Monday, March 26, 2012

Traveler's Disease; and our ongoing plans to visit India

I have long felt that the conceit central to many people's approach to travel-planning, that of cramming as many activities within cities and as many cities and even countries into an itinerary is complete anathema to traveling. Why go somewhere and then set a pace for yourself so strenuous that you don't actually see where you are? In other words, why experience your travel/leisure time at the same breakneck speed that is common to your work life? Isn't the whole point of taking a break that we might actually relax and change things up? I feel strongly enough about this that I need to give this phenomenon a name, so I am calling it "Traveler's Disease" - the fear while traveling that if one stops even for a moment to actually see where one is, one might miss the chance to cover every item on one's crowded itinerary.

I was happy to see Guy Trebay address this phenomenon, albeit in gentler terms than I would obviously, in his article in yesterday's NY Times, "India One, Two, Three" - see But he does back away from discouraging travelers from cramming too much into a trip, in his case, to India - "travelers are not reasonable people," he reasons, "and it is distinctly possible to absorb the essence of India in CliffNotes form."

Obviously, I am being rigid and unfair. Even in my own household, we constantly compromise when planning our travels, bouncing between versions of the two extremes - me representing the "spend an entire vacation in one city and really get to know it" position and my fiancee Therese willingly playing the role of impatient traveler who needs lots of stuff crammed into her itinerary so that she won't feel like she has wasted her travel-money. Of course, the truth is that I also like to fill up an itinerary, and am easily tempted into thinking, "oh, wait, this other city is just a two-hour train ride away - let's do a daytrip!"

I was thrilled to see Mr. Trebay's article, because Therese and I have long had India near the top of our list, but have been forced a couple of times to push it off to next year due to scheduling and monetary issues. For several months, we actually thought we were definitely going there last March, but I convinced Therese it wasn't going to work, so we opted instead for Marrakech and Southern Spain.

Part of our trepidation at putting India on the front burner is that we were previously unable to find a trustworthy agent in the country to set up a tour for us. We figure India is beyond our ability to really grasp the logistics of what traveling there would be like, and an agent there who understands the difficulties Westerners encounter in adjusting to traveling in India is essential.

After pushing India aside that first time, we were intrigued to see tours of India based in the famous Oberoi hotels advertised in Conde Nast Traveler magazine: It is very possible that when we become serious again about planning to visit India, we will book one of those tours.

But we will keep Mr. Trebay's article close at hand. After visiting India 20 times, his advice is sure to prove to be golden, whatever kind of tour or itinerary we choose to adopt on our trip to India!

And of course, writing all this reminds me how much travel planning is almost as much fun as the traveling itself, with its own set of challenges and pitfalls and triumphs. No place is ever exactly the way I picture it, no matter how many photos I see before I get there! I find that I must put other people's vision aside, since the beauty of traveling somewhere is that I am going to have the adventure of seeing it through my own eyes, at my own pace.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

TripAdvisor CEO speaks: "People like you truly make this community unique."

I was thrilled on Friday to receive an email from TripAdvisor's CEO. Here is what he said:

Dear Charming_Karl,
It's come to my attention that you've contributed an amazing 135 reviews since joining TripAdvisor in 2010. I just wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation to you.
People like you truly make this community unique. Because you've chosen to share your first-hand experiences, countless travelers have been able to plan and have their perfect trips.
Thank you so much. Happy travels, and I hope we'll be reading more from you soon.
Sincerely yours,
Steve Kaufer
CEO & Co-Founder

Thank you, Mr. Kaufer, for the recognition! I have been very diligently posting reviews on TripAdvisor over these last several months. I have gotten lots of great information on traveling on TripAdvisor, and I am happy to give back. My goal now is to bring this same sense of urgency to posting here on my blog! At the very least, I will link my blog to my TripAdvisor work to make sure that my readers get to share in the fun!

Monday, March 12, 2012

With this New York Diner, the more it changes, the more it stays the same?

Last Tuesday, upon returning to New York's Penn Station after a family visit in New Jersey, I had limited time and needed to get some dinner before an evening music rehearsal. So I went for old reliable, the Tick Tock Diner on 34th Street and 8th Avenue.

I've been going to Tick Tock on occasion for around 10 years. And I've seen it go through some changes in that time. For example, the bathroom used to be in a hallway between the diner and the New Yorker Hotel, to which the diner is connected and affiliated; but now, it is in the rear of the restaurant. However, I do not recall ever seeing any substantive change in the menu, at least not until I walked into the diner last Tuesday.

Gone are the tall fold-out menus typical of New York City diners, replaced by small many-paged spiral-bound colorful menus. Each page is a different category: breakfast, salads, sandwiches, etc. And this menu is very colorful, full of bright red and blue.

I was puzzling over what had prompted what is radical change for a diner, when I returned to the front page of the menu and found an explanation: the title clearly indicated "Tick Tock Diner & GRILLE". So, they are trying to ride the coattails of a perceived grilling fad. I mean, I get it: we all know that frying is bad for us, so if we think we are getting things that are grilled, which is I guess not quite so bad for us, we will be happy. The only problem is, that for a diner, which does the majority of their cooking on a grill, adding this name to the diner's name does not indicate a change in how they do business. It is, to my eye, a cosmetic change at best.

But, getting back to what I ordered - or expected to order - there was a big difference. Since around 2004, my favorite item on the menu at Tick Tock was the spinach salad w/grilled chicken added. A huge salad with lots of spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, bacon and hard-boiled egg, with some tender strips of grilled chicken laid over the top. A hearty, but also what I considered healthy, option for a diner. And it was always very filling, and reasonably priced too. Well, such a salad no longer exists at Tick Tock. How sad!

I was forced to opt instead for a BLT club sandwich with grilled chicken, with added avocado. Let me explain. On their menu is a BLT club which has of course bacon, lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise with grilled chicken, and then there is a Grilled Chicken club which has chicken, swiss cheese and avocado. I was torn whether to order the BLT and add avocado, or to order the Grilled Chicken and ask them to hold the swiss cheese and add bacon. I chose the former, just because I reasoned that it might be easier to just add one item. I am not sure if my reasoning was correct, though, because it is completely possible that the sandwich-maker is eminently adaptable to whatever the customer wants or doesn't want on his sandwich.

In any case, here came my BLT club with avocado (on multi-grain bread, a nice option), and the four quarters of the sandwich, cut into triangles, were set in two rows, lying on their backs, pointy side up, covered with the accompanying french fries. Well, presentation-wise, this may have been a great way to put the dish together, but unless I was expected to eat all the french fries first, this was not a practical presentation. Instead, it required work, namely I had to remove the french fries from on top of the sandwich and move them to their logical resting place alongside the sandwich, before I could begin eating the sandwich.

After that, the meal proceeded smoothly. The portion was so huge that I could only eat half - great - and the sandwich was so big I could hardly fit it in my mouth and lived in fear as I bit into it that it was going to spill all over my plate but it didn't - very good. I had leftovers for a late-night snack, and still at a reasonable price. So, overall, I would have to say that despite my consternation at the change in the menu, my experience at Tick Tock still turned out to be a typical one. A mountain of affordable food at a decent price. Now if only they could reinstitute the spinach salad...