Monday, May 3, 2010

On the road again

We left Vancouver on Saturday morning for our latest adventure. We're off to India for three weeks. A big thanks goes out to Victoria for giving us a ride to the airport at an ungodly early hour.

A big thanks also goes out to Andrea and Jim at TBWA\Vancouver for letting me disappear for so long. Thanks guys.

We dined at the airport Milestones then caught the first leg of our trip, Vancouver to Toronto via Air Canada. Toronto to Brussels was our next leg, after a two hour layover. We were with Jet Airways, which I had read was a pretty good airline, but was actually awful. The seats were tiny and the service was pretty bad. They were very understaffed and very slow. A request for a Coke with dinner was answered with a "I'll see what I can do" and a 20 minute wait. Very odd.

We had a 3 hour wait in Brussels for our next leg to Mumbai. By this time we were pretty tired, but still eager to go. The Brussels airport is a terrific pan-European hub, with terribly Euro looking people who all speak far too many languages and make us feel inadequate. While we sat there waiting for our plane we were able to watch them open the cowling on the engines of our aircraft and do repairs. Not terribly encouraging. Not surprisingly, our flight was delayed by an hour and a bit, but eventually we got underway again with Jet Airways bound for Bombay Airport. They were a little better this time, but still not great. When we got near Mumbai our pilot announced that we'd been put in a queue and would have to wait for another hour to land. Nice!

After 30 hours we finally arrived at Bombay Airport. After such a long trip I was glad that I'd arranged for car service and made reservations at a decent hotel. When we left the airport we walked around the circle where all the guys stand with their signs with the names of the people who they are there to pick up. Our name wasn't on any of them. Our car service wasn't there. It was 2:00 AM and we'd need to get a Mumbai cab to our hotel. It was about 30 degrees out and I didn't want to deal with the chaos. The joys of travel.

We got a cab to our hotel, but when I mentioned my name and reservation they looked confused. They were full for the night and didn't have any reservation under my name. When they asked if I had a confirmation I pulled out my laptop and pulled up the e-mail. I realized immediately my error, I'd made the reservation for April 2nd, not May. Crap!

The guy at the hotel was great. He could have easily turned us away. They said they didn't have a room, but he miraculously found us a spare room at the top of the building. At 3:00 AM, after travelling for a day and a half, I wasn't going to be picky. The AC didn't work well, and there was no TP, but it was just fine after my screw-up. (Which also explained the lack of car service. Some poor guy was probably at the airport to meet us in early April. Sorry dude!) Our theory was that the room was for the staff, since several seemed to be sleeping in the stairwell (Welcome to India), but it was also nicely prepared and actually quite pleasant. We would have been happy to stay there a few days.

The next morning, after a few hours of sleep, we had breakfast at the hotel. When the people in the restaurant asked us for our room number, to charge breakfast, we told them we were in room 309. They looked at us funny and said there was no such room. They didn't believe us until we showed them our room key. This happened a few times. I'd love to know what that room was really for.

Later, we asked the hotel if we could stay. Sadly, no, they were all booked, but they were happy to set us up in their sister hotel, the Regent. Colleen and I debated it, since it didn't sound great, but I didn't want to be hotel hunting when I was so tired, so we took it.

We went over to the Regent. It looked OK, but not great. We got room 411, which meant we took the elevator to the 4th floor and then stairs up to the 5th where we got another mystery room. I don't think this was a normal room for guests either. Three single beds and a very beat up paint job. That's the punishment I get for not being able to read a calendar. But it's fine and I'm not complaining, 'cause we've got a room and it's clean and the beds are decent.

Our biggest challenge yesterday was booking a ticket out of Mumbai. Our next destination is Goa, to the south, and I thought that taking an overnight train down there would be a pretty cool way to see the countryside. We made our way over to Victoria Station (aka CST) and found the Foreigner Ticket Booking window. We filled out the forms and waited in the yellow Foreigner benches. Eventually we got to the front of the line, only to be informed that first class was all sold out, but there were a few tickets left in second. We happily took them when we learned that most of the trains at this time were already sold out, but that a few tickets were set aside for tourists.

It sounds sad, but by the time we'd sorted out the tickets we were exhausted. We hadn't slept well, and the walk over to the station was a sensory overload. Mumbai has 16 million people in it, 2.5 million go through CST every day, the streets are pure chaos with black and yellow cabs honking, and it's 40 degrees out. There are no crosswalks to speak of, so you dodge traffic and hope for the best. The poverty is pretty amazing, with people sleeping on the sidewalks all over the place, but no worse than we'd expected and no worse than in other countries we've been. The building are beautiful but run down. The food looks delicious, but we haven't had a chance to dive in properly yet.

After CST we needed to rest. We headed to a restaurant called Moshe's, which served a mix of global foods and delicious cold drinks. We pigged out then headed back to the hotel to crash out, watch global TV, plan our next steps, and nap but try to not fall asleep. We had to deal with our jet lag.

We weren't hungry for dinner, but we found a great little place for more cold drinks and apple crumble. Then we were ready to finally head back to sleep.

This morning we dined in our terrible hotel dining room, with the sound of construction happening right beside us. We got out of there to have coffee at the much more pleasant and touristy Cafe Leopold.
We then went hunting for WiFi access to let friends and family know we'd arrived OK. For one of the world's tech hubs, WiFi is somewhat hard to find here. In one coffee shop we asked a guy on a computer where to find it, and he directed us to the Kala Ghoda Cafe near Rhythm House.

His directions were bad, but after wandering around the block a few times we found it. It's perfect. A tiny little place with painted brick walls. I don't think they're looking for tourist Internet users, but it's an ideal spot for AC and Internet.

We're off now to hit a few more of the Mumbai highlights. Stay tuned for more updates.

India question - What's up with all the guys with the bad red hair dye jobs. It seems very common and isn't a young person thing.

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