Saffron at the Shangri La

 

On our first night in Bangalore, we were exhausted, but there was no way that we were going to stay home and overlook the fact that it was also our sixth wedding anniversary. This was a big day!

After a bit of confusion about where we were going (our intended celebration spot, Druid Garden, is closed on Mondays), our driver Marthi pulled up to the Shangri La, a beautiful, opulent, 5-star hotel. Before entering, we had to walk through a metal detector – this seemed odd at the time, but we now know that it’s a normal part of life here. In the lobby was a beautifully dressed woman who offered assistance. We told her that we wanted to have dinner and she told us about our five options there: a buffet on the first floor, a Chinese restaurant on a lower floor, or one of three restaurants  on the 18th floor.  Without choosing a restaurant, we knew we wanted a view so the 18th floor sounded right to us. She escorted us to the elevator and pushed the button for us.

When we got off, there were five women in stunning saris standing there in a line, asking where we wanted to go. We said that we were interested in seeing menus and one of them told us about our options including a Mediterranean restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and Saffron, an Indian restaurant. We looked at each other silently agreed that was what we wanted for our first night in India. As she walked us down the long hall, we told her we’d just arrived in Bangalore at 3 am that morning and that it was our anniversary.

We were immediately seated in the beautiful dining room right next to a table covered in rose petals – a couple that had clearly planned ahead for their anniversary arrived shortly thereafter.

The meal was wonderful. We wanted only one glass of wine each, given that we were already struggling to keep our eyes fully opened, and we wanted it to be Indian wine. The waiter brought us tastes of a 2016 Cabernet-Shiraz from Grover Vineyards, about an hour north of us, and a 2015 Sangiovese from KRSMA in Hampi, quite a bit north of us, but still in the state of Karnataka. Both wines tasted young and had an unusual minerality, but the Sangiovese was a bit smoother and we both chose that one.

The menu was organized by regions of India, something you’d never see in the states. They had two different vegetarian prix fixe meals (oh, the joy of being a vegetarian in South India!) and we considered them, but decided that we really wanted to choose for ourselves. We started with a stuffed paneer appetizer unlike anything we’ve had before and incredibly delicious. It consisted of rounds of paneer sandwiching a spicy tomato chutney, coated in spices, and then cooked in the tandoor. Yum! Because we wanted to have something familiar, we selected the ghobi muttar and vegetable biryani which were both outstanding.  For the final dish, we wanted to try something local and our waiter suggested a Karnatakan vegetable stew in coconut milk. To round out the meal, we ordered one naan and one paratha. The waiter wanted to know what kind of paratha, the one from Kerala or another one. Not knowing the difference, we floundered and ended up with both. These breads were flaky and delicious enough to just eat by themselves.

We were far too full to finish and they offered to “parcel” our food. After declining dessert, our waiter returned with a lovely chocolaty anniversary cake and asked to take our picture with it. We could only manage one bite each before having that parceled as well, but we were really touched by the gesture.

While the restaurant was far from empty, Mondays are slow nights everywhere, and that was certainly the case here. Our service was very attentive and sometimes a bit intrusive, but generally charming. They clearly cared that we enjoy our meal.

We can easily imagine returning again for a special occasion.

On our way out, there was lots of hubbub in the lobby and outside. It seems that a Bollywood star was on the way and people were gathering for a glimpse! We didn’t see the actor, but did get to admire some gorgeous clothing. All of the women were wearing bright, embroidered, sequined works of art. Melissa felt drab in comparison, wearing a simple floral dress which had previously seemed colorful.

The Apartment

On July 31 at 5 am, after about 30 hours of traveling, we saw our new apartment for the first time.

We had corresponded for weeks with Premanand, the facilities manager for the school who also manages apartment assignment and maintenance. The school would provide us with a furnished 2 bedroom flat, but we had the option of paying the difference for a three bedroom unit (about $94/month) to allow Melissa to have a functioning home office even when we have guests. We asked Prem to find us a 3 bedroom flat on a higher floor because we assumed that (a) we would have more of a breeze on a higher floor, (b) we would have a greater sense of privacy on a higher floor, and (c) there would be fewer spiders on a higher floor (very important to Melissa). First he offered a 3-bedroom on the 2nd floor, so we checked our assumptions with him before committing. He responded, “No worries of the spider – breeze will be less comparing with higher flats,” and committed to looking again. “No worries of the spider” became something of a catch phrase through the rest of our packing time, but provided little comfort to Melissa who wasn’t sure what that meant! A week later, Prem had found us a 3-bedroom unit on the 11th floor, and we took it.

While we generally tried not to build up our expectations about things, it was hard not to do that when it came to our home. The apartment complex has a website, so we were able to look at furnished model units, and we were excited. We pictured  moving into something like an Airbnb, or maybe an apartment recently vacated by another teacher and all set up for our needs. The reality is a bit more stark. We have a lot of space, but very little in it. Our floors are all bare, beige tile. Our walls are a uniform beige except in the fully tiled bathrooms.

The layout is nice and open. You enter into a hallway/entryway with a door to the right into a guest room with its own ensuite bathroom (Hey, guests! You’ll have your own private space when you come to visit!). It’s not fancy, but we’ll add a bed and make it comfortable.

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The hallway opens into a living room/dining room space with a large balcony with 4 foot walls framed in with mosquito netting.

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Off the dining area is the kitchen which has a door at the end that opens to a small utility balcony with a washing machine and shelves. This is framed by what we now know to be monkey netting (we haven’t yet seen any monkeys, but we’re really excited about the possibility!).

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Toward the back of the apartment is a bathroom to the right, a guest room (and likely office for Melissa), and the master bedroom with its own bathroom. Off the master bedroom is another balcony, but it’s been entirely closed in with windows. That might be a nice kind of solarium if not for the fact that the AC for the apartment is located in the master bedroom with it’s motor in that small closed area – it’s crazy hot in there when closed up! Maybe we’ll eventually adjust to the heat and do without the AC. The ceiling fans in every room really help.

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Our furnishings consist of:

  • a super-firm, matching couch and two chairs in the living room with a small end table
  • a dining room table with four chairs – perfectly nice
  • in our bedroom, a queen size bed with a mattress only slightly more cushy than a carpeted floor, and a large wardrobe
  • in the first guest room, a similarly cushy twin bed with a desk unit with shelves, and a wardrobe
  • in the second guest room, a dresser (no bed)
  • The kitchen has 4 plastic plates, 4 small glasses, 4 mugs, 4 forks and knives, 6 spoons, one non-stick frying pan, one plastic lidded thing lined with a metal insert (no idea what to do with that), 2 carving knives, a peeler/corer, and a “coffee buddy” that lets you make one cup of coffee at a time directly in a mug. We have two gas burners, a microwave, a fridge, and a filtered water dispenser.

Note that there is no mention of linens because there aren’t any beyond one slightly scratchy flat sheet on each bed with a blanket. For the first two nights we put both blankets under the flat sheet to add a little more softness, covered them with a flat queen sheet folded around the mattress, and covered ourselves with a twin flat sheet. Melissa is not known for her good sheet sharing, so it was a bit challenging. We also had to use Tom’s long sleeve T-shirts as towels and showered without shower curtains – luckily the full tiling meant the bathroom was prepared for that.

The folks from the school really are trying to take good care of us and had stocked the kitchen with necessities: coffee, tea, milk, bread, eggs, peanut butter, apples (which we were told to soak in water with vinegar for 2-3 minutes before eating), juice, and cheese spread. We were grateful to be able to feed ourselves on the first day.

The apartment complex is lovely and we enjoyed our first walk around the grounds after an early nap on our first day. There’s a gate with full-time guards which is a new and slightly off-putting experience for us. Within the walls, it’s really clean with a straight path all around the buildings and a more meandering path that winds through the foliage – beautiful flowering things everywhere and more butterflies than we’ve seen in one place outside of an enclosed butterfly garden. Women in brightly colored saris are always along the paths, gardening or sweeping the walkways with these short brooms. There is a beautiful pool in the center of the complex right next to the badminton net. Next to that is the club house which has an open room for parties on the ground floor, a ping pong table and pool table on the 1st floor, a fitness center with cardio and weight machines on the 2nd floor, and a mirrored room where the security guard says there are Zumba classes (Melissa is delighted by this news!). We’ve seen someone walking with a yoga mat in that general direction so we wonder about other kinds of classes as well.

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The complex next door is related to ours and has a small supermarket – more like a convenience store. This is particularly important for the water since we can’t drink (or brush our teeth in) what comes out of the tap. We can order a replacement jug any time and they will rapidly replace it. Big relief to figure that out!

We had wondered if this complex would feel like a closed ex-pat community, but it really doesn’t. Other than the new CIS teachers we’ve met, all the other residents seem to be Indian. We’ve read that only about 30-40% of the residents of Bangalore are from Bangalore so they may be from other parts of India, but we won’t have any idea until we start making friends. Most people seem to avoid eye contact, but some neighbors down the hall have waved at us so we have hope of getting through the barriers and actually getting to know the people around us.

We have a lot of shopping and “homemaking” to do, but have no doubt that this will be a very nice place to live.

Minor quirks of note:

There are switches everywhere – every outlet has its own switch, plus switches for ceiling fans, lights, hot water heater, and AC. Weirdly challenging that they all seem to turn on in what would be the off position at home.

Brownouts are real – we’ve had two so far that we know about, although the building generator kicks in for essentials pretty quickly and power is then restored within about 15 minutes. We need to buy some big, bulky UPS devices to ensure that our electronics don’t get fried, though.

Departures and Arrivals

Our journey to India has begun. It didn’t start when we arrived in Bengaluru, or even when we stepped on the plane. It started weeks ago with the loving support of family and friends.

As we started preparing, we decided to avoid setting expectations about where we were going or what it would be like – that seemed essential, given that we truly knew next to nothing and really couldn’t imagine it. Any expectation seemed too likely to become a disappointment. When we were alone, that was easy. When anyone was around, it became much more difficult. People are curious when you tell them you’re moving to India, and questions simply come up.

– What will your apartment be like? I don’t know.
– How will you get around? Will you get a car? I don’t know.
– How will your finances work in India? I don’t know.
– What will your classes be like, Tom? I don’t know.
– What are you going to do, Melissa? I don’t know!

We always knew that the questions came with the best of intentions, but the mountain of “I don’t knows” was really intimidating. We’re delighted to finally have some answers. And we have to now acknowledge that our efforts to avoid setting expectations were futile, even if they weren’t spoken.

The emotional preparation was significant and we made sure that we were soaking up love from all our family and friends. In the months before we left, we managed to schedule time with each of our nieces and nephews and goddaughters, visit friends in Seattle, visit friends in LA, be visited by friends from Squamish, and enjoy big and small family gatherings. It was so good to feel that web of support when we were nervous.

At Ellie’s birthday party, we described all of the fun plans we had before taking off. Diane’s brother-in-law Sam was very concerned about how we would get it all done. Logistics started to concern us. While we started some purging in June, we didn’t really accomplish much until after returning from our late June/early July trip. The trip was a delight – taking our nephew Alex to Washington DC and then splitting up for Melissa’s trip to CT, NJ, and NY and Tom’s trip to Hood Canal. When we reconvened on July 8 in Portland, with exactly three weeks until our departure date, a bit of panic set in.

Melissa’s Aunt Linda and Aunt Sue arrived on July 9 and got us on track. By the time they left on July 12, we were feeling so ridiculously confident that we considered bumping up our move date from July 24 to July 21. Luckily, the movers told us they weren’t available. Whew! On July 17, Rachel arrived from Seattle and kept us on track with packing, particularly once Melissa shared her dream of Saturday wine tasting. Even with eight car loads to Goodwill, two big bags to Dress for Success, a truck load to the dump, furniture and random items posted on Next Door, and furniture to Melissa’s brother Jesse, there was a lot to pack. And we did it! By Sunday afternoon we were able to announce to Sam at Benny’s birthday party that we were ready for the Monday morning movers.

Expectation challenge 1: Tom thought the movers would be able to load the truck in about an hour. Melissa thought that it would probably take two hours. In fact, after 4 ½ hours, those hard-working young men had to break the news that the truck was full and they’d have to go unload some stuff before they could finish. In total, it took them over 7 hours to load up at our house and unload into storage space in their warehouse. We were delighted by the care they took in protecting everything with both furniture blankets and shrink-wrap but a bit surprised by the time and expense. Still, we got all of the belongings we planned to take to India over to Tom’s mom Elaine’s house and then made

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This is all we took with us for 2 years in India!

it to the meet-up point for Tom to sell his car in plenty of time. Mission accomplished! Then we got to enjoy a week of relative relaxation (interrupted by appointments with the dentist, our tax guy, the escrow guy, and various other necessities) before finishing up with a big family dinner the night before we left.

And then the big day came and we headed to the airport!

Expectation challenge 2: We were so nervous about checking seven pieces of luggage all the way through from Portland to Bengaluru, with two airlines involved (Alaska and Emirates) that we wanted to get to the airport really early. We were there before 10:30 am for our 1:50 pm flight, and then checking the bags was effortless. We paid exactly what we expected to pay for three of them, and the guy behind the counter never even raised an eyebrow. Apparently, our life-changing event was not such a big deal for him. Not only that, but we got through security in record time and then had nearly three hours post-security. We spent some of it walking to the end of each concourse before settling on a final US meal at the Laurelwood in E concourse: nachos for Melissa and a veggie burger and fries for Tom. After a bit more restless walking, we boarded the plane and began our journey in earnest: first to Seattle, then to Dubai, then to Bengaluru.

In Seattle, we had one moment of adrenalin when Tom realized that he’d left his phone and Kindle on the seat of the plane after briefly setting them down to lift a carry-on from the overhead bin. We were able to race back to the gate, collect them from some amused gate attendants, and take the three trains to our gate in the international terminal with time to spare.

Expectation challenge 3: We are very used to the notion that one carry-on item really means one carry-on item plus another small thing that you can put at your feet and that weight doesn’t matter. On Emirates Air, neither of those assumptions are true. After hearing an announcement that we could only carry on one piece of luggage each and that those items could weigh no more than seven kilos, we went to ask if we needed to check our roller bags and were told that we most certainly did. Happily, those were checked for free while the other excess bags cost $175 each.

The 14 ½ hour flight from Seattle to Dubai was long. There’s no way around that. We each watched three movies in between dozing, eating, and restless walking from row 20 to the back of the plane on water quests.

Expectation challenge 4: We expected more from the top-rated airline in the world: The food was uninspired, the leg room was as lacking as most American airlines, Melissa’s seat charger didn’t work, and our touchscreens were frustratingly finicky. We were not impressed. Clearly their rating comes from their luxurious first class and business class cabins which we eyed longingly while boarding and disembarking. There was one moment of brief but intense turbulence, during which we held hands across the aisle, but it was otherwise uneventful. One happily met expectation: Thanks to Linda and Sue’s insistence on compression socks, our feet did not swell.

The Dubai airport is huge! They warned us while still on plane that it might take 45

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minutes to get to a connecting gate – with 1 ½ hours before boarding, we weren’t worried but didn’t dawdle. It actually took about 15 minutes to get to our empty gate after crossing a cavernous, but largely empty airport. The boarding process was odd – first they announced that the gate was open (first class, business class, and fancy club members to one door and the rest of us to another). As we got to the front of the line, they checked our boarding passes and passports and then sent us into another giant holding area. This room had no restrooms, which was a bit disappointing. After waiting there a while, they began a more usual, structured boarding process for the plane. This time we sat next to each other instead of across the aisle from each other. This flight seemed brief in comparison at only 4 ½ hours, partly because we both fell sound asleep before takeoff. Emirates redeemed themselves a little on this flight with better food and functioning equipment which made for a far nicer experience.

Immigration in Bengaluru was really efficient and we then hustled to baggage claim. The

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wait for each piece of luggage was a bit painful, but all nine pieces eventually arrived! Only one box appeared to have been damaged, but its contents were fine – luckily that one was primarily Melissa’s clothes. Customs took two minutes without anyone speaking to us – maybe we should have brought more wine.

Oh, the relief when we stepped out the door of the airport at 3:15 am and saw Shane Kells, head of school at the Canadian International School (CIS), smiling and waving from the end of the row! He introduced us to others from CIS, handed us a bag with a couple sandwiches and diet cokes, and sent us off with Prem (facilities manager) and three other men in CIS shirts who loaded our luggage into a CIS van (no small feat with all of the seats in there) and then loaded us into a car with a quiet young man who drove us to our apartment.

We arrived at our apartment exhausted and overwhelmed, but generally happy to be home.

Next post: The Apartment

Chicago!

Our first post, and our trip to Chicago.

We’re trying new things. In the past year, we learned to cook Indian food, we attempted Thai food, we bought a sailboat, and, oh, yeah, we committed to moving to Bengaluru, India for two years. We are hoping all kinds of new things are coming our way in the next couple years, and we will try to document those things here, for our own sake and to share our adventures.

We thought we’d get our feet wet with this new little writing adventure by describing our somewhat spontaneous, kind of ridiculous trip to Chicago during the first week in June. Melissa had a meeting on Thursday and Friday, so Tom flew out to meet her on Friday afternoon. The only thing we had planned was an architecture tour on Chicago’s First Lady. This is unusual for us. One of the reasons the two of us travel so well together is that we balance each other out: Melissa is generally the planner; Tom is generally the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pantser. Together, we tend to plan a lot of fun outings on our trips, but we’re always open to scrapping our plans for interesting things that come along.

Our first dinner was spent at the famous (at least in our family) Lou Malnati’s for some deep dish. We walked from there down to Grant Park. Tom had fun imagining we were walking through the spirit of Obama’s election night. Ah, those were the days. We walked all the way up the lakefront to Navy Pier and up the river a little ways. By then we were worn out and ready to hop the Blue Line back to our hotel.

Saturday’s adventures  definitely benefited from being a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of day.

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Macy’s beautiful tiled dome, leftover from the old Marshall Field’s days.
Our only plan was the Architecture tour at 1:00. We surrounded that with all kinds of fun things: Gino’s East for more deep dish, Macy’s to see the tiled dome (and get some clothes appropriate for an event coming up), a walk through Millennium Park, drinks at III Forks (not the rooftop bar we wanted, but Cindy’s was closed for a private event), and a quick shot through Chicago Cultural Center for an exhibit on the doors formerly at Malcolm X Community College. We wrapped up the day with an amazing dinner at Trattoria No. 10.

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The Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower from the river.
We were again reminded why it is so important to both plan and roll with things. Our architecture tour was amazing. The Chicago Architecture Foundation puts on a good show. The buildings are amazing, the guides are crazy knowledgeable, and we probably wouldn’t have been able to get tickets if we didn’t plan ahead. We only went to the Cultural Center and Trattoria No. 10 because our tour guide recommended them, and they turned out to be highlights of the weekend. We had a notion that we’d do a deep dish tour of Chicago, but after two very good meals, we figured we’d had enough since we only had a couple more meals left. We hit a good number of things we had hoped to do, though we didn’t have time for all of it — Second City, blues clubs, and Willis Tower, née Sears Tower, will have to wait until next time.

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Hamilton, here we come!
The most important spur of the moment choice was when, on a lark, we remembered that Hamilton was in the middle of a verrrrrrry long run in Chicago, to the point of some people describing it as a second residency. We thought, ‘No way are there tickets. That play never has tickets.’ Lo and behold: there were tickets available! When we realized that we probably wouldn’t see it for years if we didn’t do it now, it kind of felt like a no brainer. The only question was the price. Our Old Pal Dan has a handy metric: the fun-to-money ratio. Let’s just say, it was a bargain! The performances were amazing, and the production lived up to every bit of the hype.

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Our luck included some pretty amazing seats!
We look forward to our adventures ahead — the huge one we have planned and all of the little ones we are going to ad lib. We’ll try our best to keep you all updated while not boring you with minutiae. It might take a while to find the balance, but we’ll try.


Some minutiae:

Deep dish: We did end up at two of the highest rated deep dish joints. Much to brother Michael’s chagrin, we definitely were more impressed with Gino’s East. The toppings were fresher, and the crust was more interesting thanks in large part to the cornmeal. In general, neither of us came into the weekend as tremendous fans of the form, and it doesn’t supplant nice thin, Neapolitan pies as our favorites, but we came away with a whole lot more respect.

The Art Institute of Chicago: This isn’t really minutiae, but it didn’t really fit into whatever flimsy narrative we constructed above. It was amazing. We only had time for a couple of sections — we both spent most of our time in the Impressionists exhibits, Tom went to see the Modernists, and Melissa checked out the photography. Tom once again reaffirmed that his favorites are definitely his favorites, even if they are everyone’s favorites — Paul Klee, Monet, van Gogh, and many, many more. Also, the cafe is delicious.