Category Archives: travelling

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.

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Home safe and sound!

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We are home safe and sound after quite a long journey home from Frankfurt via Newark and Harrisburg. We are surprised to see everything lush and in full bloom in our beautiful neighborhood. The little things are surprising us. The size of drinks at the airport (that’s a medium? looks like an extra-large to me). Ordering at McDonalds I was shocked at all the choices and had trouble placing my order. They thought I was crazy when I exclaimed with glee at being served my favorite Sugar-Free Vanilla Iced Coffee.

When we arrived home last night I groggily had trouble figuring out how to flush the toilet. I kept looking on the top of the commode. I also found my sheets and pillow to be the most luxurious linens I have ever experienced in my life.

The kids were greeted with welcome signs on the door from friends. They played with neighborhood friends today; Todd and I went on a long run. What a beautiful day. We will rest again tomorrow and head back to school on Tuesday!

More blog posts to come on our Paris leg of the trip…

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.

Record keeping

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The keeping of records is a fascinating issue in India.  Other than the national corporations, many hotels, apartment complexes and banks even still keep records in big old fashioned ledgers.  With power often iffy, no computer can go down and lose the records. And it’s how it has always been done.

I am astounded by the number of sign in books in our apartment complex and those of other complexes. Sign in the little books to go to the gym, to use the pool, to welcome visitors. And I am astounded by the paper trail at grocery stores. Get a tally of the bill from one person, pay another person, and then a third person at the door checks the receipt and stamps it.

Carson’s juice bottle from Cafe Coffee Day (the Starbucks of India). I have no idea what it is supposed to mean, but it sums up well my feelings in India some days!

While such record keeping seems ubiquitous in what seems like silly situations to me, we have been equally astounded by the lack of data bases and record keeping where it matters. For example, most book stores in India, even huge multi-level bookstores often do not have a method for keeping track of inventory. Books are not shelved based on title or author. Sometimes they are shelved by publisher. Sometimes by subject. Sometimes willy nilly.

Even at the big and fancy Mantri Mall this week, my mom went to a very large book store to find if they have books by Amit Chowdry, a famous intellectual in India. Big shot. Big deal. The book store pulled up Amazon.

My mother asked, “How do you know if you have the book if you look it up on Amazon?”

Clerk: “The book might be shelved by title.”

My mom goes to the section and notices that they aren’t shelved by title at all. She returns to the clerk and asks, “How are the books ordered if they aren’t ordered by title.”

Clerk: “It is what it is madam.”

Even more surprisingly than the book store, my parents went to the Museum of Modern art.

None of the personnel knew what paintings were located in the museum. When asking to speak to a more senior person, the man admitted that the museum does not have a database or catalog. Even more surprisingly, though, was that they could not find anyone who knew where the painting by Tagore was located. Tagore is one of the most famous authors/poets in India history.  My parents finally found the painting tucked away on the sixth floor.

We took the kids to the Art Museum in our last days in Bangalore. The kids were not very enthused about the visit until I lucked out with a game that kept them happy. In each room of art, we all had to choose our favorite and then we had to guess the favorite’s of everyone else.  It slowed them down, caused them to consider the pieces carefully, and they had a blast. I will definitely remember that trick for Paris.

Wandering about the sculpture garden, Carson shows off his new gap. The tooth fairy came last night and left both Rs 100 and $1!

The one place where records are watched very closely is in the cricket league which has caught India by storm. My dad watches a match every night. Carson is obsessed as well. He wears his red Bangalore Royal Challengers cap all around town. Below are some of the team logos at the hotel bar in Hospet.  Carson insisted on watching the matches on the big screen in the bar, much to the concern of the wait staff at the hotel!

Hanging out in Hospet

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The kids and I took one final road trip during our India adventure. We drove four hours north of Bangalore to visit the ancient ruins of Hampi. We were so grateful that our old driver, Srinivas, agreed to drive us on this “out of station” trip. Turns out he didn’t dislike us after all, he just didn’t like his boss as much as we didn’t. If only we had known, we could have hired him directly and avoided all of our driver woes that we have had since March!

We stayed at the Royal Orchid Hotel in Hospet, about 20 minutes from the ruins. It was the nicest hotel around. It claims to be a five star hotel. I wouldn’t say that at all, but it definitely had very lovely rooms, a comfortable bed, strong air conditioning, and a lovely pool.

  

Below, view from our balcony of sugarcane plantation.

After what ended up being five and a half hours in the car, an afternoon poolside was very much in order. The kids loved the deep water which allowed Carson to perfect his back flip ‘(Carson is saying in the video, “Dad, this one’s for you!” and Kaden to make great improvements on her dive.

I had hoped to take the kids into Hampi that night when it was cooler, but the front desk clerk advised that we do Hampi in one day with a hired guide. Instead, he suggested that we head over to the Tuna Bhadra dam for the sunset and to see the musical fountain.

The pathway to the dam was lined with quotes in English and in Kannada. Some were famous and others were rather obscure!

    

On the way we stopped to take a paddle boat ride, which they called a coracle boat ride. But a coracle boat is one of those round boats the locals use for transport and fishing–nothing like a big plastic blue swan!

   

In true Indian style, we should not have been surprised that we would not be taking the boat ride alone. Instead, a man climbed on board to do the steering for us. As Kaden put it, “I was kind of hoping it would just be us!” Yep. Welcome to India! He was a nice enough guy. Very helpful. But as Americans, we feel that we don’t need help. We get annoyed by help. Help is not helpful!

The rest of the park had a very small aquarium. I told the kids not to get their hopes up, but they were pleased to see a snakefish, and Carson promised me that I will be taking him to a REAL aquarium this summer (add Baltimore to our summer plans!).

  

The park also had an aviary-read large pen with peacocks and pigeons in it.   Plus it had an enclosure for deer, who must get feed by the visitors often because they all came up to the fence to beg for food.

   

We then headed over to the main attraction–the purported finest musical fountain in all of Southern India! Here is one clip of the show.   It wasn’t that bad. But we were done after a couple of songs. To sum up our experience, Kaden said, “This place is pretty cute for India. I can tell they are really trying here. In the United States, it would be really disappointing. But here, it’s not that bad!”

    

Jantar mantar and other final explorations

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On our last morning in Jaipur, we said goodbye to the Varvarigos family. They would be continuing on for four more stops in Rajisthan. We  were going to head home. That morning, we had a few final explorations of town. We were sleepy from our theme park fun the night before, but we didn’t want to wait too long to head out due to the heat. So we made our way to Jantar Mantar.

The Jantar Mantar site was built the the Mahraja Jai Sigh II between 1727 and 1734. It is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments and is really fascinating.

       

Above is the largest sundial in the world, accurate to two seconds.

We hired a tourguide (shown below) at the front gate–a must for this site or else it would be hard to make sense of the machines. He clearly had a presentation and wanted to make it his way. But I kept stopping him and re-explaining the scientific principles to the kids. Since the kids had a solid grasp of earth rotation and revolution, they were able to understand the structures and remained very engaged, despite the heat.  Below right, Carson checks out one of the instruments.

   

Kaden was most taken by the astrological instruments. Indian astrology is taken very seriously. One’s birth day, year, time and place of birth can be made into an astrological chart. Often this chart is matched with a potential spouse and compatibility can determine the wedding date and in traditional settings, even if the marriage will happen at all.

   

After the observatory, we stopped in on a Jaipur institution–Lassiwalla. We tried a sample from the original, the oldest shop in Jaipur. He only offers one flavor–plain in a (disposable) terracotta cup. The lassi is a sweet yogurt drink. The stand next to him offered mango and banana, so we got one of the mango as well. I thought they were delicious, but the kiddos found them to be too strong. So then I had two for me.

I was looking forward to taking the terracotta cups home as souvenirs. But when we stopped in the Anokhi shop (below) for some snacks and some shopping, the taxi cab driver had cleaned the car of the garbage. He couldn’t understand why we would possibly want to keep the cup!  

We found Jaipur to be a beautiful, colorful, and very HOT city!! Ready to catch our plane, though, back to the Garden City of India!