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.

 

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”.

jaipur-rajasthan-india

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.

jodhpur-rajasthan-balsamand

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

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.

3CMGM-Holi-festival-XIMB

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!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Why Our Weddings Are Nothing Compared to Indian Ones

May 9, 2016

After a 17-hour journey from West-Orissa to Mid-Bihar, I reached the city of Patna. This is the place my classmate Vidisha calls home. It is also the location of her brother’s wedding. The wedding of Aman, and his fiancé, Sushmita. If you were wondering if I was incredibly excited for this event, I can say: hell f***ing yeah! Who wouldn’t be? Whether I was prepared for it? That would have been absolutely impossible.

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DAY 1

I didn’t sleep much on the train from Bargarh to Patna. Even though I wasn’t that well rested, the adrenaline kept me going. We were too early to go straight to the hotel, so we were all invited to Vidisha’s home for breakfast first. And of course we also participated in applying the mehendi!

Mehendi, also known as henna, is when they apply the brown stuff to your hands and arms. Because I arrived first, I was the first one to try it out. The family had hired two henna artists. After about twenty minutes the front and back of my hands and lower arms were adorned with the strong-smelling (although not necessarily bad-smelling) brown stuff they use. This had to soak into my skin for about half an hour. Then I had to add lemon juice with a small sponge. The purpose is to create a darker color that stays longer, which are the two important aspects of good henna application. After another half hour I could start scraping of the crusts from my arms and hands. Not so easy and quite an uncomfortable experience!

mehendi-henna-india-wedding

wedding-india-henna

The drawings were supposed to stay for about 1 to 2 weeks, depending on how thoroughly I was going to wash my hands (which, by the way, I was not allowed to do for the next hour or two).

After I was done with this and had helped my classmates doing the same, we left in groups of two for the dance studio where a choreographer was supposed to teach us an “easy” routine. I was soooo not up for this. I only went to do Vidisha a favor. I hate dancing. I’m no good at it. And of course, the rehearsal was terrible. For me. We had a dancer in the group, so my strategy was to just do whatever she does.

wedding-india-blonde-international

After the dance class, there was a lunch buffet in Vidisha’s garden. After that we could finally go to the hotel. Not to get the rest I needed so badly, but to get ready for the first big night of the wedding week!!!

Weddings in India usually last 3 to 5 days, because the whole family from both the groom and bride’s sides come from all over India. Weddings in India are such big celebrations because this is one of the only times many family members get to see each other. Besides that, it’s about two whole families joining. Therefore, there are lots of “networking” opportunities for unmarried bachelors and bachelorettes (if you know what I’m saying).

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indian-wedding-blonde

That night would be all about performances to entertain the bride and groom. Our performance would be one of many, so I hoped it would soon be forgotten! Frankly, I did get me some Dutch courage first… That was the best idea, too! Our performance was so messed up. So messed up… But the whole crowd thought it was so amazing to see foreigners perform at this wedding that they loved it anyway. Haha!

The rest of the night I was enjoying myself examining the traditional Indian outfits, stuffing myself with delicious snacks and finally snatching some drinkable wine.

indian-wedding-sarees-international

 

DAY 2

The next morning I was the only one at breakfast. The buffet thing wasn’t great, but it was sufficient. I enjoyed myself sitting in the sofa, taking food from the buffet, seeing my batchmates come and go, one hangover worse than the other… Lucky me for rarely having hangovers! By the way, a hangover could never keep me from having breakfast.

Sitting there, I also got to know some of the other hotel guests. They shared their life stories for my India story. This way, the mornings passed relatively quickly. By noon, we went over the Vidisha’s house again for another lunch buffet.

In the afternoon, we started getting ready for our favorite day of the whole week: the official wedding ceremony. This meant we finally got to take out the sarees that we bought the month before. With the help of some professional dressers we succeeded in draping the sarees around us in an elegant way. It’s quite impossible to do by yourself, you see. There’s so much fabric! When you have it on, you just need to figure out how to walk in it. So we practised until the car came to pick us up: forward, up the stairs, down the stairs…

indian-wedding-patna

indian-wedding-bride-patna

The best part, of course, was to admire each other’s looks. Coincidentally, every girl choose a different color and every one looked beautiful in their own choice. I, too, felt like a princess. A queen even! What a great feeling it was… even if it only lasted for one night. My saree was a dark orange, almost red, with a golden border. My ‘cropped top’ was made completely out of white and golden pearls. Very bling bling. But it worked, especially in this setting. The top was kinda itchy though. But that wasn’t stopping me from wearing it till the end of the night! No way was I taking that saree off.

First of all, we were taken to the starting point of the bharat. This is a parade that goes through the city. The family and friends, along with some ‘musicians’ lead the parade. The groom follows, in this case, in a horse carriage. He basically watches his family celebrating, singing, and dancing like crazy people. This is like the epitome of fun for Indians. They had so much fun!

Bharati symbolize the walk from the groom’s house to the bride’s home. He will pick her up and bring her to his home, her new home. Today, this is the way they do it, because families are spreading out all over India and obviously it is impossible to walk 1000kms both ways! So starting on a random point in the city, we walked to the hotel where the festivities and ceremony took place.

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indian-wedding-patna-international

I didn’t see much of the ceremony itself though. Quite quickly, Vidisha guided our group to a separate room where the reception with alcohol was taking place. When I asked if they had wine also, they said no but that they’d get it for me. WTF?! I said that wasn’t necessary at all, but they insisted on it. That’s Indian hospitality for yah.

The food was amazing. I also had a lot of interesting talks with Vidisha’s friends. There were a lot of photo sessions in our sarees where we were all smiling like crazy. After the dinner I snuck into the “official ceremonial part” but, honestly, it was soooo long and boring. Everything is being said in a language that no one understands (maybe Sanskrit?). Only the priests who perform the ritual to seal the marriage may know. And no one could explain to me what the different steps were about. So, after a half hour or so I left and went home.

wedding-patna-india-3cmgm

 

DAY 3 & 4

Day three was our day off. Most of my friends decided to already go home, because they had been traveling the first week of our off period and they really had to start on their homework (which I had already finished before I left for Bargarh). The four of us that were left in Patna were invited to Vidisha’s home for dinner. We had spent the day in the hotel because Patna is not really a safe city and there is not much to do either. We only visited a street food area in the afternoon.

patna-india-wedding-3CMGM

The fourth day we didn’t do much either. We packed our stuff and prepared ourselves for our long 8-hour train journey to Kolkata that evening. In Kolkata we would be applying for our US visa.

Right before we headed over to the train station, we stopped by at the last wedding event: the reception. It was a humongous dinner buffet to celebrate the wedded couple one last time. This wedding was so big that even the mayor of Patna attended. We got to quickly take a pic with the new couple and devoured as much food as we could before we had to go. We half ran to the car and the driver took us to the train station as fast as he could. We really cut it close to be able to stay as long as possible at the reception, but we barely made the night train!

indian-wedding-reception-3CMGM

By then we were all super tired of all the parties, all the impressions… My dreams were very colorful during this week… Like you could expect anything else, right? My tummy was a little bit bigger from all the food.

I had never attended a wedding in Belgium before – or anywhere for that matter – but I can already say no wedding will be as breathtaking as an Indian one. I also learned that the arranged marriages system works quite well. India has a divorce rate of only 1%!

Sleeping on a train was no problem at all that night. Besides, I had something new to look forward to: we would be discovering a new city, and not just any city, but the former capital city of India!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

February 2016: Life Inside and Outside of XIMB

May 2, 2016

I have already told you about the most memorable experiences from this month: I survived a survival camp in the middle of nowhere and flew over to South-Indian Kerala to catch my breath.

Obviously this was not all that happened this month. Here’s a brief summary of what the whole month of February was like.

Classes

The courses I had this month were very varied. First of all there was the Non-Competitive Strategy course, which looked incredibly interesting on paper – despite the contradicting title – but in practise it sucked. On the other hand, I really enjoyed writing the mandatory paper for this class. I wrote about the strategy of BlaBlaCar.

The second course was a bit strange, because we were learning about a system that we don’t use in Europe. I think I made the best of it though. At least I learned how to determine and calculate KPIs.

Lastly, we had our first Global Human Resource Management (GHRM) classes. This was so interesting and helpful! I am looking forward to the next classes from Sasmit!

survival-camp-february-2016-3CMGM

Other school activities

At the end of February, we also started preparing the application procedure for our American Student Visa. We started together in class so that we would be able to go to the US embassy on our own to collect it. It all seemed incredibly complicated, if you ask me. It’s so Indian to make things seem more complicated then they are you know. (Although I tend to do the same in my daily life, but whatever.) Nevertheless, as soon as we could start taking things into our own hands, things went a lot smoother.

I would be going to the consulate in Kolkata to finish the visa process because it is closest to Bhubaneswar and because the city has been recommended to me so often as the nearest place-to-go. It was also the place where I could get the quickest timeslot.

Furthermore, I participated in a survival camp organised by Tata Steel this month. We had to take a quite notorious trainride from Bhubaneswar to Jamshedphur. Apparently, this train track is a relatively dangerous one (but we only heard that afterwards). The camp itself was very educational! I never thought I would succeed or be able to do all the things I did. And I was especially surprised that I actually thoroughly enjoyed most of my time there!

kerala-india-3CMGM-getaway

One-week Holiday

As you may already have read earlier this month, I went on a short getaway trip to the South of India. Discovering Kerala was a breathtaking experience (in all meanings of the word). It was a totally unique experience for me in so many ways.

On Valentine’s Day I first went to Konark, where I visited the famous Sun Temple. The temple of Konark was built in the 13th century and is shaped to look like a gigantic horse carriage. When I was there, some construction works were going on, but that doesn’t stop the thousands of tourists to come and visit every single day. The day I went also happened to be free entrance. Then I continued to Puri, to relax on the beach and chill in the dunes.

Last but not least, we started preparing for the wedding we would be attending in March. My classmate Vidisha invited us. It’s her brother that is getting hitched. The main part of the preparation involved going to the Market Building in Bhubaneswar, which you can compare to the Indian version of a shopping village, to go buy our outfits. Choosing a saree took a lot more effort than I expected. I was hoping to finish everything in an hour or so but it took us almost half a day! Just like with other clothes, you have to find exactly the right shade that makes your skin look good, you know. And there are so many possibilities with the decorations on the fabric, it is hard to find one that has exactly the right amount that you like. Than you have to go find the underskirt and cropped top. The jewelry I would go and find later. This shopping spree was already exhausting enough!

saree-shopping-india-bhunaswer-india-ximb
February was the exact opposite of boring. There was a good balance between classes, travel, and other activities. I am sooo looking forward to the wedding next month. I promise to tell you all about it of course!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Kerala, the Tropical Paradise of South India

April 26, 2016

During my study period in Bhubaneswar I decided to make one bigger trip. I decided to go to Kerala. It was supposed be completely different from Orissa or any other state in the north, so it should be fun! In February, the climate is at its best there. Not too hot, but you can already feel that the temperature will raise to a tropical level soon. During my roundtrip in April, after classes have ended, it wouldn’t be a good time to go south. So, I had to go now!

kerala-sunset-backwaters

Kerala is a popular state in India, both for Indian and foreign tourists. It is well-known for having the highest literacy rate in India (99% of the population can read), but at the same time it has the highest ratio of alcoholics as well. Kerala has long been an alcohol-free state, but a few years ago alcohol consumption was allowed again and that’s where things went wrong.

In the backwaters of Kerala, which are canals that come from the sea and lakes and meander their way land-inwards, alcohol consumption is still prohibited.

You should also go to Kerala for its paradise-like beaches, tropical views from the houseboats, and golden jewelry. You should go and try out the typical Ayurvedic massage, follow a cooking class, attend a martial arts show, and sleep in a tree house while sipping tea that comes straight from the tea plantations below you.

I will now give you an overview of what my one-week trip looked like.

kerala-munnar-tea

DAY 1: Bhubaneswar-Trivandrum

Early morning I left for the airport to fly from Bhubaneswar through Mumbai to Trivandrum (which is now known as Thiruvananthapuram, but who the hell can pronounce that?!). The flight connections went smoothly and in the afternoon we arrived in the capital city of the state Kerala.

We installed ourselves into the second best hotel of the city, Hycinth by Sparsa, for which we had to pay only €17/pp. Can’t be frugal for that price right?

We decided to catch the sunset at Kovalam Beach, which is one of the many popular beaches. This one was quite close to where we were staying. After a long ride in a tuktuk we zigzagged in a narrow street around tourists and many souvenir stalls to reach the white sand beach. At first I was a bit shocked to see so many women in bikini’s, shorts, and short dresses… but Kovalam is very touristy, so apparently that makes it more or less acceptable for us to show our knees and shoulders.

While walking down the beach by the water, we ran into a travel agent where we booked the houseboat for the next day. Two nights, three days on a private houseboat for two people would cost us Rs. 18,000, or €243 all-in. Quite expensive, but totally worth it!

That evening, we ate on a restaurant’s terrace with seaview. After dinner we walked back over the sand to get a tuktuk to drive us back to the hotel. It was quite hard for me not to fall asleep on the way. But I did my best, thinking that soon enough I would be laying down on the super soft kingsize bed that was waiting for me. (Such a luxury after the hard mattresses at XIMB!)

Kerala-trivandrum-beach

kerala-kovalam-beach-india

DAY 2: Trivandrum-Kollam

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast with cereal and pancakes (!!), we left for the trainstation to catch the train to Kollam. There, our houseboat would be waiting for us. Seeing as we didn’t make a reservation for the train, we had to go in general sleeper class. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded on the train and we had a whole section to ourselves.

Upon arrival in Kollam, a driver picked us up. Because we were too early to go on the boat, we went on a search for beer first. Like I said earlier, alcohol is not allowed on the backwaters, so we wanted a secret stash for later on. But… no alcohol was to be found anywhere. They can be quite smart, those Indians!

kerala-kollam-backwaters

kerala-india-backwaters

kerala-houseboat-backwaters

On the boat, we got a tour of the frontside deck, the bedroom and en-suite bathroom, and the kitchen. When we sat ourselves down in the “living room” on the front deck, we each received a coconut as a welcome drink. I never had coconutmilk before and I actually quite liked it – it was a perfect welcome drink in this setting.

Eventually we went out on the water and my eyes almost fell out of their sockets. How tropical and heavenly can a place look?! The fact that the boat barely made any noise and that we chose a less touristy location made for a very chill, relaxing, peaceful atmosphere. I went for a tanning session on the very front of the front deck and already after half an hour my short was burned into my skin.

In the afternoon we moored at some random place and got ready for dinner. In the evening I watched Narcos on the laptop, while having a refreshing beer that the staff got for us from… somewhere. Alcohol consumption may be prohibited here, but rules in India are usually more like “suggestions”.

kerala-houseboat-kollam-backwaters

kerala-india-backwaters

DAY 3: Kollam Backwaters

Spending a couple of days on a houseboat really forces you to relax. There is not much to do and phone reception is… poor to say the least. The second day, we were entertained with a gondola-like canoo ride which took us into the deepest canals of the backwaters. Often we had to lay down in the canoo to fit underneath the low bridges that connect the small towns with each other.

We also stopped in some of the villages. One of them was the home of our guide. He took us to the local café where we had some really good chai and discovered how they make ship ropes.

That evening I found a ginormous cockroach in the bed and rats were running from mainland on board. Eeeek! The staff did their very best to keep them away from us (and the kitchen) though!

Let me introduce the staff to you. There was a captain who barely spoke English, and a cook who was so friendly and tried so hard to speak English to me. He also made us food as if he were cooking for his own family, upon our request. And that is how I got to know the traditional, South-Indian kitchen. The cook had previously been cooking at weddings and other events. In short, the food had been superb!

kerala-kollam-houseboat

kerala-backwaters-india

kerala-backwaters-india

DAY 4: Kollam-Munnar

Honestly, this had been one of the toughest days of the week. It took us almost twelve hours to get from the backwaters to hill station Munnar. Two trainrides and one looooong busride. And the busride was… an adventure. Without AC, without windows (only rails) and so so full of local people, we drove on the narrow, winding roads in the hills at quite a high speed. I was sitting by the window and had to look away a few times when we came extremely close to the cliff’s edge. This happened especially when we had to take a bend at the same time as a bus that came from the opposite direction.

Once we had arrived in the center of Munnar, we made a secret stach of booze again and continued our way during a half-hour tuktuk ride over roads with full of potholes.

We had dinner at the hotel. We chose this particular hotel because of its price (€19/pp) and because it was supposed to offer a similar view and experience as a treehouse but in the comfort of a hotel. All real (and affordable) treehouses were already taken, which is a downside of the last-minute booking strategy. The truth is, though, that from our terrace we couldn’t actually see the forest through the trees… Too bad. The room itself was really good and the balcony was big and cosy, so really only the view disappointed a bit. The hotel also had its own tea plantation where we went for a walk both during the night and during the day.

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DAY 5: Munnar

Because we didn’t expect the journey to Munnar to take this long, we decided to stay an extra day and give ourselves some well-deserved rest. As we booked our hotel through MakeMyTrip – and because we booked only for one night – we had to shift to another hotel the next day. Thankfully, there was another hotel nearby where we could stay for only €16/pp. Bamboo Dale Resort is a hotel where everything is made of bamboo. It was awesome. We had a huuuge terrace around our room and a swing from where we could enjoy the amazing view.

We went for a walk around the terrain, examined the “natural pool” near the waterfall, walked along the river and climbed up the rocks to get back to the main building – which was a piece of cake now thanks to our training at the survival camp from the week before. We ordered some supergood yet supercheap roomservice.

At two o’clock in the afternoon we had a Skypecall with our leadership and personal development coach in Belgium for an update. After that, we just rested and enjoyed the view.

In case you are wondering why I didn’t went out to go and visit stuff, then the answer is quite simple: we had already seen a tea plantation in our previous hotel, I don’t like to visit museums, the dams were too far away and we had been traveling enough the previous day, and visiting a spice plantation didn’t seem worth it to us either. Besides, we wanted to take full advantage of this really cool hotel!

kerala-munnar-india

kerala-india-munnar

DAY 6: Munnar-Trivandrum

Our second last day was one long journey again. After two long busrides (during which we lost a side mirror and bumped into an opposite bus and caused a traffic jam), we had to spend another four hours in the general class of a local train with no seating during the first half of the journey. A whole day without AC and being on the road that long… I was exhausted by the end of the day. A driver would have been a lot more comfortable, but when you’re on a budget, you can’t just spend €50 when you can just as easily spend €12 on an alternative. And besides, in hindsight, this way it also makes for a far better story. But in the moment itself, I was really sick and tired of it. I just reminded myself to be happy that I wasn’t traveling alone for once!

Since we couldn’t stay at the Hycinth again, we went to Hotel Keys and that was also quite up to the previous hotel’s level! In the lobby we played some pool while we waited for our dinner to be prepared. Once back in the room, I attempted to watch another episode of Narcos, but fairly quickly I was off to Dreamland.

kerala-mountains-munnar-bus

DAY 7: Trivandrum-Bhubaneswar

The return journey via Mumbai to Bhubaneswar went smoothly. We flew with Indigo again, a national airline in India that I can recommend. The catch is that you can only take 7kg of hand luggage and check in only 15kg.

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Lastly, I want to take an extra minute to explain MakeMyTrip to you. This website, which also has an app, offers the possibility to book everything through one platform: trains, busses, flights, hotels… If you book your flight with them, you automatically get 70% discount on your next hotel booking.

I, myself, always booked through the app to get that discount. That is why I got to stay in the best hotels for the cheapest price. However, the prices for the flights are not always cheapest through this platform. But the discounts you get on the hotels more than compensate for that in the end.

Kerala has been a unique, beautiful, and memorable trip. In total, I spent €520 on my own, all included. That is quite a good price if you realize that 80% of the budget was spent on the houseboat and flights. Otherwise, it is quite easy to live low-budget in Kerala.

An overview:

Hotels & houseboat: €215,78
Food & drinks: €61,16
Transportation (bus, train, tuktuk): €18,05
Flights: €223,92
Extras: €2,7

Total: €521,61

Should you add Kerala into your India travel program? If you are going in the winter season, absolutely! The period of November-March is ideal. Otherwise, I would first consider if you can handle the heat during the summer months. Maybe read what reviewers online have to say about it. In any case, I wish you a wonderful trip!