Category Archives: monuments and palaces

A tale of two chuches–Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame

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On our second day in Paris, we set out to see the Notre Dame. But first we ended up at Sainte-Chapelle since our metro stop exit put us right in front of the chapel. Of course, we had a 40 minute wait, which we seemed to have for any attraction in Paris. The chapel is on the grounds of the Palais du Justice, which meant going through some serious security. The place jas been the site for determining justice in Paris in medieval times.  built on the site of the formal royal palace of Saint Louis which is why Sainte-Chapelle is still there.  Also, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned on these grounds before she was beheaded.  Below, a judge is talking on his cell phones in between court cases.

  

Above, waiting in the long line can be hard for kiddos! Below, the chapel itself is known for its beautiful stained glass windows. And in these photos, they are very impressive. I’m  not sure they were worth the 40 minute wait though. The chapel is surprisingly small, and with no pews, so it is hard to sit and appreciate the windows. I also thought that they could have done a much better job making the history of the building accessible to the visitors. An audio tour detailing the stories in the windows would have been great. As it was they had a handful of boards in various languages that you could borrow to read brief descriptions of the windows. But the English bin wsa empty, so no description for us! I don’t think I would recommend Saint-Chapelle for kids, and only for adults who really love stained glass and chapels.

    

   

After Saint-Chapelle, we took a crepe and ice cream break, served by a very cranky French woman!

Below, a nutella crepe and a row of electric cars!

   

As we walked past the boats on the Seine, we had thought of taking a boat ride later, but ran out of time and energy. Below we caught sight of Notre Dame.

Above, Kaden is annoyed by the smokers everywhere.

  

Getting into Notre Dame was quite easy since it was free. So the lines moved freely.

We observed a mass in session.

 

Kaden lit a candle for Pap Pap and Grandma.

Then it was time to exit and wait in the separate, and LONG, line to go up to the top to see the gargoyles. That line was about an hour. Long enough for the kids to discover “much needed” treasures in the nearby gift shop including key chains and pocket knives. Carson managed to cut his finger on his pocket knife within five minutes of the purchase. Nothing serious but enough for him to be more concerned about his finger than the gargoyles at times.

  

The walk up the turret to the top was not as far as the Eiffel Tower, but still a lot of steps!

From the top we had beautiful views of the city. And we all enjoyed the many faces of the gargoyles. Very cool indeed.

   

  

Above, Kaden makes her own gargoyle face.

  

   

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Scaling the Eiffel Tower with jet lag

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After sleeping 13 hours, the kids woke up and I told them it was time to see Paris. They insisted the Eiffel Tower must be the first stop, so we found the metro station and headed that way, albeit sleepily!

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Condoms in the metro station–at the “Point cap” machine!

When Kaden saw the Eiffel Tower, she said, “I wasn’t expecting it to be that big!”

We posed for a photo and then it was time to figure out a plan. You can see a yellow crane in the corner of the photo–half of the elevators were under construction. So the always long waits up the tower were twice as long. No online tickets were available, either! But before we made our climb, I needed to find a restroom. Easier said than done. I found one with a line of 50 people. Then I found a French portapotty–one of those automatic restrooms. Just four people in line–hurray. Except for each person, the stupid machine engages in a TEN MINUTE cleaning cycle before it allows the next person in. So four people ahead of me = a FORTY MINUTE wait. Mom didn’t have a cell phone and she was waiting with the kids further away. It was cold, rainy, and everyone was miserable before we had even started!
     

But once we got started, the kids perked up–well Kaden especially. We skipped the line and took the stairs–about 500 stairs–to the first and second levels of the tower! It wasn’t so bad except that Carson somehow managed to fall five times walking up the steps. Even holding the railing. The kids really enjoyed the view from the top–“Is this really Paris?”

    

The long lines stretched below us. So glad we weren’t waiting in those! The bathroom line was enough!

Would you believe that the tower actually has two restaurants plus snack bars, gift shops, and bathrooms up there? I should have used the bathroom once I got up to the second level!

       

Turns out we could buy a ticket to take an elevator from the second level to the top–it was just the lower level elevators that had issues. Kaden was so thrilled to go all of the way up! Carson was grumpy, causing Kaden to comment, “Why is he always grumpy when we visit one of the wonders of the world?” (referring to our Taj Mahal visit).

Carson finally cheered up and got into the spirit of things. The kids were particularly interested in the exhibits comparing the Tower to the other tallest structures in the world. They have learned that the tallest building in the world is in Dubai. We will be hearing wishes to go to Dubai at some point, I’m sure!

We climbed down the Tower just as it started to rain. Mom was waiting for us at the bottom. Her hands were freezing. Time to get to a museum and see some art!

Lunch under a mango tree

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We got out of the hundred degree heat to head to the most famous restaurant in Hampi–The Mango Tree. It is the only restaurant in India that I have visited where my driver, the kids and I could all sit down and order exactly what we wanted at prices that we could all afford and with the peace of mind that the food was safe to eat.

You find the restaurant by walking through a banana plantation. On the way, the tour guide pointed out these little miniature ferns that would close up when you touched them (much like sea anenomes). They made Carson very happy. Below, right, the restaurant is located in the backyard of a family’s house.

    

The setting was to die for. Lovely lounge like seats under a shady mango tree.

I had a traditional thali veg lunch, hummus and veggies, and then I ended my meal with rice pudding garnished with fresh coconut. And I mean fresh!  The kids ordered french toast, fried rice, french fries, and watermelon slices. They loved the food!  Carson had a nutella crepe for dessert.

  

We gazed at this view as we ate. Or rather I did. The kids gobbled down their food and then happily scampered about the complex under the shady trees until I was ready to go.

After spending over an hour soaking up the ambiance of the Mango Tree restaurant, we had a renewed spirit and energy to see the ruins of Hampi. Our afternoon was much more cheerful than the morning!  To drive to our next destination, we headed past active archeological sites and recently excavated ruins. In the bottom left picture, they plan to excavate the banana fields all the way to the mountain in the distance.

  

Perhaps our favorite stop of the day was the Lakshmi Narasimha temple. There was so much to see, it was hard to focus on any one thing. The statue itself is the largest in Hampi and carved from one piece of granite. The tourguide enthusiastically started telling me the story of this god–half lion, half man–the fourth incarnation of Vishnu.  The story, as told on the official Hampi website. It is such a good story that it is worth repeating:

“Vishnu kills the demon Hiranyaksha during his Varaha avatar. Hiranyaksha’s brother Hiranyakashipu wants to take revenge by destroying Lord Vishnu and his followers. He performs penance to please Brahma, the god of creation. Impressed by this act, Brahma offers him any thing he wants.

Hiranyakashipu asks for a tricky boon. That he would not die either on earth or in space; nor in fire nor in water; neither during day nor at night; neither inside nor outside (of a home); nor by a human, animal or God; neither by inanimate nor by animate being.

Brahma grants the boon. With virtually no fear of death he unleashes terror. Declares himself as god and asks people to utter no god’s name except his. However his son Prahlada (who a devoted worshiper of Lord Vishnu!) refuses. Repeated pressurization on him yields no results for Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada declares the omnipresence of Lord Vishnu.

Narasimha (being a man-lion god form) kills Hiranyakashipu. He comes out to kill at the twilightt (neither day nor night);on the doorsteps of his palace (neither inside nor outside); uses his nails to kill (neither animate nor inanimate); puts him on his lap before killing (neither earth nor in space). Thus making power of the boon ineffective.”

As the tour guide was telling me the story, Carson starts reciting the story with him. He knew the story by heart. So did Kaden. Turns out it is the basis for the Holi holiday.

As fascinating as the statue and the story was, there were just so many other things to see at this site. Long tailed monkeys–a pack of mothers with little babies. The kids LOVED watching these monkeys and Kaden took some great shots of the mommas and babies.  

    

Below, right, one baby monkey kept trying to nurse from it’s mother, and you could tell the mother was just DONE. They were high up on the top of a ledge and she kept pushing the baby away. I was worried the little one would fall but he held on tight!

    

Also located on the same site was a very large example of a Shiva linga. The statue symbolized male and female components and is a place to come to pray for fertility.  The kids were equal parts fascinated and a bit grossed out by this statue.

     

The site was also teeming with local  people as it is an active site for religious worship.  And the kids were playing in the water, and the ladies were cooling off from the heat. And the goats were wandering by. India.

Another site that we almost skipped, and I’m glad we didn’t was the Queen’s Bath  (below). More like a spa retreat, the Queen would come to this structure to have a soak, sun bathe, get her hair and nails done, and more. Below, right, Carson clammored down to where the swimming pool used ot be.

  

The last large complex that we visited included the Lotus Mahal structure–part of a ladies only complex where the women would stay when the men were away. They kept the place cool by pumping water up to the second floor (what Indians call the first floor) and then streaming water over the sides of the structure to create natural air conditioning. 

   

Above, right, watch towers where Eunichs protected the ladies. Below, the gallant elephant stables!

Above, Carson and I pretend to be elephants.

  

We decided to cool off with a fresh coconut near the elephant stables. The electrolytes from the coconut really bolstered our energy! And heck, I paid Rs. 15 for this coconut. I hear Gwenyth Paltrow pays $20 for the same drink back in NYC!

Above is a modern temple near Hampi. The kids really loved the collection of gods and goddesses displayed. We had a long conversation about this temple with our tour guide. Even Srinivas our driver joined in the conversation helping us to identify the characters portrayed.

Blessed by an elephant in Hampi

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Bright and early, we set out to explore Hampi–the capital of the Hindu Empire from the 14th to the 16th century AD. The name of the ancient city was Vijayanagara. What is striking about Hampi is its vastness. You can look in any direction and as far as the eyes can see, the ruins of the ancient city continue. 10 square miles of ruins and counting. Archeologists worked to uncover the city in earnest beginning in the early seventies and they are still at it today, unearthing markets, palaces, and buildings of all kinds beneath the mud of banana plantations and present-day buildings. It was a fascinating place to see history uncovered even now.

We started our exploration of Hampi at the Mustard Seed Ganesha, located on the foothills of Hemakuta Hill.

   

The Ganesha above has a snake tied around his belly. He ate too much and the snake is keeping his tummy from busting open from all of the food!  Below, the kids were all smiles as we began our day.

  

It was hot, hot, hot in Hampi. Like almost 100 degrees hot.  Our tour guide (above) had a lot of knowledge about Hampi, but he was not very kid friendly. I ended up listening to his spiel and then giving the kids a 30 second version of whatever I thought they would want to know. You can see their crabbiness even at this first stop! Sigh.  Below, pilgrims visit the many temples scatter about the boulders.

   

The kids were most interested in the little things, like these holes carved into the boulders. They are still used for cooking today when the pilgrims spent the night on the mountain for certain festivals. And right, 500 years ago and more, they split these massive boulders by driving wood into holes and then filling the holes with water. The expanding wood eventually would crack the boulders. Carson thought that was fascinating.

  

We walked up and over the bolders to the Virupaksha temple–the oldest temple in Hampi.   It believed that this temple has been functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD–one of the oldest functioning temples in India!

     

A highlight inside the temple is to receive a blessing from the black elephant, Lakshmi. She is in her mid-twenties and was rescued as a baby after they found her mother dead. She is amazingly well trained. Our tour guide claims that she knows the difference between Indians and foreigners (perhaps by a tap of the stick from her trainer). From locals she will give blessings for a rupee coin. From foreigners, she expects a Rs 10 note. She takes the coin or bill from you, hands it to her owner, and then blesses you on your head. It was great fun.

This crowd was getting a chuckle out of watching the kids and I get our blessings.

  

The temple included some intricate paintings telling famous Hindu stories. To see the paintings better, Carson lay down on the floor of the temple and looked up.

     

Outside of the temple the kids chose hats from a vendor along the street. They were quite pleased with their purchase!

Outside of the temple has historically been the Hampi Bazaar, a street lined with shops, vendors and more. But just six months ago, the government razed the street with plans to dig for more ruins around the temple area. Hampi as a modern town struggles over tensions between the ongoing excavations and the people who have settled and set up their lives in this town. All misplaced businesses and people were supposed to be relocated, but you know how that goes!  I read in a newspaper article, “The government has identified land to settle the displaced families, at a distance of 5 km from the Hampi market. However, since that plot of land has been used as a cemetery, the locals are not willing to move there.” We did find some cold drinks, though. And we got to pretend to be goat herders as we walked down the eerily vacant street.

Next stop: the Vitalla Temple complex. This section of Hampi is perhaps the most famous and the most preserved. The temple was built in the 15th century to honor Vishnu

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Above, right, Portuguese and Tibetan on the temple walls. You can tell by their facial structures and the design of their coats, says our tour guide.  Below, you can see inscriptions on the walls behind Carson’s head. These inscriptions were at the entrance of the temple complex and signified the architects of the temples.

Below, bracelets as temple designs and monkeys on temple walls

   

Below, the most famous building in the temple complex. The pillars sing and they even used to host concerts here based on the different pitches of the pillars. Now you can’t bang at the pillars because they were getting too damaged.

Below, I love this picture of the kids taking a rest in the shade. They had had enough of the tour guide and instead giggled and chatted together while I went around hearing about the site. Of course, within five minutes they were surrounded by Indian tourists wanting to take their picture. As usual!

The part of this temple that they loved was the shapeshifters. Some of the carvings of the temples are actual many animals/images at once depending on how you place your hand.  Carson, below, is making the shape of a lion then moving his hand for it to look like a flying monkey.

   

The Stone Chariot is a the stunning centerpiece of the complex. Considering the best preserved chariot in India, it originally had stone horses leading it. But mogul invaders destroyed the horses and they were replaced by the elephants. A Geruda (half eagle, half man) drives the chariot.

    

To get to and from this set of holy sites, we had to take a golf cart to get up the hill and back down. We were very pleased to get back in the cart and get into the air conditioned van. I told the tour guide–“That’s it!” Take us to a restaurant. We need to a break. We were feeling cranky and dizzy and needed to rest!

Visiting Jaipur–the pink city

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In Jaipur, we stayed at the beautiful Alsisar Havelli hotel. The hotel was originally a palace built in the 1890s. It didn’t feel old though. The place was charming and remarkably clean. The staff was attentive but not pushy and we felt very much at home.

 

Jaipur is known as the pink city for the terracotta buildings of its old town. The last time the old town was painted was for the state visit of Bill Clinton back during his presidency.

Below is the outside of the Palace of the Winds, a beautiful exterior, but apparently too dilapidated for touring inside.

           

Below, these colorful hats were a common souveiner sold in Jaipur

Jaipur has one of the floating palaces of Rajasthan. It also is not tourable, but beautiful to behold. Camel rides were offered right by the photo stopping point for this palace.

Below, these two women were wading through the water near the palace. Our tour guide suspected they were going to swim over to the palace to look for duck eggs laid by the ducks who live on the property. Below right, a streetside vendor of flowers that are usually used for religious purposes.

 

We toured the city palace as a part of our visit to Jaipur. Below is the gate toward the palace plus one of the historic buildings on the palace grounds.

  

The royal family of Jaipur still lives in this part of the palace grounds (below). The flag signified that they were were present in the palace on  the day we visited.  I finally got the answer from this tourguide of why the royals in India do not receive the attraction of royals in Europe and elsewhere. First of all there are many royal families in India, so royalty is a regional thing, not a national one. But even more so, in India, royals get involved in politics all the time, running for office and otherwise. Thus it is in the interest of the opposing parties to not play up the importance of the glamour of these individuals or it could cost them the election. Thus the continuing intersection of politics and royalty make them not a source of universal press interest or attraction. I also think it has something to do with the fact that most of the royal families also were lackeys of the Brits. But my tourguide disagrees.

  

The City Palace is especially known for it’s amazing doors and archways. I thought that these peacocks were incredible!

  

The palace hosted a few small museums, including costumes and weaponry. Carson and Ducky really enjoyed looking at the weapons!

 

  

After braving the heat in Jaipur, we returned back to the hotel for a long afternoon of swimming and a delivery of a Domino’s pizza!

  

Elephant riding at the Amber Fort

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Arriving in Jaipur, we set off at 7:30 in the morning for the Amber Fort–an adventure that turned out to be one of our most favorite days in India! The palace was lived in by the  Rajput Mahrajas and their families. The Amer (Amber Fort/Palace) was built in 1592 during the reign of Raja Man Singh who was in Akbar’s army. Jai Singh expanded the structure

As we stopped on on the edge of the lake to get this photo, were were accosted by so many sites it was hard to know where to look! To our right–a SNAKE CHARMER! With a live cobra and all. I love the look on Carson and Dionisi’s faces as they gasped the cobra emerging from the basket! Kaden on the other hand wanted NOTHING to do with that snake.

  

Instead Kaden went with Gogo to pet the elephant that was waiting at the left side of us. Add in a few vendors and you have a complete circus. Here, the circus is surrounding my friend Kathryn as we try to board the van!

  

Once we arrived at the Amer Fort, we immediately saw the elephants lined up and ready to take us up the hill! So exciting!

We waited in a line in this beautiful garden, watching this beautiful woman water the grounds. And all the time we were badgered by another circus of vendors. After the debacle at Fatehpur Sikri, Kathryn’s husband Satiri turned to the two of us and said, “If either of you buy anything I am not speaking to you!” And he had a good point. Kathryn and I have a weakness for shopping from the vendors. And if we buy one thing, we are surrounded by ten more. It is quite unbearable. So we were on our best behavior despite being tempted by many things in line. Plus, the prices were too high anyway. We thought at first we were getting quite the deal, but then learned they were quoting us in DOLLARS not rupees, which we had never heard vendors do before. So, no wonder we thought we were getting a deal!

  

Finally, it was time to board our elephant and take the 15 minute ride up the hill. Which felt like about two minutes it was so much fun!

  

  

The scenery was gorgeous, and even up the mountain, vendors tried to sell us things from below!

We even called Daddy from the elephant and said, “We’re on an elephant, right now!!”

  

Entering the main plaza was fabulous. Elephants parading in a majestic courtyard. Hidden in the second floor, musicians played the welcome music that was played for the kings arrival.

 

Above, Carson tries out a musical instrument with strings and a bow. Below, one of the most beautiful palaces I have every seen.

 

Before entering the palace, I found a ramp for Carson to get his energy out with his friends in the hopes that our trip through the palace might be a bit less dramatic than the Taj experience!  Here we are heading up the steps to the entrance!

The marble is nice and cool to the skin out a hot, hot day!!!

 

                               

With such beauty around, the boys were most interested in…. pigeons!

  

Carson checks out the main courtyard and the elephants below from the secret space where the women looked out long ago. And to the right–wine, wine wine!

                        

The mountains were spectacular, and the fortress walls offered supply routes and protection for the palace.

   

Above, Kaden’s self portrait in the main courtyard.

 

Just as we were getting to hot to bear it, there, in the middle of the palace–a Cafe Coffee Day. Air conditioning. Cold drinks. Bliss. If only Fatehpur Sikri had a place to cool down and take a break!

  

Enduring the heat while touring the forts and palaces

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On Easter afternoon, we headed to the Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort. The fort is a walled city from the 1500s.

   

The above right photo is of a bath tub! I remember this bathtub clearly from my visit 22 years ago.

     

Below, the fort was buttressed by not one, but two, moats. The first moat was filled with water and contained crocodiles. The second moat was dry and filled with lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)

  

The most famous part of the fort is the fated bedroom where Shah Jehan sat in house arrest for the last eight years of his life, imprisoned by his son, the current king. From his bedroom window, Shah coudl see the Taj Mahal that he had built for his wife.

  

  

The photo below, captures well the experience of both kiddos at the fort. Carson wrestled with Ducky the entire time and play acted various Shakespearean style fights complete with fake punches. Kaden and her camera kept on snapping.

 

And again, the highlight of the visit? A small, common animal. This time–feeding little striped chipmunks.

We were to stop at yet another location–the Baby Taj–but instead we thought the kids would be happier with a pit stop at McDonalds for french fries and chicken nuggets.

Then it was time to drive an hour to Fatehpur Sikri. During the drive in the car, the kids watched “It’s Easter, Charlie Brown!”

Our trip to Fatehpur Sikri was ill fated. First, a bus accident blocked the road. In the mid day heat, we had to walk past the accident, including this damaged sign, and then take tut tuts up the hill because our van could not get past the chaos.

We managed to fit 11 of us in the tut tut. Even during the drive, local kids would jump onto the back of the tut tut to try to sell things to us. The inside of this tut tut (what they call autorickshaws elsewhere in India), was very colorful.

  

Fatehpur Sikri reminds me of the story of the Three Little Pigs.  Sikriwal Rajput Rajas Last Emperor Maharana Sangram Singh (also known as Emperor Jahangir) had three wives. The first wife was Muslim and was  an arranged marriage. She had a little tiny house, shown through the arches below.  The second wife was Catholic. She was married for love and had a medium sized house. The third wife was Hindu and she was married to end a feud. She produced the son and thus had the biggest, fanciest house of all.

  

                    

  

  

     

From the seat where we are sitting (above), the king would play a game of parcheesi in which he use life women as as the pieces.

    

  

Above, right, is the parliament building where the king held court, high above the ground.

   

Above, one of my favorite shots. Indians area always asking to get their pictures taken with us white folk. Here is one of my favorite ones of my friend’s dad. Above, right, some earring decorations on the vegetarian kitchen of the fanciest wife.

As interesting as all of this was, it was hot. Very, very hot. The little kids and the grandparents were wilting. Plus, the vendors were very, very aggressive here. To get from this palace area to the Muslim mosque we were totally surrounded by people. Sadly, this is as much of the mosque as we saw. It was too hot that day and too oppressive, in terms of vendors as much as the temperature. We needed a place to get a cold drink and recharge. But nothing nearby. So it was time to move on to Jaipur.