Santa Monica in the summertime

Hello from the West coast of America! We are lucky enough to have family in Los Angeles so we’ve been enjoying sunny SoCal (Southern California) with them for about the past week. My sister just moved into a new place in Playa Vista, which is modern and new, and comes with its own nearby dog park!

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the dog park
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the fam

The dogs, all 4 that were with us that day, had a blast. We enjoyed a big lunch of hearty pizza and healthy salads at 800 Degrees earlier that day. Then we got fro-yo at N’ice Cream, which has the best Italian tart frozen yogurt.

We spent the next morning at the Santa Monica beach, which was gorgeous, with perfect temperatures and sunny skies.

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the boardwalk leading to the beach from the Arizona overpass/beach parking lot
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the Pacific
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Micah holding my shoes and water bottle

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We met my Dad for lunch at Barney’s Beanery on the 3rd Street Promenade. All majorly fun places within walking distance of the beach.

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Jacarandas blooming on the 3rd Street Promenade
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We found sand dollars and rocks along the seashore, too!

The next day we went to Venice Beach and ate at Greenleaf. We walked around, shopped, and ate some ice cream (vegan, for some of us) from the Van Leeuwin ice cream truck. Then, we celebrated the 4th of July that evening with my sister, her husband, and their gorgeous new baby in Marina del Rey. The fireworks were small but enjoyable and the food we picked up from Mendocino Farms was delicious!

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beautiful family

We spent another morning at the Santa Monica beach and had another delicious pizza with my Dad at 800 Degrees on the Promenade.

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Today we spent time in Manhattan Beach, met my cousin for lunch at The Strand House, and did some shopping at Harper & Harlow and Fresh Produce.

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View of The Strand along the oceanfront (and my parents!)
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View from The Strand
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me, my Dad, and Micah
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looking back at Manhattan beach
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walking to the end of the Pier
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the history
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at the end of the Pier
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Mom & Dad

We got some deliciously refreshing smoothies at SunLife Organics.

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Then we went back to Venice Beach to take a closer look at the ocean.

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Some things I miss about India (and some things I’m grateful for about home)

I’m sitting down to start working on a scrapbook for our India trip. These photos are so inviting. I wish I could step back in time through them and be back in India watching the tiger or shopping for beautiful hand-made Indian creations with my husband or riding in a tuk-tuk or relaxing at a 5-star hotel. Some other things I miss about India:

the colors – Everywhere you looked, from buildings to clothing to currency, you saw color. Sometimes it was gray, sometimes it was aqua, sometimes it was mint green or canary yellow. I miss the colors.

the food – I never got “Delhi belly” in India. My stomach never got upset from the food. All our American food is so plain tasting (and looking) now. I miss the multiple flavors and depths of spices we ate almost every meal. I miss food being new and learning about it and enjoying it for the experience rather than, “I’m hungry, let’s see what’s in the fridge.”

the people with their generous Indian Hospitality – There’s no such thing as “American Hospitality.” This was pretty evident to me when we flew in to Newark, NJ. If there are any New Jerseyans reading this then I hope you’re not offended! But, despite all the warnings from people about the pickpocketing in India, the only time I was ever touched when I didn’t want to be was in the security line in NJ. I’ve traveled all my life and I’m pretty efficient through TSA checkpoints. Apparently I wasn’t fast enough for the lady (maybe from NJ, maybe not?) behind me. She pushed me forward to go through the screening line. Really?!? Even the TSA worker was like, “OMG, did you see that lady push her?” There were always people to help or signs we found in English so we never got lost in India. For sure got lost in the Newark airport! There’s Southern Hospitality here in America, for sure, but overall our welcoming spirit might be lacking. The Indian people tend to be, based on our visit, generous in spirit and warm-hearted. They help you find your way, they help carry you down off a mountain ridge, and they look you in the eye when you say, “Namaste.”

the way they conserve energy – Our first sit-down lunch in America was at a Chili’s in the Opry Mills Mall. It was freezing in there! In India, when a restaurant or store is air conditioned, it is cooler than outside but it’s not cold. It’s safe and cool but not please-go-out-to-the-car-and-get-me-your-sweater-because-I’m-so-cold-it-hurts. Energy is precious out there. The escalators in malls have sensors nearby so they only run when needed. All our hotels required your key card to run electricity within the room so we only had lights on when we needed them. Smart ways to conserve energy.

the simplicity – As with all vacations, I loved living the simple life, with only the belongings I could fit in my suitcase (and Micah’s). Besides being on summer vacation from work, our responsibilities and our worries were less, and we thoroughly lived every hour of our days. There were a few movies we watched, especially when we were taking it easy after my heat stroke, but we didn’t waste time. Like I said earlier, it was me and my husband and 1.3 billion people.

Coming out of our trip, I was hyper-aware of our surroundings, and spent a few days debriefing with my husband and adjusting to the culture shock of being home. Sure, there’s no personal space in India, but they also look you in the eye and see you. Americans keep our heads down and don’t acknowledge each other anymore. It’s not so bad here in the midwest but just today, when I was out with my dog, people don’t even look at you when you say, “Good morning.”

That said, I was also happy to be home, where I could walk my dog in 80 degree weather around a nice open green space. It was good to see our family and friends and soon I’ll get back into that whole work thing. Among some other things I’m grateful for in my midwest bungalow life:

no traffic – It’s so easy to go get groceries or drive to work or go get gas or run and pick up pictures & a prescription from the drugstore here. One of our drivers couldn’t believe how small Evansville is when I told him the number of residents in our “city.” Driving is so easy here. Enforced traffic laws are pretty nice, too!

trash collectors – I have never in my life been more grateful for the trash collectors, and their company, who help us keep our city clean. Sure, there’s trash in the river and along some roads and in some parking lots or parks, but not like in some parts of India. We could do better here, of course, in taming the garbage chaos of our city. But it’s easy for me to take care of our household garbage. And I get to recycle here, too, which means less trash in the first place!

not being afraid to eat/drink our fruits/veggies/water from the tap – We didn’t eat any fresh veggies in India or drink the tap water. And the only fruits we ate were bananas that we peeled ourselves in order to avoid any parasites or diseases. So, when Micah asked me what I wanted to eat for our first meal back in America, I instantly replied, “salad!” He’d been thinking the exact same thing. We were limited on options so, for a salad from Chili’s, it was good. It was nice ordering water and not having to insist it come from a bottle opened in front of you, too!

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Western toilets – You must remember to bring your own toilet paper and sanitizing wipes when you go to the bathroom. I’ve camped for days on end so I’m pretty good at squatting and pottying but for most Americans we’re used to toilet paper and soap in our public restrooms. This is not always the case, as below is a picture below from the public restrooms at the Kahn Market, in New Delhi. So, if you like toilet paper and clean hands, it’s essential to pack your own supplies!

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Still, with all that we are grateful for about our home, we look forward to returning to India someday. We’re thinking the southern part of India next time. Got any ideas or travel tips to share?

 

Our last day in India

To start, since my husband fit as much into our previous day as we could before sundown, we took it easy. We slept in until the last possible minute when we had to get out of bed for breakfast. The hotel pulled out all the stops to serve us delicious food and drink with excellent attention to detail. I thought we took more pictures of our breakfast, because it was quite the spread, but apparently we were tired of taking pictures. Can you blame us? After we both ate our share of hot and cold foods, they served us piping hot, fresh poori! It all made for a wonderful last breakfast in India. No bittersweet tears yet.

Then we took a taxi from our hotel to the nearest Metro Station, the Delhi Aerocity. We took an unashamed selfie, with all the other passengers staring at us, of our penultimate Metro ride in Delhi.

We took the train to the Central Secretariat Station and then an auto-rickshaw to Khan Market. I had my eyes set on one last store for shopping so Micah made sure we didn’t waste our last day in the hotel room. Plus, we wanted to get one last meal in the city before we had to head to home that evening. He researched a highly recommend restaurant called Khan Chacha, which was perfect, because they had all of our favorite foods. We ordered chicken biryani, seekh rolls, chicken tikka, and khameeri naan, and we enjoyed it all thoroughly. Not only do they have air conditioning and western toilets (complete with toilet paper and soap!), they serve the best kebabs we ate during our entire trip in India, and they’re fairly affordable. You enter in through the middle street of Khan Market, go upstairs, and order at the first window. You’ll get a ticket with your order number and claim your food when your number’s called. Take your receipt with you because they check it to make sure everything is correct before stamping it “delivered.” It was a bittersweet last meal in India and we hope you visit Khan Chacha if you’re ever at New Delhi’s Khan Market. Still no tears.

We quickly stopped by Lakshita to grab some Indian salwar pants I had seen the last time we were in Delhi. There were two women there, a mom and her grown daughter, who had been in the dressing rooms when we first got to Khan Market. We waited for about twenty minutes for either of them to vacate 1 of the 2 dressing rooms in the store. Nope. They were trying things on, having them altered on-site, and then retrying them on. So, we left to have lunch. We came back and… they’re still there! I waited a few minutes, one of the staff handed me the pile I’d picked out, and said, “Go, just take her dressing room. It’s okay.” But I couldn’t do it. I’m too American. Everyone has their own private space. So I bought a couple salwars, hoping they were the right size (they are!) and one last scarf. After that, we headed to catch a rickshaw to the Metro because we only had a few hours until we needed to be at the airport.

I wish now I had just bought the items I had picked out at Lakshita. If they’d fit, great. If not, I’d have given them away as gifts. The embroidery and craftsmanship of the Indian people is something to be envied. I wish I had brought more of it back for myself. Instead I kept telling myself it’s too expensive or it wasn’t my husband’s taste. He dresses in neutrals almost 24/7, and never calls attention to himself, which is the total opposite of all the bright and beautiful things in India. But of course he kept insisting I should buy more things, or wait to try them on, and that as long as I liked it he would like it (that’s a man’s nice way of saying he doesn’t actually like it, right?). I didn’t listen. I think I can be stubborn, huh? But it’s O.K. because India’s colors and beauty weren’t lost on me. I’m now able to spot items I see in stores that represent India to me. And so far, everything I’ve picked up was indeed made in India. I love that we got glimpses into the jewelry and textile factories in Jaipur. Those places are where we received some of the most perspective-changing memories. They gave me a whole new outlook on only buying “Made in America” items.

We rode in one last rickshaw to get to the Metro Station and found our way back to The Roseate hotel. Since the pool was literally right outside our room, we took a quick dip, and then ordered room service to enjoy one last masala chai tea. Still doing good!

We didn’t get to see all The Roseate had to offer. There wasn’t time for the award-winning spa or to look at the library and we don’t have kids to take advantage of The Roseate Kids’ Club. I think we just visited during the off-season and they didn’t count on the dust-finding-queen to come for a stay. They really did all they could to make it up to us, but still, I felt like it wasn’t carried out with the sincerity or original Indian hospitality that we received at the other hotels. But we enjoyed what we saw (after the initial dust/lizard incidents) and the complimentary drivers, too. Our trip to the Indira Gandhi International Airport was included in the Expedia offer we purchased so, after we were all packed up and finished our masala chai tea, we got into a van with our last Indian driver.

He took us to the airport and started to help us unload our bags. Then an unofficial porter came over and took my bag right from him and put it on a cart! I kept saying, “No, no thank you!” but he insisted. I had been perfectly fine wheeling my own bag into the airport and did not want to tip anyone. Still, this man took Micah’s bag out of his hands and kept saying, “Complimentary, complimentary! Free. No charge!” so finally Micah just let him take our bags. He spent less than a minute with us taking our bags to check-in. We said, “Thank you,” and he replied, “Welcome.” Then we turned to leave him and he speaks up, “Money tip?” Micah goes, “Oh. But you said it was free. We told you no but you insisted. Sorry. You said it was complimentary!” The man smiled, nodded his head, and left us. Definitely far from tears!

We got our boarding passes, checked our bags, and took a few more pictures around the airport. Security was thorough but not a huge hassle. And then there was the TSA checkpoint at our gate. We had already bought three drinks inside the airport, once we were past the main security, and now had to throw them away. Not me though. I was still feeling a bit testy so I drank almost my entire liter of water while I stood in the security line just for the principle of not wasting 30 rupees! Ha. That showed them.

We shopped at a couple stores and took our last selfie in India in front of a statue of a mama Indian elephant and her baby. We boarded our 15 hour flight and said a heartfelt goodbye to India. Coming home was rough both physically and emotionally. A 15 hr plane ride + 1 motion sick husband + being sad to leave India with all its color and flavor and beauty + being grateful for my safe and easy home + the inevitable end of all this sweet, uninterrupted time with my husband = 1 teary eyed woman. But that wasn’t until after 03:30 hrs. the next day as I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and cried because I was going to miss India so much.

So long, India, and thanks for all the priceless memories!

My longest blog post full of many sights in Delhi (including my adult tantrum)

So let me begin with: I have an allergy to dust.

Plus also, I really, really love cleaning. It relaxes me. I feel like, no matter what chaos goes on in the world outside my home, in here at least it will be clean. When I was a kid and had to clean my room on chore days, I invented this game with myself where I had to see if I could find all the dust in my room, not one dust bunny was going to get away from me. It made chores fun. Sometimes I still play that game. Like every night we would check into a hotel room in India. My confirmed dust allergy, and cough that accompanies it, only fueled my hunt for dust in these 5-star hotels.

I am happy to say that all the other hotels we stayed at (The Hilton, The Tigress Resort, Samode Haveli, and ITC Mughal Agra) were spotless. I’m talking not a speck of dust on the headboards or on the lampshades or the electrical outlets. Everything had been freshly dusted and vacuumed and mopped. In fact, when I said we were treated like royalty, I mean it! We don’t frequent 5-star hotels often (we did once for New Year’s Eve but that was only because we accidentally bid more than we wanted on Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price”) and so we were really enjoying all the pampering that comes with fancy-shmancy hotel stays. Is your masala chai almost halfway empty? Let me pour you more tea, Ma’am. You don’t know how to wear a saree? I will be up straight away, with bobby pins, and will refuse to accept a tip. Smiles and greetings and sincere inquiries into our satisfaction with everything from the food to the temperature of the room. Indian hospitality at its finest!

I say all this because, sadly, our experience was much different at The Roseate. We’d arrived the day before and, after gawking at the modern design and high tech “smart” room, I settled in for my dust inspection. It was everywhere. Slap your hand on the couch cushions and – poof – clouds of dust. Turn on the light beside your bed and look to see the lightbulb covered in a think layer of dust. Not to mention, when we opened the shades we saw handprints everywhere (they weren’t ours), and the fancy iPad was covered in fingerprints (also not ours). The short story includes a lizard and subsequent change to another room. Not a suite, mind you, just a different room with access to the pool. Oh, and we were given a car and driver for the day, which really was the best part.

This leads me (finally) to how we spent our time during our last full day in India. Our driver was very happy to help us see as much of Delhi as we could that day. He started us off with a quick drive by the The President’s House, or Rashtrapati Bhavan, because there is no parking allowed along Rajpath. Rajpath is the 3 km (almost 2 miles) avenue, bordered by vast lawns and large trees, that leads from India Gate to the Secretariat buildings, North & South Block, with Rashtrapati Bhavan at its end. All the buildings pictured below were built by the British between 1911 and 1931. During India’s Republic Day, held every January 26, a parade is marched down this avenue. I must say it was the most green space we’d ever seen in India, which made a terrific backdrop for the stately buildings and historic monuments, though the pictures are hurried because security is very strict here.

We approached South Block, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and North Block, and got a great view from Rajpath.

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We also saw a fountain of the forecourt of these buildings, in an area known as Vijay Chowk.

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We took some quick pictures of North Block, which houses a Central Hall, and South Block, which houses the Prime Minster’s Office as well as the Defense Ministry. Security was high!

We also managed to get some photos of Rashtrapati Bhavan which sits at the top of Raisina Hill (think Capitol Hill in the U.S.).

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Then we made our way back down Rajpath to the India Gate. This was a big tourist attraction, it was surprisingly busy, and we bought a banana (keeping up on my potassium to stave off repercussions of heat exhaustion) and some more gifts from venders around the site. The Gate was larger than we had expected, measuring 9 m (or 30 feet) across, and despite the haze we are glad we got to see it! It commemorates the Indian and British soldiers who died in WWI, those who fell in battle in the North-West Frontier Province, as well as the 3rd Afghan War. The eternal flame, hard to photograph that day but still burning at its center, honors unknown soldiers who died in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.

The well manicured landscaping, wide roads, and pristinely cut trees matched the grandeur of the buildings we passed. Many visiting diplomats stay in heavily guarded Houses, as well as representatives of different Indian states, in this area. We saw several embassies in this area, too, but not ours. The U.S. Embassy is about a 9 minute drive from The President’s House. After visiting all of these sites we asked to go to lunch. I found a restaurant in the book, Dhaba, which is located inside The Claridge’s Hotel. We drove and drove and drove, even though it was less than mile away, because Raisina Hill is full of one way streets and multiple roundabouts.

Of course, we had more chicken biryani, butter naan, and Micah tried the chef’s recommended thali meat. It was all incredible! Then we continued on to Old Delhi to see The Red Fort.

I must confess that most of these pictures were taken by Micah because I was busy having an adult tantrum. I love this country and we hope to come back some day. But I started becoming a cantankerous American tourist when the driver started negotiating with a bicycle-rickshaw driver for us. Micah’s pretty good at negotiating and I didn’t understand why the driver wasn’t letting us find our own rickshaw. Many drivers have “deals” with other vendors or drivers in order to direct business their way, probably for some commission, and may do so without your consent. To make matters worse, I misunderstood the driver, and thought the bicycle-rickshaw was going to take us around The Red Fort only. Then I realized we were going to see Old Delhi by bicycle-rickshaw, too. We had read about that area of Delhi, its history and vibrancy, and I had visions of myself walking through the bustling streets of Old Delhi. I saw wall-to-wall people, and me, fitting in like a real Indian woman. That vision was completely gone. Needless to say, I got pretty upset, to the point where even the Indians noticed my little show. I’d like to say I’m flexible and can go with the flow. I can be flexible when I’m teaching my students and plans change or a fire drill starts in the middle of my lesson. I can go with the flow when it’s flowing my way or I’m not invested in it. But on this day, when our driver with minimal English-speaking skills led us to a bicycle-rickshaw that took me where I did not want to go, I was not happy. I could not deal. So… what did I do? I shut down and sat crying in the bicycle-rickshaw, blatantly ignoring potentially helpful inquiries from the driver and my husband, leading to my most embarrassing rickshaw ride in India. I was more upset this day than I was with the heat stroke! Phew!

Lucky for me, Micah still managed to capture the beauty of these ancient and historic buildings, even without my participation. We present: The Red Fort’s Lahore Gate

Apparently I managed to smile enough for a bicycle-rickshaw-selfie (we took a lot of selfies on this trip) as we headed into Old Delhi. According the book, Old Delhi was originally constructed in 1638 as the Mughal capital of Shahjahanabad, but it was left in ruin in 1739 when Persians plundered the city. Then, in 1857, British troops took over the Fort. It now continues on as a site of bustling streets full of vendors and shoppers. I wish I had been in a better mood to appreciate it all. We went to a jeweler’s shop, with supposedly good prices, but when we asked about a necklace the price was higher than we could afford. I wish I had spoken up so we could’ve gone to Khari Baoli, Asia’s biggest spice market, or Churiwali Gali, the lane of bangle-sellers. Next time, maybe, next time.

We also saw Jami Masjid, India’s largest mosque, in the distance. The Bird Hospital (yes, Bird Hospital) is the white building on the left in the picture below Jami Masjid. If you look closely in the middle of the picture you can see the sign in English.

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About this time I was apologizing to my husband and he was figuring out how to help me feel better. I wish I weren’t so complicated and consuming with my feelings but, such is the joy and heartache of being a woman, I think.

We left Old Delhi with our driver (who did apologize profusely for the misunderstanding and even paid the bicycle-richsaw driver for us) and headed to the Baha’i House of Worship. The House has 27 white marble lotus petals, forming a giant modern flower on a vast lawn of pristine greenery,  and is commonly referred to as The Lotus Temple. I had never heard of the Baha’i, but according the book, the sect originated in Persia. The temple was designed by an Iranian architect and, after 6 years of work, was finished in 1986. It’s another piece of India that shares my age. It was beautiful and busy, as a service had just ended when we arrived, and I took advantage of the free toilets. The temple did not charge a fee for entry and anyone can attend one of the 15-minute prayer services held 4 times a day. I was not so eager to enter another temple again, so we took a few pictures, and headed to our next stop (I told you we did a lot today).

On our way towards the Lotus Temple grounds we were approached by a little girl around 7 years of age. She asked us, in Hindi I assume, for money. We politely declined but she was persistent. We kept saying, “No more rupees” (it was our last full day in India and we really were running out of rupees) but she kept following us. She was tightly grasping the rupees she’d earned in one hand while holding out her other with an open palm to us. Then Micah stopped walking, turned towards her, and held out his hand. He motioned to the rupees in her other hand and asked, “Can I have some? We don’t have any. Can I have some of yours?” She got a huge grin on her face and promptly shook her head no. They talked back and forth, understanding body language and smiles more than words, for a few more moments. It was really a sweet moment for us and I wish I’d gotten a picture because she was exquisite. Exquisite and barefoot in dirty clothes, a juxtaposition of beauty and poverty. We saw her again on our way out, lying on her back in the dirt, one leg propped up on the other. She was carefree and counting her rupees. I hope she was happy.

Our last stop for the day was The Qutb Complex, where the best sights of all were the Qutb Minar, or Victory Tower and the Quwwat-ul-Islam, or “the might of Islam”, mosque. These are among the oldest sites we visited this day. The Qutb Minar and the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque were built by Qutbuddin Aibak in 1193. According the book, they were built to announce the advent of the Muslim sultans, and he never lived to see the completion of Qtub Minar. His successor, Iltutmish finished the Tower and added more buildings, along with his next two successors. Here, in the Qutb Complex, you can see both Hindu panels and Islamic domes or arches, highlighting the blend of two cultures.

On our way out of the Complex Micah was stopped by a couple Indian men. We thought they wanted us to take their picture, but as it turns out, they wanted a picture with Micah. As I’ve said before, the Indian people really enjoyed seeing this white guy with a red beard, and he was quite a hit!

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Then, finally, our driver took us back to our hotel. Micah snapped a picture of a pharmacy we passed. Since he’s a CPhT he was interested in what the pharmacies look like here in India. Most of the signs read, “Chemist,” which is the same as a pharmacist. We think.

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From Agra back to Delhi

We slept in late and then enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Taj Bano restaurant inside our ITC Mughal Agra hotel. This was a wonderful restaurant with more than enough choices of both hot and cold food. I usually ordered a plan butter dosa to go with breakfast, too, and we both enjoyed more masala chai tea! The service was wonderful and the food was rich in flavor. I’ve got a picture to share of our bill from that buffet. Remember, the conversion rate is about 60 rupees to $1, so our buffet breakfasts cost around $31. We started to anticipate a 2,000 rupee bill (or any bill, for that matter) to be much higher once allllll the taxes were added in. Five lines of taxes, do you see that?

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Anyway, after breakfast we packed up and said goodbye. We negotiated a good price with the hotel for a driver, in a small van, to take us back to Delhi. On the way out of town, a rainstorm approached, and it created the largest dust clouds we’d ever seen. Motorcyclists had to pull over because they could not see the road. People crowded windows to look out at the approaching storm. It was really a neat thing to see! The trip itself was about 4 hours, after a pit stop for washrooms and some snacks, as well as a few smoke breaks for our driver. When we hit Delhi we ran into major traffic congestion. Our driver, Mr. Singh kept yawning and had to really work to stay alert until then. Micah even struck up a conversation with him to help keep him awake! All in all, this was not our favorite car ride, but at least we arrive safely again in Delhi.

We pulled up to our new hotel, The Roseate, which we had booked Expedia the day before. It’s modern and only 4 years old, and everything in the room can be run off of the hotel’s iPad, including the binds and television.

Micah really loved this place. Can you tell by the amount of pictures we’ve uploaded? Anyway, we settled in to our hotel room and then went out for dinner. The concierge was really helpful and got us set up with a car to take us to the mall for only 120 rupees using the Ola app. It’s like Uber for India. We couldn’t use the app ourselves because, in order to register, you had to have a +91 country code. We went ahead and paid the driver 200 rupees, because, why not? It was a ten minute driver to the Gurgaon Ambiance Mall.

We were pretty hungry so we headed straight to the food court. I chose McDonald’s. I was going to watch The Founder on the flight back to America, and I wanted to see what the food tasted like here, though I really only go to McDonald’s in the States for coffee and tea. I ordered the Maharaja Mac with fries and a bottled water. Still can’t drink fountain drinks here. It was tasty and the fries were nice and salty. Yummy for me!

Micah went to another section of the food court, where he had to load another cash card, and bought biryani and kebabs (our new favorite Indian foods). We stopped by the Starbucks and bought a city/country mug for India. I’ve got a collection from almost all the places I’ve traveled since college. We bought some more gifts for friends at W and noticed the “Be Our Eyes & Ears” poster.

We ended the night quietly back at our new hotel. Tomorrow would be another busy day in Old Delhi and Qtub Minar!

Our last evening in Agra

We spent the day reading, watching movies, eating delicious Indian cuisine, blogging (just me, though Micah likes reading them, too), and napping after getting up early to see the Taj Mahal. That evening, we took our tuk-tuk by Agra Fort, but were only able to take pictures of the outside. We accidentally napped later than we thought and didn’t make it in time to go inside before it closed at 18:00 hrs. Still, the expansive structure built by Akbar between 1565 and 1573, was an impressive sight of red sandstone at its Amar Singh Gate.

Then we had our tuk-tuk driver take us to Jahanpanah after reading about it in this article on theculturetrip.com. We arrived around 19:30 hrs. and were the only customers there for our entire meal. When we walked inside the server quickly turned on the air conditioner for us and then sprayed some fragrance around the room. While the gesture was kind, the artificial smell wasn’t the best, and it was hard for either men working to understand English. I appreciated the attempt to cover up the aforementioned odors of Agra. Plus, the food really was delicious, like we-couldn’t-eat-it fast-enough delicious. We loved the biryani and kebabs, though we left taking our butter naan “to-go” since it came out of the oven so late.

Then we went back to enjoy a cup of masala chai tea at our hotel’s Bagh-E-Bahar lounge. We’ve really grown to love this treat during our time in India. The best chai teas were served in Samode Haveli and The Tigress Resort. They managed to master the perfect blend of sweet and spice altogether in one delicious cup of satisfaction.

Taj Mahal Day (need I say more?)

Today we went to see, walk around, take pictures of, and marvel at the Taj Mahal. It was beyond exquisite. I almost cried as we approached it, after entering through the East Gate, and we both just stood to stare at it. I’ve had so much fun traveling with my husband, and today felt like the pinnacle of our adventure to the East, with such a special sight to behold.

Our day began at 05:15 hrs. and we left the hotel at 06:00 hrs., in order to be at the Taj Mahal early. This is one tourist site, folks, that I think may always be crowded. We saw people from many different nationalities gather here in Agra to marvel at this wonder. Guides and vendors were everywhere along the walk leading up to the East Gate. I walked barefoot inside the mausoleum, which was fun for me, and Micah chose to wear the shoe covers. Either option must be done in order to enter into the Taj Mahal.

Brace yourselves, friends, we took SO many pictures and I’m so excited to share MANY of them with you! We got really good at selfies during this trip, right?

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The Taj Mahal does not allow photographs to be taken inside the mausoleum, which is a good thing for you, or else this post would be even lengthier! We took pictures from every angle outside, obviously, and we even ran into some friends from our hometown of Evansville, Indiana in the United States. How crazy is that?

We took some more pictures around the grounds, including the red sandstone gates, and the gardens around them. We walked around the outer steps of the mosque and found some wildlife, too. Then we caught a bicycle rickshaw (our first we’d ridden in) to our taxi stop.

When we got back to the hotel, the female security guard (remember, sexes are separated for private security screenings) fixed my saree for me. I had to ask this wonderful woman, Manjita, to show my how to wear my saree the night before in our hotel room. She stayed with us for a while, even ordered safety pins from housekeeping for us, and refused to accept a tip for her time. How gracious! But… I don’t have the best memory and I guess my saree was still a little “off” for my big picture shoot in front of the Taj Mahal. So, I had Micah take another picture of me in the hotel lobby when we returned in time for breakfast.

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We spent the rest of the day relaxing at our hotel and taking a restful nap. We got a tuk-tuk to take us by the Red Fort for pictures (more to share later) and to Jahanpanah for dinner. And now it is time for bed before we leave Agra tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. We hope you enjoy our pictures of the splendid Taj Mahal!