Category Archives: travelling

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!

  

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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.

McDonalds in Frankfurt

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After little sleep, we arrived in Frankfurt at 9:30 Frankfurt time (3:30 a.m. State College time). Kaden’s stomach was feeling queasy so we found a McDonalds. In addition to chicken nuggets and fries (for $12 plus ketchups for 60 cents) I ordered fried Brie with cranberry sauce. I also could have gotten a chicken sandwich with camembert cheese.

Prep and Landing

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Our playroom turned into packing room in the final few days--yes all of that stuff was to be packed into suitcases

Packing for a four month stay with two kiddos, two senior citizens and a mom is not a small task. Preparing to leave two days after Christmas is a bit insane. I finished Christmas prep last Friday and I’ve been in full blown India prep since (when I’m not grading papers and finishing up a few articles). Tasks in the past few days of tasks have included:
-Buying and organizing two tubs of food
-Having the kiddos try on all of the clothes in their closets to see what fits and what they are willing to wear
-Printing out every important document I might need since I will not have Internet while traveling and when we first get there
-Getting a notarized letter that declares that Todd knows that the kids are traveling internationally without him.
-Purchasing $450 in malaria and typhoid meds
-Making final doctor and haircut appointments for all
– Canceling papers, magazines, gym memberships, parking passes, etc.
-Configuring VPN on all i-touches, laptops and iPads to be able to access Netflix and hulu plus while we are abroad.
-Selecting paint colors for four rooms (to be completed while we are gone).
-Arranging meetings with teachers to discuss missed schoolwork.
-Shipping books to India via diplomatic pouch
-Helping my parents get their house ready to rent while we are away.
-Organizing going away parties for both kiddos–laser tag for the seven year old boy and an “almost” sleep over for the 10 year old girl
And so on, and so on, and so on. Count down…Two weeks!

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Food prep!
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Staging area for suitcase planning