Tag Archives: Travel

Extreme, Exotic India

Extreme, Exotic India

I am on a virtual trip to India

… thanks to my daughter Laurie, who is sharing her travelogue, which I will share with you today. Thank you, Laurie, for guest posting.

Friends  and family warned me that I would both love and hate India. I even read the acronym “I’d Never Do It Again”.

India is chaotic and calm, flawed and fascinating, complex and simplistic. It’s everything at once, which makes it difficult to explain my experience in a coherent fashion.

Extreme, Exotic India

I’ll be meditative in a garden one moment, and swarmed for selfies with smiling babies and soldiers the next. Crossing the street is an art form in itself. I wish I could say this happened, then this happened, etc. but that’s not how it works here. Things that Westerners are used to, like lights, cars, heat and WiFi, can not be relied on to always work.

In contrast, society works; people, families and communities work together. 

Extreme, Exotic India

All cultures and religions are welcomed and accepted. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jews live in harmony and happiness. The differences are not only tolerated but celebrated. Cows, water buffalo, pigs, dogs, monkeys (!!!), tuk tuks, motor bikes, cars, buses, trucks, and people share the street. Their heritage is part of their culture and it is vibrant.

cow selfie

cow selfie

I’ve had sensory overload with pungently aromatic smells of chili peppers in the local spice markets, sweet and savory tastes of masala chai, Laal Mans and Kadi Pakoda, and haunting sounds of jackals howling in the desert.

I’m just going to provide my perspective and hope I don’t offend anyone. I’ve only been here two weeks so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Grand Palace, Udaipur

Grand Palace, Udaipur

India is extreme in every sense of the word. Beautiful, hectic, kind, warm, colorful, diverse, friendly, expressive, corrupt, poverty-stricken, lush and more welcoming than any place I’ve been. I attended an evening service at the Jagdish Temple in Udaipur. Next to the Ranakpur temple, which is truly the most extraordinary display of architecture I will probably ever see, the Kamasutra carvings inside were captivating.

Jain temple outside Udaipur

It boggles my mind that hundreds of years ago, India was so open about sex and now, gay marriage isn’t legal and many public schools don’t offer sex-ed. This is slowly changing but it makes me grateful for my liberal upbringing at Friends’ Central School.

Arriving in India

I’d been awake 40 hours when I arrived in Delhi. I met a new travel buddy, Arielle, who assured me that she had already gotten a lay of the land, felt totally comfortable exploring with me, and knew where we should go. She didn’t. We got lost immediately. It was pathetic and predictable. We bonded that day and stayed  roomies ever since.

Amer fort

Amer fort

There are days I feel like giving up when nothing is working. When a jeep breaks down, we’re told it’s actually a push cart, which means we need to get out and push it, like it was never meant to run properly in the first place. There are so many things that make me want to laugh and cry. India is crazy and there is no place like it.

The sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai started off pretty well. I got the top bunk and it felt like camp. The ride was supposed to take 8-9 hours and ended up taking 17 hours. No announcement, and no exaggeration. Thankfully, the British girls I’ve been traveling with are a great source of comic relief and the countryside is so beautiful. I’m envious of the monkeys who get to swing through the banyan trees all day.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

My guide, Abhi, grew up in Jaipur, my favorite city of all, and is one of the kindest, most genuine, humble and patient people I’ve ever met. We kill time on long train and bus rides discussing our different cultures and families. He helped me understand his beliefs and caste system, how to play cricket (he was team captain at university), and how to fly a kite properly.

Hindu principles encourage a pure lifestyle of thoughtfulness, purpose, respect, honor, and fulfillment. People don’t need money to be happy. Conversely, money is seen as excess and a deterrent to following one’s true path and spiritual journey to happiness, enlightenment and ultimate salvation. 

External factors cannot make a person happy. While I couldn’t be prouder of or more thankful for my heritage, there are aspects of the Hindu and Budhist belief systems that I can adopt and be a better person. I’m impatient (when hungry, so, always) and neurotic, while Indians are chill and level-headed. They believe in karma and reincarnation. So if things aren’t working out in this life, they have 6 more to look forward to. An overarching theme here is simple living and high thinking.

There are days that are so special, I forgive India for being so crazy. Despite obvious flaws, the truth is in the details and they should be experienced by everyone. I haven’t changed but my perspective has shifted. 

Ranakpur temple

Ranakpur temple

I watched the sun rise in Pushkar and set at the Taj Mahal. I played with first graders in Tordi, and partied on sand dunes in the desert. I wandered the narrow passage ways in Kumbhargahl Fort, hiked up to Brahma Temple, and unknowingly strolled down The Silk Road. I felt frustrated in Dehli and fell in love with Jaipur. I found my long lost monkey tribe in the mountains outside Udaipur.

sunset in Goa

sunset in Goa

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Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

Can you remember when airline travel was considered glamorous?

Not that old? Well, let me tell you.

When I think about travel back in its heyday, when I was a young girl, I just have to laugh.

One Christmas vacation, my parents took my brother and me to Disney World. We were so excited. Not just because we would see Mickey and Minnie – we were going to be on an airplane. What a treat!

I remember standing in front of my closet, debating which dress would be appropriate for the flight. With my mother’s help, I picked out my favorite yellow jumper, my black patent leather shoes, and my nylons, of course. And to accessorize, my little black patent leather purse. Hey, look at me!

Once at the airport, we sailed in (with no security to go through) and walked outside the terminal to board the plane. Then it was up the steps and into the cabin, where the smiling, handsome pilot greeted everyone. He would invite my brother to come in to the cockpit and sit in the captain’s seat, and then hand him one of those TWA wings or some such to pin on his jacket. The stewardesses would engage with us kids right away and offer my parents a magazine or newspaper. My mother often asked for a deck of cards so she could play Solitaire or challenge us to Gin Rummy. Settled in our sumptuous seats, we would have a drink or a snack in hand before the plane left the tarmac.

This was coach, mind you.

Can you even imagine?

Now it seems every time I board a plane the seats are more narrow and uncomfortable. The food is meager and disgusting unappetizing. The experience is more odious than getting a tooth pulled.

But not so with Virgin Atlantic.

I was pleasantly surprised when I flew Virgin Atlantic for the very first time. And no, I am not being compensated for this post. This is strictly my opinion.

In fact, I liked it so much that even though it requires that I depart from an airport an hour and a half from my home, I will gladly make that sacrifice again.

Here is why.

In my book, nice counts for a lot.

Everyone I had contact with, whether it was the woman at Virgin Atlantic check-in who wished me a good trip to the pilot to the helpful flight attendants, was courteous and friendly. Much more than what I’ve experienced elsewhere.

Roominess

The cabin was not packed. Maybe that was just a lucky break, but refreshing nonetheless. The person sitting across the aisle from me had four seats to herself, lucky duck.

Settling in

You get a pillow, a blanket and … a Feel Good Kit! With a toothbrush, pen, booties, eye mask and earplugs.

Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

A menu

OK, it’s not like you can order from a list of options. But it’s a nice touch to see what’s for dinner before it comes.

Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

The food is not bad. Not bad at all.

The food is definitely better than most. I’m not going to lie and tell you it was gourmet. But for airplane food, a cut above the competition. Also, on the transatlantic flights I took, they fed us constantly.

Passing the time

Entertainment options on your personal screen are numerous enough to occupy yourself or your children for a long time. There were two children sitting next to me who were engrossed in movies for the entire trip.

Why I Will Fly Virgin Atlantic Again

Seating

The seats? Not great, but slightly better than the competition. I will say that although I did not get the window seat I prefer, I managed to sleep okay with the neck pillow I brought with me.

Flying will never have the cachet it used to be. But compared to British Airways, US Air and Air Canada – the other airlines I have tried when crossing the pond – Virgin Atlantic is the best I’ve found.

And I’ll be back.

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Wordless Wednesday: London Street Art

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The Spring Break I’d Like to Forget but Can’t

My children are beyond the spring break stage, but the photos on Facebook of happy parents reuniting with their sons and daughters studying abroad take me back a few years when our youngest daughter, Laurie, spent a glorious semester in Paris.

When she wasn’t in class, she hopped on the Métro and visited museums, discovered the best macarons in St. Germain, strolled on the Rive Gauche and sipped coffee at outdoor cafes. She took a wine-tasting course and was proud when she was able to identify wines from different regions of France. Dining out was an adventure, too. She sampled Coquille St. Jacques for the first time and discovered the delectable Croque Monsieur (the French version of a grilled cheese sandwich). Her ability to converse in French grew stronger every day.

On weekends, she and her friends would hop on a train or plane to other European destinations. They visited Brussels, Madrid, London, Prague, Amsterdam and Switzerland where she … gulp … went skydiving. She didn’t tell me about this until it was over.

spring break skydiving

Laurie couldn’t wait to play tour guide when my husband and I joined her for spring break. But just two weeks before our trip we got a call from her that filled my heart with dread.

Her neck had felt stiff and sore for about five days, she told me. Thinking it was just a muscle pull, she had pushed through the week, attending classes but falling into bed in exhaustion at the end of the day.

I begged her to tell her program coordinator, Alexandra, who referred her to a free health clinic. Laurie dragged herself there. But the line was long and she was dizzy so she went back to her apartment. Her neck was swollen and painful and all she wanted to do was sleep.

Totally panicked, I contacted Alexandra myself and told her this was a serious situation and I needed her to get involved right away. Alexandra agreed to take Laurie to the doctor herself but Monday morning was the first available appointment. I waited by the phone, biting my nails.

After what seemed like days rather than hours, Alexandra called to say that the doctor wanted Laurie admitted to the hospital for tests. He thought she had an infection but did not have a definitive diagnosis. Alexandra promised to stay at the hospital.

With mounting panic, I realized there was no way I could stay home and get this information second-hand. I needed to be with my daughter and decided to get on the next flight to Paris with my older daughter, Emily, who insisted on accompanying me. We hurriedly threw some clothes in a suitcase and were ready to go to the airport.  While waiting for Emily in the car, I absently flipped through my passport.

The unthinkable happened even before we left.

No. No, no, no. This can’t be.

My passport had expired.

How had I not known this? We were supposed to leave in two weeks and I hadn’t checked to see if my passport was still valid? What was wrong with me? Now what?

Inside I was disintegrating, but I had to keep calm to figure out what to do. I don’t remember who I talked to — maybe someone at the airline? –but I found out that there is a way to renew an expired passport on an emergency basis.. Emily and I drove to the Philadelphia Passport Agency, our suitcases in the car, praying for a miracle.

After a full day of long lines and lots of waiting, I was issued a new passport.With barely enough time to get to the airport, we managed to make the flight to Paris. We arrived at 6 the next morning, grabbed a taxi and arrived at the massive Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital where we found our girl, flushed with fever but so relieved to see us. She perked up long enough to tell us this was the hospital where Princess Diana had died.

Paris hospital

One hour later, she was taken into surgery. A cyst in her neck that had become infected was successfully drained and removed, with several stitches to show for it.

The spring break that wasn’t.

Laurie recovered completely after a week in the hospital and a week of rest and room service at the hotel with me. We were even able to salvage part of our vacation when my husband and son joined us for a long weekend (although sadly, Emily had left by this time).

Laurie refused to let this setback slow her down. Before the semester ended, she and her friends visited Barcelona and Ibiza. She met up with her brother for a weekend in Istanbul.

spring break Istanbul

After much angst, a happy ending.

Laurie came home with wonderful memories of Paris. The only lasting after-effect of her illness was a tiny scar that has faded over time, a souvenir of an unexpected adventure that did not diminish her enthusiasm for travel one bit.

We vow that that someday we will all go back to Paris together and this time, do it right.

The Spring Break from Hell

Laurie (right) and room mate on the balcony of their apartment.

 

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Hip Hip and Cheerio: My Son is a Brit

The xylophone jingle on my cell phone announced an incoming text from my son as I drank my first cup of coffee this morning. This particular ring tone is his and his alone, and it is always music to my ears. The message was short but radiated excitement.

Wow. Just got an email. Papers cleared. I’m a Brit!

The dual citizenship that he had applied for months ago was now official. Here is an excerpt from the letter sent by his lawyer.

I am pleased to inform you that your naturalisation application has been approved and we have received your documents back from the Home Office! Congratulations!

My son, the seasoned traveler and seeker of adventure, is now also my son the Brit.  I suppose I will now have to answer to “Mum” and serve tea and crumpets when he comes home. Do I also have to spell favor as favour and program as programme?

1,000 Places to Visit

Evan, the “Where’s Waldo?” of our family, has fashioned a life for himself that combines work with travel and extreme adventure that we can only marvel at from afar. His passport is emblazoned with the stamps of about 50 countries and counting.

In Mongolia he lived in a tent with a family and learned how to hunt rabbits with an eagle. I’ll spare you the photo of the luckless rabbit.

Mongolia.

Mongolia.

He finagled his way into the 2012 London Olympic Games. I mean, he was in the Olympics. The Opening Ceremonies, to be exact.

My son in the Olympics

London Olympics 2012

If you blinked you would miss him. He is the third from the left in the white shirt and suspenders.

One Christmas Eve he hiked up the highest mountain in Cameroon, met a fellow hiker who happened to be a priest and a chaplain in the Australian army. They celebrated Christmas Mass together — a first for this nice Jewish boy from Philadelphia — and sat up all night talking about the meaning of life.

Cameroon

Cameroon.

In Cambodia, he had dinner at Happy Pizza and ended up in the emergency room, not so happy. The pizza had been laced with a hallucinogen.

Cambodia

Cambodia.

During a trip to Iceland with a buddy, he got caught in a huge snowdrift with only a windshield scraper at hand. Fortified by a pint of whiskey and a loaf of bread that fortuitously had been thrown in the trunk, they dug out the car and four hours later were able to make their way to safer ground.

Iceland

Iceland.

Highways and Byways

One of the reasons he loves living in London is the ease of weekend travel. As he puts it, “You can be anywhere in two hours and 100 quid.” “Quid” is a currency denomination that Brits use but beyond that I’m clueless. Living in London has also given him opportunities to explore the rich history and culture just a tube ride away, “It’s an incredibly vibrant international city,” he says.

After several years of working in the UK and recently earning his MBA, it now looks like London will be a more permanent home. He recently launched his own business, The Travelling Classroom, an idea that has been marinating for a while and now has become a reality. With his background in travel, education and project management, The Travelling Classroom is a natural progression, and his passion for it is contagious. I can’t help but smile when he talks about it so animatedly.

My Son Grew Up Too Fast

I am so proud of him, of who is is and the life he leads. I just wish London were a little bit closer.

son at airport

Too many goodbyes.

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Separation Anxiety: Mine

suitcase

My cheerfulness sounds forced to me as I chatter incessantly on the way to the airport. There is little traffic, and for once I wish for a delay, just a short delay so I can sit beside my son a little longer. I pull up to the terminal and get out to say goodbye, wrapping my arms around him and wishing him a safe flight. Don’t forget to text me when you land, I call out. I watch as he lugs his bag over the curb and makes his way to the entrance. He turns to wave, then disappears into the crowd of holiday travelers, sealing our separation.adult son, airport, Philadelphia, luggage, travel, international, airplane, leaving

And with that, the last of my three children has left the family nest for a home many miles away.

I come back to a house that is much too quiet, devoid of the shrieks of laughter, good-natured ribbing and late night comings and goings that marked my children’s stay over the holiday season. My husband is already going from room to room, picking up a stray sock or an empty soda can, getting our house back in order. Tomorrow I will return to my normal routine, but tonight I will wallow in a bit of sadness.

My son and two daughters have grown up to be delightful young adults, funny, thoughtful, affectionate. We have great times together.

Problem is, we just don’t see each other all that often.

For the past six years my son Evan has lived in England, a whopping 3,500 miles from our home outside Philadelphia.

Last June my daughter Emily moved to Montana, just a hop, skip and a 2,200 mile jump from home.

And Laurie, my youngest, lives the closest, just 100 miles away. But it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if her next move takes her just as far away as her siblings.

Where our children get this wanderlust, don’t ask me. I’m pretty much a homebody who thinks the best part of a trip is coming home, and my husband feels the same.

I’m reminded of the lyrics sung by Carole King: “So far away, why doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” Families used to stay together, sometimes out of necessity but other times just because … well, because that was home. For some, multi-generational households made sense, financially and otherwise. Growing up, most of my relatives lived nearby.

My husband and I raised our family just an hour from my hometown where my parents still reside. In my mind, that’s the way things should be. An hour away is about right.

Not so with my children.

My husband is sympathetic, to a point. He misses them, too, but is adjusting quite easily to being an empty nester. I have mixed feelings.

In a way, I would prefer my little chickens to repopulate the coop. But I know that’s not the way it should be.

Because as much as I miss them, I am proud of them for being self-confident, ambitious and adventurous. I admire their sense of independence. I love that they are savoring new experiences and learning about different parts of the world. Knowing that they are healthy and happy and living life to the fullest is truly the best feeling a parent can have.

And in their absence, new technologies have given us many unexpected ways to stay in touch. If we can’t reach out and hug each other, Skype, Facebook, texting and Instagram are the next best things.

I don’t know when we will be together again, but we’ve got their rooms ready. Just in case.

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