3CMGM-Adventures-USA

May & June 2016: Living in New York, What Is That Like?

July 18, 2017

My stay in New York was probably not as most people would imagine it to be. I was renting an old-fashioned apartment in Queens together with three Indian guys and I liked nothing more than spending my evenings looking for dinner in Little India (aka Jackson Heights) and playing games over a beer in the local pool bar. Despite this, I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent my time in the Big Apple!

indian food friends jackson heights

Living with Roommates for the First Time

People who know me personally know that India had left a big impression on me. And because I haven’t had enough, I already bought my tickets to go back! Living together with Indians was something that could never work for someone like me (at first sight), but actually it was an amazing experience: my roommates (who are also my batch mates) offered me a lot of privacy. I think it is a combination between their culture and upbringing, and also their personality. They are just all three very chill dudes!

At first I had some difficulties adapting, but I tried as hard as I could. Because no matter from what angle you look at the situation, I was a minority (being a girl, being European). In the beginning I tried to go with them to dinner at 10PM every day, go to bed late, get up early… But if you aren’t able to catch up on sleep during the day, this isn’t a schedule you can keep up with for long. First of all, I experienced a lot of mood swings and I got digestion problems from eating so late. So after two or three weeks I started doing my own thing.

No matter how much everyone tried to adapt to each other, it was a relief that it only lasted for two months. The biggest bothers on my side were mostly things that all roommates might encounter I guess, it wasn’t really culture-related: different standards in cleanliness are a big one in this (but what do you expect living with three college boys?). But like I said, I wouldn’t have wanted to share an apartment with anyone else. These guys thought me patience, tolerance and unreciprocated kindness.

new york expensive living me

The Expensive Life in New York

Doing my own thing meant I went more often to the local Diner (Jax Inn Diner). It is one of those retro food spots with booths, free water and free coffee refills like you see in the movies sometimes. Meals at this place were relatively expensive, but still cheaper than in Manhattan. But I tried to be smart: I planned my meals in such a way that I would have enough food to bring home in a doggy bag so I could eat it another day. For example: I could easily eat twice from those $14 mac ’n cheese portion sizes.

Grocery shopping sprees we divided amongst each other: taking turns, we got whatever we needed at that point of time for an average amount of $20. Chores like dish washing, cooking etc. we delegated to those who were best at the task. (So, basically, I was always washing the dishes.)

For going around the city, I mostly used the subway system (a monthly card costs $117). Taking the subway is much cheaper in New York. Usually it is faster too. Nevertheless, a cab in NY is relatively cheaper in New York than in Belgium. Don’t be scared to take the subway by the way. Yes, you will most likely meet the strangest people, but they will cause you no harm.

For laundry, we went to the Laundromat down the street. The Chinese people who manage the place washed our clothes and sheets for us. This saved much needed free time and the price was totally reasonable. (And besides, this also reduced the chances of my white underwear coming out pink.)

Going out we did, as I said, mostly in the local pool bar and not too often in Manhattan. Alcohol in NYC is expensive. You easily pay $7 for a glass of beer, $10 for a glass of wine, and $12 for a cocktail. But if you have two terraces attached to your apartment, then what’s wrong with buying a complete bottle of Campo Viejo for $10 and enjoy it at home?

fordham university new york

Going to School in New York

Fordham University is not that different from your typical European university. The only difference is that you have to scan your badge every time you enter and leave the building (even to go from building to building) and that they have a Starbucks coffee machine in the cafeteria. Another difference is that the A/C was constantly turning every room into a fridge; I had to escape to the 30°C outside every break to defrost my hands and feet.

Our professors were amazing. You really got the feeling that most of them really knew what they were talking about. They succeeded in bringing their courses in the most interesting way. What wasn’t as much fun, was the amount of work we got on our backs every week. We all worked our heart out and even walked around as sleepy zombies for a few weeks… just to get the four-months’ work done in two. Sightseeing didn’t happen as much as I wanted it to. On the other hand, I did get the graduation I’d always dreamed of: caps, gowns, honor roll; authentic ceremony with a class valedictorian giving a speech that moved me to tears, and some of my favorite people there to support me.

Every day I used to walk by Central Park, over the busy Columbus Circle, in the direction of the theater center called Lincoln Center. Juilliard is in this area as well. The day I had to go back home, I made that same walk again one last time, just because it is one of those typical New York walks that allow you to feel the real, buzzing New York life.

graduation fordham new york

Calling New York “my home”

Who hasn’t wished or at least imagined calling New York their home at some point in their life? I sure did. Now, I was actually able to call New York home – or at least Queens, because it feels more homely there than Manhattan can ever make you feel. I don’t think I could ever live longer periods of time in the City. Even though I like buzzing streets, there is a reason why I prefer to live in a small city over a metropolitan one. The nice thing about living in Queens (which is basically a small city within New York) is that you still live in a city, but you have the choice to easily go to Manhattan whenever you like to.

I definitely want to go back to New York. I haven’t been able to do everything I wanted to do. But would I ever want to live there again? Maybe. Certainly not forever. The feeling that I could actually live in a city where I have stayed for a longer period of time… I haven’t had that a lot. Besides some cities in Belgium, I could call Barcelona “home”. But not Paris or London, even though I have spent a few weeks in a row there as well. Sometimes I’m afraid my expectations of living in New York were a bit too high after dreaming about it for so long and that this causes my dubious feelings about living there.

graduation fordham new york

Nevertheless, I did leave New York with a bit of heartache. But that was more because the 3CMGM program was over than that I would miss the Big Apple. I can always come back to New York, but I can never experience 3CMGM again.

Financially it was a big relief leaving New York. Living there, it’s not for everyone. I realize that now even more.

Living in New York is an experience everyone who wants it should get once in their life. It’s a dynamic city where you get the honest feeling that everything is possible. Just make sure your wallet is full, but also remember there are a lot of free activities in New York you can participate in.

Where in the world would you like to live if you had the choice?

 

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3CMGM-Adventures-USA

Roadtrip on a Motorcycle: Miami – Key West

July 25, 2017

During the semester in New York it soon became clear that travel wouldn’t become a significant part of our time there. But how could I be in the US for two months and not go out of state? Logical choices would have been Boston or Chicago, two big cities I had never been to and would love to visit.

But if your boyfriend is complaining that he misses his Enfield and you actually don’t really mind being at the back of his motorcycle, then it is only a small sacrifice to look up “epic road trips in USA” on Google. The most straightforward choice would be Route 66, but it is kinda too long for a weekend away, isn’t it?

Soon enough, the Overseas Highway from Miami to the Florida Keys appeared in the lists. A few year’s ago, I already did this road trip with my dad and brother. That time we did it by car, so I could only imagine what it would be like on a motorcycle! I suggested this plan to my boyfriend, and he didn’t have to think about it twice. Soon after, we bought our tickets.

converse-travel-miami

One Thursday after class, we rushed home to pack our bags. Both JFK and La Guardia are in Queens, where we were living. La Guardia is literally only a 10-minute drive away! Despite that, Woodside is a very hard place to get a cab so we still had to take into account that small delay.

Once we reached the airport, we quickly grabbed a bite. During the flight itself, we worked on a paper that was due on Monday. That’s how you do it, study on the road!

The first night we stayed in Miami Beach, where I got us an AirBnb in the Art Deco District. It was going to be the cheapest night of our whole trip: €86 for 1 night. That evening, we went for a stroll on the promenade. I do have to say I remember Miami as being way more lively and crowded. It was soooo quiet…

The next morning, after a large breakfast nearby that was supposed to keep us more or less full until dinner, we set out to find a motorcycle rental shop to choose our ride to Key West. After walking around for about an hour we bumped into EagleRider. We rented a Yamaha Star 650 (incl. helmet, bags and all-round insurance).

yamaha-florida-eaglerider-miami

With my iPhone serving s a GPS, we were on the road by noon. It was a sunny, hot, humid day and we were advised to stop often enough to drink. I took the time to cover myself in sunscreen as well. After an hour (or about 40km) I was already up for a break. I am not used to be on a motorcycle that long and it is fucking tough! The wind is smashing into you from all sides and the vibrations give you a backbreaking workout. After the break we continued for the next 230km.

Just like I had hoped, the views were spectacular! The Overseas Highway consists of a series of bridges that take you over the bright blue waters, from island to island, in the Florida Keys. On one side you see the Florida Bay and on the other the Atlantic. We stopped another couple times for food and drinks (a.o. at the fun The Wreck Galley & Grill, where many people looked longingly at our bike) and to get gas for the bike. Oh yeah, and also once to find shelter from a short rain shower. The last stop on the way to Key West was to enjoy the sunset the place is so famous for. It is also one of the reasons I wanted to come here with my boyfriend, to the most southern point of the States, to show him this famous Key West sunset.

road trip miami key west

Finally, we reached Key West when the sun had already set. The quest for a motel where 1) they still had a vacant room and 2) that was reasonably priced was quite hard. Eventually, we went back to our first choice: Spanish Gardens Motel. We made ourselves at home for one night in this spacious, clean room. Soon enough I lifted my soar butt back on the bike so we could go for a small dinner. Unfortunately, most restaurants were already closed, so we ended up in a sports bar (believe me, this isn’t the first time this happens).

The next day, we started on our way back to Miami. I wasn’t up for driving the whole 270km in one day again. Every inch of m body was soar and butt was in a hell-a-lot of pain. It seemed better to me to split the way back into two parts and work a bit for school in the middle. After all, we had an exam for our Finance class on Wednesday we had to study for!

Before we left the island, we took a circle around Key West so we could see it in daylight as well. On the way to what would become our final destination for the day, we stopped here and there to discover the other islands a bit. We had lunch at Kiki’s Sandbar. After another 80km we reached Marathon. We booked a room in the Coconut Cay Resort & Marina, where we got the room next to the reception. Again, a very spacious and clean room. That night, we dined at an alehouse where the locals danced happily to country music.

overseas highway miami key west

The last day, we drove to Key Largo under a blanket of thick grey, ominous clouds. We went to a beach bar to get a drink while we waited for the traffic jam to lessen. Everyone was escaping the islands because of a predicted storm. The traffic jam made the 190km trip we had ahead of us even worse, because it took us even longer to bridge the distance.

Our next big stop was at my aunt’s place in Coral Gables. We barely had time for coffee and a chat before we had to head back to make it in time for our flight to New York. Soon enough, we were back in Miami and brought back the motorcycle. This went super smooth and we thanked the guys at EagleRider for helping us achieve this awesome experience. Finding a taxi, however, wasn’t as easy. Luckily we made it in time to the Fort Lauderdale Airport, despite the fact that our driver was a weird, but funny Jamaican.

During the flight, I spent most of the time trying to find the less painful positions to rest my body. In the meantime, I also tried to focus on another chapter of my Finance course. But I couldn’t help it… memories of the breath-taking ride kept sliding in front of my mind’s eye, reminding me that this was probably one of the most unique and intensive trips I would ever make in my life (I mean, I would never be able to make such a trip on my own on a motorcycle right?!)

palm trees key west florida

Where we you like to make a road trip one day? Would you prefer going on a motorbike or in a car?

3CMGM-Adventures-USA

Free Stuff To Do in New York

July 11, 2016

I only had two weeks to recover from my trimester in India. Before I had time to get settled in again in Belgium, I left already for my third and last destination: NEW YORK!

After just one week it became clear to me that we would have to fight to get some free time. We all know New York to be a fast-paced and buzzing place and that high pace and busyness we would encounter everywhere we went and in all the things we did.

Even though I spent two whole months in the Big Apple, I still didn’t have time to do everything I wanted to do. I decided to first tick off free and budget-friendly things on the list to compensate the high cost of living.

Today, I am sharing with you a list of free (or almost free) activities that will make your trip to New York exciting and wallet-proof!

 

Free Activities in New York

roosevelt-island-tram-new-york

1. Roosevelt Island Tram

Between the isles of Manhattan and Queens you’ll find Roosevelt Island. Mainly, it is a residential area, but it is still worth a visit because of the Roosevelt Memorial on one side of the island. Take the orange F train towards the island and as soon as you go above ground, you’ll get that amazing view of the Midtown Manhattan skyline. It is nice to go both during the day and in the evening. At night, you can sit in the grass and admire the city lights. During the day, you can stroll take a stroll by the water. When leaving the island, take the hanging tram. The ride is free is you have a subway ticket. The view over Midtown is a nice and different experience. Definitely worth a try! Mind you, during the summer the cabins are suuuuper hot inside!

staten-island-ferry-new-york

2. Staten Island Ferry

Staying in the transport theme, I want to introduce to you the free boat ride that will take you by the Statue of Liberty, all the way to Staten Island. Just like the Roosevelt Island Tram, the Staten Island Ferry is an official transport system in New York that commuters use to go to work every day. That’s why you can take the ferry for free – even when you don’t have a subway ticket! The boat is really big and takes off every half hour. On the island itself there isn’t much to see. There is a nice terrace by the water where you could go have a drink, but you could also just go and sit on the boardwalk to enjoy the view on Manhattan and Lady Liberty.

high-line-new-york

3. High Line

Let’s switch to the green stuff: the New York High Line is an elevated railroad transformed into a greenway. The railroad had long been deteriorating and, eventually, the city decided to break down the railway. Until the citizens came with the idea to turn the railway into a park, based on Paris’s Promenade Plantée. Today, the High Line is a favored spot for a picnic or a walk/jog. You’ll enjoy wonderful views over the Hudson River, Meatpacking District and Chelsea. Pieces of art are placed on strategic places between all the greenery. I was super happy that I finally got to discover this place for myself and walk all the way from one end (14th Street) till the other end (Gansevoort Street). And also, entrance is completely free!

central-park-new-york

Source: Traveldigg

4. Central Park

To stay in the park’s theme, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you anymore that you can visit Central Park for free? A few centuries ago, the New Yorkers realized that very soon they wouldn’t have enough green and nature left in the fast-expanding city. That is exactly why they created one of the biggest parks of the world. You can participate in many paid activities in Central Park which are also worth trying – like renting a boat on the lake, going for a bike ride, or lunching at The Tavern on the Green – but like in all other parks, you could also organize your own picnic, go for a jog, or have fun people-watching (which is a fun pass-time anywhere in New York). You could entertain yourself watching one of the frequent baseball practices or attend one of the many free festivals (theater, concert, yoga) that are organized during the summer.

coney-island-mermaid-parade

5. Coney Island

Coney Island has been on my to-do list for a looooong while. The peninsula is mainly known for its “peculiar” residents, the Mermaid Parade that takes place every beginning of June, the amusement parks and the white sand beaches. Even though the rollercoasters were my main point of attraction, it turned out the amusement parks are actually really expensive! Just like at the fair, you pay separately for each attraction. This means you’ll be putting down 10-12 bucks easily per ride. In the end, I went for the Mermaid Parade (check out this video) and the beach. If you are in New York for just a few days, skip this place. It takes a long while to get here. But if you are in NYC for a longer while or just really want to go for the rides, then go ahead and enjoy!

new-york-skyline

Extra Tips for a Wallet-proof New York Experience

Free museum nights: take a look at the website of your favorite museums to find out how you can get an (almost) free entry ticket. Some have a donation-based entrance policy after a certain hour. So basically you could visit the MoMa for just $1!

Discount discoveries: start following Time Out on Facebook or look out for the booklets they hand out near the entrance of big subway stations. Time Out lists the free or cheap activities that will take place each week all over New York.

panorama-new-york-rockefeller

Don’t mind spending a little more?

Top of the Rock: if you have to choose, go to the top of the Rockefeller Center. Not only won’t you have to stand in line as long, you’ll also be able to take pictures of panoramic views of New York with the Empire State Building in it! I went at night and got blown away by the city lights! (Price: $29, with time slots)

Bicycle Tour in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan: many parts of Brooklyn are quite impossible to reach because there is hardly any public transport going there and it’s too far to walk. Yet, they are totally worth visiting! Going on a guided bicycle tour was the perfect decision if you ask me. (Price: $49 with Rolling Orange Bikes)

Broadway Musical: Broadway… where stars are born and dreams turn into reality. I attended the Disney produced musical Aladdin and let me tell you: it was fucking awe-some! Genie was sublime and I got to sing along to all my favorite songs. I also heard positive reviews about Matilda, The Lion King, and Book of Mormon. (Price: from $50 during low-season)

 

Ready for your trip to New York? What are your budget tips to survive New York?

 

 

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Mumbai Is More Than Slumdog Millionaire

Arriving in Mumbai felt a bit unreal. It didn’t feel like I set foot in the metropolitan city known for slums and Bollywood. Mumbai meant my final destination in India. Frankly, that made me feel a bit glum. Somehow, though, I succeeded in banning this feeling to the back of my mind. I was determined to make the most of these last three days!

I ordered an Ola cab to take us from the airport to Karan’s apartment. Karan was kind of the best man at the wedding that I attended last month (oh my god, that was only last month?!). He invited my dad and I to come and stay with him and show us around the city.

Since it was still my birthday when we left Goa for Mumbai, I was allowed to choose how I wanted to spend the evening. After enjoying the bottle of champagne my dad brought from Belgium (finally something that I could actually get down my throat!), I announced I’d like to go for drinks at the best rooftop bar in town, Aer, which is located on the 36th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. I love viewpoints and could already imagine how spectacular the city lights of Mumbai must look!

At midnight, we went to a restaurant close to the sea, called Corniche. I had really good cannelloni there. After the dinner we returned to Karan’s apartment, had some fresh beers delivered and finally went to bed.

mumbai india

The next morning, we had a small breakfast before we headed out. We drove around the city; first stop was the Mumbai sign near the water, where we had our mandatory picture taken. After that we picked up a friend of Karan’s and stopped at Starbucks for some refreshments. (May I just clarify that this was my first Starbucks visit in 3.5 months?) We continued our tour by driving through a lesser-known neighborhood that kind of reminds me of what I think Rio de Janeiro looks like. Many residents of Mumbai don’t even know that this area exists!

For lunch we went to Colaba Social, which a famous burger place. And, yes, I had my first real burger here and it was soooo yummm. We walked to the Taj Hotel, which was the victim of a series of terrorist attacks in 2008. There was a lot of material damage and 167 innocent civilians died that time. It is like the 9/11 of India. Across from the hotel you’ll find the Gateway of India. The last British troops left the country through this gate after India became an independent republic. The gate is one of Mumbai’s most popular tourist attractions. As soon as I was asked by an Indian tourist to take a picture with her two small girls, a line immediately formed behind them of people wanting to take a picture with me!! Eventually, my dad had to drag me away from them, because Karan had arranged for us to go on a boat tour and we didn’t want to miss the boat.

starbucks india mumbai

That evening, we were allowed to attend an album launch party at Bonobo. It is a kind of nightlife spot where we would never have set foot in if we weren’t directed there. The music wasn’t really my style – I don’t really remember what it was called either… trance or something? By the time we left here, it had gotten so late that we couldn’t find a place serving dinner anymore (and that, too, in India!). Eventually, the Sun-n-Sand Hotel was willing to cook for us.

The third day, we started by visiting Mount Mary Church, another popular tourist attraction. It is very colorful inside, for a church that is. Nearby, there is this altar kind of place where you can make a wish and “be careful what you wish for because it always comes true”. So… I wished I could stay in India a bit longer, since I was not at all ready to go home.

We continued the day’s tour by going to Bandra Sea Face. There is a park here that is better known as Couple’s Park and as soon as you enter you find out why. Every other meter, you’ll find couples sitting, holding hands, cuddling. It is the amount of couple’s that makes everything a bit awkward you know. At the lower end of the park, which is located on a hilly surface, you’ll find some rocks that are accessible but probably shouldn’t be. Many people have slipped and died here. But apparently it is also a common place for people to commit suicide…

But let’s not go there!

We had our lunch at another surprise location that we could have never found on our own. I can really recommend Pali Village Café. I discovered here that not all Californian wines are like Gallo (which is just disgusting if you ask me). It was divine.

In the afternoon we went for a walk on Marine Drive. At that time Worli Festival was taking place. There were stalls selling Indian products and at each end of the festival a stage was built where concerts of Indian artists were happening. Our refreshments we got at Doolally Taproom, which kind of reminds of an ecological version of Anti-café in Paris. We played Uno and Jenga here together with another friend of Karan’s who lives nearby. We went to his place for another drink and a snack.

mumbai india

Soon enough, we had to start packing. My dad’s flight was leaving 4 hours before mine, so he went to the airport before me. I was gonna try and sleep for 2-3 hours.

When I reached the airport, the problems started already at check-in. I will save you the whole story, but what it comes down to is that this girl working for Turkish Airlines made sure I was not allowed to leave the country because I was missing a certain form that I had to present at border control. I had asked XIMB whether I needed such paper three times throughout my stay and each time I was assured I wouldn’t need it. I was already aware that my batch mates who already left the country had encountered some problems at border control, but they had all been able to catch their planes. But alas, I was the unfortunate one who got the nosy check-in lady who decided for me and for border control that I shouldn’t be allowed on the plane. She ripped my plane ticket in pieces and put me on the street. I wasn’t even allowed to make accommodation arrangement from inside the airport.

So there I was.

It was 3 or 4AM when I called Karan and asked him if I could come back to crash at his place. Since I couldn’t change anything about my situation, I went back to sleep and started the next day early. I ordered an Ola cab and went to the FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office) at the police station. It took two days (and a lot of bureaucratic and administrative BS) to get the form I needed. And then you should now that it also took an hour to go from the apartment to the police station, one way. Mumbai is pretty big and comes with a lot of traffic.

 

3CMGM-Adventures-India

The Two Faces of Party Capital Goa

If I have to name two states in India that are complete opposites, I would probably say Goa vs. Kashmir. The tourism and climate, nature and activities, the atmosphere and history are completely different – contrasting even. But my dad and I, we decided to switch from one extreme to the other, from one day to the next. From a war-stricken area to a beach & party capital.

North and South Goa have different things to offer, as you will soon discover. Based on a recommendation from one of my Indian friends, we went south first.

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South Goa

You have no idea how happy I was to feel the sun on my face and see palm trees everywhere. Especially after the cold, wet, grim days in Kashmir. At the same time, it was terrible to be around hundreds of tourists (esp. Brits). During my time in Bhubaneswar, I hardly ever saw white people. The east coast of India just isn’t that popular with tourists. It really took me a while to get used to the overpresence of foreigners and tourism.

south-goa-vaca-beach-india

We stayed in the Zuri White Sands Resort which was also recommended to us. It was a beautiful, modern hotel with spacious, clean rooms. During the day, I spent a lot of time near one of the pools – reading, swimming, reading… It became clear to me relatively soon that this was very much a hotel/resort where people come with their families and don’t leave the premises until the week is over.

north-goa-vaca-beach-india

South Goa equals relaxation. When I wasn’t lounging by the pool, I was making walks on the beach. Let me tell you about the beach! It was an extremely pleasant experience. It actually feels like your walking in snow, because of the way the sand makes cracking sounds underneath your feet and molds when you step on it. We walked all the way to the next beach resort, which happened to be a Taj hotel. There, we succeeded in getting a guided tour. I realized I was really happy to be staying in the Zuri Resort, which was a lot more colorful and a lot less stiff!

But of course we aren’t traveling in India to stay inside a hotel! After two days in the sun, my dad completely recovered from his illness and we left for North Goa, where there it’s much livelier (and that really is an understatement).

north-goa-vaca-beach-india

North Goa

It was a short two-hour drive to our next destination. We had discovered a small, local bar a five-minute walk away from the hotel. There we found someone who was willing to drive us to the North for a rate much cheaper for us (and much more rewarding for him when not having to go through the hotel).

We stayed two nights in the hotel Acacia near Candolim Beach. Again, we had a beautiful, modern, spacious room. The hotel was actually built in an O-shape. There was no roof in the middle, leaving the “indoor pool” open, but also letting the noise from the next-door mosque come in freely. The hotel was located on the main street, parallel with the beach, but the only noise that disturbed us was that of the mosque at 5AM in the morning. On the roof there was a really good restaurant with sea view.

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The sand in North Goa is rougher than in the South. It is also almost completely made out of bits and pieces of sea shells. It’s more crowded and, thus, there is also a different/better atmosphere! Candolim was crowded, but not too much. For the “real” Goan experience you go to Calangute, Baga, Anjuna or Vagator. You can walk most of the coastline (which is very long!) or take a taxi. By the way, you will spend most of your money in Goa on taxis and tuktuks. They are super expensive here!

north-goa-candolim-india

For food in Candolim, I can really recommend the fusion restaurant on the other side of the street from the hotel. You shouldn’t skip Thalassa, where you can enjoy delicious Greek food and watch the sun set from one of the most beautiful locations in the state. (Don’t forget to make a reservation!)

For partying, you will rather go to Calangute, instead of Baga because it is a common place for women to get harrassed. In Anjuna you can go to the popular beach bar Curlies Beach Shack. And during New Year’s you might like to attend the Sunburn festival.

vagator-thalassa-india-goa

Looking for an exclusive night out that is still within budget? Head over to Club Cubana. It is located on a hilltop between Baga and Anjuna and you can reach either by walking or by hopping into one of the jeeps that the club provides. Some nights, women can go in for free, so keep that in mind! The Club itself looks like it was dropped in the middle of a jungle. Here and there you discover open spaces with a pool, an in-door disco, another bar… This is usually not my scene, but it was an amazing experience to spend a few hours here!

north-goa-zuri-resort-india

To Do in Goa

Be sure to try one of the seafood dishes Goa is famous for. Also, make use of this occasion to get a massage or attend a yoga class. There is so many options! What I personally really liked, was the biggest flea market of Goa, which can be found in Anjuna. It is almost impossible to reach by foot, so you’ll have to have someone drive you there if you didn’t rent a scooty. Did I mention people rent a lot of scooters here? No? Well now you know! Traffic in Goa is quite ok. You just have to remember to drive on the left. Lastly, there are also a lot of forts and churches you can visit that date back to the time when Goa was a Portuguese colony.

One thing is sure: it is impossible to get bored in Goa!

What might be useful to know for my western friends, is that Goa is touristy enough that you can wear whatever you like! Bikinis, tops, shorts, dresses… all is allowed! (But still, keep it slightly decent.)

acacia-hotel-goa-india

On my last night in Goa, we celebrated my 23rd birthday on the roof of the hotel. The next day, we would continue our journey. On to Mumbai!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

The Beautiful Misery of Kashmir

Did you know that, apparently, Kashmir is the must-visit location on your trip to India? And did you know that, even though the beauty of the location should suggest otherwise, it is one of the least visited places by tourists in India? (Oh, and did you know that, according to all Indians, the most beautiful men and women are Kashmiri?!)

Me: If there is one place in India that I absolutely have to see in India, where would you send me?

Indian friends: Kashmir. You have to go to Kashmir. It is the most beautiful place in India.

I think I had this conversation with at least nine of my Indian friends, each with separate interests and personalities. Yet they all said the same thing. So I passed the message on to my father. We were going to the North of India, to Kashmir.

srinagar-kashmir-india

srinagar-kashmir-india

On the day I am writing this story, another five people died in the eternal battle for Kashmir. India and Pakistan keep claiming the territory as their own, while Kashmir wants nothing more than to be free and independent. According to the Guardian, 68,000 people have already died since the rebels started resisting against the Indian regime in 1989.

Now, I already knew that Kashmir was called “undisputed land,” but no one had told me it could be very unsafe to go there! I had only seen the pictures of beautiful landscapes and heard stories relating amazing memories, so I was just really excited to go see for myself. An “off the beaten track” location in India!

But the problems started already when booking flights to Srinagar from Jaipur. For some reason the connecting flights had to be booked separately. That meant we had to pick up our luggage in Delhi and pay the overweight again. (I explained before that for domestic flights on 15kg of check-in luggage is allowed.) We experienced more issues during the journey, which I will not bother you with.

srinagar-kashmir-india

The flight to Srinager itself was totally worth it. We flew over the bright yellow mustard flower fields and the snowy mountain tops of the Himalayas. It was a promising preview of what was yet to come.

At the airport, the excited and peaceful feeling that had grown within me quickly vanished. The safe and secure feeling I have had everywhere in India disappeared in a few heartbeats.

Soldiers and military people everywhere. Barbed wire and tanks all around. We had to show our passport several times, had to keep repeating what our plans were, who would be our guide, give the addresses of all the places we would be visiting… At that moment, I couldn’t believe that this was the beautiful Srinagar that I was promised.

The driver was waiting for us outside the airport. He was the guide of one of my batch mates once and had become a good friend. We could trust him to show us around. One of the first things I asked him was whether he was able to provide me with a sim card, because in Kashmir you can only use a Kashmiri sim. That is one of the consequences of being in a civil war for almost thirty years. After some unnecessary difficulties and necessary Indian complexities, I succeeded in obtaining a sim. Frankly speaking, contact with the outside world does give me some peace of mind!

srinagar-kashmir-india

srinagar-kashmir-india

The driver took us through bushy roads covered by grey, ominous clouds to Dal Lake. We passed by more army posts, tanks and armed soldiers who were stationed on the side of the roads, in front of grizzled, wooden houses.

The first two nights we would spent on the lake according to the original plan. But the driver quickly suggested to go to Gulmarg the next day, where you can take a chairlift to the top of a mountain. Nevertheless, as soon as we arrived on our houseboat, my dad had made up his mind: he wanted to leave right away.

dal-lake-srinagar-kashmir-india

dal-lake-kashmir-india

But if there is one thing I’ve learned during my stay in India, it is that you should give everything not two, but multiple chances to really learn to appreciate it. So we made a deal: we would discover Srinagar with the driver today, go somewhere else tomorrow and then decide to stay or leave. I suggested to go to Pahalgam the next day instead.

Many Indians like to compare Kashmir with Switzerland. To us, Europeans, this comparison seems a bit superficial, but I can see where the idea comes from. It is cold here, really cold, it rains, it’s cloudy, it’s green and mountainous, you can see snow on the mountain tops and the views are spectacular. But the “chalets” in Kashmir and the military presence could never be found in neutral, peaceful Switzerland.

srinagar-kashmir-india

srinagar-kashmir-india

I only had my summer clothes with me. In Bhubaneswar, where the temperature never went below 25°C (77°F), I didn’t need sweaters and scarfs. In Kashmir, the temperature at night goes close to the freezing point and during the day it feels like a typical autumn day in Belgium. I wasn’t dressed for this!

Dal Lake was really beautiful though. The boat ride in the shikara to the houseboat was worth it every time, despite the cold and rain. We also visited several parks with mesmerizing views. I was most pleasantly surprised by the hidden tulip fields in the middle of the mountains! Even in Holland I have never seen a tulip field.

We spent the night under our electric blankets on the boat.

shikara-dal-lake-kashmir

srinagar-kashmir-india

The next day didn’t start on a positive note. The boat owners tried to make us pay more than we agreed on, the “driver” of the shikara took us to the floating market against our will, and when we arrived on mainland, we had to wait almost an hour in the rain before we heard anything from the driver. In the meantime, they tried to hook us for a boat ride for three times the normal price and we had already said several times that we didn’t want to go for a boat ride in the pouring rain.

After a few hours of discussing, we could finally start the journey to Pahalgam. In a smooth pace, we drove by the mustard flower fields I had seen from the plane, and enjoyed the jaw-dropping views of the Himalayas. We tasted kawa at a roadside shop. Kawa is a fluorescent yellow, warm drink based on saffron. By the way, did you know that most of the world’s saffron is coming from Kashmir? (Just like they also export cricket bats!)

pahalgam-kashmir-india-road

tulips-srinagar-kashmir-india

We arrived in Pahalgam. It felt even colder here. First, we went looking for a hotel, in the pouring rain. I don’t know if it is because Pahalgam is a relatively popular destination within Kashmir, or if it’s because we are clearly Europeans, but everything seemed outrageously expensive. The only reason I wanted to go to Pahalgam in the first place, is because I wanted to do the main activity here: horseback riding in the mountains. But in this weather, we would only get sick (or more sick in my dad’s case).

After a few hours in the hotel, my dad and I decided that Kashmir wasn’t the right fit for us. We could understand why my Indian friends would send us here – we would sure feel good in the climate we are most used to right?

It wasn’t easy telling the driver that we would be flying off the next day, canceling the trip then and there. He was not happy, to say the least, even though I tried to explain to him it wasn’t his fault. We just couldn’t be happy in “the Switzerland of India”.

Leaving Srinagar also wasn’t that easy. While just nearing the airport, we already had to run our luggage through a metal detector/scanner while the car was being thoroughly searched. I think our hand luggage, passport and plane tickets were checked at least seven times (that I can remember). We even had to go on the tarmac to point out our luggage and prove it was ours.

While I was waiting until my dad’s electronic devices where checked by the safety personal to see if they weren’t bombs in disguise, I had an interesting conversation with a typical handsome Kashmiri boy. At least I got to see one of those!

By the way, did you know that you are only allowed to live in Kashmir if you are born there or marry into one of the families there? This way, the beauty of the population remains mostly a trait of this region. The easiest way to recognize a Kashmiri person is by their bright blue eyes. The pretty women I heard so much about I hadn’t seen, though. They are basically hiding underneath their bourkas. After all, Kashmir is represented by 90% muslims.

tulips-srinagar-kashmir-india-me

I know this isn’t the most positive blog post I have ever written, but I try to be honest about my experiences. So I have mentioned both the positive and negative aspects of this Indian State. Nevertheless, I was secretly really relieved to leave and head for sunnier territory… 30 degrees warmer to be exact.

Goa here we come!

City trip in Rajasthan: Jaipur

In the late afternoon, we arrived in the capital city of Rajasthan after a five-hour train ride from Jodhpur. It felt like the April heat in Jaipur just slapped me in the face. Whether you like it or not, you will sweat. Also, it appeared that another ten trains or so had arrived at the same time as us, so it was incredibly busy and crowded at the station.

We had to wait for almost two hours before our driver finally showed to pick us up. In the meantime, dozens and dozens of offers were made to us take us and our luggage anywhere we wanted to go for a “special prize, only for you my friend”.

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Eventually the driver found us in the crowd. The driver wasn’t actually driving the car, but he was the one who was going to show us around. Actually, he is an employee at the company Nipun’s parents own. They also welcomed us in their home in Delhi one week ago. The driver was a short, but enthusiastic guy who’s English was just good enough and who kept being overly worried about our happiness and comfort. He was so eager to start showing us around, it took a lot of arguments to convince him that we wanted to take a minute to rest and freshen up. After we did exactly that, we left the Metropolitian Hotel (fyi: wifi not included, crazy right?!) to start our city tour.

During the drive to our first must-see it became clear to us why Jaipur is also known as the Pink City: all the buildings have a rusty, pastel reddish/pink color.

jaipur-rajasthan-india

jaipur-rajasthan-india

We started by visiting Hawa Mahal, also known as the Palace of Winds. The façade is famous for its characteristic 365 windows made up of colored glass. A long time ago, these windows were the only way for the royal women living in the palace to look at the outside world without outsiders seeing them. Because of their religion and royal traditions, they were not allowed to come on the street.

Next, we continued on foot to the City Palace, where we had a small snack and breathed in the atmosphere of this monarchistic location. We skipped the close-by must-see Jantar Mantar due to lack of time (and, frankly, because there is no shadow to escape into when it gets too hot).

jaipur-rajasthan-hawa-mahal

jaipur-india-rajasthan

jaipur-rajasthan-india-hawa-mahal

jaipur-india-rajasthan

In the afternoon we headed to Jal Mahal and Fort Amer. Jal Mahal is a private property that consists of a big, yellow, “sunken” palace in the middle of a lake. You can admire from a cozy boulevard, passing by a little improvised market place.

Fort Amer is, again, very different from all the forts we’ve seen so far. I don’t think I have to tell you that this fort is amber-colored? It is “guarded” by a whole family of monkeys. I think – and am not at all ashamed! – that we were looking at them for about twenty minutes. They just kept doing funny things that I wanted to film and photograph!

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

I think, even if you do know the way, you could still easily spend half a day in Fort Amer. It’s so big! I seriously got lost and, blonde and naive as I am, almost got cheated when I asked one of the “guards” to show me the way to the exit, for which he asked a tip. Jeez… At the exit my mouth fell open: there was an actual Starbucks here! Even though it being there seemed totally inappropriate, I was so thirsty by that time that I bought a cold drink anyway.

That night, we had a nice dinner in a restaurant we’d found on TripAdvisor.

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

The next day, my dad was feeling the worst yet despite the medicine cocktail he had been taken the past few days. I found out why this was the case: at the entrance of Fort Amer he had drunken not just one but two of the cold drinks offered at one of the stalls. It is a drink with lime and salt, Indians love it and apparently, my dad does too. But one important lesson you should remember when traveling in India: never drink water if you can’t tell where it is coming from (which should be a sealed bottle)! Otherwise you can never know whether it is filtered. So I am 99% sure this is why my dad got sick. You are warned!

jaipur-rajasthan-india

jaipur-rajasthan-india

I visited most of the sights alone the next day… in the driver and his sister’s company. We visited two more forts: Jaigarh Fort, which offers a panoramic view over Amer Fort and which houses the biggest canon ever used, and Nahargarh Fort, which basically consists of a maze of corridors. From the roof you also get a beautiful panoramic view over the city of Jaipur.

The afternoon I spent by the pool on the roof of the hotel, while my dad went back to the room to get some rest. In the evening we visited the driver’s home and his family.

jaipur-fort-rajasthan-india

jaipur-rajasthan-fort-india

jaipur-fort-rajasthan-india

Afterwards, we went on to discover the Disney-esque village Choki Dhani. It is a beautifully lit, artificial town where you can learn more about the state’s history and try out the traditional dishes from the area. You can enjoy performances and take part in some activities, such as an elephant ride. I love these kinds of places!

We couldn’t stay long though. I was very tired from walking around all day in the heat, my dad was still feeling unwell. Nevertheless, Choki Dhani was absolutely one of the highlights of our visit to Jaipur.

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

The next morning, we left really early to the airport to fly off to our next adventure, the place that should be the absolute highlight of this whole trip: Kashmir.

3CMGM-Adventures-India

The Indian Fairytale in Rajasthan: Jodhpur

The only thing you are sure about when you make a roundtrip in India is that you simply cannot skip Rajasthan. Why? Because the state is described as the land where all the tales of the Arabian Nights are set. Because the tradition of real princes is nowhere as obvious as it is here. And because you can ride camels in the desert.

Well, I didn’t get to go on a camel tour myself unfortunately. Good thing I got the opportunity to ride a camel before in Puri, right? Udaipur is typically the place where these tours take place, but in March and April it is way too hot. This and the fact that our schedule was already super tight made us decide to skip this activity. But if you go during winter season, you should definitely go. Apparently, every angle in Udaipur is a photo genetic one!

After a long train ride from Delhi, we arrived in Jodhpur. Dad and I had to travel in different classes. To make the story short, what happened was: we booked our beds too late and were on a waiting list. Apparently, this journey is particularly popular. The moment we had to board the train, we officially had only one ticket (in first class). In our compartment (which had four beds instead of the usual eight), one of our fellow passengers had an extra ticket for third class that was not being used. He just gave it to us. How generous can someone be?!

Seeing as I had traveled several times already in third class and my dad wasn’t as comfortable with his first time taking a train in India, I offered to take the third-class ticket. But in the end, I stayed in the first class because for a second I had forgotten that, of course, this is India and probably it wouldn’t be appropriate if I were to stay alone in third class… And since the men in our compartment seemed really nice, and kind, and helpful, it seemed like the best solution. (And honestly, I slept much better in first class!)

In Jodhpur, we had to arrange everything ourselves. At the train station, I booked an Ola and ordered chai while we waited. I keep thinking it’s so funny when the chaiwalla (a guy serving tea) makes a face when I go order with them. Actually, this tea, when it is served in the street, is a poor people’s drink (or at least that’s what I’ve been told). But I can’t help it I like it so much!

balsamand-lake-palace-jodhpur-india

Our Ola driver took us to the hotel. Balsamand Lake Palace used to be a real palace. Even in the hotel itself you can easily spend half a day discovering the grounds. While we were waiting until the room was ready, we got some more masala chai. Then another guy appeared with a giant golf cart to take us and our luggage to the room.

Let me take a moment to describe our room, because it was quite spectacular. After walking into the building’s marble hall, we climbed up the marble stairs and arrived at a double door which looked like it could be the entrance to a dungeon. The doors opened into a giant room. Our room. More marble. The ceiling reached several meters above us. There were two super soft beds, a living room area, two desks, a swing bed and the windows were completely made of colored glass art. On each side of the room there was a bathroom also… completely made of marble. In any other western country, this could be the presidential suite. But still, we didn’t pay that much more than a junior suite in London for example.

balsamand-palace-india-jodhpur

balsamand-india-jodhpur

As it was more than 40° Celsius in Jodhpur (+100°F), the first thing we did was go for a refreshing dive in “the royal pool”, where we stayed until the highest temperature peak had passed. Then we made our way into the old city. Being alone at this pool at this time of the day, it really felt like we were enjoying our own private oasis. sigh

Jodhpur is also known as the Blue City, and you can see why as soon as you go to higher places. We discovered the Old Town and braved the busy market where bracelets, bangles, saree fabric, spices and more were being sold. But from here, you can’t really tell the city is “blue”.

I also had my dad taste his first pani puri, but since he was already not feeling too good while adjusting to the Indian food – which is totally normal obviously – he only tasted one. Pani puri is a typical street food from Rajasthan. It is a kind of crunchy rice ball. With your thumb you push a hole into it and fill it with spiced water (pani means water by the way). It’s a bit hot.

jodhpur-blue-city-india-market

blue-city-jodhpur-rajasthan

But beware! Standard rule in India: if you try street food, always go where the Indians go. This way, chances are already a bit higher that the food is prepared (relatively) more hygienically. Trying pani puri is actually taking an unnecessary risk of getting sick: you don’t know if the water that is used was filtered for starters. Lucky me that I choose a good stall!

I booked a new Ola to take us to On The Rocks, which was recommended to us by one of the passengers in my compartment in the train. The best way I can describe it is as a cave complex filled with restaurants, shops and bars. That night we decided to sit outside on the patio underneath the starry sky.

Mehrangarh-jodhpur-rajasthan

rajasthan-fort-jodhpur

Mehrangarh-jodhpur-rajasthan

The next morning the Ola cab took us to the 600 year-old Mehrangarh Fort, also known as “the Petra of Rajasthan”, because it looks like the fort is made out of the rock itself. It is a very exhausting place to visit in this heat. You have to climb up and down a few steep hills. But once you reach the top you will experience why Jodhpur is known as the Blue City! Inside the fort you also have a few museums, which will let you cool down a bit. A short tuktuk ride out of the fort you can also visit a beautiful temple called Jaswant Thada. A famous maharaja (i.e. Indian king) is buried here.

jaswant-thada-jodhpur-rajasthan

jaswant-thada-jodhpur-rajasthan

At noon, we had the idea of having lunch in the most impressive (and expensive) hotel in the city: Umaid Palace. But just to get inside, you’ll need to come up with Rs. 10,000 (or €140). So we turned around and went back to On The Rocks. As the heat wasn’t doing my dad any good on top of how he was already feeling, we decided to spend the afternoon at the hotel pool again.

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balsamand-jodhpur-rajasthan-india

The last evening, we had dinner at another restaurant that was recommended to us by the same guy from the train. Hawant Mahal is located on the top of a mountain and comes with a spectacular view of the city lights and Umaid Palace. The food was also amazing and plentiful.

The next morning, we prepared to leave quite early. We were going on another train ride to continue our journey in Rajasthan. On the way to Jaipur!

 

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Discovering India: Delhi & Agra

Even though I have written that a trip to India should start in Kolkata, for my dad it started – as most holidays in India, I dare to assume – in Delhi. After the trimester in Bhubaneswar ended, I left the capital city of Orissa behind and headed for Delhi to start a round trip in India.

Delhi often appears in the press with negative stories: there are huge smog and general traffic problems, there is a high crime rate, and the worst rape case ever reported in India also took place here. And still, from all over the world people are heading to Delhi.

My batch mate Nipun lives in Noida, a neighborhood to the south of Delhi. It was with his brother that my dad and I stayed the first few days. We were picked up at the airport by the family’s personal driver and were welcomed at the house by Nipun’s brother, sister-in-law and staff. Later, I would discover what an advantage it was that my dad – who still had to get his first real taste of India – and I  were getting so much help from my friends.

In my previous stories about India, you may have read that I never traveled solo in India (yet). Every time, one or more Indian friends had been by my side to help me when needed – even if it was just to translate some words here and there, or to bargain about the price for a tuktuk. It doesn’t even seem that easy to get around in Delhi without some help. The traffic is terrible indeed, the tuktuk drivers are (supposed to be) the worst cheaters, and generally everyone seems to try to rip you off.

delhi-india-discover

Delhi

But of course I also have a lot of positive stuff to say about Delhi! Over and done with the few complaints I have. I mean, there must be a reason why people come from all over to visit this city right? Delhi has an enormous amount of sightseeing you can do. India Gate, for starters, is a popular place to have a picnic and it’s always incredibly crowded around this area. India Gate is a memorial to remember the 82,000 Indian soldiers that died during the first world war. Then there is the Red Fort, which was built in the 17th century and which was called home by the Mogol Empire for 200 years. Now it houses a few museums. Across from the Red Fort, you’ll find the biggest mosque in India, called Jarna Mashid. And if you’re wondering about the famous Lotus Temple, well, it’s a bit out of the way from the other must-sees, which prevented us from visiting because the detour would take too much time (which we didn’t have).

red-fort-india-delhi

red-fort-delhi-india

red-fort-delhi-india

 

What else did we do in Delhi? We ventured into the old part of Delhi and looked around in Chandni Chowk which is one of the oldest and busiest markets of India. The Red Fort is actually within walking distance from here. We also paid a short visit to Janpath, a Tibetan market. And do I have to remind you to keep an eye on your stuff at all times when visiting market places?

I really liked the Khan Market area. You’ll find a lot of cute little shops and boutiques. I also got my first Western meal since my last visit to Kolkata. Although my hamburger at Smokehouse Deli – a modern burger joint in French style – was actually a buffalo burger, it was absolutely delicious. What a relief to finally eat something different than chicken!

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delhi-market-india-discover

gurgaon-delhi-downtown-india

One of our evenings we spent in Hauz Khas. This area is like a village filled with nothing but restaurants and bars. I can imagine it is always lively and busy here at night. Another night we went to Gurgaon, a city just outside of Delhi which is called home by another batchmate of mine, Aman. He took us to one of his favorite bars, Downtown, which is known for its self-brewed Wheat beer.

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Agra

The last day we drove over to Agra to visit one of the World Wonders. You simply cannot skip the Taj Mahal on a trip to India. It took the driver two hours to take us via the expressway from Delhi to Agra. He parked (I think) on the East parking. After I convinced my dad to try his first real chai and bought our entry tickets (remember to collect your free bottle of water and shoe protectors to enter the Taj!), we got into the van that would take us to the actual entrance to the Taj.

The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum that was built by order of Shah Jahan after his wife Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth (it was her fourteenth child!). It took 22 years to build the tomb and surrounding gardens. The Taj Mahal is completely made up of marble and it is almost impossible to imagine how the engravers succeeded in getting such detailed decorations in the stone. The color of the marble is really being done justice in during sunrise and sunset (although there is often a lot of mist in the morning).

taj-mahal-delhi-agra-india

agra-taj-mahal-delhi-india

taj-mahal-agra-india-delhi

It was very crowded. Actually, the amount of people present also made me realize just how little the Taj really is. Yes, you read that correctly! I was constantly looking through the lens of my camera, where the tomb looks giant, and back to the real version right in front of me, which seemed almost disappointingly small (even though the Taj could never ever disappoint of course). It certainly didn’t stop me from taking about 50 pictures! The Taj is very photo genetic.

After this visit, we had lunch at a family restaurant on the way to the Agra Fort. The restaurant was very ‘tourist friendly’ in the sense that the food didn’t taste 100% Indian and was not too spicy. It was still good, though. Adapted to our western taste buds.

In the meantime, it had gotten super-hot outside, too! Inside the Agra Fort, we kept looking for rays of shadow to hide in, but there were very few. So, about this Fort. After Shah Jahan finished the construction of the Taj Mahal, he was “scammed” by his son and imprisoned… in the Agra Fort. From here, the Shah could admire his masterpiece, the Taj, from afar until his own death.

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Just like the Red Fort, the Agra Fort consists of several parts. The outside walls are a rusty red color, but on the inside it looks completely different! That’s because Shah Jahan loved marble, so he remodeled the Fort to his tastes.

It was a bit less crowded here. Agra Fort is definitely worth the visit if you are making the trip down anyway. After visiting the Agra Fort, we headed back to Delhi.

After a small dinner, we said our goodbyes to Nipun’s brother and sister-in-law, and I also asked to send our regards and thanks to his parents. We also thanked the staff for taking such good care of us and, of course, the driver for taking us around everywhere for three days despite the language barrier. I think we wouldn’t have been able to do all we did if it weren’t for that driver!

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agra-fort-delhi-india

agra-fort-india

At ten in the evening we were at the train station, waiting for the night train to take us to Rajasthan. Since every state is like a different country, I was very curious to discover yet another part of India! I was ready for the state of princes and real-life scenes from Arabian Nights!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

March 2016: The Third Month in India Still Feels Like the First

May 23, 2016

Is it really March already? It just seems like two weeks ago that I arrived in India, although at the same time it seems like I have experienced enough to fill a year! Time runs at an extremely weird pace here. On the one hand, you hardly ever feel in a hurry, because “the result is always more important than the due date”. On the other hand, it seems like I’m always short on time to do all the things I wanna do.

March started in a relatively relaxed way. We got a few weeks of to arrange our US visa for the New York trimester and attend the Indian wedding in Patna. During the first week of March, I succeeded in finishing all my schoolwork and most of my part of the master project. I planned it this way, so that I wouldn’t have anything left to do when I went on my trips.

3CMGM-India-group-March

Off the Beaten Track in Bargarh

That Sunday, I left for the small town of Bargarh, where my batchmate Abhisek is from. I met his family – and half the village – while getting a feel of the atmosphere in one of India’s many villages yet to be discovered by tourists. It was a nice and unique experience. Also, I can now confrm that also in India homecooked meals are the best! Being here during an important festival in honor of the god Shiva, also gave me the possibility to celebrate Shivratri with the locals. During that evening, I visited a Shiva temple and was politely invited to try the strange green goo everybody was having.

3CMGM-India-Bargarh

3CMGM-India-Bargarh-Shivratri

Indian Wedding in Patna

After two days in Bargarh, we took the train to Patna, where the wedding would take place. The journey took 17h (jikes!), but I was exhausted from all the impressions in Bargarh and was able to sleep for a few hours. It definitely required a significant amount of energy to 1) socialize all day long (as an introvert) 2) in my best Inglish. The whole story on attending an Indian wedding and why it’s totally spectacular you can read in this post.

3CMGM-India-Wedding-Patna

The Visa Procedure in Kolkata

On the 13th of March, we arrived in Kolkata. Here, we would attempt to get our US visas for the last trimester at Fordham University in New York. I had been looking forward to coming here, because everyone who had visited the former capital city of India before was really excited about it. The only recurring doubt was that it is even hotter here than in Bhubaneswar! And even though it seemed impossible that this could be the case… it was definitely true! My tips for must-dos in Kolkata you can read in this post from last month.

3CMGM-India-Kolkata-Victoria

The Last Few Days at XIMB

After a long ride on the nightbus, we arrived back in Bhubaneswar on a Thursday. The next few days were calmer again. We finished the master project and attended the last few classes of GHRM, for which I also passed an exam.

The last class was canceled because we were too distracted by the explosions that were taking place at Brussels airport and Maalbeek’s subway station. Yes, even in India we heard about it! We watched the Belgian news with the projector on the big screen in the classroom. It was very weird. It was hard to grasp just how tragic these terrorist attacks were, because it was happening so, so far away. We stayed in touch with our homebase while watching the news. Only seeing how affected the news anchor was, gave us an idea of the gravity of the situation. (Note: it is only now that I am home that I can feel how emotional these events still make every single Belgian citizen, and now also myself. Especially because it happened right in front of my former workplace.)

The evening after the exam we had a farewell dinner (we also had one in Antwerp, but this one was obviously with Indian food!) and through all of this I also started packing my suitcase and struggled – but succeeded! – in getting my evening gown and saree in there! Hallellujah!

3CMGM-India-XIMB-group

Celebrating the Original Holi Festival

My last full day in Bhubaneswar revolved almost entirely around the Holi festival, which took place on the 24th that year. It started already early in the morning. As soon (and as fast) as we could we poured coconut oil over our hair and bodyparts that weren’t covered with clothes. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the advice of the students from the previous year seriously enough. They suggested wearing a swimming cap over our hair, because it is superhard to get the paint out (and no, the coconut oil didn’t seem to have helped all that much…

During the first moments of this color war, it is common to have this drink called bhaang. I don’t exactly know what is in it, but afterwards I heard there is some cannabis in it! So that is why I felt so high! Apparently it is a very indian thing, so I had to try it even though I didn’t know what it was. Such a strange experience it was…

When we finished the bhaang, we took all our powder paint to the cricket field to start throwing holi colors at the other XIMB students. People were also throwing water around, students were being dragged over the muddy ground and at a certain moment – apparently this is also a tradition, but specifically from Orissa – the boys literally started ripping each other’s shirts off!

Holi was kinda fun, although you get very filthy and my hair still looked bright yellow and pink after a whole month…. Even my skin kept looking bright pink and green for days, no matter how often I scrubbed and washed my skin. At first I considered it to be a good conversation starter while traveling with my dad, but soon it was just a bit annoying that I would have yellow hair in all the pictures… The clothes I wore I had to throw away, obviously, but I was prepared for that.

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3CMGM-India-XIMB-Holi-colors

That evening, when the effects of the bhaang were gone, I got a bit sad. How could the second trimester already be over?? My stay in India had been impressive, unique, life changing, exhausting, educational and so many more things! And now, all of the sudden, it is over… In the blink of an eye. So what a relief it is to know I will be discovering more of this country for three more weeks!