Chechnya Protest in London

We just happened to wander by the Russian Embassy in London as a crowd gathered to show support for gays being rounded up and held in detention centers in the Russian republic of Chechnya.  Part of a purge by the Russian government in response to a planned gay pride parade, Londoners we saw wanted to spread the word of this atrocity so action and pressure by world leaders will hopefully stop it.  I am happy to help.

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One man carefully spread out a roll of paper to write his message, “Free Love.  If compassion is higher form of wisdom, how wise are you?” while others organizing the event spoke to policewomen and the crowd.  Photographers captured the moment and others wrote encouraging thoughts on the pink triangles.  I wrote “Love Trumps Hate”.  Thom explained to me that in Nazi Germany gays had to wear pink triangles on their clothing.  Frightening times when we see history repeating itself and our nation’s leaders are doing nothing to stop it and some are encouraging it with their hate-filled rhetoric.

Laying pink flowers on the sidewalk, the mood was somber but defiant.  A group of men allowed their pictures to be taken as Londoners stopped to read the signs.  We walked by later on our way home, happy to see the signs undisturbed and folks reading the messages.  Grassroots efforts like this work as we are finding in the U.S. with our protest marches, calls to Congress and other efforts trying to stop the madness that lies in POTUS.  Where we can support other countries with their efforts to stop the hate and embrace love, we most certainly will.  Never give up and never back down.London_April 2017-8261

London Shopping-Vintage to Vinyl

Eleven miles and 25,000 steps later, we had walked ALL over London.  Literally.  We embraced “shop till you drop” and had fun doing it.  Starting at our historic boutique hotel, St. Ermin’s, at noon after sleeping in (jet lag sucks) we walked to Notting Hill.  Yes, that Notting Hill but, alas, we didn’t run into Hugh Grant.  Buggers!BC655D29-FC10-4252-920C-07883DB7450F

This terribly charming area has shops galore including Portobello Market, a street filled with stalls featuring furs, teapots and more.  But first, it was National Record Store Day and we were looking for vinyl and lucky enough to stumble upon the Music & Goods Exchange.  Searching for treasures among the used vinyl, I found “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, a compilation of 19 classic cuts from the archives of the Savoy featuring pioneer jazz, be-bop, rhythm and blues.  Dedicated to and featuring Charlie Parker, the tracks are from 1940-1960.  Thom picked up singles from Elvis Costello as much for the covers, which we will frame, as for the music. Can’t wait to spin some tunes when we get home!

I love bookstores second to none so imagine my excitement to not only find the original bookstore featured in the movie, Notting Hill, but we also found a great sale at another bookstore.  Picking up a “Royal Snap” very British card game, I now have a plan to play cards with Mia next time we go to Boise.  “Albie and the Space Rocket” was another purchase.  “It seems like just another ordinary night to Albie until he wakes up to find…penguins stealing the furniture, moose tangoing in the toilet and zebras asleep in the kitchen cupboard.  But who has left a trail of baked beans?”  Can’t wait to read this silly tale of adventure to Mia!  Of course, I’ll have to explain what a “bloke” is and so on.  Love those British terms especially “cheeky”.   I got Thom “From Churchill’s War Rooms” as he plans to visit the actual war rooms while I am working this week.  Booorrring! He knows that would not be at the top of my “go do” list so off he goes by himself.   Yet another bookstore we stumbled on wasn’t open but we read the sign by the door which shared that this shop was the inspiration for the travel bookshop featured in the movie.WP_20170422_19_16_40_Pro

Finally reaching Portobello Market, we navigated the crowds to find Mary’s Living and Giving, a thrift store that benefits Save The Children.  I had read about this amazing shop and it did not disappoint.  From Kate Spade to DVF, there were bargains galore and a friendly clerk to assist.  I’ve decided to start a new tradition and get Hannah vintage fashion wherever I travel and this time she’ll be gaining a black sheath with fringe and zipper treatment.  Super cheeky and all proceeds to a worthy cause!

Around the corner, we found another vinyl store, Rough Trade, where we browsed until we were informed that closing time was upon us so basically, “GET OUT!” Now dark, we started our long journey home.  Walking in front of a group of millennials at one point, we chuckled at their conversation discussing a game they like to play in the pubs called, “Daddy or Sugar Daddy?” asking women with older companions to share the truth.  Wonder how many cocktails they get thrown in their faces while playing this cute game.  I’m betting quite a few.

At one point along a lonely, creepy stretch of road, I was ready to try to hail a cab.  My back hurt, my feet ached and I was a little bit scared.  “Princess Snowflake get your ass moving” was my compassionate husband’s response to that idea.  Hitting 11 miles on my overworked Fitbit, we finally arrived back at St. Ermin’s.  Time for an adult beverage.  Cheers!

B Day in London

B Day was today in London with Theresa May cutting Britain loose from the European Union.  Thom and I had experienced a celebration of the EU in Munich last Sunday and now we were on hand to witness this historic Brexit moment in London.  Two sides of an important issue affecting so many people.

We walked across the Westminster Bridge one week after the terrorist attack and thanked the Muslims who were peacefully standing by the memorials and advocating love and unity.  Right on!  Later in the day, the police blocked off the bridge and marched in solidarity to show support for their officer who died in the attack.

We walked by Big Ben to see all the news teams who had taken over a local park to broadcast.  With Parliament across the street. it made for a good backdrop for the news personalities to discuss B Day.  Back at the hotel after 20,000+ steps (9 miles) of walking all over London on my only day off here before I head to work tomorrow, it was fun to watch the news broadcasts from where we had just been.

All the news shows are discussing Brexit and the effect it will have on London and the EU.  There seems to be so much uncertainty and confusion.  Of course, there were protestors making a statement on our crazy POTUS too-it is all one tangled mess.  Seems like our leaders could get their act together and actually take care of their citizens but people here are shaking their heads in dismay just like we are in the US.  What.  The.  Hell.

Happy EU Anniversary!

Of course, wherever Thom goes, he finds a protest or a rally.  He is a magnet for all things political.  So it came as no surprise when we stumbled upon a guy wearing a EU flag setting up for a rally while we were on our walking tour of Munich on Sunday.  After our tour ended, we circled back to the square, which by this time was packed with pro-EU flag-waving supporters.

While the speeches were in German, I wasn’t surprised to hear them call out “Trump” and then “women’s march” no doubt alluding to our idiot POTUS and the successful protests in the US against him and his pro-Russian regime.  Thom was wearing his “sorry about our President” t-shirt in 13 languages.  As we walked around the crowd, many were amused as they read the sentiments, some even asking for photos with Thom.  That’s my guy-always making a political statement!

Amidst the chants, cheers, marching and flag-waving, it was obvious that Germany embraces the EU.  We found the merch table and loaded up on EU stickers, pins and bags for souvenirs and to support the cause.  When in Rome and all.  I can only hope that the US steps up their political activism and pours on the protests to make a difference.  We won’t give up and neither will the Germans apparently in their support of the EU.  Go forth and rally people!

Walking Munich

With only one day to explore Munich, we chose to take a historic walking tour offered by InMunich.  My brain is in overload with all the cool facts and interesting stories that our tour guide, Hein, shared with us.  Meeting in Marienplatz Square at 10:45 a.m., we got a quick summary of the history of Munich before the glockenspiel went off at 11 a.m. serenading the huge crowd with music, bells and the moving characters that illustrate the history of Munich.  Fantastic.

Hein guided us over the next three hours through the streets of Munich, pointing out the beautiful buildings and giving us the backstory of each one.  Admittedly, I am the ignorant American who obviously never paid attention in history classes as I learned more about Hitler and WWII from Hein than I did in school.  Munich lost 80% of their buildings to the war but they rebuilt beautifully.  The few buildings and parts of buildings that did survive the raining down of bombs were on the tour.  As Hein asked various questions, the answer was always “beer”.  To distract a pet monkey who saved a royal baby from a rampaging baboon, what did they offer?  Beer.  When the town folk didn’t have enough gold to get the Swedish King to leave them alone during a takeover, what did they offer him?  Liquid gold, aka beer.  And so on.

Along with six other couples, all Americans, we learned of Hitler’s early years as an aspiring artist.  Hein told us that if he could go back in history, he would make sure Hitler made it into art school vs. getting rejected which led to his career in government and killing.  Most powerful moment was seeing “dodger alley” where the Resistance would run to get around the mandatory saluting to the Nazi regime off the major square where Hitler made campaign speeches.  Seeing the beer hall where Hitler had one of his first major oratory moments as he came into power was also chilling.  So many times over the course of the tour, Thom and I would look at each other and mouth “Trump moment” because it feels like history is repeating itself with our lying, power hungry, amoral POTUS who would rather let citizens die if it meant his agenda was approved.  Terrifying.

At our break halfway through the tour, Hein encouraged us to make use of the public bathrooms and Starbucks but I chose a different path.  Cold and needing an instant warm-up, I got a shot of good whiskey at an Irish pub.  No ice just whiskey.  My friends, Kurt and Ernie, would be so proud of me.  Later, we would fill up on a good German dinner of sausages/sauerkraut/potatoes for Thom and white asparagus/potatoes with hollandaise sauce for me with a side of pretzels, of course, and a carafe of wine.  Cheers!

Creating Indian Bracelets

In the basement of my hotel outside one of the many restaurants, a turbaned gent sits cross-legged in front of a small charcoal fire taking requests to make bracelets.  If you dine in the restaurant, you get a complimentary bracelet.  Of course, I’m not eating in India so I was told to just tip the craftsman a few dollars and he will make some for me.  I decided to tip him with all my remaining rupees.

Picking out the colors I wanted from the blocks on sticks, he melts each color, smearing them onto his tool one at a time .  After sizing up the two thin pieces of copper onto my wrist which he will curl the melted colors around to form a circle, he expertly rolls out the colors somehow manipulating the swirls of black, gold and silver to form a gorgeous and unique piece of art.  After some banging and more sizing, the bracelet is finished and hot.  Literally.  Allowing it to cool off, I proceeded to get others made for Mia and co-workers.  When I proudly wear mine, I will always remember my incredible adventure in India.

Eating Challenges in India

I ate fish on a plane.  Not wise.  After spending a week in India only drinking bottled water and eating Cliff bars, I was so hungry I tempted fate and took a bite of the offered meal on my Emirates flight out of India.    After 2 bites, common sense took over and I put down the fork.  Facing 2 long flights to get to Munich from Hyderabad, I couldn’t afford to be sick so all eating airplane food had to cease.  Too risky.  But with an aching back, I did order up an OJ with a side of whiskey to loosen up my muscles.  Starving but wise I am and 5 pounds lighter too.WP_20170320_18_14_30_Pro (2)

Life on the road with a weak stomach is a challenge.  First, I have to pack enough food to last me and scads of Imodium.  Cliff bars are heavy thus the aching back from my backpack full of snacks.  Then, you have to get used to explaining to everyone inviting you to eat that you just can’t partake and try not to share too many medical details but just enough to get them to stop pushing food on you even though they are just trying to be hospitable.  Socially it’s awkward at best to tag along with those of strong stomachs as they go to the “hot” restaurants and sample the local cuisine and you can’t join in.  I have to keep explaining that it all looks delicious so as not to offend our hosts.  But, no thank you, if I eat the lamb curry and lentils, I’ll die. 

Unfortunately, one of our team members did partake and felt like dying for at least a day.  She tempted fate and lost.  Checking on her and sending up Gatorade and antacids, we all knew it could happen to any of us.  Nothing worse than being on the road and getting ill.  No one to hold your head as you puke your guts out or get the hotel doctor for a house call.  Luckily, she recovered in time to fly home.

Okay, besides Cliff bars I did happen to sample wine in every city including a nice Chateau St. Michelle Syrah in Delhi.  I certainly eyed the morning breakfast buffets at the hotels as they were over-the-top with offerings from all around the world.  Thom would have gorged himself had he accompanied me.  He likes a good buffet.   One day I did go down and got a plain waffle.  Very boring but it was hot and delicious.

The work cafeterias offered a wide variety of options daily from Indian cuisine to Subway.  Since the locals eat with their hands, there are washing stations for easy clean up.  Ice cream is a big hit too and necessary to cleanse the palate after a hot and spicy meal.  The coffee cart was interesting with delicious (I’m told) boiled sugar cane sweetened drinks served in small clay pots (biodegradable).  The barista was kind enough to just give me one of the little cups to take home as a souvenir.

Now I’m off to Germany where I will try not to gain back the 5 pounds when I grab a pretzel or two. 

Dog vs. Monkey. Monkey won. #india

Walking the local streets of Hyderabad, we heard intense barking.  A group of dogs, so skinny their ribs stuck out, were going crazy by the side of the busy road so, of course, we went to investigate.  “Don’t get too close!” my co-worker yelled as I weighed the odds of dying if I ran through scooters, cars and buses to get a picture of the monkey vs. dog urban turf war.  In a wise choice, I decided not to get any closer to the angry monkey as he drove off the dogs and wandered back into the trash-infested vegetation to claim his territory.  One lone dog raced up a piece of broken concrete to continue the battle, barking furiously at the monkey but no longer with back-up.  Monkey 1, Dogs 0.

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So it goes in India.  Finally escaping the cocoon of hotels and offices, I broke free after work to walk around and soak up the street life in Hyderabad, a city known for it’s tech worker population.  Tall office buildings for HSBC, Allegiant, Expedia, etc. give shade to the tin shacks and roadside food carts where locals huddle to eat in the heat.  Amidst the dirt and debris, we dodged traffic to get a flavor for the neighborhood.  I was struck by the similarity to what I observed in China both with the abject poverty of the locals and the camaraderie of the people smiling as they congregated on the streets to eat and chat.

My colleague, a diverse female, and I got many long stares as we walked, the only Westerners in sight.  I waved back to the children looking at us with curiosity.  They smiled in return. The men I ignored as they gave us “up and down” looks.  You get used to being surprised by men’s behavior here unfortunately.   The local men immediately speak only to our male team member travelling with us.  Men like to take over and make decisions for the women, a practice that doesn’t sit well with strong women like me.  I now understand why the Indian women I have observed in work situations can speak very loud and firm.  They probably have to in order to live and work in this type of environment and have their voices heard.  Good for them!

Another day in India and then off to Munich and London.  What a contrast that will be to India.   Cheers!

 

 

Good Bye Delhi, Hello Bangalore!

Travel is always an adventure.  The Delhi airport, however, definitely took the foreign airport experience to a new level from the armed guards strutting around with large assault rifles to free mandatory massages by security, it didn’t disappoint in the WTF factor. 

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Jet Airways was our inter-country flight option.  Not a fan.  Even my small carry-on bag was deemed “too heavy” for the flight so I had to check it.  So much for packing light to avoid the inconvenience of waiting for my luggage.  Just how damn tiny is our plane that a small carry-on doesn’t fit in the overhead?  Dude checking me in couldn’t understand my flight info and tagged my bag to Hyderabad-my next destination in two days.  Explaining I really needed my bag to follow me to Bangalore and not skip ahead to Hyderabad without me took some time and effort, though eventually I believe we got it right but I’ll reserve judgement until I can confirm the bag makes it to the right destination.  Not holding my breath.

Entering the security area, my female teammate and I were told to go to the most remote scanner as we were “ladies”.  Sure enough, not only were there separate “lady” and “gent” lanes to walk through but the ladies got to go into a special curtained tent area where I proceeded to get the most thorough pat down EVER.  I’m talking full body, no private part left untouched and I didn’t even get introduced to the guard.  Perhaps I should have asked for an address where I could send a Christmas card because after that security massage, she knew me better than most of my dearest friends. 

With bags and body checked, we proceeded to shop.  It was that or grab a smoke in the multiple smoking lounges, but I don’t imbibe even after a quality pat down.  Along with the smoking lounges which were quite crowded, there were prayer lounges too.  I chose to check out the Benetton shop which is a blast from the 80’s in the U.S. but apparently still quite popular around the world.  After advising my co-worker to verify the size portions, as a medium would probably be small in US sizes, sure enough she ended up buying the extra-large for her medium-sized husband. 

Why, why do nice airports still have squat toilets for the ladies?  They had the regular kind as well so is it to make the visitors from China feel at home?  I did find it interesting that every bathroom had multiple bathroom attendants who literally wiped your toilet seat for you before inviting you into the stall and then they handed you a paper towel to dry your hands.   I’ll remember these hard-working gals when I think my job is tough and remember to count my blessings.

Spying a spa across the promenade, I decided to follow up my full body massage by the guard with a lovely 30-minute foot massage.  Now,  I haven’t had many massages since my Dragonfly Spa membership in Shanghai so it was quite the treat.  In China, they soak your feet in a big bucket of hot water first which makes sense because people’s feet are yuck.  Really, who on Earth would want to rub dirty feet?  Obviously, here in India it’s not a concern because they got right to the action with no cleaning.  Double yuck. The Indian version of foot massage involved some pretty rough pulling and cracking of the toes and the use of a small wooden rod that she dug into each toe to make a point.  Pretty sure I’ll have bruises but it was all for the greater health and well-being of my body.  Finally, the rough stuff stopped and was followed by a lovely lotion rub that felt amazing.  Here I was leaving Delhi for Bangalore and enjoying a massage.  Who am I and how did I get so lucky???

Finally arriving at our gate, I was surprised to find chaises upon which weary travelers could recline and relax before their next terrifying flight within India.  Ahhhh, it’s all about the journey and what a gift travelling is to experience other cultures.  Next stop Bangalore.

A new day breaks in India

The ABJASS strike has been called off with new talks underway between the government and the group who vowed to shut down the city of Delhi with thousands of protesters if their voice was not heard and action taken. This alleviates some of my tension as I face my first work day in India and brace for the grey pollution that I can taste sitting inside.  Yum.

The ethnic Jat group was campaigning for quotas for Jats in state government jobs and educational institutions.  It’s all about good jobs, diversity, representation and being treated equally all over the world and protests do work. The  U.S. is finding that out too.

After a long nap and on/off bouts of sleep overnight, I am up watching the local neighborhood outside my hotel wake up.  While I am in a gated compound, the hotel is adjacent to a desolate urban scene with trains rumbling by and hard dirt spaces filled with street carts, homeless camps and construction materials.  I see men walking by and students in uniform making their way to school.  The cars are small and white with the 3 wheel Tuk Tuk carts everywhere and scooters/bikes weaving in, out and between lanes.  General chaos with loose rules of the road by the look of it from my fifth floor perch.

Though it is going to hot here today-close to 100 degrees-the men I see walking by are wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts.  No casual shorts and flip flops here despite the heat.  Carts are being set up again on the side of the roads to provide wares and food.  Hard life indeed.

Where are the women?  Are they home with children?  At brunch yesterday with my male boss and female co-worker, the host of the restaurant at the hotel came to our table but only spoke to the male in the group.  “Get used to it” was the comment from my boss as we commented on the snub.  I’m wondering if this discrimination will be prevalent at work today.  But, hey, they had a clown for the kids at the brunch and he was open to a photo op with a female so perhaps all will be okay.  Here’s hoping!

 

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Sunday Brunch at the Westin Gurgaon-I didn’t eat but enjoyed the clown for the kids!