August 19, 2010

3 days in Singapore

So me and Z-mama (now my "baby-mama") are on our BabyMoon. She had to work for the first week or so at the Inaugural Visa sponsored Youth Olympic Games, so I was let loose upon Singapore. Courtesy of her employer, we stayed at the magnificent (and historic) Fullerton Hotel, a transformed post-office with views over the water and the new Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Five star service, no matter how you're dressed! (I say this because I showed up with a ragged backpack, cargo pants and 4-day stubble and was still addressed with a polite "welcome mister, can we help you?").

Singapore is not a place to visit as a tourist. Ridiculously efficient, incredibly modern, completely under construction, the place is simply sterile. There's very little to do as a tourist beside eating and shopping. Sure, you can go visit Chinatown, but every Chinatown in the world is the same - shops selling LV knockoffs, cheap chopsticks, and those annoying chirping contraptions which I always wonder who buys them. And the Singapore shopping baffled my mind - Orchard road is a mecca to consumeratism with mall after mall after mall touting the same luxury brands, the same western stores, and the same tight, but sexy pants. Since I'm not a shopper, this part of Singapore completely bored me.

Luckily, I love to eat. And eat, I did. Singapore has incredible food - and not just tasty food, but a variety of food to try! On our first night, me and Z-mama (on the recommendation of a local), headed 20 mins out of downtown to the famed Longbeach restaurant. Longbeach does one thing, and one thing really, really well - crab. While I had been dying to try the famous Singapore Chili Crab, i was devasted to discover that the recipe called for copious amounts of fresh eggs. This, of course, would kill me. The waitress at Longbeach advised that the recipe without eggs was like a Mexican wedding without a Mariachi Band. So, as a consolation prize, we ordered the Black Pepper Crab and the Ginger/Scallion Crab. Wow!!! I can only imagine how good the Singapore Chili Crab must be.

The next day, we headed out to Little India, to be with our people. Singapore has a large, vibrant population of Indians who have comandeered a part of town to look, feel, and - sadly - smell, just like India. And that part of town is legendary for some of its food. Shaz' wife's sister works in Little India, so we headed out to find her. Side note - she's a spitting image of Shaz's wife. And, like Shaz' wife, she loves to eat. So she took us to the best indian joint in Singapore. There, we feasted on Fish Head Curry. Ok, I have to admit that I was extremely skeptical about a dish that revolves around fish heads (it conjures up memories of a bad 80s music video), but when Shaz's wife tells me I have to try something, I listen. That woman knows her food! And wow, was I surprised. The Fish Head Curry was INCREDIBLE! One of THE best indian dishes I've ever had. Picture a fish head, eye balls, teeth, grinning cheeks and all, staring you down, floating in a spicy, succulent broth of heaven... and that's fish head curry. We mopped every last bite. Yum.

Other highlights from Singapore:

1. me and Z-mama hit the hawker stands (Lau Pan Sat, I think it's called) - a bunch of small stalls each specializing in one dish, all assembled under one roof. Of course, we tried Singapore Chicken from two different stalls (yum), we also sampled Laksa (very fishy), as well as duck noodles (the duck was great, the noodles were filler).

2. I headed to see the new Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Highly recommend checking it out, if only for entertainment value. Reputed to have cost $4B (yes, billion), this hotel sitting on an island of landfill has 2400 rooms that have phenomenal views over the Singapore Skyline. The casino cost $100 if you're from Singapore. If you're not from there, be sure to bring your passport. Make sure you pay the $20 to go to the roof to check out the city views as well as the infinity pool. Yep, amazing.

December 25, 2009

Puerta Vallarta, Mexico

While it probably doesn't really qualify as a "real" travel trip, Z-mama and I are now in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico - my first time ever to Mexico. Yes, I also scratched my head when I realized that I hadn't yet set foot south of the US border - not even Tijuana!

This touristy, beach town is hardly taxing. Everyone speaks English and the Gringos probably outnumber the locals. In fact, tonight we had dinner at Joe Jack's Fish Shack, which is owned and operated by the same guy who ran Luna Park and Supper Club, two San Francisco restaurants a stone's throw from the Noe House. So far, we have run into a number of US citizens as well as a large population of sun-drenched, leathery-skinned French Canadians. Funny enough, the enterprising locals haven't yet put poutine on the menu.

While many tourists end up staying at one of mega all-inclusive resorts, we opted instead to find a condo in the Old Town. We rented a delightful 1200 sq ft condo (which we found using that sits at the top of a steep cobblestone road in the "romantic zone." We have local families as our neighbors and, today being Christmas, they were out in the streets in full force. A few had even hung up Santa Claus or Snowman Pinatas. One of our neighbors owns a powerful stereo system and he generously cranked up the mariachi music for the block, most of whom had started drinking Coronas by noon. Around 7pm they started to set off their fireworks and at 9pm they rolled out the ATVs.

The view from our outdoor balcony (which includes our own pool) is spectacular, and we expect to enjoy our morning coffee while admiring the ocean and the mountains. So far, so good.

December 24, 2007

Sundrenched Udaipur

Udaipur is gorgeous. A white palace, prohibitively expensive beyond the means of the ordinary tourist, floats in the middle of a lake, surrounded by lush green hills. Luxury hotels cluster around the edge of the lake, promising romantic, roof-top views, perfect sunsets, and "Indian, Continental, and Chinese" food. And every roof-top boasts a 7:30pm screening of Octopussy, the Roger Moore 007 flick that was partly filmed here.

We have spent the past three days doing nothing but sitting and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We found a lakeside restaurant called Ambrai, where the food is better than average, the sunshine is plentiful, and the views are stunning.

We did visit the city palace, but, after having seen about 4 other Rajput palaces in the past two weeks, we decided not to go inside. An enterprising security guard tried to stop us before we could even get into the palace grounds.

"Yes, please?" he asked, motioning for tickets.
"Oh, we're just going to sit in the garden.
"Yes, no problem. 10 rupees each."
We looked around - no one else had been stopped.
"Is this 10 rupees for YOU or for the palace?" I asked.
He couldn't suppress a guilty smile.
"That what' s I thought," I said, as we pushed past him.

We are on our way to Mumbai in two hours.

December 20, 2007

Haggling in Jodhpur

Haggling in India is very much about the "walk-away." Compared to haggling in China or South EastAsia, where it is very much about a softer discussion in which both parties try to save face, the Indian Haggle is in your face, involves a bit of raised voices, and, to get that last little bit, requires walking away. It is not, however, as involved as the middle-eastern haggle, in which both parties are expected to yell at each other and I will invariably be accused of being the "mother of a goat."

With Indian rickshaws, the routine is very much:
Rickshaw driver: "Where you go? Rickshaw?"
Me: "Sure, take me to the clock tower."
"Ok, ok, get in. No problem."
"How much?"
"Get in, get in, no problem."
"How much?"

(pause as he sizes me up)
"100 rupees."
"100 rupees??? No way. 25."
"No. Those people (pointing at a random rickshaw) pay 100."
"Ok" (walking away)
"Ok, no problem. Get in. 70 rupees. Last price!"
"No. 30 rupees. Let's go."
"No vay!" (I start walking away again)
"Ok, ok. Last last price. 40 rupees. Indian price!"
"30 rupees"
"Ok. 30 rupees. Get in, no problem."

On the other hand, haggling for larger sums is more involved. This morning, I negotiated a taxi for tomorrow from Jodphur to Udaipur with our hotel owner. We both sat down at a table, exchanged pleasantries, commented on the weather, and talked softly. After about 20 minutes of chatting, we got down to business and I knocked about 40% off his first asking price. I am still paying 10% more than market price (if I had gone directly to a taxi driver), but I wanted the security of going through a hotel and having accountability.

We spent a lazy day up in Jodhpur's fort. Even after seeing multiple forts, castles, palaces, and temples over the past10 days, this one still stood out. I would highly recommend it to anyone. The views are incredible, the fort is beautiful, and the audio guide (commissioned by the Maharaja himself) is extremely informative and helpful.