Friday, April 14, 2023

First Quarter of 2023

After traveling almost non-stop for the last 7 months for both personal and work reasons, I've fallen behind on my blog updates and I've been busy playing catch up on all the backlogs (still not done). Anyway, all these travels meant that the pandemic is finally over and work travel has also resumed. 

After spending 2 months in India training our team members in India, I volunteered to travel to Tampa again this past busy season for 5 weeks to support the secondees from India. The last time I traveled to Tampa was 3 years ago for similar purpose, so being back in Tampa again felt like deja vu. 

Here's the photo dump of all things I did during the first quarter of 2023...

Work Travel to Tampa

Flew back and forth to Tampa, and got upgraded for to first class for a few flights, thanks to my American Airlines Platinum Pro status that I got as part of a status challenge. 

Visited The Club lounge at Charlotte airport with my Priority Pass. The lounge is usually full and I only had time to visit twice coz the transit time for most of my flights were too short.

It was good to be back in the Tampa office again after 3 years. Contrary to the last time I was here, the office was still very empty post-Covid. I don't mind coz there are plenty of seats to choose from and I don't have to wait to use the massage chair. =)

Going to the office meant I had to dress up instead of just rocking my pajamas!

Feb 28 (Tues): Had dinner with the leadership team and secondees from India and South Africa at Fleming's Steakhouse.

Stayed mostly at Marriott Westshore hotel but hotel-hopped for 3 nights to Hilton Westshore, Hotel Alba, and Embassy Suites at USF to retain my Hilton Diamond status.

Found out that one of my favorite sushi restaurant in Tampa had closed permanently during Covid but good to see that this Korean restaurant is still in business. Went there at least once a week and consistently ordered the kimchi sundubu soup. =)

Ordered room service for most nights as  and ate out a few times.

Had my random-rental-car fun 'test-driving' different cars from Avis and National...Volkswagen Taos, Volkswagen Tiguan, Volkwagen Passat,  Jeep Renegade, Honda CRV,  Mazda CX-9, Cadillac XT4, Cadillac XT5, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Cross, Ford Explorer Limited, Chevrolet Traverse, and Chevrolet Camaro. =P

Feb 12 (Sun): Took the secondees to Tampa Premium Outlet for shopping and had Indian food for dinner at Curry Leaves.

Work Goodies

Busy season and Post-busy season goodies

Got United Premier Platinum status for the year thanks to the company's fast track program for United. =)

Family Time

Jan 14 (Sat): Thanks to the family for waiting for me to return to celebrate our belated Christmas.

Jan 21 (Sat): Virtual CNY Reunion dinner with the family in Malaysia

Mar 5 (Sun): Celebrated SIL's birthday

Apr 8 (Sat): Early birthday celebration for the nephew as we won't be in town during his birthday

Ordinary Days 

Experimented with this 'survival' stove hubby got as his Christmas gift and successfully made hamburgers. =P

Introduced hubby to Somaek (soju+beer) and he enjoyed it....and the outcome is a good sleep...haha!

Sunday Meal Prep Routine

Jan 8, 15, 21 & 29: Chicken herbal soup, tomato chicken, LuRouFan, brocolli and carrot salad, pork loin, jambalaya rice with meatballs, mash potatoes.

Feb 5, 19, 26 and Mar 5: Beef chili, chicken herbal soup, LuRouFan, brocolli and carrot salad, pork loin, mash potatoes, tomyum noodle soup with vegetable and mussels, ham with baked beans.

Mar 12, 19, 26 and Apr 2: Gumbo rice with sausage, pork loin with mash potatoes, tomyum soup with vegetables and mussels, hamburger meat with mash potatoes, brocolli and carrot salad.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

India Work Trip 2022 ✈ Taj Mahal

In the last 2 months of 2022, I was given the opportunity to travel to India for a work secondment. I signed up to travel to India without any expectations, but the entire experienced turned out way better than I expected, all thanks to the warm hospitality I received throughout my stay in Kolkata.

18 November 2022 (Fri):  Bangalore - New Delhi
After wrapping up my week-long work trip in Bangalore, I made a detour to New Delhi & Taj Mahal for a short weekend trip to before heading back to Kolkata. Taj Mahal had been on my list of places to visit on this India work trip so I am very grateful that my co-worker graciously offered to take me from Delhi to Taj Mahal and be my 'tour guide'. =)

Arrived Bangalore airport around 2pm with plenty of time before my 5.10pm flight. Visited the 080 Domestic Lounge with my Priority Pass. There are 2 similar lounges in the airport and I noticed that one side of the lounge is for India bank card holders, and this side of the lounge for Priority Pass seemed to be a bit more 'exclusive' with less crowd.

This was my first time traveling on Air India and to be honest, the interior of the plane looks dated. However, this was a relatively short flight (2.5 hours) so it was fine for me. In fact, it was much better than the Air Asia India flight I took from Kolkata to Bangalore so I'm not complaining. Besides, Air India is part of Star Alliance so I was able to credit the miles to United. Our flight departed about 20 minutes behind schedule and I was surprised that they had a full meal service for this short flight.

Arrived New Delhi airport at 9pm and my first impression of the city...pollution was pretty bad. It was hazy and I could smell smooke as soon as I got out of the airport. I had previously provided my filght number and arrival time to the hotel to arrange for pick-up, but I didn't see anyone from the hotel at the arrival hall. Had to call the hotel twice to ask where the driver was. Apparently the driver was waiting at a different terminal. =.= Anyway, we were out of the airport by 9.45pm.

The drive from the airport to hotel was smooth and there weren't any traffic. Arrived at ITC Maurya New Delhi at 10.15pm. As usual, a quick security check of the vehicle and all bags before entering the hotel. This was my first time staying in an ITC hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel under Marriott.  ITC Maurya Delhi is a 5-star hotel situated in the diplomatic enclave of New Delhi, and is the preferred accommodation of Heads of States, royal dignitaries, and business leaders across the world. Atas lo!

Check in was pretty quick and I got to my room (3109) at 10.30pm. I think I got an upgrade but I have no idea which room type this is and I can't even find it online. Anyway, the room was spacious and had a separate study area with a massage chair!! I prefer hotels with more modern design but I'm only here for less than 12 hours so the interior doesn't really matter...haha!!

My co-worker from Delhi told me that I had to try the Dal Bukhara (black lentil) at ITC Maurya as it is the famous signature dish at the Bukhara restaurant. Since it was already pretty late, I decided to order room service and was glad they were able to deliver it for in-room dining. The Dal Bukhara was good but very heavy (see that piece of floating butter), especially for a late night supper. 

19 November 2022 (Sat):  New Delhi - Taj Mahal (Agra)

After a good night's rest, I started my day early at 7.15pm with breakfast at the hotel restaurant. The buffet options were quite extensive but I wasn't too hungry (probably still full from the Dal Bukhara) so I had something light before checking out of the hotel.

Walked around the hotel and took some photos since I didn't have time the night before. The design at the lobby is pretty impressive. I was also impressed by the bathroom which looked super fancy with 'touchless' door.

Vivek, Prachi, and Pravek picked me up from the hotel at 9am and started our 3 hours drive to Agra. Even though we've been working together for two months, this was my first time meeting Vivek. I also found out that his wife, Prachi, used to work in the same firm so we had a lot in common to talk about along our drive to Agra.

We arrived the town of Agra around 12pm and went to our hotel, Coutyard Agra, to drop off our luggages, check-in, and had lunch first before going to Taj Mahal. Got upgraded to a junior suite and received a nice welcome note from the hotel. 

We tried buying the entrace tickets for Taj Mahal online before arriving but couldn't. We found out later that the reason we couldn't buy tickets online was because entrance to Taj Mahal was free from Nov 19-25, 2022 for the World Heritage Week. Guess we got lucky with the timing of our visit and I saved INR 1,100 (approx. $14) for the foreigner entrance fee. =)  There were no lines at the entrance when we arrived at 2.45pm but it took awhile for me at the security check becuase they literally took everything out of my backpack to check. Apparently, things like tea (in my water bottle), gums, food, and mini tripod are all not allowed and had to be deposited before entering.

Downside of free entrance....soooo many people!! You know how I feel about crowded places. =.=

Top 2 photos are reality, bottom 2 photos are the attempts to hide reality. =P

More failed attempts to hide the many many people in the background. 
Side story: So I kinda stood out and got quite a lot of 'stares' from other visitors because there were hardly any foreigners there and I was also holding my gimbal so people probably thought I'm a!! Funnily, random people actually asked if they could take photos with me but I politely declined (Vivek helped as well) coz it felt weird. I'm not a celebrity la...hahaha!

Finally found a good spot for photos!! The blue area is supposed to be filled with water but they were doing some maintenance work so it was dry.

Even though entrance was free, we still had to buy the tickets (INR200/pax) to go into the mausoleum. There was a line to enter the mausoleum but it moved pretty quickly.

Took some photos of the surrounding while waiting in line to get into the mausoleum.

Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, the seond wife of emperor Shah Jahan. Upon her death, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahl for her which until this day is a glorious piece of architecture that stands as a symbol of love. The mausoleum houses the tombs of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.

Big thank you to Vivek and family for bringing me here and being my 'tour guides'! =)

We left Taj Mahal around 4.15pm and took awhile to find our auto rickshaw driver coz we walked the wrong way. Saw some cows roaming along the streets.

Headed back to the hotel to rest some before having dinner at the hotel restaurant and calling it a day. Many people do a day trip to Taj Mahal from Delhi but we were glad we spent one night in Agra and split the drive over 2 days so everyone was able to get some rest.

20 November 2022 (Sun): Agra - New Delhi - Kolkata

After a chillaxing morning, we checked out of the hotel at 12pm and started our drive back to Delhi as both Vivek and I are flying to Kolkata in the evening. We drove by a few attractions such as the India Gate before Vivek dropped me off at the Shivaji Stadium metro station to take the metro to the airport as he had to drop his family off back home first before going to the airport. 

I have been too spoilt getting chaufferred everywhere so this was a good opportunity to try out the public transportation here. The metro ride cost only INR 50 ($0.60) for the 20 minute ride. 

Arrived at Delhi airport at 4.30pm with about 3.5 hours to spare before my flight. Unfortunately, the Plaza Premium Lounge was closed so there weren't any lounges that I could visit with my Priority Pass. So I hung out at a cafe and had momos for dinner. Also met up with my other team member, Ridhi, who was also flying to Kolkata that evening to attend the training that I was conducting the following week. This was also my first time meeting her after working together for 2 months. 

Boarded the 8pm Air India flight from Delhi to Kolkata. Similar to the previous flight, there was also a full meal service for this 2.5 hours flight. And that wraps up my quick weekend trip to Taj Mahal. Another 7 Wonders of the World checked! =)