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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’


February 2008. One of the best Februaries of my life and I procrastinated for a whole year to blog about it. Sigh.

Anyways. Don’t want to waste too much print on lamentations.

Flashback 12 months. Hubby and I are still the star struck newly weds. It’s my second month in the US of A and I have already had a delightful trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hubby loves to travel and so he suggests we pool in our resources and take a second mini vacation of the month. The destination? California!

My uber cool cousin already lives there and so it’s the proverbial two birds with a stone plan- hang around with Munnu Bhai and gallivant in San Francisco. Stuff that dreams are made of, said Shakespeare once. Alhamdulilah. Allah has been very kind.

*Sinks into dreamland before jerking and getting back to the post*

Ahem!

So- the date is marked out. It’s going to be the President’s day weekend. Off we are to Midway airport to catch the Southwest flight to San José. Full four hours to get there! Whoever thought America was THAT big? That’s longer than it takes from Mumbai to Dubai!

Me and Javed at Stanford University

Me and Javed at Stanford University

We land, I call my brother, he says he is coming in his car to pick us up and I just can’t control my excitement. After all, it’s been ages since I last saw him in flesh and blood myself. So I peer restlessly into every car that comes at the airport curb, hoping to see my good ‘ol cousin pal. I see a white sedan and lo behold! That must be him in it! Oh he’s waving too! I wave back frantically with both my arms, I jump and I yell, “There’s Munnu Bhai! There he is!'” The car closes in and the driver slows down near another passenger instead and before Javed can say, ‘ I don’t think that’s your cousin,’ I do a quick about turn to hide my mortification. For once, I am more embarrassed than my husband at my antics. Grrrr.

Oh well. Munnu Bhai does eventually turn up, albeit to a much soberer reception. He drives us into his super posh apartment complex as I look around agape with eyes popping out and say things like ‘You live HERE?’, ‘a WALK-IN closet?’ and things to that effect.

View from MB's window

View from MB's window

The good ‘ol cousin does a Top Chef and cooks up some delectable chicken curry. We munch and watch a movie on his Bravia and flip through a coffee table book on the godfather. (He swears by it)

Top Chef!

Top Chef!

I need to pace this thing up. I am still in San José! I don’t get in to SF till tomorrow! But I do need to mention that MB took us to the Stanford University campus that evening. No, I am not going to gush out superlatives here. It might make me sound immature, because seriously, the campus was a rocker! Now I know why Stanford’s such a big deal.

Javed at Stanford

Javed at Stanford

Brother-Sister :)

Brother-Sister 🙂

Brothers (in-law) in arms

Brothers (in-law) in arms

Next, MB drives to the Google complex. Unfortunately we can’t get in. Visitor hours are over but I can proudly say, ‘I WAS THERE’. I honestly was!

OUtside Google

Outside Google

I have to say, the area around San Jose is beautiful. The landscape just took my breath away, Mashalah. After weeks of the freezing Chicagoan winter, the sun, the smiling bright flowers and gentle green mounds of grass on all the roads were such a welcome delight!

MB was being the perfect host. He rounded up the day with some sizzling barbecued fish on his terrace. Umm yumm. I say, he’s all in the wrong profession. He really should’ve been a hotelier or something.

Barbecued Fish: Anthony Bourdain would've been impressed!

Soon later, the flight’s after effects begin to take a toll on me so I simply flop on the cushy-cushy bed. Yawwwn. Actually I am feeling quite sleepy myself. I think I’d need a recharge before the next installment. Zzzzzz. Seeya in a bit!

More pictures of the trip

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indian curry

Call me biased if you like. But for me, there is nothing that tastes better than subcontinental cuisine. Though I do enjoy Italian and Middle Eastern fare too, I have a definite weakness for the Indian curry. Now Indians (or anyone from the subcontinent for that matter) shouldn’t get me wrong here. When I say ‘curry’ I don’t mean the yogurt and besan dish, ‘kadi‘.  (That’s the only dish we natives come near to calling ‘curry’) I use it as a generic term for any spiced concoction of Indian origin. Indians, or at least North Indians would probably use ‘Tari’, ‘Masala’, ‘Saalan’, ‘Korma’, etc. for these heavily seasoned dishes, but the general term, in the Western world at least, is ‘curry’. So curry it is.

This humble contrivance has steadily been gaining popularity on the other side of the Indian Ocean. So much that in the 1990’s the Chicken Tikka Masala  was heralded as the “British national dish.” So it was little surprise for me to see so many India and Pakistani restaurants here in Chicago. My husband’s favorite spot would obviously be Devon Avenue, a street teeming with shops with delectable names. (Check his post on this.)

Since my arrival less than a month ago, I have sampled the Devon menu quite a few times, my favorite till date being Sabri‘s, a Pakistani restaurant that served authentic and absolutely out of the world Nihari and Biryani. One day however,  my husband suggested we go to Grand Avenue instead, to a place called India House. The name struck me as a little unimaginative. After all, don’t restaurants always have fancy names? Like Indian Durbar or Zaika or something like that. “You will love the food,” Javed told me, and I took his word for it. And I was more than rewarded for the same.

When you first enter India House, you like the ambience and the decor. You like the warm service. You also  like the squeaky clean crockery. But once you come to the food, you more than like what you see. And taste of course.

India House offers an unlimited buffet with at least 40 different things to choose from. And if sheer variety is something you dig for, wait till you hear how well cooked it was. The paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in the Kadai Paneer is so creamy and tender that it sort of melts in your mouth. So were the potatoes in the Aloo Bukhara. And the fish curry is an absolute must with the vegetable pulav. And the naans? Just as naans should be. Succulent, soft, scrumptious.

As soon as we took our seats, my husband directed me to the buffet table. I skipped several dishes because my plate was already so piled up with what I had picked. I made a note of a few items I wanted to sample on my second round. As we returned to our table, we saw a platter of sizzling chicken tandoori and a basket of hot naans waiting for us. Unfortunately we had to return the chicken as it was not Halaal and the waiters were honest enough to tell us that.

The samosas were, as they say, ‘just like how they make ’em back home’. And if you choose the samosa, you must never forget to take the accompanying green coconut chutney. Despite having a thorough non-vegetarian palate, I quite enjoyed the plethora of delicious vegetarian dishes before me. Of course, I did find a few disappointing numbers too, the Kadi-bhajia for instance.  But the good ones outnumbered the not so good ones and so I am not complaining too much.

For dessert my husband chose Gulab Jamuns and rice Kheer, I chose a mango Kulfi, something like an ‘iced’ ice cream. The kulfi was nice, but I can say I have definitely tasted better. From the look of my husband, I think he pretty much enjoyed his selection and I wish I had taken his lead.

We obviously skipped the Kheema-mutter, Chicken Biryani and a host of other non-vegetarian dishes because they weren’t Halaal, an issue I feel very tempted to bring up with the manager. It is absolutely unjust to be deprived from sampling the entire menu!

We left the restaurant, feeling quite satisfied, both with the food as well as the bill. IH doesn’t pinch your wallet too hard and it’s value for money. And by looking at the diverse ethnicity of the clientele, it seems to be a hit not only with the Indians, but with the others too. Hmm. Sabri still scores for its simple seduction of the taste buds but IH is most definitely worth a visit too.

P.S. More posts on the Indian Curry:

Fish! (Konkani Surmai fry fish with creamy Coconut Urad Dal)

and

Something’s Cookin’! (Konkani again- Prawn ‘n Peppper Coconut Curry)

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My husband loves traveling. So it was only a matter of time before we set out of the cozy confines of Chicago. At least for the weekend.

So we embarked on our first little getaway. The destination chosen was Ann Arbor, Michigan- a place Javed has visited nearly a hundred times, AA being home to Michigan University; where best friend Hirak and wife Sumedha are pursuing their Ph.D’s.

So off we were on a frosty Friday evening towards the railway station. So frosty was it, that Javed put ‘Vanilla Morning’ as his Gtalk status. Sure looked like we were walking in a humongous freezer with heaps of ice cream everywhere. A picturesque journey to the station, if not the snuggest. ann arbor n lakewood 030

Luckily for us, at least the train left on time. As for reaching the destination, the lesser said about Amtrak, the better. Anyway, reach we did, at almost midnight, hardly a time to soak in the environs of a new place. But what I saw in the next couple of days was this: AA is a quaint little town, very unlike Chicago. Quite streets, old gabled houses of wood. Each looking as if it had sprung to life from your bed time story book. Or Barbie’s doll house set. Open, airy porches with white washed wooden chairs. Icicles hanging from railings. A church that seemed to tell the tale of generations gone by. Old world charm. Mingled with Starbucks and Urban Outfitters. Stuff that post cards are made of. Here are some pics Javed clicked on his last visit. Much better in summer, I must say.

Anyway, Hirak came to pick us up from the station in his dainty little car (it has just two doors!) and once inside their cozy house (and a few helpings of chocolate walnut cake baked for the newly wedded couple), it was show time. Well, at least for Hirak and Javed. I looked with amusement as my husband guffawed uproariously to his old pal’s jokes. Quite a switch from his otherwise mild demeanor. Oh well. Old friendships die hard, I guess.

After a whole day of lounging before the TV (the weather didn’t seem very inviting), we needed to get out of the house. Dinner thus was reserved at this beautifully done up Middle Eastern restaurant called Lashish. ann arbor n lakewood 021

The decor was just as appetizing as the delicious food. Highly recommended if you are one for crunchy Falafels, tender Kababs and Shwerma or juicy Bakhlavas. Add good service and its a scrumptious affair.  And the best part? It’s Halal! Go dig in!ann arbor n lakewood 011

ann arbor n lakewood 013

The evening rounded up with some hilarious games of cards and Amir Khan’s latest flick on dyslexic children, Taare Zameen Par, a movie I found a tad bit disappointing; the brickbats for which I will reserve for a better time. For now we move on to the next day, when Hirak and Sumedha gave us a tour of the University campus. Or at at least a part of it. Whatever they could squeeze in the time we had. For one, it IS a HUGE place! Nothing like what we have back home. Being one of the most well endowed universities in the country has its share of up sides. And it shows. The sprawling campus and state of the art infrastructure is good enough to make even studying addictive. Which is saying a lot.

After about two hours of being impressed by the Uni’s formidable structures, we descended to mundanities again. One of the things I happened to observe, is that no matter how academically inclined a girl might be, her first love, for all it’s worth, is still going to be – shopping. And ice cream. And well chocolate too. A fact consolidated by Sumedha’s forceful invasions of the fashion stores. And ice cream parlors. Just the kind of accomplice I needed. So while the husbands rolled their eyes to the heavens, the wives’ club marched into the stores with aplomb. Of course that did not deter them from wise cracking. Men, after all, will be MEN; a fact I have gotten used to after being brought up with three brothers.

ann arbor n lakewood 033

After a brief stint in a souvenir store for University of Michigan (all the items had huge ‘M’s on them, ha!) the four of us walked down the streets of the University Town, contemplating on what we could do before it was time for good byes. The option of a movie was vetoed and so the three book lovers and one book liker (me, if you haven’t guessed) traipsed into a uniquely antique bookstore called the Dawn Treader Bookshop. The store has an incredible collection (and a mummy coffin shaped book case!), plus the oldest editions of P.G. Wodehouse and several autographed books to boot. While my self proclaimed artist of a husband picked up a book on sketching landscapes and a book on New writings from the Middle East, I picked up The Mother Tongue a humorous review of ‘English & How it got that way’ by Bill Bryson, a writer my husband has gotten me hooked to lately.

After a few more rounds of jokes and laughter (and some hot onion bhajias, yum!) Hirak suggested we go to Ann Arbor’s famed Zingerman’s bakehouse and creamery. Amtrak did not let us down. As expected, the train was running late again, so we could squeeze a good half hour in this place which has got a wide variety of bread, cheese, chocolates, you-name-its. And all of them fresher than fresh, exclusive and somewhat expensive. But good stuff is good stuff. Hubby picked some sour dough with chocolate chips and Sumedha made us try an assortment of cheese. Now I must say, I have a somewhat conservative taste in food; I don’t even have fruit in the middle of a meal because fruit is sweet and well, curry is spicy. Too much confusion for the taste buds. But if you like sampling new flavors and tastes, it’s THE place for you. Check out their site to see what this exotic eatery’s all about.

Well folks. That’s all for now. More after the next weekend, Inshalah. Toodle-loo!

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Brrr. If there’s one thing you need to get used to in Chicago, it’s the cold. Coming from the very tropical India, the move to Illinois has been pretty smooth except for this. Last week it was a staggering -17 degrees (Celsius of course) and trust me that’s C-O-L-D! But I don’t want to complain too much. At least when I am back in the home land I can proudly boast that I have weathered the thickest Chicago temperatures, hehe.

Hmm. Sooooo. I landed in the States on January the Eighteenth, Two thousand and eight. And as the cab drifted lazily through the afternoon traffic from O’Hare to Sheridan road, my eyes looked wide-eyed everywhere, soaking in the new scenes and well, the snow!!! (can’t blame me for the exclamation marks, it was the first time I was seeing real snow!)

The journey had been quite thrilling and ‘adventurous’, if may just add. We drove from Pune to Mumbai on the 17th, a newly wedded couple, very much looking forward to a brand new chapter in our married lives. I for one was thrilled to bits. It had been almost 15 years since I had my last flight and the baby that I am, I was jumping at the prospect at being airborne again! Yippeee!

So we arrived at the airport, feeling very excited when BAM! A meteor hit us straight in the face. The lady at the Jet Airways counter told us that their system showed that our tickets to London (the stopover) had been canceled. I kid you not. When she said that, I actually felt my jaw drop a few inches in absolute shock, dismay and whatever-else-have- you. My husband, being the husband, probably couldn’t afford to be so obvious as me. Come to think of it, it would look downright ridiculous if the lady there had to face TWO people gaping at her with mouths wide enough to swallow a whale each. Or a whole apple at least. But perturbed he was. To add to the agony she said that the plane was full so they wouldn’t be able to accommodate us. And say, they did manage to put us on flight, we would be stranded at Heathrow because the system didn’t show our Virgin Atlantic booking from London to Chicago either. So we would be there alright, with no UK visa and probably be deported back at our own cost. Ack! The world was closing on us and how. Plus we couldn’t afford a delay as he was supposed to join work two days BEFORE the flight. Alas, we couldn’t get tickets for an earlier day. Now you think this is a thick situation? Wait till you hear more.

It was obvious that the goof up was by the travel site through which we had made the bookings. Courtesy calls that I do not mention any names. But if they don’t gimme a compensation I would sure want to get back! (Devilishly rubs palms together)

And so there we were, with hardly any Indian currency on us to make international calls to the stupid travel site. My husband kept telling them that he had a confirmation receipt in his hand but obviously it wasn’t helping. My cell phone had enough talk time but no international calling facility. So I began to frantically call my brothers, feeding them with flight details and telling them to make international calls left, right, center, or any direction that suited them best.

And then I did what seemed the most obvious thing to do. I was carrying a book of authentic dua’s of the Prophet (PBUH). And I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I kept mouthing the dua’s and asking Allah for help. And every time I read the dua’s with their translation I felt some peace. To say the situation was stressful is highly understating it. Hubby had some rupees and so decided to make a few calls himself. He asked me to stay with the baggage at a point and as the minutes past, I felt the tension mount. For three hours we were running from pillar to post trying to convince the officials but it wasn’t working. Well, you have no idea how it felt. And when the husband sat sat down exhausted, we both read out some duas and asked Allah for a way out. And Allah has power over all things, Sub-hanallah. Because finally the thing did get sorted out but we had to still wait. We could board the flight only if some passengers didn’t turn up, so they could give us their seats. In other words, we were still in limbo.

I watched helplessly as the line of passengers for the flight continued to grow. ‘Please stop coming!’ I heard myself say. My husband let out a tired laugh. ‘We should make it, I think,’ he said. And make it we did. About half an hour before take off we were given the go-ahead. We offered grateful thanks to the Almighty and though we were excited once again, we were feeling very much drained out. The past three hours had been nerve-wreckingly hectic to say the least and at 2.30 a.m. we could do with some food and sleep. Phew. Quite a night it had been. It was bad enough for us, but our folks at home couldn’t sleep either. They kept calling to check on us, or give us feedback from the calls they had made. And oh yes. We couldn’t even pay the pay phone guy his full due. We were totally run out of rupees and the ATM was a long way off. Poor guy let us go on goodwill, asking us to repay him the next time we were there. I hope we can do that.

Oh well. All’s well that ends well. Once in the plane, I was all excited again. I insisted on having a window seat. I think the hubby was a little amused. But I wasn’t going to let the events ruin my fun of the take off. Had been so looking forward to it all! It was amazing, having the bird’s eye view of Mumbai. And throughout the journey I could see street lights dotting the darkness thousands of feet below. As we traversed several sleepy European towns, I looked down with marvel at the world pass beneath me. I kept wondering, do those people down even realize that some one might be watching them so eagerly from above? And all I could see were only tiny golden dots of the street lights. Imagine how Allah must be doing it. Seeing every minute detail about us from above and we not even being aware of it. Sub-hanalah. Praise be to the Lord who gave us means of efficient transport, and means to appreciate his powers better. 🙂

Well. More coming up in the next few installments. If I don’t stop now, I might even consider writing a whole book! Just look at the length of this post! Don’t intend to be a bore (a prospect that I have already risked) so I wrap up here. Seeya later! 😉

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