On the Road Again

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Our last full day together started out with yet another infamous India road trip back to Delhi. I’m not one to stay awake in cars, but there was SO MUCH happening the whole time that I couldn’t fall asleep.

India has the craziest trucks on the road I’ve ever seen. They are kind of like dump trucks, only smaller and they are totally decked out in bright paint, tassels, writing, everything. It’s super cool. And when they honk their horns (just like everyone else does) it plays a fun little song.

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Crazy decorated India truck and of course cows


Traffic on this road trip was literally insane. They diverted the highway onto a dirt road for part of the way and it was like four lanes of traffic all squeezed into one. We were completely surrounded by huge trucks for a vast majority of the time. Our driver got an A++ that day for sure. And some extra Ruperts for his efforts!

Lunch this afternoon was comical. We got delayed by quite a bit getting into Delhi, so I told our bus driver to just find somewhere quick and simple for us to eat. This is a moment where I wish I had spoken the language. We ended up at just the opposite. Walking in the front door of the restaurant where we were dropped off, the servers were in suits boarderinf on tuxes; there were linens on the tables and families all around. We roll up slathered in deet and sunscreen, in clothes that desperately need to be washed, just looking for a sandwich. It was a great lunch actually and the staff did not care at all what we looked like, so it worked out, but it was not a simple place for a sandwich at all.

Because it took longer to get into Delhi than it should have, we ended up having to kind of run through our tour that afternoon.

We saw Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb right at golden hour, which made everything pretty beautiful. Plus they used that red sandstone I enjoy so much. Unfortunately none of us thought our tour guide brought much to the table, but we had fun all the same. After a whirlwind day, we went to check-in to our hotel before our friends had to go to the airport to leave. Insert super sad face here.

What surprised me about driving through Delhi during the daylight was how much traffic there was, yet how organized the city was. It felt very European to me. Come to find out, it was developed by the British, so duh it’s organized. But I had no idea. You can find me living under a giant rock. The one thing that set it apart (okay not the one thing, one of the things) was the fact that you would be driving by the embassies and there would be monkeys ALL around, just running and having a grand ole time. Hey Mr. Monkey!

So our hotel for the night was really adorable. It was an old house that you have a room in, but it has a common room shared with other guests and then a rooftop “restaurant.” More like a kitchen on the roof, but hey a round of Kingfisher was like 600 ruperts or $9, yes $9. I miss you ruperts. I really miss you.

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Last Kingfishers


The only unfortunate thing was saying goodbye to our friends. It was awful. We absolutely did not want them to leave and they didn’t want to leave either. The four of us just got along so well it was perfect. Clearly if we had hated each other at this point we would have been like “okay, bye, see you later (or not).” But that was not the case.

It was an absolute fact that India had stolen our hearts.

Elephant Safari!

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Okay, if you haven’t ever interacted with an elephant before, do yourself a favor and find a safe way to do so. They are some of THE BEST animals out there. As we drove (okay were weren’t driving but singing our theme song Adventure of a Lifetime by Coldplay) in, it was clear we were off the beaten path a little. The “roads” were sand and we kind of slid through it as we went along. We passed a random dude just walking, like really, where did he come from? And saw tons of different wildlife. Pulling up to the entrance of the Dera Amer property, we were greeted by a random younger guy in an adventure hat. You know those brown ones with the wide brims that are somewhat popular these days. There were also other elephant keepers there; one holding a tray of bananas. The first thing we did was feed our elephant the bananas. Fun fact, you do not have to peel them, they very happily take them in the whole peel.

Then we got to wash and paint an elephant named Lakshmi. First though she was really thirsty and needed a drink. It’s super fun to watch an elephant drink. Those trunks are really cool and so useful. Right, so washing an elephant I would say is like washing a semi. It’s huge and you can’t get to all the parts. But it also moves as you wash it. Not because she didn’t like it, because she wanted to lean in. Kind of like when a cat or dog leans in to have its head or belly being rubbed. I fell in love with our elephant, there is no doubt about it. I think we connected on a deep level. As far as painting an elephant, I think it compares to trying to paint a moving tree. It’s got thick skin that’s not at all smooth or flat making it kind of impossible. Plus they are huge. It’s tough work, but fun.

After we finished, it was ride time. Getting situated was not exactly easy, and sitting on top of an elephant doesn’t make you feel secure. The owner was telling me not to lift up on the bar that I was holding, so naturally I lifted up, it came undone and I briefly saw my life flash before my eyes before I got it back into place. Oh, you didn’t want me to do exactly what I just did? My bad.

It took a hot minute to get comfortable enough to actually enjoy being on an elephant in India. Our elephant driver was super nice and was telling us what he could about where we were. I only remember seeing some peacocks, a temple under construction and feeling like I was one wrong move from toppling off the side to certain death.

Then as we rounded a corner, as if appearing out of nowhere, was a small platform of two employees handing out free beer and wine. What the what?! Kingfisher please! Heck yes. I can now say I’ve had a beer on the back of an elephant in India. This cannot be real life. By the end of our ride we were super sad to be done. We took lots of pictures but unfortunately both elephants exceeded our carry-on weight limit and had to stay at the reserve. Lame.

The rest of the night featured more Kingfisher and dinner. We met some Americans traveling as well and had a blast laughing and just talking about our trip. It was the best last night we could have had together.

Ridding back to the hotel, with a little Kingfisher buzz, we sang (Adventure of a Lifetime naturally) and laughed. I’m pretty sure we will all be talking about that night for a long time to come.

And to be honest, when we first arrived at the safari we didn’t know what to expect and were very unsure of what we signed up to do. But trusting the experience and just letting it happen turned out to be the best thing we could have hoped for.

Jaipur, you have our hearts.

Pretty in Pink

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Jaipur was the city I was most looking forward to on our trip to India. Well we were all really looking forward to it, so much so, that we added a day to our itinerary when we were planning. And the legend of the infamous textiles sucked us right in like a drug.

We arrived in Jaipur after a long day in our medium sized van, where we had a sing-along for a few hours that I am sure our driver LOVED (“I feel my heart BEATING, I feel my heart beneath my skin”). After checking in, we got to our rooms to drop our belongings before dinner. It was late-ish, and rather than try and figure out where to go, the hotel buffet had our names on it. Katie and I were led to the first room.

Instantly, when we opened the door I noticed two things. Man it’s hot in here, and hmm those are big…black…ants. You thought I was going to say spiders or snakes didn’t you? No, ants. But really giant ones. And not like 2 or 3. Like 20 or 30. So I called the front desk to ask them to come spray. Our hotel was a Haveli, which is a large house that has courtyards and is split into “hotel” rooms. Because of this and the fact that we were in India, of course there were going to be bugs. What I was not expecting, was to see ants literally crawling in through the phone jack in the wall. Not good. So the front desk sent someone up to address the issue. A nice gentleman came with a broom. No spray, a broom. And not a broom like we have at home, it was like wheat tied together. You hold it in one hand and “sweep” back and fourth. It was all I could do not to bust out laughing. He got all the ants out, but when I tried to show him/tell him about the phone jack situation, that’s where things got lost in translation. At this point I was hangry and just needed to eat. Ants after dinner.

Once dinner was finished and we quickly assessed that the ants had returned (shocking I know). I very politely went to the front desk and asked to be moved. After a couple of tense minutes they got us a new room. Yay ant free! It actually worked out well because we got moved closer to our friends. Woo, friends! Now (more) Beer.

This is when I discovered Kingfisher. At home you probably wouldn’t give it a second glance, but in India it tasted like all of our hopes and dreams. Plus a round of drinks was about $17 USD for large 650 ml beers. Thank you India. We had ours while sitting around the pool even though it was probably close to 10:30 pm. There were no pool hours. Odd, but okay.

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While we sat outside and talked about our trip, the coolest thing started to happen. Obviously there are a fair amount of bugs in India and they have lots of mosquitoes. Hello malaria. Well all of a sudden we started to see these black objects flying straight at the pool and sort of skimming the top as they went by. Almost at the same time we all realized it was bats skimming the mosquitoes off the top of the pool. There was a constant stream of them for a really long time and we all thought it was pretty neat.

Our first morning in Jaipur was when we met our guarding angel, Nidhi. She was our guide for the next two full days and by the end of our time together we didn’t want to say goodbye.

We started the day by visiting the Wind Palace. A really cool building from the front, but come to find out there’s not much inside to see. No need, the front is stunning. You’ve probably seen it before.

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After that we made our way to City Palace. This palace really surprised the hell out of all of us. It was awesome. On the way, we stopped at this huge astrological park that has these gigantic working sundials and there’s all this science involved with the angles of everything, it was so cool. And Nidhi having been a history teacher explained everything so well I was captivated.

Exploring the City Palace was a highlight for so many reasons. The architecture was really interesting, they had a dancing court with four unbelievably decorated doorways that symbolized the four seasons, there was a weapons room, and even a room with some painting demonstrations.

One demonstration we watched was a gentleman who paints elephants and such on really cool old paper. Or so he says. We saw him paint them but the validity of the “old paper” is definitely open for debate. Whatever he said worked, because we all purchased something from him. As we were finishing up our demonstration and making our purchases, my friend quietly comes over to me and says in a whisper “hey, I think that guy is Jason Isaacs.” I’m looking at her sideways “um, who is that?” Through gritted teeth she says, “he plays Luscious Malfoy in Harry Potter.” I’m instantly skeptical because yeah right. Why on earth would he be in India, much less at the City Palace in Jaipur? No way. Some quick Googling, and awkward staring later, I’m completely eating my words. It absolutely is him with his family at the City Palace in Jaipur watching the same demonstration we just sat through. HOLY SHIT ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? THAT DUDE PLAYED LUSCIOUS MALFOY IN HARRY POTTER!?!?!?! LITERLALLY MY FAVORITE THING EVER!!! I am sorry Jason that I didn’t know your name or recognize you. My bad, it will not happen again. After squealing like school children, we promptly exited the area before making complete buffoons out of ourselves. In hindsight we should have stayed to try and ask for a photo. But we absolutely were not going to interrupt him during the demonstration with his family. We learned after the fact that he was filming in India and was on a break, spending time with his family.

Leaving the City Palace on somewhat of a high from our encounter we left to find henna. Nidhi had asked us when we first met if there was anything we really wanted to do while we were in town and henna was what we all said. Because you have to be careful with henna ink, we didn’t want to go somewhere random. But naturally she had the hook up. Everyone got their hand done, and then we arranged for the artists to come to our hotel later that evening to do our feet. Wet henna walking around was not going to work.

Lunch time! We ate at an awesome restaurant, before going to the textile store to spend some Ruperts. Unfortunately, I have a somewhat horrifying story to share before I start talking about our textile experience.

One of our group members had seen these candy bars advertised all over called 5 Star. She had looked for them everywhere but oddly couldn’t find any. Nidhi, our angel, stopped on our way to lunch and bought us a bag of them. So after our lovely meal we decided to dig in.IMG_4421

We sat down in the car and noticed that my friend had gotten pooped on by a bird (most likely a pigeon). Eww. But I had wet ones so she wiped it off. Then I noticed I had some on my foot/toes. Eww. Again, wet one to the rescue. Now it was time for those 5 Stars. It was chocolate and caramel and kind of like a brownie, what’s not to like?! They had been in the car so they were a little melted as we ate them. I was enjoying mine and noticed I had some melted chocolate on my hand and licked it off. No sooner had I swallowed that I realized I had bird poop all down the front of my shirt, on my purse and on my…hand. Yeah, the hand I had just licked the “chocolate” off of. Yes, I ate bird shit. I absolutely ate bird shit. I thought it was odd-looking chocolate. Nope, it was pigeon shit. The good news was that I didn’t immediately throw up, or ever get sick for that matter, but the fact remains, I ate actual shit.

Right so, textiles. I have to say I’m sad I don’t sew. Sorry mom, I know you tried to teach me and I never cared. Well now I do. Maybe it’s not too late? This place was great. (Heritage Textiles). They were so helpful and not overly pushy at all. Everything was fixed price, which helped on that front. I decided to have a salwar (long shirt with two slits, one on each side. Can be short, long or ¾ sleeve) custom made with elephant fabric, and then bought some scarves, pillowcases and a new comforter. It was all super reasonably priced and we got to come back the next day to try everything on to make sure it fit. What’s cool is that Jaipur is known for its stamped fabric (block printing) and after having seen where it was made, I fell in love with all of the patterns.

The last thing on our agenda before dinner was more henna! Our henna artists were waiting for us at the hotel when we got back. It was cool and we definitely felt VIP. I’m pretty sure we got them some more business while we were there since everyone stopped to ask us about it. We had a blast!

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Dinner this night was at Bar Palladio, an Italian restaurant in one of the other nice hotels in Jaipur. I must admit I was disappointed in the food, but we had a super awesome night. The restaurant was decorated in really vibrant colors, awesome fixtures and the perfect blend of traditionally hand stamped local fabric.

Our last day in Jaipur started out at the Amer Fort. I’m going to be real with you. All of us were super disappointed with this Fort. Our recommendation would be to start there if you are going to Jaipur because the City Palace is so awesome that seeing the Amer Fort first would help you like it more. By no means was it bad, just definitely not a fan favorite. We enjoyed our jeep ride to the top, our stop at the textile museum and temple though!

Unfortunately we did not have time for the actual monkey temple, but we saw plenty of monkeys at the temple we stopped at near Amer Fort, so I’m calling that a win. Plus, there are mean monkeys in India and nice monkeys in India. And quite frankly monkeys that close to me actually is not my thing. The ones we did see were luckily the nice ones. Despite that, as we got out of our car, one of them looked right at us and shook his head “no.” I’m not kidding and I have witnesses.

On our way back into the city we stopped quickly at the Jal Mahal. They are actually making it into a hotel, which is really cool and just another excuse for us to go back. Darn.

Jal Mahal

Jal Mahal

Before heading out for our safari that evening, we wanted to go to a few “street” shops. Nidhi lead the way and everyone got what they were looking for. She did a great job navigating us to shops that wouldn’t try and take advantage of us, but then she never got involved in the haggling. It was perfect. We adore her and cannot recommend her enough. Tear, we had to say goodbye.

So sad to say goodbye!

Now to get ready for the elephants!

Love, Love, Love. All you need is Love.

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Waking up in our beds of heaven at the ITC Mughal, it was TOUGH to actually remove our bodies from their embrace. We got ready, and headed to the van to go to the infamous Taj Mahal at sunrise. Picking up our guide on the way (an amazing guide and an even more amazing photographer), he helped us through the ticket process. There’s a separate line for men and women so we waited to get in. News flash, they do not open the gates of the Taj before sunrise. That was a bit disappointing to me, but hey it’s the Taj, what are you going to do?

As you go through the ticket entrance you remain separated (men and women) to go through security . Again, totally fine with that approach. And they go through EVERYTHING. So don’t try and sneak in banned items, not going to happen.

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Walking into the grounds at the Taj

We saw the most westerners at the Taj as well, which didn’t surprise me in the least. And a lot of us westerners were dressed in traditional attire. What is interesting to me, is that the locals wear what we would call dressy or nice clothes everywhere. So it was not uncommon to see women especially, in these beautiful outfits just walking around town or at the monuments we visited.

Walking through the “gate” to see the Taj for the first time is pretty special. The building is really breathtaking and really huge. It’s hard to get a perspective on the size until you see it. I would also encourage you to look up the history of the Taj Mahal because it’s really fascinating, but too much to share here. To understand the grandness of the building, what you really need to know is that it was a symbol of love. That’s it, just love. Pretty amazing if you ask me. It’s also not a mosque; it is a tomb with only two graves inside. There is a mosque on property though and they built another building exactly like it on the other side of the Taj maintain the symmetry. Pretty neat.

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We got super lucky in that the amount of scaffolding on the Taj Mahal was very minimal. They have been cleaning it over the past six months and we were fearful that it would be covered. It was not. Thanks Taj!

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I could go on forever about this building because as it turns out I kind of dig architecture and history. Go figure! Wish I had felt that way back when I was in school. But hey, I got there. And one of my friends on the trip has a master’s degree in Architectural History so I have a resource. Thanks Abby!

While we were walking around, a super sweet girl with her mom and aunts (maybe?) asked me for a photo. I said of course and she lit up like a Christmas tree. It was adorable. Having people ask you for photos is kind of strange, but she was so cute I had to say yes!

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After we finished, we went back to the hotel for breakfast and naps. We actually pushed our leave time back an hour (the hotel was that good) and enjoyed our time.

Agra, you were great. Seriously, so great.

Pink City, we are coming for you!

 

To the Taj!

Grounds at ITC Mughal
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As an addition to our itinerary, we wanted to take the train from Delhi to Agra, instead of driving. We arrived at the train station well before sunrise since our departure was at 6:30 AM (ish). Driving the streets of Delhi at 5 AM was the quietest I would see the city and it was rather peaceful all things considered.

That peace was shattered the second we pulled into the train station parking lot. All of the station porters wanted to help us to the train, and we were pretty well surrounded. We sent our luggage with the van (thankfully) the night before and just had backpacks with us. Bye Porters. Our driver pulled into a spot and made his way with us to the train platform.

There were people everywhere, lots of them asleep amidst the hustle and bustle of the station. Some stared at us a bit, but no one bothered us at all. There was security at the station, which I appreciated. Then we stood on the platform taking it all in. A truly impossible feat at the end of the day.

Once the train arrived, our driver helped us find our seats. Since there were four of us, we fully expected to be in a little carriage or compartment. At the very least, two and two together. Nope, not the case. The seating was three and two. I’ve been on a lot of trains and haven’t seen that before. I sat “alone” with the girls across the aisle. We were also very clearly in the middle of a family, which was rather interesting.

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In our area we were served a giant bottle of water (yes!) and a meal. We had our hotel prepare a takeaway breakfast and ate that instead. Good recommendation travel company, because the train breakfast did not look appealing. Eek.

About ten minutes away from the Agra station people started lining up to get off the train and they were pushy. The train would stop for five minutes. Not a lot of time. In those ten minutes chugging into Agra, we saw everything. There was so much happening that I wasn’t even sure it was real. I will spare you the details, but I think you can use your imagination on this one. And if you can’t, feel free to ask me anything you want to know. Just remember that you can’t un-know it.

The train lurched to a stop, and we hopped off greeted right away by our driver and a liaison from our tour company. Immediately I noticed the much worse air quality in Agra and the smell, an unfortunately common theme throughout our time in the country.

We drove straight to the hotel from the train station.

As the gate to our hotel opened, I had no idea what to expect on the other side. Heaven, it was actually heaven. If I could live in a hotel it would be the ITC Mughal in Agra, India. This place was incredible. Google it, now. Then stay there in Agra. You are welcome.

It was interesting because we did go through security before entering the hotel, but I’m good with security. Super good.

Our rooms were not ready when we arrived, and we didn’t have anything on our dossier until 3 PM, so it was shopping time! We looked up an area to go to and had our driver take us over. As we walked through the streets, nothing was really open yet (it was before 10 AM) and it didn’t seem like we were in the best area. After a few minutes we all decided this wasn’t where we wanted to be and called our driver.

We drove across town and found a little plaza with two stores. Our goal was to find an outfit for our Taj Mahal outing the next morning. The first store we went to was nice and it gave us a good idea of what our options were, but we really wanted to shop at Fab India. And shop we did. I’m pretty sure between us all, we tried on everything in that store. The level of customer service we received was amazing, and everyone bought more than they expected. Fab India, Agra, you rock. Seriously. Beaming from ear to ear, we made our way back to the hotel to check-in.

This is when things went from awesome to amazing. Agra was already killing it and then they kicked it up a notch. We were upgraded to two Junior Suites. Yes, a free upgrade because of a conference that was in town. Thank you super international medical conference, thank you. Our rooms were spectacular. And the hotel staff was amazing. We hit the pool for a little bit, then got ready for our tour.

The first tour we had in Agra was to the Red Fort. I had zero expectation of this fort and was completely blown away. Red sandstone is actually super gorgeous. And we were there around 3PM so we started to get some of the golden hour. It was stunning.

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After the fort, it was to the other side of the river to see the Taj at sunset. It cost something like 100 ruperts ($1.50) to access the “park” where you can view the Taj.

Because we were all so enamored by the Red Fort we didn’t have a ton of time to look at the Taj before they came by and kicked us out. But it was worth the time we did have. It’s seriously so cool.

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First sighting of the Taj!

Back to the hotel for dinner and bed. Another super early morning for the Taj coming up!

India – The Arrival

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India, oh India. Where do I even begin? I suppose starting from the top makes the most sense.

Traveling for me in 2016, when it comes to flights, didn’t go particularly well. As you can recall I had a minor (okay super major) meltdown on my way to Dubai. Not to mention countless delays on domestic flights throughout the year. So it should come as no surprise that there was an issue getting on our flight to New Delhi from Dubai. This issue actually warrants an entire post itself so I won’t get into now, but thank you again random Emirates employee (pretty sure the manager on duty) for making it all work.

I do want to take a minute to talk about the actual flight. When we got to our gate after a light jog, they made us get onto busses to take us to the plane. I’ve done that before, no big thing. Well this bus took what felt like 45 minutes to get to the plane. It was probably like five, but it was far! Settling in for the flight, we were talking about how glad we were that we actually made it as they started to make announcements. Neither of us was really paying attention to what was being said, but at the same time we both looked at each other like wait, did they say something about not breathing in and covering your mouth if you have trouble? Hold on, what did we miss? What’s happening? Trouble? Then all of a sudden a few flight attendants walked down the aisles spraying aerosol cans up in the air. They walked as though they were performing a synchronized dance. With the look of bewilderment on our faces, the smell and taste hit us at the same time. But what was that stuff? I guess we should have paid attention when they were talking. Later I found out it was bug spray. Weird, but okay malaria is real.

Our flight was easy; I watched a movie and relaxed. As we made our initial descent into Delhi it was clear that the sky was the exact opposite of clear. It was super hazy. I’m talking you couldn’t see anything out of the windows hazy. Continuing to descend it did not get any clearer. Ummm guys, how the hell is he doing this? They’re on instruments (yes like Airplane) I guess. Our pilot landed like a champ I have to admit.

Once inside, we made our way to customs with all of our e-tourist visa paperwork in hand. My hands were slightly sweaty in anticipation of what questions they may ask or what other document I might need to show them. Of course he asked me for my ticket and I found every single other ticket in my bag except the one from the flight I had just taken. Classic. Eventually he gave up, and said it was fine. They took a quick picture and fingerprints and we were in! Stamp acquired. Level up, new continent!


We made our way to baggage claim and got our luggage. Now to find our friends! Yay for us, they were right on the other side of the door waiving happily (or at least I think it was happy, it felt happy)! After getting some quick cash (we dubbed Ruperts), it was to the van and then the hotel. Quick side-note about Ruperts: they are even more impossible to convert in your head than the Emirati Dirham. But they do make you think you have more money than you actually do!

Our little van…okay not really little, not really big, let’s say medium van was waiting for us with our driver for the week. Everyone was handed a packet of information about the places we would be visiting (pretty sure no one opened this the entire time, but it was a nice touch) and we drove to the hotel.

Immediately I noticed the amount of people, cars, animals, the noise and the smell. Anyone who describes India as an assault on the senses is correct. I expected the visual assault and the scents, but I was not expecting the noise. A majority of the noise comes from car and tuktuk horns. In India, drivers honk to alert a car that they are going to pass, or that they need to pass. Basically they honk all the time, really it’s just organized chaos. Oh and I had no idea they drove on the left side of the road. Surprise!

Because this could go on forever, I think I will just stick to major events of the day and then supplement with additional posts about different topics.

We made it to the hotel with enough time to change and freshen up before dinner. One thing of note during our freshening time was that our power randomly went off twice while getting ready. Hadn’t anticipated that either. Surprise again! We learned this is in fact pretty normal. Spectacular.

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The best “security” guard ever! Hard to see but his mustache was AMAZING!

Dinner. Was. Fantastic. One of our group members had this restaurant on her list of “must do in India” and I’m so glad she did. We ate at Indian Accent. This restaurant has the No. 1 Restaurant in India on Trip Advisor spot; it is the only Indian restaurant on the San Pellegrino’s list of 100 Best Restaurants in the World and has been awarded the San Pellegrino Best Restaurant Award by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 for the second year in a row. It is top-notch, and absolutely lived up to the accolades it has received. There is another in New York that just opened, but this place was phenomenal. Absolutely go if you have a chance. Okay dinner rant over.

Happy and stuffed to the brim, we made our way back to the hotel for a short night before a super early departure for the train to Agra. Our entire group agreed to add the train ride, as this is not something normally done by the tour company.

All Aboard! Agra up next!

Frequently Asked Questions – Dubai

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After spending a week in Dubai, I learned a couple of things, so here are some FAQ’s about Dubai:

What was it like? – Take NYC, mix in Vegas and add Europe sprinkles on top. The city is huge, and very spread-out. It’s dusty (hello desert), but overall very clean. They have everything you could want there. Literally. I saw every major US chain, including ones that have gone out of business in a lot of places (UNO Pizzeria, Bennigans, Johnny Rockets, the list goes on and on…) but it feels sooooo Western. It’s something like 60% of the population are expatriates. It’s also hot, in case you forgot.

Was it what you expected? – Not in the slightest. It’s almost shocking how far you travel to get to Dubai, to have it feel like you are literally down the road. But it’s a pretty cool city since the buildings are larger than life. It all looks like the set of a movie.

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The Dubai Marina

What WAS different? – Obviously there was Arabic writing in addition to English on most everything. A lot of people do wear traditional clothing. Dishdash for the men – Long white usually cotton shirt. Think long sleeve white robe that goes to your ankles. They even have pockets! And an Abaya for the women – black long over-garment that usually covers everything. A lot of women wear head scarves and the men also wear a Keffiyehs (headscarf) held into place by two black ropes on the head. They LOVE their accessories-Purses, shoes, jewelry, makeup. And everyone hangs out in the mall. It’s so fascinating to observe.

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A sign for Wendy’s in Arabic

While they wear traditional clothing, people also wear normal western clothes as well. I wore tank tops and brought a scarf just in case,but felt comfortable. I choose not to wear shorts and stuck with more flowy pants or long skirts. It was hot, so I wore a pair of dry fit shorts underneath my “bottoms” and that was an awesome move! They do prefer you not to wear workout clothes around, so I didn’t wear leggings at all when we were there.  The most attention we got was when we walked through the mall dressed up after going out for drinks. But that was more because people were probably thinking why are you so fancy in the mall on Wednesday?

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Very typical “Dubai” outfits. Loose pants, and T-Shirts/Tank Tops                                              p.s. That Date juice was awesome

Other differences are obviously the money (it’s impossible) and the lack of alcohol. You can really only get it in hotels and it’s not cheap. About 50 AED or about $14 for a Foster’s. Not happening. We have had drinks, but mixed drinks, because then it at least feels better to spend that kind of dough.

It also seems like everyone’s day starts later. Like the mall is open from 10:00 AM – Midnight and then even later on the weekend.

Did you feel uncomfortable? – No I can’t say that I did. I mean I was more aware of my surroundings, but it’s like you would be in NYC or anywhere that you travel. There was one time where we ended up on the docks, in an area of all male workers. It was very obvious that we were out of place and that was somewhat tense, but nothing happened and we just decided to leave. No big deal.

Were the people nice? – Yes very. We only ran into a couple that weren’t, but hey that happens everywhere!

What was the food like? – This is an interesting question. The food is what you want it to be. Because there is anything you could ever want, you can choose your own food destiny. If you want to be American, you can be American, if you want to be Lebanese, be Lebanese, the choices are endless. We did struggle to find Middle Eastern food though, because they do have predominantly western choices.

Are the cars crazy? – Yes and no. The cabs are regular (nicer than most because they are newer), but there are crazy cars also. We saw some Lamborghini’s parked at the mall, many Bentley’s around town and of course some Rolls Royce’s. There are nice cars yes, but it’s not ALL of them. We rented the Rolls Yaris though, and that was cool. Hehe.

Could you communicate with the locals? – Absolutely. We did not struggled with language really at all. The most that got lost in translation could be easily figured out with a few follow-up questions. It was fine.

What was the weather really like? – Hot. And Humid. A tropical desert. This is a new one for me. I had no idea that was a thing. And it was still super hot when we were there (October). From our hotel we could see the mall, but you could’t walk because it was so hot. Then add in the humidity and we were sweaty messes. Sexy.

Do you notice the wealth? – Not at first. Then yes. We learned that if you are a true Emirati, the government provides a lot for you, so you take home and keep a lot more of what you make. The expatriates pay more taxes, so that’s how the economy is sustained. There are TONS of nice stores in the mall and also normal stores as well. People shop all the time and it was unusual to see a local without a shopping bag of some kind in their hand. There are lots of nice cars and it seems more normal to have a Bentley. It’s a very fascinating place. One funny thing was when I opened up Uber, there was an option for Uber Chopper…yeah no joke.

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Uber CHOPPER – I cannot even comprehend this…

What’s the deal with alcohol? – As I said before it’s hard to find. None of the restaurants in the mall that we found had alcohol. They all had cocktails, but I’m almost positive they were all virgin. You had to be in a hotel mostly to find it, and then it was super expensive. I spent the most I ever have on cocktails at the Burj Khalifa. Totally worth it though. I did monopolize on the hotel happy hour as well and that was much more reasonable. But they definitely “hide” the alcohol. In the end it saved us money, so fine by me!

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One of my Drinks at the Burj Khalifa – They have a bar on the 123rd floor. Go there.

Anything else you want to know, just ask!