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Italy Trip Report : Lake Como

Posted on August 3rd, 2006 filed in Travelogues
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Lake Como, the must see destination for everyone visiting Italy, is a charming, picturesque, and romantic glacial lake nestled in the Italian Alps in close proximity to the Swiss border.

Lake Como is shaped like the greek letter lambda (reverse Y). Its three branches (Como Branch, Letto Branch, and Upper Lake) can be reached via the efficient (yet very expensive) ferry service operating around the clock from early morning till shortly after midnight. The main destinations on lake Como include Como, Bellagio, Menaggio, and Tremezzo.

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Italian Opera Take 1: La Scala, Milan

Posted on July 10th, 2006 filed in travel articles
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La Scala, arguably the most famous and prestigious opera theater, is an upscale venue located at the Piazza Del Scala, at the heart of Milan within close proximity to the Galleria and Duomo, two of Milan’s most famous landmarks. Best way to reach the theatre is via the Metro Duomo station. Italians take their opera here very seriously as evidenced by the Gucci, Armani and other super expensive formal dress code and the ubiquitous high heels, full makeup and jewelry.

The performance usually starts at 8 pm, unless the showing is exceptionally long when it would start earlier (All Scala performances must end before midnight). Late arrivals are denied entry until the intermission. Ushers, however, at their discretion, may allow late arrivals to watch the show while standing at the theater entrance irrespective of what seats the tickets are actually for. Around 30 minutes later, and based on availability, tardy folks would be seated on one of the top level cubicles, again until the intermission. No exceptions are ever made (Richard Burton was reportedly denied entry once when he failed to arrive on time).

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Travelogue: A Chicago Tour with a Twist

Posted on May 12th, 2006 filed in Travelogues
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I’ve been to Chicago many times and I am quite fond of the city, its downtown, night scene, shopping experience, pizza joints, and the Sears Tower. And, as with all that is familiar, my Chicago trips, while very rich, lack as they no more have the novelty factor, the feeling you have when you first visit a place for the first time. Try to recall the first time you visited the Niagara Falls and compare that with the subsequent visits. Sure it is comforting to know a place very well but it takes an ingredient of novelty for that essential je-ne-sais-quoi to make a travel experience unforgettable.

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Travelogue: 7 days in Manhattan

Posted on December 10th, 2005 filed in Travelogues
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I just returned from a 7 day trip to Manhattan and things have changed quite much since my last visit some years ago.

Many previously seedy neighborhoods are now happening places beaming with energy and tourists. Most notable of these is Bryant’s Park, previously a junkies’ paradise, and now a fleet market filled with art, jewelry, and bead stores. There are many restaurants on site as well as a lovely Ice Skating rink bringing Manhattan iceskating destinations to 3 (Central Park and Rockfeller center being the other two).

Overall Manhattan continues its metamorphosis started by Mayor Giuliani many years ago. I can recall when 42nd street was a must avoid unless you are looking for some illegal drugs or sleazy sex shows. Now it is the absolute center of the town and a great part of the city to enjoy.

Another change I noted is the abundance of security personnel everywhere, and that’s just from observing the ones clearly dressed as such. I was told that are many more civilian looking security personnel everywhere as well. I guess it’s good, as it likely leads to more security, but also quite sad and a memento of the days we live in.

Manhattan has also gone insanely expensive these last few years. In 1999, I stayed at the Marriott Marquis for $170 USD per night and was lodged in a great room on a 25+ floor with a fascinating view of Broadway. This time, the cheapest at the Marquis was $525 USD!!! Unbelievable. And this is not a high season by any means.

I stayed at 3 *** hotel for $300 USD per night. Absolutely insane. Never would I have envisaged such change of events.

Manhattan was also for me the shopping Mecca for electronic gadgets and anything related to photography. I found out this time that this no more the case. The stores are still there but the internet is now the best place to buy anything. I actually did not anticipate that at all. But as I browsed through the numerous stores and went through the serious bargaining and haggling one to expect, I came to the conclusion that getting my stuff from the net is much better . I already had my list of things to buy and the corresponding internet prices and these I could not match anywhere. Additional huge advantages include the saving of sales tax (8.75% there) and the convenience of placing your order anytime and with zero headache (no hassle or haggling). And many stores have a shipping free policy if order exceeds a certain amount. So I ended up buying next to nothing from Broadway and instead having all delivered to my hotel. Things worked out quite well this way and I ended up saving $500 on a $3000 bill.
It was also bitterly cold but that was expected. My eskimo hat, scarf, and gloves were of great use.

No trip to Manhattan is complete without the Broadway musicals. I saw 4 shows this trip: Chicago (Amazingly I prefer the movie), Fiddler on the Roof (Great music), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (John Lithgow of 3rd rock on the Sun), and Sweet Charity (starring the lovely Christina Applegate).

For quick bites, Europa cafes are recommended. These are interspersed throughout Manhattan and are a great and healthy choice for a soup, salad, or sandwich. For more fancy dining, my favorite remains the Marriott Marquis revolving restaurant sumptuous dinner buffet.

Broadway remains as always the happening place. It is amazing how many people walk that street everyday. The stores there remain fabulous, from Sports Authority to Toys R Us. I spent two hours that the Sports Authority place trying the new Adidas-with-computer-chip tennis shoe but never succeeding to make it work or actually getting impressed. Bought lots of stuff though from that store.

Found an internet place that was quite affordable on 42nd street between 7th and 8th avenue. I paid 4$ for 4 hours of use and you can stop and come back anytime to use your remaining time. The connection was fast and the place was spacious and clean.
On my way back to my hotel at 1:00 am, I passed by the huge Loews movie theatre that has like 42 screens. Rent was playing and it was starting in 15 minutes so I went in and watched that. I had to take 10 levels of escalators to reach the actual hall where the film was playing! I thouroughly enjoyed the movie and on my way out, I saw a number of policemen on horses. It was 3:00 am and quite a sight!

Security in NY.jpg

Overall, I had a great time in Manhattan but for sure wish it was not as insanely expensive as it currently is. Still, I can’t wait to come back again, few years down the road.


Travel Article: Spain Travel Tips

Posted on September 29th, 2005 filed in Travel Tips
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1) There are two very original and must see (and experience) festivals in Spain:

a) Running from the Bulls :

This takes place from July 6-14 in Pamplona (250 miles hours north of Madrid, in the vicinity of Bilboa, close to the Atlantic Ocean, and near the start of the Pyrenees mountains). Basically, and as its name implies, at 7:00 am of each morning, thousands of locals and tourists gather to basically run from a hord of bulls, released from the stables. The event lasts for 10 minutes and is for the most part safe (There have been a small number of injuries and few fatalities reported in the history of the festival so far). Risk of injury would statistically be more from stampede (In case of tripping) than from the bulls.

b) Tomatina Festival:

This occurs on August 31 in Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain, a short distance south of Barcelona. Tens of thousands of people converge on this small town to take place in the largest tomato fight in the world. Dozens of trucks unload ripe tomatoes and then it’s every one for him(her)self. Few minutes later, it is over. The cleaning crew takes over and shortly afterwards, everything is back to normal with no sign whatsoever of what just happened.

2) The best time to visit Spain is April-June and September-October. July and August are extremely hot (Exception being the Atlantic border and the northern part of the country). In the afternoon during these two months, stores close and everyone goes for siesta.

3) Each part of Spain has its own character, appeal, and charm: Atlantic coast, Madrid, Barcelona, Andalussia, Canary islands, Majorcas,…). You need no less than 3 weeks (Preferably 4) to have a full itinerary and visit most of the country.

4) Ibiza is the current partying capital of the world. You can take a ferry from Barcelona or Valencia or fly from a large number of european cities.

5) Tapas are a must to try when in a spanish restaurant. This is a collection of a variety of ethnic foods served in small plates.

6) Spain currency is the euro.

7) Spain is part of the Shengen agreement regarding visas. Americans and Canadians do not need a visa to visit Spain.


Travel Article: Toronto Gems

Posted on March 17th, 2005 filed in travel articles
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My list of favorite things to do and enjoy in Toronto:

1) Roller blade or bicycle on the 40 mile waterfront path by Ontario Lake

2) Take the ferry (May-September) from Queens Quay to Toronto Islands and have a great outdoors day.

3) Enjoy great dining in the Entertainment District. Catch a movie in the fabulous ‘Famous Players’ movie theatre on Richmond and John

4) Check out Cinematheque listing and see if any favorite classic movie is showing on the big screen Last time, I watched ‘The Apartment’ the hilarious film by Jack palance and Shirly Maclaine. Another time, I landed on ‘Seven Year Itch’, arguably the most memorable movie of the late Marilyn Monroe.

5) Have a fabulous brunch buffet on Sunday at the roof of Westin Harbour Castle.

6) Attend an open air hockey game in Air Canada Center. Whenever weather permits, they slide off the roof and it’s an awesome experience.

7) Attend a concert at the Air Canada Center. I still recall the Eric Clapton concert as it were yesterday.

8) Attend one of the many musicals playing at the various theatres. Toronto is considered the third musical country of the world after New York and London. Mamma Mia world premiere was there and it was fabulous.

9) Attend an Opera at the Humminbird Center for the Performing Arts. The Toronto Opera Society usually does a great job with reasonably priced lavish productions.

10) Stroll in Yonge Street (Longest street in the world)
11) Have a night out with outdoor dining in gorgeous Yorkville.

12) Check out the various luxury stores in Yorkville.

13) Spend a day of nice weather at The Beaches. Clamor in warm sand for miles and miles.

14) Take a side trip to Port Hope (In September) and be ready for more salmon than you have ever seen (Migration destination).

15) Attend the Toronto International Fim Festival in September. It is the second most important film festival after Cannes.

16) In the winter, ice skating on the waterfront at the Harbourfront center.

17) Toronto skyline admiration from the Islands in the summer and the rotating restaurant at the top floor of the Westin Harbour Castle.
Things to avoid in Toronto:

1) Driving. One can literally get stuck in traffic for hours in rush periods. Walking is the best method of transportation followed by subway and then cab. Driving is the worst.

a) Significant time will be wasted in traffic

b) Parking, as in any big city, is extremely expensive.

c) A cab will drop one at the door whereas you can only park in parking facilities which may be 5-10 minutes walking distance

Recommendation: Rent a car in case of outside trips. In all other instances walk, bike, rollerblade, take the subway, or a cab.


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