Sunday, December 8, 2013

India-- Driving About Northern India

After arriving in India, we thankfully saw the representative from the travel company holding a sign with our names at the airport. He led us to our car, and we met our driver who would be driving us around northern India during our trip.

Hiring a car and driver was one of the best decisions I made for the trip. I’d highly recommend that anyone who is traveling to India hire a driver and car for the duration of your trip. 

It made our travels around so much easier, as we didn’t have to worry about how to get places, where places were located, where the trains or buses were located, etc. Our driver picked us up and dropped us off at all the sites and places we went, and we knew our car would always be waiting for us when we were finished visiting each place.

Our first day driving through Delhi, I noticed the hundreds of auto rickshaws in the road, yellow and orange vehicles just a bit bigger than a motorcycle, which I saw carry as many as four or five people.

Motorcyles darted in and out of traffic, often with families of three or four on a bike- a 3 or 4 year old in front, with the father driving, the mother sitting sideways behind him, sometimes holding a small child. Sometimes the  motorcyclists carried huge bags or even animals! I saw very few people wearing helmets during my travels in India.

During our time traveling to Agra and Jaipur, we would see buses filled with people, with 20 or 30 people sitting on top of the bus. Open trucks would drive by with several men standing in the truck bed in back. We would drive past colorful tractors and trucks, camels pulling carts, bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws and more. People would honk as they passed, sometimes with a musical tune to the honk.

After we drove outside of modern Delhi, with the skyscrapers, IT buildings, call centers, and smooth paved highways, the countryside was very different. In the country, we drove on uneven washed out roads at times, with traffic that didn’t seem to follow any rules.

We drove through villages where we would see fruit and vegetable markets and people gathered. We drove past huts or shacks, and walking paths worn into the ground. In the villages, we would see pigs foraging in the piles of rubbish along the road, goats, cows sitting in the shade or sometime in the road, and stray dogs.

We drove through rice fields and other agriculture fields, and through the countryside, very different from the big, busy cities filled with people.

Along the way, we would stop at rest areas, similar to what we have in the U.S., with restaurants, vendors trying to sell European chocolate or cookies or soda, and more.

Some roads were better than others, but my motion sickness often would come back to me. Thankfully I often had medications to help with it, and I only got really sick once; I think one bumpy road was just too much for my motion sickness!

All in all, most of the roads were better than I thought they would be. And driving through the country and the cities gave me the opportunity to look about and see how people lived, to see what the countryside looked like, how the towns were organized and more.

*Some photos courtesy of Jenny Anders and Marissa Fitzgibbons.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

India, An Experience for the Senses

 India. I’d heard before I went that it was the land of many smells, that people loved the country or hated it, that it wasn’t safe, that it was dirty, unsanitary and crowded. I sometimes had the feeling that people thought it was a little weird that I’d even consider going there.

And then I went to India. It’s loud and busy, with lots of people, cars, motorcycles and auto rickshaws everywhere.


But, it’s also colorful—from the brightly colored saris the women wear, to the brightly painted trucks and tractors, and the strings of colorful flowers on some cars and tractors.

And there are many sounds—Indian music streaming from the radios in the tractors or trucks driving by, or the musical horns that played a tune as they whizzed by, or the birds chirping.

Animals are everywhere—from the cows in the road, to the pigs scavenging in the pile of garbage by the road, to the goats lining up and following their leader, to the monkeys hanging about on buildings, to the camels pulling carts alongside the cars and motorcycles in the road.

And the smells, the many smells.

There were the not so pleasant smells when the windows were rolled down, going through villages and smelling the decomposing trash.

But then there were all the pleasant smells: of chicken or rice cooking; a whiff of saffron, cumin or other spices; freshly made naan or chapati; or masala (chai) tea.

India is a land where all of your senses are awakened, through seeing the bright colors, hearing the lively music and eating the flavorful food. It was an exciting, interesting and wonderful experience.

I spent two weeks in northern India recently. I'll be writing more about it soon!

*Some photos courtesy of Jenny Anders and Marissa Fitzgibbons.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Out to Eat!

I remember when going out to eat was special. In my family growing up, going out to eat meant it was a birthday, an anniversary, a Mother’s Day, a good-grades celebration and other occasions. Other than those special occasions, we rarely went out to eat growing up.

For many special occasions, my family would often go to Michael’s, a classic fine-dining restaurant in downtown Rochester, with dark wood décor and thick carpets. Michael’s had the best steak in town (it still has good steak!), and fresh bread and salad before the meals. The hallway on the way to the restaurant was lined with framed photos of many celebrities who had eaten there over time.

Sometimes we would go to Perkin’s for breakfast, but usually only when my dad had medical appointments early in the morning. I’d have pancakes or French toast, with sausage on the side. I’d spread a big square of butter on the pancakes and drown them in maple syrup. Even the sausage tasted better with a bit of maple syrup! I’d have a glass of orange juice on the side. My parents would drink coffee with their breakfasts, but I didn’t like the taste of coffee until I was in high school.

After college, I started to go out to eat more, with family and friends in the Twin Cities. Still, for a long time, it was a special experience to me, getting to go to many new restaurants—like the Twin City Grill or the Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Chang’s—choosing a good entrée from the menu, and sometimes having a glass of wine or dessert with dinner.

But over time, I’ve realized that going out to eat has lost that special factor. It’s turned into something I just happen to do once in a while with friends and family, wherever it’s convenient to meet, or when I don’t have time to cook at home. It’s lost the feeling of being something special, of being a celebration.

I think I’ll go back to how I grew up—going out to eat to celebrate, to enjoy life, to spend time with family and friends, and to eat good food. When I go out to eat, I’ll remember to savor the experience and enjoy the entire meal. Next time I have something to celebrate, I’ll be going out to eat!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Road Trip Through Canada—Alone but Content

I’m not always a solo traveler. But, earlier this summer, after a few friends I’d traveled with previously weren’t able to join me, I found myself without a travel buddy to set off on a trip through Canada with me. So I decided to travel alone to our neighboring country to the north, to explore Ontario and Quebec. After a bit of a travel mishap leaving Minnesota, I was on my way to my Canadian adventure!

Throughout the trip in Canada, I met many new people in restaurants, cafes, visitor centers, airports or walking about towns. Traveling alone, I think, doesn’t need to be lonely. Instead, it made me more aware and observant about the area and more purposeful about meeting new people. It also gave me time to reflect and write about my experiences.

To begin the trip, I drove from Toronto to Niagara Falls (read about my experiences!), where I’d arranged to meet good friends for a couple days.

Later on in the trip, I drove to Montreal, just me, my rental car, some Tim Horton’s donuts and coffee, and the open road.

Driving to Montreal was very pretty­—it’s close to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and has pretty views of the water along the way. I kept seeing signs for “Bridge to the United States” and thought about stopping over in New York, but I’ll save that for another trip.

Every so often, I followed signs for small towns off the highway, just to see what local towns were like. Brighton, for example, had a lovely waterfront, quaint churches and a classic old downtown area.

Being in the car alone can get to be a bit tiring and quiet. But sometimes I really appreciate the time to have some quietness and time to think, and just appreciate the scenery, noticing interesting town names and observing details of towns.

At the end of a long day of traveling in the car, I arrived on the outskirts of Montreal. After carefully following directions to my hotel downtown, and driving through busy traffic, I arrived at last. I’d planned to stay near Vieux Montreal (old Montreal), as I had read about the area and wanted to explore it. Find out more about Montreal here.

So after getting settled in my hotel, I walked outside to explore and find the old downtown area. After following some streets nearby, I found an area of cobblestone streets, old stately buildings and narrow pedestrian streets.

I followed the road until I walked into a large open pedestrian street, lined with restaurants with terraces.

I chose a restaurant with some great French cuisine. I had a crepe, a glass of wine, and finished it off with a cappuccino. I happily remembered enough French to understand some of the menu, but I was relieved it had English translations. My server also spoke both English and French, which I appreciated. My French had definitely faded from lack of use over the years, but I hope to relearn more French! 

While I sat, street musicians played music out on the street, a woman walked around selling long-stemmed red roses, and people milled about on the street. The sun was beginning to set, and the restaurants’ outdoor lights began to turn on and give the street a glow. The area—the atmosphere, food, language, culture, architecture—reminded me of Paris, where I’ve been a few times.

The next day, I explored more of Vieux Montreal, and learned about the history of the area. I also met a friend who lived near Montreal for an afternoon, and explored more of Vieux Montreal.

I didn’t have much time in Montreal, as I had planned to travel to Quebec City next. But it was an interesting city, and I recommend visiting it--especially Vieux Montreal--when you visit Quebec! And I’ll write more about Quebec City soon!

Monday, June 24, 2013

My Travel Mishap—When My Transport to the Airport Went Awry

I’ve traveled quite a bit. And I’ve had my share of unexpected adventures and travel mishaps, such as the time I almost ended up sleeping on a beach in Cinque Terre after a hotel cancelled our reservation, or the time I exited off the train at the wrong train station in Genoa… But it was time for another travel mishap.

I recently took a trip to Canada (see more blog posts coming soon!). I live about an hour from a large airport, so I often pay for an airport shuttle to take me to the airport.

So, recently, on an early Saturday morning, I asked a friend if she could drop me off with my suitcase, backpack and travel bag at the hotel in town, where the shuttle would pick me up. The shuttle  a  large white passenger van  arrived. The driver glanced at me and the other guy who was getting on the shuttle, and loaded our suitcases. He glanced at his clipboard and said he had two of us to pick up, and then we were on our way.

About five minutes later, I got a call on my cell phone. “This is --- Shuttle Service, and we’re waiting for you at the --- Hotel.”

I suddenly realized I had made a mistake. I was on the wrong shuttle, with a different shuttle company. Oh no! “Can you take me back to the hotel so the shuttle can pick me up?” I asked the driver. He said no, he wasn’t going to stop back at the hotel and he had to get to the airport. “Can you wait for me? Can you pick me up somewhere else?” I asked the woman on the phone from the other shuttle service. She said no, and they couldn’t wait.

So then, the driver of my shuttle said he’d drop me off at another hotel in town near where we he was driving. I said I’d just get out there, feeling rather frustrated. I got out of the van, took my backpack and walked around to the back of the van. “Can I just get my bag?” I asked the driver. He walked away, hopped in the van, closed his door and began to drive away. With my suitcase in the back of the van!

I began running after the shuttle, waving my hands, yelling, “Stop! Stop! My suitcase! Stop! Wait!” I ran through the parking lot of the hotel and across the McDonald’s parking lot next door. But it was no use. The driver and the van were way ahead of me on the busy street, and headed back to the highway.

I stood in the McDonald’s parking lot, dug out my phone, and searched for the shuttle service on the Internet. I called and got a voicemail message, so I left a frantic message explaining the driver took off with my suitcase and I needed it.

Then I called my friend Marissa, who had given me a ride to the hotel. I anxiously said, “Marissa, I-got-on-the-wrong-shuttle-and-now-I’m-at-McDonald’s-cause-he-drove-off-and-has-my-bag-and-have-to-get-to-airport-and-need-my-suitcase-and-what-am-I-going-to-do????!!!!”

She calmly said, ”We’ll get a hold of the shuttle company. I’ll be right there. You’ve got a ride to the airport.”

I tried the shuttle service number again, and got a real person. He tracked down the number of the shuttle driver. I got a hold of the driver on his cell phone, and we made plans to meet and get my suitcase near the airport.

Marissa picked me up in the McDonald's parking lot, in her little Beetle.

                                                         Marissa's Volkswagen Beetle

I began to breathe normally and calm down on the ride up to the airport. I knew everything was going to work out. Marissa drove me all the way there, and she made sure I got there to make it on time for my flight. I was very appreciative!

I eventually reunited with my bag just before arriving at the airport.

                                                              My suitcase

I arrived at my gate at the airport, after dropping my suitcase off safely at the baggage drop-off, less than two hours after I had first been dropped off at the hotel. I was still a bit breathless, but relieved. I’d made it to the gate on time, and I was on my way to Toronto.