January 11th, 2018 — I Am Amsterdam In India
Well, yesterday I slept 12 hours, but today after 5, my body said “nope, no more”. I’m taking this jet-lag as a sign that I should get up and get this trip recap done so I can enjoy my weekend in Boston participating in my 21st MIT Mystery Hunt more. Before I start, a reminder that The Diamond as Big as the Ritz Studio Cast Recording is currently available for downloading and streaming on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and more! Go listen/purchase today!
Especially for this vacation, I highly recommend my 1,281 pictures which I posted and captioned on the Facebook yesterday. I will send highlights to those of you not on Facebook as a supplemental email.
SUNDAY, 12/31, TIME TO DEPART
As usual, I will be doing my trip chronologically. As I sent a ledger a few weeks ago at the end of last year, I won’t have my usual entertainment sections. The book I read on my trip was “The Twenty Seventh City” by Jonathan Franzen. I have read every other one of his novels, but his first. Sadly, his first is his worst (much like that popular children refrain). It was good in parts, but overall, not my favorite. Regardless, I’m glad to have checked it off. My OCD makes me do things like read the complete works of a person or add the 2 photos to the Facebook album that didn’t upload, and then spend 20 minutes getting them in the correct order, and doing a trip recap even though I am exhausted and trying to set everything up for the spring showcases.
Anyway, since flights were way cheaper on New Years Eve, I decided to make that the start of my trip. Unfortunately, I had to flight out of Newark, which is not the most fun to get to. Usually I would take the cheaper route of the PATH train to the Newark local bus, but given the holiday, I didn’t trust buses. So, I went to Penn Station and got a $13 trip. Sadly, the conductor took my ticket, even though I needed the bar code for the Newark Airport Air Train. This means I had to spend an unexpected $5.50 to get on the train. Very upsetting, I know! And I only had $20’s b/c I brought exact change for the NJ Transit machine, and rather than get 18 $1 coins back, I used my credit card. Ew, I know. Whatever.
I zoomed through security, had 2 hours to kill at the airport, and then boarded the plane. The first flight was uneventful. I sat next to a really nice woman who works for an animal shelter, so we had some nice conversation. The movies I watched on the plane were all very good: Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spiderman: Homecoming and Goodbye Christopher Robin, which was about A.A. Milne and his son. I highly recommend all 3.
MONDAY, 1/1, 24 HOURS IN AMSTERDAM
When we landed, it was already the 1st, 1AM in NYC, 7AM in Amsterdam. Actually we got in early at 6:45, so I was able to get through customs, go to an ATM, and get to my hotel shuttle for the 7:20 instead of the planned 8. I dropped my bags at the hotel, got directions into the city on my way earlier than anticipated. Unfortunately, the train machine would not accept my credit card (American cards seldom work in Europe, I find) and only took coins, not bills. So, I had to walk back to my hotel to get change. I lost about 20 minutes, but I was running earlier than I had expected, so it was okay. The train was pretty straightforward, but when I got out I was confused what to take. The hotel guy mentioned 2/5, but I thought that meant train track. However, he meant take Tram 2 or 5, not train. I’m not sure if he said it wrong or I just heard it wrong from his accent. Regardless, I asked someone at the Metro what to do, and she said Tram not subway. The 2 Tram wasn’t actually running for some reason, but I waited 15 minutes for the 5 while I took pictures of where I was.
I’m happy to have taken a Tram ride. It was a charming town to be driven through and helped me get my bearings. Also, that machine didn’t even take coins, but thankfully the conductor took cash. It was 3 euros for the tram (it had been 11 for the roundtrip train).
Amsterdam is a lovely city. There are pretty canals everywhere and looks of bridges. It was chilly and a bit windy, especially early in the day, but certainly not as cold as NYC was that week. I got off at the Rijksmuseum stop, and instantly saw the “I Amsterdam” sign which I think you’re supposed to read I Am Amsterdam since the Am is in different letters from the Sterdam… I didn’t realize how popular it was because that early in the day (9:15) it was fairly deserted. I was able to get a picture with the full sign! (When I left the museum, it was so mobbed, you couldn’t get any pictures at all without other people in it.)
The Rijksmuseum was fairly empty at 9:15, but by 11 got pretty full. It was a really lovely museum filled with wonderful art, and it took me almost 2.5 hours to finish. Though, I did take a tea break. I was lucky that at 11 a little cafe opened up, and the woman was nice enough to give me hot water for free, which I put in a teabag I brought from home. Having tea around 11 was enough to get me through bedtime.
Anyway, the Rijksmuseum gave me a map, and I saw everything, but made sure to take pictures of all the highlighted stuff. In addition, as usual, I took pictures of anything with a cat, cow, piano or chess (and even a backgammon set). There was a bit of confusion at this museum because a lot of the stairs are on either sides of the main hall. The floors don’t connect to each other completely, so I had to constantly go to the second floor to hit everything. Also, when I thought I was done, I found a whole section in the Philips Wing including the Asian Pavilion.
One of the staff told me I should hit the 2nd floor first, so I did that. There was a large set of rooms called the Gallery of Honour and that is where the most popular stuff was. I’m glad I hit it first because it was much more crowded even a half hour after I was there. There I saw some Vermeer paintings (Little Street & The Milkmaid) and Rembrandt’s “The Jewish Bride” and the very large, very famous “Night Watch”. On the first floor, there were 3 Van Gogh, who I think is probably my favorite painter now (sorry George Seurat).
Speaking of Van Gogh, his museum was my next stop. The Van Gogh Museum is incredibly popular, and I had to get my tickets weeks in advance. This allowed me to skip the huge stand-by queue, though! Before my time to go in (1pm), I got an “I Amsterdam” magnet for 4 Euro. And then I saw a whole bunch of cute magnets for 2 Euro right next to the official store I was at. Oops! Thankfully, I never saw the same magnet I got, so I think it was exclusive at least. I also grabbed some quick lunch at a food cart – just a cheeseburger, but it was yummy.
The Van Gogh museum was EPIC. Unfortunately (or fortunately because I could actually enjoy it since I probably would’ve taken a picture of everything), they don’t allow photos. However, so many people were taking them anyway, that I took one myself. Just one. But of the sunflower painting, which is the most renowned. Every single person was doing it, so I jumped off the bridge and did it, too. The museum had 4 floors, all filled with Van Gogh. There were also paintings of people who inspired him or he tried to emulate, as well as a room of people he inspired. The first floor was all his self-portraits, and then it was mostly chronological, getting into his later stuff on the top floors. Van Gogh’s style changed vastly over the years, as he was very influenced by other people. There was Seurat and a Monet, and then you could see his paintings that were in those styles. Van Gogh was very prolific, and painted almost nonstop, which is why there is so much work even though he committed suicide so young.
In particular, he painted a lot of flowers (sunflowers, irises) and orchards, which were quite vibrant, but also chairs and he went through a peasant phase (“The Potato Eaters”). He did a bat or a “Flying Fox”. Also, portraits, views of where he was (The Yellow House artist colony he set up, Paris, the gardens of his asylum) and lots of water and seascapes.
Also, the museum had some iPads with lessons on how Van Gogh painted using gridlines for perspective or painting over old works. The museum also has 820 letters he wrote his brother in their collection. All of his art was left to his sister-in-law after his brother died, and then his nephew sold it all to the city of Amsterdam.
No one knows why Van Gogh cut off his ear besides the fact he was mentally ill, but apparently he had a fight with Gaugin around then. He did a portrait of Gaugin’s chair at some point, so I guess they made up?
Van Gogh’s paintings are dynamic, vivid, vivacious, the emotions drip off the canvas, and I was just in awe of his brilliance being there. You can get lost completely glaring at his work. It was definitely a highlight of my trip to spend a few hours with it.
After that, I took my time walking over to the Anne Frank House. Amsterdam is a lovely, beautiful city to walk through. I even passed through the Hirsch passage on my way. I had also gotten my Anne Frank tickets way in advance; they were very strict about time, so I couldn’t get on line till 5 minutes before my assigned time (4pm). Again, there were no pictures allowed, which was good so I could really experience it. I did take a picture of the outside and of her statue in the plaza on the side of the building. There was an audio guide that you listened to on your way up and down from the annex where Anne and her family lived, but in the actual residence area, you just experienced it.
I read Anne Frank’s Diary in seventh grade, and the work has always stayed with me, so I was glad to finally pay my respects to her. Going up to the resident, there was a lot of documents on their life before the word, including a postcard sent to Anne’s aunt saying they were all going to be fine signed by all of the family. The stairs were incredibly steep, and the rooms were very small. I cannot imagine being trapped there for long. Although the attic where she went so often was closed, you can still feel her spirit in her room.
Coming down, there were original copies of some diary pages on display. Apparently, they had announced on the radio they wanted people to keep journals for publishing after the war, and she started to rewrite the diary and self-edit, so there were copies of that version, as well. And it makes it clear she would have been happy to know her diary was published. There were also copies of all the death cards of the occupants, since the Germans kept such good records, which were chilling to see.
Before the exit, there was a large movie projected where famous people such as Natalie Portman, Whoopi Goldberg, Nelson Mandela, John Green, etc, discussed Anne’s legacy.
Afterwards, I walked through Dam Square, which is basically Times Square, and made my way to the Red Light District. Before I got there, I stopped off for a waffle with chocolate and fruit (healthy, right?) because it looked too good not to eat. I also had a slice of pizza. Thankfully, my navigation skills are top-notch, and although I wasn’t quite sure where I was, I asked the guy at the cafe, and he was like make the next left. So, I was pretty good at steering myself.
The Red Light District had, you guessed it, red lights. I did see a few actual prostitutes in windows, but I was actually there for the Museum of Prostitution because it got great reviews. I came out of it with a little booklet that actually has everything that was on the walls, so anyone who is interested, come over and read it!
The museum itself was quaint and a little underwhelming. They had an audio tour included, and a woman named Inga told us stories of her life. There were many facts about legal prostitution on the walls. And there were displays of things like beds and an S&M room, where you could strap yourself up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to take my picture in the room, so I didn’t bother, though I did lock myself in the jail for a bit and take a selfie there. They had a test at the end, and I only got 7/12 which means I was pretty tired at that point. On the way out, you could write your dirty secrets anonymously, and there was a wall of the craziest stories ever! Since my life is pretty much an open book, I couldn’t think of any secrets, but I was happy to take pictures of some of the other people’s.
I walked back to the train station in the rain (glad I packed my umbrella), which was quite close. I literally walked back on the path the Tram had taken me to the Museum row, with a few detours. I missed a train by 2 seconds since I lingered to take photos (I didn’t actually know the times of the train), so I had to wait 20 minutes. I got back to my hotel, fell asleep very quickly around 8:30PM and got up at 5AM the next day. (Sleeping 3:30PM-11PM in NYC time after staying up all night.)
TUESDAY, 1/2, TRAVEL DAY
The first hotel shuttle to the airport was at 5:40, so even though my flight was at 7, I took that. They had free breakfast at my hotel, which wasn’t completely set up, but the kind woman gave me a bag and I filled it with bread stuff (croissants, muffins) after eating a bowl of fruit salad. The airport was far more crowded on the 2nd than the 1st (wonder why #sarcasm), so I really was pushing it. And it was a large airport, so I ran like the wind to get to the security (thankfully had the boarding pass on my phone) and then to the terminal. Amsterdam has a very high level of security, and I guess since my umbrella was still a little wet, I got stopped for a bit. Thankfully, I still got to the gate just as boarding commenced. I don’t like Lufthansa airlines very much. The seats were incredibly cramped. The guy next to me was coughing a lot, and I was really uncomfortable. I was on that flight to Munich for an hour, then had a 4 hour layover at Munich Airport, which was quite nice. I found a comfortable chair and caught up on crosswords. I then took my flight to India, and watched Girls Trip (mildly funny), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (I really liked it, though the leads had no chemistry; also, I fell asleep for a bit, so I ended up rewatching parts of it), and Despicable Me 3 (cute).
Arriving at India I was greeted by the worst air I have ever breathed. It was thick, smoky and foggy. I accidentally drank from the water fountain without thinking, and thought I was going to die, but thankfully didn’t. (I mean, the airport should probably have filtered water since so many International people go through it daily). I had a snafu at the ATM when I tried to take out 100,000 rupees instead of 10,000 (math error was my fault), but then realized my error. It’s fortunate it didn’t let me take out so much! Oops! I got into a cab to take me to Unnati’s mother’s and then went straight to sleep.
I’m going to take a break from my chronology to just talk about India. When deciding where to go for the first week of the year, when I know everything is dead in NYC, I just wanted to go someplace warm with free housing. My friend, Unnati, who I had met randomly in NYC when she was visiting from India and then became close to had been trying to get me to visit for awhile. I decided it was the right time, especially after she suggested I do a city on the way like Amsterdam. My high school friend, Huy, had just been to Amsterdam, and after looking at his pictures and hearing about the Van Gogh Museum (and already having had the Anne Frank House on my list of things to visit for years), I was like I’m totally doing that. I was able to find a $1200 flight ticket that did 24 hours there on the way, and then my mind was set.
I actually stayed at Unnati’s mother’s house because it had more guest rooms. I want to publicly thank both Unnati and her mom and their entire family and staff for hosting me, while I’m talking about them. It was super nice, and I am so appreciative to have gotten to explore a whole new culture thanks to them.
Speaking of the house, since it is usually really hot out, all the houses in India are designed to be cool inside. So in the few months of winter, it is actually colder inside than outside. There is no central heating, but there are heaters in each room, so I was warm in my own room. Also, every toilet in India has a little shower spout next to it. I’m not sure if that is to clear yourself or the toilet? Oh, also, there are water heaters, so you have to actually turn it on, wait for the water to heat, and then shower. If you forget to turn it on, the water will be very cold.
Unnati’s mom has a staff of five, and Unnati has a staff of three. The first thing I had to get used to was this class system. While here, I’d find it completely weird to have people living in my abode ready to do whatever I need them to, in India it’s perfectly normal. Also, they have a driver for everywhere they go. Originally, I thought I’d just take public transportation places or at least walk part of the way from thing to thing. That proved impossible. Walking in India is not fun, and crossing the street is downright scary. I would’ve loved to drive myself, but the driving was also insane. There were barely any street signs, and there was a need for constant u-turning. Also, I have never seen so much chaotic traffic anywhere. Cars were coming from left and right everywhere we went, swerving at top speeds as if on a video game. It is a miracle I wasn’t in an accident! On the way from the airport, my driver went through multiple red lights. And not only were there cars crammed into a lane, there were little cab cars and motorbikes and regular bikes and people and horse-drawn carriage and cows all sharing the same roadway.
Speaking of cows, while driving around the cities and then the highways, there were also monkeys, dogs, pigs, donkeys, goats and even camels just lining the streets, sometimes walking in it or crossing it. A monkey even jumped on the car in front of us to cross the road in Jaipur.
Going back to general India thoughts, chaotic is a really good word for it. Cramped is another good word. Everything was so crowded, there were people everywhere. In fact, it was exactly like the movies, Lion and Slumdog Millionaire make it out to be. Every queue I was on, the person behind me would be up my ass. It was very uncomfortable. Also uncomfortable was the amount of poverty everywhere. There were beggars everywhere you looked and there were lots of huts and shanties where the lived, and when we were stopped at major intersections, kids would try to sell you things. Some girls were doing somersaults and trying to make money that way. Apparently, they are probably a part of some ring of kids, like in Oliver, where they have to make quotas to be fed. Very disturbing, very depressing, oh and while we’re doing d’s: very dirty and dusty. So much sand everywhere. Oh, and there were guys peeing everywhere; it was urinocial chaos!
In fact, I was racially targeted everywhere I went because they assume white people have money. And compared to most of India, I do. So next time you are feeling poor, remember in the grand scheme of things, you are not.
So, yes, that was hard. Also, breathing was hard, as I mentioned, though I got more used to the air as the week went on, and it was definitely worst in the airport. I also couldn’t drink water anywhere but Unnati’s mother’s house, so I just refilled my bottles there, and then kept getting water bottles: 20 rupees or 30 cents for a huge bottle. Speaking of money, everything was ridiculously cheap. So, I guess that was a perk.
Food-wise, I had one Indian meal for lunch, and even though it was mild, I did not handle it particularly well. So, after that I stuck with the mildest of mild.
I am happy to say unlike most people who visit India, I did not get sick at all.
WEDNESDAY, 1/3, JET LAG DAY IN DELHI
I had figured I would be tired, and I would sleep in as long as possible on Wednesday. Unfortunately, like today, my body was too confused and I woke up after 6 hours. I went to Unnati’s (about 5 minutes from her mother’s) for breakfast with her and her cousins. Unnati had a cousin and her 2 sons in town, which worked out really nice timing wise. Since I had thought I would sleep, there wasn’t really anything on my agenda, so I went with her cousin and her mom shopping. I got $30 of souvenirs because everything was super cheap, including a new green sleep mask with eyes as its design for $6. I got a little cat case to put rubberbands in, and a coaster, and little musician statues. So I felt good having all my souvenirs found early. We went to a mall called Santushi, and we had to go through security detectors multiple times in the complex complex. That’s another thing – metal detectors everywhere, and then they would grope you really intensely while they were patting you down. We went to a grocery store where every American import was very expensive (peanut butter $8, Oreos $10, cereal $12) while spices (anardana, dalchi?) and other things I’ve never seen before (seeds called pulses?) were very cheap. We had Mexican for dinner at Unnati’s, which was very edible for me. I also had to sing for my supper a bit, but it’s nice to have an attentive, appreciative audience.
THURDSAY, 1/4, AGRA
Since Unnati’s cousins were in town, the good news is we were able to take her driver, and the 5 of us were driven to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Getting to Agra was indeed agra-vating. We left at 7:30am, but really didn’t leave till 8. The road was so foggy that it was worse than anything I’ve ever seen before, even in London when there’s a foggy day (in London town). And so many people were on the road that it was a little scary. We had our double blinker lights on the whole way. Also, in India, it is customary to beep to say “I’m here” especially when it’s foggy, so it was incredibly noisy. And the roads are so bumpy that between that and the noise, it’s impossible to nap (at least for me). When we stopped for gas, the car would not start up after, and we had to push it to the side. However, after a few minutes, it worked normally again, which was quite a relief. The trip up took 5 hours, which was more than the 3 hour distance.
The Taj Mahal was worth the whole journey. It is a wonder of the world for a reason! Wow. Just wow. When we got there, I ended up getting postcards, and I learned a lesson. Always give exact change to street peddlers. Instead of giving me change, he kept trying to up-sell me with other things. Thankfully, I did get my change, but I always tried to have small bills for things after that. The ATMs gave out 2000 rupee bills, but I had trouble getting change for 500 ones often.
We ended up getting a guide, which I could’ve done without, but when you’re with a group, you have to make sacrifices. The guide did get us through the queue very quickly, at least. And he took wonderful pictures for me, and that was worth having him. Those pictures are on my Instagram and Facebook (instagram/sethbhdotcom should be viewable for those without an account?), and they were another trip highlight.
When going through security, the broke my pencil tip. I guess that could’ve been used as a weapon?
Anyway, Taj Mahal stands for beauty crown palace, and beautiful it was. It took 200,000 men to build from 1631-1638. All the stone art in the white marble was done by hand. The building is symmetrical from any angle, and the tomb is in the exact center. We had to wear shoe covers on our feet (better than leaving our shoes to get stolen), and while we couldn’t take pictures inside, I took an awful lot outside. Just breathtaking.
Afterwards, this little boy harangued me till I bought 3 magnets form him for 100 rupee ($1.50), but since I had exact change, I gave in to have some magnets to give to people. Before that I actually bought a fancy handmade magnet etched into white marble for 550 ruble ($8.46) because it’s so pretty. And now it’s on my fridge to remind myself of that wonderful day!
On the way home, we stopped for lunch at an Indian restaurant (or I guess just restaurant), and even though we specified mild food, it was too spicy for me. Eating it, I was fine, but on the way home, I was not. Unfortunately due to traffic, the fog, and getting lost for awhile, it took 6 hours to get home. Let’s just say, it was fortunate that people reliving themselves on the side of the road was so prevalent in India.
FRIDAY, 1/5, DELHI SIGHT SEEING DAY ONE
Alright, so originally I was going to do a bus tour, but when I looked at the itinerary, there were things I wanted to do that weren’t on the list and things on the list I didn’t want to do. Also, the bus comes every 40 minutes, so there would be all this wasted time getting off somewhere and waiting for the bus if it took less than 40 minutes, or if it took an hour, waiting 40 minutes. So, Unnati suggested I just get a private driver for the day. I was really weirded out by this concept, because it makes me feel like a 1%-er. However, it was only $40 for the day, so I figured it would be worth it. And it was! My driver, Bunty, was super nice, and took me everywhere I wanted. And then he just waited for me to come out! He was professional and punctual, and I’m really glad I broke down and got the car, even if for some reason, there weren’t any seatbelts in the back seat.
The first stop for the day was the must-see Red Fort. The architecture was just amazing. Even though I read the signs, I didn’t retain that much. So I assume it was home to someone important. I spent two hours exploring the fort and going to 4 tiny museums. I think you really have to see the pictures to gauge what it was like to be there. And it was a beautiful day in the low 70s. The only sad thing was the WiFi, while free, required a text confirmation to your phone. And since my phone doesn’t have service abroad, I couldn’t receive it. Though, I think it’s nice being off the grid all day when you’re away. Also, the toilets were pay at all the Delhi monuments, which caused me to sing “Privilege to Pee” often. I did spend 3 rupees (5 cents) to use a urinal by the end of the day, just because I wasn’t going to be one of those street pee-ers!
I saw dogs everywhere in these monuments, by the way. So many stray dogs, but not a single cat the entire time! Also, while I was there, I took my first selfie with some Indians who were really excited to meet a white person. I felt like a celebrity!
Afterwards, we drove to Jama Masjid, a huge Muslim temple. It was so mobbed, and there was no parking, so I just took pictures of the outside as we drove by. Next, we went to Birla Mandir, a Hindu Temple, which was also very nice outside. Inside, it had a beautiful gold and crystal Buddha, marble floors and some statue elephants. I left my shoes in the car, but they made me put my phone and camera in a locker, even though I was just going to bring it back to the car. And then the guy asked for a tip for doing this simple task. This is when I learned that I should not let anyone do anything for me because they were going to ask for a tip. This was another recurring theme. While I don’t mind paying people for services, I do mind when I don’t know that I’m going to have to, on principle. And even though 10 rupees to tip is only 15 cents, I got really irritated by the amount of people who would try to do things for me assuming as a white person I would give them money. At least he gave me a Hindu guy, so I have a souvenir and if I cared could learn more about its philosophy!
Continuing our temple tour, we went to Gurudawra Bangla Sahib, which was another Muslim temple. My driver stayed by my shoes, and I went into the large temple complex. (Incidentally, since all the temples required you to go shoeless, all my socks got really dirty very fast, so it’s good I brought some extra pairs since Niki always gets annoyed when I reuse socks on vacations, I’ve gotten into that habit.) They put a little bandana thing on my head, but at least I was able to take pictures inside, so I could selfie it. Again it was a very ornate temple with lots of gold and marble around.
Also on the way, we stopped by the India Gate, which I took a bunch of pictures with.
Next stop for the day was Humayun’s Tomb, which was actually a bunch of tombs. It was quite idyllic there with lovely gardens. There were a lot of steep steps, so I felt like I was getting exercise. The tombs were set up in really wonderful memorials. This guy who was on staff started taking me around and telling me about the tomb. Naively, I thought that was just part of his job, but afterwards, of course, he asked for a tip. I was so mad at him because I don’t like guides and tours, especially when they speak fractured English! It takes too much energy to translate what they are saying, first off, and second off, I can read. I don’t need audio tours or guides because I am capable of reading. I also process things better visually rather than aurally. Anyway, I told him I didn’t have any cash left. That was my new excuse for anyone asking me for anything. So annoying.
After that, we went to Qutab Minar, which was definitely my favorite thing in Delhi. Oh, so all of these monuments were really cheap. Even the Taj Mahal was only $15. But there was a separate price for foreigners (more expensive, but cheap for us) and usually a separate line, sometimes through security. The line is way shorter, which I guess is because we are spending more money.
Qutab Minar is a muse-see. Again, I don’t really think any description could do it wonders. There was a tall iron pillar and lots of architectural relics. Just gorgeous and so serene. And there were really cute green birds.
Anyway, the final stop for the day was to go see the musical, Zangoora. On the way, we hit what my driver called “Peak Hour” and it was wall to wall cars for awhile; it was the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. We drove past the Cyber City, which I think is basically Silicon Valley. And we headed towards The Kingdom of Dreams, which was the gorgeous theatre complex.
My show ticket was about $30, but I ended up having to spend another few to get an English translator. Unfortunately, the dialogue is live on stage but the translation is pre-recorded. It often didn’t line up (I think English takes fewer words to say something than Hindi?), plus some of the dialogue had obviously been changed. However, it was good to understand what was happening. Though, the show is about an orphaned prince, and I think you can figure out the entire plot just from those two words. Go ahead, I dare you to try!
The show itself was not like Broadway musicals because when the songs started, everyone lip-synced. So, no live orchestra, no live singing. However, the dancing was superb, and there were some Circ de Soliel elements with some flying, magic and a giant projection screen.
Anyway, the audience was so rude. A lot of people came late, including the people in front of me and next to me, and I might have given them an evil glare.
Also, you could bring food in, and they did. I also got some tomato soup to eat for dinner, but I finished before the show. At least the theatre had free bathrooms and ample seat room, especially compared to a Broadway theatre. Another difference was there was no program. After the show, the screens had credits like a movie, and they announced the cast before each act. After the show, there was so much traffic, but I eventually got home and went almost straight to sleep.
SATURDAY, 1/6, DELHI SIGHT SEEING DAY TWO
Saturday, my driver picked me up at 9:30, and the first stop was the President’s House. On the way, we drove down Shanti Path or Embassy Lane. I got out for a bit around the President’s House and Parliament and took some pictures, but there was low visibility because of early morning fog.
The next stop was the Gandhi Museum, which was free until this guy forced himself on me as a guide for the multimedia part. However, since it had been free and he showed me the entire thing, I gave him and tipped him. Before that part, I took a selfie with the Gandhi statue, read a bunch about him, saw his actual glasses. By the way, in case you didn’t know Gandhi was assassinated. There was a memorial where he was shot in the back of the garden. There were cute dioramas and facts and quotes about him all around. He was in jails in South Africa and India. He lead a salt rebellion. If you want to know more, wikipedia him! 😉
Next stop was the Train Railway Museum. I took a lot of train pictures for those of you who are into trains. There were 79 trains from around the world, and I took a joyous train ride around them all. Then, there was an inside museum with train parts and they had a huge miniature train model of Dehli upstairs, which was really cool.
After that it was time for the National Museum, which took me about 90 minutes to peruse 3 floors. There were some great sculptures from the BCE (before common era), and a lot of elephantal art (art featuring elephants). Also, there was a room of antique musical instruments, and those of you who remember my Berlin trip, know I took pictures of pretty much every single one.
Finally for Saturday I went to Akshardham Temple, which is basically India’s Disney World if instead of cartoons, it was about a Buddhist guy. They don’t allow cameras or phones, so I left that stuff in the car, which made me feel really naked. I didn’t think it was going to take 3-4 hours like Unnati said, but it did. First off, I walked around the Bharat Upvan (Garden of India), then I went to the Temple itself, which was really gorgeous, as usual. Next, I went to go to the exhibits, which included one of those walk from room to room thing as there are live displays that take you on a journey things. I had to wait a half hour b/c they needed enough people to do an English group. After that, we went to the boat ride, which was like It’s a Small World except it was all about India and its impact on the world (like inventing chess and some psychics). After that there was an iMax movie about the teenage-yogi Neelkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan). It was filmed in 108 locations in India featuring 45,000 people (according to this booklet I have), and was pretty well done, even if I have never heard of this guy it was about. Finally, there was a water sound and light show that was wonderful with spouting fountains and multi-colored lasers, even if I couldn’t understand anything they were saying.
I’ve never seen people exit things so fast; the entire throng just moved like the wind to get out of there. I guess people in India are really used to being in massive crowds. Anyway, I went to Unnati’s for my final dinner in Delhi and prepared for my next few days to Jaipur.
SUNDAY, 1/7, JAIPUR, DAY ONE
We left at 8am on Sunday to drive to Jaipur. My driver offered to do the two day trip for 10,000 rupees, which is $154. That seemed pretty reasonable given it also doubled as transportation back to the airport (which was 1,000 from the airport to Unnati’s mother’s anyway). The highway to Jaipur was so much better than the one to Agra. In fact, it was almost like an American highway with a lot of animals on the sides. On the way, my driver stopped to pay his taxes in a little window in a non-descript building, which I found very odd.
The first stop was the Amber Fort. We didn’t hit much traffic till we were on the queue to get into the parking lot. I have never seen so many cars jammed into a tiny lot in my life! I walked up to the gate, and all these people kept saying: “Make sir, good price” but I kept saying no. I had issues finding where tickets were and the entrance was because it was so mobbed with people all the signs were hidden from view.
Anyway, the Amber Fort (also know as Amer Fort) was amber. It was also really huge and quite amazing. I think you should go look at my photos. This gigantic palace had so many rooms, and they really let you walk pretty much anywhere. It was almost like a maze (or a-maze-ing). Again, this guide attached himself to me, and I tried to get rid of him, but eventually he got the fact I did not “have any cash”. I walked around for a few hours exploring everything. The King apparently had 12 wives, so there were 12 wife rooms. I saw a goat and a bunch of stray dogs walking around. I walked through a tunnel up the whole hill to get a great view of Jaipur.
After that wonderful experience, my driver took me to a garden that a lot of people get couple photos at, so much so that they charge for all wedding/engagement photos. And then we took pictures of Kanak Ghati and Jal Mahal outside. Jal Mahal is a beautiful palace in the lake. And my final stop that night was the village Chokhi Dhani!
Chokhi Dhani is such a fun place. You to pay for a buffet dinner, but then most other things there are very cheap. (The dinner was only $11, too.) Food wise, I really didn’t want to get sick on my final few days in India, so even though the server kept trying to get me everything, I kept saying JUST RICE and NAAN. I took a few sweet things, but couldn’t really stomach them, even though only the spicy stuff would give me actual trouble. (Unnati said the food there was too spicy even for her, and also Bunty mentioned it, so I really knew to stay away from everything.) I ate a lot of rice and naan. A lot.
Besides the food, there were all sorts of things to do like skee ball, and there was a whole section on different religions in India, and also there were lots of shows. There was a magician that was pretty good. He produced a bird out of basket, and then made it 3. That’s pretty impressive. He did some coin tricks, too, which I’ve seen on Penn & Teller’s show before, but the bird trick was very impressive. And there were some Indian dancers and a fire breather. And I got henna on my hand, but I needed the hand, so I ended up washing it off pretty quickly after taking a picture. Oh, I also got a red dot on my forehead, but that woman forced me into tipping her for that quick blessing. Also, I got a quickie really tough massage. I got serenaded by a flute player who then forced me to tip him, too. I bought two hand-made puppets for $2.50 from their craft area. I went through an easy maze pretty quickly. And I rode an elephant, then a camel. I RODE AN ELEPHANT AND CAMEL!!! Though, I spent too much of my time on them trying to get a decent selfie (which didn’t happen). But man, that was SO COOL, though going up and down on the camel was a little scary.
Additionally, I had my palm read and got my numerology done for really cheap. There was also bird astrology, which consisted of a bird coming out of its box and choosing an envelope for you, but that one somehow seemed less scientific, so I didn’t do it. The palmist said that my 30s were very good for success and love. Apparently, I’m going to have a really crappy thing happen around 43 or 44, but after 45 my life will be joyous. I will easily live to my 90s given my huge lifeline, and by the end of my life, I will be incredibly wealthy. He said I will never have any money problems, but didn’t realize it’s b/c I’m so good at saving it. He did say something about me having more success if I moved to another city, though.
The numerologist said that I clearly don’t like to do things the way others do. And he says I don’t give out free advice (true) and that I don’t get up early, but if I did, I would have more success. I also splurged for the printout because that way I wouldn’t have to remember things. According to that, I have problems spending too much money, so I know it’s not 100% accurate. Other highlights: Good results for Kids’ happiness (does it mean cat’s?), Fame and Profession. I suffer from: “Mental unrest, hurdles in gain of wealth… different fears and worries persist… success in work is delayed.” That’s true, but this gives me hope: “However, the native also gets a miraculous time in life. After delays, native may achieve success and wealth.” And by “may” I assume it means “will definitely and finally”. Apparently green IS my favorable color, and my lucky number is actually 2. Finally, the worst day of the week for me is Tuesday, when I do my showcases: “Be extra cautious on Tuesday, which may bring you worries and financial losses.” Uh, oh!
So, apparently, combining those, I should move to LA and get up earlier. Sadly, neither is going to happen. Regardless, it seems both are saying that I will eventually get the success I deserve. I just don’t know if I can make it till 45 at this rate!
Anyway, after a few hours at Chokhi Dhani, I left and we drove to my home for the night. The hostel called the Wanderer’s Nest I stayed at was only $16 for the night and part of that money went to their school. It was definitely a hostel, and I had to take a really crappy shower in one of those showers that’s just a shower head and a drain. But the WiFi worked, and that was enough for me.
MONDAY, 1/8, JAIPUR, DAY TWO
The final day of the trip, my driver picked me up at 9. Our first stop was driving passed Hawa Mahal and taking some pictures of it. Next I went to Jantar Mantar and for the first time all trip, I saw a lot of other white people. Jantar Mantar means calculation of things. There were all these fascinating, large tools for calculating various astrological things. I pretty much took pictures of everything. There was a giant sun clock that was accurate to 20 seconds, as well as calculators of planetary distance, and a zodiac circle of 12 instruments used for measuring the celestial longitude and latitude. I took pictures of all the signs explaining things, if anyone is interested.
Next I crossed the street (scary, scary) to City Palace. Oh, I must give a shoutout to my non-expired NYU ID – even though some of the people looked at me like I was way too old to be a student, I got the student rate for everything in Jaipur. City Palace had a bunch of little museum exhibits in a really beautiful palace including costumes, paintings and an armory. I also paid a tip of 10 rupees to get a picture with the guards. Actually, they forced me to do it, but I was okay with it because it’s a cool picture. There was also a nice hall there where they have weddings. I enjoyed being there a lot, as it was another beautiful day, and I sat in the courtyard for a bit on a whim. It’s a good thing I did b/c I got two pictures out of it: this guy had the longest mustache I’ve ever seen, and then this boy from Dubai had my sunglasses (that’s what I get for getting the kid ones with neon green for 99 cents on eBay), so we took a picture together.
After that I went to the Doll Museum, which was less than a dollar for a few rooms filled with dolls from all over the world. I was literally the only person there; the guy turned on the lights for me. It was restored in 2014 after going into disarray and disrepair, but it was apparently very popular before that in the 70s/80s. I hope it becomes popular again because it was really nice, and the money goes to the school for the deaf where it is found.
My final museum of the trip was the Albert Hall Museum. It wasn’t my favorite, but I had the time, so I figured I should go. There were a few musical instruments and chess sets, at least! After I got through the museum fairly quickly, I sat in its garden reflecting on my trip and watching a crow eat some naan (which you can see in my soon to be Pulitzer Prize winning photo: “Crow eating naan”).
The final stop of the trip was to Jaipur’s Birla Mandir, which was yet another nice Hindu temple where I had to take off my shoes and couldn’t take pictures inside.
On the way to the airport, we stopped off at the Hotel Highway King, which is a 24 hour restaurant on the highway. Oh, before that, we stopped for gas, and I saw them put car into a hole under the hood (wha?) instead of the side of the car. At the restaurant, I had cheese pizza, which was actually really good with the little spices they had. And I had exactly 40 rupee left, and as usual, I spent my last currency on ice cream. I managed to find WiFi at the place, but I think it was someone’s phone’s hotspot (it actually said “Mi Phone”). I mentioned that to my driver, and he said he also had that on his phone. The first day he had said to me I could use his phone for internet. I thought he meant that I could take his phone and use it (which I would never do b/c it wasn’t an iPhone). But he meant he had a hotspot! Stupid language barrier!!! I could’ve had WiFi any time I was in the car!!!
However, I did finish my book on the plane, and that wouldn’t have happened if I had WiFi the whole ride. Anyway, I took advantage of his WiFi to catch up on crosswords and news, etc, for the last few hours drive to the airport. As there are no speed limits on the highway, we were zooming. He even tailed an ambulance for awhile to take advantage of its path that opened between trucks. Once there, I gave him his 10,000 rupee with an extra 1,000 tip and a thank you card (from my grandfather’s card stash). His eyes lit up when he saw his tip, so I think that was money well spent.
Getting through Delhi Airport customs and security was horrifying. I was actually there 4 hours early, which is good because it took a full hour to get through, and if I had pushed it like I pushed that Amsterdam day, it would’ve been horrible. I waited at the airport without Wifi, without plug chargers, without water to drink (since I was out of $$ and couldn’t have brought any water in), without breathable air (really horrible at the airport), but at least they had the radio on.
I flew home on Swiss Airlines. It was a 2am flight, and I had woken up at 9am. I was so tired I managed to sleep for a few hours, but I woke up in major pain b/c the seats were so cramped! I had neck pain and legs pain. Eventually I realized I could get more leg room if I moved my bag out from under the seat, and I got another few hours of sleep. Once they start making noise and putting the lights on, I was woken up, though. Swiss has really good food, at least. I managed to watch a movie for the last few hours of the trip: Patti Cake$. It was cute, but I was hoping it would be funnier.
TUESDAY, 1/9, A VERY LONG COMMUTE HOME
I got to Zurich Airport at 6am local time. Zurich Airport was incredibly clean and nice. The air smelled amazing, and the water was delicious and pure. And for those of you without phones who can’t get a text to confirm the WiFi password, there are kiosks that print a code when you scan your boarding pass. I sat by the terminal chatting with people (it was only 1am at home when it was 7am so plenty were still up) until they made us go back upstairs to pass through yet another passport check.
I managed to sleep another 4-5 hours on the second flight, falling asleep during the slow movie Maudie – Ethan Hawke and Sally Watkins were very good, but it was slow. When I woke up, I watched the rest of it. Then I watched this adorably funny movie Brigsby Bear, and I highly recommend it to everyone! Again, Swiss has good food, and I also got a Swiss pen when they had us fill out custom forms that we didn’t really need b/c they have kiosks at JKF now. By some miracle, I got through customs in JFK in 3 minutes with their new system, and somehow pushed myself awake till 2am when I collapsed and slept for 12 hours only waking up when Smee tried to get me up around 10 (I had to put him in the bathroom so I could sleep late).
Speaking of Smee, he was very aloof my first day back, but has since gotten over me leaving. He was pretty confused why I was up so early today, and I’m sure he’ll be really annoyed when he realizes I’m going to Boston for the weekend.
Alright, I did it! Thanks to the jet-lag, I managed to finish this whole trip recap before my 3PM bus to Boston! Hallelujah!
Overall, I really adored Amsterdam. It was a perfect city to do in just 24 hours.
For India, I’d say I loved all the destinations I went to: the monuments, the memorials, almost all the museums. I would give most of those 5 stars, and it was definitely worth going for those. That said, getting to everything was a nightmare, and sharing everything with so many people everywhere was also really claustrophobic. I found being there pretty emotionally taxing given the income disparity and the constant begging going on. I also really felt like a fish out of water since I couldn’t actually drink the water… or eat the food… or breathe the air… and I still feel weird saying that I had a driver.
Regardless, I’m really happy I went because I feel like seeing the rest of the world is the best way to gain perspective in our own lives. We are lucky to be in America, even with everything going on here.
And one final time: thank you to all of Unnati and family for hosting me and allowing me to experience this once-in-a-lifetime journey!
Now, if you haven’t yet: go look at my photos!