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!

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All Gold Everything

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Hello and welcome to the fifth post in my email series chronicling my time in Dubai. These are all emails that were sent in October of 2016. Catch up with the rest of them here!

Alright, I need to get real with you about this. My excitement about going to a SEVEN STAR hotel was palpable. That’s two whole stars better than five! WHAT?! Insanity. But to understand this experience properly,  you need to know what went into making it happen.

After deciding we were going to do the Burj Khalifa, we absolutely could not do another minimum spend meal at the Burj Al Arab. That was not happening, since we actually do need food to survive. Bummer. The problem was, it isn’t the type of place you can just wander to. You have to have a reservation of some kind to even access the property. Talk about exclusive!

For everyone who doesn’t know, this hotel sits out on a man made island. It took them three years to secure the island before they even started construction on the hotel. Just dropped some Big Bus knowledge on you. You’re welcome.

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There are a few restaurants and bars in the hotel, but they all had this pesky minimum spend, of easily over $100. Again, not an option. Then one glorious afternoon I actually found a bar that did not require a minimum spend, just a reservation. Ummmm, hello, sign me up!

I requested a reservation (through the bars app) right away. A few weeks later we were confirmed for Gold on 27. Yessssss.

The day we went to our reservation, we spent the morning on the bus tour of the marina and did a boat tour as well. We hadn’t washed our hair, knowing we’d be sweating a ton anyway, and had hardly gotten ready. Of course we were running late getting back to the room, and didn’t have time to wash our hair. Gross I know. But with the traffic here being so iffy, we wanted plenty of time to get there. And also to take photos like paparazzi.

On the ride over I was petrified that our reservation hadn’t gone through and they were going to turn us away. Even though I had the confirmation. Our driver wasn’t even sure Gold on 27 was a thing and we had to tell him the Burj Al Arab at least three times. In hindsight, it was probably because of our gross hair. Actually the bar is new, having just opened in the spring, so that’s gotta be why he wasn’t sure. Yeah, yeah, that’s it!

As we pulled up to the gate, a porter came out and asked for our information. He said okay (YAY!!!!) and we proceeded up the drive. This was actually happening. When our driver stopped, we were greeted by the bellman and I hopped right out and totally forgot to pay. Oops. Obviously I paid.

Now we were there, out front, with all of the Rolls Royce cars. They were all white also. Very pretty. We went inside and asked where to go. Upstairs, down the hall to security. After finding out the bar didn’t open until the time of our reservation, we took full advantage of taking pictures like true tourists.img_7115

I have to say this. The hotel is beautiful and all the paint that is gold has actual gold in it, but I was kind of surprised it wasn’t more over the top. Again, one of the coolest hotels I’ve seen, but dare I say, it almost had a cruise ship vibe.

Once we made it to the lounge, we were seated by the window and choose our drinks. My friend decided to cause a scene and break her glass, spilling her drink all over the place. It was pretty awkward, but they quickly cleaned up and made her a brand new cocktail.

After we had our drink (yay no minimum spend!) we went to the bathroom before we left.I only bring this up because I want to move into the bathroom. EVERYTHING was gold. And the most beautiful shade of gold. I was, and still am, OBSESSED. It’s also quite possible we had a bathroom photo shoot as well…no we totally did. No one even caught us, though I wouldn’t have even cared if they had. That bathroom was amazing.

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So you’re going to ask me which Burj I liked better? If I’m being honest, I liked the first one the best; Burj Khalifa. Bar on the 123rd floor. It was so cool. And the views were amazing. That being said, I’m extremely glad we did both. I would have felt cheated if we had only gone to one. Go us!

I’m also going to have to have a gold bathroom at some point. Seriously, obsessed.

Okay, enough fancy time, back to the real world…

Don’t Look Down

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Welcome to the fourth installment of my email series about my adventures in Dubai. These are all emails that were sent in October of 2016. Don’t Miss my previous updates as well!

Prior to arriving in Dubai, my friend and I had done TONS of research (I know you’re shocked) about the best way to go up the worlds tallest building; The Burj Khalifa. We knew it was a “must do,” but we weren’t sure how to accomplish the task without spending all of our money.

The best time to go up in the building is at sunset, and they know this, so they charge an arm, a leg, and another arm. We simply felt we could not justify paying so much, to just go to the top to look out the window. We wanted to feel like we got something for our cash.

So we settled on the bar; Atmosphere.

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There were a few reasons this became our choice:

  • The bar is the highest in the world sitting on story 123
  • Our money got us actual alcoholic drinks (alcohol is hard to get)
  • It was a more unique experience than an observation area
  • To go, all you had to do was simply make a proper reservation (ours was during sunset)

The only catch was the minimum spend that was required. Ugh, sneaky smart restaurant owners. Our actual reservation was for an A La Carte dinner and we could choose to spend our minimum however we wanted, which I also liked.

In the end, we settled on drinking our minimum rather than eating. Who is surprised? No one? I didn’t think so. And I know we both feel it was the right decision. We had a few Cosmos (seriously so good) and then a fun mixed drink that was orange. They were all delish!

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Amazing drink at Atmosphere

We were lucky enough to sit by the window that overlooked the dancing fountains and we got to enjoy a sunset from 123 stories in the air. It was a rather clear night, so the photos were pretty great. And once the fountains started, we pressed our faces right up to the glass to watch them, it was really cool.

When all was said and done, we spent a bit more than our minimum, and I personally spent the most I ever have on six drinks and a side of fries. But hey, who needs to eat!? Really though, we both thought it was worth it, and would absolutley do it again. Thanks Atmosphere!

Just for reference the Burj Khalifa is 163 stories tall. Yes, 163. Yikes!

…feet back on the ground, catch you next time…

Are We There Yet?

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Oh Hey There. For those DYING for the continuation from my last post (the infamous major airport meltdown on the way to Dubai), here is the next installment. As a reminder, this series is a set of emails that have been adapted from a trip I took in October of 2016. Enjoy!

Good morning Zurich! Sadly I only got to see your airport and really only one terminal, but it seemed nice. One day I’ll actually make it a destination…just like everywhere else.

We had about an hour and a half to grab a bite to eat and get to our next Swiss Air flight. One thing I have always appreciated about Europe is the ability everyone has to queue without needing to be told every five minutes what to do. Everyone quietly lined up to board the flight with no fuss. It was delightful. Zurich was freezing, so I got a 45 second taste of winter to hold me over for a few months.

Sadly on this flight my friend and I were not sitting together, but I lucked out with bulkhead seating, score! Our flight was so easy it was just long. With about three and a half hours left, I was way over being on a plane with nowhere to go but to hang out with the crew in the back. Which we did, for a few minutes chugging water.

The craziest thing was our flight path. We flew over Turkey, a bit of Syria, and then down the border of Iraq and Iran. But we landed early and made our way to the passport control area. I’m so used to flying into the UK or Europe, that I was prepared for any questions they might have asked. The guy hardly even looked at me, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Our bags were already waiting for us at baggage claim, so we got some Dirham (cash) and made it to the taxi line. 20 minutes later we arrived at our hotel, good ole Radisson Blu Downtown Dubai. Our goal was to make it to the hotel and have a drink at the rooftop bar. Despite being extremely exhausted, we had some Cosmos and they were super yummy! Expensive, but yummy.

Side note: the Dirham’s are impossible to figure out. Just not worth even trying. I have no concept really of what stuff costs, just that it’s more than what I want to spend on a sandwich.

Anyway, after 28+ hours of travel, we were BEAT. Shower, sleep, exploration in the morning.

Zzzzzzzz…..

My time in Munich

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This past September I traveled to Munich for Oktoberfest with seven other people. Yes SEVEN. We stayed for about four days. This is my story.

Munich was the first leg of our two week adventure.

On our first evening we found dinner near Marienplatz, and per the suggestion of our server we decided to go down to Oktoberfest that night, since it was Sunday (Sunday’s are typically really good days to try and get in to Oktoberfest). Even though we were beyond exhausted, we threw our logic and reasoning out the window and went anyway.

Sure enough we found a table pretty easily in the Paulaner tent.

Welcome to Oktoberfest

Welcome to Oktoberfest

The Paulaner Tent

The Paulaner Tent

View From Our First Table

View From Our First Table

We had an absolute blast at that tent and after a while we began to wonder if we should find another table in a new tent. The problem was we weren’t guaranteed entry. The group decided to give it a try and sure enough we got in! Our second table was in the Löwenbräu tent.

Our View Inside Löwenbräu

Our View Inside Löwenbräu

Ultimately, we ended up making friends with the people around us and had a blast. One of the best things about Oktoberfest is making friends with everyone and meeting people from all over the world.

To say that the next morning was rough wouldn’t be saying enough. One group member did not make it to their tour and the rest of us were feeling the affects of a full night at the fest. We took it easy and went down to the grounds to get our tickets for a reservation later in the week. This also gave us a chance to explore. The last time we were in Munich we didn’t get to see all of the grounds. And let me just say, all of the tents are amazing. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Outside Spatenbräu-Festhalle

Inside of Spatenbräu-Festhalle

Inside of Spatenbräu-Festhalle

Outside Augustiner-Festhalle

Inside Augustiner-Festhalle

Inside Augustiner-Festhalle

Mind you, we did not have any drinks or food here we just looked around. This hardly even scratches the surface of tents since there are many, many more. It still blows my mind that these are all TEMPORARY structures!

Another thing we did was go to the grocery store. This trip we stayed in apartments with kitchens, and to cut cost we got breakfast food and drinks to have on hand. Our location was perfect and it was quiet which is a plus during Oktoberfest.

For dinner we enjoyed a meal at the original Hofbrauhaus. Having people with us who had never been to Munich it was a must see! I had an amazing meal. For more about my experience you can read my review here.

Our next morning we had a tour with Mike’s Bikes. It was a blast riding around the city and learning a bit about the history of Munich at the same time. A highlight for sure was the stop for beer and pretzels! That night we suited up and headed down to Oktoberfest to hunt for a table. Luck was not on our side as it was raining, and that makes getting into a tent MUCH more difficult. We powered through though and ended up finding a table at the last place we tried, making us undefeated when attempting to get a table in a tent during Oktoberfest no matter the day, time or size of the group!

Beer!

Beer!

Traditional Dirndl's

Traditional Dirndl’s

Our last full day in Munich was a rather lazy one. We wandered into the main square to look for some souvenirs and then headed back to get ready for our tent reservation. Somehow we managed to get a reservation at the Hofbrauhaus tent. Finding our table was easy and we had a great time. If you are planning to go to Oktoberfest check out my previous post for some tips and tricks!

Hofbrauhaus Tent

Hofbrauhaus Tent

Overall we really enjoyed our time in Munich. While we were there our group grew to ten which made the experience completely different than the last time we went.

After this trip I would really like to go to Munich when it’s not Oktoberfest to enjoy all of the other beer gardens and wine bars they have. I will definitely be back!

Today: The Natural World

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This photo is from my favorite travel experience so far. Last year I was fortunate enough to travel to Marrakech and take a three day camel trek. This particular picture was taken in the morning after we spent the night in tents in the desert. On our way out, we stopped to watch the sunrise, and during my photo session with my camel this shot was taken. Camels are very interesting animals, and it still amazes me that people really use them in their everyday lives.

Camel in the Sahara Desert

Camel in the Sahara Desert