Barcelona Travel

Ah Barcelona! If you are an architecture or design or sports buff, or a foodie, this is the city to go to.

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Travelling with kids: When shopping abroad is a holiday
July 24, 2014 Updated: July 24, 2014 05:31 PM

A few months ago, we were in Barcelona, which, as shopping destinations go, is not my favourite city. I prefer the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, the souqs of Dubai or the bazaars of India. Barcelona offers the pleasures of Zara, H&M and Mango, but not much atmosphere as far as I was concerned.

My daughters, ages 18 and 12, were in heaven. My younger daughter, Malu, like me, can shop but it’s not her favourite thing to do. My elder daughter, Ranjini, on the other hand, finds pleasure in the looking and buying.

On this trip, I was determined to indulge Ranjini. Rather than make her feel guilty about shopping, I would use it as a way to find pleasure in her company. That was the plan anyway. Yet, something ­unexpected happened.

We entered an H&M store one afternoon. There were three floors of clothes, accessories, jewellery and shoes. Ranjini and I wandered through the aisles picking out sweaters, dresses and business coats for me. I was surprised at how much she knew about colour, proportion, cut and texture.

“That blue doesn’t suit you,” she said. “It makes your face look washed out.”

She sat outside the fitting room as I tried on blazer ­after dress suit after ­sweater, and had an appropriate comment for each. She helped me whittle down what seemed like a mountain of choices into a manageable one. Best of all, for the first time, shopping became a pleasurable activity for me.

“You know, you should be like one of those buyers for department stores,” I said. “When did you learn so much about clothes?”

Ranjini laughed. “I just like clothes, Ma,” she said. “It’s not like physics or anything.”

Two hours later, I was kitted out with the best business clothes I had ever owned. And they cost half of what I thought I would pay.

As for my daughter, she bought one skirt. And that too, under duress. It was my turn to feel guilty. “Why don’t you buy ­yourself something?” I asked.

Ranjini shrugged away my protests. She didn’t like what she saw, she said. “Shopping is not just about buying things, Ma. It’s also about looking and learning about trends. You see what’s new, see what’s in fashion, and figure out if the look will suit you. The pleasure is in the analysis, somewhat like what you do in museums,” she said – my daughter.

Indeed. Suitably chastised, I gazed at her, ­glowing with pride. I had dismissed shopping as a vain and frivolous exercise. It took an 18-year-old to show me that shopping was also a way of looking.

And so it came to be that over the course of four days, I learnt the tips and tricks of shopping from my daughter. Perhaps if we had been home, I wouldn’t have been so patient. At home, I had context and views on stores and stuff. “You certainly aren’t going to buy clothes from Soch, missy. Not with the annual sale just around the corner.” Or, “Why are you buying these designer clothes when you can get similar clothes at half price from Fab India?” Bereft of this perspective, I wandered around with my daughter. I had no views. I was out of my depth. And that, in retrospect, was the best thing that happened to us in Barcelona.

Bangkok Tuk-tuks

My Dad talks about this incident to this day.

Tuk-tuk tricks and Bangkok bartering
Shoba Narayan

May 29, 2014 Updated: May 29, 2014 11:47:00

It begins innocently enough. We’re in Bangkok and my 12-year-old wants to ride on a tuk-tuk. After days of visiting Buddhist temples, she wants something more adventurous. My 80-year-old father, who’s travelling with us, is having none of it.

“Tuk-tuks are dangerous,” he says. “Why take chances in a new country? And that too, on the day of our flight?”

I’m caught between two generations. My instinct is to dismiss my father’s warnings, as I usually do. He’s the worrying kind and goes into overdrive in a new country. What could go wrong with a simple ride in a tuk-tuk?

We hire one right outside our hotel and tell the tuk-tuk driver to show us the sights. The hotel concierge asks the driver to drop us back at the hotel in half an hour. We all get in: my parents, my two daughters and I.

The tuk-tuk takes us deeper and deeper into the narrow by-lanes that surround the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, where we’re staying. Soon, we’re in a neighbourhood with a dirty canal on one side and automobile-spare-part shops on the other. Touristy, it’s not.

I ask, then order and, finally, entreat our driver to turn back. He acts as if he can’t hear. As we bounce along into the impending darkness, I glance at my father, who has an “I told you so” expression on his worried face.

Finally, the driver pulls into what is obviously a tourist trap. A seedy shop sells Buddha statues, Thai silk jackets, imitation pearls and knick-knacks. The owner stands outside, ostensibly welcoming us. “Please tell your friend to take us back to your hotel?” I say, without preamble.

“Only if you buy something from us, madam,” says the owner. “Otherwise, he no take you back.”

The shop sells poor-quality, overpriced souvenirs. I have exactly four Thai bahts in my purse; and I don’t want to use my credit card at such an obviously seedy place.

My father tries to explain to the owner that we have a plane to catch in a few hours. The tuk-tuk driver pulls into a narrow lane about 100 yards away and parks there, puffing a cigarette. I stand outside the shop, and try to find another taxi or tuk-tuk to take us back, but nothing is in sight.

It was my teenage daughter, Ranju, who comes up with the solution – which had been staring at us in the face. She takes the pink Disney pouch that my 12-year-old, Malu, is wearing around her neck and offers it to the shopkeeper. “For your daughter,” she says with a winsome smile.

The shopkeeper examines the pouch and nods. “What you want in exchange?”

I was just about to say “a ride back to the hotel”, when Ranju interrupts me. She points at an orange scarf in what appears to be Thai silk. The shopkeeper laughs. “Too expensive.” He offers a tiny, embroidered pouch, which my daughter takes with a smile. “Tuk-tuk?” she asks.

The man nods and hails his friend. We ride back to the hotel in fearful silence.

My teenager uses the pouch to carry coins. It’s a testament, she says, to the power of negotiation. I say that it’s a testament to the fact that you should listen to your parents. My father merely says: “I told you so.”

Travelling with kids.

Travelling with kids: History is more fun with new friends
Shoba Narayan

May 22, 2014 Updated: May 22, 2014 15:57:00

My husband asks as we disembark the plane: “Did you know that the Nizam didn’t want to join the Indian Union after India gained ­independence?”

“Yes, and did you know that Hyderabad is called the City of Pearls?” I chime in. “Even though the Nizam used diamonds – not pearls – as paperweights.”

We’re in Hyderabad for a long weekend to attend a friend’s wedding and also to give our children a glimpse of south Indian history.

Hyderabad epitomises many of the strains that make India unique and interesting: pluralistic, welcoming, layered culture and great food. The city is 40 per cent Muslim; both Telugu and Urdu are spoken; and it’s known for its jewellery, textiles, music and ­opulence.

We stay at the Taj Falaknuma, mostly because it was the Nizam’s palace and close to the old city. From the moment that we check in, my husband and I begin feeding the children titbits of interesting history; or so we thought. The girls mostly want to bounce on the beds and jump into the pool.

Our break comes the next morning, when we run into a British family, whose daughters are about the same age as ours. All of a sudden, things change.

The palace historian takes us on a tour and shows us the huge dining room with acoustics so good that the Nizam could hear whispers from across the room. The girls test it by whispering and giggling. We pirouette across the giant ballroom, with its crystal chandeliers, and examine the billiard table, which had a twin in Buckingham Palace. Along the way, the historian talks about the largesse of the Nizams; the way they lived and the grandeur that they were used to. My 12-year-old begins playing “rock, paper, scissors” with the 11-year-old Helen, from ­Wimbledon.

We spend the next day in the Old City, with our new English friends. Our teenager befriends Nora, who, at 16, is a year younger.

They duck in and out of shops, buying sparkly bangles made of lac, crystals, glass and metal. They go into a henna parlour and get “tattoos”, or “mehndi” as Indians call it, on their hands, choosing designs that look like paisley and flowers; swans and peacocks. They chat about school and summer holidays and how parents try to stuff history lessons down their throats while on ­holiday.

We discover that spending time with another family is a great way to get everyone to behave.

When I announce over breakfast that I have reservations for a guided tour at the Salar Jung Museum, my daughters don’t roll their eyes and groan theatrically, as is their wont. Instead, they invite their English friends along, who – to their parents’ surprise – accept with alacrity.

My husband and I want to take the girls to see the tombs of Delhi next. They are suffused with ­history. Only one thing is missing from the history-filled itinerary that I’ve chalked out for us: a family who have children about the age of our own.

weekend@thenational.ae

Summer holidays

As someone who loves swanky hotels, that last bit is going to be hard to follow. Maybe later on that one.

Opinion
Comment
When did travelling overseas stop being an adventure?
Shoba Narayan

March 25, 2014 Updated: March 25, 2014 18:45:00

The holiday season is approaching in India. Many of my friends are making travel plans for trips to all corners of the globe. It is incredible how easy it now is to book tickets, rooms, cars and plays on the other side of the world. It is a far cry from times gone by when arranging travel was a far more difficult operation.

When I was young, one of the things that used to amuse and irritate me was the amount of preparation that my grandparents did before embarking on a trip. This had nothing to do with packing or planning. It happened much before that. They would look at omens, good days and bad, and what seemed like an increasingly complicated set of superstitious reasons before even getting to the stage of buying tickets. For example, Hindu custom dictates that it is not good to embark on a journey on the eighth and ninth days of the waxing moon. It suggests that you cannot travel south on certain days of the calendar. My grandfather took all these into consideration when planning a trip. It was a nightmare for those of us entrusted with buying his tickets. We would have to sit at the ticket counter and go back-and-forth many times until he got the flight timing, time of day and direction of the flight, completely correct.

Travel is something that most of us now take for granted. It is something that we do as a matter of course – a functional, utilitarian activity that is part of modern life. Even travelling with children is made easy through websites populated with photographs of the sites you will see and the sounds you will hear.

This is quite different from how it used to be for our grandparents and their peers. Even 50 years ago, travel was viewed as an adventure. It was fraught with uncertainty and you did what you could to minimise the chances of an accident. When viewed through this prism, my grandfather’s elaborate machinations to control the date and time of departure can be seen as his attempt at taking precautions – an older version of procuring travel insurance, if you will.

I think of this as I plan a family holiday. I want to give my children the sense of anticipation that gripped my cousins and I before we went on holiday. Trip-planning websites have made it easy for travellers but they have also robbed the trip of its glamour. When we land in Muscat (as I recently did) or Valencia (where I plan to go), it is almost as if I am revisiting the place, given that I have researched the sights and seen their photographs even before getting out of the airport. How then to return to the time when travel was full of possibilities? The only way I can think of is to change your perspective, given that you cannot change the situation.

Travel is not merely a way to go to Barcelona or Bombay for 10 days and tick off a list of sights and sounds. It is not only about traversing physical distances to discover new landscapes or flora and fauna. It is also about discovering a different part of yourself, one that is chiselled away in a new place amid foreign people. Although business trips make mockery of this notion, travel in its original capacity is an adventure that takes us to distant lands.

Ancient culture embraced this adventure with the respect it deserved. They looked for good omens before undertaking journeys. They prepared – mentally and physically – for the journey. They sent letters to friends in advance, announcing their arrival. These days, we stay in impersonal hotels when we go to new towns. We go in and out of cities with no time to connect with old friends or new friends of friends. Thankfully, these things can be changed and I am attempting that on my summer holiday.

I will connect with friends of friends. I will try to meet them and get a local’s perspective. I will travel by boat if possible, even for a short distance. I will walk rather than drive; stay in the heart of old cities rather than swanky hotels at the edge of town. I will, above all, seek adventure.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir

Carme Ruscellada

I was thrilled to meet this chef. She is casual and confident but underneath you can sense her resolve. It appeared in Quartz here.

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Carme Ruscellada i Serra looks like the seven-star Michelin chef that she is. I met her recently at her restaurant in Barcelona, Moments, to discuss Catalan cuisine, the Mediterranean diet, and why there are so few women chefs as successful as she.
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Like many of them, she downplays the role of gender in the high-temperature, high-testosterone world of restaurant kitchens. Running a 70-staff kitchen, according to Ruscellada, is not about screaming and swearing. It has to do with body language, posture and tone of voice. “My staff can look at my eyes and tell if I am angry about something they have done,” says Ruscellada, a celebrated chef in Catalunya, the corner of Spain that has now become the mecca for culinary travelers. Numerous Catalan chefs, beginning with Ferran Adria have taken center stage. Only two are women: Ruscellada and Elena Arzak.
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Carme Ruscellada i Serra Photo/Shoba Narayan

Every now and again, and particularly during awards season, the topic of women chefs comes up. The 50 best restaurants in the world were unveiled yesterday in London. This year, Helena Rizzo, chef and co-owner of Mani restaurant in Sao Paolo takes home the award for top female chef in the world: the only one with a gender tag. The other eight categories include “highest climber,” and “one to watch,” most of which allude to restaurants. There is no “best male chef” award. Instead, the chef of the top restaurant is deemed the top chef in the world. The top female chef category could be viewed as patronizing. The problem—for female chefs—is that there are so few contenders.
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In the US, for example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up a majority of the labor force in the food business but just a handful occupy its upper echelons. There are fewer women chefs than there are investment bankers, and CEOs. This is particularly galling when celebrity chefs list women—their mothers, aunts grandmothers—as inspiration. Women who cook, it seems, serve as muses and mentors. But not colleagues.
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Recently, Time magazine created a furor by putting three male chefs on the cover, prompting renewed accusations and handwringing about the state of women in the world’s kitchens. The reality is that putting a woman chef on Time’s cover would have been tokenism, given the small proportion of top jobs that they occupy. According to Bloomberg News, women occupy just 10 of the top 160 jobs in American restaurants. On the other hand, not acknowledging the slowly rising numbers of female chefs is part of the vicious cycle that causes rising female stars to drop out. I ask Ruscellada why she didn’t. “Because of my husband,” she says. Whenever there was the urge to opt out of the hard life of running a restaurant, she says through an interpreter, her husband would intervene and push her to continue.
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We get talking about female chefs and she grows more animated, switching to rapid Spanish from halting English. “Today, with the ease of kitchen equipment, a woman doesn’t need the superior strength or any special skills to work in a restaurant kitchen,” she says. “What you need is a good husband who will stand by you in this tough profession.”

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Ruscellada doesn’t seem to have heard of Sheryl Sandberg and when I mention the concept of “leaning in,” she nods politely. “The call and the pleasure of a family is hard to ignore for a woman chef,” she continues. “I too was very happy to withdraw and do some small cooking, but Toni, my husband, put my photo in front of our restaurant and said that I had to go for it.” Today, the entrance of the Mandarin Oriental has a fairly large photo of Ruscellada in chef’s whites, beaming at the hotel’s patrons and passersby on the street.
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Women can find it hard to compete and survive in the “ball-busting” atmosphere of a restaurant kitchen. Others describe the difficulties of achieving work-life balance in a profession that demands being away from children on most evenings. But very few chefs, if any—male or female—point to the choice of spouse as the main reason why women aren’t heading kitchens. Husbands matter when you want to become a female chef—perhaps more so than if you want to join Wall Street or head to Silicon Valley, something that the Bureau of Labor Statistics substantiates in its publications on women workers.
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What’s the way forward? How do you help female chefs deal with the brutal working hours of a restaurant kitchen? Chefs come in at noon and often leave at 1 a.m. on most nights, including weekends. Male chefs rely on wives to take care of their families. Ruscellada’s path was different. A farmer’s daughter, she married young and began her first restaurant with her husband, somewhat like the current number one female chef, Helena Rizzo, is doing with her Spanish husband.

Carme Ruscellada

Ruscellada’s husband, Toni Balam, manages the front of her three-starred restaurant, Sant Pau, just outside Barcelona. Her son, Raul Balam is the chef at Moments (two stars). They have an outpost in Tokyo. While Ruscellada’s photo adorns the entrance of the Mandarin Oriental, it is her husband who is the power behind the chef’s hat.

Ruscellada hasn’t won an award yet, but the number one chef in the world, Joan Roca i Fontané, feels that it is time she did. Perhaps soon, her restaurant will also become one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It is about time.
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Follow Shoba on Twitter @ShobaNarayan. We welcome your comments at deas@qz.com.

Shopping in Oman

Thank you Stan, Shawqi and Saleh, for showing us a good time in Oman. The photos on my page are from Oman via Instagram.
Thanks Gaya for chaperoning me around.
Thanks Ahmad and David for the feedback

Still enjoying the halwa. Should have bought more of Amouage and orange blossom tea.

Oman: shopping fit for Sultans in Muscat and beyond
Shoba Narayan
February 6, 2014 Updated: February 6, 2014 14:34:00

When friends in India heard that I was going to Muscat, they asked me to bring back gold and silver. “The gold is purer there,” said my mother. “Go to Damas or Joyalukkas.”

But Joyalukkas is an Indian jeweller, I protested.

“Like I said, the gold is purer there,” repeated my mother.

I didn’t go to Damas or Joyalukkas during a recent trip to Muscat. We were a group of foodies who had blown into Muscat to eat and drink with the locals. When our hosts, the businessmen Shawqi Sultan and Saleh Taleb, invited us to their homes for dinner, we made careful note of the saffron that perfumed their rice, the spice rubs that made their steaks so succulent and the preserved lemons that lent a delicious tang to their vegetables. Best of all was the orange-blossom tea that was served after meals. We all wanted the divine-smelling liquid. We grilled our hosts about food, and went to Al Fair supermarket and Lulu’s hypermarket, where all of Muscat seemed to shop.

After a week in town, I came up with a list of the finest things to buy in Muscat.

Frankincense

Once considered more precious than gold and known to sailors all the way to China, frankincense grows in neighbouring Yemen, but the quality is better in Oman. Called “luban” by locals, the frankincense from Dhofar in the south, which was once the centre of the “Frankincense Trail”, is considered of the best quality. Omanis use this sacred aromatic resin that is obtained by slashing the bark of the Boswellia sacra tree three times. The first sap is white and called “safeda”. The third cutting of the same wound produces the best quality frankincense, called “Hojari” or “Al Hojari”. The cliffs of Mughsayl in the Salalah area produce sap that has an orange-and-spice scent, which is prized by connoisseurs. Locals chew luban for good health, steep it in hot water and use it as incense to perfume their homes. Packets of frankincense are widely available. The shops at Muttrah Souq sell frankincense tears for a couple of Omani rials. The perfume stand at malls sell frankincense oil in crystal or glass bottles with jewel-toned covers. The best-quality frankincense, which is transparent and green in colour, can cost hundreds of rials. Brands such as Al Haramain, Abdul Samad Al Qurashi and Arabian Oud, which have shops all over the gulf sell high quality frankincense in the form of tears, perfume or essential oils, which can start at 20 rials (Dh191) and go up to several hundred rials. The shops in Muttrah souq in contrast, sell white frankincense in plastic packets for 5 rials (Dh48).

Bukhoor is what is burnt at Omani homes. It is a mixture of scents that is piped into the air conditioning system of the Sultan Qaboos grand mosque giving this place of prayer a lovely implacable scent. Bukhoor is a powdered mixture that is made with wood chips dipped into musk, rose, and other essential oils. To that, Omanis add customised ingredients like frankincense, oud, rose essence, dried flowers, sea shells and spices such as nutmeg and cardamom. All these ingredients are mixed, powdered and sold as bukhoor. Omanis sprinkle bukhoor on burning coals and dry their clothes in the smoke that emanates from it. Visitors are offered bukhoor burners to smell upon arrival as a gesture of hospitality. Prepackaged bukhoor can be had at the souqs for a couple of rials. Customised bukhoor with quality ingredients can cost ten times more.

• Available at Sabco Centre and Muttrah Souq

Incense burners

Sultan Qaboos loves the scents of Oman. His mountaintop retreat is shaped like an incense burner. These objects are available all over Oman, from a couple of rials to hundreds. The Thursday market at Nizwa, an hour outside Muscat, sells ceramic and clay incense burners for about 5 to 10 rials (Dh48 to Dh95). Asma Masoud Al Kharusi, a local designer, sells elegantly carved burners made of tin at her shop, Asmaa Collectionz at the Opera Galleria. The shop is a great place to find gift articles and handicrafts that put a modern spin on traditional Omani crafts. There are lacquered boxes decorated with khanjars (the ornate dagger that is the icon of Oman), glass bottles embellished with pewter, silver napkin rings, gold necklaces and incense burners. From 70 rials (Dh668).

http://www.asmaacollectionz.com

Fine art

Founded by Sayyida Susan Al Said, a member of the Omani royal family, the Bait Muzna art gallery displays beguiling paintings by contemporary Omani artists. It has two locations: one in a lovely old bungalow in the Old City and another at the Opera Galleria, attached to the Royal Opera House Muscat.

The Opera Galleria is a great place to wander around, particularly in the hot months. It houses Eye Candy, a boutique that stocks international brands such as Jimmy Choo and is patronised by the Omani elite. Ubhar, the city’s top – and very expensive – Omani restaurant stands beside the Fauchon patisserie. There are jewellers, gift shops and perfumeries.

http://www.baitmuznagallery.com

Fusion wear

Mrunal Khimji was educated at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She opened Mrunal’s boutique six years ago and sells saris, jalabiyas, fusion wear and western dresses for Omanis and tourists. Mrunal’s boutique and Boutique Muscat both sell clothes and knick-knacks with a touch of Oman. From 20 to 200 rials (Dh191 to Dh1,908) for blouses and saris.

http://www.mrunalsboutique.com, ­ http://www.facebook.com/M­mrunalsboutique and ­www.facebook.com/­BboutiqueMmuscat

Omani silverware

The shops at Nizwa sell quality Omani silverware. There are khanjars, typically square pendants that adorn necklaces, bracelets and long earrings. Omani silver is considered “purer” than its counterparts in other countries. The shops at Jawaharat Al Shatti mall are where the locals go to buy silver. From 100 to 700 rials (Dh954 to Dh6,678) for decent examples.

• Omani Heritage Gallery, Jawaharat Al Shatti mall. http://www.omaniheritage.com

Dishdashas

This white garment worn by men is spare and elegant. Good ones cost about 25 rials (Dh239). An easy way to obtain one is to buy one for 6 rials (Dh57) outside the Grand Mosque. They are on offer for visitors who aren’t dressed correctly. The starched cotton, with a tassel used by Omani men to dip into the perfume stoops that were at the entrance of each home, are lovely to wear.

• Al Ibtihaj National Enterprises, Muttrah Souq

Dry fruits and nuts

Hamed Khamis Al-Farsy Trading is a bustling shop in the middle of Muttrah Souq. It sells a variety of cashew nuts, pine nuts, dates and dry fruits. Part of the charm is sampling the wares that are displayed invitingly in open bins and having them weighed and packed for you. From 5 rials (Dh48) for good quality pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.

• Hamed Khamis Al-Farsy Trading, Muttrah Souq

Wedding chests

Mandoos are wedding chests that have been used for centuries in Oman. They are wooden boxes decorated with hammered metal closures. Good ones are available at the Nizwa Souq for about 20 rials (Dh191). Small ones can be found at the other souqs in Muscat like Muttrah and Sabco.

• Ali Baba Gift Town, just outside Muttrah Souq.

Amouage

You don’t have to buy Amouage perfumes in Muscat. They are available globally. Its CEO, David Crickmore, says that they are an international brand that happens to be headquartered in Oman. The perfumes are designed in the UK, created in the south of France and packaged in Oman. Still, an Amouage factory tour is a nice experience and watching the smiling women behind glass walls stamp and package the perfumes might induce you to part with the US$275 [Dh1,010] needed to buy a 100-millilitre bottle of their latest fragrance, Fate.

http://www.amouage.com

Walking sticks

Omani men use walking sticks like their hands. They gesture with them and tap them on the ground to make a point. Some of the bamboo sticks are decorated with metal handles; some have concealed swords inside – called “arsaa”. Make sure you don’t buy those, as they will not be allowed through customs. From about 20 rials (Dh191), depending on the delicacy of the ­handles.

• Alauddin City Handicrafts & Gifts, Muttrah Souq.

Omani halwa

Far more delicate than Turkish or any other halwa that is found in the Gulf countries, Omani halwa is light and fragrant, made with molasses, flour, rose water and a hint of cardamom, all of which are stirred for hours to make this sweet. I bought a box for 1 rials in the Nizwa Souq, but it can be found all over the ­Sultanate.

• Awlaad Naseer, Nizwa Souq. 00968 993 62729

IF YOU GO
The flight Muscat is served by Etihad (www.etihadairways.com) and Oman Air (www.omanair.com) from Abu Dhabi and Emirates (www.emirates.com) and FlyDubai (www.flydubai.com) from Dubai. A return with Etihad costs from Dh505, including taxes.

The hotel A double room at the Al Bustan Palace (www.ritzcarlton.com) costs from 140 rials (Dh1,336) per night, including taxes but excluding breakfast.

Chennai for British Airways magazine

They have nice photos!!

WORK TODAY, FLY TOMORROW • FEBRUARY 2014

NINE REASONS TO HANG OUT IN CHENNAI
This ancient city on India’s Coromandel Coast is dubbed the Detroit of Asia, thanks to its thriving car manufacturing scene. But, says resident Shoba Narayan, Chennai is also the cultural capital of South India, and it would be a shame not to stay on an extra day or two to experience its beaches, traditional arts and street food

Just dance

Established by 1920s classical dance star Rukmini Devi Arundale, Kalakshetra is one of the oldest Bharatanatyam (a traditional Indian dance form) schools in the country. Walk through its expansive verdant grounds and watch groups of sari-clad students rehearse under a banyan tree, or visit the museum, library and weaving unit to learn more about the region’s rich performing arts history.

The coast with the most

The Coromandel Coast has two beaches: popular Marina Beach is older, while Elliott’s Beach – named after Edward Elliot, governor of Madras 1803-1820 – is more of an up-and-comer. Take a jog or walk in the morning and you’ll see yoga practitioners, Frisbee players and even the odd politician walking by with his retinue.

Caffeine fix

Chennai prides itself on the quality of its coffee. Traditional households roast and grind their beans fresh every morning, and the thick coffee decoction is mixed with frothy milk and just enough sugar to take the bitterness away. For that traditional taste, try the outdoor Namma Café at Isha Life in Mylapore, surrounded by jackfruit and mango trees.

Street eats

Trying the popular snack dosa, a crisp, golden savoury crêpe, is a must. Masala dosa has a potato filling and is popular with hungry students. Most of the city’s luxury hotels will serve dosa, while humble eateries like Karpagambal Mess Bhavan serve it for under $1.

Silk route

Find hand-woven silk and cotton scarfs, shawls and saris in jewel tones at Nalli, Kumaran or Sundari Silks, all stalwarts of the silk business for decades. For newer designs, try Palam Silks to duplicate the trendy but traditional look that Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone sported in the recent hit film, Chennai Express.

Regal accommodation

Chennai’s newest grand hotel, the 600-room ITC Grand Chola is inspired by the architecture of one of Southern India’s greatest empires, the Imperial Chola dynasty, with granite carvings and towering columns throughout. With the environment in mind, it’s also the world’s largest LEED Platinum-rated Green hotel.

Going for gold

The World Gold Council’s India arm is headquartered in Chennai, so this is the place to invest. Go to GR Thanga Maligai (which means ‘gold mansion’) to pick up and buy a 24-carat gold ring, earring or necklace. Prices are fixed, so bargaining isn’t necessary – but make sure you get a certificate of authenticity.

Be a Carnatic fanatic

Chennai is the seat of Carnatic music (South Indian music, considered one of the oldest in the world) and there are dance and music concerts all year in the city’s sabhas or concert halls. Buy a ticket to attend a concert at the legendary Madras Music Academy, where the famous month-long Music and Dance Festival takes place every December.

Bronze age

The Chola bronzes (famous figures representing Hindu gods, goddesses and devotees dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries) alone are worth a trip to the Government Museum. Go in the afternoon, when the air-conditioned confines offer a welcome respite from the tropical sun.

Be there

To celebrate its 25th year of flying to Chennai, BA has increased its services from London Heathrow to Chennai from five to six times a week. Find our lowest fares at ba.com

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Business class travel

Funny what you remember.

Travelling with kids: what to do with babies in business class?
January 9, 2014 Updated: January 9, 2014 17:17:00

I show my passport to the security agent and, as the proverbial phrase goes, turn left. I am sure that there are many things better than flying business class on Etihad Airways but at this particular moment, just as the stewardess hands me a hot towel, I cannot think of any. The seat is warm and hot scented vapours waft around my face.

I kick off my high heels, lean back and inhale deeply. No nagging kids, no questioning staff, no husband. I am alone. All is quiet. It is bliss.

It is also the moment when a baby begins to fuss. I clench my knuckles and let out a silent scream, “Nooooooo.”

I turn around. In the seat diagonally behind me is a young mother wearing a pastel silk hijab and rocking her whimpering baby boy.

She smiles at me apologetically but her eyes have that trusting confidence that comes when you see your own kind. She is sure I will understand. She, after all, sees a fellow mother. And I do understand. I have travelled with young babies before: my own.

I love flying business class. I hate flying business class. Both reasons have to do with kids. I remember years ago, when my girls were babies, my husband and I decided to fly Lufthansa business class from New York to Mumbai. By the time we got to Frankfurt, we were ready to turn our tickets in.

Our baby daughter whimpered during the flight, inviting dirty looks and even the occasional hiss. The worst part was when we were flying above Greenland, when our infant Malu launched into a crying bout. That was it.

All those nice people who smiled at me when I walked into the plane began to frown. It was as if they deserved the quiet since they had paid so much more for a ticket.

My husband did the only thing possible. He began walking up and down the aisles with our daughter. “The people in economy are so much nicer,” he whispered when he came back. “At least they don’t give me dirty looks simply because the baby is crying a little.”

When it was my turn, I did the next best thing. I carried little Malu into the tiny business class toilet. I stood there for what seemed like an hour. Malu bawled her colic out and I just stayed in the toilet, too afraid to confront my fellow passengers and their admonishing stares. This time I was the one giving the admonishing stare – when the baby behind me wouldn’t stop whimpering. “Don’t you have a pacifier?” I asked the young mother, holding back my kindly smile.

Therein lies the fundamental hypocrisy of my position. I love travelling business class but not with other people’s kids.

This time, however, I did the only thing possible (and this is only possible in Eastern cultures that aren’t wary about passing kids around).

I offered to carry the fussing baby. I took him into my arms and walked up and down the business class aisle. He reminded me of my daughters back home; the ones I had tried so hard to forget.

* Shoba Narayan

Bangalore: MKOP (My kind of Place)

So many new restaurants in Bangalore. Even since this writing.

My Kind of Place: Bangalore bustling with activities
Shoba Narayan

January 2, 2014 Updated: January 2, 2014 14:23:00

One-page article

Why Bangalore?

This capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore recently lost its king. The Mysore Maharaja died in early December, depriving the city of its last royal – the king had no sons. In recent years, however, Bangalore has become known not so much for its royal trappings (Rajasthan does that better) or for its software industry – which gave the world the phrase “being Bangalored” to indicate jobs in the United States that were outsourced to India – but for gentler pleasures, such as music and theatre.

This city of 5.5 million people is demographically diverse and the second-fastest-growing metropolis in India after Mumbai. Attracted by its cool climate and convivial citizens, North Indians and non-resident Indians have moved to the city and end up staying for years or decades. For tourists, the city offers pleasures throughout the year.

A comfortable bed

A slew of new hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott, have opened in the city.

With 277 rooms in the heart of the city, the Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com; 0091 80 4914 8000) is bedecked like a bride. Artwork from local and global artists confronts you at every curve. An aluminium Picasso stares at visitors at the entrance. Giant abstract paintings are hung in the banquet area. At the hair spa by Rossano Ferretti, the chief stylist Carlos dances around clients giving them a haircut. Three dining outlets serve Chinese, Indian and international cuisine. Double rooms for US$225 (Dh826).

The soaring, three-storey lobby of the new JW Marriott (www.marriott.com; 0091 80 6718 9999) is a welcome change from the congested traffic of Bangalore. The Bangalore Baking Company is designed along the lines of its Mumbai sibling and serves great coffee and cakes. The location, opposite Cubbon Park – a huge leafy oasis in the centre of the city – makes it perfect for those who like to run amid trees every morning. The Sunday brunch, with a balloon artist and face-painter, is popular with expat families. The rooms are well-appointed and the manager greets guests personally. Double rooms for about $150 (Dh551)

Find your feet

The best places to start are the pedestrian-friendly areas along Brigade Road and Commercial Street. Both are crowded, bustling and have hordes of locals and tourists bargaining and buying everything from swathes of fabric at Lal’s, jewellery at Khazana, saris at Prasiddhi Silks, holy basil tea at Fabindia and men’s shirts at Prestige. Bargaining is expected, although the prices are so low that it seems a waste of time. The National Gallery of Modern Art on Palace Road is a great place to escape the crowds. Walk down to the Hindu temple to see the statue of the monkey god Hanuman. Across the street from the gallery is Smriti Nandan, where yoga classes and cultural shows are held.

Meet the locals

Enjoy lunch at any of the dozen outlets at UB City (next to the JW Marriott). Toscano serves great pizzas; Fava has good salads; Rajdhani offers steamy and speedy Gujarati thalis (plates); Café Noir is best for sandwiches.

Afterwards, browse the shops for any of the luxury labels such as Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton or Kimaya for stylish Indian clothes. Get a friend to take you to the Bangalore Club to see old Bangalore families – uncles and aunties – sit on the lawns and gossip. The Venkatappa Gallery has fifth-century sculptures and coins. Right next door is the Visvesvaraya Science Museum, which is great for kids to run around in. Both are near Cubbon Park. With Bangalore’s pleasant weather, you can walk through the trees even in the middle of the day and not feel the heat.

Book a table

Sunny’s on Lavelle Road is among the oldest stand-alone restaurants in the city and serves consistently good European food. Try the baked Brie. Next door is the Smoke House Deli, with quirky black-and-white cartoons on the walls and simple soups, salads and sandwiches. Walk next door to Tattva for high-end Indian food and further down to Glasshouse for good pizzas. Olive Beach is set in a lovely bungalow and serves Mediterranean food and a popular Sunday brunch. The sprawling grounds of the Taj West End is home to one of the best Indian restaurants in the city, Masala Klub. Similarly, the Leela Bangalore’s Jamavar restaurant is popular for business dinners.

Shopper’s paradise

Jayanagar 4th Block Market is the place to see the locals buying puja and altar items, plastic garlands, decorative curios, scarfs and shawls. Jayanagar is home to Angadi and Nalli Silks, which have great choices for those wishing to buy cotton and silk saris. The Leela Galleria, which adjoins the Leela Hotel, has a nice selection of boutiques including Anokhi, the Oxford Bookstore and Plantation House for simple clothes. Raintree, which is in a lovely old bungalow, showcases Indian designers like Ritu Kumar and Amrapali.

What to avoid

The touts on Mahatma Gandhi Road, particularly outside the curio shops known as “cottage emporium”. These so-called government shops sell overpriced handicrafts of poor quality.

Don’t miss

Bangalore’s Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, which were designed by Tipu Sultan, with its ancient rock formations, organic shops and old trees. The Rangashankara and Jagriti theatres play host to shows and plays through the year.

Go there

Etihad flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Bangalore. The journey time is about four hours and return flights start at Dh2,000, including taxes.

weekend@thenational.ae

Tai Chi in Shanghai

How do you create a story about “travelling with kids,” the section that I am writing for?
You amplify the drama; you choose transformative moments; and you downplay the humdrum of everyday life.
Realize from careful reader, Vinay’s comments, that I am doing my kids a disservice with this portrayal. Maybe I should amplify “my” dissonances and flaws.

Travelling with Kids: Teen tourists tap into tai chi
Shoba Narayan

January 2, 2014 Updated: January 2, 2014 14:13:00

It is 6am in Shanghai. Jet-lagged yet drowsy, my kids are up. They are peevish and bored. My elder daughter, 16-year-old Ranju, inserts her headphones and prepares to disappear into her iPad. My younger daughter, 12-year-old Malu, settles down in front of the television. It doesn’t seem right. Why are we travelling all the way to one of the world’s great cities only to do what we do at home on a Sunday morning?

“Come on kids,” I say chirpily, “let’s go for a walk.” They protest. The Fairmont Hotel is warm and comfortable. Later, they say. I will have none of it. The excuses that work at home fall flat in Shanghai.

We step out of the hotel and walk towards the Bund. A few steps up and we are on the long pedestrian boardwalk that overlooks the water. Men are flying kites. Some women are jogging and walking dogs. Most people, however, are standing together in loose formations and practicing tai chi. They are young and old, men and women, fit and fat. They move together slowly as if dancing to a silent song that only they can hear.

Curious, we stand and watch a large group moving their hands and legs in movements that are both simple and prescribed. They do the same movement once, then again, then again. We walk on.

The next group is more advanced. Even we can tell. They are standing on one leg like a crane and then jumping forward, pulling back and whipping out their hands. The movements are familiar to us, having watched martial arts films as preparation for coming to China. “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” Ranju mutters.

The sun comes up and warms our back as we walk on in companionable silence. We aren’t squabbling. I am not lecturing them about having a sense of adventure in a new city. Nobody asks if we are done yet. Further up, another group does the same movements as the first beginner group that we saw. We stop. The movements are simple enough for us to delineate into beginning, middle and end. Unconsciously, Malu begins to imitate their swaying dance. We are in the back. Nobody sees us. We aren’t dressed in white but maybe they won’t mind. I join in, as does Ranju. We finish the movement and join the group as it goes back to the beginning crouch. Sway to the right, lunge forward, lift hands up slowly, turn sideways, hold the pose and bring the arm back. And again. We follow the group as it repeats the movements, becoming increasingly confident with each round.

Malu grins. “Happy?” she asks.

“Certainly beats watching TV at home,” I reply with a grin.