Finally! I can post photos on my blog. Here are some interesting ones from our trip to Europe.
This is a photo of the sun setting over the Cinque Terre in Italy. We only stayed here for two nights but both evenings we walked the Via Dell'Amore from Riomaggiore, the town we stayed in, to Manarola, the next town over.
Best meal in Italy. Grocery store food, Siena, Italia. The tomatoes were divine. I've never had a better tasting tomato. So good I took some on the plane with us to Amsterdam. The meal? Bread, two different kinds of cheeses, olive tapenade, tomato, prosciutto (for Val), and wine.
This store was right outside the walls of the Vatican. I love the name of the store. And their array of Superman T-shirts on the right.
The Pantheon is absolutely the most stunning landmark in Rome. When we arrived there was a large protest outside -- as best as we could guess, about the changes to retirement age, lesser benefits, etc. During our 25 days in Europe, we saw at least 5 protests.
Bonsai at the Flower Market in Amsterdam. Donna - this one is for you.
We made it to India and are sitting in an internet cafe in Rishikesh. It feels good to be here, away from the bustle of the city.
Before we left, we did as much research as we could about what to expect upon arriving here. We knew that it was going to be hot, people would approach us trying to sell us things/talk, and that we would have to be careful when eating. Although I still think that preparation is important, we are learning the most through experience, by learning the hard way in some cases.
We arrived in Delhi on Wednesday evening and grabbed a prepaid taxi to our guesthouse. We read alot about how to avoid being scammed on the taxi and we were fine - our driver was nice and friendly. However, the driving here reminds me of a video game. Cars, autorickshaws, cycle rickshaws, lots of people, vendors with carts, cows, and dogs all occupy a spot on the road. The lanes are somewhere between a rule anand a suggestion and I decided early on that I would avoid looking straight ahead and just trust our driver. Our hotel was very nice - Hotel Cottage Yes Please in Pajarganj. We got a room with AC - it also had a TV, fridge, comfy bed. A perfect place to recover from the long flight.
On our first full day in Delhi we set out to buy our train tickets to Haridwar. Immediately upon leaving the hotel we we were surrounded by drivers wanting to take us places. We were going to walk since the station looked close on our map. A man came walking beside us, asked us where we were going. The train station we said. "Oh, this way," he says. We followed him all the way (as later realized) to Connaught Place to a travel agency. We walked in, got a free map, and left. At this point, we needed a driver, since we didn't know where we were going. We asked our driver to take us to the New Delhi Train station, so we could buy our rail tickets. We read a lot about getting train tix ahead of time -- the International Tourist Bureau is what we needed to find. We left the autorickshaw, and were told by 5 different people that it had moved to the N block of Connaught Place. We walked inside, couldn't find it. Frustrating. We asked our driver to take us back to CP to Nblock to the rail office. When we got there, we were taken to another travel agency. We asked for 2 tickets to Haridwar. He told us they were sold out and there were none available, no days. Only tour packages available. Ugh. At this point, we asked our driver to take us back to our hotel. On the way he got stuck in some rubble. Brandon helped push him through it... and we got back safe, but hungry and drained from the heat. This is a quick overview.. but basically imagine us two walking around and getting approached by people all the time.
Day 1 was the most challenging. We refreshed, rethought our strategy. We took a stroll around Paharganj that evening and didn't interact with anyone we didn't want to. It was hard. No thank you, then we moved on. When we didn't know where we were going we kept walking as if we knew and talked strategy. And, what was hardest for me, is I decided to let Brandon take the lead. It didn't help us earlier in the day when we didn't agree on what to do. I only interjected when necessary.
This worked much better for day 2. We read up the first night on buying train tix again and realized our driver took us to the wrong rail station. We memorized the map from our hotel to the front of the station. And we got up and left before 8am so we could beat the crowds. This worked. We got our train tix (yes, they were available), then spent the rest of the day poking around Connaught Place, Janpath Rd, hit the FabIndia, and of course, eating and hydrating ourselves. We met some really interesting people, including an exporter in a coffeeshop, a retired Ayurvedic doctor in CP, and a kid studying english and sanskrit. We saw a cow dressed in what looked like a cow sari. And a man dressed up in costume (Mughal?) in full gallop on a horse through traffic. Funny things? A few "hey mr tall guy" and a lot of people who come up to us and ask if we are german.
Yesterday, energized by our 2nd day, we got up early for our 6:50am train on the Shatabdi Express to Haridwar. No problem finding the train, uneventful smooth ride. We met a woman from New Zealand who had been traveling for 5 months. At Haridwar, we decided to catch the next train to Rishikesh, leaving in less than an hour. We bought our tickets (cheap, 8 Rupees... 45 rupees = $1) and waited. And waited. We asked multiple people what platform our train would be on... no one knew, others says track 3, track 5. We listened for announcements. I left my pack with Brandon and looked and ran into my first monkeys. After waiting for 1.5 hrs, we gave up. We left the station to grab the bus. Brandon wrote down detailed directions (we've already learned to do this, since we when ask people we haven't had good luck with the answers). We couldn't find it. We decided to take a vikram -- a big autorickshaw that jams lots of people in. Like the Guatemalan colectivo. Then there was some kind of argument in Hindi and most of the passengers left. We sat there waiting to leave and realized the bus company was across the street (we walked by it multiple times). We got off, asked about the bus. They told us the bus was 2 km down the road. We decided to take the vikram. Loaded onto another, with 10+ people. Finally made it to Rishikesh.
It's so much calmer here. Still hot, over 100. But its nice to not have to deal with auto traffic. We are staying in the Swargashram part of town, across the foot bridge. There are scooters and motorcycles here, but no cars. Yay.
More later. And I will upload photos when I get a chance. I didn't take any in Delhi. But I'll take some here.
Finding a good internet cafe, time, and the right head space to blog about our trip has been more difficult than I imagined. After leaving Barcelona, we didn't spend more than 3 days in one place, often with a full day of travel included.
Our flight from Barcelona was delayed an hour or so but lucky for us, the airport actually had an outdoor courtyard where we were able to soak up some sun before heading to Italy for 9 days.
We landed in Pisa and like good tourists, we marched over the the Leaning Tower where I got obligatory snaps of the tower, Brandon and the tower, and landscapes with the tower. You get it. We ducked into a fast food like pizza joint for pizza, beer, and salad -- the name of the place we've forgotten -- which is unfortunate, because it the one of the best meals we had on our trip! Especially the salad. A solid greens mix, shredded veggies, fresh mozzarella... yum!! On the subject of the food, there was also an amazing gelataria outside our hostel - La Botega Gelataria. Our favorite gelato of the trip as well.
Gelato became a diet staple of ours for about 2 weeks. Each day we looked forward to a cup of gelato so we could compare it all the others we had. Bad for me (this is a weight loss trip!), good for Brandon (I think we gained a pound or two).
We left Pisa and took the train up to the Cinque Terre -- a group of towns on the Northwest coast of Italy. We didn't have reservations for our two nights here and in retrospect, that was a bad idea. We got off the train in Manarola (the 2nd town), thinking that it would be less popular and that we could find a guest house. There are signs up all over noting "rooms for rent" but unfortunately you have to call and we didn't have a phone. After walking around for a couple hours, up and down, left and right, we finally found a nice apartment in Riomaggiore. We took it, although it was over our budget. So glad to have a shower.
The Cinque Terre was beautiful. There is a path connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola called the Via Dell'Amore, the path of love. Easy walk, beautiful views. On our 2nd day we did a longer hike from Riomaggiore to Vernazza. Took about 3 hours, and in the end we celebrated our accomplishment with pizza and beer.
We left the 5Terre for Florence where we spent 3 days. I went to both Florence and Rome ten years ago and think that I felt the same both times - Florence is overrated. The city's history is fascinating, the Uffizi collection stunning, and the shopping grand, but the city itself feels too touristy. Pisa was super touristy but it also felt like a place where people lived. Not Florence. We went to the Uffizi, strolled through the Central Market (oh how I wish I could have stuffed a suitcase full of cheap purchases and sent home!), hit the farmer's market and bought olives and fruit, ate gelato, etc.
After Florence we trained over to Siena for a night. We wish we had more time in Siena. For lack of a better way to describe it, the vibe was good there. The city is divided into 17 neighborhoods - all insects and animals -- and we stayed in the caterpillar neighborhood, right next to the giraffe neighborhood. Twice a summer the neighborhoods race horses around the town square in a race called Il Palio. Too bad we missed it, looks like fun.
We then hit Rome for two days. 2 days is not enough time to see Rome. We went to the Vatican on our first afternoon but unfortunately the square and St. Peter's were closed due to preparations for a mass by the following morning for the priests. We moved on that evening and the following day to see all the sites: Pantheon, Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, etc. We took a trip to the Catacombs -- the graves of half a million early Christians in South Rome. It was an amazing walk through hand dug caverns dug 1700 years ago. It was a little hard to get to (only a public bus that runs every half hour) but we met 2 nice Belgians on the way. Rome, of all the cities we've been to in Europe, had the least user-friendly transportation systems. Since I loved Rome so much ten years ago, I won't let my mediocre experience this time stop me from returning a third time! And I better, since I threw a few cents into the Trevi Fountain.
On to Amsterdam - I enjoyed it much better this time. The city was packed with tourists and we had sweet digs at the NH hotel. A bathtub!! Ate herring from the street vendors. We rented bikes, riding through the Vondelpack and the forest, and didn't kill ourselves riding there. A little intimidating in the city, but once we got out, it felt great to ride along the canal. It was also nice to be back in cooler weather -- 60s -- some natural AC between high 90s Italy and 100s India.
There's really not much to say about Brussels. Not enough time there. Did laundry and flew out early the following morning. All the chocolate has lecithin in it - and since Brandon is a real chocolate purist (that's a nice way of putting it), we didn't indulge (honestly, we didn't have the time).
We had a wonderful time in Europe. And in retrospect, now that we are in India, it was a good idea to acclimate to traveling together, making decisions on the flyer, and working out the kinks in our system.
No photos now -- no USB port on this computer.
Of all the cities Brandon and I have visited so far, Barcelona was our favorite. This may be because we had wonderful hosts... thank you!
We visited the major Gaudi sites but as cheapskates, did not pay the exorbitant prices to get inside.
I need to look up Gaudi upon my return and read up on the building process. I love his use of curves, natural light, and mosaics/paintings.
Now Weebly is acting up and wont let me add photos. So definitely check on my Flickr (kqom) or click on the link to the right. I will try again later from a different computer and hope it works! All the photos from Barcelona, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre are up!
It's clear that the people here in Barcelona really embrace living. Hmm.. Count me in!
We are staying here with Seattle friends Julia and Pino (as well as their newborn Ulisse) and lucky for us, they live just a few minutes from the beach. I love the beach. Especially the beach here. One - it's Europe, so women can go topless. Two - the vendors here are quite ingenious and walk around selling cold beers and water. As well as massages and trinkets. Aaah, the life. The last couple days I've started my day with an hour soaking up the sun. I could get used to this.
We were here for the weekend and stumbled upon a children's festival in the park. What a treat! So many families out for a day in the park . No fast food vendors here -- all picnics (although the mobile beer vendors may have been out).
More later. No visit to Barcelona is complete without mention of Gaudi.
Visiting this city really got me thinking about what I'm seeking out in my future home. Obviously a beach would be grand. But more importantly, I'd like to live in a community where the residents care about their community, come together for work, play, and civic discourse, and in general, have a positive outlook on life.
Not too much to ask, right?
Val's Life and Travel Blog
In April 2010 I left the security of my FT job to travel for eight months -- across the US, Europe, India, and SE Asia. I spent six weeks in Spain in Feb 2013 and experimented with working remotely for an extended period of time. (It worked!) This blog is mostly about my travels and occasional life updates.
Latest photos from Flickr