Houston Hunt Series VIII – San Antonio

This article is written by Anuradha Goyal, an IT professional  & consultant and a travel writer, based in Hyderabad, India

San Antonio is a small town about 200 miles south west of Houston and I had been wanting to go there ever since I came to Houston. But for various reasons it kept on getting postponed weekend by weekend. But now I know why it was getting postponed, it had to be filled with new experiences and hence it happened when it had to happen.

San Antonio is an interesting place, in its small walk-able down town area, there are many places of interest for a tourist. It has the famous river walk, which makes you feel that Europeans inhabited this place at some point in time and wanted to create a homely atmosphere. You can take a boat ride around the river and which is in the middle of all the famous landmarks of the city like the fastest hotel ever built, the biggest building ever moved and a brightly lighted tower. There are in-numerable restaurants on both sides of the river with occasional recreational places like a stage and Aztec theatre. If you ever visit San Antonio, this is a must do and weather you choose to take the boat ride or not you must walk around the river for that laid back, tourist friendly environment.

The other biggest attraction is the Alamo, just outside the river center mall, and this is a war memorial, where a 13 day long war is commemorated. You are not allowed to take pictures here and the entry is free. The lawns at the back make a good walk in the middle of the down town with lot of squirrels and birds. When you come out of the Alamo, just across the road, you would see the Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum and a museum of Guinness book of world records.

You can take the red colored trams to go around the down town area and one of the places that I took it for was to go to ‘El Mercado’ or the ‘market place’, which is a Mexican market, and one of the most colorful places that I would have seen after Rajasthan. There are small shops that sell mostly curios and some small games and lot of collectibles. Its an experience to walk through the aisles of this market. On the way there is a Spanish Governor’s house, which had a similar old world charm as some of the old British bungalows have, with lots of carved chests and ornate lamps and tables, and a beautiful backyard. Next to the Museums there is shop ‘Del Sol’ which sells lot of stuff that changes color in the sun, and the guy at the shop gives an interesting demo of the products that compels you to buy stuff from him.

Next day we drove down to Natural Caverns, which are about 15 miles north of San Antonio. These caverns are about 200 feet down the ground and are too hot and humid. The caves have natural formations and are living caves, which are still growing. These caves were my biggest motivation to visit San Antonio and they were worth all the effort I made to go there. After the caverns we went to watch a movie at the ‘Aztec on the River’ theatre, the movie was about Mayan culture and was preceded by an enchanting light and sound show. The theatre has been created in an Aztec style and is a beautiful creation with an aura of old world charm and representation of the times when art and culture would have seen better days. Post this we went on the ‘Towers of America’, which is the tallest structure in San Antonio and like most tall structures in US city down towns gives a 360 degree view of the city. If you go to these places in the late evening around sunset, they give a nice view of the changing colors of the city.

My trip to San Antonio was special not only for the variety and colors that it offers for a traveler but because this was my first Couchsurfing experience. Now for those of you who are not aware of the concept, wait for my next post on Couchsurfing. This is also the first time that I traveled through buses in US, while everyone warned me against traveling through it. Traveling in buses in not the most sophisticated way to travel in US, but it is not as bad as it is portrayed out to be. In fact, I had my most relaxed time in the bus as that was the only time when I was not doing anything.

Anuradha Goyal

1 Nov 2006


What the Indian Business Traveler Wants

Nikita Garia is a blogger and contributes articles for The Wall Street Journal

At first glance, members of India’s business community may not appear to be mad about fitness, but a new survey of Asian business travelers says Indians are the most likely to seek out fitness centers and spas while on the road for work.

French hotel operator Accor carried out an  online survey between the end of June and early July of business travelers from seven Asia-Pacific countries that included Australia, China, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Thailand and India. Hong Kong, though part of China, was surveyed as a separate region. About 10,000 people responded to the survey, which asked them about their travel habits in the first half of 2011.

Of the roughly 500 Indians who took the survey, 85 % claimed they went to the fitness centers in the hotels they stayed in and 64% said they utilized the spa facilities in those hotels. This was way above the average for the Asia Pacific region  as a whole – 76 % and 53 % respectively. Overall Asian road warriors seem to care about working out – Thai travelers were the least likely to use hotel gyms, but even 71% of them said they used the fitness centers.

The survey also found that India was second only to China when it came to the frequency of business travel. In India, executives across all levels made an average of 7.3 business trips each in the first half of the year, while in China, the average number of trips was 8.7.

Among Indian respondents, the overwhelming majority — 93% — of travelers were male. India had the lowest share of female respondents of the countries surveyed.  This was rather low considering that “one out of four business travelers in Asia were female,” said Evan Lewis, Accor’s Asia-Pacific spokesman, while talking about the findings in New Delhi on Wednesday.

A fifth of Indian respondents belonged to the manufacturing sector, compared to 15% for the survey as a whole, followed by retail and finance. “Surprisingly, the travelers belonging to the manufacturing sector in India was more than the average in Asia,” said Mr. Lewis.

When it came to choosing a hotel, 27% of Indians preferred to stay in those hotels where they had previously stayed, while 22% cared about the hotel’s brand name. “Indians are less brand-conscious and give more importance to their past experience,” said Mr. Lewis.

Singapore and Thailand were the top destinations for Indian business travelers. According to the survey, 51 % of Indian travelers visited Singapore at least once in the previous six months and 38 % traveled to Thailand for work.

Nikita Garia

25 Aug 2011


Konstanz or Bodensee

This article is written by Sathish K, a Software Professional and travel writer, based in Bangalore

Travelling from Germany within the German region it is Konstanz, from the Swiss or Austria section it is called Bodensee. Its a big lake originating from the Alps flowing down through Austria is the intersection of the three countries.

You can just keep walking along the lake and if you have a valid visa for entering Switzerland you can within few minutes!!
Its a highly romantic place and a good getaway. Though you might not find lot of tourists from other countries who visit mostly the main cities in the countries.

Sathish K

17 Apr 2008

Konstanz or Bodensee

Innsbruck, Austria

This article is written by Sathish K, a Software Professional and travel writer, based in Bangalore

Sarlszburg, Innsbruck, Vienna are the three main touristic cities in Austria. Of the three, I skipped the first one to go to the second one.


I have travelled by plane, cruiser across countries. So this time I decided to take the Deutsche Bahn for travel to Austria from Germany and back. The normal fares are pretty high in train but there was a special offer by which I got my tickets for entire journey for less than half the usual price.

The City Night Line

So from the city of Mannheim, I take the City Night Line to Sarlszburg and then change over to the next train to reach Innsbruck.

It was raining when I was leaving Mannheim not that the other days during my stay was any different.
Innsbruck is not a big city. Surrounded by snow covered mountains even during this time of the year the view is just mind blowing. Stand at one point maybe the Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium terrace and take a 360deg turn. From start to end of the turn you will be bowled over by the scenery and the beauty.

Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium

Bergisel is one of the main tourist spots in Innsbruck. You can either use the cable car or climb the staircase (255 steps approximately) to go up the terrace which is 50mt above Innsbruck. From Bergisel to the Castle there is a route by which one should be able to walk down but I did not try it neither did I go to the castle since I spent more than 2hrs at Bergisel. And it was pretty tiring walking up and down. I went to Bergisel on the second day of my stay in Innsbruck.
Earlier day after reaching Innsbruck station, thanks to couchsurfing I get a space to stay. So I go up to the place for surfing. After pretty good breakfast and a long chat getting to know each other I leave on my journey for next 5hrs. First thing I do is get a map of the city at the Tourist Information Center which is located in MuseumStrasse.
But before I went to the Information Center I walked through the old city and having been updated on the buildings by my host it was much easy. There is also Alpen Zoo nearby but coming from India watching animals in zoo’s don’t excite me!!!

Later I start my walk up the road towards HungerBurg. Having covered most distance and with less than 2kms to cover I do not find any space for pedestrians. I look around and finally give up and start my way down. The best would be to take the tram from Renweg to HungerBurg and that would be really amazing ride up and down. Dont miss it.

Sathish K

17 April 2008

Innsbruck, Austria

Travel then and now: oh how you’ve changed

With America’s Transport Security Administration recently ‘celebrating’ its 10th birthday, we’ve been reflecting on the massive changes in travel over the past couple of decades – especially the changes wrought by September 11, the reason for the creation of the TSA.

One of the biggest changes in travel has been a loss of innocence. Remember back in the day when, if you were a cute enough kid, you could actually visit the cockpit without suspicion of being a cunningly disguised batch of anthrax?  Back when you could practically lug a gallon drum of face spritzer on a plane instead of decanting it into containers as annoying as they are minuscule? Back when security didn’t pat you down like they were paying for it?

But what we’ve lost in innocence, we’ve gained in convenience and information – whip-quick booking confirmations and vivid online reviews warning against bedbugs and lumpy pillows.

So before you start Googling that fantastic pensione someone tweeted about, cast your mind back *cue wobbling, fuzzy screen*…

Deciding where to go

Then: You would browse brochures at a travel agent or peruse travel guidebooks at a bookstore or get inspired by a friend’s travel photos…

Now: Your access to the minutiae and ephemera of the world through blogs, travel shows, social media and online magazines can set your compass spinning wildly. You get sent a link about Portland’s burgeoning food truck scene and before you know it, you’re Pac NW-bound.

How you got there

Then: Flights were less frequent, there were fewer airlines and budget options and no Frequent Flier miles to grease the wheels, so travel was more planning and less whimsy, more patience and less high-speed. And you went to – gasp – a travel agent.

Now: You scout around online for the best deal, bang in your credit card and off you go. You can check in online, print out your boarding pass, you are the travel agent!

Choosing and booking a hotel

Then: It was brochures, guidebooks and word-of-mouth – and actually phoning the place to book.

Now: It’s getting deals in online newsletters, booking through various online engines and a good dose of cheers and jeers from the people power on hotel review sites.

What it cost you

Then: As Bob, one of our backpacking readers said: ‘When talking to the young travellers these days they have the impression that it would have been cheap to travel back then. I tell them that if cost me the equivalent of $400 for a one way boat ticket to England and at the time I was getting $50 a week. They then realise how cheap it is to travel today.’

Now: The inconceivable thought of a budget flight from London to Belgium for less than a tenner is now a reality. And think about it – 20 years ago, a flight from Australia to England cost around $2000. Today? Around $2000.

How you stayed in touch

Then: You wrote letters, sent postcards and occasionally lashed out on a long-distance phone call from a phone booth. If your loved ones were travelling, you didn’t expect to hear from them that often because they were ‘abroad’ – that magical place where what happened in Vegas could really stay in Vegas and not end up on YouTube.

Now: You can email, Skype, tweet and update your journey on Facebook, all with rapid-fire frequency… You can always still go old school with a postcard but finding a post office still seems to be one of travel’s biggest hurdles.

How you got local recommendations

Then: The Tourist Information Centre was your port of call for all things local. Sadly, many of these centres are facing closure as people look to the internet for suggestions. Googlemaps and GPS means you don’t even need to ask TICs for directions anymore.

Now: If you want to know where to get vegan yum cha in Ulan Bator, rest assured someone will have a blog about it.

Jane Ormond

17 Nov 2011


Download your very own travel a(pp)ssistant

This article is written by Adish Jain, who is a geek, gamer and travel and music enthusiast.

Who says booking air tickets and keeping an eye on the flight status can only be done by sitting in from of a PC with an internet connection? Those were in the pre-application era where the world was restricted to a big monitor. Today, applications have changed the way we live by pushing all this and more, to the small display on our smartphones. Listed below are a few apps that will let you book flight tickets and track real time flight status from anywhere, anytime.

Kayak: Booking flights has never been so simple. This app has an intuitive interface that lets you choose from round-trip, one-way or multi-city. Capable of automatically detecting the location and the nearest airport, it allows you to choose the destination by typing the city’s name. It works well with domestic as well as international locations and is just like an online web portal where you can select your preferences – exact date, flight cabin (economy, premium, business, first), non-stop journey and number of passengers. The search lists various flights along with the travel fair, airline, departure and arrival time. And while viewing details, you can always book the flight simply by calling the listed vendor. (Available for iOS, Android, Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows Phone).

Skyscanner: As the name suggests, this app dedicatedly searches through the numerous flights and comes up with the cheapest options available. The neat layout allows users to select the departure city and arrival city from the drop down menu along with the date. There is one touch option to select the return as well as the non-stop flight. This quickly comes up with plenty of flight details along with the air-fair in Indian currency. The search can be sorted using airline, duration, and landing as well as take off signages. It does store the latest search history and lets you share the information over email. (Available for iOS and Android).

MakemyTrip: This is one name you will be familiar with. Coming from makemytrip.com, this application is available only for BlackBerry smartphone owners. Similar to the web interface, it performs various tasks smoothly, from booking flights on the move to cancel tickets, get e-tickets and track refund. Checking flight status is also enabled on this application. While using the app, you can search for the latest travel deals along with the nearby places to eat. (Available for BlackBerry OS).

Flight Aware: We don’t just always end up booking flights but tend to keep an eye on the departure-arrival time when someone known is travelling. The FlightAware app is designed for such a situation. It lets you track the flight using your flight number and tail number. In case, you have none, you can always search through origin and destination. Regular travellers can save preferences including my aircraft, my airport, etc. Using the current location, you can view the nearby aircrafts flying and mobile push notifications which would give details such as estimated departure time, departure and arrival notices and gate/terminal assigned. (Available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone).

Airline Applications: Catching up with this trend, some of the leading airlines too have come up with their very own mobile applications. This includes American Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, AirAsia, Singapore Airlines and Fly Delta to name a few. These are available on download from the respective applications stores. Most of these are available for Apple iPhone and Android smartphnes but a few of them are also compatible with the BlackBerry and Symbian operating systems.

Adish Jain

10 Oct 2011


Trip to Barcelona

This article is written by Sathish K, a Software Professional and travel writer, based in Bangalore

Lufthansa provides you of choosing one place to fly when one flies down to Germany from India. I think the same facility is there for other areas though am not sure. But you need to pay for Airport Tax.
So we chose to fly to Barcelona last weekend (29th & 30th October 2005). We took the 10:00hrs flight from Frankfurt to Barcelona. Its close to 2hrs journey. At Barcelona airport there is a huge statue of a bull probably to symbolise their love for the sport, bull fighting.

On the beaches if one is not aware of the culture in the West and know only the Indian sub-continent culture, hes in for a shock. Since this is not my first trip to Europe I was accustomed to these. People in the beach take a swim and change there itself instead of looking for a room. People take oil massage and get into sunbath mode.

After covering all the beaches on the side we went back to the hostel. It was almost dark by the time we came out of the beach. Of course we did not take a dip in the water.
We bought few souveniers as a rememberance and finished our dinner and made some enquiries and again started walking up and down. Life is active only in the night, there are lots of discotheques with no entry fees and being with guys is a problem one cannot go into these. There are some where one can enter after paying about 15Euros. We walked up and down and up and down and by the time we thought of going back it was 4:30 in the morning!!
On sunday we took our bags after breakfast and took the metro to look at the Olympic stadium and water fountain which we missed the earlier night. The Olympic Stadium is something I liked the most. I know I cannot be there as a participant in any event so I took the photos in all different possible angles!!

The Olympic Stadium, Barcelona

From here we thought of going to Sagrada Familia (there is a castle like structure) and took a bus. We had to change the bus at one particular point Francis Macia. We of course dont know the place. Travelling in the bus we got the feeling that bus was going too far and we might have missed the stop. We asked one elderly couple and the old man was jumping up and down that we have missed the stop long back. Of course he did not know English neither did we know his language, but we understood then he made sure we got down at one stop from where it was closer to take the Metro. We then asked another guy luckily he spoke English and that place was called Vellcara!! He guided us to the Metro station. Manging to reach Sagrada Familia we did not go in since it would take us close to 20:00hrs to come out. Took few snaps from outside and then went again to the Metro station to reach airport since our flight was at 19:00hrs. And back to Mannheim where am staying from Frankfurt, the time was close to 0:00hrs.

La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece

In the two days we noticed quite strange things, like a man digging in the beach looked more like a guy digging his own grave!!

There was protest march in the street and at the tail there was a van with music playing on accompanying the marchers!!!

We were damn tired at the end of it since we had spent most of the time walking here and there, up and down…

Sathish K

4 Nov 2005

Trip to Barcelona

The UK Files: Henley-on-Thames

This article is written by Shruthi, an aviator,  a noted travel writer, based in Bangalore

The first couple of weeks in the UK were cold. We didn’t go out much, except for a few drives, and some trips to the town, and Sainsbury’s.


It was on April 8th, that I had my first taste of the English sun. We – my aunt, cousin, Puttachi and I – planned a trip to Henley-on-Thames, of course, after a lot of consultation of weather forecasts. True to the prediction, it was a lovely day. The sun was out, the sky was blue and cloudless, with aeroplane contrails streaking it white.

The riverside was magnificent. Bare trees were fuzzy, with a suggestion of the lovely green that would become obvious in the coming weeks. Weeping willows drooped gracefully. The river was blue, and the grass was green and inviting.

We walked on one bank of the river, and on the other bank stood pretty little cottages, with boat garages. Big boats sailing down the river were moored on the side of the bank on which we walked, and I peered shamelessly through the little windows, into the dim interiors, trying to imagine what it would be like – a life in a houseboat, sailing the length of the river.

We played football on the greens, that are such a luxury for us, and we had some really lovely, sparkling moments. It was still much too cold, and we shivered when the wind blew, but smiled when the sun did.

On the way back, we visited The Maharajah’s Well at Stoke Row, and got back home.

There’s something about rivers and its banks that appeal to me, and walking is one of my passions – so the combination is, well, deadly.

We had many more lovely times in England and Scotland, but this day will stand out as one of the most beautiful, brilliant days I’ve experienced.


28 Oct 2010


Holiday Abroad on a Budget

Vacations have their way of eating into your precious savings. And when you are talking of going out of the country, the expenses only mount further. So though you badly need a break, you’ve postponed your international holiday for the umpteenth time.
Well, here’s good news for you. Exploring the world doesn’t have to mean the end of your savings. Use these tips to budget your holiday abroad and not go broke.

Plan Your Budget
Read up on the place you want to visit – surf the Internet, buy a Lonely Planet guide or read travelogues. Chalking out an itinerary will give you an estimate of how much all the things you want to do will cost you. “Blogs are your best bet. Reading people’s personal experiences as well as their useful tips goes a long way in planning your vacation,” says Ira Singh, a 28-year-old, who holidays abroad once every year.

Find Cheap Accommodation
Give hotels a skip to cut costs. Hostels are a cheaper option. Did you know you can stay at the YMCA in London for as little as Rs 1200 per day?

Homestays are a fairly new concept in India, but if you are travelling abroad, it is not difficult to find a family you can live with for a nominal fee. Hospitality Club (www.hospitalityclub.org) is one place you could start. Finally, hit Facebook and reconnect with those long-lost friends and relatives. They might just welcome you to stay with them.

Pack Light and Smart
Take only absolute essentials with you. This way if you do a little extra shopping you won’t have to pay for excess baggage.

Save on your laundry and ironing bills by carrying a detergent and the right kind of clothes. If you are planning to hang around the beach a lot, carry easy wash and wear clothes like lycra. And if it’s a snowy place, go with woollen sweaters that don’t crumple easily.

Travel Abroad Off Season
Travelling abroad off season means you will be able to experience the local flavour of the place. Plus, everything is a whole lot cheaper – right from your air tickets to accommodation and even shopping! So remember to keep an eye out for discounts offered by airlines. Avoid travelling to Europe and the Americas around holidays such as Christmas, New Year or even the summer. Australia, though, is a good option in summer.

Go the Local Way
Once you are at your destination, use public transport, rent a bicycle or walk! But if you are choosing any of these, make sure to carry a map with you so you don’t get lost. If you are looking for souvenirs, flea markets are an inexpensive option that also allow for bargaining.

“When I was sight-seeing in New York, I ate hot dogs, kebabs and gyros on-the-go. They were cheap and tasty. What’s more, we didn’t waste time dining at a formal restaurant and got to see more of the city,” says Samuel D’Souza who travelled around the United States earlier this year.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and jet off to your dream destination on a budget!

11 Aug 2010


Roadmap for holiday travel

This article is written by Chris McGinnis; Chris is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel

Throughout the year, there are predictable peaks and valleys in travel demand and pricing. Travellers who study them can save money and have more comfortable trips.

In London, holiday shoppers keep hotels full and rates sky high throughout the holiday season

As the holiday season approaches, these peaks and valleys multiply — especially in the US, which celebrates Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years within a six-week time period. According to Expedia, most searching and booking for holiday trips occurs during October, so with that in mind, here’s a road map to help plan for the season:

Valley: 1 to 17 November
As Thanksgiving week in the US approaches, travel demand and pricing typically decline, making this a good time to schedule business or leisure trips. However this is also a very popular time for conventions, so be aware of major cities hosting large events where you’ll likely find crowding and higher prices.

Peak: 18 to 23 November
If you don’t have to travel in the US during this time, stay on the sidelines. During the Thanksgiving peak, airfares soar and US airports become clogged inexperienced travellers. However, it also means fewer Americans will be travelling abroad that week, making it a good time to snag a cheap transatlantic business class fare.

Valley: 24 to 25 November
Savvy travellers have learned to save time and money by flying in on Thanksgiving morning for the feast, and then flying out on Friday evening.

Peak: 26 to 29 November
As US travellers return from the Thanksgiving break, it’s time for big crowds. High prices. Big headaches. A perfect time for a teleconference or a staycation!

Valley: 30 November to 20 December
Early December is one of the very best times of year for business or leisure travel just about anywhere in the world. Prices plunge. Crowds go home. (Exception: New York City or London where holiday shoppers keep hotels full and rates sky high.) If you are travelling on business, clients are likely to be in good moods. On the leisure side, you’ll find some of the lightest crowds and lowest prices of the year on cruises or at Disney parks.

Peak: 21 December to 3 January
Christmas Day falls on Sunday this year, so peak travel days begin on the Tuesday or Wednesday prior. Try to avoid returning to the roads or skies until the Tuesday after New Years Day (also on Sunday).

Aside from the threat of inclement weather, January is also a fine time for business travel — it’s low season, so airfares and hotel rates are down, crowds are thin, and the airport belongs to the road warrior. You might even get a cherished upgrade.

Chris McGinnis

5 Oct 2011