My Review Of The Very Best And Worst Of 2012

On our way to pick groceries in Lisbon from our rented Divisão near Castelo de Sao Jorge I came across this etched on a wall:

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Such a wonderful sentence that at once comes across as both profound and perceptive and not in the cheap bumper-sticker way either. This is maybe why I do it.

2012 was not a bad year. Wait. What am I smoking ??……….. 2012 was not ‘not a bad year’. 2012 WAS A FANTASTIC YEAR!

This whole blog ‘Just Another Customer’ has one overarching aim: To judge experiences and services from the point of view of a Customer. And then draw hopefully intelligent interferences, judgments (and sometimes get prescriptive on what could make the service or experience better). But the consumption occurs in the context of a my everyday life and this year-end review post aims to distill key experiences over the year and make some judgments about the best and worst.

I find the whole process of planning for and writing this kind of post thoroughly enjoyable and can’t recommend it enough. Colette, a French novelist and performer, once said “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner” Every single time I start sketching and then eventually writing this blog post, I  stop often to rethink of Colette’s words and realize,  with an immense sense of gratitude, that life is a wonderful cake indeed and I am lucky to be getting such delicious slices.

I am a big fan of Twitter and early last year I read this inspiring tweet :

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I liked that tweet. It seemed to get at the heart of a good life, well lived and the essence of what the French call ‘Joie de vivre’. Anyone who indulges in those three activities with unbridled gusto will rarely end up being bored or boring, two cardinal sins. And thanks to cheap 4 mbps internet connections, being bored or boring is MORE difficult than ever and so even more inexcusable.

In 2012 I went to loads  of new places in 6 countries, I read 26 books, most of which I really enjoyed, I saw some fantastic world cinema and relished a ton of new cuisines and dishes that would have made any epicurean envious. And on the beautiful city of A Coruna in the western Spanish coast, on a clear day, under an azure sky, overlooking the Bay of Biscay, I proposed to my girlfriend. She agreed and later in the year, on a mercifully sunny autumn day in London we got married.

So, yes, 2012 WAS A FANTASTIC YEAR.

Last year my ‘Best of 2011′ blog post ended with the open ended self-challenge, asking what I would do if I wasn’t afraid. Wellllll…..looks like COMMITTING was the answer.

OK, let’s break it all down. This blog posts attempts to advise you, when you do your bit of traveling or buying or consuming, what you could do or taste or buy or in some cases, avoid.

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Non-Travel Non-Food focused list first ~

Category : Best author discovered

#Best author discovered in 2010 : V.S.Naipaul. Christopher Hitches.

#Best author discovered in 2011 : J.M Coetzee

#Best author discovered in 2012 – This is not an endorsement of a book. I did that a few days ago, in a detailed separate post. This is an endorsement of an author who has hopefully written multiple books and the endorsement is a self promise to engage with more of the authors works. For example, since 2010 I have read a lot from those two authors I discovered in 2010 – Naipaul and Hitches. Coetzee is still a procrastinated to-do (he is so depressing and I already live in India so why ask for third helpings). In 2012, among the contenders, Tony Judt stands out. So does Cowley. Dan Simmons looked hopeful but fizzled out after the tepid ‘Fall of Hyperion’. Bill Bryson, who I adore, cannot be honestly counted as a DISCOVERY, since I have been an ardent fan of his books since a few years ago. Same would apply to Michael Lewis. All things considered, my 2012 ‘Best author discovered ‘ is Iain Banks. His Culture novels seem to be a very richly drawn tapestry and I can easily see me visiting more of his work.

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Category : Most consistent brand experience

#Most consistent brand in 2011 : Flipkart

#Most consistent brand in 2012 : Amazon ~ because they are almost boring in how good and consistent they have become.

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Category : Undiscovered URL you should visit

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net in 2010 : http://www.couchsurfing.com

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net in 2011 : http://www.longreads.com

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net in 2012 : http://www.rememberthemilk.comrtm is a nifty website for managing tasks effortlessly. Seamless integration into any mobile platform. Brilliant at helping make your life a little bit easy. A GTD Mindset with RTM working as a execution platform is a very powerful weapon in decimating complex goals and projects. Try it.

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Category : ‘My Precioussss’ gadgets

~ (I am merging two categories I used to do – Most reliably consistent product and Product of the Year. For 2012, I am collapsing the two into on category : Product of the Year. It made sense to me)

#Most reliably consistent product of 2010: The BlackBerry Bold 9000

#Most reliably consistent product of 2011 : Omron Pedometer

#Product of the Year 2010 : Amazon Kindle

#Product of the Year 2011 : Timex Heart monitor

#Product of the Year 2012 : iPad [solid interface, unbelievable clarity and apple’s polished apps. Except maps. In a bold more, risked taking only the iPad and not the laptop on the Iberian holiday and never once regretted it.

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Category : New brand I became a fan of

# Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2010 : Air Asia

# Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2011 : Chipotle

# 2012 Nominations:

~ San Miguel brewery for some of the most delicious beer I drank in 2012

~ Caratlane.com for making jewellery buying for guys so stress free and easy, almost like Amazon shopping

~ Wok to Walk. We have visited this establishment in 3 separate countries and everywhere we went they were ‘easy as 1-2-3’. Their menu is clear, simple and gives you complete freedom to customize.  While not exactly cheap, they are consistent and sometimes when you are in the mood for exactly that, Wok to Walk delivers.

WINNER ~ Pinkberry  for theire delicious and healthy offerings and also for hiring some exceptionally committed customer service folks. Pinkberry wins on three critical counts : Great product. Fantastic customer service. Competitive pricing. You can do a lot worse and sadly, most firms do. So hurrah for Pinkberry!

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Category : Best VALUE FOR MONEY I got

# Best Value For Money 2010 : Street food in Bangkok, Thailand

# Best Value For Money 2011 : Full body Thai Massage, @KIM at Phuket, Thailand

WINNER of # Best Value For Money 2012 : It was between ‘Lisbon by Segway’ and The fat tire bike tour in Berlin. Fat tire won. ~ For 6 hours Justyna and I pedaled around central Berlin on a cool but bright autumn day and for the little money we paid we really really got out worth (40 Euros). Our biking guide was engaging, his pre-tour and during-tour banter was funny and absorbing. The weather held and although Berlin was in the middle on a renovation that was a bit irritating, for the most part we really had a fun time. FAT TIRE operates bike tours in Barcelona, Berlin and London.

Category : Sh*t VALUE FOR MONEY (combined two separate categories into one for 2012)

# Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating 2010 : The GMAT exam as ‘sold’ by gmac.

# Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating 2011 :  Phi Phi Island Cabana Hotel, Ko Phi Phi

# Worst Rip off at a tourist trap 2010 : The visually inviting street side restaurants near the common tourist spots in Rome.

# Worst Rip off at a tourist trap 2011 : Meal at Las Iguanas at SouthBank, London

2012 Nominations :

~ This unassuming cafe near Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon that gouged us on the bill for a very forgettable meal.

“Winner = Loser” ~Mirablau, a ho-hum restaurant at the top of a hill in Barcelona. Great view of Barcelona but stunningly bad service and very forgettable food. The kicker : Prices you would be hard pressed to find in a celebrity restaurant. I was unsurprised to find most of the reviewers on tripadvisor has the exact same feedback.

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Category : Free Service

#Best FREE service 2010: The Staten Island Ferry

#Best FREE service 2011:  Instapaper

    #Best FREE service 2012: Twitter – 2012 will go down for me as the year I really learnt how to rock twitter. And once you do it’s like riding a well behaved and powerful dragon. Also an incredible time suck. But don’t listen to the Luddites who accuse twitter of just being all about Kim , Kutcher and Beiber. Point them towards @brainpickings. And unlike Facebook, I don’t feel guilty of spending time on twitter because the feed is oh so interesting and enlightening. Now waiting in line, waiting for the elevator or just passing time is so very easy. And it’s all free. Twitter clients I use : On my BlackBerry, the native twitter app. On my iPad, twitterific.

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Category : Love Hate Bi-polar relationship

#Product I had the most ‘love hate’ relationship with in 2010 : Facebook

#Product I had the most ‘love hate’ relationship with in 2011: Facebook [again]

#Product I had the most ‘love hate’ relationship with in 2012 : Apple. Because the a******s took away my beloved Google map from the iPad and replaced it with that turd ‘Apple maps’; but still, you have to pry away my iPad from my cold dead fingers.

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Category : Horrible Customer Service

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website in 2010 : Lloyds Bank

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website in 2011 : Ebay

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website in 2012 : O2 in UK. Just repeat this to yourself when you get an O2 chip, “I will never try to speak to a human. I will never try to speak to a human. I will never try to speak to a human.” Because Sir, you just can’t.

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Now for FOODie awards, which was a big theme all year round.  This collage below recorded most of the interesting and memorable dishes we relished in Iberia. Click on it to see details.

Iberian Food trip!

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Category : Anticipated good meal

#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered 2010: Cu Cha (sea food like you will never taste again or have before) and W.A.W (world’s best chicken wings) on Jalan Alor St.

#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered 2011: Steak at Ruby’s @ Cincinnati, Ohio

2012 Nominations are plentiful because pandering to the taste buds was a PLAN this year.  3 places stand out.

1.Lunch at La Pepica in Valencia consisting of Paella, Mussels, Squid and cheesecake. This old Hemingway haunt, established in 1898, looks a little worse for wear, but it’s still going strong. Lunch was a tad bit crowded but the Paella served was delicious and our view was primo.

Paella

2.Dinner at Celler de Tapas in Barcelona. We went for the ‘tasting menu’ and were treated to a tapas meal that was so good, for the first time in my life, I asked the waitress to invite the chef out so I could shake his hands. He came out. We chatted and would you believe it, he was an Indian from Chandigarh. The world is flat indeed Tom Friedman.

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The Winner : Dinner with friends at ‘Chafariz do Vinho in Lisbon‘ Here is the NYT on this gem : “An 18th-century stone aqueduct has been transformed into one of Lisbon’s most intriguing wine bars: Chafariz do Vinho. The enoteca prides itself on offering wines of small, unknown producers, changing the list often and charging rock-bottom prices. But this is more than a place to drink. The kitchen serves its wines alongside lovingly prepared small dishes such as smoked sausage with cabbage, shrimp with mushrooms or smoked codfish with grapes” Thanks to Joao and his lovely girlfriend, we had one of the best evenings of the year with wine, tapas and company. NYT was spot on. This was an unforgettable meal.

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Category : Unexpected GOOD meal/dish

#Most Unexpected Good Meal 2010 : A very unassuming bakery in Rome that served the most orgasmic lasagna I have yet tasted.

#Most Unexpected Good Meal 2011 : The Spicy Tom Yum Chicken soup at a beach side restaurant at Kata Beach, Phuket

2012 has a rich pool of nominations. (What a fantastic year it has been for my taste buds and unfantastic year for my waist size); I am almost tempted to pick all of these as winners : That magical Tejana pizza slice with queso, salsa ranchera, bacon and carne picada y cebolla from NAM NAM in Valencia | Almost everything we ate at that food market Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid | That delicious glass of Trinidade beer at Lisbon with Joao|  KIESKO Burgers in Barcelona | Salami Sandwich at Granja Camprodon in Barcelona | And those yum chicken and egg rolls served at ‘Roll King’ in Noida |

    2012 Winner :

1. KIOSKO Burgers in Barcelona. Because I have not tasted anything before or after THAT GOOD. Because I was so enjoying it, I made Justyna take pics of me enjoying it and I then made a GIF of it. Fresh ingredients, good ambience, affordable prices and the meat is …divine. I still dream about this burger some hungry days and once tried eating their business card to re-live the flavor. Failed

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2. Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. This unassuming wrought-iron-and-glass-facade building, set right in the heart of the Austrias district just below the Plaza Mayor is rightly called the ‘center of gastronomic recreation,’ where separate stalls sell fancy meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables alongside specialist goodies, while an equal number of new, pricey bars offer everything from traditional sherries and vermuts to imported French champagne and oysters. The atmosphere is busy and amazing and the place does seems to invite you to stay there and get lost in time while discovering an amazing variety of “tapas” and great quality of worldwide wine brands. You walk around the labyrinthine kiosks. You eat. And repeat. We ate and eventually made our way to the Parque del Buen Retiro and collapsed into a happy nap.

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And lastly, TRAVEL related, my favorite!

Category : Most Welcoming Travel experience

#2010 Most Welcoming Experience : Being allowed INSIDE Harvard Business School’s famed Baker Library AND its underground book depository collection without being a student or bring escorted by one.

#2011 Most Welcoming Experience : Stay at Hotel CasaBlanca, Phuket

    #2012 Most Welcoming Experience : Airbnb Host Kai Försterling in Valencia. Our host in Valencia. Discovered through Airbnb.com. All we expected was a bed to sleep in for the 3 days there and instead we got the most gracious host till date on Airbnb. Kai and his wife treated us like friends and trusted us like family and that house we rented. man…It was so spacious, central and well furnished. Their tips on making the most of Valencia was spot on. for 40 euros a night this house we got was a total absolute steal.

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Category : Free City /Travel Experience

#Best FREE city experience 2010 : free view seats at Jardin des Tuileries, Courtesy the municipality of Paris & Everything free at the Edinburgh Festival, August 2010.

#Best FREE city experience 2011 : Pier Seats at Boston by the Charles River

#Best FREE sublime experience 2010 : Crowd watching parked on the fountain footsteps near the Pantheon, Rome.

#Best FREE sublime experience 2011 : Watching sunsets over Goa

    #Best FREE experience 2012 :

Runner Up : Crowd watching at El Retiro Park in Madrid.

Winner : Running a 5K by Barceloneta Beach. I ran the full stretch of this vaunted beach and it was a real treat and welcome into Barcelona. Loved it for the views. For the facilities provided at easy distances. For the general friendly atmosphere.

Category : Underwhelming experience – Park Guell in Barcelona ~ Because really….what’s the big deal ? It’s just a funky park. I just didn’t get this one. Really sorry to  all those people who are ‘moved’ by the place. I just wanted to move out and be on my way. Thankfully we had loads of good spanish wine and cheese to kill time and stuff ourselves. We did.

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Category :  Customer Service when traveling

# Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2010: Virgin Atlantic, @London Heathrow.

# Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2011: ‘Tickets episode’ with Thai Airways

    # Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2012: Seeing Ryan Air in action turning around a plane. It was awe inspiring. I wrote a whole post on this episode.

 # Worst Travel Customer Service Experience 2012:  Transiting through Kuwait International Airport. I had a transit stop here and this place is one sad depressing waiting room to hell. No wi-fi. No facilities. ‘Shitty’ toilets. Sour people. Could not have been happier when boarding started and I got the hell out of this nightmare.

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Category : Lucky discovery

#Most stunning good discovery 2010 : At the ‘will be crowded soon’ I.G.I-T3 Food Court, 4Fingers.

#Most stunning good discovery 2011 : Hotel Casa Blanca, Phuket

    #Most stunning good discovery 2012 : City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia. I have not seen an area like this. Or even heard of this before I stumbled across this one. I always loved architecture but this was architecture at a whole new level of stunning. Maybe this is the reaction foreigners have when they see the Taj for the first time. Because when I saw El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, my jaw dropped and that line from the movie  Gladiator came to my head. When that slave friend of Maximus looks at the Coliseum for the first time and says, “I didn’t know Men could build such things

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Category : Travel Regrets

#Experience I regret rushing through 2010 : The Met in NYC and the Louvre in Paris.

#Experience I regret rushing through 2011 : Lake Shore Drive Area, Chicago

#Experience I regret rushing through 2012 : To my eternal shame and regret I passed through Porto and missed seeing Casa da Música, a major concert hall space in Porto, Portugal designed by one of my favorite architects Stefan Sagmeister.

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Shout Outs – People who made our travel so much more than just the sights (and all these people I met on various journeys. all unplanned)… Joao I met on a train ride from Bratislava to Budapest. Ka and Chau Bhi we met when we went Scuba Diving to Ko Phi Phi.

Joao in Lisbon, showed us a side of that city we would have surely missed as raw tourists, including taking us to that divine dinner at ‘Chafariz do Vinho in Lisbon

JOAO

Ka Wai and Chau thanks for spending that lovely day in Berlin and making it all the more memorable. And also that really good Chinese restaurant you guys found for us in the heart of Berlin. that was awesome!

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Thanks to them we also got  one of our all time favorite travel snap at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin 🙂

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Category : Experience of the Year

#Experience of the Year 2010 : Paris.

#Experience of the Year 2011 : Diving at Ko Phi Phi

#Experience of the Year 2012 :  (Not counting proposing and getting married)  Watching the film “Hubble 3D” screened on the Hemisfèric IMAX theatre of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. L’Hemisfèric is an Imax Cinema, Planetarium and Laserium and is meant to resemble a giant eye. Justyna had never been to an IMAX  show in her life and I loved the fact that I got to introduce her to it. And that too with my favorite subject of SPACE! And there were moments in the show when every single person in the hall was in awe. The majesty of Space is unparalleled when experienced on an IMAX screen and we both walked out totally totally floored.  ‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by every moment that takes your breath away’. And this experience absolutely did.

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Category : Location of the Year

#2010 Location of the Year : Soi Rambutri St, Bangkok.

#2011 Location of the Year : Ko Phi Phi

#2012 Location of the Year : Valencia

I used to think of Valencia as ‘that place where the F1 happens every year’. It also is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. The city, while big, feels cozy and ‘doable’. We had initially planned to hit San Sebastian from Barcelona but on the day we were to go to San, we saw the weather report wasn’t that great. But Valencia was reporting happy weather and we decided why not! Best Decision Ever. Valencia gifted us some fantastic memories like..

…A happy cycle ride in the Turia gardens. The Jardines del Turia, once the bed of the river that flowed through the city, which was diverted in the 1950s due to regular flooding. It’s now a big public park with a series of sports grounds, green spaces and children’s’ playgrounds.  I loved how smart the idea seemed and looked and turned out. Read more about it here.

…A good meal and nap at the Las Arenas beach boulevard. Little crowd and it was next to that famous F1 track where Justyna and I cycled at 5 kmph later in the day. On the same F1 track where Schumacher hits 200 kmph every season.

DOCU_LP DOCU_GRUPO Aerial view of the Valencia Formula One street circuit

…The view of City of Arts and Sciences. A sight to behold and experience. It is an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, It is also rightly the most important modern tourist destination in the city of Valencia.

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…The emotional high from the film “Hubble 3D” screened on the Hemisfèric IMAX theater of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia.

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…The architectural majesty of El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. Probably the most awe inspiring building I have seen in my short life.

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…Bird watching in the boat in Albufera Natural Park. As relaxing as it can get…

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Sometimes the road not planned is the road best taken.

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So that was 2012 (dusts hands)

A year where I managed to visit Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Lisbon, Porto, A Coruna, Helsinki, Berlin, London and Konin (in Poland). Other than London, every other place I visited for the first time. Writing this blog regularly every year helps me with a personal goal. I have always wanted to avoid being THAT guy who travels to a lot of cities and countries in an uncurious, air-headed-air-hostess way, without ever really bothering to introspect about the experiences intelligently.  Twain had warned that the man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them. I would re-chisel it in the travel domain and warn that the man who doesn’t engage with his travel experiences has no advantage over the man who stayed home.I also had the good fortune of meeting my travel inspiration in person. Chris Guillebeau. Chris is almost done traveling to all the countries in the world. Read about it at his blog. Buy his book here.

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Around Reading, I think I set a new personal record, thanks to goodread.com’ 2012 reading challenge. I read 26 books, the majority of which were reviewed as enjoyable. I saw many movies and among them I nominated 14 movies that I recommend you should see. 2012 is going to be a hard year o beat I think. But then it’s so much more cleaner and fun competing with yourself! But it is 10x more fun competing with your past self when that guy got a lot right and raised the bar 🙂 And hey, it could be worse. Your competition could be this guy:

Every year it becomes more and more obvious to me the world is an endlessly vast place for exploration. And the more you travel, read, see and taste the more ground you realize you have yet to cover. Make every year count.

I hope you and I get to cover some more in 2013. Happy New Year!

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