Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai

Like most Americans, I was horrified to learn of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on Wednesday and glued myself to the television set for the rest of the evening. That’s because unlike most Americans, I’d been in Mumbai this March and actually stayed in the historic old wing of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in a beautiful room overlooking the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea. Indeed, one of the reasons I was in India was to assure Americans, through my writing about food and culinary tourism, that India is worth the 18 hours or so of flight time from the U.S. My opinion on this has not been changed.

I’m deeply saddened today, because I think of all the amazing people I met — chefs, tour guides, wildlife specialists, drivers — not just in Mumbai, but in places like Udaipur and Kerala, who’ll pay for this economic blow to India’s tourism industry, and pay dearly. It’s not fair. Although it’s chilling to think that Americans and Britons may have been singled out by the terrorists at the hotels (this hasn’t been confirmed officially), is this enough reason to cross a country off a “must see” list? For many tourists, the answer will be a resounding “Yes,” even though the mortality risk is higher driving to work each day.

I thought I’d post some of my photos of the Taj Palace to give you some idea how beautiful this hotel is. As I mentioned, we stayed in a room overlooking the sea; we actually had one of those dormer rooms you see in all the news reports. I would stand in the window with my Mac laptop and talk to my son back in the U.S. via Skype, turning my web camera out toward the sea so he could see the hundreds of colorful boats bobbing in the harbor, or down toward Apollo Bunder to watch the motorized rickshaws and Ambassador cabs drop off and pick up an endless stream of passengers:

Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace hotel room inside view

Here, inside the dome at the center of the hotel. We often skipped the elevator just so we could walk down this gorgeous staircase:

Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace inside dome

Our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide, Mr. Dubash, took us over to Elephantia Island one day. Here’s a view of the hotel from the sea. The Gateway to India is on the right:

view of Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace from ocean

Another view of the hotel from land:

view of Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace

We breakfasted in the loggia along the courtyard in the back of the hotel, which is technically the front of the hotel; the side facing the sea is in the back.

Inside the Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace back courtyard

The hotel was like a cocoon for us, a buffer from the madness, noise, and mind-numbing contradictions that make up Mumbai:

Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace courtyard

Despite all that’s happened there this week, I’m eagerly counting the days when I can return to India and explore it more deeply. And if you’ve ever considered a holiday in India, please don’t let this incident affect your plans.

Pronouncing British place names

Maybe it’s because I’m a native New Englander, a region of the U.S. rife with quirky pronunciations, but I get a kick over British place name pronunciation. For example, I was born in New London, Connecticut, (“kinneddakit” not “connect-ti-cut”) in a hospital on the banks of the Thames (rhymes with flames) River overlooking the city of Groton (“grah-in”). Other fun New England examples:

  • Worcester – “wister”
  • Barre – “berry”
  • Greenwich – “grennich”
  • New Britain – “new brih-en” (New Englanders love glottal stops)
  • Leominster – “lemminstir”
  • Woburn – “woo-burn” if you’re way out in the Boston burbs, “woo-bin” if you’re a longtime Woburn resident.
  • Scituate – “sitch-ew-it”
  • Billerica – “bill-RIK-uh”
  • Gloucester – “glosster”
  • Leicester – “lester”
  • Peabody – “pee-b’dee”
  • Concord – “kon-kerd” or if from Boston, “kon-ked”

When I was a child I thought it was amusing that the British pronounced their Thames like “tems” and Groton like “grow-tin.” Nevertheless, the place names I encountered on first trips to the motherland were blissfully familiar since colonists borrowed place names from England when they settled New England in the 1600s. Gloucester  Road and Leicester Square tripped merrily off the tongue. (These two places are probably the most butchered names by tourists since they’re hotel and theatre centers in London.) Grosvenor Square was easy because of my appreciation of the Grateful Dead, and because there happens to be a Grosvenor Dale, Connecticut (pronounced “grovenor”) not 20 miles away from my parents’ home. And I knew Derby was “darby” because my English relatives live in Derbyshire.

Others, though, continually tangle my tongue. I hesitate with Holborn, although now that I live near Woburn, Massachusetts, it has become easier to remember. (It’s pronounced “ho-burn” or “ho-bin.”) Another one that got me for the longest time was Marylebone. I’ve finally taught myself to pronounce something like “Mar-lee-bun,” which seems to get me where I need to go especially if I say it very fast. (I refuse to argue about this: even Emma Clarke, the voice of the Underground, struggled with Marylebone.) I still haven’t gotten the Pall Mall pronunciation down — is it Pell Mell? Paul Maul? Pal MaI? I don’t want to sound like a native, but I do like to be understood.

Other English place names that can be a pronunciation minefields:

  • Beauchamp Place – “beecham”
  • Southwark – “sutherk”
  • Magdalen College – “modlin”
  • Berkeley – “bark-lee”
  • and my personal favorite, Cholmondeley – “chum-lee”

What are the English place names that trip you up? Add them to the comments section below.

Weekend roundup

A Brit for all Americans: Alistair Cooke — The 100th anniversary of his birth was last Thursday and the Independent’s Sarah Chuchwell remembers the iconic Masterpiece Theatre host. (The Independent)

Delia Smith on pumpkin pie — It’s Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., and what’s Thanksgiving without a little pumpkin pie? But please, Delia, a store-bought pastry shell? Tsk, Tsk. I’ll let you off the hook since you’re British and the recipe’s supposed to be quick. (Telegraph)

Spend Christmas in London — Take advantage of the weak £ in the capital city this winter with these 25 tips. (Telegraph)

How to get British television worldwide — Jonathan over at Anglotopia has a two-part article on how to get British shows on your telly, even if you don’t have BBC America (which, of course, doesn’t offer every British show, but at least gives you a taste).

The 28th Great Christmas Pudding Race — If you’re in London on December 6, you can watch contestants run an obstacle course around Covent Garden Market while holding trays of Christmas pudding. Yeah, only in England. (The money raised goes to charity, though.)

Monty Python troupe launches YouTube channel

I’ve been sitting here for the last hour, laughing at some of my favorite Monty Python skits, thanks to the new Monty Python channel on YouTube. Check out the video above for a humorous explanation of why Cleese & Company are doing this. What’s super-cool is that you can watch all of them in “high-quality” mode. Many of the great scenes are here: the black knight, the ministry of silly walks, and my personal favorite, the French guard in the Holy Grail taunting, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”

A river runs through it

map of River Thames London

Thanks to an article in this weekend’s Los Angeles Times, I just learned that the U.S. Embassy is leaving its digs in London’s posh Grosvenor Square (one of my favorite Grateful Dead lines: “As I was walking around Grosvenor Square/not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air”) for a more secure compound to be built on the other side of the Thames.

The wrong side, according to some.

The article provides an interesting look at the rivalry between the tony north and the down-and-out south, a rivalry I was only slightly aware of. Due to my bizarre interest in epidemiology as a kid, I knew the southern side of the river was where plague victims were carted off to be buried, but I didn’t know that a cultural and social divide exists today. It sort of reminds me of that friendly rivalry between residents of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and now Brooklyn, like south London, is this hipster cool place to live.

As the article points out, the view from the new American embassy will be hard to beat — but leaving all those years of history at Grosvenor Square is sad.

A gallery of Christmas puddings

black cake

This morning I was doing a bit of surfing for some fruitcake recipes and came upon a gallery of Christmas puddings on Delia Smith’s website. Yum! I’m one of those rare Americans who actually loves Christmas puddings, and their cousin, the fruitcake. The weekend after Thanksgiving (4th Thursday in November for my UK readers), rather than go holiday shopping with hoi polloi, I hole myself up in the kitchen with a variety of dried fruits, nuts, rums, and brandies, along with other goodies, and get to work on my fruitcakes, which take a couple weeks to “cure” before they’re ready for gift-giving/eating. (I give them to the handful of people I know who appreciate them, so if you’re my friend and hate fruitcake, don’t worry – I won’t saddle you with one.) I’ll write more about my stir-up Saturday & Sunday in a couple weeks. This year I’m thinking about doing a traditional steamed pudding for Christmas day, but it’ll depend if we have guests or not.

What about you? Like Christmas puddings and fruitcakes or loathe them? Tell me in the comments section below.

Find free entertainment in London

London’s bloody expensive, especially for someone like me who loves to dine in the city’s best restaurants. It’s why I cheerfully spend my time between meals browsing secondhand bookshops, studying portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, or simply walking around neighborhoods to enjoy the sights. I’m always on the lookout for cheap, fun things to do, so I was happy to find this clickable map on Londonist that points me to free entertainment in the city. All the museums are included, naturally, but there are interesting activities I didn’t know about, like free music at the National Theatre, M-F at 5:45 p.m. and talks about financial matters at the London School of Economics. Hey, in these dire times, it might be worth a serious listen.

Rough Luxe Hotel, London

My good friend (and most excellent travel companion — you’ll be hearing more about her in a couple weeks) Alison sent me a web clipping this morning about a newish hotel in London called the Rough Luxe Hotel in Kings Cross and I’m dying to stay there. This place looks fabulous with only nine rooms, but each artfully (and quirkily decorated), which accounts for the luxe. The Kings Cross location gives it the rough edge; it used to be something of a red-light district, but it has cleaned itself up recently, sort of like Times Square in NY. The hotel looks to be part of something called the Rough Luxe Network, an affiliation of hotels, shops, and restaurants around the world, including Shakespeare & Company, the very famous bookshop that I plan to visit when I’m in Paris next month.

What might be iffy for Americans are the shared baths with some of the rooms; it’s first come/first served for the en suite baths, but I was pleased to read in the Guardian review linked to Alison’s clipping that the rooms with shared baths are usually reserved by families or people traveling together who don’t mind sharing. Whew! Other cool amenities: afternoon tea served between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m., a contemporary art gallery on site (love the “This is Shit” painting — click on the Imagery link to see), and wi-fi in the rooms.

This could be a very cool, distinctive place to stay next time you’re in London — I know I’ve got it on my list. With rooms starting at £135 per night (roughly $202 USD), it’s not cheap, but it’s comparable to what you’d spend at a mid-rate hotel with lots less charm in the tourist havens.

Contact: Rough Luxe Hotel, 1 Birkenhead Street, London, WC1H 8BA. Tel: +44 (0)20 7837 5338 Fax: +44 (0)20 7837 1615 e-mail:

Now for what James Bond drinks

Forgive me — I’m on a bit of a Bond roll this week since my husband and I’ve got plans to see Quantum of Solace on Friday. I rarely get to go to the movies with him because we’ve got such incompatible tastes in film and can never agree on anything. Bond films are our common ground: he likes the gadgets, I like … well, Bond. Especially Daniel Craig as Bond. But shhh, I don’t think hubby suspects a thing.

Here’s another fun Bond-themed article, this one on the spy’s spiritual development through the years, although it looks like in this film, 007 faces a setback by getting, as the Brits say, pissed in first class on whatever the flight attendants will serve him. (For American readers, “pissed” is Brit slang for “drunk,” not “angry.”)

If you watch that video clip at the end of the Time article … I wonder how much Lillet paid for that product placement in Casino Royale?

Where James Bond would eat

In yesterday’s Times Online, there was a fun article listing five British restaurants where James Bond, were he to exist, might dine with a lady friend. I was pleased to see The Fat Duck included. Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant is on my life list of restaurants; one of these days I hope to get outside London and check it out, maybe next summer, as I doubt I’ll have the time this December. Another restaurant I’m familiar with is Gidleigh Park in Devon, which I know through his Gidleigh Park Cookery Book — I actuallly own two copies. Although Hill is now running another iconic British restaurant, The Walnut Tree in Wales (another restaurant on my life list!), I’d love to stay and dine at Gidleigh Park, but must confess — I don’t see how Bond fits in with its Tudor-style decor. The rooms must be wildly suave and romantic. 😉