Monday, July 20, 2015

IBI Update: Chennai, Agra, & Delhi, India

Movies like The Grand Marigold Hotel and Million Dollar Arm give a romantic sense of India. And it has its charm, to be sure. But it is also a vast, hot, diverse, poverty-stricken, thriving country that is just so foreign from my western thinking brain that it can't be summed up in (or experinced) in any sort of "snapshot." So I wanted to say that. I'll also mention a few stray observations and then give a short recount of what we did while in India for roughly two weeks. 

Stray observations:
We were staying in very nice hotels and the service was thus extraordinary. But India is also a service and hospitality oriented culture and that could be sensed in every restaurant, church, store, etc. We spent most of our time at a resort and someone would stop by our room a few times every day to make sure we had everything we needed. Our bags were always taken to our room by hotel staff (no matter if it was a slower process). It was disarming and felt weird but very appreciated.
India is hotttt. They've had heat waves recently that have killed hundreds. By the time we arrived, it was somewhat cooler. Meaning we had highs in the low 100s with some crazy humidity.
India provided some of the nicest hotels and a compassion sand we also witnessed the highest level of poverty. It's disarming when you witness people sleeping on the streets a few yards away from a five-star hotel. 
There was security at every mall, hotel, airport (just to get in), and subway. The alarm would always go off and nothing would happen. I didn't get it.
Chennai, India
The students took a one week intensive at a beach resort in Chennai which left Jorjette and I with a week to sit by the pool and relax. This was very welcome after a busy end to our time in Europe. The change in cuisine, jetlag, and busy schedule also wiped out a bunch of students with a few sick every day and one with some issues bad enough to fly home. But mostly, Jorjette got tan, I used spf 50, and we both got massages at the end of the week. 

We were about an hour outside of Chennai so we were only in the city a few times. We went shopping, we visited the tomb of St. Thomas, we explored some ancient temples, and we had a dance party/karaoke on the final night. 
Agra & Delhi, India
A couple hour flight north brought us to Delhi where we promptly took a four hour bus ride to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. We visited in the morning, posed in a bunch of Indian people's pictures (a common occurrence), then visited a marble shop similar to how the Taj was created. For those wondering, the Taj is absolutely majestic and amazing. Once you see it, I'm not sure there's anything else to do in Agra, but wow, it's beautiful.

Delhi provided some time to go on a bicycle rickshaw ride, visit the largest mosque in India, and visit a Ghandi museum. We also met a snake charmer. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

IBI Update: London, England

London, England

"Cheers" - Immigration Officer 

As we arrived in England (by boat!), I realized I knew relatively less about the city of London as compared to many. I knew that London had Big Ben, red things such as double-decker buses & coated guards & phone booths, and was home to driving on the wrong side of the street. Let's make a deal: USA switches to the metric system and England and all their "colonies" drive on the right side of the road. Everyone will be happier. 

All that said, I felt at home in London. It's amazing what a common language and wide acceptance of credit cards does to make one feel comfortable. Our residence also had solid wi-fi, a factor I'm ashamed to say adds to my sense of belonging. 

We had two free days in London and we hit it hard. It was hot to the extreme and, excluding many of their museums, everything is expensive, including the Underground. 

We walked FOUR SWELTERING MILES to a grouping of museums our first day, stopping to wait in line for discounted theater tickers (to find out our desired show - The Curious Incident... - was sold out), a view of Buckingham Palace, and a cool walk through Harrod's. We visited the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Naturual History Museum, and the Science Museum. By reaching the Science Museum we didn't especially care about science. That said, the museums were free and two of the three were air conditioned well. We took the Underground ($6-ish!!) closer to our residence, grabbed some fish and chips (at least I did), and did the Eye. It is now owned by Coca-Cola and feels like a London themed version of Atlanta's Coke Museum. Not really but sorta.

Day two consisted of laundry in the morning. We visited the Tate Modern Museum while we dried our clothes - not something I get to say very often. This was my favorite museum of our travels so far, we got to use real washer/dryers, and I also got my haircut. It was a productive morning. The rest of the day included a walk by Big Ben then an overpriced visit to Westminster Abbey, home of many dead royalty and famous British people. We took the tube closer to the London Tower Bridge (though not close enough; why would you name the bridge next to the London Tower Bridge the The London Bridge?) and walked to and across it before we headed back to our residence on the South Bank of the Thames. 

All in all, a full and good visit to London and, perhaps in another life, I wouldn't mind living on the South side of the Thames. It seems like a happening place. 

Next stop: Chennai, India

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

IBI Update: Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Brussels, Belgium

Spent an afternoon here eating fries and visiting the EU parliament. It was nice.

Rotterdam, the Netherlands

I think Rotterdam wins the city for the most livable (so far) besides the incomprehensible Dutch language. It's a large city without being overwhelming, it has a massive market with a ton of vendors, its architecture is crazy, and the language thing isn't that big of a deal because everyone we encountered spoke fluent English. 

We visited the zoo, we walked along the docks (the Netherlands is covered in water), and as has been the case in many of the cities we've visited, we took a boat tour. Our hotel was really quirky cool and located down the block from everything we wanted to visit.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Besides being a popular song title (Guster, Peter Bjorn & John, Coldplay), the home of Anne Frank, and having readily available weed/prostitution, I actually didn't have a bunch of places to visit here. We spent half a day in Amsterdam visiting a cheese/wooden shoe farm, a windmill park, a boat tour of the canals, and a few hours to walk around. In case you were wondering there are a ton of canals and row homes and it's a cool city besides the debauchery. 

Next: London, England