Category Archives: transportation

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!

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Paris pit stop

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On our way back home to the United States, we booked our tickets to have a few days to see something in Europe. Kaden insisted she wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. We flew into Frankfurt, stowed our luggage at the Holiday Inn Express (for free, thank goodness!), and took the fast train to Paris. Below, we are waiting for the train and then finally boarded. After an all night flight from Bangalore, we were exhausted!

   

The scenery in Germany and France was gorgeous–yellow flowers in big patches blanketed the springtime countryside.

In Paris, we found an apartment to stay in through the website airbnb.com  It’s a website that links you with individual people who want to rent their house out for short term stays all around the world–even in the United States. All of the photos are verified plus individual certifications from people who have stayed at the homes make it feel very safe to use. With five people, we would have needed two hotel rooms (no hotel rooms with two beds in Europe!). Plus, this was just so much more pleasant.  A kitchen, a neighborhood.

We stayed in Phillipe’s house on Rue D’Hautpol near Canal de San Martin. It’s the apartment he has his kids staying with him. We guessed he was staying with a girlfriend while we were in his place.  He came over and showed us the neighborhood, helped us to book a taxi and overall was very kind.

    

We were delighted to find boulangeries on the corners, fresh fruit stands, and if you went up the hill just a half a block, a gorgeous park. We arrived on May Day, so many things were closed. Most signs in Paris said Closed December 25, January 1, and May 1. So May Day is a huge deal in Europe!

      

The Canal St-Martin  connects the river Seine, near Bastille, to the Canal de l’Ourcq, near the Villette in the 19th arrondissement. Here, the Canal turns into a beautiful park just a few m inutes from the apartment. Above is a view from the park to the apartment below where we were staying.

The Parisians were really enjoying their May Day at the park. I do’nt know if you can see the plumes of smoke emerging from each group of people. Smoking is still in full force here in France. Kaden was shocked!

This picture was taken at 8:30 in the evening. We were astounded that it doesn’t get dark here until 9:30! In hot and humid Bangalore, it gets dark at 6:30!

    

The neighborhood also has a school. Although it was unclear if they really did have uniforms all the kids were in black. The place looked so big and depressing to me, I honestly stopped to consider whether it was a prison! The kids were in a caged area for their recess/break that was kind of freaky!

    

The neighborhood also had a cool cemetery and lovely patisseries, boucheries, and boulengeries!

    

    

Kaden summed it up this way “smoking, dog poop and lots of old things, but lovely cafes on every corner!!”  We loved the food, and we are not talking fancy restaurants. We saw none of those, but perfect baguettes, crepes, croissants, and fruit on every corner. Carson loves the nutella crepes. I am returning home inspired to find beautiful ingredients even for the simplest of foods.

And the art is amazing. And we love how it stays light for so long.

The graffiti was an issue too–Kaden thought it was a disgrace. Carson thought it was cool.

Riding through the streets of India on a motorcycle and sneaking baggage

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I had though that I was done posting about India, but our last few hours were rather dramatic. On a positive note, neighbors kept stopping by to share their regards and to give us presents. Very sweet, very thoughtful. (Note to thoughtful people though: when packing to move around the world, paint your own garden rocks are not an item that can be taken along due to weight concerns!)

Overall, we had so much stuff and we were painfully aware of how difficult airlines make it to fly nowadays with baggage. We kept weighing, and weighing our bags and were trying really hard to avoid too many extra bags since we would have to pay the fees twice due to our stopover in Europe.

While we were packing in a frenzied manner, the complex  manager stops by with a very large unpaid electric bill. We soon learn that the electrician and the security guard were not reading the bills properly and were undercharging us by a lot.  When I explained that I had in fact tried to pay the correct amount and it had been returned to me for overpaying, the four men ended up in a shouting match in our apartment, with the guy in charge storming out and saying it would come out of the other guys pay checks. Our flight was leaving in three hours, but we spend a large amount of energy quarreling about this bill, with the workers knocking on the door with several iterations of the amount owed. In the end, I had a bill of over $200 due that evening. I had drained all of my rupees already since you aren’t supposed to take them out of the country and therefore you can’t exchange them in Europe or the U.S.  We had no driver booked until it was time to leave for the airport.

So, I ended up getting on the back of the property manager’s motorcycle and racing down the road to get money out of the ATM. I was not dressed to be out and about in India, let alone on the back of a motorcycle. I had on short shorts and a tank top because the house was so hot and I was moving around 50 pound suitcases. I definitely heard some cat calls coming out of the buses. And in true India style, the first ATM was out of order. Then we drove way into our local commercial district. The second ATM was closed to refill the money. Finally, the third ATM gave me the needed cash. And it gave me the opportunity to teach the property manager the phrase, “Third time is a charm!”

I had often wondered what it might be like to ride about Bangalore on a motorcycle. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity in my final hours in India.

Getting to the airport, we had been very worried that our checked bags would stay under the 50 pound limits. That proved to be no problem. But the big problem–our carryons. I had overloaded the carryons. Legos filled the bottom of each bag.  Shies and water bottlshoestring tied to the outside of the backpacks. Plus before boarding I had each child put on a heavy sweatshirt plus tie two jackets around their waists! We just had no room at all.

Much to our surprise, Lufthansa really allows only one carryon, not one above and one below like in the U.S. I  had crammed the kids backbacks with stuff plus each of us had a roller board. Each of those counted as the carryon–no personal item allowed on Luftansa unless it is super small. So the backpacks counted as the one personal item.

We were shocked. Especially since none of these rules were an issue flying into India. PLUS, the were weighing the carryons at the gate. They couldn’t be more than 9 kilos. Some of ours were 22 kilos, because we shoved some of our heaviest items in them to avoid the checked baggage limits. In all my years of flying I have never had my carryons weighed. As long as they were regulation size, I have never had an issue. In the end, we had to pay $70 per bag to check our carryons–$210. It was only due to some quick thinking and some efforts to confuse the airlines on our part that we paid for three additional checked bags rather than five or six ( which would have cost over $400 more).

We had to do this all over again in Frankfurt after our Paris adventures. At the hotel, I repacked all the bags including leaving lots of stuff at the hotel for the maid to find–nearly all of our underwear, socks, toiletries, umbrellas, notebooks, and more. Bangalore didn’t weight back packs, only roller boards. So I put heavy statues in all the backpacks. My backpack alone was about forty pounds.  Then I weighed the carryons to 9 kilos but had an extra bag of stuff in each so that if they weighed and it was  over, I could easily pull out the right amount.  (I should add that 9 kgs equals a half empty rollerboard–even when only putting in clothes in the bag; same is true for our checked bags–none of them were full but all at exactly the weight limit.)  The walk through the airport with all that weight on my back was insane, but we made it. Thankfully Lufthansa was MUCH nicer in Frankfurt. Plus, I voluntarily gate checked one carryon, and thankfully by being friendly they didn’t charge me the $70 fee.

Crisis averted but very stressful. I will try to avoid flying Lufthansa in the future.While some may view my theatrics as a bit ridiculous, I find even more ridiculous the fact that on an international flight an airline thinks that 30 kg overall should be sufficient baggage. The airline seems to disrespect travelers more each day. Given the costs of flights these days, to have to pay hundreds of dollars to bring my clothes and souveneirs along is a crime.

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!

  

Exploring Agra and Jaipur with friends!

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Fresh out of school, we joined the Varvarigos family on a trip to Agra and Jaipur!  My friend Kathryn’s parents were visiting from Seattle, and we were so grateful to join them on this journey. We couldn’t visit India and not go to the Taj Mahal, and it was so much more fun to go with friends.

We started our journey at the Dehli airport, where we boarded a van that felt like it had stepped out of the 1970s and started the five hour drive to Agra.

The kids took over the back seat and became fast friends. Carson and Ducky enjoyed playing motorcycle games on the I-Pad, and Kaden was very sweet with four year old Gogo. Here she is showing him the Wild Kratts show.

  

We arrived in Agra much later than we hoped due to the long drive. No swimming time that evening! The kids collapsed into bed and all too soon it was 5:30 Easter morning. Time to rise and shine and head to the Taj Mahal! We got to the Taj that early because of the heat and the crowds, plus we had a long ambitious schedule for our day that would end us in Jaipur by dinner time.

As we arrived at the Taj Mahal grounds at sunrise (6 a.m.), I was shocked to see that the local park was FILLED with local people enjoying the morning. There were hundreds of kids and adults playing cricket, relaxing under trees and visiting with one another. When the heat of the day gets to be over 100 degrees, I guess you take advantage of the one time in the day that you can be out and enjoying the weather!

Right at the Tajgate (above), we found some locals engaged in prayer.

Once we gained entrance to the Taj, our tourguide (in the white hat), gave us a brief history of the monument. This trip was my second visit to the Taj. The first was my visit to India as a teenager. That first visit I remember being bowled over by the Taj’s beauty. With two kiddos with me, I was a bit distracted this time, but the sheer beauty of the place is hard to describe.

We all stopped to pose at the entrance gate.

 

The entrance has scriptures of the Koran written around its edges. The architect designed the letters to be bigger on the bottom and smaller at the top so that from a distance they appear to be exactly the same size.

The white building, the one we think of as the Taj itself, is a mausoleum. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died during the birth of their 14th child. It is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, which is a blend of Persian, Turkish, and Indian styles.

Throughout the day the Taj Mahal seems to change colors, from pink in the morning, to yellow mid day. On a full moon, it looks pure white. Always it seems like it is floating above the earth.

Even at six in the morning, the crowds were quite heavy. I can’t imagine the crush of people mid day, and the heat!

  

Above, the Taj is flanked by mosques on both sides. This one here is an actual mosque. The other side hosts an identical looking mosque that is actually a shell of a building–placed to provide absolute symmetry. Amazing!

  

Behind the Taj is the Yamuna River, one of two holy rivers in India (the Ganges being the other one). Behind the Taj, the king had hoped to build a black Taj that was an exact replica of this one for his own body. But his son put a stop to that and instead the king is buried inside the white Taj Mahal next to his wife. His casket is the only part of the Taj that is not perfectly symmetrical since his burial was not a part of the original design.

Food, books, dancing, swimming, riding a bus–Indian style

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With the kids only in school for one more week, it was time to tackle some of the restaurants that might not be viewed as so much fun to them. One experience that I wanted to try was a traditional thali lunch. With circular plates lined with a banana leaf, the veg thali lunch here at Bheema’s Restaurant on Church Street was standard lunch fare for the tables of workers that filled the restaurant. With mounds of rice and dal and papadam as the main staple, I was also presented with little bowls of yogurt, spicy sambar soup, a little desert and pudding. I realized that at my office, we basically have a thali lunch everyday, since that’s just what they serve–rice, a bread, a sambar, curd, cukes and tomatoes and then two or three veggie dishes. But the thali is special because of all of the cute little bowls and the banana leaf presentation.

  

Plus a guy would come around with buckets of food–beet root, more dal, chutney. The food was very spicy. The meal wasn’t over the top amazing, but quite satisfying and a fun experience.

After the meal, we braved the crazy sidewalks, some of which were as high as my shin, to get to an incredible used bookstore. Three floors of every book imaginable for no more than a few dollars. Not that we need anymore weight in our suitcases, but I got some paperbacks of the hottest Indian writer right now, Chetan Bhagat. Plus we found some of Kaden’s favorite Nancy Drew graphic novels.

On the way into town, here was a bus of workers on the highway. This bus was moving. No room inside, so people hung to the outside. Wild.

Here, Kaden is swimming with her new neighbor and friend, Diya. Sometimes in India I feel like I have stepped into the 1920s. And her family is modern–the girls actually have swimming suits. When dry, the suit dries out to be baggy shorts. And swim caps–de rigeur.

Neighbors Diya and Ecta, in their standard matching outfits, enjoy Just Dance on the Wii with our kiddos. The Bollywood song is now a huge favorite in our house!

Shopping in Bangalore

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After returning from Mumbai, Kim and Leti were going to spend a day in Mysore, but they were just too exhausted from our Mumbai experiences. So instead we focused on shopping in Bangalore–something that is very fun to do in this town! We started at Safina Plaza. The interior courtyard had an open air market where we sampled and bought lots of spices and candies.

Kim and Leti got bangles, shawls, wall hangings and more handbags. I got a beautiful Salwar Kameez set-which was altered on the spot in about five minutes by some guys with sewing machines at the top of the stairs!

Mom got a bedspread. Kaden got some rings. After maybe too much shopping, we headed to one of the best Chinese buffets in town–Mainland China. Below, Kaden and Leti are playing the game Angels and Assassins that Carson insisted that we do. We had trouble understanding the rules and that got him very upset!

On the way home, we stopped at a roadside watermelon stand to get some watermelon to bring to a picnic the next day. They weight it on a scale–10 rupees a kilogram.

Kim and Leti in the back seat of the Innova helping Kaden play a geography game on the IPad

Some photos taken by Kim and Leti while we drove about town. Below is the lake that we pass on the way to school. It used to be an important bird sanctuary but encroaching development is shrinking the water table.

A sign by my yoga class–please pick up after your dog, with dog poop right below it.

  

Signs of the ongoing construction in Bangalore–the beginnings of a sky-high metro rail system that will connect the airport with the downtown. We struggle through this construction daily to get to our house.

The barbed wire fencing around our community. Which both kids claim “I touched it and it’s not sharp at all!” Why are they touching it? Sigh.

The Ganesh blessing the community, cared for each day by Mr. Yadov.