About to head off to Mumbai (a.k.a. Bombay) for my last two days in India. My Monday night TV shows are only half downloaded, so hopefully I'll have Internet access there to finish that off. (Three of these shows are serial dramas--24, Heroes, and Prison Break--so I really want to get caught up on them.) Goodbye, Delhi!
The guide books suggest that the authentic way to travel from city to city in this country is by train. Doesn't make much sense to me. Especially since my time here is limited, going by air is relatively cheap and much more efficient in terms of time. The flights are cheap by Western standards (especially on Jet Airways, which I strongly recommend) though the trains are really dirt cheap! The problem with trains is that they take forever and present another level of hassles, especially travelling on overnight journeys.
After a pleasant flight, I arrived in Mumbai, dealt with some more taxi agro, and settled into a nice hotel complex that doesn't seem near anything--in fact, though it's technically in the city, it's surrounded by milk-producing farms. Anyway, it's quite comfortable here and I've got the Internet up and running (though it's a rip-off here).
The Internet enables me to do some serious telecommuting! Tonight I set up and distributed all the entry materials for this month's New England Interscholastic Squash Championships while sitting in my hotel room here in Mumbai. In the morning, I will continue electronically surveying Choate student-athletes to complete the process of evaluating their coaches. As far as most of the recipients of my messages know, I could be sitting in my office in Wallingford. This is truly the flat world that Tom Friedman describes.
Getting ready to head to Cairo in just a few minutes. I'll update when I can from across the Arabian Sea.
To my surprise, I was met at the gate by a representative of Top-Deck Travel and escorted through Immingration and Customs and whisked across the city (through hellacious traffic) to the Indiana Hotel on the west bank of the Nile. The hotel is "old school" but comfortable enough (with an little Internet cafe on the first floor).
On my way over to the ATM at the nearby Sheraton, I "made friends" with an Egyptian on the street who, not surprisingly, had something to sell. I wound up in his papyrus shop and wasted about 45 minutes listening to him and his brother give me all sorts of deals on Egyptian art and touring opportunities, before I begged off and went about my business. The fellow who struck up the conversation was certainly friendly and pleasant, but it really is a hassle to be thought of as prey by every enterprising Indian or Egyptian I walk by on the street.
I have a free day in Cairo before I join my tour group tonight, so I'll be doing some solo exploring. Tomorrow we go to the Antiquities Museum and then to the Giza Pyramids.
As I only get one English language channel--Star Movies--in my hotel, watching the Super Bowl tonight is not in the cards. Not a huge loss, really, though the commercials are probably more than half of the attraction of the event. (By the way, there's a rumored Apple ad on tap, one that announces the availability of The Beatles catalogue on iTunes Music Store, following the settlement of lots of litigation between Apple Computer and Apple Records over the use of the "Apple" name associated with selling music. We'll see. Or rather, you will see and I'll read about it tomorrow.)
It's clear that security concerns are a big deal around the city. I noticed that all of the big hotels--especially the American names (Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton)--have vehicle checkpoints and even metal detectors to clear before one gets into the building. Police armed with rifles or machine guns are on many street corners, as well. Egypt is a moderate Arab state with historically close ties to the U.S. and has enjoyed a peaceful relationship with Israel since 1977--all factors that could potentially fuel the flames of Islamic radicals in this country. Since tourism is so integral to the economy of Egypt, one can understand why such a huge investment has been made in securing the city and all of the tourist sites throughout the country, especially after a bloody terrorist machine gun attack on tourists about a decade ago.
"Walk Like An Egyptian." The name of this song is the "pick-up line" the locals use when they want to strike up a conversation to lead you to a shop. This first time I heard it Saturday afternoon, I thought it was amusing and somewhat charming. But when I heard it for the third time within 24 hours, I realized it was a common piece of schtick. The original song, of course, is by The Bangles.
Here is the updated map of my sabbatical globe-trotting:
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Here is a bigger version of the map.
Today was a sight-seeing day, as the photo above suggests. Pretty surreal to be hanging out in view of something you've seen pictures of your whole life.
Tonight my group--six others: four Aussies and two Kiwis--and I are on the overnight train to Luxor.
The overnight train from Cairo got us in to Luxor a couple of hours late, but the experience was better than I had expected. We traveled in a first class car with recliner seats that were actually quite comfortable. Other than the train stations not having escalators nor elevators (which meant having to schlep heavy luggage when moving between platforms) this was an enjoyable trip.
After checking in, we had lunch on the rooftop of our hotel, with a spectacular view overlooking the town and the Nile, with the Valley of Kings in the distance across the river.
This afternoon we are off to explore the Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple complexes in town here on the east side of the river. (The ancient Egyptians built their temples on the east side of the river and their tombs on the west, mirroring the path of the sun during the day, as they assumed the sun died each night, to be reborn the following dawn.)
The Karnak temple was a huge complex with some well preserved structures to explore. Sam, pictured above, is the local Egyptologist who served as our guide at Karnak and at the Luxor temple afterward (he'll take us across the river for the tombs tomorrow, too).
After our temple tours and before dinner, our group wandered through the Luxor bazaar, wherein the vendors routinely called out to us, recognizing the Aussies among our number and directing the occasional unwelcome compliment to our female contingent. I was repeatedly called “Rambo” by these people trying to get my attention; go figure! At one point, as three of the women in our group were walking behind me, a passing local called out: “Very lucky man! Three wives!”
We have an early 7 a.m. departure to the Valley of Kings in the morning; not so lucky, perhaps!
This was a breakout hit, originally used to open an episode of Saturday Night Live: "King Tut" by Steve Martin. It coincided with the touring exhibit of Tutankhamen artifacts in the U.S. You can probably figure why I threw this one out there today: I am off to the Valley of Kings, site of Tut's tomb.
We had a great morning exploring three tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and then stopping at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut before a relaxed lunch back in Luxor and then an afternoon bus trip of three hours to Aswan. By government decree, we had to go in a police-escorted convoy. All foreigners on the roads must travel between cities this way--which seems to a move the government developed in a response to the act of terrorism in November 1997 in which dozens of tourists were killed at the aforementioned Queen Hatshepsut Temple. This approach seems a bit stupid to me: since the foreigners have to register for the convoy in advance and leave at a predetermined time, a simple security lapse would give potential evildoers a list of nationalities represented in the convoy as well as a multiple targets conveniently assembled in one place at a predictable time.
As if today's 7am departure wasn't bad enough, tomorrow we get 3am wake-up calls to head to Abu Simbel in another convoy!
Just returned from Abu Simbel where we saw the impressive temples of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari. These temples, which were hewn out of a mountainside overlooking the Nile, were moved several hundred meters into an artificial mountain in the 1970s when Lake Nasser was created by the flooding due to the High Dam. They are striking nonetheless. just a few weeks from now, there is one day a year when the Ramses temple's inner sanctuary is illuminated by the sun in the morning.
Our group enjoyed a late afternoon Nile cruise on a felucca, one that took us upriver to a Nubian village that had been relocated from the south as a result of the High Dam constuction. We had a terrific dinner there and took the boat back to our hotel. A high point of the trip.
Tomorrow we get to sleep until 9:00!
After a leisurely morning, we visited the Aswan High Dam, a modern engineering marvel constructed with the help of the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. Then we took a boat to the island where the Philae Temple--constucted by Alexander the Great--is situated. (The photo above shows some bas-relief carvings on one of the interior walls of the temple.) This temple was also relocated from a nearby island due to the flooding arising from the dam project.
Soon we head to the train station for the overnight rail journey back to Cairo.
Back in Cairo, after the overnight train ride from Aswan. While my group heads out for some sight-seeing, I have the morning to nap, get cleaned up, pop on the Internet, and then head to the airport.
I've enjoyed the Egypt segment of my trip. It's been educational and fun.
Had a good flight, with the center row to myself, en route to Frankfurt from Cairo. I'm on a layover now, waiting for my connecting flight to Barcelona. It's refreshing to have access to Western food and periodicals after a couple weeks without.
I am using the hotel's free WiFi connection in my room, but it is SO slow. I mean it's S..........L..........O..........W. Just loading a simple web page takes far too much time. And I am trying to download half-a-gig video files! Very frustrating.
Andy Roddick clinched the Davis Cup quarterfinal win for the U.S., giving the Americans an insurmountable 3-1 lead against the Czech Republic this afternoon. That Roddick won the match on clay, against a tough opponent in the form of world #12 Tomas Berdych, was especially impressive.
The U.S. has the potential to go all the way this year and take its first Cup since 1995. Roddick and James Blake are among the top six players in the current rankings and the Bryan brothers have been #1 in doubles for a while now. That's a formidable line-up. Of course, the next opponent, Spain, has Nadal (#2) and Robredo (#7) as potential team members, but the tie will be played on hard courts in North Carolina. That, plus the almost certain point the U.S. will get in doubles, should make the Americans favored. It would be nice to see this squad make a title run.
Hitting the nail on the head again:
I actually was saying far worse things in the car until a few minutes ago.
I took the tram/metro/train combo back out to the airport this morning to pick up my rental car. Took a while, mostly because the train was late. Then I couldn't find the Alamo desk in the terminal at first. Once I got the car, I couldn't start it. After I worked that out, I fumbled around trying to figure out just how the unfamiliar manual/automatic hybrid transmission worked.
And then things got complicated. Let me say at the outset that I should have gotten a map before leaving the airport. I thought I'd be able to get back to the hotel, but I ended up driving in circles for far too long, passing familiar landmarks, but then being led off course by an apparent maze of Barcelona streets. When I finally stopped to ask directions, I got on the highway, only to realize it was going the wrong way. Each of two moves I made to turn around only took me miles out of my way without a turnaround opportunity in sight. I was screaming in frustration!
Once I settled down, I figured out how to get back to the hotel, though I had missed the check-out deadline by over an hour.
No worries now, I am heading out of Barcelona.
I am settled into a comfortable little hotel in the town of Figueres on the Costa Brava in the Catalan section, north of Barcelona and south of the French border and the Pyrenees. It's artist country (Dali, Goya) here. I am just north of Girona, the attractive medieval town that served as a base for Lance Armstrong and other Tour de France riders during their pre-race training.
What is both fascinating and a bit confusing to me are the linguistic differences between Catalan and Castilian Spanish. It's clear there's a strong sense of cultural identity wrapped around this variation of the language, with its diverse spellings on signs everywhere. Of course, with limited high school Spanish at my disposal, it's a bit more work to make myself understood without knowing the nuances of Catalan speech.
The Internet speed is faster here than it was in Barcelona (yay!) even if the free hotel WiFi doesn't quite reach my 4th floor room in the back of the hotel. This I am online in the lobby, which is comfortable enough, even is spite of the elderly German tourists playing cards and yammering loudly nearby.
The only problem is that four of the episodes I've just downloaded seem to have disappeared from iTunes and my hard drive, so I've contacted Apple to resolve the situation so I can get caught up on my shows.
This is one of those songs I liked when I occasionally heard it on the radio as a young teenager and I was thrilled to finally own a copy when digital downloads made it easy to get one track rather than an album of stuff I didn't really want. This is "Everlasting Love" by Andy Gibb, the late younger brother of the Bee Gees.
I saw my first snow of the winter this morning, at least from a distance, on the peaks of the Pyrenees. Of course, it was summer while I was Down Under, and my other destinations on this trip more or less stay warm year-round.
I left just before 10 this morning and drove north from Figueres--the town just north of Girona where I spent the night--to cross the Spain/France border, and then I headed west, pulling into Pau around 3:30 in the afternoon. Most of the drive was back roads, though I opted for the autoroute (i.e., motorway/autobahn/highway) for the final hour of the trip. I did see lots of vineyards along the way, as well as some impressive châteaux.
After driving around the city for half an hour, I located my hotel, settled in, and headed out to explore the town. The next day or so should be pretty relaxing: a chance to read, get caught up on downloaded TV shows, and enjoy this French city at my leisure.
There's a different sensation waking up in a European hotel. The light from the window overlooking the narrow streets and the different sounds percolating up from those streets and immediately give the sense that I am far from home.
It's a treat to head out and pick up The International Herald Tribune and digest it over a continental breakfast.
It's a bit chilly, windy, and rainy here in Pau, which suits my purposes just fine. No grand sight-seeing agenda today. I am just kicking back a bit before visiting Chuck Timlin in Zaragoza tomorrow through Saturday and then spending a couple of busy days in Madrid and London before heading home.
Had a couple of mini-marathons in the last couple of days, getting up to date with the last three installments of 24 and the last two of Heroes.
That title sounds like something out of The Lord Of The Rings. In fact, it's the location of Zaragoza--a city that derives its Spanish name from a corruption of "Caesar Augustus," its name in the Roman Empire. (On the signs is France it was "Sarragosse.")
I drove due south from Pau, departing a little after 9:00 a.m., through some gorgeous Pyrenees scenery and through a tunnel that was many miles long unde the peaks and back into Spain. I arrived in Zaragoza before 1:00 and met my friend Chuck Timlin in Plaza de España at 2:30. We moved my stuff into his nearby apartment and then went to the School Year Abroad base for his late afternoon English class. Afterward, Andover faculty member Bill Scott joined us for a couple of pints and then we went back to the apartment to relax a bit and watch some soccer before heading out later to check out some tapas bars.
Classes finish early in the SYA program on Fridays, so I am now heading off to join the faculty for some tapas and drinks next to the school. Tonight we'll head out late--in the Spanish fashion--for food and socialization.
Tomorrow I go to Madrid.
After a late night--getting in at 3:30--of dinner and dancing, I enjoyed a great American-style breakfast in Zaragoza with Chuck and Bill before taking off for Madrid. The drive on the autovia was smooth, with landscapes that reminded me of the southwestern U.S. (only greener). I found my hotel easily; this time I remembered to bring a map for a change!
Having been in hotels literally all over the world, I have a pretty firm sense of what makes for a good lodging experience. Generally, I am perfectly happy in two- and three-star hotels; for the most part, a clean room, a comfortable bed, and a functioning shower is all I need, as I don't usually spend a lot of time hanging out in my hotel room when I am traveling. But here is a quick checklist of what I appreciate when on the road:
• a queen- or king-size bed with multiple pillow
• a shower with dependable temperature control and suitable water pressure
• a good-sized bathtub to recline in after a long day on my feet
• a free in-room broadband Internet connection; WiFi is a bonus
• a television with cable/satellite offerings that include a couple of English language news channels
• a mini-fridge with space for what I want to put in it (not filled with overpriced mini-bar offerings I won't use)
I am happy to report that my current location--the Hesperia Getafe Hotel, outside Madrid--has all of these features
Happy Chinese New Year! Have a great 4704.
I spent much of today exploring two major art museums: the Queen Sofia and the Prado. The former specializes in modern works and is the home of "Guernica," Pablo Picasso's masterpiece, and lots of cubism and surrealism (e.g., Salvador Dali). The latter is the Spanish equivalent of the Metropolitan Museum, with a range of Spanish and international masters represented (it's heavy on Velázquez and Goya). The early Dali work above, "Mujer en una ventana," was my favorite of the day.
Off to the Madrid Airport for my 7:25 flight to Madrid and the connection to London Heathrow.
I am now settled in at my London office (a.k.a. the Regent Street Apple store, with its free WiFi).
The flights this morning were uneventful and, for a change, my Heathrow arrival gate was actually CLOSE to the arrivals hall. (Usually my gate there is a four-mile hike from the center of the terminal.) I did get grilled by a woman at Passport Control. I thought the U.S. and the U.K. enjoyed a "special relationship," but you'd have thought I presented an Iraqi passport. I had to explain my whole trip, why I stopped in England, how long I was staying, and whether I had a hotel reservation. Once I showed a ticket for my Wednesday flight, I was allowed into Britain.
I took the Piccadilly line to the Gloucester Road exit; my hotel is just a block away.
Met up with two Class of 2004 alums: Alejandro Lloreda and Mauricio Osorio, both from Colombia and both studying at the London School of Economics (Mauricio is on an exchange year from Middlebury). We ate at Bodeans, an American-style barbeque joint in Soho. If you go on Monday night, you can get the "burnt ends" of the brisket, which I heartily recommend.
I jokingly refer to the Apple Store here as "my London office" because I can settle in the theater in the back of the store to take advantage of the free wireless Internet access. The advantage of being here is that while getting caught up on e-mail and the Web, I can absorb the free workshops about Mac technology (using GarageBand, iMovie, etc.) from the resident Apple Geniuses.
I watched one of my favorite films, Casablanca, in an actual movie theater for the first time in my life this afternoon. I still find the scene where Victor Laszlo leads the café in singing "La Marseillaise"--in the process drowning out the German song being sung by the Nazi officers--one of the most thrilling moments of the silver screen.
Tonight I saw the new production--it was only the fifth performance--of Peter Shaffer's brilliant play Equus, starring Richard Griffiths (who won a Tony last year for his performance in The History Boys) and Daniel Radcliffe (a.k.a. Harry Potter; Griffiths plays Uncle Dudley in the same films, by the way). I had read the play years ago, but I now understand that to appreciate it, one has to see it staged. Anyway, in typical Ned Gallagher fashion, I scammed my way into a private question-and-answer session with the cast, director, producers, and Sir Peter Shaffer after the show (it was part of some benefit for select audience members, but I just stuck around). I met Daniel Radcliffe on my way out; I have strange luck for running into celebrities while leaving a theater in London (e.g., Patrick Stewart, Elton John).
Heading to Heathrow Airport for my trip home via Toronto.
Had a painless flight from London to Toronto; the plane was half full, so there was plenty of room to stretch out. The new airport here is comfortable and attractive. I had a bit of bad luck, in that it took a while to get my baggage to the part of the airport designated for U.S. connections (so I could pre-clear U.S. immigration and customs formalities on this end of my next flight). When I arrived, it looked as though I could make a much earlier flight at 12:45, rather than 5:15, but I had to wait too long at the baggage carousel and barely missed my window. So I've got a few hours to kill in Canada. At least there is wireless access, so I can finish downloading my Monday shows and watch them.
Got to Bradley Airport, retrieved my car from my parents' house (and needed AAA to jump start the battery), and cruised down to Wallingford. I am home.
Today has been a catch-up day for me, mostly spent in the office. Aside from some errands--a bank run, getting packages from the mailroom--I've been getting everything ready for the weekend's New England squash tournamnent and the seeding meeting tonight.
As I am preparing to head to New Hampshire for the weekend's New England prep school squash tourney, the Johnson Athletic Center is playing host to the Men's Intercollegiate National Championship. We co-host this event every third year with Yale University. Right now, a couple of the top college teams (Trinity, Harvard) are competing on the Choate courts, providing a great spectating opportunity for the students and faculty on campus.
I am spending the weekend bouncing back and forth between the two venues of the squash New Englands. The "A" tournament is at Phillips Exeter and the "B" division is at Brooks School, about a half-hour south. It's tremendously satisfying after a couple days of intensive effort (and weeks of prior planning) to see this event up and running.
Having run the New England prep school squash tournament for over twenty years now, I'm used to hearing some grumbling about seeding, draws, etc. It goes with the territory.
This year and last year, though, one particular school has made some less-than-subtle hints that the draws are always fixed to benefit my own team (which I don't even coach any more!), an accusation that clearly crosses the line. It is particularly galling this time around because it denigrates the efforts of the Choate players who really had a great final day of competition, winning matches against some tough opponents representing other schools finishing just a couple of points apart in the team scoring. The Wild Boars finished tied for fourth overall this year on the backs of these playoff and consolation wins--a bunch of them in five games--rather than through any advantage in the draw positions.
Moreover, the evidence of "a fix" was supposedly a favorable draw for the Choate #1 (a flight wherein the CRH player didn't win a single match for the second year in a row!). Last year the squad--when I WAS head coach--underperformed with a 10th-place finish! And each of the past two years, the team's captain has faced a top seed in the very first round. So if I'm "setting up" the draws, I must be doing a pretty lousy job of it.
Of course, what most of the critics don't understand is that the system is virtually corruption-proof. We have a five-member seeding committee reflecting geographic diversity that is elected by all coaches. Seeding is done by the group, the draws are made immediately by a computer program and posted on the Internet for all to review. It's about as transparent as we can make it, but I guess there always will be people taking cheap shots.
While it was nice to see Marty Scorsese finally get his Oscar (it sure would have been awkward for his buddies Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg to present the statue to someone else if he didn't win!) most of the Academy Awards telecast this year was a snore.
I stayed up all night, figuring I'd deny myself the chance to oversleep my early morning trip to Bradley Airport. After the frenetic tournament weekend and a day full of meetings on Monday, this gave me the chance to sort the mail, do the laundry, pack and tackle a few other projects with no interruption before heading off again for another three weeks on the road. I fly to see my folks in south Florida before a week in Aruba and a week with the Choate tennis team back at Saddlebrook.
I've spent most of this winter in warmer climes--in fact, it was the height of summer for three weeks in Australia!--and so it was a treat to step off the plane here in Florida, where the temperature is consistently above 70 degrees every day. It was quite cold up in Exeter over the weekend and it snowed as I drove up to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.
I watched Monday night's episode of Heroes tonight and it was incredible. This show is getting better and better.