Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reminiscing the past, resolutions for the future....

With only a few more hours to go, most of us are probably reminiscing about what has gone by, or dreaming about what is possible in the days to come. Amongst other things, this is the year I started this blog, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I resolve to make it a bigger and better blog for 2008.

My husband and I are going to New York early tomorrow morning and I suppose we better get down to packing. I hope to come back with exciting tidbits and pictures from our short trip to share with you. I probably won't be back writing until the 4th January, but I will be back. So watch this space in 2008!

Whatever your plans may be - be it having a house party, relaxing with family, celebrating it in a remote place of natural beauty, or amongst millions of avid revelers, here's wishing you a Very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Must we be so politically correct?

I realized I had not been as politically correct as I should have been when I wished everyone in my classroom a Merry Christmas. "It's Hanukkah too Miss" came the disgruntled reply somewhere from the back.

It was my first Christmas or holiday season in the US, and as a teacher of a 7th grade classroom. Having lived in a Christian country (UK) for a significant time where everyone said "Merry Xmas" made it difficult for me to make the transition to "Happy Holidays". But I had to, because that is what is said in PC America.

The thing is, I am not even a Christian. In fact, I am a Hindu, and practice moderately. I spent my formative years in India, and we always put up a tree in our living room every December. We sent cards to all our friends in India and abroad. We wished school friends a Happy Christmas. We had cake from our favorite shop in Kolkata on Christmas eve.

It never occurred to me that we didn't or shouldn't have to say those two words because we weren't Christian. Nor that we should be offended if anyone wished us it. Our family celebrated it with as much fervor as we did our own festivals. And I certainly feel the richer for it.

I am not saying that my experience is a common one. I am simply wondering whether there is actually something wrong with enjoying the social delight of an occasion? I also find it sad and preposterous that non-Christians would be offended simply because it is not part of their religion. I am lucky that I was not brought up to think that way, and believe that the world would be a much better place if we didn't have to watch our words all the time. We have enough problems as it is.

On that note, I hope that you are enjoying the holidays.....

Friday, December 21, 2007

Delightful Performance at the Chicago Symphony Center

Attending a performance at a world-class venue is a wonderful way of integrating into the local cultural scene. Just as a Broadway show in New York or a West End play in London should be on every avid traveler's hotlist, so should the Chicago Symphony Center in Chicago be seriously considered by all visitors and residents.

The Orchestra's 116-year history began in 1891 when Theodore Thomas, then the leading conductor in America and a recognized music pioneer, was invited by Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago businessman, to establish a symphony orchestra here.(ref The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is the third oldest orchestra in the Unites States, and they play at the beautifully restored and acoustically sound (no pun intended) Orchestra Hall at the Chicago Symphony Center.

The Chicago Symphony Center is very centrally located on Adams and Michigan in downtown Chicago. There is a self-parking lot opposite the center, and a valet-parking service for $15 (check the website for details).

As soon as you enter the lobby, you are whisked off into a world of old-style elegance. Chandeliers and red carpet as well as well-heeled doormen greet you efficiently. Well-dressed patrons look around to see whose attire flatters the most. Particularly enduring are the complementary throat lozenge stands, courtesy of Walgreen's. Should you feel a bout of coughing might ruin the concentration of the musicians, feel free to grab a handful. That's what they're for.

We attended a fabulous evening of music from Rachmaninoff, Kancheli and Janacek. The acoustics of the Orchestral Hall are very impressive. The electrifying performance of Rachmaninoff's 4th piano concerto on the Steinway grand reverberated with amazing passion. The musical sadness and sweetness of the the Georgian Duduki, a native instrument, was so effectively captured by the western instruments, that it really tugged at the heartstrings.

To select a performance, simply go the website and click on the 'Season Calendar'. The process thereon is very self-explanatory, and if you're flexible about when to go (e.g. a weekday), you can get a reasonably-priced ticket. Ours cost $42 per person for a Tuesday night performance, and our seats were great too. You can select your seats online using the handy Visual Seat Selector.

As far as classical performances go, I have been lucky enough to attend the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Opera House in London, the Zürich Opera House in Zürich, Kursalon in Vienna and now the CSO in Chicago. I did stand outside the Sydney Opera House in 2004, but I guess that doesn't count. What about you? I want to hear from all those who have attended very memorable performances in some of the most beautiful classical venues around the world. Drop me a line here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Favorite shows and songs - a little digression

I was recently mortified to hear that one of my favorite TV shows, 'Journeyman' had allegedly been canceled by NBC - perhaps that is why I have been posting less :). The final episode airs this Wednesday on NBC at 10/9C. If you haven't seen it at all, I guess it's a bit late to start now, although the slick acting should be enough to get your attention.

Fans (including myself) have been posting comments furiously on the NBC blog to try to sway the decision-making naysayers, so who knows. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I tivo'd last night's episode in favor of watching 'Fracture' on DVD. A truly slick and entertaining thriller. If it's not on your Netflix queue, it should be.

Moving on to music, I thought you might like to know that the Number One song on the British charts now is a beautiful rendition of 'What a Wonderful World' by Katie Melua and the late Eva Cassidy. I heard it the other day while listening to streamed UK radio, and it was heartwarming. Katie Melua is a Georgian-born UK singer with a soulful and jazzy edge, and is only in her mid-20s! Check out another song by her called 'Nine Million Bicycles'. It is a tear-jerker and hopelessly romantic. Both these songs are available for viewing on Youtube.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to party in Times Square (NYE) and beat the cold!

It sounds so sexy and exciting, doesn't it? Watching the ball drop in Times Square has got to be one of the best ways of spending New Year's Eve. Well, not if you're not a teenager anymore. Not if you haven't loaded up on the hot dogs and beer, and aren't really in a mood to scream your way into the new year, just to keep yourself warm, along with a million other die-hard revelers.

Many of us are enamored with the idea of being in New York, in Times Square and watching the crystal ball drop live. I am one of those people. But I am also one of those people who are not excited about the prospect of standing in the freezing cold for hours. So if you're like me, and realize that spending those few extra dollars could make a difference between having a really good time and having an anti-climactic and miserable time, then read on.

What I am suggesting is to check out the gazillion parties going on around the Big Apple. As a starter, I can suggest the pretty comprehensive site below. You can check out offerings from multiple cities around the US, but go over to New York, where there are about 150 listings (when this article was written).

Be it the Meatpacking District, Greenwich Village, Midtown or Bryant Park, there is something for everyone. There is something to suit all budgets too. Most offer a live broadcast of the ball drop, even those near or in Times Square. It's fascinating just to find out about all the parties!

So this is what we did. After spending a good few hours on this site in conjunction with Google Maps, we figured that a good choice would be the bar at the Paramount Hotel. On 46th St and minutes from Times Square, this nightspot offers passed hors d'oeuvres, a champagne reception, a 3 1/2 premium open bar - all for $79! And get this - you do have the option of stepping out to catch the ball drop live since its minutes away, or if you can't stand the cold, to just stay in and catch it live on the screens. The best of both worlds!

Then there's a general admission at most of these places for around $30 after 12:30 am. So say if you did opt to stay out most of the night, but then wanted to have a drink or two after it's all over, it doesn't have to break the bank!

So there you have it. You could have a fabulous night drinking top shelf stuff, nibbling on goodies, keeping warm, and being near it all. Caveat: Not all general admission prices are in the $80 range, so shop around! The bigger name clubs and nightspots may have general admission tickets from $150 upwards, but they may offer more than some of the more reasonably-priced places. Go for something which suits you, in terms of budget, what's included in the price, and location. And remember that the experience will last you a lifetime. You will have some good stories to tell, and glamorous memories to hold on to!

If you do decide to give this a try, or have done so already, don't forget to drop in a line here. But whatever you end up doing, have a great New Year's Eve!

The New York City 2008 Party list

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New York City, here I come!

We did it! After hours of procrastinating about whether we should, we did it! A $5 flight to NYC on the 31st Dec.

I kid you not. If you have 15000 airmiles with American, you can do it too. We sat at the computer the other day, not expecting our miles to take us anywhere decent over the New Year's period, and couldn't believe it when the Big Apple turned out to be an option. All it cost us was $5 for the transaction. Sweet. We snapped it up, and sped over onto Expedia to get us a decent room. Given that we spent virtually nothing for the room, we were able to get a room averaging about $350 per night. Not bad for this time period in NYC.

I cannot wait to make the trip and give you all an update. Being in one of the world's greatest cities on New Year's eve has always been a dream. Have you done it? Perhaps Sydney, Paris, London? Maybe you have a great story to tell about just a wonderful New Year's you spent? Share it here....

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Savvy holiday gifts of the edible kind

Do you have a friend or relative, who you know is a gourmand and for whom you want to get the perfect food-related gift, but are completely stumped??? Look no further.

Edible Arrangements will do delicious fruit baskets arranged bouquet-style! They'll even deliver gourmet-chocolate dipped strawberries for you! Go to their website and browse the amazing array of arrangements for different budgets and occasions. Prices start from around $32 for choco-strawberries to $230 for a mind-blowing deluxe fruity arrangement.

I love the idea of a wine aerator, and Binny's stocks the Vinturi Wine Aerator at $36. This is such a neat gift for a wine aficionado. Wine is poured through the aerator to help it mix with the air and open up its bouquet.

Have you ever visited the site Signature Days? This is a great way to gift someone an edible experience to remember! Be it a cookery or wine class, food tours, dinner cruises, or personal chef cooked meals, the choices are bountiful and delicious. Check the dropdown on the home page to see if your destination is should be!

I hope my friends are reading so they get some ideas for yours truly :).

So there it is, just a few ideas to get you started. Let me know if any of them worked out for you....

The Top 25 travel web sites

Wanted to share this very comprehensive resource with you I found on about Travel & Leisure. A recent article by Travel & Leisure (see link below) includes mini-reviews and links to what it considers to be the top 25 travel sites.

Since Expedia and Travelocity exploded onto the online travel scene all those years ago, sites have had to evolve in their offerings, as travelers become more and more discerning. ( I still remember the excitement and awe I felt when I booked my first flight online in 2000, from London to Zurich).

There are gazillions of travel sites out there, and not all great! Which is why this article is useful if you've decided to ditch your agent or simply want to see what else is new out there in the world of travel.

Several sites stood out for me. looks at historical price rises and falls, and helps you to decide when to buy a ticket by allowing you to access little charts indicating price variation. If it thinks a price will fall, it will tip you to wait. If you select a price, it will take you straight to the carrier's website you selected. is not a booking site, but a comprehensive one-stop-shop on all things cruise! is a great site for doing those quick currency calculations, real-time of course. does exactly what it says in its URL..and more. educates you about all the low-cost carrier airlines in Europe, who flies where, but not the prices. and last, but by no means least, I really like the look and feel of, a super-information packed website about food, user generated unique recipes, various places across the country and their best edible offerings, videos, blogs, forums etcetera.

Why don't you make up your own mind about which sites you like the most? Have you used some of the sites already? Tell us about them! Good or bad experiences, we want to hear from you here.....

Top 25 Travel Web Sites... according to T&L

Monday, December 3, 2007

Eggnog Cream Cheesecake......

Fannie May, the famous Chicago-based confectioners and the delectable Eli's, of cheesecake fame, have joined forces to bring to us four new sensational cheesecakes. And just in time for the holidays too! The four flavors are: Eggnog Cream, Mint Meltaway, Pixie, and Vanilla Buttercream.

The Fannie May website has tempting photos and descriptions of each. You pay $25 for each and can order online. If you've been lucky enough to try them already, drop me a line to tell me what you though about them. Cannot wait....

Journeyman (NBC)

Time travel anyone? If you like Sci-fi, and if you liked Quantum Leap, chances are you'll have heard of, watch and like NBC's Journeyman. Okay, it might be a premise which has been hashed out in thousands of different forms overs the years, but this show has been pretty decent so far.

If you want to rationalize every plot line, forget it. There will be inconsistencies given that the subject matter is, well, time travel. But the cast is spot on, easy on the eye and likable. The pace is perfect, and the missing pieces are gradually coming together nicely. It is what good entertainment should be.

Rumor has it that the show may be canceled. Ratings have been lower than expected. I got even more depressed imagining what kind of 'reality show' NBC would churn out in its place . Does no one care about an intelligent and decent show any more?

Journeyman is on NBC every Monday at 10/9 central, with the exception of today (the next episode will be shown on Dec 10) Maybe a lot of people don't know about it. So I'm doing my little bit to share it with you out there. You may love it or loathe it, but watch it at least once if you haven't already. The Journeyman website on have a blog where you can also post comments in support of the show.