Showing posts with label holiday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holiday. Show all posts

Thursday, November 23, 2017

COK has a huge International Lounge

 

If you are flying out of Cochin International Airport (COK), be sure to visit its international lounge. Its on the second floor, and almost nobody knows about it. I happened to drop by during my recent trip to Colombo, and it took me by surprise. I was expecting to see one of those crowded and loud lounges usually seen in Bangalore and Chennai, but here the ambience was much more quiet.

Its on the Airside, so after immigration and security, take the elevators up the second floor. The Earth lounge is tucked into one of the corners towards the airstrip side.

 

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There is restuarant style seating easily for more thant 120 people, and plush chairs still to spare. There is a play area for kids, and showers are free to use. Indian and Arabic style cuisine was on offer, with plenty of vegetarian options too. And…I think the gentlemen will love this, two alchololic drinks free on every visit. There was also a live counter to server the local favourites, though I had to decline as I was already stuffed.

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But immediately struck me was that the place was almost deserted. Less thant 5 visitors where in there , even though there was one international fight taking off every one hour. Mainly to the middle east.I talked to some of the staff and got to know that the place was redone and reopened in April this year, and they have also revamped the lounge in the domestic section of the airport. Missed it !

I should also mention that most international flights are priced cheaper when flown out of Cochin, and that was the reason I chose too. So with lesser charges and smaller crowds, COK seems perfect for family/group travel.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Kozhikode trip

 

Two weeks back we travelled to Kozhikode, to attend a wedding of a friend, and to catch up with others too. Kozhikode is a city in north Kerala, situated right on the west coast in Malabar. I was not looking forward to this trip, partially because I knew how the weather there would be like at this time of the year. But also because I have my own history with the place. The last time I was here was...what..11 years ago ? For my undergraduation I went to an aided college in this district, and had to travel frequently via private buses on this route. There was no direct bus to my college, I had to switch buses at Kozhikode private bus stand, with those half ring curves for its roof. While there, I have had snacks and tea between buses, and very rarely, lunch. And I hated college. Really hated. So when I finally I secured my degree and certificate , I had decided I will never have to come back to this place again.

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Well after 11 years I can proudly say the city has not changed much at all. I remember the traffic was always this bad. Specially around the bus stand, those roads are the arteries of the city traffic. And the weather was always this hot. Being so close to the beach, the humidity is always high. The city has this strange habit of clinging on to its past, modernization comes so slowly. Even in this day and age, most of the establishments do not accept credit card or e-wallets for payment. Except only the high end ones. And people still stare at couples walking together in the big city.

And the hotels, they still cling on to their 12-pm-checkin time rule from last century. We had to pay extra on OYO to ensure we could check in at 7 in the morning. Maybe they take up the entire morning to clean up, thus mandating that checkins are only after 12 noon. But what about early morning travellers ?

It is a similiar irony at the city's most well known shopping mall, the 'Focus' mall. Surprisingly, this is just opposite the private bus stand I used to travel through as a student. There are a few other malls too, but this one seems to be the most well equipped. Puttakke puttakke karimeen puttakke. All the youngsters are there, and even a lot of families. Kozhikode has a majority muslim population, and they dress conservatively. I still cannot understand how they wear those long black burqas under such a blazing heat. So it was ironical that the branded readymade showrooms in the mall were advertizing and displaying a lot of western wear, things which no body in this city would dare to wear. All those shorts and tights and straps, anybody wearing these would turn heads of the 'traditional' population. Neverthless, people were still checking those clothes out.

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The autorikshaw drivers in the city maybe charge the lowest fares in the country. I hope that stays like that for a long long time. We travelled 8 times in autos and paid a total of only 200 rupees ! We would have had to pay about 500 had it been in Bangalore. There is really no need to own a car here, these autos are dependable enough to get around , and they know every nook and cranny and all the secret roads of the city, some I could not even find on google maps !

As always, the city still serves up the best food. Wether it is vegetarian fare, or their cuisines borrowed from Arabia, or their famous biriyanis, the food is lip smacking ! Do visit on an empty stomach. Also one has to visit those famous halwa stands to sample all those colorful halwas, now available in modern flavors of mango and grape !

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And another thing which is thankfully still the same, is the cleanliness. It is still the cleanest cities I have visited in my country. Even the beach area is clean and well maintained. The rest of this country and learn something from it.

 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lounge Benefits

 

I have always seen these signs to Airport Lounges at domestic and international airports, and often heard reviews about these ‘exclusive’ places , and assumed these were for business and first class travellers. Imagine my surprise , when I figured out even coach travellers can access these lounges, if you have the right credit card. I don’t travel often, and always travel light and prepared. Airports in India are purposefully designed to confuse and make travellers wait in lines. So when I recently had to fly international, I decided to try out and airport lounge using my Priority Plus card I got from a new credit card. And I must say, it took a few problems off my plate rightaway.

There are only two lounges out of Bangalore airport, and the same service providers operate them in the domestic and international side of the airport. It is after security check (and immigration, for international flights) , and the entrances to both are next to each other. I decided to walk into the Plaza Premium lounge for my first time. They accept Mastercard, Visa , and a few other cards as well, providing complimentary service. Did not take any photos while I was there, as it was almost crowded, and felt the other patrons would not like it. And I could see why places like these are coveted.

Free Wifi, free food and soft drinks, lots of space to lounge around, and for  an additional price, alchohol, showers and spa ! For long distance and frequent travellers, its the last place to find some comfort. There was no long style buffet there, but enough food to choose from. And deserts , snacks and tea/coffee as well. I spent almost 2 hours in there without realizing how fast time went.

Ok, rant time. The usual complains about Indian Airports is that they let you in only if you bring a printout of your ticket and an Id card to be let in. Or the fact thay they let you board the plane only if they see that your carry in baggage has a security screened tag.  However, my number one complaint about airports in India is the lack of affordable food options. All the food and beverage stalls on the airside price their products exorbitantly high. There are cases where those suckers charge three digit rupee values for something as simple as idli vada. Even the basic water bottle is charged in that range. During my international travels, I have never seen such a practice anywhere else: Europe, Malaysia, Australia…everywhere the prices they charge airside is the same they charge anywhere else.  But in India, it is truly extortion.  And the flights too now charge extra for f&b onboard, and even check in luggage. In most countries, passengers are allowed to bring in some kinds of home prepared meals for consumption on the plane, but this too is not allowed in India. Only exception if it is baby food.

In such a suffocated travel space, these lounges come as a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed my meal at the lounge. During my transfer at Kuala Lumpur, again I got into Plaza Lounge there. It was a relaxing experience, and with free breakfast.

Well now that I have bitten this bait, I am hooked. Looking forward to somemore such lounge experiences in the future.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Auzzie Holiday

 

G’day to you ! Finally we did it. We took our first international holiday ! And it is to Australia. Yep, that large left-to-itself country near the south pole. After spending two whole weeks on this island-country, the thought of returning now breaks our hearts. For a change, it was a pleasure living in a properly planned city again. Melbourne, mostly. But we also visited the Gold Coast. Bangalore looks like a jungle and river of debris compared to this. A few years back if somebody had asked me, I would have said India can become a superpower in the future. But now I am convinced that dream is long lost. The level of development and ease of life in Melbourne astonished us. And the people are the freindliest people I have ever met in my life. So cheery, always ready to help.

Australia is truly a world apart. They seem to live in a parallel universe with no border disputes amond neihgbouring countries, no cross border violence, and no visible refugee crisis.  They don’t care about the US elections, or Brexit, or the geo-political turmoil of any other country. Here is a nation still focussed on developing itself and taking care of its people, and wildlife. Yep, we met the famous kangaroos and koalas in rea life. We also got a glimpse of its sunny weather and relaxed lifestyle.

Random Thoughts:

  1. The range of weather is as large as the country itself. While it is still chilly and raining in Melbourne, being in Gold Coast felt like Miami. It is much more sunny and warmer there, but without the humidity. And I have been told there are places here that still get snow !
  2. There are more chinese than auzzies in Australia. Specially in Melbourne. At first I thought they too were tourists like us. But then I saw them working and running their own shops. There were moments when we felt we were walking through Beijing instead of Melbourne. China is slowly taking over the country. But I am sure they comprise people from Korea, Japan and other Asian countries as well. And of course, Indians , Lankans and Banglas are also here, but not in that much numbers.
  3. Auzzies are always apoligizing. Most of the time, for no reason. If you run into them in a queue or step on their feet in a crowded tram, it is your fault. But always, they apoligize. “Sorry”, they say. I think this is too courteous. You don’t have to apologize if it is not your fault.  However, I like this culture. A few days of living among them has made me more courteous !
  4. Its raining Asian cousine all over the country. Seriously, I found more Asian themed restuarants than bars on the streets. Whatever be your preferred : Indian, Chinese, Korean, or just spicy Nando’s, you can find one in a two block radius from where you are standing in the city. And there are vegetarian and vegan options available too.
  5. This is the first time we are staying with AirBnb network.  We had some reservations about this in the beginning, but now we wonder why this idea did not take off earlier. It a fantastic way for budget consious travellers to stay and travel around new countries, while still being able to use the kitchen and make their own food. And did I mention it is much more cheaper ? But we did spoil ourselves a little by staying at a grander hotel for 3 days while in Gold Coast. We are thankful our hosts were very cool and trusted us completely, and we in turn tried not to mess up during our stay . Three cheers for AirBnB !
  6. There is free WiFi all over the city, beginning with the airport. Various establishments in the city have put up free to use Wifi which anyone can use to call, chat or check maps. I found it at muliple supermarkets, near restuarants, tram stations and even on the skybus. It was amazing how we were always able to get  an IP and the speed was fast too.
  7. Google has made travelling soooo much more easier ! Gone are the days of paying a travel agent to arrange and manage an itinerary for you. All the information you need to plan a trip is available on the internet. And the best way to get around in a city is via google maps. No more carrying a large foldeable mutlilayered paper map in the rain and sun. With google maps, you can navigate around the city via trams and buses, and it even points out restuarants in the area. We also found that google would read our e-mail and alert us about upcoming flights we are booked on, and our AirBnb bookings too ! Now ain’t that useful ? There wont’t be any travel agents in a decade from now.
  8. We Indians are addicted to selifes. But it looks like the selfie culture is yet to bite Auzzies. We looked everywhere we went in the city and gold coast, there were auzzies taking pictures of their friends and families, but no one was selfie hooked. In fact, while were trying to get a selfie ourselves, we go multiple offers of help from auzzies, offering to take our picture for us on our phone ! Again, respect. And courteous. We can learn something from them.

 

Thank you , Australia. We will be back soon.

Very soon.