Travel

Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

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Our whirlwind weekend to Delhi ended over a week ago and it already feels like a lifetime ago. We are so busy all the time and pushed to mental and physical capacity that even in the ten minutes I’ve had free, I just can’t seem to make myself do anything requiring brain power. I feel like I’m getting stupider and stupider here and the delirious giggles are off the charts, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll sleep for 48 hours when I’m back in the states and I’ll wake up smart! Maybe…

But back to Delhi. We get one free weekend while we’re on assignment over here and ten of us decided it was our chance to see the Taj Mahal. We rushed home after work on Friday and crammed into rickshaws, making it to the airport just in time for our flight to be delayed and for us to wait for a couple hours. And I had the pleasure of using a hole in the ground toilet and getting acquainted with an ice cold bidet. (Dammit Alina, stop forgetting to carry around toilet paper!) A few hours later and we landed in Delhi and took the most hilarious rickshaw through torrential rain and flooded streets, getting soaked, getting ripped off and getting dropped off at the wrong hotel. So back on the road across town to our actual hotel and we finally got checked in around 2am. Enough time to shower and meet our tour guide in the lobby at 2:45am. We spent the next three hours en route to Agra and trying to sleep in the oddest positions. Side note: I’ve learned I sleep quite well sitting in a chair and draping my torso over my legs and letting my arms and head hang down.

We arrived to the Taj Mahal around 6am to meet our tour guide and spent the better part of four hours exploring the buildings and grounds. I don’t know what I expected going into this Trip, but nothing prepares you to see the Taj Mahal. It’s breathtaking! The structure was commissioned in 1632 by the emperor, Shah Jahan, as a final resting place and testament of his love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. No detail was spared and the amount of optical illusions the mausoleum plays on you is impressive. My favorite part was the intricate carvings and the inlayed patterns of gemstones. When you shine a light on them, they illuminate in the most brilliant colors and you feel like you’re on the inside of a kaleidoscope.

 

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The second half of our day (well morning) was spent at the Agra Fort, which was just as impressive as the Taj Mahal in my opinion. I loved getting lost in the maze of rooms and willing the walls to tell their secrets. The emperor was imprisoned here by his son where he lived out his final days, looking out at the Taj Mahal and his love down the river.

 

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Between the two tours we stopped for lunch where I had the pleasure of another squatty potty and averting my eyes from the poor man who had to clean it. Sorry! We also stopped at a factory collective of stoneworkers that use the same techniques used to make the gemstone inlays at the Taj Mahal. Totally a money trap, but I walked away with a beautiful elephant I plan on using as a bookend. Oh and monkeys!!! Monkeys were everywhere! We saw two elephants from the car too, but that doesn’t really count I guess.

 

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Back in the van for more delirious giggles and weird napping positions and car games. I cannot tell you how heavenly it was to return home to our hotel room. Air conditioning and warm showers and giant plush beds and wifi! Six of us snuggled into the beds and ordered room service and lots of drinks and watched cheesy 80s style Bollywood movies. Nine pm, down to three of us and we headed out to explore the Delhi nightlife. We ended up at Lord of the Drink and laugh all you want but it was so fun! The inside looks like this sleek cigar lounge/speakeasy with a DJ and dancing and the rooftop was breezy and mellow with a band playing what seemed like Spanish guitar but in Hindi. We chilled with lots of sangria, gin and tonics and shisa – watermelon and mint to be exact and it was the best hookah I’ve ever tried – before stumbling home for some much much much needed sleep.

 

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xo

Alina

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Travel

A Beautiful Tragedy

The poverty and lack of infrastructure in India is impossible to ignore. You are reminded of it with every little child tugging on your arm for money, the endless stretches of shantytowns, the dilapidated buildings, the empty atms, and the sheer dirtiness and lawlessness of the streets. India has 33% of the worlds poorest and no government aid for them.

It feels bizarre to come into so much poverty and stand on the other side of it as a carefree consumer. I’m here for six weeks and oh look how cheap the clothing is. I’ll buy it! And look how quaint the rickshaws are. I’ll ride them! Yes to this and yes to that and more more more before returning to my plush job and my plush life. I feel guilty how lucky I am. I deserve much of what I have because I’m a hard worker and ambitious and compassionate but I also owe a lot of my life to luck. How lucky that I was born a white female to a middle class family in the United States in the current century. How lucky that I was able to go to any university that I pleased and that my dream school accepted me. How lucky am I that despite my health problems, I have access to the top doctors and have a supporting and loving family. How lucky that I have always been taught that I can do and be anything I can imagine. It’s all happenstance that I am standing here so privileged and disconnected from the struggles of these people.

And yet with all my privilege, I feel helpless to provide for these people and ease their struggle. Poverty surrounds you and it takes everything you’ve got to not pet the street dogs who may or may not have rabies and to not help the four year old beggar who’s “pimp” watches nearby. It’s a reality that makes the beauty of India tragic and it’s something I’ve yet to reconcile with myself. With every new adventure and happy moment, I also feel sad and hopeless. People were not kidding when they said India would be an emotional journey.

Xo Alina

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Travel

First Observations About India

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  • There are no addresses. Everything is landmarked based. If you want to get to the Shisa Cafe, you say Westin, Koreagon Park. If I want to get to work, I say behind IBM.
  • The rule to driving here is that there are no rules. Or lanes or traffic lights for that matter.
  • On that note, pedestrians are not respected. In New York, I always bank on the fact that I think the drivers don’t want to hit me and go to jail, more than they want to get somewhere fast. I have a sneaking suspicion, that’s not the case here. Even when I’m on the sidewalk, a motorbike will hop up onto the path to get around traffic and come barreling at me. It’s a game of chicken and I lose every time.
  • There are a lot of international stores and risque clothing like bra tops and miniskirts and short shorts, but I’ve yet to see indian women wearing them. Is there some sort of secret risque clothing gatherings club that I’m not aware of?
  • The little girls here wear the most beautiful princess-looking dresses on a daily basis. I was forced to wear real clothes when I was younger and I might be bitter about it. Give me my tiara dammit. (jk I was a feisty little tot that dressed myself and drove my mom nuts because I never matched and mixed seasons).
  • The food ranges from spicy to spicier to spiciest and I’m not mad at it. My stomach might beg to differ.
  • Toilet paper is not a given here. Pack your own or embrace the bidets. The choice is yours.
  • And if you do find and use toilet paper, you’re not supposed to flush it.
  • The head wobble. An ever constant source of confusion and giggles.
  • I’m not sure waiting in lines is a thing here. Every time I’m cueing, someone cuts in front of me with no shame. I haven’t figured out if it’s a respect your elders thing yet or what but they seem surprised if I say “excuse me, I was waiting in line.” Tbd.
  • There are metal detectors and security everywhere. To get into malls and clubs and hotels and stores. You also have to check all shopping bags at the front of the store and they zip tie your purse or backpack shut.
  • I love the mosque’s call to prayer on Sunday nights. We can hear it from our rooftop.
  • Every shop has roughly 5 attendees to every 1 shopper.
  • So far I have seen hundreds of street dogs and only 3 pet dogs.
  • Coffee is not a thing here. I’m not crying, that’s just sweat coming from my eyes.
  • And I like the chai!! I have tried and hated chai many times in the states, but it was nothing like the chai here.
  • There’s a lot of half constructed buildings. They’re beautiful and haunting, but a sad reminder of unstable markets and corruption.
  • Roti and Medu and Paratha and Samosas and Dosas and Kulcha and Biryani. I’ll have to do a separate post on the food. Or many!

xo Alina

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Travel

Laxmi Road

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On our first full day in Pune, we started off heading to Phoenix Mall to grab water bottles and provisions but the mall doesn’t open until 11am. So we walked down the road to the next mall, which was also closed. But the movie theater was open and we opted to kill time watching Finding Dory in the air conditioning. Kind of an odd introduction to Pune, but AC people!

After the movie, we ventured downtown to Laxmi Road for some lunch and shopping. All in all the day was shocking and exhilarating and humbling. There are people everywhere, dogs everywhere, cars everywhere…everything everywhere. I can’t wait to come back and explore the maze.

xo Alina

 

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Travel

A Comedy of Errors

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India is a complicated love affair. It is a place where my privileged North American and hurried urbanite background come to a grinding halt. No, we will not fix your refrigerator. No, you may not order that. No, you cannot wear that. No, the electricity is off for now. No, the wifi does not work. No, we will not give you the keys to your room’s closet even though we have told you someone will bring them upstairs three days in a row now. No! Because because.

It is crowded and so humid everything you do feels like a hot yoga class. The car exhaust and dirt chokes you and horns beep so much it has become white noise. The men stare you down and blow kisses and beggars pull at your clothes and block your path. There is shit everywhere and some rancid and indistinguishable smells. To put it simply – it is sensory overload.

Yet despite all that, this country is enchanting! The rickshaw drivers chat you up and love to hear you squeal as they zip in and out of traffic. The flowers and trees are saturated in tropical hues and bursting from every sidewalk and plaza. You happen upon the most ornate and stunning temples in the most unassuming of places. The people are so smily and community oriented. The mangoes are so fragrant they seem fake. The bejeweled saris and vibrant prints are swoon worthy. The music pulls you up off your chair. And the food!

There is this lighthearted roll with the punches attitude that permeates daily life. Maybe it’s their natural disposition, maybe it’s a survival technique, but it’s so charming. And I mean really, you have to laugh it off. Life here is a comedy of errors.

We moved in to our longterm hotel apartments on Wednesday night and nothing is as it said it would be. The room is not fully sealed and mosquitos lurk in the corners waiting for you to come home. My refrigerator doesn’t work. My dresser locks but somehow you can still open it. The drawers that warn you to lock up all valuables or else don’t have keys and no, you may not have them. The bathroom door and shower curtain are covered in mold. The living room and kitchen are outdoors and the only wifi spots, but you will be eaten alive. And none of this will be changing any time soon or ever. Preparation and shoulds be damned. This country doesn’t care – here, take this small violin and move on.

I used my shower for the first time Thursday morning. I had set up all my toiletries on the vanity and remembered to turn on the water heater fifteen minutes before my shower. When, I turned on the shower, water sprayed absolutely everywhere! It gushed every which direction soaking my toiletries and trash can and mirror and toilet paper and towel. I threw open the door and started chucking stuff into my bedroom as fast as I could all the while water was now spraying into my room. I finally slammed the door shut so I could take advantage of the remaining hot water and actually, you know…shower, when I caught my disheveled reflection in the mirror and burst into fits of laughter. What else could you do?! And what a perfect introduction to life in India because there’s been a lot of ridiculous hurdles and even more delirious giggles.

Xo

Alina

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Taj Mahal and Agra Fort
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Overview of Buildings, Pune Skyline, Pune, Maharashtra, India --- Image by © Radius Images/Corbis
Travel, Uncategorized

New Beginnings & India Bound

You guys!! I just completed my first week of work after almost exactly a year of fun-employment! I am exhausted and feel like my brain is melting but I am out of this world happy, excited and fulfilled. It feels like everything I ever wanted, but never knew existed. It feels like coming home.

So what is this new job you say? I’m working for a global IT consulting firm as a Quality Analyst / Tech Consultant and I’ll be traveling full-time! Ehh except I have no tech background. Don’t worry they’re not paying me to run around pulling things out of the air and lying to people. I’ve been studying full-time (ok lies, 10% of the time I was banging my head against the wall and there were definitely some tears) for a month with pre-work. One of maybe 60+ assignments was to read a Java textbook and start coding. Yeah – that’s been the cause of the tears. No joke it took me and hour and a half to download Java, IntelliJ and Github and get to page 7 of the textbook. Page 7!! I felt like I was reading something along the lines of:

dsmfasf dsfhf fgjhdfgd ss jj 64 sfjahff fdfhsf sdfjf sfsasd tyuyik sdad kykyu sfer

rerry uyi wqwee gbg ykyu ;;;;;; wergrh 045645 08 &^%$ gfshdff sdfbcv kuuiiuuiuu

………….ggfgdfg get.sdfsfsd,,,,,gfgrthtdg rthrh fgf f g h y t r e w q a s ergrhjjhfgfhgj

Ohhh hahah silly me. That’s definitely a language I speak. Not! Well after walking away from it for a while, some wine and downloading a 16 hour Java tutorial, things started to make sense and suddenly that text book was readable. Now I’ve been in boot camp in Chicago for the last week and leave to India (!) on Tuesday for six weeks of intensive training with all new hires globally.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am for this opportunity and this company and my coworkers. To have a company that invests so much in me from day one and gives me the opportunity to learn to build software and code without going back to school. And did I mention I’ll travel full-time. This is a polarizing topic. Half the people say they’d love the opportunity to travel so much and half say they’d absolutely hate it. Well if you couldn’t guess it, It’s one of the biggest selling points for me. I’m a vagabond spirit after all and nows the time to do it. I’m 25 – I’m single – I’m curious.

So lets get to this India part. (Happy dancing in my hotel room). My pre-thoughts are mostly consumed with work logistics. It’s going to be intense and I’m going to be under an immense amount of pressure and I’m going to try and force my brain to stretch it’s limits of learning. But there will be 70 of us from Ecuador, Brazil, China, Australia, Germany, the UK, India, and more in the same boat. There’s already such a strong sense of community and friendship and it’s only day five.

Secondly, as part of my work training and extracurricular reading, I’ve been learning about India’s complicated and rough history from imperialism and colonialism to their part in WW2 to the Islamic-Hindu populations of Mumbai to the collateral damage and wake of rapid capitalism and so on and so forth. There are so many layers and so many players and I really don’t have any answers or definite opinions, but I hope to continue learning and exploring India’s past and present.  Their social and economic injustices, and cultural richness, and innovations, and well everything. Real specific Alina, I know.

Apart from work craziness and cultural immersion here’s a quick list of all my hopes and pre-thoughts and daydreams:

  • I can’t wait to make friends and grow my global network of coworkers.
  • I want to see where my spicy tolerance stacks up to Indian levels. So in other world, I’m about to be drinking a lot of milk.
  • I’m going to be one giant sweaty mess.
  • Hmm no ankles, calves, and shoulders. I’m going to need to go shopping.
  • On that note, shopping!! I have visions of saturated fabrics and rugs and flowy pants and leather sandals. I only filled half my suitcase so bring. it. on.
  • I want to run. But I’m not sure how to. At first I thought I just needed to find a running group because safety in numbers. Then I realized that all my running leggings don’t fly in India. Then I realized that it’s going to be crazy hot and I will not (safely) be running outside in such temps. So running logistics are yet to be determined.
  • I want to see elephants! And tigers!
  • I want to visit the ashrams and participate in some meditations and vows of silence. Cue Eat Pray Love inner meltdowns after two minutes of silence.
  • Food!
  • Ahhhhhhhhhh too much to see, too little time. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I will be working non stop and I will get to know Pune very well and will just have to make many trips back to get to know the rest of India
  • Oh man I can already hear myself struggling pronounce words. But I really want to learn the basics!
  • Wandering. Oh the wandering and getting lost in discovery and daydreaming.
  • But also I’m already exhausted by how much I’ll have to be aware and work to keep myself safe as a woman.
  • And that makes me so very deeply angry.
  • Chai. Maybe I’ll finally get it.
  • Living like a local.
  • Embracing saris and churidaars and lehengas! They are encouraged by my office and when else can I wear them so often?
  • Henna.
  • The lush hills and local hikes.
  • Temples.
  • Getting lost in the history of…well everything.
  • Food!

So so much more I’m sure, but my mind is struggling these days to even remember my own name. I’m so exhausted, but I wake up each day overjoyed to get to the office so there’s that.

Keep adventuring,

xoxo

Alina

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The Great American Road Trip: Reno Nevada Memories & Snapshots

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Memories

  • First and foremost, all the wonderful quality time with Mimi and Skip! Mimi has been like a second mom to me my entire life and I adored spending so much time getting to catch up and see their world.
  • Skip taught my dad and I to fly fish. I caught a big fat zero, but had a pretty fun time sipping beers and perfecting my casting technique.
  • Drinks and dinner at The Depot. Oh man, I’m salivating now thinking of the wings. These people know their meat.
  • People watching at The Peppermill Casino and winning $40 on the slot machines. I was a happy idiot, as you can tell in the photo a few spaces down.
  • Drinking delicious port and wine we picked up in Napa and Sonoma and laughing about all their Reno adventures (think 3 foot owls and nosy bears) and our Miami memories.
  • Playing Sequence. I’m addicted to this board game now! Now, to find someone else who likes board games…
  • Visiting Mimi’s church with her.
  • Trying to go for a run at altitude after a week at the beach and it quickly turning into a big fat Nope!
  • The landscape and vegetation in general. There is something uniquely beautiful about sweeping views of thick brush and red hills.
  • Falling asleep to the cool wind and bright moon every night.
  • The sound this one type of tree makes in the wind. It sounds like rustling sequins.

Keep adventuring,

xoxo Alina

 

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Travel

The Great American Road Trip: Virginia City, NV

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This postage stamp sized town packs a punch! The first afternoon we were here, we watched David John and the Comstock Cowboys  at the Bucket of Blood Saloon. Virginia City denizens have so much pride for the history of their town and their ancestors and they dress up in period clothing to keep the spirit alive. Everyone in the bar was packing, with three guns minimum, and I turned to my cousin Miriam and asked about their costumes. She laughed and assured me that those are all real guns and that Nevada is a true cowboy state. My eyes got really big as I scanned the room and did a quick count of the guns present. It’s not something I’m used to seeing, but it made me happy to see the American wild west spirit alive and well.

A 35 minute drive from Reno and at 6,150 feet, Virginia City transports you back in time to the Comstock Lode heyday, when it was a thriving metropolis of 25,000 residents and a booming mine town at the center of American commerce. Keep your eyes peeled for the wild horses that call this town and the surrounding hills home.

“Once a vital settlement between Denver and San Francisco, Virginia City influenced the entire country. During its boomtime, Virginia City’s mining proceeds amounted to millions of dollars, equaling billions today. Every inch of this picturesque, Victorian-era town, celebrates this colorful history. Stroll our authentic board sidewalks to Old West saloons, shops, museums, and restaurants. Or visit historic churches, 19th century homes, public buildings, and quaint cemeteries. Maybe it’s a ride on a stagecoach, horse-drawn carriage, trolley, or the V&T Railroad steam engine train that crosses the high desert landscape dotted with old mines. Take your step back in time in Virginia City!”

Keep adventuring,

xoxo Alina

 

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