To the Taj!

Grounds at ITC Mughal
Standard

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_0296

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.

fullsizeoutput_3a67

First sighting of the Taj!

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

All Gold Everything

Standard

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.

img_7104

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.

d56658f1-f1c7-400c-b80b-4c72cebc7a1e
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…

Today: The Natural World

Standard

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

Today: Mystery

Standard

At first this was a tough one for me but after I thought about it for a  little while I came up with something that I’ve always wondered about. It is very popular in Europe to put a lock on a bridge to symbolize love. What I always wonder is where did the couple come from? Where are they now? Why were they here? Are they still together? Were they celebrating something special here? And so on. To me, the beauty lies in the mystery of their stories that I will never know.

???

???

Today: Landmark

Standard

My landmark is Big Ben in London. It is somewhat stereotypical because everyone knows Big Ben, but to me it’s special. London is my favorite place to be and it’s where I fell in love with traveling. So for me, Big Ben is a part of how I got to where I am today and the beginning of my travel story.

Big Ben in London

Big Ben in London

I’m a woman and I’m going to Europe. Now what the heck should I pack for two weeks?! Part 1 of 2

Standard

Packing. This is most likely everyone’s least favorite part of traveling and yet it’s one of the more important things to consider. As a woman traveler it can be extremely overwhelming to think about spending two weeks without unlimited choices everyday, but it is an absolute necessity. Since I started traveling I’ve gone from “that girl,” who had a suitcase you couldn’t lift, with a large carry-on duffel (this was back before strict weight restrictions), to someone who backpacks and has a small carry-on. Through my experiences I’ve learned a thing or two, so I wanted to share a few thoughts that might help you prepare for your next adventure.

One of the first things I do when traveling is check the weather. I’m a bit of a weather freak and look at averages months in advance. Part of the reason I plan so far ahead is because living in Florida we do not have access to colder weather clothes as often, and it is important to find things you need when they are available. It’s also partly because I love weather. Anyway, Europe can be tricky depending on where you are and what month it is. Just because it’s July, doesn’t mean it will be hot and dry. So I recommend checking the weather averages in advance, then start stalking the 10 day forecasts once it gets close enough.

After I’ve checked the weather, I start to gather things in my closet I might need. This is where living in Florida can be an advantage. Since I travel mostly in the fall, a lot of the clothes I travel with I wouldn’t be wearing here until late Fall or Winter, so I am able to put them aside. I also do this well in advance because it gives me a chance to cut items out. I pack knowing that I will do laundry while I’m away, which is helpful. It is not necessary to bring 14 shirts for 14 days. Doing laundry abroad is not a big deal. It’s also a good idea (and somewhat necessary when packing light) to try and coordinate your clothes for layering. So I make sure all my tops mix and match with each other and the scarves I bring, that way I feel like I’ve brought more with me.

This leads me into my next point; make a list. And when I say make a list, I mean a list of everything. From taking out the trash, to setting your out of office, to how many pairs of socks you need. This helps ensure that you have all the loose ends tied up State-side while you are gallivanting around the world. It also helps you to relax knowing you have all of the vital essentials packed and ready to go. I am a firm believer in light packing, but if you don’t have a plan it is impossible. Once you know what the weather is and what activities you will be participating in, sit down and make a list of everything you will need. Trust me this is key!

Knowing what your itinerary is, is also super important. If you know you will be attending specific events (Oktoberfest), hiking, or going into ice caves, you need to be prepared.

Another big things us women struggle with is our hair and makeup. Believe it or not gentleman it takes a bit of work for us to look so beautiful all the time, and it can be really daunting to figure out how to accomplish this while abroad. Fist and foremost, do some research to find out what the voltage and plug type is where you are traveling. Once you know that, if you plan to bring any heat tools be sure the are DUAL voltage. I killed a chi straightener in Ireland because you cannot use them with a converter. Be sure to check and see if you will have access to a hairdryer as well, because they are a pain to travel with! If you are like me and you use products and specific shampoo, try and find them in travel size, or invest in some travel containers because you don’t want to be lugging around full size products.

On the makeup side of things, see what colors you use the most and do some practices to make the whole process as simple as possible. You really do not need all those lipsticks and eyeshadows, I promise!

Overall, my main tips are: know your itinerary, check the weather, pack early (then take items out), pack light, get travel sizes of your favorite products, check your voltage, and remember simple! LESS IS MORE! Good luck ladies, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it! Check back for a follow-up of what I’m actually bringing on my trip!

6 Reasons I look Forward to Traveling

Standard

It’s hard to imagine that in six weeks I’ll be embarking on my next European adventure! With that said, I felt like it was time to share some of my favorite things about traveling. So here are six reasons I look forward to traveling:

1. The Challenge. This might seem odd, but I find that some of the most rewarding experiences often come from the challenge of it all. From booking international flights, to in-country transportation, to lodging, to tours and everything in-between, the challenge of figuring it all out is exhilarating to me. I also think you grow the most when you are challenged and you learn a lot about your own limits which is invaluable.

boarding

2. Time Off. I’m a huge advocate of taking time off of work. As an HR professional I understand the value of detaching from your job and actually taking the time to relax and get away. You always come back refreshed and ultimately your work is better. I especially like traveling abroad with my time off because it also gives me a chance to un-plug. We are so hyper-connected these days that it is refreshing not to turn on a TV, or be attached to your phone 24/7 for a couple of weeks every year.

phone

3. Making Memories. I love the memories made with each new and different experience I have. In my mind, traveling makes the best memories. Both good and sometimes bad. Nothing brings people closer than shared travel memories. I try my hardest to document everything like the paparazzi and take pride in creating movies or photo books of my experiences, but the memory is something I know I’ll have forever and that means the world to me.

NY

Brooklyn Bridge

4. Passport Stamps. Yes, it’s shallow I understand that, but let me try and explain how much joy it brings me to go through customs or passport control…As I approach the somewhat scary passport agent, and they ask me all of the questions on their checklist, I stand in intense anticipation for that moment where they’ve decided to grant me access into their country. When they grab for the stamp and get ready place a new permanent fixture in my passport, my heart races and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Getting a stamp in my passport is like ripping the paper off that gift you’ve wanted all year long. In that moment I feel pure elation and what could be better than that?!?

pass

Passport

5. Exploring new Places. Don’t get me wrong, I have favorite destinations, but I LOVE the thrill and excitement of being somewhere new and unfamiliar. Somehow I feel more alive and awake, almost like I’m seeing everyday things for the first time. Maybe this relates back to being un-plugged, who knows. But whatever the reason, new cities and places inspire me!

beer

Castle Tour Outside Munich

6. Learning. Even if you don’t travel with the intention to learn, ultimately you will pick up a few things here and there. I enjoy learning simple things, but I also like to learn what the heartbeat of a place is and what makes the destination unique. If you don’t travel with an open mind you won’t learn and frankly you shouldn’t travel. But if you do have an open mind I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised what you’ll learn on your next trip!

Traveling fuels my soul and I have no doubt that I will continue to do it as long as I am able.

quote

Quote from KLM

7 Things to Consider When Traveling to Oktoberfest

Standard

With less than 70 days until my triumphant return to Oktoberfest in Munich, it’s starting to become all I can think about. And I may need to seek professional help soon, though I don’t think Oktoberfest Lovers Anonymous exists…Anyway, because I’ve been thinking so much about Oktoberfest, I thought I would offer you some things to ponder if you are planning a trip to attend this year, or sometime in the future. My perspective for the purposes of this post will be as someone who is an American, has been before and didn’t know a damn thing before the first time I went in 2012.

When you start to consider traveling to Munich for Oktoberfest, there are a lot of questions that come up. Things like: when is it, where to stay, how long should you go for, how do you get to the Oktoberfest grounds, how do you get into a tent, what should you wear and how expensive is it? The list could go on and on but you wouldn’t read all of that, so I’m going to answer the questions I mentioned above and hopefully you’ll learn something you didn’t know before. Ultimately, I want you to go to Oktoberfest and maybe this will help you get there!

So when exactly is Oktoberfest?
You may now think I’m crazy for even brining this up, but truthfully I had no idea when Oktoberfest started before I went the first time. A simple Internet search will reveal that it starts at the end of September and runs into the beginning of October. So plan accordingly. Also, October 3rd is a bank holiday in Germany (The Day of German Unity). Keep in mind that it’s extra crowded in Munich that day.

Whew, now that you know when Oktoberfest is, where the heck should you stay?
Munich is a very easy city to navigate. Despite this fact it is still a good idea to pull up a map when looking at hotels/places to stay to see where the property is in relationship to the Oktoberfest grounds. If you can manage it, staying somewhere within walking distance is ideal. We were a quick 10 minutes walking last time and that worked out wonderfully. If you are booking closer to when Oktoberfest starts, there may not be as many choices, but there are plenty of public transportation options to get you to the grounds as well. Another thing to be aware of is that this is high tourist season for Munich so don’t be surprised when there aren’t great lodging deals out there. But trust me, it is absolutely worth every penny spent!  

So you know the dates and you have a place to sleep, but how long should you stay for?
The length of time spent at Oktoberfest comes down to how long you want to be traveling and what your budget is. We ended up in Munich for about 3.5 days our first time around and we didn’t feel like we had enough time. Oktoberfest can be like a black hole. You might try to just “swing by,” but before you know it, an entire morning or afternoon has passed and you didn’t make it anywhere else. I wouldn’t change anything we did in 2012, but beware of the black hole!

We are rolling now! You have your dates, you’ve figured out where to sleep and how long you’re staying, but what on earth should you wear? What are those silly outfits everyone has on?!?
If anyone tells you not to dress the part when attending Oktoberfest, they are dead wrong. Lederhosen for the guys and Dirndls for the girls are seen in abundance at Oktoberfest. Now I will say this; ladies, please, please, please DO NOT wear any type of sexy beer maiden outfit seen at every Halloween party here in the states. It is considered disrespectful and rude. But if you don’t come with an outfit, you’ll want to buy one in Munich and that can be really expensive. We saw some that were 300 euros! My suggestion would be to check out eBay. There are plenty to choose from and they range in price. All us girls got traditional knee length dirndls on eBay and we were so glad to have them. It is also ok to wear tights with the dirndl, which is awesome, since it can be kind of cold that time of year. The guys did not wear lederhosen last time, but ultimately admitted they wished that they had.

Mass at Hofbrau

Enjoying a Mass at Oktoberfest, LOVING my dirndl!

Listen up! If you’ve fallen asleep, this is the time to pay attention!

How on earth do you get a spot at a tent?
Ok, I’m going to be honest with you. We did A TON of reading and researching on this before our first trip, so here’s an abridged version of what we learned. There are 14 tents (both big and small) at Oktoberfest and I’m pretty sure we saw maybe 4. But that’s beside the point, the fact is, getting into a tent can be tricky. We had 5 people last time and didn’t want to try and get a reservation. This is because you have to reserve and pay for 10 people, even if your group is smaller than that. Most of the time a reservation involves drinks and food so it’s not inexpensive. Instead of going the reservation route, we decided to go down to the Oktoberfest grounds early to try and get a seat. The deal is, if you don’t have a seat you can’t get any beer (which is the entire reason you’re there). Therefore, at least one member of the party has to be sitting. If you are going to try this tactic, get there early and take the first open spot you find. Our group got REALLY lucky and we found a table at Hacker-Festzelt. Our luck did run out in the late afternoon, when they clear everyone out for evening reservations. This is ok though because sometimes you might find spots outside, or you can wonder through the Oktoberfest grounds enjoying tasty treats and fun rides. Last but not least, if you go at night, a lot of the time you will find the doors to the tents closed. This is because they are full. If you happen to pass by one that’s open, RUN in and grab a spot because luck is on your side! This happened to our group one night and we got EXTREMELY lucky and got into the Hofbrau tent!

IMG_0181

Inside the Hacker-Festzelt tent during the day

IMG_0098

Outside of the Hofbräu-Festzelt during the day

IMG_0300

Inside the Hofbräu-Festzelt at night

Wow, that was a lot of work! You’ve made it into a tent, hooray! But how much is it going to cost you?
Every year the price of a Mass (beer at Oktoberfest) goes up. Shocking I know. But the official prices (these are 2014 prices) are released in advance, so you do have time to plan accordingly. Also keep in mind a Mass is a liter of beer, so even if the price feels high, just think about the last tall boy you bought at a football game and you’ll feel much better. This is important to think about though especially since the tents are CASH ONLY. Let me repeat, CASH ONLY. And if you tip your waitress well the first time she brings you beer, chances are she will come back more frequently. Tipping is generally done by rounding up to the next whole number. Again, bigger tip upfront = generally more frequent and better service. Traditional German food is also available at the tents and it’s usually really good. They all sell pretzels too, but those can leave a rather dry taste in your mouth. Guess that’s what the beer is for! PROST!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Small ways Travel Connects you with the World

Standard

When I began traveling while studying abroad, I never truly appreciated how my adventures would shape my life moving forward, or how they would connect me to strangers all over the globe. Still, the connections that I have made and continue to make because of traveling, always have a way of catching me off guard. Whether it’s someone you meet in an exotic location that grew up in your home town, or someone you strike up a conversation with that stayed in the same hotel you did in Florence, travel connections still shock me. The world can be a pretty small place.

I’m not exactly a shy person and I tend to talk to strangers a lot about their travel experiences, and I don’t have a problem giving my advice or opinion, even if it’s not asked for.

Let’s take this past Sunday for instance. I stopped by one of my favorite travel stores in the mall to try and find a replacement backpack for my old JanSport that finally died after my last trip. While I was in the store another lady was there shopping for her upcoming vacation. She was looking for a collapsable duffle bag. As it turned out, I had just been looking at those myself and told her where she could find them. And naturally I also asked where she would be traveling to. She said Ireland and Scotland. That was all the opening I needed to tell her about what to do when she got there. Luckily she welcomed my thoughts and advice. The store clerk was also helping her out and we all got to talking about travel.

I learned that the clerk was originally from Israel and like most of us, would love to travel full time. And the other woman has traveled a fair amount herself. We ended up having a 30 minute conversation about how people who don’t travel limit themselves, and tend not to want to adapt and move forward with the world. Who really knows if those things are related, but we did all agree that people who don’t leave home are more narrow minded than those who travel. I left the store (after purchasing a beautiful new collapsable duffle. Still no backpack) elated and invigorated by our conversation, grinning ear to ear. Kind of like that feeling you get when you go on a date with someone you really like.

Over the years I’ve had many conversations like the one I had Sunday and I’ve made quite a few good fiends because of shared travel experiences, but it never ceases to amaze me how something so simple can instantly give you a connection to a complete stranger.

Travel is awesome!

Sand from the Sahara Desert and a print from London with a globe

Sand from the Sahara Desert and a print from London