Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mumbai, India

Stepping off the plane, the overwhelming feeling of being in India hits you. Whether it’s the heat, different smells, the people or even the sudden impact of just how noisy this place is. Mumbai is spread across almost 450 sq kilometers and boasts a population of nearly 19 million. Mumbai is also the capital of the state of Maharashtra which is an island connected by bridges to mainland India. Mumbai became the official capital of Maharashtra after Independence and the split from the state of Gujarat in 1960. Formerly known as Bombay during colonial times, the city’s name was officially changed back to Mumbai in 1996 to help recapture the cities lost history. Mumbai is a city that not all can handle. But for a seasoned traveler or someone who is really seeking out a city far different from home, Mumbai is truly the gateway to India.

Arriving at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is most common for people coming to Mumbai. It is located about a 45 minute cab ride from the center of town, mind you that may double depending on time of day. We decided to stay at Hotel Travelers Inn, about a 10 minute walk from the heart of the tourist center, Colaba. This small Guesthouse has single and double private rooms as well as 3 bed dormitories which Noah and I stayed in. At $10 a night, it is not a bad price for its location and a constant feeling of safety and security. The ride in from the airport will take you through many parts of Mumbai including the slums, high rise buildings, neighborhood block parties, discos and past countless food stalls. Our guesthouse was also a close 5 minute walk to the amazing, hectic, colonial style Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, also known as Victoria Station.
With our Guesthouse being in a busy commercial area of Mumbai known as Fort, since this is once where the British fort once stood, walking was made easy. Just south is Colaba, home to many of the city’s attractions including the Gateway to India, Taj Mahal Palace, National Gallery of Modern Art and Leopold’s Cafe, which in 2008 was the target of a terrorist attack. The Fort & Churchgate area are just as interesting. Home to the Oval Maiden, a vast open park in the middle of this bustling part of the city, this is where you want to be in order to truly appreciate many of Mumbai’s majestic Victorian buildings. This area is also home to the Prince of Wales Museum, Marine Drive & Girgaum Chowpatty beach, the High Court and the University of Mumbai.

One of the things that Noah and I could not wait for once we landed in Mumbai was of course, the food! Walking down any street you will pass numerous hole in the wall cafes, five star restaurants, street vendors and food stalls. This city is shaped by countless different types of food and spices from all over the world. A couple of our favorite places to eat in Bombay included Cafe Universal, although relatively expensive compared to other local places, had a good atmosphere as well as an extensive menu with food ranging from Indian favorites to pizza and burgers. Pancham Periwala is my personal favorite, to leave Mumbai without going to this local favorite to try one of their several thali meals would be a serious miss. To come to India without an open mind regarding the food would be a mistake. Whether it is the thali meals, kebabs, aloo mutter, paneer, naan, samosas or dosas, all deserve a try as you will not regret it. Of course we can’t guarantee you won’t get sick at some point, this is India after all.

Mumbai is big and I could go on and on about this city. It is a city full of business men, day laborers, politicians, poverty, stray dogs and everything in between. It is home to the world’s largest film industry as well as home to some of the worlds largest slums. Mumbai is a city that can quickly become overwhelming, even to the not so faint of heart. The key is to give yourself the right amount of time. Come with an open mind and appreciate everything around you, no matter how maddening and stressful it may get. Who knows, by the time you leave here, Mumbai just might start to make a little sense to you. Maybe!

The Friday before we leave for Sweden

Taking Sweden by storm, or at least leisurely walks.

Ah, Sweden. When I think of the time spent in Sweden I think of a few things. I think of the night that Zach and I ran into some other Americans and went bar hopping, and I think of Zach’s Swedish family reunion in Falun, I think of bars with his aunt and uncle and dinner with all of his family, and finally I think of so much walking.

One Friday we ran into some Americans at this Swedish rocker bar we had been going to for the cheap (relatively) pints. It looked pretty dead so we were in the process of leaving, but then one of the guys at the bar grabbed Zach and started yelling about the Red Sox. Zach was wearing one of his Red Sox hats, so that made a bit of sense. It turns out several of the guys that were there were from Boston, and all of those were Sox fans. We started talking with the guys, they were in Stockholm for a couple of days before they headed to Munich for Oktoberfest. We told them about our upcoming travels and we all hit it off pretty quickly.

They asked if we new some good bars and Zach said that not only did he know some good bars he stays just around here and knew the area pretty well. Then we were off towards Sodermalm. We started walking. We started slowly losing guys, one at Medusa, but were still rolling 6-7 deep. We had to stop for gyros for the guys, but Zach and I had already eaten. I don’t remember that much of what we talked about on the walk, but it was the general back and forth that all men know well. The drunken getting to know people that you will probably never see again. I’m not dismissing it, because it is fun, but calling it like I see it. We traded stories, and talked with them about where they were from. Aparrently a couple of them were from this town outside Tampa Florida. That immediately peaked Zach’s interest because that is one of the places that we were looking at coming back to. They said it was really cool and way better than Miami.

We got to Soder and went to Pet Sounds, which was the bar Zach and I went to briefly the night before with Anna’s friend Elin. They were about to close so we couldn’t get any beers. They even resisted the charms of the Boston guys trying to bribe the bartender to serve us anyways. We then tried to leave, but some of the Bostonians were reluctant. Finally all of us left. Zach, me and the lead Bostonian? The lead Bostonian noticed we were about 5 people short and we went back, and noticed that they had picked up a couple of people. A few girls and their assorted boyfriends. More the merrier as I always say. The new Swedes had an idea for some bar that Zach hadn’t heard of. They said it was open late so we were all down. They tried to GPS us there, but were having issues, but we eventually ended up in front of this club.

So clubs in Sweden are even more expensive than the bars, up to $15/pint, way out of our price range. Most of the Bostonians opted to stay, but Zach, me and two of the guys went back to Medusa for a nightcap. We had a couple of pints at the Medusa, and the Bostonians decided to head out. It was a weird goodbye. I’m not used to picking up new friends at the bar like that and bonding that quickly. We shook hands and they took off. Zach turned to me, “Well that doesn’t mean that we can’t drink for the rest of the night.”
“Agreed,” was my witty rejoinder.
Then some drunk guy came up to us to try to get us to watch him beatbox on the set. He was speaking in an odd mix of Swedish and English I’m told they colloquially refer to as, “Swenglish.” Zach’s Swedish is much better than mine, which is basicallly non-existent, and he tried to talk with the guy. He was very drunk and insistent on something. I don’t speak Swedish, so I’m not sure what it was, but he sure wanted us to know. After maybe a half hour of this we decided to head back to the apartment. We then sat at the kitchen table and drank and talked, just like we had earlier in the night. I don’t remember going to sleep, but I was awoken by the church bells. They seemed to come from everywhere. I later learned from Anna that the apartment was between two different churches whose bells went off at the same time. So it was bells in stereo to wake you up in the morning, fine most mornings, but a little rough on that one.

The Thursday before we left we went into Stockholm to get our visas and have dinner with Zach’s uncle Johan. It turns out that the consulate was closed on that day for Ghandi’s birthday. Ghandi, always messing up our plans. This meant that we had to get our passports/visas the Friday before we left. We were cutting it pretty close, but we like to live on the edge (heh).

We met up with Johan, and his infant son Jonathon and walked around Sture Plan. We took in the sights, and just enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t raining.. He walked us through some of the French style open markets. I assume they were expensive because there weren’t any prices on anything. I asked Johann about it and he said that it was probably a “If you have to ask, it’s too much for you,” kind of thing.

We grabbed some Texas Style ribs and stuff for slaw, and went over to Johann and his wife Karin’s place. It was very nice and we picked up Zach’s other cousin from daycare. Johann had grabbed some ciders, and some beer at the store and we started chatting about a little bit of this, and that. We talked of Johan’s plans for living in the city, our upcoming departure for India, Johan’s travels in the past, and the lessons he learned from them. It was one of the nicer conversations I’ve had in a good long while. Dinner was equally pleasant, and the ribs and slaw were great, true southern style. Also known as the best style (keep your vinegar off my meat New Orleans GLARE).

We left when the children were going to bed. Zach and I were going to stop by Medusa for a pint, but it was completely empty. So instead we stopped by the store, grabbed a couple of what the Swedes call light beer (3.5% abv), but back home we call “near beer”. We then walked to the waterfront and watched the city and drank our beer. We eventually wandered back to the apartment and saw Anna who had just got back from her business trip. It was a pretty early night, so that we could go out the next day for a quick beer with Anna before we took the train back to Saltsjobaden.

On Friday we got up and had some trail mix, then we goofed around online for a few hours. After that we went on a long meandering walk around the city, and grabbed our passports/visas. There were buildings and people, I think I went through some part I hadn’t seen before. I’m not super good at remembering that kind of thing, but it was nice.

So then I set up some networking stuff for Anna and we said bye to Zach’s other uncle Anders and his wife Annika. We got to the bar at maybe 5-10 mins before 8PM. You might ask me, “Noah why does that matter? Isn’t the bar open until like 2AM?” Why yes it is randomly nosy person, but until 8PM the beers are only 24kr. Yes that’s right they are only $3.32 USD. That’s a pretty good price for a pint in the states, but it’s unheard of in Sweden. That’s less than a dollar more than you pay for a cold near beer at the grocery store. Pints in Sweden are about $9 at a cheap place and up to $15 at clubs. Fortunately the bartender was OK with selling us 2 a piece. We sat down and drank our beers, figuring that we would head out after that. I grabbed the next round, then there was another, and another, as these things tend to happen.

At some point during these rounds a very drunk Swede started talking to Anna in Swedish. I had seen this guy sitting next to us for a while eyeing Anna. He looked at us oddly then Anna said something and he laughed. He had been talking to us and wondered why we hadn’t responded. Then he realized that we don’t speak Swedish. He started referring to us as Englishmen, and started chatting. He was in that perfect meet new people level of drunkenness. He was a bit boorish, but still entertaining, and he had avoided pissing anybody off too much. He was drinking slowly, which was probably for the best because he was already clearly drunk.

He asked where we were from and we said Oregon. I have learned since coming to Sweden that almost no one knows where Oregon is. Zach mentioned that he’s originally from California, and I said that I’m originally from Oklahoma. He kept trying to ask me a question that I was having trouble hearing in the very loud bar. He wanted to know what Oklahoma was known for being better at then almost anybody else in the world. I had to think about that. I like Oklahoma, but it’s not really known for being really good at anything. In Oklahoma we generally fight with South Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee for being the worst at things, or the best at bad things. Like highest teen pregnancies, muders per capita, childhood obesity, and lowest teacher pay. I really thought about it for a minute then I had it.
“We make the best meth in the world!” He started laughing and asked,
“Really?”
“Yes, three of our biggest exports are marijuana, corn, and meth.” We also have the musical, but I try to never bring that up because, especially with drunk people, they start singing it. He seemed to accept my answer, and said that I was alright. Hey, if a drunken Swede thinks it, it must be true right?

Pretty soon after that he had to go before he passed out. He seemed convinced that Anna and Zach were a couple no matter how many times they said that they were family. As an aside Anna started introducing Zach as her brother because she thought being called his aunt made her seem old. I find no end of amusement in this by the way. Also because having a brother from another country is odd, but I guess it could be possible with step-siblings.

We finished up our last rounds then walked to the train station and went back to Saltsjobaden. On the train we were hoping that the kebab place would be open. It was not, much to our chagrin. We walked back, and had an argument about something inane. Zach kept trying to get me to bet him. I knew that I was a little drunk at this point because the only time Zach tries to bet me money is when I’ve been drinking. Over the years he’s won a lot of money off of me in these bets, but I made a rule never to bet while drinking. I have been pretty good about this as well, so I wouldn’t. It ended up being for the best though because I was wrong (but I won the moral victory, also known as the useless victory).

A day in the life of the Bromads: Goan Edition

The direct sunlight finally reaches our room and the temperature quickly rises. The quick increase prompts us both to slowly open our eyes, by now we already know that it is roughly 10 a.m. It takes a second to adjust to the fact that we are once again waking up in a tropical paradise halfway across the world. But with it comes the morning body inspection of insect bites obtained during the warm humid night. Our daily life is rather simple and we know the first thing to do is to go for our morning swim.

Jack’s Corner is roughly a kilometer from the beach. As we walk down the long stretch of road we pass local women laying out thousands of fish from the morning catch by the local fishermen. The women must start early in order to have the fish sorted and perfectly laid out in order to catch the blistering afternoon sun for drying. Greetings of “hello” and “where are you from?” are a daily occurrence during our morning stroll. Halfway up the road we pass through wide open fields of palm trees and water buffalo washing themselves in the warm ponds of water. We reach the end of the road and there is the beautiful white sand beach with fishing boats every few meters, followed by the warm water of the Arabian Sea.
A half an hour is all we need before we head back to the hotel for our morning shower. While I typically do a bit of reading, Noah enjoys recounting the previous days events in his notebook. Around 12 or so we decide it is a good time to head down the other street towards town for lunch and our daily trip to the supermarket for mixer, sweets and water. Lunch is usually pretty light as we enjoy a heavier meal at night when the sun is no longer beating down on us for the walk home. By 2 we are back in our room ready for our midday siesta by the fans and break from the hottest hours of the day.

We know it is time to get up when we hear the call of the birds out our window and the sun has slowly begin to set. Following our post nap showers, we grab our soda we bought earlier in the day and make a couple rum and cokes to enjoy out on our balcony over looking palm trees and local passer-byes. By 6 we are on the road again headed for the beach for our evening swim and to watch the sunset with locals alike. After yet another shower, it is time to venture out to find some delicious Indian food for dinner.

There are numerous restaurants in the small, sleepy beachside village of Benaulim. We make it our goal to try and eat at every establishment before our time here is up. While we try to keep lunch around 100 Rupees apiece, this allows us to splurge a little on dinner and post meal drinks. Mind you splurging is roughly 250 Rupees, or about $4. We are never disappointed with our meal nor the amazing service we receive throughout, as the owners and waiters make sure we are pleased with their establishment. After dinner drinks usually consist of the local favorite Feny, a clear strong liquor made from either cashews or coconut. Due to the unknown strength of this locally made spirit, we mix it with either water and lime or soda. Trust us, one 60ml shot of this stuff is all you really need. That is unless you are looking for someone to carry you home.

By 10 o’clock our day has come to an end. Laying down while my eyes slowly begin to shut, the days events pass through my mind. Here I am, laying in bed in a country that I have longed to visit ever since I was a child. A year ago if you would of told me this is where I would be, I would of told you that you were crazy. I had a wife, kids, a good but stressful career, bills and of course never ending responsibility. Though if I had my choice, things may be a little different then they are now. But how can I possibly complain knowing what a stress free and calm day tomorrow will bring.

Oh what a difference a year can make!