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Archive for January, 2012

Since AM is away, I spent my Friday night and all of Saturday watching movies, given how much it snowed today and I could not step outside. I am always looking for lists of Bollywood comedies, off-beat movies, and classics to fill my time, so I decided to do one myself. Here goes…

Bollywood comedies – some of them are completely mindless and slapstick. A lot of them are with Akshay Kumar, he is my favorite comedy actor. Years back when I went to get my US visa in India, I had to take an entire wedding album of photos to prove that I am married since I wanted a dependent visa, the guy at the counter asked if my the guy in the photos was Akshay Kumar instead of AM, haha, I was quite flattered, so silly. Not that Akshay is the best looking guy, but he plays comedy so effortlessly, and his performances during award shows are so energetic.

  1. Delhi Belly – I can watch this movie again and again, it has toilet humor but is so so hilarious, the dialogues are so funny. Amir Khan never disappoints. And it doesn’t have people breaking out into a song out of nowhere, there is a 30 seconds song in the middle and one at the end. The film falls in the category of Hangover.
  2. Chalo Dilli – Offbeat and satirical, it stars my favorite actor, Vinay Pathak, and Lara Dutta has changed for the better these last few years.
  3. Andaz Apna Apna – The funniest movie ever and a classic, totally mindless though. Wish Amir and Salman would get over their egos and do a sequel.
  4. Hera Pheri – Another classic comedy (slapstick) that brought Paresh Rawal, Sunil Shetty, and Akshay Kumar together, the rest is history. The sequel Phir Hera Pheri is not as good but has its funny moments.
  5. De Dana Dan – A laugh-out loud riot with Akshay, Sunil, and Paresh back together. Akshay is a housekeeper for Archana Puran Singh, a cruel employer, and he pays her back at the end. A comedy of errors.
  6. Houseful – Akshay never disappoints, another comedy. Akshay is unlucky for everyone around him and has a hard time keeping relationships till he finds the one. It is completely slapstick, but I enjoyed it.
  7. Malamaal Weekly – This movie has classic old actors such as Om Puri and Paresh Rawal, both can carry off a movie even today. The movie revolves around a dead man winning lottery and the rest of the village wanting a piece of it. I lost count of how the amount would be distributed…
  8. Awara Paagal Deewana – This is a copy of The Whole Nine Yards. It is very slapstick, so watch this only if you don’t mind a mindless film.
  9. Chup Chup Ke – This is an under-rated film and came right after Jab We Met starring Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor. A very nice movie, but like usual Bollywood films the end became mushy and unrealistic.
  10. Hungama – Another mindless comedy flick from Priyadarshan. His movies promise a laugh-out loud hilarious ending, no matter the rest of the film.
  11. Bhagam Bhag – Slapstick, debut of a new slimmer and more stylish Lara Dutta.
  12. Hulchul – Very loud but has some funny moments.
  13. Dhamaal – Another slapstick movie but if you like Arshad Warsi it is funny. I would skip the sequel Double Dhamaal.
  14. Welcome to Sajjanpur – A highly entertaining and simple film about a village letter-writer and his love trysts.
  15. Bend it like Beckham – A sweet look into an Indian family that moved to the UK. The only Keira Knightly move without her smug-face.
  16. Monsoon Wedding – A sweet movie about family, love, and a feel-good ending.
  17. Chameli Ki Shaadi – A very funny old movie, Amrita Singh is hilarious.
  18. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron – Another classic, black comedy.
  19. Gol Mal – The old one released in 1979, one of the funniest old movies starring Amol Palekar directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
  20. Padosan – I like Sunil Dutt and he was amazing in this movie, really funny.
  21. Chupke Chupke – Another funny oldie directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

I will keep adding if I think of more.

Good, some offbeat (new-age) films

  1. Black – Serious and slightly depressing, about a woman who is deaf, mute, and blind.
  2. Khamoshi – Excellent actors, but serious. Nana Patekar is a brilliant actor as is Manisha Koirala. Manisha is a beautiful singer but both her parents are deaf and mute.
  3. Tanu Weds Manu – A charming movie, Kangana looks gorgeous.
  4. Udaan – One of my favorite movies, bitter-sweet, depressing moments with a very positive end. This is one of the most heartfelt movies I have ever seen emerge from Bollywood. I wrote a review about it.
  5. No One Killed Jessica – A good comeback for Rani based on a true story about Jessica Lall.
  6. Tahaan – A very charming film, the little boy steals the show. My review is here.
  7. The Blue Umbrella – A very sweet film, Pankaj Kapoor as usual delivers his best.
  8. Jab We Met – The charming duo Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor come together for this one. Rumor has it they broke up while shooting, but they continue to ooze chemistry on-screen. An American friend’s favorite song is “Nagada Nagada”.
  9. Swades – Slightly serious, but a very charming and patriotic movie, takes me back home. It performed better overseas than in India due to its nostalgic tone.
  10. Chak De India! – A must-watch about a hockey coach’s comeback.
  11. Bheja Fry – A copy of the French movie Dinner Game.
  12. Dasvidaniya – A poignant and sweet movie starring Vinay Pathak.
  13. Khosla Ka Ghosla – A trying time for a family.
  14. Mithya – A comedy version of Don.
  15. Johnny Gaddaar – Talk about irony.
  16. Being Cyrus – I loved Saif, Shabana, and Naseeruddin in this.
  17. Corporate – The first time I took note of Kay Kay Menon.
  18. Mixed Doubles – This is a bit serious but tackles a serious subject of couple swapping. It keeps the viewers wondering, did she or didn’t she.
  19. Kaun? – A thriller from Ram Gopal Varma, Urmila overacts a bit.
  20. Rangeela – This is one of my favorite movies, and it put Urmila on the map. The songs are amazing, AR Rahman at his prime.
  21. Omkara – A story about Othello.
  22. Maqbool – A different take on Macbeth.
  23. Company – Mumbai underworld by Ram Gopal Varma.
  24. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Naa – A cute take on friendship turning to love.
  25. Band Baaja Baaraat – Two partners turn from lovers into rivals.
  26. Tere Bin Laden – A hilarious underrated movie based on a Bin Laden look-alike.
  27. Dil Chahta Hai – Amir’s movies are always classics and so much fun to watch even after all these years, and the songs are amazing. He is like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, he always makes movies for the youth.
  28. Ghajini – Wonderfully acted, another one from Amir. Serious but very interesting.
  29. Hum Tum – Not one of the best films, but good time pass about men vs. women.
  30. Taare Zameen Par – A serious story about dyslexia.
  31. Earth – A story during riots when a jealous boyfriend acts out.
  32. Rockford – If you grew up in a boarding school, you will relate to this one – a very good movie.
  33. 3 Deewarein – A good suspense movie from Nagesh Kukunoor.
  34. Karthik Calling Karthik – The final wedding song used in the TV show Outsourced was from this movie (uff teri ada). An okay movie to watch when you have nothing else, it has some suspense.
  35. Lagaan – Another classic by Amir Khan, a truly inspiring movie about cricket and an attempt at sending the British back with their tail between their legs.
  36. Prahaar – Madhuri looks so natural in this movie. Nana Patekar is at his best. A slightly serious film.
  37. Bluffmaster – A light movie.
  38. Dostana – I really liked this film, its funny and has good songs. Abhishek and John have amazing chemistry, and their Koffee with Karan together is a must-watch. I hear there is a sequel in the works.
  39. Lage Raho Munnabhai – While I was not too crazy about the prequel Munnabhai MBBS, this sequel is very entertaining. Arshad Warsi steals the show.
  40. Life in a Metro – Another offbeat decent movie.
  41. Rajneeti – A brilliant cast, Ranbir brought his acting chops to this one. A good political movie. Katrina looks too old for Ranbir though, he needs to work with younger actresses.
  42. Rocket Singh – Another Ranbir movie. I liked 3/4th of the film, the ending was poorly done, but worth watching once.
  43. Outsourced – I chanced upon this movie after watching the TV show Outsourced, its such an under-rated film, and quite charming.
  44. Sarfarosh – Another charmer from Amir Khan.
  45. Wake up Sid – This is a very light film, a love story about an older woman falling in love with a younger man. Very light and average.
  46. Jhankar Beats – Another charming under-rated film.
  47. Pyaar Ke Side Effects – I don’t like Mallika Sherawat and she cannot act to save her life – she should stick to item songs. But Rahul Bose steals the show in this decent movie.
  48. Kaminey – I like this one only because of Shahid Kapoor, he does a very good job in a double role.
  49. Sardar – I am including this one because AM likes it – I haven’t seen it yet. According to him, Sardar was very practical during the partition of India and Pakistan; Nehru, on the other hand, wanted partition to fulfill his own desire to become Prime Minister, while Gandhiji was always against partition of any sort. In the fight for power, Sardar stood, an unsung hero, the most practical of the lot. Had he prevailed it would have caused India much less grief from the spurts of riots that continue between Hindus and Muslims. Totally AM’s opinion, not mine. Its on my list to watch.
  50. Border – No list can be complete without Border. Its a very heartfelt movie based on a true story where the bravery of Indian soldiers protect an area of Punjab from Pakistani attackers. Akshaye Khanna made his impressive debut.
  51. The Japanese Wife – A very charming Rahul Bose movie where he tries his stint in long-distance relationship with a Japanese. The visuals are very calming and pretty.
  52. Zubeidaa – An art film with a great cast in Rekha, Manoj Bajpai, and Karisma Kapoor depicting the tug of war between a wife and a mistress.
  53. Water – A Deepa Mehta movie, it shows the plight of widows. I had to watch it for John Abraham.
  54. Jodha Akbar – A stunning portrayal of the relationship between Akbar and his wife. Hrithik and Aish ooze chemistry, and the visuals and fashion are all very stunning. Breathtaking!
  55. Choker Bali – An art film starring Aishwarya Rai. She looks beautiful.
  56. Mujhse Shaadi Karogi – Another slapstick movie starring Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan.
  57. Fashion – Starring Priyanka Chopra, the film is about the rise and fall of fashion models. It is a serious film and gets unrealistically emotional at the end. Of course Priyanka could never walk in Paris, their models are stick-think, “almost” anorexic, while Priyanka has a healthy figure.
  58. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – The movie is a decent watch for an afternoon at home, kind of like Dil Chahta Hai but less funny, like Hangover but less slapstick, it is loosely based on The Hangover. Farhan Akhtar is fantastic, he plays comedy and serious roles perfectly, Abhay Deol was quite good too as always.
  59. Taxi No. 9 2 11 – Good entertaining movie starring Nana Patekar and John Abraham. A remake of Changing Lanes.
  60. The Namesake – A serious and heartfelt film, I love Irfan Khan in general and he plays the role of a patient father and husband quite well. Based on a book by the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri.

3 Idiots does not make my list because even though it was a top grosser, the pregnancy scenes were over the top and unrealistic, I would not watch it again. Rang De Basanti also started off well and then went into an unrealistic mode.

Roja and Bombay are good movies as well, just not at the top of my list.

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I was shocked this morning when I saw on the Yahoo homepage that Heidi Klum and Seal are getting a divorce! Really shocking! This is the same couple that renews marriage vows every single year and holds the craziest halloween parties. I watched Germany’s next top model and Heidi brought Seal in for an episode to promote his music, and she was all over him, kissing him. They decided to call it quits after being married for 6 years, just 6 years, of which Heidi has been pregnant for 4 years – with her first child with someone else and then 3 with Seal. Methinks there is more to this story, I will not be surprised if it comes out the Seal cheated on her given his constant tourring. If anything, both have gotten busier than ever, perhaps they didn’t give each other much time?

What a way to fake it all by showing so much “love” in public. This is the last couple I ever expected to divorce given their PDAs. And it is not normal to renew vows every year, what is the point of marriage then? I am waiting to see what skeletons come out now. Cheating and divorce is so common in Hollywood, why do they even bother to get married anymore.

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I went on a trip to Brazil two years back but never managed to write about it – I didn’t have a blog back then. It was one of my favorite trips ever, so I have to reminisce it now. Here is my report.

My itinerary:

  • Day 1: Land in Sao Paolo, leave for Iguassu, stay at Hotel Mercure
  • Day 2: Spend the night in Hotel das Cataratas, visit Iguassu falls
  • Day 3: Leave for Manaus
  • Day 4: Leave for Juma Lodge
  • Day 5: Juma Lodge
  • Day 6: Juma Lodge
  • Day 7: Leave for Salvador, Bahia
  • Day 8: Salvador
  • Day 9: Leave for Buzios
  • Day 10: Buzios
  • Day 11, 12, 13: Rio
  • Day 14: Fly back to NY

Iguassu falls is similar to Niagara but more amazing, and its best to view the falls from both Brazil and Argentina. Unfortunately we are not US citizens and didn’t get a visa for Argentina, so stayed on the Brazil side. We spent the first night in Golden Tulip, the hotel was really good and reasonably priced. The next night we stayed at Hotel Das Cataratas right next to the falls, the hotel was disappointing and full of mosquitoes, taxis were also more expensive. In hindsight we should have stayed at Golden Tulip since the higher price of Das Cataratas offset taxi price from Golden Tulip to the falls.  The falls were amazing and worth a visit once, the walk to the falls was also quite pretty.

The next day we left for Manaus, a small dirty town and gateway to the Amazon. We spent the night here in a dirty hotel, previously Best Western. I didn’t like Manaus at all and felt that the day spent there was a waste. The next day we left for Juma Lodge, it took us all day to get there. The way was beautiful, we saw giant lotuses that are featured on many pictures of Brazil, we also saw the place where two rivers meet, the line of union was so vivid due to differing densities. We finally reached the Lodge – we were in charming hut-like rooms. The lodge had no hot water but it was in the middle of the jungle with limited transportation. The next day we went fishing, hiked in the jungle, and spent the evening learning about fish. The day after we went to a local resident’s house and learned how people lived there, our guide himself (Moe) grew up there and was very knowledgeable. It was really amazing! At night, the guide took everyone to see caymans. I fell ill due to showering in cold water so skipped since it was raining, AM went and the guide actually caught a cayman and educated everyone on them. I really liked our stay here, our time was well spent and we learned a lot.

The next day we left for Salvador, Bahia. We stayed at Tropical Da Bahia, a wonderful hotel with very good rooms, breakfast, and business center with Internet access, it was also well connected with public transportation. Unfortunately it is closed now. We wanted to sample all aspects of Brazil – city, beaches, history, and the Amazon. Salvador was rich in history, and a very charming and pretty town. It was AM’s turn to fall ill – he tripped and sprained his foot, so I did some laundry in a nearby location and checked out the town by local buses, and visited a mall. The town was well connected and the center was easily reachable, overall it was safe as long as I travelled during the day. The ice cream was absolutely delicious with flavors of tropical fruits, an absolute must. Like most ancient towns, the city center had cobbled streets and it was a pleasure walking around, checking out stores with beautiful jewelry, and nibbling on yummy tropical fruit ice cream. I wanted to try out a Capoeira class but it was closed.

We then left for the charming beaches of Buzios. Buzios has 7 pretty beaches, AM and I beach-hopped using public transportation, some were beautiful and tiny, some big, and there was a turtle beach. The shops were good but pricey, in the evening there was a lot of live music. We nibbled on crepes and listened to some good oldies music, and got drunk on capirinhas, and had some more ice cream. After he was drunk, AM danced a bit on the street, it was just so hilarious, I had so much fun in Buzios, we let our hair down and loved the little town. Our hotel was quite nice too minus mosquitoes, we stayed at Abracadabra Pousada.

Finally we had to leave for Rio – a very well developed city. We stayed in Best Western Ipanema right in front of Ipanema beach since Copacabana was not as safe at night. We wanted to go hang gliding and booked with Paul, but he wasted our whole day. He took us to the park then complained about the bad weather even though he took another couple, and we returned to our hotel by noon with nothing. By the time we went to the beach it was so crowded there was no space to even put our feet, we left and instead checked out the city. We took the ferry to nearby areas just to experience the surroundings a bit.

Next morning we booked surfing lessons, the teacher was so late that by then the beach was very crowded and there was danger of hurting swimmers, so another waste. That night we took a taxi and visited a favella to see them practicing for the Carnival, it was good fun singing and dancing to good music in a room packed with people. We thought of doing a favella tour but there are already slums in India so it would not have been a different experience anyway. The next day, we were done with Rio and very disappointed overall. There wasn’t much to do in the city, and the beaches were ridiculously crowded. We wished we had spent another day in Buzios instead. On New Year’s eve we checked out Copacabana where people wore white and set candles to sail, it was beautiful, then we went to Ipanema to catch festivities. At the end of the night drunk people were lying around and we had to be careful not to step on them, we returned to the hotel and continued watching from the terrace.

We always use local buses to get a feel for the city and just see the city overall, in every single location we visit. We did the same in every city of Brazil. Overall it was a very good trip. In hindsight, we didn’t need to spend that much time in Rio. From a food perspective, I am vegetarian and AM doesn’t eat beef, while Brazilians are very big on beef – they have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had limited food options but there was always pizza. Our trip was well planned since we experienced all of Brazil in little bits, and this is my favorite trip to date – the only disappointment was Rio. The best part is that Brazilians don’t care – on beaches they may wear thongs, and no matter the size or age, even a grandma may wear a bikini with thong or just a regular bikini. It was liberating to be in a place with no inhibitions, you could wear a thong on the beach and nobody would think the worse.

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I went on a trip to Iceland and Norway in September, but am getting around to blogging about it now. AM and I were looking to go someplace exotic like Turkey or Egypt since we had not taken a trip in a long time. However, due to Ramdan in Turkey and unrest in Egypt, we settled on Iceland and threw in Norway as well. Among all other Scandinavian countries, Norway seemed the most interesting, and Iceland is just a 5 hours flight from NY. A friend also highly recommended Iceland saying there is no place like it in the world – she was right.

Here is my itinerary:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, visit Blue Lagoon
  • Day 2: Golden circle
  • Day 3: Reykjavik
  • Day 4: Leave for Jokulsarlon
  • Day 5: Jokulsarlon + Skaftafell, return to Keflavik
  • Day 6: Fly to Oslo
  • Day 7: Oslo
  • Day 8: Train ride to Bergen
  • Day 9: Sognefjord in a nutshell
  • Day 10, 11: Bergen
  • Day 12: Leave for NY

We took a late night flight from NY to Reykjavik and landed there at 6am. We had booked a car rental with Budget and decided to have breakfast at the airport. We headed directly to the Blue Lagoon since it was closer to the airport. We had to wait for an hour till it opened for visitors, we were among the first ones to arrive. I loved loved the hot springs, it was amazing being in the sulfurous hot water, we moved around to pick the hottest spots. The funny thing was my nose kept running and I kept wondering why, till I realized that the water had cleared ALL my sinuses!!! It was amazing, so amazing, to be so sinus-free for once! We spent two hours in the water and headed out right around the time hordes of people thronged the water at 11am. We were glad to have escaped the crowds, while there was enough space for everyone, the springs are not that large hence less privacy. My hair turned to straw despite my applying conditioner before getting into the water and after a shower, and it stayed that way for the next 2 days.

We drove to Hotel Laxnes on the outskirts of Reykjavik and had a wonderful large room and view of the mountains, the towel warmer was icing on cake. We had lunch and slept till evening and headed out to find some dinner after. Everything was closed by the time we got to the city, and after driving around in circles we found a 24 hours Subway and called it a night.

The next day we did the Golden circle – Pingvellir national park, geysir, and and Gullfoss waterfall. It was great walking around Pingvellir, it was interesting to see the huge ridge, at the geysirs we saw Strokkur erupt several times and in between it had three consequent eruptions, quite amazing, I loved loved watching the geysirs. Then we went to Gullfoss which was quite amazing as well. As we were driving towards Golden circle, we got closer and closer to a glacier, the view was breathtaking, I have never seen a glacier before, this one was mighty.

It was a Friday night, so we did some bar hopping and danced to tunes from the 80’s to the latest pop music. There were all kinds of bars with all kinds of music and crowds. Icelanders are party people, it was such a contrast seeing the city on Friday vs. the day before when the whole city seemed dead and we could not even find a place to eat! Before partying, we sought out an Indian restaurant, Indian Mango. One look at the menu and we realized that Indian ingredients were hard to find in Iceland, so most of the dishes were of limited ingredients that overlapped with Scandinavia. We waited for an hour for our meal to arrive, the place was completely crowded, but food was delicious and well worth the wait.

The next day we decided to go at a relaxed pace and visited National museum of Iceland. The museum was very interesting and informative, went into Icelandic history, and it was interesting to see Nordic influence. I so badly wanted to visit the Saga museum but wasn’t able to make it in time, so unfortunate. AM had one of the delicious hot dogs highly recommended and he loved it with tons if jalapeños. I really liked Reykjavik, Iceland is such a small country with a population of only 300K, 40% of this is in Reykjavik. Compared to NY’s 10 MM population, Iceland feels so tiny… There was a nice restaurant and bakery near Hotel Laxnes that had very good croissants and coffee. I like European coffee a lot, American coffee is very bitter but European coffee tastes different, like it has a nice distinct flavor. I had a lot of delicious coffee. The croissants tasted different too, very soft, not at all crumbly.

The next day we left for Jokulsarlon. The drive was long (7+ hours) but beautiful, absolutely breath-taking! The first stop for photos was through an area with a lot of hot springs, we saw small smoking patches on the hills indicating hot springs all over the place, it was amazing. Overall the country was cold and I dressed in leggings and boots, with a warm trench coat, but these pockets of heat made it interesting, its a hotbed of lava boiling underneath waiting to burst! Our next stop was an area of waterfalls and we walked behind the falls and took a ton of photos. Then we entered barren land with vast rocks of lava from volcanoes that had hardened into rocks. It was so barren, and the rocks were shaped in an interesting manner. Our next stop was Vik, we walked to the black sandy beach and took photos, the water was freezing. We continued to drive, it was such a land of surprises, we didn’t know what was next or how far was the next town. On one side was the vast Atlantic ocean with seagulls and nothing more, on the other large looming mountains touching the sky, we could not see beyond the mountain since it loomed to our left and met the ocean, so we didn’t know whether a town waited behind.

We saw lots and lots of sheep that climbed very high to eat grass at the top of hills. When I saw some, I rolled down the window and bleated and bleated to see their reaction, but they stopped and stared at me like I was crazy or something, so I left. Its like when I see cats I have to meow, when I see dogs I have to bark, just to see their reaction, and they either run away or stare at me like the sheep. Along the way I read about Iceland in my Lonely Planet guidebook, the history was so interesting. I also started reading a book on Viking Age Iceland and it touched upon their culture, very very interesting. We saw houses that were buried in the mountains of lava rock, with some portions peering out from under the mountains. The country is so ravaged by volcano, and I am amazed that people still stay there in the dark nights when there is no sun and its deathly cold.

We drove alongside a mighty glacier, we stopped to take photos, I walked on a pathway thinking as I walk I could take a closer look at the glacier but it did not get closer. It was a mighty mighty glacier, with a big pit between the mountain and the pathway from the road, the pit was far away. Once we reached closer, a beautiful sight greeted us – the same pit was actually Jokulsarlon, the iceberg beach. The ice from the glacier broke off and fell in the water as iceberg, the icebergs then melted to form Jokulsarlon. We stopped to take pictures, we saw a few seals as well. Jokulsarlon is beautiful, and was AM’s highlight of the trip – not for me, I found the journey more interesting. We stayed at Gerdi Guesthouse nearby and made the trip to Hofn for dinner. On our way back, we were the only ones on the road and it was scary driving on the narrow road, we were glad to get back to Gerdi. Sunrise was around 5:30am and sunset at 9pm, it got completely dark after 9pm since the country had just come out of the midnight sun.

The next morning we woke up at 5am and drove to Jokulsarlon, 15 mins away, to see the sunrise. It was beautiful, the ocean on one hand, Jokulsarlon on the other, the first rays of the sun kissed the mountain peaks till they reached the icebergs that glistened bright yellow, it was beautiful and we were the only ones there till a photographer joined us to take some photos.

We left for Skaftafell National Park. Skaftafell was a very good walk, we walked for a few hours since we had to head back to Keflavik, I would have loved to have done some glacier walking but we didn’t have the time.

We headed back, the drive back was boring and long. We stayed at Keflavik for our early morning flight. Keflavik is a bland boring area, with nothing to see, and the drive along is so barren. We stayed at Hotel Berg, close to the airport, it had decent rooms and amenities. We ate at a Thai restaurant nearby, it wasn’t too bad.

We took a flight into Oslo the next morning. What can I say about Oslo, it was a bit boring as a city. We stayed at Thon Hotel Spectrum, close to public transportation. The city had a large Middle Eastern population which surprised me, I guess due to the short distance. We walked along Karl Johans Gate, the main street in Oslo, it had interesting shops. Fashion-wise a lot of the women wore leggings and booties, looks like booties were in. We found an Indian restaurant, Jaipur, the food was quite good but felt a tad heavy. A lot of the Indian restaurants we visited in Norway had tacky decoration, as if a Indian king gagged and out came all this tacky stereotypical decoration with lots and lots of pinks, puppets, and statues. It seemed as if Norwegians found the decoration to be in line with what India is like or something – who knows! We visited the museum and a few other places, and unfortunately didn’t get time for the Opera House. My favorite place was Vigeland park – it was breathtaking, kind of like Central Park in NY but with fewer people, greener areas, and mighty beautiful sculptures. It was great walking around, I would have loved loved to bike around the park, but it started raining and we didn’t have much time.

We had an early morning train ride to Bergen, the hotel was nice to pack us our breakfast for the way. We were debating whether to do the Norway in a Nutshell, but decided to just go to Bergen. We took the Bergen Railway, a beautiful ride. The initial part was okay, but it got prettier after Flam. The next day we took the Norway in a Nutshell tour to Sognefjord – the tour was very beautiful, with a lovely ferry ride to Sognefjord with small towns along the way. Unfortunately a good portion of our previous train ride was repeated so we would have saved a day by doing the NIN instead of Bergen railway. We spent two days in Bergen and visited Hanseatic museum (nothing to write home about) and rode the Funicular. Bergen was a charming city but two days was too much, in hindsight we should have done NIN from Oslo to Bergen, 1 day in Bergen, and done another fjord trip. It rained for 3 days in Bergen and one day was spent with nothing to do. Overall we were so mesmerized by the beauty of Iceland that Norway paled in comparison.

Transportation in Bergen was super easy, the city is well connected by buses and tram, a lot of the places are walking distance. It had nice cobbled streets, and weather was like NY – cold and rainy.

We found a couple of Indian restaurants here as well. I forget the name of one, it was close to the railway station, again the decor was very tacky but food delicious. Another one was close to our hotel, Thon Bergen Brygge, Maharaja restaurant, the food was absolutely delicious and rich in spices. The waiter told us that Norwegians like a “kick” in the food, the more the spices the more they like it. I guess it has to do something with the weather.

Overall we had a wonderful trip, in hindsight I would have skipped Oslo and probably done Stockholm and/or Copenhagen, and done one more fjord. Or we could have visited Landmannalaugar in Iceland by booking a trip on a 4-wheel drive. I really really liked Iceland, it was just so beautiful, and I cannot wait to go back. Norway truly paled in comparison…

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When I caught a clip of Hugh Jackman on TV in his Broadway avatar, I had to catch it when it came to NY. As soon as I heard of his arrival on Broadway, I purchased tickets and after several tries online and on the phone, I was finally able to get two orchestra tickets – the show was completely sold out within days!!

I was super excited since I love the X-men series and Hugh is one of my favorite stars. I was not disappointed. The show, as expected, is all about Hugh – his childhood, how he met his wife, his songs and dances, how he got his first break, and X-men. Its like a stand-up comedy mixed with songs and dances. He was mesmerizing. It requires a lot of star quality and a hell of a lot of courage to stand up there and entertain the audience for 2 hours straight. Hugh managed to do that – he made the audience laugh and sing with him. Of course he threw in (pimped) his movies, past stints in Broadway, X-men, and the organization he supports. I loved all his songs except for one that he did right before Interval. I have become an even bigger fan after watching him on Broadway! I would love love love to go back and see him again, he left us wanting more…

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I just returned from a week long trip to Central America – Belize and Guatemala. Initially I wanted to go to Key West, but a friend went to Belize last year and loved it, so we decided to use Christmas time for a trip. Things were booked up and flight prices were high, so we booked everything quickly. I was able to get flight through Dallas, business (same price as economy) while going and economy while returning on Expedia with American Airlines. Dallas transit was my first choice since people had indicated that Miami would be a nightmare with the number of people.

Here is my itinerary:

  • Dec 24: Leave NY, land in Ambergris Caye, night in Ramon’s
  • Dec 25, 26: Stay in Ambergris Caye, snorkel, laze around on the beach, stay in Ramon’s
  • Dec 27: Leave for San Ignacio, possibly visit Belize Zoo on the way, stay in Midas
  • Dec 28: ATM caves, stay in Midas
  • Dec 29: Leave for Tikal, stay at Tikal Inn
  • Dec 30: Tikal morning tour, leave for Guatemala city, stay in Barcelo
  • Dec 31: Visit Antigua, stay in Barcelo
  • Jan 1: Fly back to NY

We left NY for Belize city in a 6am flight on Dec 24. Business class was very comfortable with more legroom and food. Transfer from Dallas was easy. We landed in Belize city around noon; Dallas and Central America are 1 hour ahead of NY. At the 11th hour I remembered to download books on my iPhone Kindle app, and downloaded the Secret series by Pseudonymous Bosch – wonderfully entertaining and hilarious. I was looking for books similar to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, some mindless fun and fantasy.

I had booked a Maya Island Air flight to Ambergris Caye. The flight was 30 mins late, and we finally landed in Ambergris Caye at 5pm. Tropic Air also runs flights to Ambergris Caye from the Belize City airport. The bank was closed so we could not withdraw Belize currency, but pretty much everyone accepted USD. Overall prices in Belize were high to match American and European prices, so there was no benefit from the exchange rate (2:1 for USD). It was so good being in warm weather, away from cold rainy NY. When I landed in Belize, I felt like I was in my own country, India, the weather and people felt exactly like India.

I booked a beachfront room in Ramon’s Village, it was amazing. The view was really good, and of all the places along that stretch of the beach, Ramon’s had the best beach to just lay around. The food was quite good too. Ramon’s had a very “village-like” feel with traditional-looking huts. It was wonderful waking up to the sounds of birds every morning, I even heard an owl one night, and saw an Iguana among the trees. The sun rose at 6am and set at 6pm – I was surprised at the early sunset. By 10am it felt like noon.

We were hungry and explored the area for restaurants. We picked Blue Water Hill, it was full of people. We ordered pizza, AM had chicken on his pizza (very bad choice), he spent the entire night suffering and throwing up, and the entire day on Dec 25 recovering from that chicken – or was it Barbecue sauce on the pizza? I rated Blue Water Grill poorly on Trip Advisor. The next day since AM was unwell, I spent the day lazing around. Later at noon when he was a bit better, we rented a golf cart from Moncho’s, walking distance from Ramon’s, and drove to the northernmost and southernmost parts of the Caye. In the north, we crossed the bridge to a more well developed and posh part of the town, but the road was very bumpy. There was nothing much to see or do other than lay on the beach, swim, or snorkel and dive. It was very difficult to get a golf cart rental – they were completely booked for days, finally we found one for 3 hours. It wasn’t necessary anyway since there was nothing to see or do. We decided to eat at Ramon’s and avoid outside places for health reasons. The next morning we went snorkeling with Ramon’s at 9am. It was awesome, snorkeling feels like such a blur now. We went to Hol Chan and watched fish and coral, it all felt so fast but really amazing. Then we went to Shark Ray Alley and saw nurse sharks of all sizes and Sting Rays. The guide caught one large nurse shark for photos. We stayed close to the guide, they pointed out fish names, I wish it was more informative but it would have been uncomfortable coming in and out of water to learn. We were back by 12.

After lunch I got a nice massage on the beach. As soon as I returned to the room, I fell sick, as did AM again. We spent the rest of the day and night and the next day sick. Not sure if it was the food or snorkeling water which was quite dirty. We have travelled to several places and are originally from India, I always have street food when I go back, but never have we fallen as ill as we did here. It was a terrible way to spend 3 days, totally sick of being sick. On a positive note, I finished the Secret series and downloaded more books.

On Dec 27 we had to leave for San Ignacio, I had recovered by 2pm and we booked a last-minute Tropic Air flight to San Ignacio. While waiting at the airport we saw a family of 5 from Texas; they had big mosquito bites on their legs, clearly the mosquitoes were used to feasts and didn’t leave a single family member.

We booked a room at Midas. They sent a car to pick us up from the airport, 1 hour away. The driver was a woman and very friendly, she gave us the lay of the land. Everyone in Belize spoke good English. We had a very nice room at the Midas, it was a 15 mins walk from the town center. Due to Christmas most of the restaurants were closed, but we found a very cheap place and had rice and beans, the food was very tasty and cheap. Overall San Ignacio was cheaper than Belize. We had reserved ATM tour the next day with Pacz Tours. They are located in the town center. We decided to go at 11am, a good choice since it rained the next morning.

Actun Tunichil Muknal was amazing and thrilling. The Mayans used to visit the underground to offer their prayers to the Gods. We drove for 1 hour, hiked for another hour in the jungle and waded through water thrice before we started our journey into the caves. The tour had us carry our lunch while hiking in the jungle; a bad idea since we had to wade through water, my lunch fell in the water obviously, they were kind enough to offer an extra. In hindsight we should have taken a plastic bag to preserve the lunch. The restrooms were absolutely disgusting, but beggars cannot be choosers. After the hike we had lunch and left for the caves. We swam to the other side among tiny fish that dispersed as we hit the water. From then onwards it was very dark, we had lights on our helmets to guide the way. Our guide knew every rock and way and guided us along. We were a group of 8, a family of 6 and the two of us. The family was from Nebraska, a father, grandfather, two daughters, and one boyfriend. They were really nice and we felt like a team. AM had a hard time swimming since he could just do freestyle, so the guides helped him. The entire time we went through rocks submerged at different levels in water for a third of the mile. We also climbed up rocks in between, it looked difficult but with the guide’s help we conquered everything. We climbed up a thin aluminium ladder to a higher point of the cave. Finally we reached a place where we took off our shoes and walked in a spare pair of dry socks. We saw pots of offerings and some skulls and bones from the Mayan times. Along the way we also saw limestone, sparkling quartz, and stalactites. It was amazing to be within the depths of the Mayan underworld, I can only imagine how the Mayans brought offerings along such a tough way when I could not carry a simple lunch across the water! We went through some tough rocks and had to squeeze our way. Finally it was time to go back, returning was much faster and easier, although climbing down the aluminium ladder was scarier than up! When I saw a ray of light seeping in through the entrance, it had the most beautiful view with trees lining both sides of the water, as if I was in elf land or something. We were exhausted after spending 3 hours in the cave and could not wait to hike back. The jungle hike was slippery and muggy since it had rained that morning. Many people had worn Keens with openings for water to pass, but I was grateful for my hardcore Timberland Safety Toe hiking shoes – while they were sloshy and uncomfortable when soaked, my feet were protected from the hard rocks and they had a good grip while hiking. At the end of the trip, my shoes were scraped off in several places around the toe area.

The ATM is very thrilling and a long ride, not for the faint at heart. We saw people in their 60’s climbing down rocks quite easily with some help from the guide and teams. The journey is much better than the destination; all we saw were some pots and bones, but the journey was worth it just to get a thrilling experience. I will never ever forget that experience my whole life!

We reached the hotel at 7pm, a long 8 hour adventurous day! We were exhausted and went to Ko-Ox Han Nah for dinner. It was full of people, I didn’t like the food at all – more expensive than the rice and beans place, but worse food and slow service. I slept very well that night.

On Dec 29 we relaxed and left for Tikal after visiting Xunantunich on the way. Midas booked us a taxi to take us to Xunantunich and drop us off at the Belize border. Xunantunich was worth a visit and we were done in 2 hours. We climbed the highest ruin and had sweeping views of Guatemala highlands on one side and greenery of Belize on the other. It was beautiful, quiet, cool and pleasant at the top. We got a glimpse into how the Mayans lived in the old days and their temples. We had to take a ferry across along with the taxi, it was quite fascinating since we saw tiny tiny fish moving along side the ferry. Imagine the entire day, all the tiny fish in that lake, all moving along side the ferry the whole day, without getting bored. It was funny, fascinating, and curious, why would fish move parallel to the ferry all day long? All of them? There were some shops with pretty jewelry and beautiful carvings on slate, including Belize map.

It took us 30 mins to get through Belize and Guatemala border. We came across several men with Guatemala currency for currency exchange. We decided to use an ATM instead. Tikal Inn sent a taxi to pick us up, it cost 90 USD, too expensive. We kept thinking that we should have asked around since there were many taxis at the border; however, I did read Tripadvisor reports about hijacking of tourist buses, so maybe we took a safer route. On the way we stopped at an ATM and withdrew 1.2K Guatemala currency. It was too low though, Guatemala currency is 7.8:1 USD, and we ran out of cash pretty quickly. We should have withdrawn at least 2K.

The park entrance fee was 150 QTQ per person. Tikal Inn has electricity only during certain hours of the night, at 10pm the lights went off. Mosquitos ate us till we could take it no more, on our hands and ankles, some even got into my back and gave me big itchy bites.

The next morning we had booked a sunrise tour with Roxy at 4:30am. I highly recommend her, she is ver knowledgeable and an archeologist herself, hence she shared a lot of the Mayan history and knew all the excavations of Tikal. Our visit would have been futile had we not had her. We went to temple IV to catch the sunrise, it was very dark and we saw a few frogs and a silver fox using flashlights. We were not able to catch the sunrise though due to the mist, very disappointing. Roxy took us through the most efficient ways and we got a good view of the ruins. It was very interesting to see how the Mayans lived back in the day. It also made me appreciate the ruins, palaces, and temples in India much more. Most ancient places are very barren and made of just rocks, in India the beautiful colorful carvings make you want to spend more time admiring the artistry. IMO, bare barren ruins are not worth visiting since they all look the same, and had we not had Roxy the trip would not have been as fruitful since the history behind the bare stones mattered much more. While beautiful carvings you could spend all day seeing them, admiring them. So yes it made me appreciate my country much more.

We heard howler monkeys howling in anger due to spider monkeys encroaching their territory. Roxy took us through the forest to get a good view of the howler monkey, she also showed us an ant-eater. We retuned by 10:30am in time for breakfast. We had an evening flight to Guatemala city, and the hotel had a cheaper shuttle to drop everyone off at the airport. Overall, half a day is enough for Tikal. It is helpful to take a guide to explain the ruins, there is a lot of Mayan history to learn about.

Now for the Tikal Inn – it was amazing how modern the inn was despite being in the jungle. They had Internet access, very slow, but it was there. The rooms were quite nice, and you could hear jungle noises as well. Is it really worth it staying in the jungle? It depends. The biggest benefit is that you can wake up early and visit the jungle before crowds come in; we were done by the time people started coming in. They do charge an additional fee though of 100 QTQ per person for early entry, which is completely ridiculous since you end up double-paying for entry. The biggest con is lack of electricity. The inn has electricity only in mornings and evenings for 2-3 hours each. We didn’t get a chance to shower in hot water since our tour was scheduled at such a time and had to shower in cold water. But the worst was mosquitoes. They bit us a lot at night, and there was nothing we could do about it, no fans to ward them off. I overheard our neighbor throwing up all night, poor guy, in the dark. You also get to hear animals early in the morning or late evening; however, there aren’t that many animals that you get to see, so the benefit is not really that much. Flores is far away so its an hour long drive, but personally I would have preferred to have stayed there and avoided the mosquitoes.

Dec 30 we landed in Guatemala city with Tag Airlines. I had booked two tickets several weeks in advance; the day of the flight I received an email saying they could not accommodate us. I didn’t check my email so went to the airport and they had to accommodate me. The plane was late by an hour. They were over-booked and some people had to be booked on a later flight. They seemed a little disorganized but very friendly and nice. I was happy to see Guatemala city and was amazed at how modern it was, it was refreshing to return to civilization after all the adventures in Belize and Tikal. Our hotel, Barcelo, was the best compared with all others on this trip. They had excellent food, and the breakfast buffet was delicious and sumptuous – we didn’t need to have lunch. We got upgraded and had an amazing room.

The next morning we booked a shuttle at our hotel for Antigua for 30 USD per person round trip. We debated visiting a coffee plantation from 9am for a 2 hours tour, but decided to rest and just visit Antigua. Antigua is a beautiful city, very ancient, and like most ancient cities has cobbled streets and traditional houses. The houses were beautiful and depicted Spanish and Moorish influence. The people in our shuttle asked us to get a guide since we didn’t know Spanish. Few people in Guatemala spoke English. We got a guide and he took us to cathedrals destroyed by earthquakes and being restored, he took us into some hotels to give an idea of houses of ancient times, and a jade museum. Mayans were into jade and it is a big industry in Guatemala; you can find Jade only in Guatemala. It was a beautiful stone but very expensive. I liked the jewelry but it was too pricey. We were done in 3 hours and in hindsight we didn’t need a guide. Every book I read and person I spoke to mentioned crime in Guatemala, so for that reason alone we were glad to have a guide (although completely useless since there wasn’t much history to see), the guide took us through safe lanes. Since it was Dec 31, by evening there was a lot of music and dancing on the streets. The town was very charming. I would have loved to have stayed in one of the traditional hotels, but we had to stay close to the airport in Guatemala city. The markets in Antigua were very colorful and I would have loved to have purchased the handbags, tapestries, paintings, and other artifacts, but I can buy them much cheaper and better in India so I refrained from shopping. By 7pm we left for our hotel and next morning flew back to NY.

I had requested an upgrade and the people at Guatemala were very nice and upgraded us till Dallas since the flight was sold out. US airport is much more strict about upgrades. I really liked Guatemala city and will definitely return to visit Atitlan and Chichi market. It is so similar to India, and I felt so much at home there. The people are also amazingly laid-back and friendly, so different from the hustle and bustle of NY…

There is a lot of poverty in Central America and they depend a lot on tourism, it was heart breaking to see the poverty and reminded me of India where kids don’t even have clothes on, it was a painful reminder of what I have left behind, and imbibed a deep sense of wanting to do something for my own country to eradicate poverty and hunger.

All in all, we were happy to be back home, there is truly no place like home no matter where we go!

Some travelling tips:

  • Pack shorts, light T’s, and flip flops for Belize, it is very hot.
  • Lots of sunscreen – it is hot!!
  • Some medicine for the stomach, you may need it!
  • Insect repellent – you will definitely need this every single night, and during the day in Tikal
  • A pair of hiking shoes or Keens or sneakers for ATM and Tikal. AM wore running shoes and he was fine. The shoes are a big pain to dry, so you may want to pack an extra pair if you plan to wear them again. AM packed 2 pairs, I stayed with one and wore the wet shoes to Tikal.
  • In ATM, while most women wore short shorts, I wore capris and was glad since I didn’t have any scrapes from the rocks, although they were soaked. Take a plastic bag to preserve lunch, and an extra pair of dry socks to put on when going inside the cave, wet socks can be slippery. Sports socks are better than trouser socks. Also, a 2-piece swimsuit is more practical than 1 under the outfit. Bring a towel.
  • In Tikal, its best to wear a pair of pants if you do the early morning or late evening tours to keep away mosquitoes.
  • Book all trips and golf carts in advance since they get full very soon.
  • Ideally, I would have liked to end my trip in Ambergris Caye had the flight price differential not been as huge, since it was very relaxing at the beach minus stomach issues – flying out of Belize on Jan 1 was ridiculously more expensive!
  • Guatemala has a lot of crime, so its best to take hotel recommendations on what to visit, where and how to go, and keep the wallet in the front pocket, remove all expensive jewelry. I didn’t even wear my watch.
  • Central America has American plug system, so no need for an adapter.
  • Be prepared for plane delays; the planes are very local and run at their own time.
  • Few hotel rooms had a TV – Ramon’s and Tikal Inn don’t have one.
  • I always buy a travel guide, but Lonely Planet’s Central America was very disappointing. I loved LP’s Iceland because it included a lot of history; the Central America is bare without much insight into history, top recommendations, and why one should visit a place, and no proper itinerary recommendations. Their website is much better. I recommend skipping this book and buying another guide.
  • Guatemala is colder than Belize in the evenings, so do pack a light jacket and possibly jeans/pants.
  • If your hair is as frizzy as mine, don’t bother taking a flat iron – it will get even frizzier in Belize, and its completely useless to flat iron since it will get frizzy again from the weather and activities. Here is how mine looked throughout: 

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