River Cruising with Rose

In May I was able to cruise the Rhone River in France’s Burgundy and Provence regions on AMA Waterways. My travel passion is enjoying fabulous food and wonderful wines and this trip did not disappoint!  
 
We began our adventure in Paris, where we spend 4 great days. Some of the highlights of our Paris stop was the Eiffel Tower, a sunset Seine River cruise, a 10 course 5 star meal and the Perre Lechaise Cemetery where famous celebs like Jim Morrison, Chopin and Oscar Wilde are buried.
 
We took a high speed train from Paris to Lyon, where out river ship was waiting for us. Stepping on to a river boat is a lot different than an ocean liner.  There are only 150 passengers on board with 3 decks.  The intimate setting makes it easy to get to know your fellow cruisers and you learn way around the ship pretty quick.
 
After spending the night docked in Lyon and touring it’s sights, we began our journey downstream towards the Mediterranean Sea.  We experienced 16 locks on our trip, as the river continually decreased and we needed to bring the ship down to sea level on the other side of the locks.  The tallest deepest lock we traversed was 40 feet down.
 
On our next ports of Viviers, Tournon, Avignon and Arles, we toured dozens of churches and architectural marvels- some dating back to the 12th century.  It was interesting to learn about the Popes of Avignon perfecting the wine industry in the region, which is how the red wine varietal region of Chateneuf du Pape gets it’s name.
 
River cruising is a great way to leave the planning to the tour director and explore the local culture up close and personal.  We docked right in the heart of the city allowing an easy walk to the most popular destinations.  But the best part is that Shore Excursions are Included in the price!  There were 3-5 excursions each day to choose from, each with a different level of effort- easy, moderate and active.  We chose most of the active excursions and got to see the cities on foot with hikes up and down steep mountains, fast paced city walking tours and bicycle tours. There are also bus tours for an easy view of the sights as well as for farther destinations that take you to Truffle Hunting with Dogs, Olive Oil Farms, Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tours and so much more.
 
I’d recommend this Rhone River Cruise itinerary for adults who love good wine, great food, appreciate renaissance, gothic and roman architecture and enjoy a bit of world history mixed with catholic and christian religious history.  You should be mobile and in fairly good physical health, as wheelchairs,canes and walkers would not do well on the ancient cobblestone streets and navigating the ramp to and from the ship . I would choose a different itinerary if you’re definitely not a wine drinker or if you are planning to travel with kids or teens, as they may be easily bored.  There are no kids programs on most river cruise ships which means they have mostly adults onboard.
 
I have done river cruises in Egypt on the Nile and in Germany on the Rhine. After this Rhone River Adventure in France, I am ready to take on the Danube for a visit to Prague and Budapest next.  
 
If you’re planning a river cruise, I’d be happy to share my experiences with you and help guide you to a great ship and itinerary that matches your travel personality.
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Explorer Spotlight: Virginia Comella

Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia

The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:

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Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby.  Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.

We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive.  Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere.  Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building.   Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river.  The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.

 

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Surprises:

 

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The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived.  Many wanted to become Doctors.

 

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Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally.  They are ridden by women, men and whole families.  They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials.  Sidewalks are scooter parking lots.  Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.

 

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French Heritage.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of  French  Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market.  French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Jeffery Higgins

The best part of the trip for me from an activity perspective was the downhill mountain biking.  I always thought mountain biking was a technical thing – around rocks, over roots, through a stream – but this was totally different. Daredevil stuff in a beautiful setting.  The speed and the scenery were great.  If anyone thinks they have the guts, I highly recommend this activity in Ecuador or anywhere else.

I think our favorite location was Banos. There was a ton of stuff to do, and we could’ve easily spent another couple of days there without getting bored. Kind of a hippie, ski-village vibe without the snow.  Lots of outdoor activities, decent nightlife.  It’s obviously geared towards tourists without being tacky or “touristy.”  Still hidden off the radar, so easy to take in on a limited budget.

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Doing the sporting activities in a different country was interesting because of the risk element & because of the level of cultural immersion.  I’ve never felt so far from the US or what I considered “normal” life.  Plus, some of the activities were a little dangerous, and because of the language barrier (more on that later), the safety training was very different than you would get for similar activities in the US.  I know we talked about it before, but if anyone is going on this trip, they will enjoy themselves a lot more if they have at least a little experience with whitewater rafting, canyoning, or fairly intense hiking.  You don’t want to be a rookie at everything.

As far as advice for others looking at a trip to Ecuador, tourism seems pretty new to them.  As a result, things there are cheap (since the money-grab hasn’t started yet), there aren’t many opportunities to buy souvenirs (let alone the t-shirts or hats most Americans expect), and the language barrier is VERY real.  Even at a major hotel in the capital city, the desk clerks didn’t really speak English & were not very sympathetic if you didn’t speak Spanish.  I kind of liked this (after all, I want to know I’m in Ecuador, not feel like I’m in Epcot), but people should know what they’re getting into.

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As for the adventure aspect, G Adventures tells you just how physically challenging a trip will be.  Travelers will be wise to listen to them.  I think this trip rated a 4 out of 5 as far as how challenging it was & that was a very accurate rating.  In pretty much every activity there was a real risk of harm and people experiencing minor injuries (twisted ankles/knees, minor falls, blisters, cuts, bruises) throughout the trip.  In addition, because of the altitude & intensity, fitness should be taken into consideration.  You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete, but you need to do more than walk the dog to get ready to make it through this trip.

 

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Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 2

by Amanda Vallone

 

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center

 

Once the travel ban was lifted we went onto one of the most historic sites in most recent travel memory – Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center or E15 for short. You may remember a ton of flights in 2010 being cancelled due to the black soot let off by a volcano in Iceland. Well E15 was the culprit. IATA estimates over 107,000 flights in an eight day period were cancelled, affecting nearly 10 million passengers. Working in the travel industry, this was a HUGE deal and a vivid memory.

The visit to Eyjafjallajokull was intriguing because it showcased one family’s struggle of life during and after the dramatic events of the explosion of this infamous volcano that brought European air travel to a halt. The family that ran the visitors center told us about running a farm and living under an active volcano, worrying about it exploding, and life when it was about to errupt. We learned of how they had to move all of their livestock and how they nearly lost their farm…. we also learned of how they overcame such a crazy event. Interestingly enough, tourists from all over the world would come and help them clean up the black dust, volcanic ash, so that they could have a part of E15 to bring home with them too.  Most interesting to me was much unlike Hawaiian Volcanoes (that I had just seen in July of last year), the eruption of E15 occurred under a layer of glacial ice which chilled lava quickly. This is what caused the black ash to plume and turn the black cloud above for so long rather than hot flowing lava.

 

 

Reynisfjara

 

 

 

Reynisfjara is a black sand beach right outside of Vik. The sand is black due to volcanic ash and the beach is surrounded by basalt formations which is volcanic rock or lava exposed at the beaches surface.

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There are also great cliffs and caves to take photos in and of where you will see many birds and of course rushing waves from the ocean.

 

Geysir & Stokkur

 

From boiling mudpits to geothermal fields, the exploding geysers the Geysir Hot Spring Area is a wonderful stop along the Golden Circle that will get your clicker finger going for your chance to catch Geysir or Stokkur Errupt.

 

 

Blue Lagoon

 

The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to a rugged landscape, lava fields, numerous hot springs, and the world famous Blue Lagoon. Did you know the water in the Blue Lagoon is not really blue? It is actually clear to milky white. The blue hue is from the silica in the water.

Did you also know, you must have an appointment to go to Blue Lagoon?! You can even set up a layover appointment at Blue lagoon to save your luggage, get a spa service, then go back to the airport if you like. Well you can!

On that, it is a SPA! The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated pool that visitors may get massages, facials, enjoy fine dining, or just some time in the pleasantly warm bath. The mineral-rich waters of the geothermal pool are located in the middle of a lava field so it looks beautiful and natural – just the way any perfect spa should.

A few fine points for us Americans – you MUST shower naked prior to going in. (You do wear a swimsuit while in the lagoon.) I had a few people calling me on a weekly bases (you know who you are) worried that they were going to re-live their high school gym locker room days showering in public. Yes and No! You can if you want, and you will see many people unfazed by the human body, but if you are uneasy about showing off your fleshy parts, don’t worry, at the end of the locker room there are curtained showers.

Conditioner. Conditioner. CONDITIONER! Ladies, this mineral rich water wreaks havoc on your locks! The spa provides you some conditioning cream to use prior and after but be prepared – you will need more. OR you may bring a shower cap and put your hair up.

I would also recommend leaving your towel in your locker. I brought mine outside and because it was snowing my towel got wet sitting on the hook. You only get one towel at check in, so be careful with it!

Finally, bring a waterproof case for your phone or gopro for photos in the water. It is so beautiful; it is worth it.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Blue Lagoon. It was so much fun and relaxing too. We got a few beers while floating around in the waters, and did a silica mask to help with age defying and make our faces look like a cute baby’s bottom and then we paid for the Algae Mask to cool the slight sting left behind from the Silica.

 

 

Reykjavik

 

We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, a perfect location right in the center of the town and great for our evening of shenanigans.

Throughout Iceland you can enjoy some pretty amazing hotdogs, aka the Pylsa. I mean these things are gourmet! I am not much a fan of having hot dogs on a normal basis, but these were made of primarily Icelandic lamb with some pork and beef topped with fried onions, a creamy sweet mustard, bacon bits, and various other toppings.

The bun is steamed and the meat is actually cooked with some malt beer in the water. YUMMMM!

 

Have a Whale of a time!?! They Eat Whales too?

 

Yes, we did try some Whale while here. The concept that Icelanders serve you whale while at any restaurant was quite mind boggling to me. Before going on this trip I read that it was an Icelandic delicacy, but everything I always thought was that whales were endangered or that they were not food for the very least. It got me pretty curious. I would say do some research. I did try it. I didn’t think it tasted bad at all actually. But, I wouldn’t eat it on the regular.

 

They eat that too?

 

 

Nightlife in Reykjavik

 

George, Sherri, and I went out all night downtown Reykjabik. We started in the Drunken Rabbit which was super casual and has great live music. Loved this! You can spin the wheel and win up to 8 free drinks! Wahoo. The Drunken Rabbit was our “go to” every night.

We also went to the American Bar… which we felt was pretty hypocritical of all the things other people think “Americans” are. There were football helmets, jazz music, a picture of Jack Nicholson doing his the “here’s Johnny” face from the shining and it was pretty boring on this evening. We left pretty quickly.

Then onto a British bar- AMAZING!

And finally the “locals” bar- they sang Icelandic music, the menus were in Icelandic, and the vibe was dark & cool and super goth, yet great. Loved this one too!

Sherri and I felt like we could have stayed out all night long without George and we would have felt SAFE as two women bar hopping. We were so happy to have him with us, but we realized how safe we felt in ALL of Iceland.

 

All-in-all I LOVED Iceland. I would recommend going back in May to see the Puffins come in and to enjoy slightly warmer temperatures. But the views were extraordinary!

If the land of Fire and Ice is one you wish to see, feel free to e-mail me and I will be happy to share more with you.

 

 

Check Out Part 1 here.

Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 1

by Amanda Vallone

 

Every year we plan a trip for the first quarter to go somewhere “big” as a group. In 2015, we went to China; 2016 it was Germany. For 2017 we decided to visit Iceland. Automatically people ask, “Why in the world did you go to Iceland in February? Wasn’t it cold?” Well the answer is “Yes!”

Iceland in February is very cold. It ranged anywhere from 0 to 32 degrees, depending on where we were located and the day. But the temperature was not really that bad.  Being a native of Buffalo, New York, I grew up in cold weather; what got to me was the wind. The wind was freezing, bone-chilling cold. So, I suppose that make you want to stop reading and say, “ehhh Iceland isn’t for me!” Well WAIT ONE MORE MINUTE!!!

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To answer your question, we chose February because of the Northern Lights. We were on an Aurora Borealis trekking expedition. If you have read a blog by me in the past you may know my daughter’s name is Aurora, and though she may be a princess in my book, Disney’s Briar Rose was not her namesake! Rather the beautiful greens, purples, and blues of the northern lights were the inspiration for my child’s name – Aurora and our quest for viewing these lights everywhere we can. Many people travel to Iceland on a journey to discover these beautiful lights during the winter because there are few hours of daylight. Actually, sunrise is somewhere around 10am and sunset is somewhere around 6pm, so you have the largest opportunity to see the auroras during the winter months. Also, Auroras go in cycles. Aurora flares go in 10-40 year cycles and this year was the last year in the cycle. Quite honestly, Aurora is a bit of a diva – even on the best of auroral flares you may not see her in all of her beauty because she will hide under cloud cover.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland we did not truly see the Aurora Borealis the way we thought we would. We did however have a heck of a great time experiencing everything else Iceland had to offer. One evening in Reykjavik, we sailed into the darkness of Faxafloi Bay in search of the northern lights. My hubby George and best friend Sherri both saw a slight streak of green dance through the sky for a moment. But the even better part of that excursion was getting into these crazy outfits. It was one size fits most and for a 6’4 “retired” football player (offensive lineman) squeezing into this tiny red suit was quite the entertaining event for all of us to watch. And it was a great show that George put on.

 

 

So besides Northern Lights, why else visit Iceland?

Well honestly, the rest of the trip was the icing on the cake, it was spectacular!

From waterfalls to glaciers, volcanos to fun food this trip was superb. So I will just go stop by stop.

 

The Golden Circle

 

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This is a route that encompasses many of Iceland’s most renowned national wonders and some of the best stories.

We went to Thingvellir National Park – Iceland’s most historic area where in 930 A.D. Icelanders gathered and formed one of the world’s first parliaments.

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It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is where the North America and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The views were so magnificent here it was unbelievable. We walked along a very icy path to see each of these sights and the sun hitting the water and ice in the background was so worth the cold, wind, and walk. Simply stunning.

There was one section that was quite disturbing. Our guide told us a story that back in the 17th century public execution was part of Icelandic way of life. From beheading to hangings, there were multiple ways of punishment. But at Thingvellir there was one disturbing part in particular – the pool of shame. A stain on Icelandic history, it is now recognized by a plaque at “the drowning pool” where parents would bring their “loose moraled” daughters who got pregnant out of wedlock to this pool and tie them up and drown them L How Sad!

 

 

 

Gulfoss- aka the Golden Falls

 

Gulfoss is a spectacular double cascading waterfall that is simply stunning. You can view it from above and see the rush of the waters (as seen in the video clip here). OR view from below.

 

 

To view from below, be VERY careful! You must go down a very steep set of about 100 wooden steps. In the winter the mist from the waterfall creates ice on the stairs and makes it difficult.

*****Packing tip: This was the second place we noticed you really should have Yak Trax or something similar for traction. You will need them! ****

 

 

 

Seljalandfoss

 

Gulfoss may be the most popular of all the falls in Iceland, but Seljalandfoss was my favorite. We could actually walk behind the waterfall! This is again a place that you must have the proper footwear and rain jackets/waterproof jackets or you will not be a happy camper. In order to protect my water “resistant” jacket I wore one of those cheapie ponchos and I was happy I did. I still got soaked! Was it worth it? TOTALLY! Seljalandfoss is a MUST for an Iceland trip.

 

 

 

 

 

VIK

 

From there we went onto the southwestern-most village in Iceland, Vik. We stayed at Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka, in the “new” side. From the outside pulling up it was slightly worrisome. I was told it was somewhat like a compound by others who had gone before me. When I pulled up, I thought – OH NO, the 22 others I brought with me will hate this. Oh boy was I wrong! This place was spectacular! Truly amazing! The outside of the hotel looked slightly like a “compound” sure. But the rooms inside were very stylish and “ikea” inspired. The breakfast and dinner we had daily at the hotel were wonderful! And if you can get a room at the very end of the hallway it is even bigger than all of the rest. SCORE!

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While in VIK we experienced some very bad weather. All buses and drivers were grounded because there were gale-force winds in Southern Iceland and that same day 4 buses had been blown off of the road, as had a few cars. For our safety we actually missed some of our planned tour. So instead, we had a cocktail party. Because that is the way Roseborough Travel likes to make our clients happy. And honestly, the bar was the only thing that was open. The hotel brought in a speaker that told us the history of the area and land that Hotel Katla was built on.  We also took a hike up the mountain in the background.

 

 

 

YOU EAT WHAT?!?!?!?!

 

Have you heard of the local delicacy and culinary tradition – Hakarl –  fermented, putrefied, shark meat? It is Greenlandic Shark that is not only extremely ugly, but doesn’t have kidneys so it is toxic to humans to eat. So years ago the Vikings devised a technique to be able to eat this shark – squeeze out the toxins,  burry it, dig it up, hang the meat, and let it rot. When it smells nice and ripe – like rotten cheese and turpentine – it’s ready. GROSS! And they eat this stuff! It is on buffets in restaurants and offered to guests as a kindness in tradition.

So did we eat it? Of course we did! I am not one to pass up any crazy food while traveling to a destination. And we washed it down with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic liquor with the taste of caraway seeds.

Now the question is: How would you say cheers to that? Skal! In Icelandic!

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Look out for Iceland Part 2!

Explorer Spotlight: Patricia Bovio

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What made you interested in traveling to Hawaii as a family?

 

We’ve wanted to visit Hawaii for a while. We were also very attracted to what it has to offer and that there are so many different things to do like hiking, sight-seeing, nice beaches, etc.  We got the recommendation of doing a cruise and that was definitely the best option to see different islands without the hassle of traveling in between.

 

What was the best part of Hawaii?

 

We absolutely loved all the islands and what each had to offer. Our absolute winner was Hilo and the excursion to the Kilauea. Seeing the old lava flows and the volcano so close, made for an extraordinary experience that we will never forget. We really got to see Mother Nature in all its splendor.

 

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How would you describe traveling with your 2 year old to Hawaii?

 

Surprisingly it was not too bad (other than the long flights), we were also surprised to see many other families traveling with babies and young kids as well. Because we were doing so many things and constantly changing sceneries, Sophia was busy and entertained. We did not even have to go around everywhere with toys or other things, only plenty of drinks and a few snacks. All the tours we took were very patient and accommodating with us and the baby. The cruise was definitely the best way to go, since we wanted to see more places and did not have to worry about constantly packing and unpacking and the time that consumes. The only disadvantage was the limited space; next time we will definitely look into having a little bit more room.

 

Can I tell you a story about the time I lived in India

My Bollywood Adventure… Well maybe not quite that glam.

By Amanda Vallone

Picture this, I am in my last year of grad school at Auburn University and my husband (yes, husband- I was a child bride) was completing his second bachelors degree in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering also at Auburn University.  It is 2008 and George (hubby) is taking graduate classes at university and working on some scientific things I couldn’t even begin to explain pertaining to everything from space travel, rockets, to providing sufficient hydration and protection for our military while learning about renewable energy sources.

December of 2007 we were offered the opportunity only seven students in the whole University were awarded- the chance to travel abroad to India all expenses paid if we came back with a research project and an international perspective of the “foreign -exchange student” experience to share with other Auburn students in our own curriculum.

So what would any other poor, working (three jobs)- yet barely surviving, adventurous student do before they had to graduate and get their “big boy and big girl jobs”?

I don’t think you need to think hard to figure that one out… We of course said YES to the opportunity to travel to India and take part in the 4 month research program. No Questions Asked!

Hahahaha- we were literally crazy. We knew nothing about India and we had to apply for our Visas, find a place to stay, work, research, and figure out the travel. We were connected to one of the most prestigious universities in all of India and even the wold- IIT Madras.

Except, upon arrival, they did not have housing for us- party foul! How does one travel this far and plan for 6 months without a place to stay?

 

So what did we do? We left Chennai and traveled 7 hours down mostly unpaved, bumpy, dirt roads to Tiruchirappall, IIT Trichy to stay at a neighboring university for our first two weeks until we could find other accommodations and come up with plan B.

The drive was… rough. I will leave it at that. No, I am not talking about the bumpy roads. That was difficult too, but getting off at street markets and needing to use a eastern facility that is similar to an outhouse is a bit more of what I am considering rough. And figuring out what to eat,  or what not to eat, and the conversion of money… it was all a bit much on extreme jet lag.

  • At this point in my story I am wondering if those reading it are questioning how I got into the travel industry if I am “complaining” — keep reading on…

So we arrive in Trichy after asking directions (because there are not street signs everywhere) and people just give head nods to our drivers questions “Ana Trichy Bono” Which means “Which way Trichy, thank you?!”

Things I saw along the way:

  • Signs for STD’s everywhere- say whaaaat? I later found out it was their sim card for their phone. Totally different from what I would have ever guessed.
  • Coconut Oil- You think you are up on the latest trend by using beauty products or cooking with Coconut Oil in the last few years? India has been doing it forever. No conditioner to be found… but Coconut Oil is sold at the street corner shop in individual packages.
  • Monkeys… they just ran right across the street like squirrels do here. Difference is, if we hit a squirrel in the states we might be upset or even cry about it… In India if you hit a monkey you will sell your car because it is bad luck and some believe monkeys are gods.
  • Rickshaws- an awesome form of transportation to try once or twice.
  • Motorcycles as the family vehicle- with 5-6 people piled up on them
  • Traffic lanes that fit three times the amount of vehicles we would ever dare into the same area.

So we spent our two week allotment at IIT Trichy worked in their lab and met with countless professors about engineering stuff that was over my head. I am not dumb by any means, it just was not interesting at all. The culture however, was extremely interesting. I went to temples, bazaars, and watched traditional dance performances after every single meeting. One of my favorite parts of India was mingling with the people.

We went to the famous Rock Fort that is said to geologically date back a billion years (the actual rock). This historic Rock Fort and temple complex are built on the very top of this huge hill/ rock that measures 273 feet high in the city of Tiruchirapalli. It was truly a pilgrimage to so many. For us, it was our first temple and an amazing experience. We had to take our shoes off before going in and walk barefoot out of respect. The colors on the walls were spectacular and the carvings and designs of the gods and deities were spectacular. There are two Hindu temples inside the Rockfort, The Uchchi Pillaiyar Koil and The Siva Temple.

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This temple was just the beginning of us visiting countless more temples and faith-filled places. It really was quite an experience.

So onto the rest of our time.

I had a professor in the states, Dr. Veena Chattaraman who had a connections with the Gandhi Rural Rehabilitation Centre (GRRC), which was located in a little rural village just a couple hours away in Alampoondi. GRRC was originally founded by monks who wanted to help those of society who were considered “castaways” including those who had leprosy.  GRRC is now working with the disadvantaged and under privileged village youth, children, women, widow and handicapped people.

Since I was an undergraduate student of Fashion Design and a Masters of Science in Consumer Affairs with emphasis in Entrepreneurship in the apparel industry my project was to come to GRRC and help the handloom weavers and the tailors create designs that would be marketable to a more “Western” market. And to then help with the marketing plan of this.

George was to stay with me and bring solar energy to this community or at least this compound, as they were so far off the grid there would be three days at a time we did not get electricity.

Some of the best people in all of India we met were located right here… they did not speak English, and our only way to communicate was pointing and hand motions or with the one gentleman who could speak Tamil and English. Mr. Kumar was the director of the compound, welcomed us into his facility  and into his home for dinner on a few occasions. He had a different type of home because it was whats they called a “love marriage” rather than an arranged marriage. They educated us greatly on the cultural views of marriage, cast system, and what they thought of the US… it was an election year and an Olympic year too. Being an outsider looking into these events was quite an interesting experience.

We stayed in India for about 4 months traveling all over the place. We explored Southern India going back and forth from Chennai to Trichy to Aloompoondi and we even took a vacation to the backwaters of Kerala in which we stayed on a houseboat. Kerala’s backwaters is somewhat similar to the bayou as it is a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets. It is truly a labyrinthine system formed by nearly 600 miles of waterways.

Though I have been a vegetarian collectively almost 1/2 of my life picking it up and dropping it on and off over the years, I found it difficult in India. The one thing I looked forward to was when we would go to Chennai  (one of 2 times total) they had a Pizza Hut and I ordered myself a whole large pizza with real pepperoni…. omg it was delicious.

 

At the end of our trip we had the forethought to plan to fly out of Northern India so we had no excuse not to visit the tourist sights and see the Taj Mahal. So George and I visited a Indian travel agent and set up a trip to see the Golden Triangle which included Seeing the Taj Mahal, visiting New Delhi, Agra, the Pink City of Jaipur, Rajastan  New Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan.

Jaipur is the capital city of Rajasthan and is also known as the Pink City. The maharaja painted the whole city pink, the color of hospitality, when Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur in 1876. We visited the city’s historic forts and palaces.

We also visited Amber Fort- a marvelous example of Rajput architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The interior of the fort has various royal halls decorated with intricate ivory, mirror and glass work complemented by exquisite wall paintings. It was here that we took an elephant ride around the fort and realized if you give an ounce of interest to those selling you something you will miss all of the sights and you will only haggle the whole tour…

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Luckily today I have 2 beautiful blankets with round mirrors on them to tell everyone about the scenery I missed because I had to buy these blankets.

 

This Golden Triangle Tour really was everything that people think they will see in India. We ran into so many Western Tourists who said they absolutely LOVED India because they only stayed in Northern India. We had such a different and life altering experience in India the two weeks we spent doing the golden triangle was like a vacation that I only remember sparse memories from. The sights were beautiful and I would totally plan to go back for this Northern India Experience again… Ask me to move to India all expenses paid again? I would have to decline.

So moral of the story, I LOVE what I do in tourism… I think traveling the world opens your mind, heart and soul to people. There are new experiences all around you waiting for you to enjoy. It opens your life to opportunity, and it opens your eyes to the world.

I will be sharing pictures of my experience at our upcoming event “Spotlight on Travel” Wednesday, February 8th and would be more than happy to share the full story with you. Want more information on a specific destination in India? Just let me know. 386-734-7245