escape reality: disney world or land after work

Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Orlando, FL

Think that the Happiest Place on Earth is any less happy when you’re there for work? It doesn’t have to be. There are lots of options if you’re in the area for work and with a little know-how, you can treat yourself to a mini vacation after hours that doesn’t break the bank or leave you feeling deprived of fun.

So, I’ll admit – traveling to Florida for work can feel like a real drag at times. I remember once when I was sitting in the hotel dining room for breakfast, wearing a suit, hoisting my briefcase over my shoulder and suddenly having the sensation that I was the only person in the whole room who was NOT on vacation. This feeling is increased exponentially if you’re staying near Disney World in Orlando and the same is true if you’re working in Anaheim, CA near Disneyland. I’m such a die-hard fan of these parks, though, I’ve gotten to where I just embrace it and stay on-site whenever possible – even if I’m not able to go to the parks during the day, which is a given unless you take the day off. But, this way you can absorb some of the vibe after hours at no additional cost. There are in fact many options.

So, let’s say you’re in Orlando and you want to ride some rides. Disney World has just launched afternoon and evening tickets at a reduced price. Fall and Spring are 2 times of the year that you can really enjoy the parks as a grown-up without being inundated by families (I’m usually one of those families, so I’m not discriminating), which means you can get a LOT more done in only a few hours. Arrive by 6pm, ride some rides, maybe take in some fireworks or a show or 2, and then head over to one of restaurants for dinner. Going for dinner AFTER rides buys you a little extra time even if the parks are closing early that day because restaurants stay open later than general park hours. Putting dinner at the end of your visit makes the most of the time you’re there for all of the other attractions.

If you don’t care about rides, try heading to Disney Springs, which offers more stores, restaurants and entertainment venues than you can really imagine and there’s NO admission required. Anyone is welcome. But, make no mistake – they’re affiliated with the parks. If you’re a park guest with a meal plan, your plan is good at these restaurants. Many of the stores sell exclusive park merchandise, too, so you’re not dealing with knock-off souvenirs, or the “I just picked this up at the airport” version, which is legit merch in many cases, but let’s face it – a little like cheating. There’s no line to get into Disney Springs and the same is true of Downtown Disney at Disneyland. However, Downtown Disney in California and Disney’s Boardwalk in Florida have something unique about them – they’re nestled amongst some of the on-property hotels where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the parks, too. Treat yourself to an excellent dinner at one of the free-standing restaurants and then maybe take in some dueling piano bar action, for example. You’ll quickly forget that you’re traveling on business. Your FOMO will be banished – because you actually ARE having fun. And, still getting the job done.

Fancy some free fireworks while you dine…?

The Disney resorts (aka hotels) are spectacular. And, their restaurants are extraordinary. They’re usually expensive, but in my opinion, they’re also held accountable for a very high-quality experience. Take the time my friend and I popped into California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Hotel without reservations or park passes. We waited a bit for a table (~an hour?), but we had cocktails while waiting, so it’s a little hard to tell. When they finally grabbed us to say they had a 2-top open up, but that it was only 4 feet away in the lounge area, we thought: Oh, this didn’t pan out too well. But, the picture above was taken during the Magic Kingdom evening fireworks – I don’t think there was a better table in the house. And, the dinner was fabulous. Another time, we wandered over to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort to duck into Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto – talk about an escapist experience. Work was instantly OVER for the day! They have a similar bar/restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel in California, in fact that was the inspiration. And, it’s similarly free to get into.

“All of our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Walt Disney

Here’s a great option and the one that I’ve come to tap into the most lately – do your work and THEN grab a like-minded colleague and pick up a night or 2 yourself at a park hotel. It’s barely a splurge if you’re able to split the hotel expense. And, your airfare is covered by the business trip, right, so it’s really quite economical? If you’re not traveling M-F, you’re probably saving the company a little bit of money, too, with the Saturday night stayover. There are so many fun reasons to be a kid again for a day – or, be an adult by indulging in excellent food, wine and shopping sans itty-bitties. As I mentioned, not only is the fall a great time for the parks, but you can take in the transition of the parks as they transform themselves for Halloween and then for Christmas. I really think the parks are at their finest during these phases – and, they go on for a long time each year. Plenty of time for a savvy business traveler like you to sneak a peak before the holiday travelers arrive (e.g. Christmas starts happening on Nov 8th….they just need the briefest breather after Halloween).

There are so many events every year, ONE of them is right for you:

  • Food & Wine Festival (Sep – Nov)
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween (Sep – Nov)
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas (Nov – Dec)
  • Disney Marathon Weekend (Jan)
  • International Festival of the Arts (Jan – Feb)
  • International Flower and Garden Festival (Mar – June)
  • …….and, these are just what’s happening in Florida. California does much of the same.

And, this doesn’t take into account all the little touches they do for day-of holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. I was once in Orlando for a meeting that ended on March 16th, so a travel partner and I thought: Why travel on St. Patty’s when we could just move over to Disney World for a day? There’s no month-long build-up to this long feted holiday where EVERYONE is Irish for the day. Yet, there was no shortage of green beer (extra stands set up every few feet) and Irish bands played all day to a less and less intelligible, kilt-clad crowd on March 17th.

It’s also possible that your conference center is a Good Neighbor Hotel and they offer free transportation to and from the parks and discounted park tickets. I’ve attended more than one large meeting at Caribe Royale and, while it’s not an official Disney property, they are in fact a good neighbor – you’ll hardly know the difference and you should certainly take advantage of how easy they make it to indulge. True story – I once took my family along to a conference at this resort when my son was very young and while we were there, he came down with the WORST double ear infection. The park shuttled us to a pediatrician who saw us quickly, then they kindly took us back to the hotel to rest. They even carried my husband to a local pharmacy to fill the scrip. All at no charge – the parks and their Good Neighbors take hospitality to a new level.

I’m clearly a fan and I have work colleagues who are similarly fans – or, we’re all enablers….it’s really impossible to discern. But, even if you think you don’t “like” Disney – Do you like great food? Do you like fun drinks? Do you like to be around people having fun? Let loose, get lost in a little bit of theme for the moment and get back to your regular routine the next day (or, Monday if you’re lucky). There’s always time to be an adult – take a MINUTE and be a kid again.

Halloween? No, this is the Disneyland Haunted Mansion during “Nightmare Before Christmas” – they transform the whole RIDE, not just the outside. Spare no expense.

tips: packing

Try on EVERYTHING….(note the comatose dog on the bed – this takes time)

So, I’m guessing you’ve packed for a trip before – right? Did you get there with too much? Too little? No choices? Exorbitant baggage fees? …would you like to leave all of that behind and arrive with EXACTLY what you want? I can help….keep reading.

In researching what I wanted to say in this post, I discovered that I have a (shockingly) high volume of pictures on my phone of outfits. Yes – I try on every single outfit before it goes into the suitcase. My husband laughs at this practice and has for years. But, y’know what never happens? I never arrive at a site in an outfit that doesn’t go together, doesn’t fit well, or without shoes that match (yeah – I try on shoes, jewelry and even handbags as part of this meticulous practice). In case you’re wondering, no – I don’t always takes pictures of the outfit. But, occasionally, I want a second opinion – enter the volume of pics that have ended up in my photo library. Let’s just chalk it up to: I make very thorough decisions about what to bring. As a result, I can go a week or more in 1 carry-on suitcase, and dressed for every occasion – work or play with at least 1 costume change per day in most cases. This is serious business.

Some things to consider in advance:

  • Look at the weather where you’re headed
  • Will you be in meeting rooms (aka The Frozen Tundra)?
  • What will casual time be like….pool? beach? live music?
  • Can you economize – limit the # of shoes – I’m serious – stop buying either black or brown shoes and opt ONLY for neutrals that are more interchangeable and versatile
  • Can you get more than 1 wear out of each thing you pack? – think VERY carefully about packing dresses.
    • Dresses can be economical space-wise, unless you can only get 1 wear – then, they’re kind of space-hogs
  • Do you need work shoes AND casual shoes? I’m a size 9 – I think long and hard about how many pairs of shoes to pack
  • Will you be working out on this trip? Not “I’m on a totally new workout regimen and want to stay true” kinda working out – I mean ACTUALLY working out – if so, the extra space is worth it
10 Days – Work & Play in this bag…..ten days……

I’m a big fan of Briggs & Riley. I like the 21″ size so that I can fit in most over-head bins. Before I had the hard-sided, I had their soft-sided. The hard, though, pulls in and out of over head with the greatest of ease – I’m diminutive, as I’ve mentioned before, and clamoring onto airplane seats to reach and wriggle my suitcase out is not my favorite. That’s absolutely not necessary with the slippy-slidy hard-sided. And, 4 wheels on the floor means I can stick my bag on top and not have to pull the weight of both. By the end of the trip when I’d also bought a winter outer coat at the cutest little Belgian boutique (note: You have to be open to buying the perfect item when it presents itself – even when it’s a wool outer coat that you’ll need to schlep home) and a spare pair of boots, the compression that reduces the content volume by 22% is worth the WHOLE investment. Is the bag just as sleek and shiny as it was a year ago? Probably not, but I do still get compliments on it, so it’s certainly not bad. I’m told they truly stand behind their warranty, too.

Don’t be a hero – if you’re on your 2nd or 3rd leg of a journey and you can shed some un-necessary pounds (…of clothes), ship them home. I’ve done this internationally & domestically. UPS just became your new BFF

Are you a checker or a carry-on person? I like carrying on. I’ve gotten to places before without my bag and it’s always a hardship. Two quick stories: Once, I made a quick connection in bad weather. BARELY made the flight. As I sat down, I saw them close the luggage hatch. “There goes the work outfit I had packed”, I said to the traveler next to me. “Now, not only am I stuck in Wichita for the day, I’m stuck in Wichita wearing THIS at a business meeting!” We both chuckled and agreed we were at least glad we’d made our connection. The next day, when I arrived to a research center wearing jeans, guess who the physician was I was meeting – Yes, 4C….the nice man I’d commiserate with the evening before. In the spirit of full-disclosure, remember I’d also insulted his hometown (re-read above) – my day just couldn’t get any peachier. Another time, I checked my bag and had a LONG layover in Dallas because I wanted NO trouble making my connection to a vacation in Hawaii. The layover was so long, in fact, that I guess they forgot about my bag and just sent me to Hawaii without it. Lemme tell ya – $50 a day for lost bag inconvenience doesn’t buy a whole ton of cuteness in Hawaii. The moral of this story is – if you must check your bag, wear something that can get you through the next day. Obviously, prescription meds need to be in your carry-on. But, when I check, I now also bring makeup just in case. If I’m headed to Hawaii, I’ll throw my swimsuit and coverup into my carry-on, too. At least while I’m missing my bag, I’ll be missing it poolside. I occasionally wear LuluLemon on the plane if it’s a really long, overnight flight. But, Eileen Fisher and a scarf could at least get me to the office the next day in a pinch and it’s just as comfortable. I think about these things.

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

Coco Chanel

I’m going to go back to the meticulous planning for a minute – I make a list for myself. Day 1: I’m here doing this, Day 2: I’m there doing that…..I start mapping out what I might want to wear based on activity, weather, etc. By looking at it on paper, I can economize: These pants can go several wears, these shoes go with multiple outfits. Then, I try them on to test my theory about coordination. I prefer to look pulled together at all times. Maybe you’re a T-shirt and jeans kinda person – that’s cool, too. But, I want to change into something smart after work, so my clothes have to do dual purpose at LEAST. In Paris, one thing after another, the new tops I bought (because shopping….Paris) all coordinated best with the same pair of pants – good thing they were durable without showing wear. A freak cold-front and you’ll find that you’re trying to wear everything at once, so at least it coordinates. On any given morning when traveling, I can wake up, glance at my phone, and say: Today I’m wearing _______. It’s become kind of a joke amongst my friends. But, the ONE TIME I STRAYED, I ended up touring Normandy and FREEZING. I’m quite convinced that had I stuck to the plan, nature wouldn’t have had to flex her muscle and show me who’s boss and then we all would’ve had a more comfortable day. Because, honestly, what I’d originally planned would’ve been perfect. I had the audacity to look out the window and change just willy-nilly. Life Lesson: stick to the plan.

Try the WHOLE outfit before you pack – I might be over the top, but trust me.

Lastly – making it all fit. Because, we’ve already established: I like options. Do you know who Marie Kondo is? I bought her book and it changed everything for me with respect to how I keep my house tidy now. I didn’t expect it to impact my packing, but it has. I started employing her packing methods in a similar fashion to how I keep my drawers, and it just WORKS. I gravitated to it on my own, so I assure you it’s not a gimmick – really just common sense, but she tapped how to promote it and you’d do well to pay attention. At least be open-minded. Maybe your socks and undies don’t spark joy, but at least be efficient in how you pack them – at a minimum, they won’t spark animosity.

Shoe bags. They’re a thing and you need them. Many overnight flight amenity bags double as shoe bags, just FYI

It’s not the destination, but the journey….said someone who didn’t have to go to a beach on Waikiki wearing long pants and a sweater. Or, a fancy dinner wearing a pull-over fleece with “Alcatraz” emblazoned on the front because she didn’t realize how cold a dinner bay cruise might be in San Francisco….in June. I’ve been this person, so I know. Don’t let my mistakes be your mistakes. And, don’t be the pack mule of your party dragging most of your worldly possessions behind you – even if they ARE on wheels. A little upfront planning will enhance your trip, ease your travel and STILL afford you room to pick up a few odds and ends that spark joy along the way.

belgium: bruges, brussels, antwerp

Yep – Antwerp is centered around a guy throwing the hand of a giant

I have a friend who orders mussels everywhere we go. Has for years. To me, they always seemed like a huge bowl of piping hot, black …shells. However, I was lured by the promise of fries served with mayo. Who knew, she’s been right all this time – but, I had to go to Belgium to discover it.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I had previously only spent a little over a day in Bruges (this time last year actually) and I fell head over heels in love with it. So, 6 months later, I returned with a friend for her birthday. She wasn’t sure about spending an entire week in Bruges (that’s fair), but I’d looked into Brussels and Antwerp and I didn’t want to spend 1/2 a week in either, so we compromised – we’d hit all 3, with Bruges being the grand finale. It was a rousing success – each stop held something enticing, but Bruges truly was the icing on the cake.

Brussels: HQ for the EU. Major metropolitan city. Home of Mannken Pis. We stayed at the exquisite Hilton Brussels Grand Place, which is directly in front of Central Train Station. I’ve praised the power of brand loyalty before, but here it REALLY paid off. Most of our accommodations on this sojourn were covered by my friend’s points. Not only did Hilton have rooms for us at no charge, as the Hilton Honors program promises, but they upgraded us in honor of her achieved level. That’s a very square deal. Loyalty pays off – there are lots of times that I want local flavor and something truly unique, but give serious consideration to establishing consistency for the benefit of points if nothing else. This Hilton location was ideal for getting around on foot as we were easily walkable to Grand Place (shocking – since it’s in the name….). You’ll scoff a little when I tell you that Grand Place at night, when it’s all lit up, people are milling around with beer & wine in hand, and there’s live music wafting in the air….it feels a little like St. Mark’s Square. I know, I know – but, TRUST me. I didn’t say full-on reminds me, just is a little reminiscent of. Anyway, on the square, we were directed by our concierge to ‘T Kelderke for mussels and frites. Word to the wise, don’t call them “french fries” in Belgium. Who exactly invented them is still somewhat contentious – so, just call them frites. Nonetheless – we wanted the whole spread – mussels, frites, the fabled mayo on fries (which I fully endorse), and flemish asparagus. We were in heaven – the aroma, the flavor – garlic, white wine – we ate our fill and BARELY had enough energy to drag our satiated bellies back to our stylish hotel bar, which was showing classic films. #heaven

Seriously, I just accidentally happened into Europe’s first shopping mall?

I’ll be frank – if you’re not going to Brussels with shopping in mind, just go somewhere else. Built in the mid-19th century, this shopping mall draws you in with the promise of extravagance. Each window is expertly adorned. The shops are perfectly curated for a mix between clothes, chocolates, restaurants, home decor, hand-made leather gloves….I could go on. There’s something beautiful to see, or taste, at every turn. Then, there’s the Place du Grand Sablon. I had every intention of buying myself a diamond necklace in Antwerp because 84% of the world’s diamonds travel through Antwerp. However, walking around Grand Sablon, I happened onto a jewelry merchant with whom I connected and came to trust – that’s key when you’re buying jewelry. FYI: There are no amazing deals out there on jewelry – the internet’s just about everywhere….everyone (wholesalers and retailers) knows what everyone else is selling and for how much….. But, do you love the piece, trust the person you’re buying from and did you do your homework? If the answer is yes to each one of those and you’re happy with the price. Buy. Having worked in the jewelry business myself and having seen people get taken in the past, I was so far beyond skeptical – and, I always am.

If you’re thinking of buying diamonds abroad, here’s my advice:

  • Verify the store on the GIA website
  • Don’t get talked into stones that are TOO clear or TOO colorless
    • Unless you just have SO much money to spend that it doesn’t matter; that’s cool, too.
    • Personally, how close are people going to get to my neck? – an H, I, J is plenty white for me, and SI 2 clarity was perfect – the main inclusion is actually hidden by one of the prongs
  • Make sure the stone comes with a GIA grading report
  • I compared the details they gave me with the GIA grading report that was posted on-line (there’s a tracking #); they matched
  • The GIA grading report has a # engraved on the girdle of the stone – I made the poor guy read me the number AFTER it was set to ensure I got the same stone that had been graded by GIA
  • Walk away even if for just a second and ask yourself if you’ll be more happy having the piece or the cash – if you’re ambivalent, just keep walking.
  • IGI (International Gemological Institute) is not GIA
Waterzooi at Sir Anthony Van Dijck – I’ll be sad for you if you don’t go here

Shall I spare you all the clothes shopping we did in Antwerp? Alright, but there was much. Why don’t I tell you about Peter Paul Rubens instead – Would that be a nice change of pace? If you don’t like religious art, then I’m afraid you’re still out of luck. However, the artistry is nothing short of extraordinary. I know nothing formally about art, but I know that when I look at a Rubens next to a piece by another artist, his use of perspective, human emotion and warmth set him apart. There are several places to see his work in Antwerp, but Cathedral of our Lady offers at least 3 that you won’t want to miss. If you have to economize your time, I say go to that one and THEN start hitting the beer scene in Antwerp. You will have covered all your bases.

The water tours of Bruges are touristy, but enchanting.

I’m convinced that I’ll never get all of Bruges down in only one post. I’ve praised the lodging in an earlier post: De Castillion Hotel Bruges. Everyone I send here is knocked out of their socks. I exaggerate you not.

In the Martin McDonagh movie “In Bruges“, which incidentally isn’t entirely well-received here, Ralf Fiennes repeatedly says that Bruges is ‘an effing fairytale, it is’…… and, that’s absolutely true. It’s a medieval village. Wander its streets, its squares, its river banks, eat its chocolate, see the actual blood of Christ. Bruges is a popular weekend destination for Europeans. If you have the option to avoid Friday-Sunday, I recommend it. If you’re trying to decide between Bruges and Ghent – they’re probably similar – yet, Bruges has decided to NOT allow commercial water traffic, so that seems a little better preserved in my opinion. Not judging, just saying. That’s my $0.02.

There are 3 things you must see in Bruges:

  • The Bruges Madonna
  • Old St. John’s Hospital – it’s an art museum, garden, and pharmacy museum. You’ll be glad to learn that ambulances have advanced since the 1100s. Their pharmacy served the community from the 17th century to the 1970s. Yeah, you read that right. And, there’s a painting there that shows the pharmacy in its early days – it hasn’t changed much. Doesn’t that trip you out when you see a painting of a room you’re standing in, yet the painting shows it filled with people in garb centuries older than your own? Same ROOM – it’s the closest we can come to actual time travel. I love that.
  • The Begijnhof – So peaceful, so serene – it’s silent. Literally. Do you know what a Beguines is? Read about them – it’s interesting. After the crusades, many women were left without men to provide for them, so the communities had to do something. They lived in these convent-ish settings like nuns, but didn’t take vows. The Beguines are gone now and it’s an actual convent. I wandered in while they were chanting their prayers in the chapel one day. Mesmerizing.

Wonder why I skipped over any elaboration of the Bruges Madonna above? That’s because there’s no better way to understand why you have to see her than to watch “Monuments Men“. It’s a movie directed by and starring George Clooney. (Is that enough – shall I just close now?) If you like history, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. The movie itself isn’t a great work of art – I doubt it will become a classic, but if you’re heading to Bruges, it’s a must see. You have to appreciate the power of art over time – whether the ‘good’ guys or the ‘bad’ guys, people have vied for it and fought over it since its inception. This particular piece also happens to be the only Michelangelo sculpture to have ever left Italy during his lifetime. Art and how it has been received over time, its place in the world, and how its world intersects with my own moves me. I hope it does you.


“I’m half-Irish, half-Dutch, and I was born in Belgium. If I was a dog, I’d be in a hell of a mess!”

Audrey Hepburn

movie-travel: venice & india

“Summertime” starring Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi

In preparing a recommendation for you that would give you a picture postcard of India, I bumped into my old friend, Sir David Lean. He had the ticket I was looking for in “A Passage to India”. However, no discussion of this gifted director is complete without also mentioning “Summertime”, so you get a double-feature today.

So, David Lean has made a few movies you might’ve heard of: “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dr. Zhivago”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”…nothing too heavy, or overly ambitious…if you’ve seen these movies, you’ll know I’m rolling my eyes right now. His résumé is lengthy and accolades well-deserved. By focusing on the two movies I’ve listed above, we’ll look at his first “big Hollywood” movie (Summertime in 1955) and his last picture (Passage in 1984). If you’re intrigued and want to look into his career (check him out on IMDB or Letterboxd), you won’t be disappointed. He loses none of his vision or passion in the nearly 30 years between these two and for the purposes of travel without departure, you’ll find either of these 2 to be entirely satisfying.

Assuming you’ve been to Venice before, did you arrive by train? The Freccia trains in Italy are fast and convenient – watch lush Italian scenery whiz by while you have a glass of wine and a snack. But, when you see Venice come into view, at the far end of a long expanse of water, you’ll feel like Katherine Hepburn’s character in “Summertime” – eager to see the rest RIGHT NOW. But, let it unfold slowly – you don’t want to miss a single moment.

WHAT is she thinking…..?

While her budding romance with Brazzi unfolds, you can just sense the conflict she’s feeling, but for the love of pete – she’s on vacation. Why not indulge? – I mean sure, he’s married and that’s a big no-no (not even a little bit good), but does she have to be QUITE so chaste? Let’s be honest, by the time Hepburn starred in this picture, the USS Winsome Coquette had already sailed….they’re both adults. And, he’s SO handsome and charming…. (sigh) I digress. Nonetheless, the longing is real and artfully presented. Similar to an earlier film by Lean, “A Brief Encounter”. Whether you watch this picture for the vistas of Venice, the canals by day and by night, or for the spirit of independent female adventurers, you won’t be disappointed.

“Good films can be made only by a crew of dedicated maniacs”

Sir David Lean

Next up in our little double-matinee is “A Passage to India”. When they say ‘a movie by David Lean’ in the opening credits, they mean it – he wrote and directed this screen play from original material by E. M. Forster. He, too, has a knack for inventing stories that translate well to the big screen: “A Room with a View” and “Howard’s End” to name only two. He won one of those awards they’re always giving out in Sweden. When it comes to making Victorian English seem relatable, he’s your man. And, historically speaking, that’s a tall order – this was a pretty up-tight bunch.

Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, James Fox, and Peggy Ashcroft – “A Passage to India”

Judy Davis leads the cast and looks lovelier than I thought possible – had I overlooked her younger years on film? Maybe. Here she’s promised herself to a young magistrate in India during a time when India was a teensy bit oppressed by the English (read: the word “enslaved” was thrown around a bit during this period). Enter the young Davis with the elder Ashcroft, who are surprised to find that Ashcroft’s liberal upbringing of a son who’s risen high in the ranks could be undone by 2 years in India where he’s begun to drink the Kool-Aid and now believes the English to not only be the ruling nation, which they are, but also a superior race. It’s a powerful study of the time and the various people and their roles within it.

Set, in part, in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), you’ll see the elaborate and striking colors, the cacophony of masses of people and environ, and…I’d swear I noticed a whiff of Indian aroma. Maybe I just got swept away. Regardless, you’ll experience a LITTLE of being in another place and time through Lean’s master craftsmanship and the Oscar winning soundtrack.

I hope you’ll make time for one of these outstanding pictures. As always, it’s hard to say goodbye to an extraordinary place, but it’s never too far to go to Amazon or Netflix to say hello again – if only for a brief time. Both films are available in a variety of formats. Order a pizza or have some Indian food delivered to round out your experience. Make an evening of it – then make some travel plans.

arrivaderci Venezia

bengaluru, india

Stepping outside your hotel in India is an experience like none other

If I can be of any help…the words were still hanging in the air when I got a follow-up call: If you’re going to be in Asia anyway, could you come to our meeting in Bengaluru (fka Bangalore)? It was the invitation I’d been dying for. Two (long, frustrating) days later, I’d successfully navigated the on-line Visa process and would soon be on my way.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • Encouragement to do what nearly everyone told me not to
  • Tips for planning & getting around
  • Hotel, Restaurant & Shopping recommendations

“I’m going to India” were the first words out of my mouth for weeks leading up to the trip. Not only was it a destination I was dying to see, but the trip itself was a relative surprise tacked onto a pre-existing trip to Singapore. My friends who’d already been to India speedily divided themselves between 2 camps: those who said “get in and out as quickly as possible; don’t leave the hotel” and those who said “it’s far too dirty for you; you’ll hate it”. I was undeterred. I had the rare good fortune of having a member of my team who was not only due to meet me there, but who is FROM Bengaluru. She was delightfully eager to show us around so any worry I had about not being able to get around effectively and safely was completely dispelled.

First things first – you have to get there – and, that isn’t happening without a Visa. I offer the link here because the process is going to get pretty personal – and their interface is unusually casual. The more it probed into my most personal information (and, that of my closest relatives) all the phishing alarms kept going off in my head. I got midway into my first attempt before I saved my progress and asked my colleague from India and the meeting planners if I was using the correct site. I was. I resumed. They require scans of your passport, your business card, a letter of invitation from a business entity within India….and, they scrutinized them hours after entry often asking for higher-quality scans. As I said – it was about 2 days before I completed the process. Have patience. Once it’s accepted, PRESTO you have an e-Visa. Nothing to await in the mail; nothing to print or carry (read: One less thing to keep tabs on).

The Taj Bangalore captivated me with their rangoli displays throughout.

So, I’ll skip right over the part about how my 737 Max 8 flight was replaced by a plane that was likely pulled out of storage (the service and crew were exceptional, not complaining….just saying it was decorated a little like The Golden Girls’ living room – lots of peach and teal) and go straight to the part where Customs greeted me….well, greeted me is probably too strong a word. Let’s advance to arriving at the hotel.

If you have the chance to stay at a Taj property, I recommend you take it. This is probably my 3rd or 4th stay with them and the first ex-US. Each stay has been exceptional. I was greeted by attentive staff, beautifully attired in traditional costume, and enveloped by the fragrance of incense/heated oils, and entranced by a quiet, pervasive sitar soundtrack. I know that it’s popular in hotel chains now to create fragrance signatures that you’ll remember and associate with them. I have it on good authority that local households use similar fragrances to those that met me at the Taj. They created a memory for me – not of their hotel chain, but of this locale. To me, that’s what an exceptional host does.

“But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge into something else”

E. M Forster

Did you know that there are no fewer than 3 potential outlet adaptors for India? I tried a lot of resources and couldn’t confirm which was right for Bengaluru, so I called the hotel ahead of my visit. “No matter what you have, you’ll be welcomed,” replied the lilting voice from across the globe. After several attempts to make my question more clear, the reply was still the same. Hm. I packed my extra large power source and decided to hope for the best. Upon arrival, I found that the hotel has universal receptacles. No matter what you have, you’ll be welcomed. I get it now.

Outside of organized events, it would’ve been so easy to A) take a nap B) use dinner vouchers inside the hotel, or C) shop at the airport (yep – after exhausting the stores in the hotel, some attendees headed to the airport not to fly, but to shop…..and return to the hotel). But, as you know, I challenge myself (and all of us) to do better than that. So, instead of napping upon arrival- I scheduled a spa service. After flying so far and then sitting in meetings, I was a little stiff. Did you know that before any spa service in India, they begin with a foot washing ceremony? How lovely is that? Low lights and beautiful, hand-painted soaking pot of warm water…. Really, it’s very practical in a country where many people wear sandals on crowded, dusty streets. For me, as part of a massage practice, it drew me out of my day. And, isn’t that why we sign up for massages in the first place?

And, the food – If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve caught on to I’m Celiac. Indian is a cuisine that lends itself well to gluten-intolerance – they use very little wheat flour. The first day, I meandered the most colorful and aromatic buffets collecting foods I felt were pretty safe for me; I was fine. Yet, the head waiter brought me a meal that had been specially prepared. That’s attentive and thoughtful. But, the universally available spread was so inviting. By day 2, I brought my own guide – my native-born colleague who makes most of her own food back home in the states. We walked item by item, knowing well how she’d prepare each and I tried the most amazing things. Breakfast – Dosa – think every coveted omelette line you’ve ever stood in – that’s the Dosa line in India. As compared to omelettes, dosa are more savory and crispy…and lot less eggy. It’s really like a savory, crunchy crepe filled with whatever you choose. Milkshakes – chocolate, mango, coffee, fig – you just can’t say no – and, each is about 2oz, so indulge in more than one. And, filter coffee. Even during meeting breaks, the coffee tureens were turned away from guests so that an attendant must serve us. Honoring guests is an important part of the Hindu culture and I found it in abundance.

As the meeting broke-up, we had 2 choices: One extra dinner in the hotel and a nap prior to the airport, or head out. We headed out.

We traveled out into a more rural part of Bengaluru to visit a Scottish-inspired pub: Byg Brewski Brewing Company (yes, you got that right). Uber is alive and well in this part of the world and we traveled quite easily using our apps. The homes around this lively establishment appeared to be primitive by US standards, so imagine our surprise when we arrived at a nightclub/restaurant that rivals those of LA. We had an extremely pleasant evening trying (literally) everything on the menu. Note, like many places in India, they have a “no stags” policy- in this case it’s 3-stag limit. Meaning, no more than 3 guys in a party without dates are allowed entrance. They take very seriously the element of guys hanging out, drinking and potentially how that might play-out with tables of women nearby. That was an interesting cultural element that was new to me.

We had a bit of a whiz-bang shopping experience on Commercial Street. We wanted colorful bangles, anklets with bells, table linens and maybe some pashmina. Think you have a pashmina?…Can you pull the whole scarf through the width of your ring?…. that’s apparently how you gauge fine pashmina. If you need these items, or just have a hankering for something truly authentic without the travel, I’ll point you here. I visited their store in Bengaluru and wish I’d spent a LOT more time (and $$) there.

Everywhere you turn, something wonderful.

I can’t attach a link to the aroma of warm, scented oil, but I can attach a link to music that gives you a flavor of India. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the sophistication of their hospitality. I highly recommend you experience the colors, sounds and perfume for yourself.