Grant Muller

Another Schwinn Prelude?

After a leisurely lunch on the Marietta Square yesterday, I came across this:

SchwinnPrelude-79

Another Schwinn Prelude!

It seems I’m not the only one who was unimpressed with the original rusted gunmetal gray look.

The owner of this Prelude painted theirs similarly to mine. A base coat of cream with an accent color for the lugs and forks. Observe:

SchwinnPrelude-75

 

This Prelude owner went with green, no doubt as an accent to the sexy leather Brooks seat and handlebar tape. I also like the fork paint:

SchwinnPrelude-76

 

No detail was left:

SchwinnPrelude-77SchwinnPrelude-78

 

All in all a very impressive redux! Anyone else have a Schwinn Prelude Redux to Share?

Programming, Languages, and Hacking the Way We Think

Last night I read a wonderful article about programming languages. It opened with a quote:

A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming is not worth knowing.

Alan Perlis

After a few minutes of thinking about it, I changed the quote to read:

A language that doesn’t change the way you think is not worth knowing.

I don’t think in Ruby. Or Perl. Or Python. I certainly don’t think in any of the C derivatives. I think in English. Even when I program I put a series of nouns, verbs and adjectives together to form sentences that the computer will be able to interpret and compile into byte code.

What does it mean to be an English thinker? What effect does the language and it’s syntax have on me? Does English have more strong verbs than Eastern languages? Does that have some effect on my thought processes compared to say, a native Japanese speaker? What about other languages, programming or otherwise? If I learned Italian well enough to think in it, would it fundamentally change the way I think?

What about structure? Does the structure of a human language change the way we think like the structure of a programming language does? Perhaps I find that I can more eloquently express myself in Manadarin than in English on the topic of art, or that I prefer the conciseness of German when trying to explain mathematical concepts. What about taking human languages and learning them to change the way I think about a subject, just as I would mix and match programming languages depending on their utility.

Could I boil a human language down to the extent that I could say with confidence “The best language for describing training exercises to an athlete is Russian”?

I have a proposition: Learn a new spoken language. Learn it well enough to think in that language. Understand and document the way that thinking in the new language changes the way you think. Perhaps its looking at verb order, and what verb order means to people who reverse verbs and their objects? Perhaps its looking at the use of adjectives, and what it does to the way you mentally describe things?

I could see this turning into a study of some sort.

When programming, you’re looking for a balance of conciseness, eloquency and maintainablity when you choose your “words”. If we could do the same with human language, putting a different language into use dependent on the situation, could we maximize our potential as thinkers and by proxy, communicators?

Todo-CL 2.0.0

A while back I created a simple command line tool that allowed me to create tasks from Launchy and send them directly to Toodledo. My process was simple. I’d create a bunch of tasks throughout the day while doing other stuff, then sometime that night (or the next morning) I’d go through all those tasks and put them in the right container, assign due dates, and make projects out of them if necessary. This works great for tasks that can wait a day.

But what about tasks that can’t wait a day?

I realized that what I needed was a way to add a due date of ‘today’ inline with the task. I played with the code and in about 10 minutes or so I had the feature added.

That was easy, why not take it further?

So I did. Todo-CL has a slew of new options for creating tasks from the command line, or in my case, from Launchy. Here is a snapshot of the README file, which includes the new context switches for adding tasks on the fly:

Additional Options

  • -t –tags comma delimited list of tags

    todo.exe a task with tags -t work,play,tag3

  • -f –folder folder to insert the task into

    todo.exe a task with a folder -f Inbox

  • -c –context context to use

    todo.exe a task with a context -c Home

  • -l –length length of the task in minutes

    todo.exe a task with a length -l 20

  • -s –set set a default property

    Format = PROPERTY:VALUE (ex: folder:Actions)

    todo.exe set default folder -s folder:Inbox todo.ext set default context -s context:Home

    If set all new tasks will go to the default folder or context

  • -h –help display this help screen

To download version 2.0.0 visit the project page on github.

Atlas Shrugged Part 1: From Tome to Train Wreck

19thomas-600Ever try to read the Lord of The Rings Trilogy out loud? If you have, you probably noticed that you sound like a big damn dork. When Ian McKellan renders a line like “A wizard arrives precisely when he means to”, you believe he’s a wizard; you on the other hand sound like thirteen year old at a wicked awesome D&D game. Imagine filming, editing, and adding special effects to your wimpy voice and turning it into box office magic. Sound daunting? For you perhaps, but sometimes the planets of talent, technical virtuosity and, ahem, money align and an epic book survives the translation from tome to theater.

It is unfortunate that these conditions were not present on the set of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1.

The film makes the mistake of flashing a calendar day across the screen in its opening moments, instantly voiding any sense of the timelessness Rand’s novel suggests and giving the viewer an excuse to discard the film as soured milk in a scant 5 years. What follows is a montage as trite as tearing off calendar sheets to show the passage of time. Fake newsreel, snapshots of headlines, talking heads and political commentators create the atmosphere of a failing nation. Despite the overused mechanism to convey the exposition, one does get a sense that this is happening now. This is at least as Rand had intended, but the use of a fixed date and the “modernization” of the story is not only unnecessary, it detracts from the work as a piece of political-philosophical symbolism.

The rest of the film reads like a 12-part made for TV mini-series squeezed in a vice to fit the film format without any of the polish necessary to justify the $11 dollar ticket expense. Hints of amateurism, like the black-and-white “missing” freeze frames, would be easier to stomach if they were sandwiched between commercial breaks. When more than a ten spot is on the line I expect better than the stiff delivery of even the most throwaway lines, and I certainly expect to experience the message of the original work without the heavy-handed exposition getting in the way.

Ok I’ll be fair, even the book is heavy-handed. A book can get away with a lot more than a film, but if the producers were trying to avoid the beat-you-over-the-head-with-it approach entirely why rely on the least important pieces of dialogue, adding over the top verbal exposition when Rand supplied the hammer right in the book? Missing are monologues like the “Money Speech” that D’Anconia delivers at Reardon’s anniversary, perhaps one of the most important in the  book. The characters in the book are archetypes; strip away their names and you’re still left with symbols, different aspects of political and economic philosophy embodied in a voice. The various monologues can read like essays at times, but their absence makes the actors in the film feel less like archetypes and more like shallow characters. These monologues carry the message of the novel in a unique way, and even though the actors selected to play the parts may lack the talent to give them real weight it’s unfair to the original work to leave them out entirely.

There were a few redeeming characters. Patrick Fischler’s portrayal of snake-in-the-grass Paul Larkin is believable, and Ellis Wyatt played by Graham Beckel was a likeable by-his-bootstraps CEO. It is unfortunate however that the leads couldn’t make up the same ground with their characterizations. Reardon feels weak. James Taggart feels less like the big fake softy he is in the book and more like a a child with a toy. D’Anconia has yet to blossom into the character he is supposed to be, but even his false act as a playboy reads like Benicio Del Toro on a bender with Johnny Depp. Even in playboy mode D’Anconia still had class in the novel; that dapper demeanor is gone in the film.

All in all I’m left severely disappointed with the film rendition of Atlas Shrugged, even if there are still two parts left. Paul Johansson might have been able to make this work as a mini-series, and indeed the budget may have leant itself better to that medium. As a film it feels rushed. The attempt to use stiff exposition in place of the essay-like monologues feels limp. The cinematography is unmemorable save for the various poor decisions made by the men behind the camera (like the “micro-zoom” moment at Reardon’s Anniversary party). There are casting errors; I hear that Charlize Theron or Angelina Jolie were considered for the roles of Dagny Taggart. Brad Pitt could easily have swaggered his way into the character of Reardon had the budget allowed for it.

But the budget didn’t allow for it.

In the face of low funding my suggestion to Johansson would have been to cut his losses and give a TV audience a well-paced rendition of Rand’s treatise, rather than make a film that does neither book nor audience justice.

Article first published as Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 – From Tome to Train Wreck on Blogcritics.

Is it Avant Jazz Industrial Noise? No, It’s STFUnity.

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Its not jazz. It’s not fusion. It’s not electronic. It’s not industrial. I don’t have a word to describe what happened when musicians of very different backgrounds got together virtually to create music.

I can only call it STFUnity.

Finished while I was on holiday in India, STFUnity is what happens when an anarchist saxophonist blasts over the work of a precision drum programmer. Its what happens when an algorithmic composer high-fives his drum kit, then asks for someone to play a solo over it. Its what happens when a keyboardist demands that the entire album be mixed into one of the tracks…indeterminately. Its alternately gentle and violent instrumental frosting spread over an electronic layer cake that got up and triple-lindyed off a countertop.

I haven’t listened to many of the the tracks since their early completion some time ago, and I find myself remembering fondly the process of creating them as much as the result. Built almost entirely over the web, the project was initiated by Bill Graham and Jason Blain early in 2010. My contributions came primarily in the form of sound design and algorithmic control, though a few tracks I laid the base for, leaving Jason and Bill to render further. You can read about that here and here.

One track I haven’t mentioned is BitBlit. Written in 25/8 time, I played the drums live, then sliced what can liberally be called a “pattern” into constituent parts varying in length between 8th and half notes. Then, using GOLSequencer I changed the entry point and various effects, mangling the once straightforward 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8 sequence into something unrecognizable.

That ‘straightforward’ part is supposed to be a joke.

It’s worthwhile to listen to a before and after, so you can see how much different the tracks are once other members of the group get a hold of them. Notice how BitBlit as I rendered it graduates to full-fledged song from cheesy video game interstitial.

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BitBlit Before

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BitBlit After

So, what are you waiting for? Download it. It’ll crush your bones at no cost (that means it’s free). Click here.

In Defense of Shoes

Go to your favorite hiking trail. Walk down the path, then sit down for a moment and take off your shoes and socks. Keep walking.

Notice where your eyes go.

If you’re anything like me, or the people I’ve watched perform this same exercise, your eyes go directly to the path in front of you. Sharp rocks wait to slice your foot open, introducing hookworms or bacteria into your bloodstream. Tree roots have grown across the path plotting a stubbed toe for every passerby. Acorns roll onto the trail from a nearby oak, lying in wait to do some damage to those tender arches. The path, no matter how well-trod, is rife with danger. So you keep your eyes peeled to avoid even the tiniest obstacles.

But think about where your eyes aren’t.

No longer are you surveying the landscape for a hidden predator. No longer are you keeping your eyes peeled for a blackberry patch or a rabbit, frozen by the appearance of a potential enemy. No longer are you thinking of how beautiful it is to see the blooms of a wild cherry tree as the wind rustles their tiny petals. No, you must keep your eyes on the road ahead.

You can put your shoes back on now, and enjoy those cherry trees.

Shoes have gotten a bad rap lately. Blamed for everything from knee problems to spinal injury, walking shod is starting to look like less of a boon than a liability. But as the exercise above illustrates there are distinct advantages, especially to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to sporting something on your soles.

Shoes are a tool. Like most human inventions, it gave us a distinct advantage over our competitors and the environment, allowing us to perform a simple act:

Looking around.

The ability to become less concerned with the path under our feet, and concentrate on the road ahead is too tremendous to describe.

To draw a nerd parallel, computer programs often have "watchdog" routines built into them. These watchdogs prevent the program from crashing by performing constant checks to make sure that everything is moving smoothly. These watchdog routines take time. They consume processing ability. They take up space. If you could remove these watchdogs, you’d have capacity for other things. If you can become less concerned with what you’re walking on, you can become more concerned with the beauty of the mountain pass you’re walking through.

Shoes are important. No matter how much our modern minds would like to demonize what walking shod has done to us, its important to remember what walking shod has done for us. Is it clear that poorly designed shoes can cause detriment to our gait and posture? Absolutely, and our modern ability to examine this can in some small way be traced to that fact that we at some point decided that we were tired of training our eyes 3 feet in front of us, and instead began to look miles ahead.

I go barefoot often. I have been running and walking in goofy toe shoes for years. But I respect ancient man’s decision to wear shoes, no matter how poorly we’ve designed them in recent years. The same goes for the agricultural revolution, which has received some poor press in modern times. I may not eat wheat, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to our ancestors.

It’s imperative to recognize that human civilization is built with a scaffolding. That scaffolding at times is found to be dangerous, and alternatives are sought and implemented. Bamboo is replaced with pine. Pine is replaced with steel. Then you find that there was nothing wrong with the bamboo and you return to it. It’s just scaffolding, the civilization is what you’re building.

That’s ok.

You live in the times that you live in and you climb the scaffolding that you’re given thinking its the safest place to be.

So respect shoes, even if you don’t wear them all the time. Who knows how much of our modern world depended on that simple innovation.

Image courtesy of matthetube. Article first published as In Defense of Shoes on Blogcritics.

JTTE: A Final Word on India

210601_10150511011125160_595550159_18180009_3882883_o“So how was India?”

Next to ‘how ya doin?’, this is the most common question I’ve had in the past week from relatives, family, friends and co-workers. I don’t mind actually; every time the question is posed I get to reminisce about the trip.

“It was awesome. It’s an amazing place”

India will teach you things. You’ll learn how different we all are, and how foreign a culture can be. You’ll also learn how similar we are, even half a world apart. You’ll see what a country transitioning between ancient custom and modern convenience looks like. You’ll see a country that has managed to respect those customs while still adopting western technology, or refusing to adopt it because its just doesn’t work for them. You’ll see what real poverty looks like, and you’ll see people getting by just the same. You’ll see people who have woven work and life together in such a way that they occur at the same time, without making them burned out or in danger of going postal. Sure, it’s dirty, but it’s a raw dirt, like a gravel country road that hasn’t been paved. It feels lived in, like an old house, endearing and warm.

210289_10150511012020160_595550159_18180036_6636474_oI find myself missing it. I’m happy to be home to my clean air, my vast expanses of open living space, and orderly street traffic, but where is the nearest kulfi stand? I miss the barber on the corner with a line of men waiting in patient conversation to have their whiskers trimmed. I miss the smell of the corner tea shop, masala chai on the boil over an open flame. I miss the street bazaars. I miss the cows. I can understand how many Indian expatriates yearn to return to their home, there is a lot to miss.

India is going to be a different place in 10 years. Hell, as fast as they got the Delhi airport up, maybe 5. I have it on good authority from the world’s biggest Tata fan that it will be even less. The Indians are proving that they can make a new world quicker than we can take the old one in, if you want to see it the way it is, you had better get out there before it happens.

So did we have a good time? I’d say so, we’re already planning our next trip.

Cary, who took the lion’s share of the pictures, has been uploading edited pictures. I’ll be returning to the old posts day by day and adding links to them as she posts them.

With that said, I compiled a list of most humorous, but still applicable do’s and don’t if you find yourself making a trip in the near future. Feel free to add to it in the comments!

Do’s and Don’ts
  • Stay away from the water. Don’t brush your teeth with it. Shower with your mouth tightly closed. Ingesting the water is the quickest way to get sick in India. Are you likely to get deathly ill? No, I know from experience that it’s not that bad, but it’s still something to be avoided if you want to enjoy your trip.
  • If you do get a stomach bug, eat the local curd. Even if you don’t get sick, it’s tasty stuff. Lassi. Yogurt. Etc. Obviously I’m not a doctor and my advice is only empirical, but this worked like a dream for me. I found I was better capable of handling the water if I had been drinking lassi’s all day.  Make sure that they aren’t adding ice or water to the curd though…
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables. Why? They wash them with the water. And if they didn’t wash them with anything, then you really don’t want to eat them.
  • You’ll get a better deal if you pay in cash.
  • Try not to pay more than 50% of the asking price, unless the price is so low that you don’t feel like haggling. Especially in tourist towns like Agra, bargain your way down to half the asking at the very minimum.
  • Don’t give money to beggars. Even children. Ever see Slum dog Millionaire? Seriously, don’t do it.
  • Get over the smell. You can’t escape it anyway.
  • Use hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Bring camping toilet paper with you. You will not find toilet paper in public restrooms. Hell, you may not even find a toilet. Plan to poop like you would on a camping trip, and you’ll do fine.
  • Learn to use that little sprayer next to the toilet. Its better than paper anyway.
  • Don’t even think of renting a car. Rent a driver. You will kill someone or something if you try to take your terrible western driving skills on to the road in India.
  • Don’t be freaked out or homophobic about dudes holding hands, hugging, or lounging together. They develop different relationships than we do, it doesn’t make them homosexual.
  • It would not be prudent to say “Whatchoo lookin’ at?” to someone staring at you. You are weird looking. Get over it. They are a fairly pacifist group of folks, they aren’t sizing you up for a confrontation like we on the western side of the world do. People are staring at you because you stand out. It’s ok.

JTTE: Coming Home

India-2386There is nothing exciting about waking up at 4:00 in the morning to start a 12 hour car ride from Udaipur to Delhi. Suffice it to say that that is what we did.

There isn’t much exciting about a 12 hour car ride either. We did that too.

Upon arriving in Delhi we had far less time than we would have had we taken the train, which cut out a lot of the last minute sightseeing we had planned on. We shrugged and agreed that since we’d have to come through Delhi on our way to virtually any other location in India, that we’d have the chance to see the Lodi Gardens, Lotus Temple, and Gandhi House next time.

We did have time to grab dinner with my long-time friend and co-worker at one of the top restaurants in Delhi, R.E.D. (Rare Eastern Dining). It was nice meal, certainly for the food, but more so for the opportunity to have a drink with an old friend, relate the details of our trip, get clarification on some of the customs, and have an intelligent conversation about the future of India. It was a nice time and I’m glad I got to treat him to a meal, since he greased the tracks for our successful vacation.

After dinner we jumped on our 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. The plan was to sleep as much as possible on this flight, then arrive in Amsterdam well-rested and ready for the day there, our 12 hour bonus day iIndia-2409n the Netherlands. The plan worked, and we dozed through almost all of the trip. We spent an hour in the airport sipping a real coffee (not instant!) and planning our day. Early morning on Tuesday, we set out for the city by train.

We took a walking tour of Amsterdam, occasionally stopping into a coffee shop to warm-up and have a cafe crème before moving on. It was too early for much of the city to be open for business, but that didn’t keep us from wandering around the streets, viewing the canals and seeing some sights.

To be honest there wasn’t much to see in Amsterdam. Not really in the mood for museums, we took the opportunity to unwindIndia-2449, eat some chocolate, and otherwise get back into "Western" mode. The contrast between New Delhi and Amsterdam was stark, the density of Delhi making Amsterdam feel like a ghost town. Amsterdam is also one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever visited, making the transition from east to west even harder to fathom.

As the day wore on, we made the rounds at the Albert Cuyp market. I sampled some raw herring with pickle, which was so fantastic I kept sampling it. I hadn’t had a raw anything in almost three weeks, and just to get a few uncooked onions was deeply satisfying. I had a few beers; Heineken tastes the same everywhere, La Chouffe doesn’t. We walked the surprisingly tame red light district, though it was only just after lunch and I assume things "heat up" after dark arIndia-2459ound there. I got some vlames frites, and will forever refer to mayonnaise as "Dutch sauce" as a result.

In the end our tiny taste of Amsterdam was bittersweet. I missed some of the constant action of India, the din of people everywhere replaced by the solitude of the Netherlands was too much, too soon. Amsterdam is certainly a beautiful city, and I plan to return, but perhaps not so soon after a trip to the far east.

We hopped on our last plane ride. I fidgeted through most of it, got grumpy during customs, then fell asleep a few times on our way home. With only one recovery day to follow this long trip up with, we hit the pillow hard that night. The trip was finally over. It was good to be home to my city, my home, my dogs, and my own bed.

One thing I’ve failed to mention is that Cary takes all of the pictures you see here. I know how to use a camera, but she has a way with it. I do some editing and throw this stuff together, and that’s about it. Cary makes these trips, and forces me out of my comfort zone (though she probably says the same of me). I wouldn’t have had half as much fun on this trip, or any trip without her. To be honest, I probably would have come home after the first week. Thanks Cary, you make life worth living.

JTTE: The Hell with the Train

India-1925We got an early start on our first full day in Udaipur as their was much to see and do. Our first stop was the Jagdish Temple, very much a working Hindu temple near to our haveli. We proceeded clockwise around the grounds to each of the small shrines, examining the elephant plinth and the representations of the gods around the base of the temple. We had arrived early and several people were performing their morning prayers; we did our best not to disturb them.

After traversing the outer temple we proceeded inside. The temple was constructed of carved, unpainted stone with a central shrine where several worshipers with giving offerings. Speaking of offerings, a man dressed in typical Indian security garb, beret and all, tried to insist that we pay him 50 rupees to enter the temple. I sensed a shady deal, especially as the false guard skulked behind the columns of the temple while rubbing two grubby fingers together like a bellboy begging for a tip. I cocked an eyebrow and shook my head. No chance buddy. We wandered the temple, trying hard to keep ourselves from taking pictures inside out of respect for those worshipping quietly. I also had to try very hard not to drag my new bellboy out by his goofy beret and beat the hell out of him; you know, respect.

Breathe deep, my friend. Calm as a Hindu cow.

India-1951We left the tranquility of the temple for the hustle of the narrow streets and headed up towards the City Palace where a crowd of tour buses had gathered. When you’re on vacation you don’t realize when the week begins and ends, and we hadn’t realized it was Sunday until we encountered the huge crowd at the palace.

The City Palace in Udaipur is much like the one in Jaipur. Formerly the home of the Maharana of the city, the royalty has quietly sequestered themselves into a much smaller segment of the palace and opened the majority to the public as a museum. Several of the halls, including the now familiar Moti Mahal have been opened to view the fine glass work and fixtures. Several segments of the palace have been devoted to museums of Mughal art portraying tiger hunts, battles, and games featuring the Maharana and his sortie. You get the impression that in Udaipur, there is still a great amount of respect paid to their royalty. We would find out later that he is still drawn by horse and carriage, in full regalia, during a procession through the streets of Udaipur on Holi. We had just missed it by a few days.

India-2230After the tour of the City Palace museum, we took a boat ride around Lake Pichola and onto Jag Mandir. Formerly a prince’s pleasure palace, now a luxury hotel and spa, the accommodations of the manmade island that aren’t open to tourists are available starting at around $899 per night. Cary and I checked our wallets and decided we might consider booking here after a few years of saving. On the other hand the spa did smell nice, and the gardens were well maintained. I don’t usually dig on spas, but I would certainly consider taking a day to indulge here; if it was good enough for a Rajput prince, it’s good enough for me.

We left the island by boat and meandered back to our hotel. Our intention was to grab a bite to eat, and do some last minute shopping for family before heading off to the railway station to catch our train.

"Waitlist 1 and 2? I’m sure you’ll get on the train, I have been waitlisted as far back as 14 and still gotten. You have nothing to worry about."

We heard this same story at least a dozen times on our second day in Udaipur, intended to put us at ease as our seats had not yet been confirmed on the train back to Delhi. We still checked our ticket status constantly to be sure, but at least in our minds and the local’s, we were as good as home. Our local Tata connoisseur looked up our ticket info. "Oh no, you’ve made a blunder!" he said. I apparently didn’t know the ins and outs of the India rail system when I booked the ticket, and had inadvertently booked the most difficult seats to get. He gave us a ton of useful information and urged us to rush to the train station as soon as possible to try and get our tickets modified.

Only a certain number of seats are actually reserved on the trains in India, the rest are put into statuses such as "reserved against cancellation" and "waitlist". We were in the latter group. Additionally there are several other mechanisms like "foreign tourist quotas" and "emergency seats" and something called Taktal that are held in case any last minute travelers must get on the train. Our strategy was to get into one of these quotas, and we were equipped with some pretty decent information regarding how to do it. Then the reality of the Indian Railway bureaucracy set in.

If any of the above information looks like a lot of nonsense, that’s because it is.

India-1991We arrived at the train station and found out that our tickets had effectively been cancelled; even the highest ranking waitlist ticket is still a waitlist ticket, thus we could not board. Furthermore a very surly ticket collector poring over a huge paper chart took one look at our ticket and waved us off, saying in some kind of broken English "train is full". I spoke with the superintendent as well as the tourist office manager. Apparently there was nothing anyone could do. We would not be getting on the train.

We left the train station with mixed emotions. Bewildered at the silliness of the bureaucracy, I no longer desired to take a train in India, and we were both having a great time in Udaipur anyway. Staying another night and riding back with Mashtan was our backup plan, and executing it didn’t bother us at all. We shrugged our India rail experience off, went back to our inviting haveli (the owner’s of which were incredulous that we couldn’t get on the train), and took up residence in our former room.

India-2294This gave us time to take a rickshaw to another tourist destination in Udaipur, the Classic Cars Museum. Over the years, the Maharana of the city have gathered a collection of cars, on display in what is essentially his garage. It was an experience. The guard at the gate took us by each individual garage, unlocked it and threw open the doors, describing the vehicle inside and what it was used for. There was a Rolls-Royce for everything; one that was hacked up to look like a jeep for royal hunts, another opened up like a truck to transport the cricket team. There were a few ancient Chevrolet trucks and buses, as well as cars whose manufacturers I had never heard of, like Morris and Nash. It was here that we had a look at the Maharana’s official carriage as well. It turned out to be a fascinating side trip, and well worth the rickshaw ride.

We left the car museum and slowly made our way back to our haveli. We had a restful evening planned; we couldn’t have picked a better city in India to be stuck. We took up residence in one of the best seats in the house on the terrace, had a lassi or two, then retired around midnight. About 4 hours from then we would be en route to Delhi by car. It was going to be a long ride.

JTTE: The Most Romantic City in All of India

India-1822The road to Udaipur began after a quick caffeine fix. This would be our shortest driving length of the trip, but owing to the terrain would be our longest. Leaving Jodhpur we encountered some of the most poorly maintained tracts of asphalt I’ve seen this side of Costa Rica. Couple that with the fact that we were on the main road from Jodhpur to Mumbai, the Indian shipping capital, and we had created a very stressful start to the day for Mashtan. After a few hours we turned off this one lane superhighway onto the road to Udaipur, and things quickly improved.

The terrain changes dramatically between the encroaching western desert and the city of Udaipur. On the horizon mountains appear, and rocky outcroppings poke up out of the scrub like monuments in the sand. I can only describe is as looking like the countryside of Greece sounds. Within an hour we were in the midst of the stony mountain pass, with terraced farms, stacked walls and rock huts dotting the landscape as we zoomed by. Mashtan was visibly happier with this portion of the drive. "This is like Himalaya" he said to us, as the road hair-pinned around an embankment, "This is not boring drive". We agreed, and when the opportunity to have a tea at a hotel nestled in the hills presented itself, we lingered long.

India-1832Udaipur is like an oasis in the mountains. The city surrounds a lake, and the transition between algae covered waters and concrete structures is immediate. There are several spots where stairs have been built right into the water, and I’m certain that all of the classic shots of people collectively bathing and doing their laundry in India come from Udaipur. The city is also quite small. We planned to have Mashtan drop us off at our lodgings and just walk everywhere from there, which is more conducive to the way Cary and I travel anyway. It also gave Mashtan a much needed break.

Speaking of lodgings. In Udaipur we stayed at another "guest house", or haveli that has been converted into an inn. I don’t know how to describe these guest houses to Americans other than comparing them to a bed and breakfast, which isn’t quite the same. At a guest house, there are usually few rooms, four to ten in our experience. With such a limited number of guests staying in the haveli, the staff can better accommodate your needs than a traditional hotel. Indeed, we found that when we stayed at a guest house in India, we were much India-1840happier with our lodgings than when we stayed in a hotel. Here is an example: whenever we had an early pick up at a guest house, well before the kitchen opened, the staff would usually offer to make use something that we could pack for breakfast. Another example: internet costs money here in India. At every hotel we went to we had these goofy scratch off cards with a password to get on their internet, which was finicky to use and required constant re-authentication. At the guest houses internet was free, or they charged on a per hour basis simply asking you to report to them about how much you used. I am much more likely to overpay in the latter scenario, simply because the bond of trust between guest and host has been created by the host’s faith in my honesty. Bottom line: Pick the guest house over the hotel if one is available.

India-1870After a quick check-in later than we expected, we wandered around the city in an effort to catch the boat tour. We got a little lost, but a few rickshaw rides later caught our bearings. The boat ride would have to wait for the morning, but we did wander the streets, conversed with the locals and perused the shops. We met some of the most memorable characters we had encountered so far in India. The most avid Tata connoisseur on the planet who ran Tata’s first retail endeavor. Jony and Sony, two brothers who had set up shop as tailors of fine suits. We also ran into several other residents who had spent time in other cities and ended up back in Udaipur. I don’t blame the latter of these; we found Udaipur to be the finest city we had the privilege to visit in India, and agree with the most common assessment of the it: "Udaipur is the most romantic city in all of India".

Taking it easy for the evening, we had a leisurely dinner on the terrace of our haveli, which overlooked the lake, the lit palaces, and the city. Tomorrow we would set out on foot again to visit the tourist attractions and catch our train back to Delhi.