Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

Was surprised how warm it was when I woke this morning. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised because Abu Dhabi isn’t that far from Dubai and I saw how hot it stayed throughout the night. The temperature is expected to exceed 100 degrees later today but I’m not expecting to leave the hotel. I have a number of odds and ends to take care of today.

The breakfast in the lounge was very good. A nice selection but not as diverse as the Hyatt or the Hilton in Delhi or Mumbai. The bottom line is that I enjoyed everything and left with a smile. Then a nap when I returned to my room.

I returned to the lounge at 2:30 to enjoy the treats they were serving in the afternoon. This hotel gets the award, if I had the ability to hand one out, for the best variety, and actually filling, treats of any of the Hiltons I’ve visited. Most have a few cookies and a bag of chips. I should be able to have all three meals today just by visiting the lounge. And no extra charge to me.

While munching on my treats I got caught up with my travel blog and finalized my stay in Larnaca, my next stop. My usual place in Larnaca isn’t available is no longer available, but it gives me the opportunity to find a new place to try out. I’ll be there for two weeks. I haven’t decided where to go after that, but I’ll end up in London sometime in December.

When I returned to my room I got caught up with email, for the most part. Laurie, my financial planner, sent me three names of people who will offer tax advice to plan how to best utilize (spend) my investments. Laurie does not provide this service, which is fine with me since it’s good to have a variety of perspectives and opinions. She only gave me names and phone numbers and I’m unable, without jumping through a few hoops, call the U.S. I’ll save this task for when I’m in Cyprus.

After another nap it was time for my evening meal and again I wasn’t disappointed with the selection. I was full when I returned to my room. Earlier, someone from the hotel showed me how to hook up my laptop to the TV and looked forward to watching Star Trek on a large screen.

I ordered two beers and watched three episodes of Star Trek TNG for the next few hours before going to bed.

Tomorrow I will stay in again but make arrangements to tour the city over the next few days. I’ll be here until November 4th so have plenty of time to look around before heading out.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Hilton Mumbai International Hotel (Mumbai, India)

Nice to wake up in a familiar place and having breakfast in the lounge where I can find my favorites for breakfast. I was able to talk with one of the staff who I met when I was there before. Then, as usual, I went back to my room and napped a little while longer.

All went well when I left for the airport at 2:00. I waited for about an hour to board the flight, and with no delays, I was on my way to Abu Dhabi.

Before boarding I was getting hungry and decided to try to see what a KFC meal tasted like in Mumbai. My only comment was too much mayo on the chicken sandwich. Other than that, the meal was the same as the U.S., except no ice in the Pepsi.

About 30 minutes into the flight the captain asked that everyone buckle up because we were headed into turbulent weather. The flight attendants quickly put away their carts before the turbulence started. It lasted for nearly an hour. It wasn’t very bad, just that the bumping around lasted so long. Food service was delayed until we were 30 minutes from the Abu Dhabi airport. Was impressed how quickly the fight attendants could serve and pick up the meals.

My driver was waiting for me as I arrived in the arrival lobby. Immigration went smoothly and my suitcase arrived without too much waiting.

My driver couldn’t speak too much English. I did find out he was originally from Pakistan, the northern part. The trip to the hotel took about 30 minutes. We drove by the Grand Mosque and I knew I had to see it again at night.

What a nice hotel with friendly staff! They did a great job welcoming me. The only glitch is that the person at the reception desk forgot to give me back my passport and had to track me down. We had a good laugh about it.

I immediately ordered a burger and two beers so I could sit down and enjoy a couple of episodes of Star Trek. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t figure out how to hook up my laptop to the TV, but I can take care of that tomorrow.

I have nothing planned outside of the hotel tomorrow. I must get caught up with my Instagram and travel blog and also confirm where I’ll stay in Cyprus.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Hyatt Regency (Kathmandu, Nepal)

I was looking forward to returning to the Hilton in Mumbai. While I enjoyed my stay at the Hyatt in Kathmandu (except for the unwelcomed rodent) I was looking forward to staying in a familiar place.

All went well through the boarding process. I met a woman in line who was visiting Nepal for the first time. Her husband passed away in January and she needed to get away and go somewhere that she and her husband talked about visiting. She was from Edmonton and we talked about the Rockies and the Cascade ranges in comparison to the Himalayan range.

We were very late taking off and arrived in Delhi close to when my connecting flight was boarding. The flight attendants said I would make my flight one way or another, which turned out to be true but I didn’t know that then. Their directions to making this possible was not correct.

After asking a number of people along the way to the baggage area I managed to pick up my suitcase and make my way to the where I go through the transfer connection process. I was amazed at how many people who work in the airport do not know how the transfer process works. It was a first time for me so now I know and will be ready for if this happens again.

The connecting flight was waiting for those of us who were delayed in Kathmandu. I would guess there were maybe 10 of us. Rather than taking off at 7:00 p.m. our flight left at 8:30. Thanks to a woman who created a hotspot for me, I was able to send a message to my driver in Mumbai.

I arrived in Mumbai a couple of hours later than planned, met my driver and was checked in and in my room by 11:00. Nice to have so many of the staff remember me. I ordered a bowl of their delicious mushroom soup from Room Service, drank a beer, and watched Star Trek. I was even able to get the room I had from two weeks ago.

Tomorrow I leave at 5:15 p.m. for my flight to Abu Dhabi. The hotel is okay with me staying in my room until 2:00.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Hyatt Regency (Kathmandu, Nepal)

So nice to wake up and know I don’t have a ride to the airport waiting for me at 5:30. I’ll meet my driver at 11:00 for more touring Kathmandu, that I can handle. My “cold” is still making itself known but is very mild and occasionally blow my nose and a cough here and there.

Though I think that whatever I have is making me a little irritable. After asking my driver a couple of times where we’re going I got an answer, but not one I could understand. I’m thinking he is embarrassed by his difficulty with English and only gives me minimal information and expects me to fill in the missing information? But I remembered what I agreed to yesterday, just go for the ride and relax.

The first stop was another square that was very ancient and also the area that it occupied took up a fairly large area. My driver pointed me to the ticket booth and said he would meet me back at the car. I told him I’d return in less than 30 minutes.

I was pretty much the only westerner visiting, plus I was one of the few people wearing shoes. There was a Hindu temple that I wasn’t permitted to enter which is probably why people didn’t wear shoes. I walked around and took a few pictures but when I came around one corner I found about 10 platforms next to the river. I knew that I didn’t want to be there. This is where the dead are cremated. Each platform was in some stage of preparation. One was burning and I could see a group of people under an overhang across from the burning. I moved through this area very quickly.

After 10 more minutes I decided that I’d seen enough and walked back to the car. I was hot and tired and appreciated the coolness of the car once I got in. Though more bumpy roads to our next, and final stop.

The next square we visited was a place where an ancient palace once stood. As I got out of the car a tour guide greeted me. I agreed that he could show me around but for only 20 minutes. We agreed upon a price for his services.

He showed me several buildings and temples that were being restored after the quake of 2015. We walked quickly and I kept track of our time. He did a great job of just giving me the highlights and I was fine with that. At almost exactly 20 minutes later our tour was complete. I thanked him, got in the car and we headed back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel I’m glad that my stay in Kathmandu timed out very well. I saw enough of the city, learned more than I expected, and saw the Himalayas – twice!

The evening snacks in the lounge seem to be just enough to fill me up in the evening. I had a beer leftover from the night before and was happy watching Star Trek before going to bed.

Tomorrow I leave for Mumbai and will take a car at 10:00 to the airport.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Hyatt Regency (Kathmandu, Nepal)

This morning I was up again at 4:45, met the driver and arrived at the airport for my second attempt to see the Himalayan mountains. No delays in getting into the air and on this flight I was on the side of the plane where I could see the outbound view of the mountains.

During the flight people were invited up to the cockpit to have better views of the mountains. I managed to get into the cockpit just as we were passing Mt. Everest. I took a picture from my seat but wasn’t able to get my camera ready to take a good picture from the cockpit, but that was okay, my goal to see the iconic mountain had been achieved and I was happy with that.

After everyone had a chance to go up to the cockpit we returned to the airport. I think I’m getting used to the steep pitch the aircraft needs to make a successful landing. Though I prefer the smooth approach that planes normally take when landing at an airport. Though most airports aren’t located in a valley with tall mountains on all sides.

I managed to get a hour’s nap before my driver arrived to take me to a couple of sites in the city. As I mentioned in yesterday’s posting, the driver’s English is somewhat good but the struggle to convey to me and back to him continued to be an issue. Today I just let him take me where he thought I should be and I’ll go with the flow.

Pantan (also know as Lalitpur) Durbar Square (a UNESCO site) is around 2,000 years old. It is an old city located within present day Kathmandu and has a number of historical and religious buildings. A guide who approached me as soon as I got out of the car was most determined to show me around but I was still tired and just wanted to see the old building that I can read about later. I took a number of pictures and read the pamphlet that I was given at the ticket office and I felt informed.

Our next stop was Swayambhu (Monkey Temple) which is located on a hill that overlooks the city of Kathmandu. Yes there are monkeys everywhere so it is best not to have any food or wear anything that might bet their attention. I walked up and around the area, mostly taking pictures of the city and the monkeys. The golden temple was high on a peak within the grounds but I didn’t hike up to it.

I told the driver I was done for the day and asked to be taken back to the hotel. He asked if I wanted to see anything else today and I said that I wished to go back to the hotel. It is somewhat difficult to travel around Kathmandu due to the traffic and bumpy roads. After an hour or so, even someone like me who doesn’t get car sick, would rather be anyplace else.

The remainder of the day was full of sleep and snacking in the lounge before going to bed early. One more day of driving around tomorrow before I leave Kathmandu.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Hyatt Regency (Kathmandu, Nepal)

I managed to log a couple hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. (The episode with the mouse (or small rat) earlier still had me a bit wound up.) I had 45 minutes to get ready before my driver arrived to take me to the airport for my 6:30 a.m. flight to the Himalayan Mountains.

At 5:30 we started our drive to the airport, which is about 15 minutes away from the hotel. The driver spoke somewhat good English and we made arrangements to meet up after my flight, though I wasn’t 100% sure if he understood, or if I understood our plan to meet up later, but I had faith that it would all work out for him to drive me back to the hotel.

The terminal used for domestic flights looked like it was the original terminal for the airport. It has certainly seen better days. The international terminal where I arrived on Wednesday is very clean and modern. I have since learned that getting around within Nepal either involves a car or bus driving for many hours along winding roads, which is the least expensive option, or to take a plane that will take less than an hour to make the same journey but will cost much more.

There was no guarantee that we will see the mountains today. I was told a test flight is made earlier to see if the weather is good for passenger flights and if the mountains can be viewed from an aircraft. We were told to board so that was a good sign and we took off 15 minutes later. Our assent took the most time since we had to get to 30,000 feet to be at the same level as the mountains.

Eventually we started our tour of the mountains, which are in somewhat of a line so the plane’s path would run parallel to them. I was not on the side of the plane with the view of the mountains. I assumed that the plane would turn around and on the way back I would be able to take pictures. The guy across in the seat facing the mountains took a few pictures for me. (Our plane was somewhat small and had one seat on each side of the aisle.)

The mountains were mostly snow covered and the morning sun helped highlight the peaks. To think that many of the mountains were twice as tall as Mt. Hood was astonishing. We had a picture representation handout that we could use to tell which mountains we were looking at but after a while they started all looking the same. The flight attendant helped us match what we saw out the window to our handout.

Just as we started to approach the point where we could see Mt. Everest we were told that clouds still clung to that section of the mountain range and that we were heading back to the airport. I was able to take a few pictures before the plane started moving away from the mountains.

On the way back to the airport I figured that I would be refunded my money and I’d book another flight for tomorrow morning. I’ll consider this morning’s flight to a test flight and will see the whole mountain range tomorrow.

As I was leaving the airport one of the other passengers came up to me and said that she confirmed that we would get a full refund. When I got back to the hotel I arranged with the travel desk to issue my refund and book another flight for tomorrow. Guess I’ll get up early again.

I hadn’t planned any other tours today and spent most of the day in bed. I’m coming down with a cold and the extra sleep will hopefully minimize the cold’s effects.

I’m starting to plan my itinerary from when I leave Abu Dhabi until I arrive in London in December. Prean isn’t sure of his plans for Christmas and let me know that Viktor will probably not get his passport sorted out in time to join us. I’m not too concerned because there are so many Christmas events during December I’ll be busy and make-do as it all unfolds.

I also learned today that Kathmandu experiences power outages from time to time. There was one while I was having afternoon tea in the lounge and again when I was there for my evening snack and beer. Then another outage later while watching Star Trek. I was wondering why there was a flashlight next to the bed. Now I know.

Think I got too much sleep today and had trouble both getting to sleep and staying asleep. I’m sure that 4:45 will arrive too early tomorrow morning. But I know that I’ll press on like I usually do.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Hyatt Regency (Kathmandu, Nepal)

I was very lazy this morning and slept in late. Mainly I was thinking about what to see and do while in Kathmandu. Yes, typical me, not having each day planned. Just a general idea.

There were three things I needed to do today. Visit an ATM to get cash, since using cash is most common here, visit the hotel’s travel desk, and get a pedicure in the hotel’s spa.

I first visited the travel desk and found out that there were no inexpensive helicopter flights to the mountains and they confirmed that a plane, which would be most cost-effective and would provide the same views. I also made arrangements for two half-day driving tours of the city and surrounding areas. While the travel agent was writing up the orders I visited the ATM and also made an appointment for a pedicure in the spa.

The flight tomorrow starts at 6:30 a.m. and my driver will be at the hotel to pick me up at 5:30 a.m. Glad I had plenty of rest today! Once the orders were complete I took the elevator to down to the spa. The hotel’s fitness center and spa are very complete. They even have a small selection of weight machines in addition to the usual treadmills.

The woman who gave me a pedicure was very good and careful not to injure me. I’ve learned that toes can be very sensitive. She gave me a relaxing foot massage as well. My feet felt very happy after the pedicure was finished.

I returned to my room for a little while then a small dinner in the lounge. I paid a little extra for my room so my breakfast and finger-food dinner are free. So many things to select from for dinner. One of the more complete drinks and finger food setups that I’ve seen in a hotel. Without being too obvious you can get a full meal if you make another pass over the food bar.

When I returned to my room I tried to get Netflix to work. There was something about the connectivity where this service was having trouble. I settled to watch YouTube videos instead.

As I was watching TV I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It almost looked like a mouse dashing across the room. I thought maybe my eyes were playing a trick on me. Then I saw it two more times before I saw what was either a mouse or a small rat. I wasn’t expecting that.

I knew I had to change rooms so I called the front desk to let them know about the small creature in my room and that I’d like another room. They started to offer to have someone capture it but I insisted on a new room. While I waited for the room to become available I packed up everything and was ready when my escort arrived.

My new room has a nice view of a nearby temple and was just like my former room but turned around. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. Perhaps it was due to moving rooms or anticipating my flight tomorrow. Or both. In any case, 4:45 a.m. came too early.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

DoubleTree by Hilton – Gurgaon (New Delhi, India)

I had plenty of time to get ready this morning since my flight to Kathmandu wasn’t scheduled to leave until 1:35 p.m. I was down in the lobby by 9:45 to settle the bill. Just I was about to walk out the door I was surprised by a cake with a candle in it. The staff wanted to thank me before I left. While I would like to think that they do this for all guests, it wouldn’t seem practical. I took a couple of bites of the cake and they put the remainder in a box so I could take it with me to the airport.

The ride to the airport was uneventful, though we ran into some slow traffic. The driver said we would be at the airport in 40 minutes and we arrived in 38. Nice! Had a bit of wait to get checked in. I was amazed how slow the people were at the check-in counter and saw how many people were still waiting behind me. Somehow they must have got everyone through, I guess, because our flight took off pretty much on time. We had a delay landing in Kathmandu because of fog but it lifted after 20 minutes.

After getting off the plane, then the “fun” began as I and maybe two hundred or more people attempted to get their Nepal visas from the airport’s automated visa-issuing system. There was one poor guy who was attempting to help everyone who was lined up to use about 8 machines that asked all sorts of questions, in English, from people who were from a variety of different countries. Then we had to pay for the visa (another line) and we couldn’t pay in local currency. I had to go to a ATM and get local cash then go to a counter to convert it to US dollars. Then one more line for the person to review our documentation and stamp our passports. It took two hours.

Once through immigration it took 10 minutes to find my suitcase which, with others on my flight who were still getting their visas, were put in another area. I finally met up with my driver who was still waiting for me. Was an interesting drive to the hotel because we took the back streets to avoid the traffic and I got a glimpse of the Kathmandu people going about their daily business.

We arrived at the hotel and I was welcomed by everyone who greeted me by saying “nameste”. I was escorted to the check-in desk on the executive floor. There I was able to ask for a complementary beer. (I needed it.) The lounge was nearby, thankfully, because the only lunch I had was a piece of chocolate cake, courtesy of DoubleTree. I enjoyed a small dinner than walked to my room. My luggage had already been delivered.

My room (I was offered an upgrade for $36 per night) was very nice. Large with updated features. It faces the garden and is located at the end of a long hallway so it should be quiet.

After a nap I was still hungry so ordered a pizza and a two beers. I watched a couple of episodes of Graham Norton (couldn’t get Netflix to work) and then went to bed early.

Tomorrow I’ll see if I can arrange a tour of the Himalayan mountains by helicopter and schedule a pedicure in the spa. While this isn’t a Hilton, it is definitely a five-star hotel. Think I’ll like it here for the next five nights.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Doubletree by Hilton – Gurgaon (New Delhi, India)

Think I got caught up on my sleep this morning. I was in bed early the night before since I was up at 1:15 a.m. for the drive to Agra. Though still a bit tired as I made my way to the lobby to meet my driver at 11:00.

When I arrived in the lobby no one knew the location of my driver or that I even had one scheduled. It took 15 minutes to straighten everything out. I ended up explaining what I wanted several times before I received confirmation. Much of the Indian style of communication seems to be totally opposite of mine. I’m confident and know what I want. It must throw them off.

In any case, I found out that my driver’s name was Ashok, the same name as my driver yesterday. He said he was Ashok #1 and my driver yesterday was Ashok #2. At least that was easy. My itinerary was simple. I first needed to go to an ATM, then get my haircut, then return to the Qutub Minar so I could tour the whole site, which I didn’t do on Sunday.

The ATM was easy. Ashok understood that I needed a large bank’s ATM and not a local grocery store’s ATM, he then found (eventually) a place to get my hair cut. We arrived at Qutub Minar and he helped me buy my ticket.

The Qutub Minar attraction is very popular but today the number of people was probably 10% of that on Sunday. The minar is a companion to the grand mosque next to it. Though the mosque is more of a ruin now, the minar is in perfect condition. The whole site is quite large and has been a gathering place for nearly 1,000 years.

At the end of my visit, while waiting for Ashok to get the car I visited with a tour guide from England. She brought her group to the site today and told me that she has lost several people of her tour. Has no idea where they are. She was great company while I waited.

I asked Ashok that we reconsider adding another stop to today’s itinerary since it was one hour away from 3:00. I had asked for only a four hour tour. We agreed to stop at the Hanuman Temple since it was on the way.

I’ve forgotten to write about the cows the roam the streets. After a while you forget that many places outside of India do not have livestock blocking the main roads or hanging out on the sidewalk. There are none around the hotel but a short distance away they are here and there and drivers weave around them. I asked Kannan about who knows who owns which cow. He said that people just know and there are few problems. I guess there is no need for a branding iron in India.

Not sure what exactly is part of the Hanuman Temple since there seems to be other temples in the same area. Ashok took me into one building that had several shines and a small museum dedicated to one of the well-known figures in the Hindu religion. It was all very nice but I was tired, hot, and hungry. It was time to return to the hotel.

We made it back to the hotel at almost exactly four hours since we left. Excellent. I got the feeling that Askok felt he let me know. Perhaps it is customary to extend a tour longer than planned. I assured him that it was me who needed to rest and I would give him a good review.

After a rest I had a quick dinner in the lounge and returned to my room to write my travel blog. The concierge stopped by my room to see how I was doing and confirm my booking for a ride to the airport tomorrow.

I’m looking forward to visiting Nepal. I’ll be there five nights and hope to arrange a helicopter ride over to the Himalayan mountains. We will see.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Doubletree by Hilton – Gurgaon (New Delhi, India)

I had set my alarm for 1:15 a.m. and was ready to leave at 2:00 to meet my driver in the lobby. While waiting I was given a cup of coffee to take with me on the three hour ride to visit the Taj Mahal, located in Agra, 198 km (123 miles) away.

My driver’s name was Ashok, who was fairly quiet most of the way. We made a few stops along the way so I could stretch my legs and use the restroom at one of the many well-maintained rest stops. The hotel provided us something to eat.

We arrived in Agra where we met my guide who took me to buy tickets. Ashok will wait for us outside. Since the ticket line was moving very slow he found someone to buy us tickets so we wouldn’t have to wait. We entered the grounds through the east gate, which was impressive on its own. Then I saw the Taj Mahal!

Since the “Taj” is unique and iconic, it was like seeing a picture come to life. You almost don’t believe you’re seeing the real thing, but I was. The guide (who I forgot to write down his name) took many pictures for me because he said he has been doing these tours for 11 years and knew the best places. I turned over my camera to him and he took so many pictures it will take me a couple of hours go through them all.

He told me the story about a Muslim king, a descendant of Genghis Kahn, who built this mausoleum for his wife who died at an early age. Another important piece of information was that this king was OCD. Very OCD. Everything needed to be symmetrical. When he built a mosque on one side of the Taj, he built another exact copy non-mosque on the other side, which is known as the guest house.

The detail that went into the Taj was performed by skilled craftsmen from several countries. The building materials likewise came from other countries as well, but the translucent marble was 100% Indian. The king’s family lived nearby in what is now known as the Red Fort.

To enter the mausoleum we were required to put on protective covers over our shoes. Many people went barefoot. This was to protect the marble floors. We walked around for about another hour and then the tour was over. Our tickets were good for three hours but I was okay with two. You can only take in so much at one time.

We met up with Ashok after we left through the west gate. From there we went to the Red Fort but didn’t go in since there isn’t much to see from the inside. I took a few pictures then drove to the Doubletree Hotel in Arga for breakfast. Ashok took the guide to another location while I waited.

Ashok and I ate a good breakfast before heading back to New Delhi. By now the outside temperature was rising but it didn’t get too hot. We arrived back in the Delhi area around 1:00 and I was back at the hotel by 2:00. Boy, was I tired. Soon after arriving in my room I was asleep.

I eventually woke and went up to the lounge for a light dinner then came back to my room to write today’s travel post. Of course Star Trek was watched and was in bed early. My driver will pick me up at 11:00 and will go on another tour of the Delhi area for four hours. I hope to get my hair cut tomorrow since it’s getting a little shaggy.