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What the Tuk?

“2000 miles of awesome starts on January 1, 2010…”


On January 1st, 2010, my friends Chris, Rommy, and I are driving a motorized rickshaw (aka ‘tuk tuk’) from Pokhara, Nepal to Cochin, India in a “race” called the Rickshaw Run. Our team, Tuk Tuk Goose, is one of almost 70 teams from around the world participating in this zany challenge of wits, patience, and perseverence.  We’re very excited about this adventure and would love to have you join us for the ride!

Here’s how you can participate…

#1.  Follow us! (Please)

One of our (many) goals is to keep our friends and families updated & engaged over the coming months and throughout the journey.  We’ll be blogging from the road and will include an integrated map that tracks our route (god & technology willing), so follow us!

Blog: http://tuktukgoose.wordpress.com.
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tuktukgoose
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tuk-Tuk-Goose/90978808096?ref=nf
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/tuktukgoose

#2.  Help us raise money! (Pretty Please) :-)
Yes, we are trying to offset some of the blatant self-indulgence by raising money for some great charities that support the communities we’ll meet along the way.  To read more on the charities we’re supporting check out the Charity section of our blog.
We’re required to raise just 1000 GBP ($1600 – $1700 at today’s exchange rate), but we’re planning to blow that number out of the water.  Please support us by making a donation via JustGiving to the following organizations:
Mercy Corps in IndiaLearn more and DONATE NOW!
Maiti NepalLearn more and DONATE NOW!
Charity #3 – TBD
We’re also organizing a fundraiser in San Francisco sometime in November… stay tuned.
#3.  Share your genius ideas!
Know someone who can donate some lightweight solar chargers?  Got suggestions for where we can rest our weary heads along the route?  Have experience sweet-talking Indian highway officials out of a bribe?  Let us know!
THANK YOU – Your enthusiastic support is hugely appreciated!

Travel Log: Salzburg, Austria

I was in Salzburg, Austria for a few days in July 2008 for a friend’s wedding and wanted to write a post to pay hommage.   This was a really short trip, mostly occupied by wedding related activities.  But what an incredible time!

I  flew from SFO to JFK to connect with a couple of friends for the rest of the journey. From there we flew to Heathrow, then to Munich,and then by train to Salzburg.  San Francisco is just obnoxiously far from almost any destination in the world.

My first impression of Salzburg was that it’s a very wealthy city.  Everything is very clean and charmingly ritzy.  I’m not sure how the town makes money (Sacher cake is pretty damn tasty), but some of the locals suggested that much of the city’s wealth comes from real estate investment… I read somewhere it’s from medieval salt trade.  Who knows.  Definitely rich.

We stayed at a hotel in the heart of the city… Star Inn Hotel Zentrum and spent our first evening and next day in lovely Anif at a rented country mansion that hosted the Mehndi ceremony and Hindu wedding.   That afternoon we toured some of the main attractions in Salzburg, including the Festung, Hellbrunn Castle, and a couple of cathedrals.   All guests met later that evening for dinner and beer at a local beer house and many of us carried the party onward to a string of local pubs and clubs.

Salzburg nightlife may have some options for avid ravers and club-goers, but if memory serves, the clubs we went to were more on the mellow side.  No elbowing, no toe-mangling, no drink-spilling sloppy drunks (okay, I probably spilled on myself a bit… but I’m clumsy sober), no spastic light shows or deafening sound-systems, and there was actually room to dance.   The music was good and I felt at ease dressed in tshirt & jeans… Definitely my kind of scene.

That night I was stung by a beast of a mosquito (or something) in the eyelid and woke up with my eye swollen completely shut.  Looked hot with a strappy dress.

The following morning, we attended the beautiful Protestant wedding ceremony at a local cathedral on the river.  The highlight was the wedding reception (which lasted 11 hours) at a hilltop restaurant – M32 – overlooking a very breathtaking Salzburg.  While the views and venue were perfectly elegant, the planned activities and guests really made this event.  Over the course of 11 hours we enjoyed cocktails on the terrace, an incredible dinner spread, a New York & hearts themed wedding cake, garba-raas (including lessons for newbies), heart-shaped balloon drop, an impromptu 4th of July celebration (sparklies included), crazy 3-D sunglasses that refracted light into hearts,  a Milli Vanilli reunion, hours of dancing, and cigars & bourbon on the terrace…

I can’t promise that every Salzburg experience will be as memorable as mine, but I do recommend a visit.  Even if you’re not into Mozart or the Sound of Music, Salzburg is a lovely city to visit.  The locals are kind and happy (possibly because everyone is comfortably wealthy), the sites and scenes are picturesque, and the beer is delicious.

View from M32

View from M32

Travel Log: Egypt

I was in Egypt earlier this year for a week of work coupled with a week of vacation and had an incredible time. I’ve spent entire weekends curled up on the sofa watching Egypt marathons on the History/Discovery channel… but even for someone who is only mildly interested in ancient Egypt, there is so much to take in. Just be prepared to feel minuscule.

When: May 2008
Where: Nile River Valley (Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor), Cairo, Giza
What: 4-day northbound Nile River cruise, conference & work in Cairo, about two days of site-seeing in Cairo/Giza.

Rough Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Flew into Cairo late night, greeted by our tour guide at the airport, taken to hotel for 3 hours of sleep, early flight to Philae.  All day in Philae visiting Philae temple, High Dam, Perfumery, unfinished Obelisk, then board cruise
  • Day 2: Early visit to Kom Ombo temple, sail to Edfu temple
  • Day 3: Luxor (West Bank)… Valley of the Kings, Temple of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon
  • Day 4: Luxor (East Bank)… Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, ditched our guide for free time in Luxor before flight to Cairo
  • Day 5: Cairo… Egypt Museum, papyrus shop, Pyramids at Giza, Sphinx at Giza
  • Day 6-8: COFTA conference, Cairo Nile dinner cruise
  • Day 9: Egypt Crafts visit, Producer group visit, Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, Khan el-Khalili
  • Day 10: Fly out

Must-see/do in rough rank order:

  1. Pyramids at Giza… you can’t go to Egypt without visiting the Pyramids.  There are many pyramids in Egypt but the “Great Pyramid” is in Giza, which conveniently is a suburb of Cairo. You have to go inside the Pyramid unless you’re severely claustrophobic or unable to climb for about 100 meters.  We managed to get in at the very last minute b/c our guide knew the “bouncer” and were the only ones inside the Pyramid at the time… it’s about a 5-10 minute narrow, upward climb (ladder-like steps) into a room with the sarcophagus.  As you climb, think about that fact that you’re inside a 4500 year-old structure that’s constructed without mortar.  Scary, inspiring, & so humbling.
  2. Valley of the Kings… You may not know what this is b/c interior photos are not allowed.  After centuries (don’t quote me) of tomb-robbing, pharaohs decided to carve their tombs into remote rock valleys to keep them hidden.  The Valley of the Kings refers to the West Bank of Luxor which is littered with these tombs.  You’ll have to deal with suffocating heat and lack of ventilation, but the paintings inside are so colorfully preserved, narrative… and right there!  (Side note: We attempted to see the Valley of the Queens on our own, but missed the cutoff.  Sounded interesting.)
  3. Temple of Karnak and Luxor Temple… You can knock these out in one day and if you haven’t already seen temples throughout Egypt when you arrive, you’ll be blown away.  Pay close attention to your Lonely Planet book or guide at Luxor Temple – there’s an area where some Christian relics were painted over the Pharaonic carvings – interesting evidence of Egypt’s history.
  4. Egypt Museum in Cairo… It’s chaotic and somewhat unorganized, but packed with incredible loot.  You can’t leave Egypt without seeing the Tut Collection.  Serious bling.
  5. Wander around Cairo… Spend at least a day just wandering around Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo.  Definitely visit Khan el-Khalili – you’ll find the shop owners irritating or entertaining, depending on your attitude.  Take a load off at El Fishawy’s for some mint tea and shisha… If you’re willing to wander further, check out the locals market that’s slightly outside of Khan el-Khalili… it’s a more realistic view of Cairo.

Costs:
I was able to stay in fairly nice hotels, eat well, and keep my personal expenses under $1000 US because it was primarily a work-related trip.  Some ways to cut cost:

  1. Bargain!!  As an Indian, I’m not offended by the idea of people trying to rip me off – it’s how some cultures do business.  Just know that as a tourist almost every price quoted to you is well above market value… get input from locals to gauge what you should pay for cab fares, food, art, etc. and don’t be affraid to bargain, no matter how many offended looks you get in response.
  2. Skip the Nile Cruise unless you have lots of time to travel.
  3. Skip the guide.  I liked our guide in Cairo but could have done without the guide during our Nile cruise.  The Lonely Planet book in most cases gave equitable or better explanations of things.

Other Notes:

  • Baksheesh is not a scam – it’s the culture.  Just be ready for it.
  • Be sensitive to the local dress code.  If you’re in a heavily touristed area (like most areas on my itinerary), you can dress in casual non-hoochy western wear.  If you’re in a less touristed area, you might feel less self conscious if you kept the limbs covered.  Linen works well.
  • Tourism makes up 11%+ of Egypt’s GDP and the government takes many steps to make tourism safe.  In most tourist areas you’ll be able to find “tourist police” in white uniforms who are stationed to serve tourists.  If you want to travel outside of the main tourist areas, you’ll most likely need to arrange for a police motorcade to escort you.  The only time I felt on edge was after we missed the Valley of the Queens and our cabby said he knew “a guy who guards a tomb” and insisted that we check it out.  I think the cabby was legit, but we had second thoughts about climbing into an uncharted tomb.  :-/
  • I’ve seen crazy traffic, driving, maneuvering in Mumbai, but it’s generally at low speeds (because it’s too congested).  Cairo driving is all kinds of crazy… cross streets with caution and try to enjoy the ride when cabbing.  :)
  • Other recommended sites/cities I have yet to see: Abu Simbel, Red Sea, Alexandria,  Sinai, the White Desert.

Go to Egypt!

Travel Log: New Orleans

A few of us went down to New Orleans earlier this month to help my brother and his wife kick off their last few months in the city… I realized that NOLA has easily become one of my favorite cities in the U.S. and decided to write a post. While it is bit quieter now than it was pre-Katrina, NOLA keeps the good times rolling with its uniquely vibrant culture, warm-hearted locals, great food, and soulful music. Here are some of my recs for the Big Easy…

Eating: New Orleans is known specifically for Cajun and Creole cuisine, as well as generally southern cuisine. However, there’s plenty beyond that if you feel the need. Here are some memorable places I’ve been to (no particular order):

  • Commander’s Palace – 5-star dining, local cuisine, historical restaurant, 25-cent martinis. Yes, martinis for $0.25. Our group of six went here for a friday lunch, ate lots, and got drunk on $5. Afterwards you can walk it off at the old cemetery across the street.
  • Sunday jazz brunch at Court of Two Sisters – make reservations in advance! Exquisite buffet, great atmosphere (eat outside in the courtyard), great service (old southern charm in a tux), and beautiful live music.
  • Sunday Jazz Brunch or Dinner at Muriel’s on Jackson Square – Great location, atmosphere, service, food, etc. The Sunday Jazz brunch offers very unique local cuisine (not buffet style), very tasty. The restaurant itself embodies the french quarter’s characteristic architecture and charm. Whether you dine here or not, you cannot leave NOLA without exploring the séance room above Muriel’s.
  • Café du Monde – Tourists and locals alike find the coffee and beignets here irresistible (and a great deal). They’re open all day & night and if you’re lucky some local musician(s) will set up out front for an impromptu performance. If not, the people-watching will do.
  • Surrey’s – My bro’s favorite brunch place and justifiably so… very fresh, very tasty, but tiny (so count on a wait). This is out on Magazine Street so it’s also less trafficked by tourists.
  • Bennachin – West African food in the French Quarter. Small restaurant, good food, colorful atmosphere.

Bars/Nightlife: One of the things I love about New Orleans is that the weather and the laid-back culture make jeans and t-shirts appropriate almost anywhere at any time. But I would advise against flipflops if you’re going to a bar with wobbly drunk girls in heels…

  • Bourbon Street – I hate Bourbon Street, but if you’ve never been you should stroll on through. Whether you’re there for Mardi Gras or Mother’s Day weekend, Bourbon will deliver on its promise of trash, tits, and vomit. Plenty of bars/clubs line the street, but the only rec I have is Pat O’Brien’s for their famous (and potent) Hurricanes. The open courtyard atmosphere also seems to raise its relative level of sophistication.
  • Columns Hotel – This is a beautiful and historical hotel in the Garden District, where they’ve converted the ground floor into a public bar/lounge. Genuine elegance of an old Victorian construction and great ambiance for a mellow night.
  • Lafitte’s Bar – Claims to be the oldest bar in the country by some qualified definition. It’s definitely the oldest bar I’ve been to and it’s worth checking out. Nothing fancy here… just another chill bar for some drinks… try the local beer Abita (Amber or Purple Haze).
  • Marigny – The Marigny is a part of NOLA that’s slightly outside of the French Quarter. I think this is where most of the locals hang out. There’s a cluster of laid-back bars and restaurants here, including some great places to check out local music. I’ve been to the Hookah Cafe a couple of times and really like the joint. Great atmosphere, great hookah, and awesome live music (usually no cover).

Other things:

  • Le Pavillon Hotel offers complimentary PBJ sandwiches at 10p.m. I’ve never had a chance to check that out and I’ve whined about it a fair bit.
  • The ghost tour was fun when I was down there for Halloween. It’s a cool story-telling experience and a fun way to learn about the history of some of the buildings in the french quarter. The fact that you can drink outdoors in NOLA also makes this an interesting tour.
  • Sports – It’s fun to attend a Saints or Hornets game just to see the showcase of New Orleans pride.
  • Magazine Street – while it’s still recovering from a post-Katrina recession, Magazine Street is full of quaint shops, restaurants, and ice creameries.
  • Harrah’s – If you gamble…

Travel Log: Argentina

I’ve been meaning to share some of my recent travel experiences on some site like RealTravel or Yahoo Travel, but out of laziness I’ve decided to just free-form it here. In the same vein, instead of doing a proper write-up on a trip to South America, I’m pasting an email rec I recently sent to a friend. I hope someone out there finds this helpful!

Where/When: Argentina, Rio de Janeiro, and technically Chile. December 2007

What we planned in advance: Not much, really. Booked flights from/to SFO, booked most in-country Argentina flights on Aerolinas Agentinas because we knew where we wanted to go and approximately how many days we’d want to stay in each place. Booked hotel for first two nights in Buenos Aires. Nothing else. I think you can get by with booking most stuff while you’re there if you want to play it that way.

The day-to-day itinerary below is to my best recollection… I may be confusing some of the details between El Calafate and Iguazu… it’s a bit of a blur.

  • Day 1: Flew from SFO to Buenos Aires, visited travel agency (Say Hueque) to map out rough itin in Patagonia
  • Day 2: City tour of B.A. and visit to agency to finalize the itinerary and pay for stuff. The agency booked all of our hotel, ground transport, and tour stuff for the two weeks in Patagonia. Tango class and show at night. The class was interesting b/c there were 5 women to every one man. Show was good… don’t remember the name.
  • Day 3: Flew from B.A. to Ushuaia and got there in the evening. Grabbed dinner.
  • Day 4: All day hike/canoe around Tierra Del Fuego
  • Day 5: Beagle Channel boat excursion. Flight to El Calafate.
  • Day 6: All day excursion to Perito Moreno glaciar
  • Day 7: Early bus to El Chalten. Hike 1, El Chalten (Fitz Roy peak). El Chalten overnight.
  • Day 8: Hike 2 in El Chalten, bus back to El Calafate. El Calafate overnight.
  • Day 9: Early morning bus to Torres del Paine (Chile). Hike in Torres, bus back to El Calafate that night. Calafate overnight.
  • Day 10: Day in Calafate. Flight that night to B.A. en route to Iguazu. We opted to spend the night at the domestic airport in B.A. b/c we only had 7 hours or so between flights. Deck of cards came in handy.
  • Day 11: Early flight to Iguazu Falls, slept, had a nice dinner, enjoyed some warm weather at our hotel
  • Day 12: All day at Iguazu Falls
  • Day 13: Ran around that morning in Puerto Iguazu to get visas and transport into Rio de Janeiro. We were supposed to fly back to B.A. this afternoon but decided last minute that we would rather spend a few days on the beach in Rio if we could swing it. Took about 4 hours to get into town, find the visa office, get photos for our visas, book flights, etc. Lots of running around involved. But by that evening we were in Rio…
  • Day 14-17: Rio de Janeiro. Did some site seeing, some beach bumming, etc. It rained for two of the four days we were there so that ruined some of the site seeing but we were mostly there for the beach. I loved Rio.
  • Day 17: Fly back to B.A.
  • Day 18-20: B.A. shopping, exploring B.A. neighborhoods, Recoleta cemetery visit. Fly back to SFO on the last night.

Other thoughts:

  • If you’re not much into the outdoorsy stuff and want to limit it, I would rank the Patagonia stuff as follows (strongest recs at the top of the list):
    • Perito Moreno – This was incredible and not too strenuous
    • Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego – loved this b/c it was our first outdoor excursion but also b/c our guides were awesome. We had one hiking guide and one canoe guide to our group of four. They also prepared a picnic for us that we had by the river. Other tour groups we saw that day were massive and didn’t seem to be getting the same quality of education and interaction that we did during ours.
    • El Chalten – lots of hikes in el chalten… the main attraction is Fitz Roy. You can choose the difficulty level based on the hikes available… hike on your own. The town of El Chalten is really tiny, but I can give you a great high-end restaurant rec.
    • Torres del Paine – if you’re in Chile and near this, I’d go. But we bussed four hours there and four hours back in the same day. Hiked only for an hour… it was the most breathtaking of all hikes (not including Perito Moreno), but it was freeeeezing and windy. I can’t imagine what this will be like during their winter.
    • Boat ride through Beagle Channel (Ushuaia) – skip this unless you’re obsessed with seals and birds. I was freezing and nauseous during most of this. Again, during their winter this will be brutal.
  • If you’re ARE really into outdoorsy, I can put you in touch w/ Leigh. He took the rugged path on all of the above. He did a much more strenuous trek of Perito Moreno which involved zip-lining across a glacier crack (i would’ve loved that!) and actually hiked through Torres del Paine solo for a few days and stayed at hostels within the park (you will freeze to death if you do this during their winter). Definitely not for beginners – unlike US national parks, these areas are left in their natural state (no railings, minimal signage etc) so you’re very much on your own.
  • Shopping in Rio was way pricier than expected. Save your dollars for B.A. shopping if you’re going to both. Galleria Pacifico has a lot of great stores – it’s their mall but has some local designer labels that I liked. I didn’t buy much but did find a kick-ass jacket that makes me feel like a badass.
  • We stayed at Hotel Tribeca during our last couple of nights in B.A. I really liked this place and we ended up getting a great deal on it b/c we booked through the hotel kiosk at the airport on our way in. I think our rate was 50% off the rate posted at the hotel. Probably cheaper to book online also.

Okay – thats a ton of stuff to get you started. :-) Let me know if you need any specific info.

You know you’re in Silicon Valley when…

Michael Arrington argued the merits of Silicon Valley’s tech scene in a recent post on TechCrunch, creating a silly “bring it,” “oh it’s been brung” duel with Seattle. I mention this post because Michael makes one really important point that frames a recent personal experience: “Having literally tens of thousands of bright minds around you to listen to and challenge those ideas, as you do in Silicon Valley, gives entrepreneurs a critical competitive advantage.”

Case and point… Last week I took my car into the dealership for it’s regularly scheduled maintenance service and was being shuttled back to my office with two other passengers. During this 20 minute journey, the following events transpired…

We exchanged names and where each of us was from. We all agreed that Chicago is one of the best cities in the world (totally unrelated except that I manage to give props to my hometown in any honest manner possible). We discussed our professions… the gentleman in the passenger seat was a leading cardiologist and founder of a think tank on heart disease prevention (and he plays golf with the governor). He had an idea for a new medical process/procedure that he felt could be very lucrative and he was looking for someone to “talk to” in confidence about how to proceed. Lo and behold, the gentleman to my left was a science adviser (with a famous lineage) at an early stage investment firm…

This would all seem like fate or an utter coincidence if it hadn’t gone down in San Jose. To Michael’s point, ideation is accelerated in the Valley because, good or bad, biz plans are the small-talk of the Bay.  But to his sentiment about the inability to have a “balanced” life in the Valley, I would say that balance is defined differently for each of us… plus, I know plenty of geeks/entrepreneurs who make time to surf, snowboard, hike, bike, sail, camp, climb, play poker, etc., out here.

Sweet Home Chicago

bean-small.jpgSo right after paying tribute to one of the many wonderful aspects of Bay Area living, I spent an incredible week at home in Chicago for my brother’s second wedding ceremony (one more to go!). While I was certain that my love for San Francisco ran deep, I must confess that this last week rekindled an old flame. Granted, my visit was during one of those big family gatherings where I was immersed in nothing but gushing & unwavering love… But even if it’s a result of slightly surreal circumstances, I’ve realized that Chicago is and will always be my first love.

The people. While Chicago proper is about three times the size of San Francisco, it has more of a small-town feel. It could be that Chicago is not a city of transplants in the way of SF and New York. Maybe it’s that the pace of life is a little slower and the value of friends & family seems more widely embraced. But without a doubt, it’s in large part due to the quality of the people. Chicagoans are warm and unpretentious and delighted to spend time chatting with strangers for no reason other than their gregarious nature. And while the midwest in general lacks the diversity of the coasts, Chicago is a celebration of cultural and ethnic diversity. The most prominent example of this diversity may be the number of ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago: Little Italy, Chinatown, Devon (the South Asian hub), and Pilsen to name a few. My personal favorite illustration, however, was during this last trip when I was negotiating the price on some pre-wedding shopping at Regal Sarees with Jose, the (fluently) Gujarati-speaking Mexican American. :-)

The weather. I can hear some of you out there gasping in disbelief, but I actually like Chicago weather. I do seriously hate the cold and aside from maybe the first snowfall of the season or the lighting of the Christmas tree in Daley Plaza, I cringe at the thought of Chicago winters. But. Boy oh boy do I love the warmer months… No city comes to life in the spring like one that’s been weathered by months of sub-zero wind chills. The dampening of the air, the warm nights, the fresh smell of rain clouds before a torrential downpour… and lightning! And while global warming seems to be taking its toll on Chicago summers, the city is a non-stop festival of music, food, and culture during these months. Tourists flock by the thousands to enjoy The Taste, The Blues Festival, the numerous world-class museums while residents take a break to soak in the sun at a number of city beaches.

The architecture. I’ve seen it a thousand times, but everytime I catch a glimpse (especially the westward view when crossing the river off of Lakeshore Drive) of the Chicago skyline, I fall in love. The city is a living testament to man’s ability to create beauty through form and function. Every towering structure is a work of art with it’s own unique story (take the architecture tour!). And if the architecture isn’t enough, the city is dotted with sculptures and murals by the likes of Picasso, Chagall, and most recently Anish Kapoor, the genius behind Cloud Gate (partially depicted in my photo above). My all-time favorite public art exhibit was Cows on Parade, unfortunately not a permanent fixture.

The fun. I still have many wonderful friends in Chicago, and my experience there is largely driven by these relationships. But a visit to Chicago will never leave one restless… With the many museums, parks, piers, tours, and shops, Chicago has exciting options for every visitor. And for the young at heart, the nightlife might be the piece de resistance… live music halls, chic lounges, cozy bars, and bass-thumping clubs (each with their own character) keep the fun going till the wee hours of the night. I’ve never been to an establishment in Chicago that I didn’t enjoy. In fact I am more often than not pleasantly surprised by the ambiance at random neighborhood bars… there’s something different and interesting behind each door.

The progression. Mayor Richard M. Daley is adored by his constituents and for good reason. Everytime I visit Chicago I’m impressed by the degree of progress the city has made since my last visit. Daley has done an incredible job cleaning up the city, inviting artists to add more interesting visuals throughout, improving the city infrastructure, and making Chicago more tourist-friendly. During this last visit I was proud to see the CTA running hybrid buses… And probably the most amusing sign of advancement (or early adoption) is depicted below – Millenium Park Patrol on a Segway!
segway.jpg


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