Home

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Friday, September 08, 2006

India - Trip Log - 09/08/06 - I am leaving for India today!

Well, the day is finally here – my first trip to India starts today and I am excited. I am sitting here in the Los Angeles Airport (LAX) in the Tom Bradley International terminal in the Lufthansa Business class lounge – relaxing, and preparing for the trip. (It was actually much easier to get through check-in and security in the International Terminal. About a total of 25 minutes from the time the shuttle dropped me off until I was in the lounge, checked in.) Relaxing is definitely a requirement before boarding the plane to first stop in Frankfurt – where I will meet up with others joining on the trip – and then finally making the other leg to Bombay, India (Mumbai). My preference was to go this route over the Pan-Asia route because the timing of the flights makes the jet lag easier to handle for me.

It is funny to think that almost exactly one week from now I will be landing back here in Los Angeles. That makes for a really quick trip, especially since we are starting in Bombay (Mumbai), on to Poona (Pune), and ending up in the suburb of New Dehli called Noida. We arrive in Bombay at approximately 1:00am India time early Sunday morning.

I am excited about the people and culture that I am about to meet face-to-face. This is an area of the world that I have not yet had the opportunity to visit and I admit I have some pre-conceived notions on what I have heard about it in the past. Apparently, the majority of my friends who have already visited India either really love the country India or absolutely hate it. I am interested to see what I will feel, although I am expecting to really enjoy it based on my previous travel experiences. What I am expecting to see is a lot of poverty, a lot of crowds, and really bad traffic. Those seem to be the common themes that have been communicated to me thus far, I wonder how they will hold true.

This is a business trip, of course – and while I am sure I will enjoy the experience and the new cultural experience; I do have some work to do. So, after I finish this quick post – I need to spend some additional time reading the proposals of the vendors that we are visiting. However, since work is work – I will not be discussing the business aspects of the trip in any detail, even though that will constitute a the majority of the trip.

Read about the entire India Trip:
India - Trip Log - 09/08/06 - I am leaving for India today!
India - Trip Log - 09/09/06 – Halfway there!
India - Trip Log - 09/10/06 – A long day
India - Trip Log - 09/11/06 – Getting to know Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/12/06 – Our Second Day in Pune
India - Trip Log - 09/13/06 – Travel Day to New Delhi
India - Trip Log - 09/14/06 - Goodbye New Delhi, I’m heading home.
India - Trip Log - 09/15/06 - The Road Home

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