Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bay Leaf Cafe is closed

We took the kids to Palo Alto hoping to get lunch at the Bay Leaf Cafe on Ramona Street. We discovered it closed in October 2006 - after we visited the boarded up premises! Sounds like the owners never really made a viable business out of it, although I liked it even with the faintly disorganised air that was always a feature. Palo Alto has plenty of other restaurants to choose from, so we were never going to go hungry.

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I can see mountains

My family and I are visiting Mountain View, California, for just under 2 weeks. Today, we took it easy and shopped and ate. That is enough shopping for me at any rate. One thing we were absolutely amazed at was the vegan food available in the local supermarkets, especially Whole Foods Market.

Like ten different varieties of vegan sausages and two types of frozen pizza. Like 2 entire freezers full of vegan ice cream and related frozen desserts. Like 5 varieties of freshly baked vegan cakes in their bakery! We choose a large chocolate mousse cake. 9 different flavours of vegan donuts. 3 types of vegan muffins. OMG. We will not fit on the plane on the way home.


A trip to Davos

Last week I was lucky enough to have a short trip to Davos in Switzerland, via Zürich, to meet up with some colleagues. Davos (pronounced Dav-OS, not DAV-os it turns out) is a nice little town up in the mountains, famous for the annual World Economic Forum. Klosters, famous for princes and celebrities holidaying there, is the next village along.

I had only a night in Zürich, but it seems a great town, hopefully I'll get a chance to get back there soon. Public transport is a strong point. When asked how to get to the train station, the hotel receptionist replied, "Why you get the train, of course". So I did. As expected, the train left precisely on time. It even arrived at some stations at precisely zero seconds on the alloted time. Uncanny.

I was able to get some fantastic vegan food in Zürich just next to my hotel, in a really popular restaurant called Tibits. It is owned by the same people who run the Hiltl restaurant, apparently Europe's longest running vegetarian restaurant, since 1898! The food is mostly buffet style, you pay by weight - they have both hot and cold food. Unlike many vegetarian restaurants in this style which I've been to, Tibits serves not just beer but a range of cocktails! Highly recommended, a great buzz about the place too.

Davos on the other hand, in part being there for work, was not so hot on the food front. A small, green salad for dinner doesn't quite rate the same.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dinner with Alicia Silverstone

Well, not quite. I went to Hollywood this afternoon and who better to recommend a vegan restaurant to visit than Alicia Silverstone, celebrity vegan? The Internet gossip rags duly obliged, confiding that the M Cafe on Melrose Avenue is her favourite. This is a macrobiotic cafe not far from the centre of Hollywood, so after a quick trip to Hollywood Boulevard and Grauman's Chinese Theater it was food time.

Plenty to choose from, mostly soup, salad and sandwiches (it's a cafe) with a few rice and veg dishes. Plenty of seitan, tempeh and soy mozzarella if you want protein. Fish is available too in that strange combination that is macrobiotic. I went for a brown rice and seitan dish, which was great in itself, except that the veg (carrots, broccoli and cauliflower) tossed into it looked like something from Sligo. That is, chunky, looking fresh from the ground and just about boiled with no condiments. I felt so healthy.

Not to worry, the M Cafe boasts a leading vegan/macrobiotic chef de patisserie!
Unfortunately they were out of chocolate cake slices - all that was left were entire chocolate cakes at $40 a pop. Maybe a bit much. So I settled for a lemon meringue tarte...and a soy cappuccino...and a couple of cocoa truffles. Just in case.

To finish off a perfect evening I returned to find I had won a parking ticket. Los Angeles, I will remember you.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Fab India, not so fab Hotel Imperial

We made it back from Kathmandu to Delhi and finally back to Dublin. Dublin is less than half the 40 degrees we left behind in Delhi, but it's nice to be back at last. Somehow in both Kathmandu and Delhi airports we fell for the same trick. Both countries have non-convertible currencies, so strictly speaking Nepali and Indian rupees are worthless once you leave the country. In the airports of both capital cities, as soon as you get through the first security check there are no foreign exchange counters and you are not permitted to leave the secure area. Yippee! We fell for this a second time in Delhi. That said, we found ways to convert our leftover currency, so it wasn't all bad.

We found Fab India on the second try in Delhi and shopped our little hearts out. It's located in M-block market in the Greater Kailash Part I suburb, a good 45 minutes drive from the city centre. Unfortunately there are at least 3 M-block markets in Greater Kailash Part I (we visited them all, in reverse order of usefulness). We didn't get to check out Greater Kailash Part II or East of Kailash (real places!).

We made the foolish mistake of treating ourselves to a night in a luxury hotel in Delhi, as a counterpoint to the lack of electricity and heating in the mountains I guess. This went badly wrong. The otherwise 5 star Hotel Imperial, which had been recommended to us by some colleagues who had stayed there, was a disaster for us. The water was muddy and brown, the air conditioning made the room like Antartica and eventually had to be switched off, they lost our luggage and were rude and implied it was our fault they had lost it. It took three reminders and three hours to get the promised bed for Jasmine. Spending money != happiness.

We transferred to another hotel and were much happier, although in hindsight, returning to Major's Den would have made us happier still.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Back in Kathmandu

We're back in Kathmandu and we fly out to Delhi tomorrow - almost home. After the jungle we spent a week in Kathmandu, followed by a week in Pokhara and now back in Kathmandu. The Thamel area in Kathmandu is completely geared up for tourists and it's wall to wall restaurants, souvenir shops and hostels. We're staying in the famous Kathmandu Guest House which is providing many luxuries at budget prices.

Our week in Kathmandu was spent relaxing, sometimes siteseeing in the morning and then doing nothing much in the afternoons. There are a lot of temples, palaces, Buddhist stupas, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and winding, medieval streets to wander around and enjoy. So plenty to do, and then all the facilities of Thamel to fall back on afterwards.

After we had our fill of all this, we took the seven hour bus journey to Pokhara in the west of Nepal. It's at the foot of the Himalayas near the famous Annapurna mountain (well, mountains, there are six of them!). We arranged a trek for 4 days in the mountains, walking from Naya Poul (1,000m altitude) to Ulleri (1,900m), next day to Ghorapani (2,950m), day 3 started for just me before dawn on Poon Hill (3,200m) to watch the sun rise over the mountains, then all of us walked to Tadapani (2,500m). The final day we walked via Ghandruk all the way back to the starting point. We managed 6-9 hours walking per day (including breaks) with Jasmine walking almost the entire time. Dylan got carried almost the entire time - we hired a porter just for him, plus one for our rucksack. It was a fantastic experience and we didn't even meet any Maoists. We did get our photos taken for some newspaper and were interviewed for Nepali television though. More on all this later, no doubt. :)

Now we've just got back to Kathmandu with very sore legs - apart from Jasmine who is still bouncing along! The return bus journey seemed even longer than the original one. Amazingly, on returning to the Kathmandu Guest House we were greeted with "How was your trek? Here is your room key." They handed us the key to the room we were in the week before. We hadn't booked a room and they didn't know that we would be returning! What a welcome.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Colonel Hathi's Dawn Patrol

The next morning, a few hours and a few passenger assisted push starts later, our bus got us into Narayanghat. Then a short minibus ride took us to Tadi Bazaar. Then a short four wheel drive trip took us to Sauraha. Then a persistent “no thank you" to the hotel tout in the car resulted in us finally getting to the hotel we wanted to go to, the
Royal Park Hotel. We were staying in decidedly mid-range accommodation, very friendly, very nice rooms. After the first night we were the only guests. Each restaurant and each hotel appeared to have at most one set of guests. There are a lot of hotels and a good number of (identical) restaurants in what is otherwise a tiny village.

The big attraction is Royal Chitwan National Park, the jungle! In it we would see elephants, rhino, crocodiles, different types of deer, peacocks, monkeys, a mongoose and a snake. We also saw birds like storks, kingfishers, mynah birds, lapwings and parakeets.
We visited an elephant breeding centre and an endangered Gharial (fish eating) crocodile breeding centre.

We asked in Sauraha about any problems with the Maoists and were told there was none. The next day this became, "apart from blowing up the checkpoint at the edge of town a few weeks ago". Then we were told that crocodiles had eaten 3 fishermen and one old tiger, unable to hunt any more in the jungle, had eaten 3 villagers - all within the past few months. The villagers keep watchtowers in many fields where they sleep out all night on guard. Rhinos occasionally come into the fields and eat the crops. So the Maoists aren't the ones to worry about it seems.
Our camera was a casualty of our final trip to the Kasara crocodile breeding centre by jeep safari, so our next stop would be the metropolis of Kathmandu with its vast array of camera shops.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Destination Nepal

Nepal was a relief when we finally made it. Everyone was much friendlier, even rickshaw drivers were less aggressive. We didn't have spare passport photos for our visa applications, so the officials had me wander further into Nepal (well, a few yards anyway!) to find a photocopying shop to copy the photos in our actual passports. Then the photocopying shop insisted I wander a little farther to find a money changer to acquire Nepali Rupees instead of Indian Rupees. Eventually all was well and stamps were ours. We went up the road a few miles to Bhairawa where we checked into the lovely, deserted Hotel Yeti. We treated ourselves to room service, hot water and TV in the most expensive room we've had so far. There are definitely far fewer tourists in Nepal (nothing to do with the ongoing Maoist rebellion I'm sure).


The train to Gorukhpur

When “air-conditioned sleeper 2-tier class" wasn't available, but first class was, and first class was much cheaper, alarms bells should have rung. We heard their sweet tinkle minutes after boarding. The expected 5 and a half hour overnight journey took 14 hours to Gorukhpur in sweltering heat in a locked compartment in a cattle truck called first class. Of course we were very glad not to be in second class….We had two beds between the four of us, but we had a compartment to ourselves – which didn't stop people from trying to get in all night and peering in when they couldn't open the door. We had to keep the (barred) window open in order not to overheat, but then try to wake up at every station throughout the night to close it to stop people peering in. Which made for a lot of sleep.
We did pass through some gorgeous countryside in the morning, mainly rice paddies. Of course the train liked to stop for about 30 minutes at random villages along the way. When we eventually got to Gorukhpur we were efficiently transferred straight onto a crushed “ordinary" bus for the 3 hour journey to the border with Nepal at Sunauli. It's a good thing that children thrive on a diet of mineral water and crisps.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Death and saris

We had decided to head to Varanasi on our way to the land crossing into Nepal as we hadn't been able to get flights to Kathmandu. Varanasi, on the banks of the river Ganges, is one of the holiest places in India. Its main industries are death – cremating people on the banks of the Ganges – and making saris (Benares saris). It is also twinned with Agra as the second city of deliberately giving tourists food poisoning as an insurance scam - allegedly two Irish tourists died here in 1998 as a result.
Far from being the spiritual capital of North India, we felt threatened from the moment we arrived (after a 14 hour overnight train journey with none of our previously encountered luxuries). The rickshaw driver in front of us hit a woman and baby and gave off to them for it, the next one started punching another driver as they went past. Our driver stopped along the way, seemingly to pay off some kind of mafia boss. The next day I saw another rickshaw driver punch a woman in the face at the roadside whilst arguing. Varanasi is also known for several travelers a year mysteriously disappearing.

We took a boat ride on the Ganges, which was definitely a good experience. However, it is sell, sell, sell all along the way. It is hard to see through to any spiritual side of the city. Luckily, we had booked first class tickets on the train to Gorukhpur that same night.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Avoid Agra!

So the Taj Mahal is well worth the visit - it is much more detailed and impressive close up than the bleached white images you see of it. Agra Fort is nice. But staying in Agra is such a hassle that you just want to leave. One of the nicer cycle rickshaw drivers followed me and the children walking for one and a half hours, trying to drum up business, all the way from the hotel and back to the hotel door. He was one of the less aggressive people trying to sell you something, if a little more persistent. This was worst on Friday when the Taj Mahal is closed and so there are few tourists around. The sellers get pretty desperate then.We stayed in the lovely Hotel Sheela, a few yards from the Taj Mahal west gate, another hotel with a peaceful garden.
Taj Ganj, the area just in front of the Taj Mahal, is almost as run down as Paharganj in Delhi, but not quite. It is where apparently a few years ago some of the restaurant owners decided to poison their guests, rush them to a local clinic and in collaboration charge thousands of dollars against the tourists' medical insurance. Get rich quick. None of the clinics or restaurants involved have closed apparently. So we felt very comfortable eating there. They do like to boast of the great views of the Taj Mahal eating in their rooftop garden terrace.


Jaipur Express

The Shatabdi Express to Jaipur spoilt us rotten as far as trains go. We later had a big shock! It's a short trip (4.5 hours), there are complementary newspapers and an unending supply of free mineral water, tea, snacks and a vegetarian in-flight meal. So far, so good. Jaipur is a tourist town, you get hassled from the moment you emerge from the train station. We stayed in a former thakur (nobleman)'s palace, now the Hotel Diggi Palace, which whilst not a 5 star establishment, was certainly a big step up from Paharganj. Jasmine and Dylan enjoyed the big garden. It was worth splashing out on 14 euro a night for the room.

We visited a few of the sites here over a couple of days – the City Palace where the son and family of the last Maharaja still live; Jantar Mantar, an observatory with massive outdoor astronomical devices built in the eighteenth century by Maharaja Jai Singh; the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, where the princesses and ladies of the court would watch goings on from behind screens. Jasmine and I visited Amber Fort just outside town on our own as Dylan wasn't feeling well – it was amazing and a great day out for just the two of us.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Delhi VIII: The Empire Strikes Back

Our first stop was New Delhi. When I was younger I always wondered why I couldn't find Old Delhi marked on the map. New Delhi is the eighth city on this site, created by the helpful intervention of the British Empire. We stayed in an area frequented by backpackers called Paharganj, relatively close to everything interesting. It is described in Lonely Planet as “seedy", which is something of an understatement. But it has its charms. We stayed in a basic hostel called Hotel Major's Den which was very friendly. Dylan and Jasmine enjoyed the use of the bucket bath to the point that they want one when they go home now. Allegedly.

Somehow over 3 days we managed to do nothing at all in Delhi. We managed to eat in such centres of Delhi culture as Pizza Hut – where all the staff indulged in a quick Bollywood dance number at one point - and Rodeos, a Tex-Mex restaurant where the waiters dress as cowboys. We tried in vain to get an airline ticket to Kathmandu, having decided that we'd spend a few weeks in Nepal as well as seeing some of North India. Nepal has some of the few casinos in this part of Asia apparently, so all flights were booked full of Indian tourists going to play blackjack for the weekend. Together with the bureaucracy of getting a train ticket to Jaipur, that was an entire day gone!


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Vegan in Hyderabad

It's not hard at all to find vegan food in Hyderabad. There is always a distinction between veg and non-veg food in every restaurant, with non-veg(etarian) often being the unusual option. When cheese, cream, butter or (rarely) ghee are added to a particular dish, they are usually flagged specifically as an attraction – "plain roti" or "butter roti". When they're not specifically mentioned, we usually had a hard time explaining what vegan was to any waiters. People generally want you to be happy, which means they tell you what you want to hear and rarely say "no". So you have to use your best judgement at times.
Restaurants we visited included Fusion 9, Mainland China, Angeeti, Chutneys, Haveli, and Ohri's. Chutneys (vegetarian restaurant) was definitely our favourite. Oh, and vegetarian restaurant usually means no alcohol either. Bummer.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Monsoon is a state of mind

We woke up in the middle of our second last night in Hyderabad to the sound of a waterfall. Monsoon has been relatively light this year, although there has been some flooding in central Hyderabad. Mumbai and Gujarat have been having a terrible time, but Hyderabad's initial worry was not getting enough rain.
Unfortunately for us, the waterfall was not coming from outside the apartment. A tap in the bathroom in the children's room had somehow exploded off the wall, leaving the pipe behind gushing water. Pretty soon there was an inch of water everywhere in the apartment and a neat waterfall going down the stairs onto the computer below. It took about 30 minutes before we could find someone with enough plumbing know-how to turn the water off. It was 4am.
We evacuated to apartment 402 where there was a spare room, flood refugees for a second time. This time we were able to move back into our own room a couple of hours later. What a nice send off to help us remember Hyderabad.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Leaving Hyderabad

After 9 short weeks, I am off on my travels again. It is very hard to leave, tempered only by the knowledge that I'll see several of the people I worked with in either the Dublin or Mountain View offices later this year.


Sunday, July 31, 2005

A week of birthdays

Five of the people in Hyderabad had birthdays in the last week of July, including Dylan and me. We threw a little party for Dylan in the apartment and there were a couple of children there as well as a bunch of people from work and that work in the apartments. Dylan got a robot that he loves as well as a bunch of other toys – we weren't able to take them all with us unfortunately. Jasmine got a couple of presents too, so she didn't feel too hard done by.

My birthday came a few days later and Lauren, Brian and Regina from work also had birthdays this week. We had a couple of nights out, the night of my birthday ending up involving that perfect combination, whiskey and fireworks. Fireworks seem to be easier to buy than whiskey in India.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mama's got a brand new blog

Rose-Anne has gone and got herself a blog. Whatever next?


Monday, July 25, 2005

Vegan Shakes

Rose-Anne, Jasmine and Dylan arrived in Hyderabad three weeks ago now. I have a new focus for the few minutes between the end of work and the start of sleep. Everyone has been doing really well, especially considering I'm at work all day and this isn't really a holiday, yet. We have two more weeks left here now, before jetting off to Delhi and more excitement. We still haven't decided where we're going after that. Maybe an Indian hill station in the Himalayas or even Nepal as well as Agra and Rajasthan.

On the weekends we have been able to see some of Hyderabad. In fact with the whole week at their disposal, Rose-Anne and the kids have been able to see more of the city than I have! We've been able to go out to a few restaurants - there is quite a choice in a city this size. The great thing here is that vegetarian restaurants are all around. Chutney's seems to be the best known and does great food - there is a fair sized queue outside to get in on Friday and Saturday nights though, so you have to get there early. There is a coffee shop chain here called Coffee Day which even has a Vegan Shake on the menu! It's not bad if a bit on the sweet side.

We took Jasmine and Dylan to the Salar Jung museum, my second visit. They liked some of the exhibits, like the dresses, armour and some of the children's exhibits. Rooms were randomly closed off that had been opened on my earlier visit. We managed to catch the hourly cuckoo clock event, where maybe 200 people sit in hushed silence in a hall in the middle of the museum and await the striking of the hour. Jasmine's eminently reasonable reaction when the hour came, "Was that it?".

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hyderabad LUG tech talk

Yesterday I gave a tech talk to the Hyderabad Linux Users Group (LUG) on the subject of mail filtering for high volume sites. There were about 50 people who had plenty of excellent questions and experiences of their own. It was a great night and somehow ended up being almost 4 hours (not all talking of course)!

Of course these things never go without a hitch and we started off with my laptop point blank refusing to talk to the overhead projector. After a crash team of Linux doctors assisted in trying various options the best we could come up with was command line only. OpenOffice is good, but not that good.

Thank Google for the trusty Interweb! I had uploaded the presentation to my website just before the talk to pre-empt any "where are the slides" questions. So Plan B came into operation and we switched to running the presentation from there. A big thanks to Suman for organising things and to everyone who turned up.

We finished off the evening with a brief overview of Google by Amitabh, one of our software engineers. We introduced some of the many positions we were hiring for in Hyderabad and Bangalore. I got to say, "I can't comment on exactly what operating systems we use at Google, but we're hiring Linux Systems Adninistrators." :)


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Picking at the entrails of culture

I managed to spend a little time on Saturday seeing some of the city. Hyderabad is about 400 years old and the Charminar (Four Towers) is in the centre of the older part of town. It is surrounded by bazaars and traffic. There are the usual "volunteer guides" who don't want money to show you around. In fact, no money changed hands.

I'm still getting used to non-resident prices though. The entrance was capped by a large Rs. 5 sign, whilst the non-resident price was actually 150 rupees (3 euro)!

I went on to visit the Salar Jung museum, containing the collection of the last Nawab of Hyderabad. It was a nice museum with a strange mixture of items. As well as Indian, European and Far Eastern statuary, paintings and furniture there were children's exhibits. This including a scene of village life complete with little plastic farmers, houses, cows, pigs and chickens running around. In the middle of the scene a cow was dead on the ground with its entrails being picked out by a vulture! I can't see museums back home adding that level of realism to their children's exhibits!

It was nice to finally see a bit of the city and its history. That way I also avoided the cocktail making (and drinking) class that did some damage to many of the guys from work. :) We went on to a club called Bottles and Chimneys, which was a laugh. But more on that another time.


Monday, June 20, 2005

An Irish Joke from India

Well aren't we the famous nation? Sitting down to dinner at Angeethi's restaurant in Hyderabad last week I found an Irish joke in the middle of the menu. I still don't understand it, but "naturally" it involves the Irish all getting drunk. Maybe one of you can figure it out and tell me. :)
The Irish Team and The Patiala Peg

By informed sources
Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, who ruled the princely state of Patiala, was six and a half feet tall. He was an avid horse ride and keen enthusiast of equestrian events.

He once invited an Irish team for a match of tent pegging. Scared of losing face, his team of Nihang warriors got the Irish team drunk by serving double measure of every peg disguised as a normal peg.

Naturally, the visiting team lost the match next morning. When they complained, the Maharaja replied, "Yes, in Patiala, our pegs are larger".


Walk to work day

A bunch of us walked to work for a change. We get driven everywhere, so this made a nice change and I got to see a bit of the weird countryside-industrial estate mixture that is HiTec City. It's only about a 20 minute walk.

A lot of women are construction workers here. There is constant building going on with new office blocks and apartment blocks going up. Almost all the women workers wear brightly coloured saris as they sledgehammer boulders, dig trenches or carry materials around. They have a version of the standard yellow hard hat with a hole in the top, flattened which is used to better balance items on their head. In many places construction continues all night.

More pictures here.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

My visit to 10 Downing Street

Everyone should be invited to 10 Downing Street once in their lives. I went last Friday and although I didn't get to stay that long I really enjoyed my visit.

It was 70s night so I decided to grow my hair long for the evening. Hyderabad nightlife shuts down at midnight, so nothing too wild for us!

Brian, Neel, Des and Ramsey. From Ramsey's World.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sri Sailam in a day

Our visit to Sri Sailam, one of the 12 holy Hindu sites in India was nothing if not eventful. We had a fantastic time, but ended coming back the same day instead of staying overnight.

Ten of us (plus two drivers) set off in two cars at 6.30, working our way through Hyderabad and out into the countryside. It was a long time until we came to any areas that were light on people, this is a very populated part of the country. Cows and water buffalo wander back and forth across the roads fairly regularly, herds of goats are pretty common too and chickens are running around at every Village. There was the occasional hairy black pig too. So the wildlife was out in force from early on!

About 2 hours out from Hyderabad the road was blocked by a burnt out bus. Working our way around it we immediately encountered lots of armed men in plain clothes. These turned out to be police. They wanted to borrow a mobile phone to contact their headquarters because there was a second, unexploded bomb at the roadside (it was in a plastic water bottle). There was no mobile coverage in the area and they clearly didn't have radios of their own. They let us through and we noticed the small crater in the middle of the road a few metres past the bus. It looks like it was a landmine or a remotely detonated bomb, we were told it went off at 9.30pm the night before. Whilst there were several different versions of events offered to us, it appears most likely that Naxalites were involved. A government minister had apparently been visiting the area recently. There has apparently been a lot of Naxalite activity in this area.

So excitement over, we still had another 2+ hours of driving ahead of us. We came to the Sri Sailam dam, pretty big but awaiting the monsoon before there is much water - due June 7th we were told with some certainty! People boat, fish, swim, wash people, wash clothes in the lake beneath the dam. On the way up into the hills above the dam we passed the hut where the operators manage the flow of water through the dam. It was marked "Remote Control".

In Sri Sailam itself we first tried to find accommodation which had in theory been booked for us. Everywhere we went was full. We eventually found one place that had rooms, but the owners were insisting on one night's room charge in advance plus a second night's charge as a deposit that would in theory be returned. We weren't having any of this. It was at this point we discovered that the trip to the forest was suddenly off. Now we were told that we needed permits from the appropriate government department well in advance and they were usually only given to VIPs and Bollywood movie stars! Plus it was summer and all the large animals wouldn't be out during the day in any case. We had noticed that the town consisted of the temple complex and some shops and that was it. Things were starting to look a little less exciting....

After much schizophrenic discussion, we decided to visit the temple straight away, eat Cliff bars and crisps in the car and head back to Hyderabad before evening fell. Driving through the forest after dark was not looking to be such a good idea, what with the landmines and the tigers....

The temple complex was really worth the visit. We bypassed the two hour queue inside winding chicken wire fenced corridors by paying 100 rupees for our darshan. That gets you straight to the front of the queue. This is one of the 12 holy temples of Shiva in India. There were lots of little shrines and amazing architecture. At the front of the queue you stoop down to see some monks preparing coconut, flowers and flour in what I think was a silver litter for carrying the statue Shiva. This gets brought out in the evening time in a procession. An old lady gave me one of the little red dots on your forehead. Many people (though a minority) had gone one extra step and had their heads shaved for the occassion, including women and children. I had that done before I left Dublin, although not quite shaved enough. There was holy water, holy incense flames and all manner of things I didn't understand at all.

Just outside town is a second shrine to Ganesh, much quieter than the main temple where the press of people was intense. This was a much more peaceful experience and well worth the short time it takes to visit (you walk around and you're done, no stopping allowed). One of our group managed to leave his camera on a stall outside this temple and when he realised a few miles down the road, the camera was still there and waiting for him when we quickly returned. How cool is that?

We made it home, past the smouldering bus and through the herds of wandering cows just in time for tea. What a day! See the day in pictures.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Be very quiet, we're looking for tigers

I've been in India now for 3 days and I'm off in the morning with a bunch of the guys from work to Sri Sailam to visit a wildlife sanctuary, dam, temple and more. It's about 4 hours drive from Hyderabad where I'm based. Apparently the tigers are nocturnal (like some geeks) and there's not really that much chance of seeing them. But plenty of other wildlife! Hopefully some pictures to follow. :)

This is such a great place, I don't know where to begin. I've been busy though! Lots to do, great people, great food, what a life! And still another month to go - I bet it will fly by. I thought I'd have time to write more, maybe next week!


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Under the trees, on the road to the Googleplex

Yesterday we visited the redwood forests in Muir Woods outside San Francisco. It was nice not to be driving long distances, walking for 10 minutes and then driving back again for a change. Whilst there were bus loads of school kids visiting, taking one of the slightly longer trails we went for 20 minutes at a time without meeting anyone. It's a fantastic place, unbelievably close to such a big city as San Francisco. It seems strange that it's been a protected forest for about 100 years now. That's not a side of America that's as well known as some of the other aspects of this country. Although in Death Valley one of the volunteer rangers was telling us that funding in at least that national park is less than it was 5 years ago. So perhaps these great natural resources aren't as well appreciated as they used to be. Maybe if oil was discovered in Muir Woods....

We had a great time emptying our credit card in an all vegan shop called Otsu. The guys running it were really friendly. We even found vegan marshmallows and bought their entire stock, a paltry 3 bags. Vegan marshmallows are hard to get. These ones are from Vegan Supreme Marshmallows. They pointed out a completely vegetarian supermarket not far away called Rainbow, a workers' co-operative. It was a bit busy to even get parking nearby so we passed on it yesterday. Apart from the sheer novelty value that such a thing actually exists, I'm not sure that being on honeymoon we have much business going supermarket shopping,but we might go back before we leave anyway!

The guys in Otsu made a funny comment, which I guess is mostly universally true. We were talking about how great San Francisco was for vegans and all the restaurants, shops, supermarkets and facilities there were to make life easy, especially compared to Dublin, which incidentally isn't that bad at all for vegans. Their immediate reaction was "New York is much better for vegans, it has 55 vegetarian/vegan restaurants, the most in the world". The grass is always greener!

We spend some time and a lot of money in a posh nightclub place upstairs in the hotel we're staying in, called Harry Denton's Starlight Room. If you're not dressed up you're allowed in from 6-8pm and they strongly encourage reservations for later in the evening. We were undecided as to whether it was a Betty Gable or a James Bond kind of place. But it's on the 21st floor sitting at a table with a view across the San Francisco skyline sipping cocktails. We had a good time. It's nice to have time to actually talk, with children around going out is an enjoyable experience, but very different. We made yet another resolution to find a babysitter and Do This More Often.

So in a few minutes we're off to Google where Rose-Anne can experience the delights of Charlie's cooking. The Google canteen must a contender for one of the best vegan cafes in the Bay Area, except that it isn't open to allcomers. it usually has two or three main dishes suitable for vegans each day, with lots of standbys (like the salad bar and the Middle Eastern food) which are always available. I was surprised to still fit into my wedding suit when I came back after a month of this cooking. Rose-Anne's not really a meet the work mates kind of person, so I hope she enjoys it. Plus we get to do our laundry for free!


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Back in San Francisco

We got back into San Francisco last night after a mammoth 12 hour drive from Death Valley. In hindsight there could have been more planning there, but when you want to cram as much as possible in.... We're now staying in a pretty fancy hotel near Union Square with a Beefeater guarding the door. Very authentic and historic.

I managed to get the hire car stuck in mud in Death Valley, we probably found the only wet patch in the driest part of California. We had plenty of help to push it out, luckily we were right beside civilisation at the time. We even drove back through snow - I guess even though it's pretty much winter time, but we were expecting Death Valley to be a bit warmer!

Today was a little more relaxed, our major struggle was with the huge choice in Herbivore, a vegan restaurant in the Mission district. I think Rose-Anne asked the waiter three different times whether a particular item was vegan. We were like kids in a sweet shop with too much to choose from!