Great Wolf Lodge & Jamestown Settlement: Review

Posted December 11th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel, Uncategorized
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GreatWolfLodge-01For Annika’s second birthday, we decided to treat her (and ourselves) to a small getaway trip.  I wanted to take Annika to a water park because she enjoys being in the water. I had two criteria for a water-park: it had to be indoors because it was November and it had to have special area or rides that are suitable  for toddlers.  I had almost given up  hope on finding such a place when a colleague mentioned the Great Wolf Lodge.  The Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water park with several locations around the country. The two closest to us were at Poconos, NY  and  Williamsburg, Virginia.

Entrance to the waterpark is limited to guests of the lodge, so we booked a weekend at the Williamsburg resort. We selected Williamsburg as it was substantially cheaper than Poconos  as well asGreatWolfLodge-06 a tad bit closer. We left work a little early on Friday to make the three hour drive to Williamsburg and reached the lodge at around 6pm.  After the check in formalities , we spent some time exploring the resort and the water-park.  We were given a wrist tag with RF ID embedded : this way we could move throughout the lodge and the water-park area without needing a room-key or any money. Any purchases could be billed directly to the room using the tag.  The lodge was quite large : our rooms were near one end of the lodge so it was quite a trek  to get to the main lobby  and the park. The rooms were quite standard with a microwave and refrigerator. Clearly we were not meant to spend a lot of time in the room itself. The Lodge has a lot of other activities for children : it had a play area where children could be dropped off, an arcade, a kiddie spa, a couple of eating spots and of course the park itself.  The decor at the lodge was quite interesting:  you are greeted at the entrance of the lobby by a humongous stone sculpture of  a wolf. You enter into a huge and welcoming lobby with multiple fireplaces — the whole place has a log cabin like  feel to it with rustic log  furniture.  There is a grand clock-tower at the center of the lobby — we were told that each evening there is story time for kids near the clock tower along with sightings of Wiley the Wolf and Violet the Vixen. There were several life sized statues of wolves placed here and there , I counted about 15 of them.  We decided not to  go into the water that day but instead went out to dinner  buffet at Captain George’s sea-food restaurant Short Review: lots of variety, average taste , not recommended unless you want to eat a huge quantity of sea-food. Continue Reading »

Fables and Fairy Tales

Posted November 21st, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Annika, Books, Raves and Rants
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photo 3Americans tend to be excessively politically correct. They shy away from using words that may have even the slightest hint of a negative connotation.  For example people are not fired from work—the company is merely rightsizing.  Stocks don’t crash – they underperform.   There are no beggars—they are panhandlers.  There are no poor countries/areas – these are low resource settings.  Janitors are now called custodians, secretaries are administrative assistants and so on and so forth.  The need to put a positive spin on everything is somewhat amusing in normal conversation but it takes on ridiculous proportions when it comes to children. Continue Reading »

The towns in Provence and Cote d’Azur

Posted October 20th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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My sister and family went back to Dubai after Paris. However my mom, Seejo and I traveled South to the French Riviera. We spent 3-4 days in the South Of France enjoying the beauty of French Riviera and Provence.  I have several lovely memories of the time we spent there including the train ride there where an elderly couple entertained Annika for a long time, the classic sight of  folks playing Petanque, the little dinky Cannes railway station, the sight of a mountain goat up on the Gorges Du Verdon loop, walking up and down tiny towns selecting sachets of lavender, grocery shopping at French malls and so on.  This is not to discount the marvelous natural beauty that we were fortunate to see.   We visited several small towns and was enthralled by the changing landscape. Also we were fortunate to be there during lavender season (albeit a week before peak) and got to see the fields of lavender as well. A brief description of the various little towns and cities we visited is below. Continue Reading »

Castles of the Loire Valley

Posted October 20th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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France-LoireValley-Chosen-45Loire Valley lies in central France about a two hour drive to the south of Paris. Situated on the banks of the river Loire, this is prime wine and Chateau territory.   I am not sure how many castles are in this region—the guidebooks varied from 50 to 300. Most of these were built or rebuilt during the 1400s to the 1700s and served either as primary homes or hunting lodges or summer residences to the various monarchs that ruled France during that time.  Many of these chateaux are still standing and now are open to the tourists for sightseeing.  These chateaux vary in size and shape and original purpose but were presumably built with no real budget limit.  They are magnificent structures and each of them has its own characteristic feature and so it is difficult to choose the best one among them. And in many cases these chateaux are surrounded by  splendid gardens. Infact you could easily spend a day just in one of the gardens! Continue Reading »

A second visit to Paris

Posted October 20th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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France-Paris-Chosen-022There is not much I can say about Paris and its tourist attractions that hasn’t been said before. In fact I wrote about it myself when we were here in 2004. So instead of providing a daily report of what we did and saw, let me write about what was new this time.

We were in Paris for 4 nights and instead of staying at a hotel, we (mom and sister, Brother in law and nephew) rented an apartment about two blocks away from the Eiffel tower.   While the idea of staying in an apartment over a hotel has its pluses (very useful with toddlers and vegetarians) and minuses (no room service L) , we really lucked out because our apartment was at an amazing location. It was a short walk away from the Eiffel tower : in fact we could walk home after seeing  the Eiffel tower light up at night. And from my bedroom, I could even see the beams of light from the beacon on  top of the Eiffel tower sweeping across the sky.  One thing that we could do (and which I did) was actually visit the boulangerie for fresh bread and the fromagerie for a variety of cheese in the morning.  Thanks to the whole “living like a local” concept, we also visited the local grocery store and purchased milk and fruits and yoghurt – and it was fun. I always make it a point to visit a local grocery store when I am in a foreign country because I believe that it gives me a wonderful insight into the local cuisine and tastes and also introduces me to novel food items. Continue Reading »

Dutch Memories

Posted October 4th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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The Pakistani cab driver dropped us off at our rental  apartment  in Amsterdam with only one warning.  He pointed out the pale pink pathway through the center of the sidewalk and said “That is the cycle lane. Stay away from the bicyclists. They will not stop for anyone.”

We soon learnt that it was true.  The cycles and cyclists were one of the most interesting aspects of Amsterdam.  Everybody in Amsterdam uses a bike to commute including frail looking old ladies driving back Amsterdamfrom the grocery store, young parents with modified baby carriers attached to their bike, professionals with crisp blazers and blackberrys,  teenagers, school children and of course wide-eyed tourists.   And the locals know that this is an attraction in itself.  In fact the bicycle parking station at Amsterdam’s Central station was one of the highlights  pointed out to us by the tour-guide when we took a canal cruise that evening. Thousands and thousands of bikes in a four storey parking lot!  What was strange to me is that these cycles were not spanking new sports bikes with several gears and fancy features and multiple cup-holders that is the usual bike in the US but infact quite shabby and run-down basic models.  Kind of strange to see a guy in the latest three piece suit with a smartphone clipped to this ear drive a cycle similar to the doodhwala. Continue Reading »

Iceland Adventures

Posted October 3rd, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Travel, Uncategorized
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We spent two days (and two nights) in Iceland on a stop-over while returning from France to the United States. We were flying Iceland Air (highly recommended: wonderful staff) and as they don’t charge a premium for a break journey, we decided to take advantage of the situation.  The flight from Paris landed at around 10 am on rainy morning in late June and after getting our rental car & a quick lunch stop, we were out of Keflavik airport and on our way to Thingvellr National Park.

Within minutes of leaving the airport town of Keflavik, we were already marveling at the beautiful and pristine landscape that seemed miles away from any civilization.  All along the way to Thingvellr there were no houses and no discernible signs of a township or settlement. Fields of purple lupines stretched all the way to the green mountains in the distance. Waterfalls were abundant. Majestic Icelandic horses dotted the landscape and in between them we could see sheep grazing in the pasture. Later we were told that the horses didn’t outnumber humans in Icelend but I am not sure that I believe it!! Continue Reading »

A cancer story

Posted October 3rd, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Uncategorized
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I have been working in the field of cancer research for about 14 years. During this time I have heard thousands of cancer stories, met hundreds of cancer patients and survivors and discussed all aspects of cancer care with many folks.   But these cancer patients were strangers: I was fortunate that it didn’t happen to people I knew.  But sometimes they do affect you personally.

About eight months ago our office shifted to a brand new campus and as a result my commute route changed.  The bus driver for this new route used to greet me every day with a loud “Hey Pretty Girl” and I used to give him an awkward smile and rush to my seat.  This continued for about a week and then one day he asked me where I worked.  As soon as I said National Cancer Institute, I could see that he had a million questions.  His mother had died battling  skin cancer and during the 30 minute ride he proceeded to describe the entire story from the initial diagnosis, treatment, recurrence and eventual death.   The next day he wanted to know what treatments are being developed for cancer. He had heard that cancer differs from person to person and so during the half hour commute I tried to explain the basics of personalized medicine and tailoring treatment therapy to someone with fairly limited knowledge of science. I could see that he wanted to talk more about it but I was getting irritated. My commute was the precious time that I had to read and I resented anyone cutting into that time.  To avoid answering yet another series of questions, I printed off some basics of skin cancer information from our website and handed it to him.  The next day he had more questions.  How does cancer originate? How does it spread? What does metastasize mean?  I tried my best to explain these concept to him quickly but he wasn’t done with questions.

I needed my reading time.  Finally I started ignoring him. I pretended to be on the phone or busy with my blackberry. I even changed seats and moved to the one right behind the driver so I was not in his line of sight.   He took the hint and  started talking to the other passengers.  My timings changed and I stopped taking the same bus every day and then soon never saw him again.

Last week I had to go to the main campus and so I took a different bus from Germantown.  And lo & behold the driver was my old chatterbox friend.  As soon as he saw me he smiled and said I want to talk to you. Resigned to 30 minutes of non-stop conversation, I nodded.  But he waited till all the passengers climbed on, parked the bus and motioned to me to get down. Now I was intrigued. When I got off the bus, he took me aside and said “Thank you, you saved my life”. I was completely taken aback and could only goggle at him.  It turned out that after hearing me talk about cancer and/or reading the information he went to get a checkup.  Perhaps it was prompted by the stuff he read but he asked the doctor to check for cancer.  And he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and was scheduled for a prostatectomy in three days. He was very grateful to me and said that what I did saved his life.

I wasn’t sure what to feel. On one hand I was elated that I could help but more than that I felt guilty and embarrassed and remorseful about my earlier attitude.  I was upset at not being able to read in peace but the few moments I did give him (albeit resentfully) mattered a lot to him. Truly a very humbling experience.

“Eve-teasing” : Safety in Mumbai

Posted August 31st, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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So, I have been reading the media reports about India being unsafe for women. I have been living in the United States for about 13 years now. Although I have visited India pretty regularly in these 13 years, I haven’t spent more than 5 weeks consecutively. Now reading all of the reports and blogs I am trying to reconcile my experience in India (or primarily in Bombay) with what I have been reading.  And I have been trying to figure out if things have just gotten worse or is it just my perspective.

Growing up in Bombay, I was never afraid of traveling alone. As I used to quip, this is one of the most populated cities in the world—how am I really ever alone!  I wasn’t nervous about getting into a train at night. When I was studying for my bachelors degree, I often stayed late in college or had “study dates” with friends and didn’t think twice about reaching home after 10 pm.  When I graduated and accepted  my first job  in medical equipment sales, I didn’t blink when I had to travel all alone to parts of Bombay that I had never been to (or never even heard of)  alone to visit medical clinics.

That is not to say that there were no incidents.  Eve-teasing (rather a benign sounding term for  what is actually public sexual harassment) was common. A few gropes here and there were expected. My girlfriends and I all had several of these stories to share. Of the guy who pinched your butt in a crowded railway station. Of the guy who grabbed your boobs as he rushed past you on the road.  Of the guys who passed lewd comments while you walked to buy a packet of bread. We spoke about the group of guys who sang the latest Hindi film song accompanied by suggestive gestures. And about the creepy fellows who crank-called your home, when you were all alone. Or even more frightening—of those men who followed you home silently everyday till you decided to take a new route home.

Despite this, I was proud of being a Bombay-girl. I counted these “inconveniences” as a payback for the independence that I had.  I was proud of the fact that I could travel alone to meet friends –unlike my cousins in Kerala. I didn’t need a 10 year old boy to accompany me and my girlfriends if I wanted to see a movie in the evening. I was never scared of using public transport unlike my friends from Delhi. I didn’t need to cover myself from head to toe unlike some of the folks I knew who lived in smaller towns (read: any place other than a metro city). I was a Bombay girl.  I was confident. I could handle eve-teasing. I know how to navigate an unknown area. I was not embittered or terrified or traumatized by these events.  As far as I knew it – these were reprehensible acts performed by cowardly men but it was a part and parcel of life.

But now after years of being in the US, these media reports have made me question my former reaction to such incidents.  In the last 13 years that I have spent in US, I have been heckled just once (I was so out of practice of handling this that I was flustered and hurried away) I don’t have to watch how I sit in public (cross my legs – in Bombay, don’t cross legs in Kerala). I haven’t had to worry about getting into an empty train compartment.  I don’t worry if my dress will make me a target for attention. I haven’t needed to watch or worry if I am showing too much cleavage or if my bra-strap is showing. I can laugh out loud and not worry about getting noticed. I don’t have to clutch a book to my chest when I walk in a crowded mall. I haven’t ever needed a sharp implement (safety pins/hair pins) to discourage wandering hands when I am seeing a movie.

I can understand when people say it is not fair to compare the two countries. And I don’t intend to justify or rationalize the differences.  In fact, I am actually feeling guilty (almost like I am committing treason) when I feel relieved about not having to face eve-teasing. I didn’t even realize what a burden I was carrying till I didn’t have to carry it anymore! Its strange and very sad that I was proud of being a Bombay girl because I could survive the eve-teasing when it would have been much better to be proud of being a Bombay girl because I didn’t have to face any!

Food Tour Of Greenwich Village, New York City

Posted August 17th, 2013 by Deepa and filed in Food, Travel
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NYC Trip1We spent the last weekend visiting friends in the New Jersey area and took the opportunity to see the Greenwich Village in New York City.  We have been to New York City several times but have always spent most of our time visiting the main tourist destinations in Manhattan. This time we decided to skip that and do something different. While doing some internet research on local attractions, I came up on a site that offers food tours for Greenwich village. Intrigued by the idea of a food tour, I explored some more and found out that there were several recommended food joints in that area.  After some more Google searches and reading a couple of food blogs I came up with my own itinerary for a food tour of Greenwich village.

My friend Pooja lives in New Jersey so, we took the train from her place to 9th Street Metro and walked down a few blocks to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. At the entrance of the park is a large Arch modeled after the Arch de Triomphe in Paris. The park is dominated by a large fountain in the center but surrounding it are strolling areas, gardens, play-area for kids, benches and an open air chess tables.  It was fairly crowded with locals and tourists relaxing, reading, eating, playing and enjoying the open air band. Annika was enthralled by the drummer and spent quite a bit of time dancing to the beats.  After spending about half an hour there, we crossed the garden and entered Macdougal Street where our food tour started in earnest. Continue Reading »