Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Madness

In the past two days, terrorists have made a ten-point coordinated attack on significant landmarks in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Estimates at this hour indicate that upwards of 160 people have been killed and several hundred wounded. I'm not going to post news here, as you can get that at

Usually I visit The Times of India for a snapshot of a country I very much want to visit and to check out Hindi film reviews at both incarnations of the entertainment section, each with their own staffs, the Times of India AND . This week it's been invaluable as a source of information in the crisis, with regular updates from the field.

But this age of instant news has presented a problem: conflicting information. In one article I have read about the attackers NOT knowing their way around the Taj Hotel. Yet in another posted at a similar hour, I read that it was believed that the terrorists had studied the plans of the hotel and prepared well to have more than just a working knowledge of the ins and outs of the hotel's floor plan. One article might say that a target has been cleared of terrorists, and then another moments later saying that there have been more flashes or explosions. Not to mention the conflicting reports of any background info on the terrorists themselves or their connections to other groups. The mere volume and rate of the information stream is bound to lead to new insights as well as problematic inaccuracies. One can only hope that in the coming days a clearer picture will be drawn of the terrorists, their plan of action, their motives, and more importantly, how the Indian government can better protect its citizens (and visitors).
I am not dissuaded from my strong desire to travel to India, including some days in Mumbai, but the attack does render me doubtful as to whether I might choose to stay in hotels widely known to cater to Americans. I typically choose other accommodations anyway, wanting to have a less sanitized experience, so I suppose it just reinforces my existing instincts.

I haven't let terror scare me away from London and Istanbul, and these attackers have not scared me away from Mumbai.

Someday I will go...and when I am in front of the Taj Hotel or the Gateway of India or the Victoria Terminus I will think of those who lost their lives to this insanity.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

That Italy trip: fantastico, but...

The folks I mentioned in the previous post had a great trip to Tuscany and Rome. They spent a few days at a top Florence hotel and from there took a docent-led walking tour of ancient Florence one day and on another they enjoyed a full-day wine tour accompanied by two certified sommeliers. They had a special lunch at a biodynamic goat cheese farm along with an array of Tuscan wines, as an introduction. Then they went to some of the finest chianti classico wineries for extensive private tastings. After their brief stay in Florence, they stayed at a huge organic farm estate with a castle. On the property the staff and interns raise heirloom produce and animals, cured meats are made, art and lifestyle workshops are held...what a special experience is available to guests there! From the estate they visited Siena and also took another wine tour, this one highlighting the famous Super Tuscans as well as some of the amazing wines coming from the Tuscan coast, believe it or not. Finally, they went to Rome, where in addition to all the usual Roman delights, they took docent-guided tours of ancient Rome and the Vatican. Every day I wished I was with them, especially for the wine tours!!
The only day I might have passed on was their day of arrival...I found out a few days before their departure that there was going to be a nationwide transportation strike. Yikes! But hey, this is Europe, and labor strikes are part of life, just like those four weeks of average vacation they get. I prepared the travelers as best I could with back-up plans on how to get where they needed to go, and advised them to pack a suitcase full of patience. When you are traveling and faced with a situation you can't control, but which does have a foreseeable conclusion and does not physically threaten you, sometimes it's best to just take a deep breath and have a cocktail or glass of wine if you can find one! I myself can get too stressed out if things do not appear to be unfolding as planned when I travel, so I probably need to heed my own advice more often. But I am usually armed with information and can find a way to remedy any problem that may arise, and that is what I try to do for my clients. I say this all the time when I'm researching health issues, but KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. That applies to travel, too.