Wednesday, May 22, 2013

State Side ;)

I was supposed to do this a very long time ago, about a month.  Shannon asked me to do the last post within 24 hours of returning "state side".  She will hate that I used that phrase, it has been a joke between us that it is the most over used and ridiculous phrase to describe arriving in the US.  
Our journey back to the US was a long one but well worth it!  We left India on a Monday morning (their time), or we were supposed to.  Our plane from India left about an hour late but considering we had about a 12 hour wait in Bangkok before our next plane had to leave we weren't too concerned with the late departure.  Just to give an outline of our flight plane we were going from New Delhi to Bangkok, Bangkok to Tokyo, Tokyo to DC, and then DC to Pittsburgh.  We arrived in Bangkok at about 8pm their time and our flight out wasn't till 6am the next day, so we had a bit of a wait ahead of us.  So we ate a leisurely dinner at the airport, I had my favorite, shrimp fried rice and Shannon had some type of soup I think.  It was the last time we would have real Thai food, at least for a while, so we took our time and enjoyed the meal and talked about all the things we would miss.  Bubble tea came up quite often, and even now since we have seen each other at school the topic of bubble tea still comes up!
After dinner Shannon and I found ourselves a place to park for the next few hours.  We were planning on checking in our baggage at 3am, so by the time dinner was over we had about 6 or 7 hours to kill.  I was hoping to sleep but that didn't happen, the benches were just too uncomfortable, the lights too bright, too many people walking around and there seemed to be a major party going on in the room behind us.  Apparently it was another New Year there in Thailand so there wasn't much peace and quiet! The highlight of that night for me was I bought a bag of guava, probably my last for a long while.  It of course was delicious but I had to share it with a family from England that were vegan and had never tried guava. I encouraged them to get their own bag though so I got to keep mine.  Shannon and I were then lectured by the matron of the group about how she new so much about America, really more than most Americans!  Thankfully their flight was leaving within the hour so we didn't have to endure hours of little known facts about America that only the English know.
Our flight to Japan went smoothly.  We arrived a little early which was good because we only had about an hour and a half to get through security, find our terminal and get on our plane.  We made it with just a few minutes to spare which gave Shannon time to pick up a couple snacks and buy "the best mints you will ever have!"...her exact words.  And trust me they are!
The next phase of our journey, the part from Japan to DC was the long one.  On the way to Japan it took 17 hours, so you can imagine how much Shannon and I were dreading this trip.  But when we looked at our itinerary we realized that it would only take us 12hrs!!!  We and especially I was so excited about this that I was practically looking forward to the plane ride!  It really went quite well, we were of course a little cramped when disembarking but over all it was a comfortable flight and we were both able to sleep for the better part of it.  The neat thing about this flight was we left Tokyo at about 3:50pm on Tuesday and when we arrived in DC it was about 3:30pm on Tuesday!
In DC we also had a very short layover, a little less than an hour and a half.  This was even more stressful then Japan because not only did we have to go through security but we also had to go through customs and checkout and check-in our baggage because DC was our port of entry.  We made it to our terminal just in time!  The boarding call was just being called when we arrived!  When we were walking to our terminal both Shannon and I were pleasantly surprised when we realized that we could understand what everybody was saying around us!  It had been three and a half months of basically, to our ears, just noise when we were in public places!
Our shortest flight was from DC to Pittsburgh and I could hardly sit still I was so excited!  Thankfully the flight was only about 30 minutes so I didn't have to wait long!  When we arrived in Pittsburgh I had texts from my family that they and Shannon's parents were waiting for us at the baggage claim.  And sure enough we came down the escalator and there they were!  My mother of course began to cry, but I wouldn't have had it any other way, it is her signature move!  :)
Shannon and I parted ways there at the airport.  She was headed to Ohio and I was headed back to West Virginia!  My trip home was uneventful, I drove for part of the way and slept for the rest.  I arrived home at about midnight and immediately started to unpack and put everything in its proper place.  All my clothes that I had brought with me were promptly placed in the dirty clothes basket to be wash, whether they were clean or not.  I also handed out my gifts I had brought back for my family, I had waited so long to give them out I wasn't going to wait till the next day!
That next day I woke up early and began cooking, we were having family and friends over for dinner and I planned on getting an early start.  
I didn't experience any real bouts of jet lag, Thursday afternoon I got sleepy and took a nice long nap but other than that life was normal, I often take long naps in the afternoon, whether I need to or not.  Shannon told me she experienced the same thing.
Shannon and I saw each other soon after arriving home.  We had planned to give a presentation at D&E the following Monday to talk about our trip.  We were both excited to do this because it meant seeing our friends at school after a long semester apart and we were able to check in on Shankar and report back to Sharmi on how he was doing.  
Shannon just this weekend graduated from Davis and Elkins College, she was valedictorian!!!  She gave a beautiful speech at the ceremony!  D&E will miss her greatly and I am so thankful that I was able to spend her last semester of college with her in Thailand!  We have had some wonderful experiences that we will remember for a lifetime!  I am so blessed to have her as a friend and traveling companion!  Our "bizarre travel plans" to Thailand and India have truly been blessings from God and I know that both of us are thankful and extremely grateful for the opportunity to travel!  And I hope in the future that we are able to travel together again and make more wonderful memories and take part in even more amazing experiences!
With Love and Thanks!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Puzzle Daze

Hello, all!  Our time abroad is about up!  We'll be leaving tomorrow morning for the airport.  From there, we go back to Thailand, where we'll grab our baggage and wait 10 hours or so until we can check in for our United flights to the States.  Why jump through so many hoops, you say?  Well, as poor college students, we had to choose the cheapest option, so that's how it worked.

The last few days have been rather uneventful, I guess you could say.  We successfully completed a 1000 piece puzzle (minus two pieces which were mysteriously missing).

We also helped cook one day!  We made two pot pies, at the request of Chotu, who wanted a "savory" pie.  They looked beautiful when we were done, and tasted great, too!  I think they approved, as well, since there were very few leftovers.

My birthday was yesterday, and I was surprised with an awesome birthday cake-- chocolate cake and icing, surrounded by kit kats, and topped with sprinkles and "Gems" the Indian equivalent to M&Ms!  Unfortunately, I mostly had to admire it by its looks, since I haven't been doing to hot in terms of health the last few days.  But it was so nice!

Today has gotten progressively better for me in terms of all that, so with any luck, Bec won't have to travel with a sick companion.  I really don't know what all to say other than that-- we're really looking forward to being home!!!!!

Love and hugs,
Shannon Nichole

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Agra Plus

I don't even know where to begin!  I think that Shannon left off with Thursday afternoon so I will try and remember what was in between then and now...
So after the pedicure, manicure and facial we probably slept.  I am not sure about this but it is based off of previous experience!  Then we went to dinner with Sharmi and her brother and sister-in-law.  We went to a South Indian restaurant in town, I am not sure of the name only that it was excellent!  With some of the best coffee I have ever had!  It is so long ago that I don't remember the names of the food we ate so you will just have to be content with the pictures I took of it.


the soup in the middle was my favorite, it had cilantro and onions

the most delicious coffee!  I thought of Mother and Sam when I drank this

The following day should be Friday.  And if my memory serves me well and based off of the date on the pictures Friday is the day we went to the Lotus Temple and ANOTHER sweet shop!  Barumami said we should visit the Lotus Temple for the architecture, it is built in the shape of a lotus flower.  The faith that it serves is Bahá'í  they welcome all faiths and the Temple is used for prayer and they ask that you keep completely silent while inside.  
The Lotus Temple
Closer view of the Temple

The sweet shop was one of Barumami's "hole-in-the-wall" shops as Sharmi calls them, I don't know where she finds them.  It was a little tiny shop in the middle of a busy street, but it had a variety of sweets!  I think the ones at this particular shop are specific to Bengal.  We got a selection to bring back to the house.
A few of the sweets - the ones on the second shelf are really tasty
a free roaming cow
a whole herd of free roaming cows - and as you can see they are in the middle of a very crowded street!

The following day (Saturday) we went with Sharmi and Barumami to the Emporium where there were shops from every state in India selling handicrafts unique to their state.  Shannon and I of course couldn't pass up this great opportunity to buy more gifts and a couple things for ourselves!  One of my favorite purchases of the day was a stack of fabric that I am going to bring back home and with the help of my Mother we are going to make a quilt!  I think I have about 14 different colors and boy was it a trial getting them!  At the shop they sold the fabric to make skirts and such with so they didn't really sell it by the yard/meter so I mainly got my fabric from the scrap box where there were quite a few large pieces.  The gentleman assisting me and everyone else in the shop thought I was crazy!  Apparently they don't get many foreigners in buying a variety of fabric for who knows what reason!  But I persevered and I came out with a selection of blues, golds, greens and reds that I think will make a beautiful quilt!  They are all hand dyed with natural vegetable dyes!
While at the Emporium we saw some of the most beautiful handicrafts, there were so many hand embroidered scarves and sarees, I was amazed at the shill and time it took to do all the work!  There was also some beautiful furniture that had the most intricate carvings and just about anything else you were looking for could be found there!
That evening we went to bed early because the next day we had to get up at four in the morning to catch the train to Agra.  I am afraid to say though that neither Shannon or I slept well because both of our stomachs were a little unsettled.  This thankfully didn't plague us too much, it ended up being only a mild case of an unsettled stomach but it was enough to put Shannon and I off the heavy food and stick to toast and fruit.
We made it to our train on time and settled down for our two hour train ride to Agra.  
We were picked up at the train station in Agra by Sharmi's nephew (he and Aditi and Vivan had driven down the day before because Aditi's family lives in Agra) and we went to Aditi's parents house where we deposited our bags and ate breakfast before we left again for the train station where we would meet the tour bus that would take us to two forts and the Taj Mahal.
Sharmi, Shannon and I and only one other tourist were the only occupants of the bus.  By the time we had started the tour it was 10:30 am and already getting hot.  Agra is in the south of India so the temperature was a little more extreme than in New Delhi.  
Now this next part is going to have very little information and what information there is will be rather unreliable.  Our tour guide though very nice gave very little information and what he gave he repeated constantly and I tended to zone out for most of it.  I was distracted by the sites and the heat and taking pictures so this combination meant I absorbed very little information.  So, once again you will have to be content with pictures.
We visited two forts first.  I think the first one had the highest gate in the world and at one time was the dwelling place of the king but due to lack of water it had to be moved into central Agra.  The second fort we visited was I think the fort where the king moved back to.  (*The original story as to why they moved to the other site was that the king had met a Sufi Saint who told him he would have a son.  When this came true, he moved the capital to where he had met the saint.)  I should make clear that these forts held no resemblance to the forts my brothers and I would make in our woods which were mainly in a dense patch of rhododendron with make shift wooden doors and a tall tree near by for our lookout tower.  There we sandstone forts with incredible carvings, towers, rooms, temples and walls.  The pictures will have to suffice once again because my descriptions can never do them justice.  From the second fort the Taj Mahal could be seen.

first fort
first fort
first fort
first fort - this was a window - the carving is done in once piece of sandstone
first fort: carvings on this pole depicted symbols of Christianity, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. It is said that the king was trying to keep peace/unite the religions.  He, himself a Muslim, had 3 wives: a Muslim, a Christian, and a Hindu (his favorite, who bore his son).
first fort - some of the detailed carving
first fort
first fort
first fort

1st fort - tallest gate in the world - up at the top you can see bee hives

2nd fort
2nd fort
2nd fort - marble palace
2nd fort
first view of the Taj Mahal from 2nd fort
2nd fort 
the flowers in the marble are precious stones
2nd fort
2nd fort
monkeys along the call of the second fort

Our last stop on our tour was the Taj Mahal, this was what I had been most looking forward to and it was worth it!  The Taj Mahal is actually a tomb where the king and queen are buried.  At the time that we went and the day that we went it was quite crowded and hot.  (Shannon you need to write this part, I don't even no where to begin)

So, most of what the guide told us about the Taj Mahal was either (1) indicated incorrect or irrelevant by Sharmi, or (2) simply an anecdote that had nothing to do with with Taj Mahal itself.  The king buried here was the grandson of the one we mentioned earlier in the description of the forts.

The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world, in case you were unaware, built in 1631-48.  And it should be.  It's incredibly large and symmetrical.  The mathematical genious it took could even be considered minimal compared to the cooperation it required between experts across the world brought in to build it.  The tip of the largest, middle dome is 44.4 meters high, and when you look at the Taj Mahal from a distance, the people at it's base look like tiny ants!  Hopefully these pictures can help some.  (I can't really give any more information that I'm positive is reliable, unfortunately, but look it up for yourself-- it's so impressive!)

Before you saw the Taj, you walked through this main gait.  There were three others, and the compound they opened into was a large compound for all the mourners that came to pay homage to the queen. 

We made it back to Aditi's family's house we were all exhausted and hot and sweaty so I immediately took a shower!  It felt amazing!  We were fed to the brim of course but neither Shannon and I felt like eating too much because we were both feeling the heat and our stomachs weren't ready for too much food.  The next day we were fed twice in the space of about four hours.  We ate a late breakfast and an early lunch because we had to hit the road and head back to New Delhi before the traffic got bad.  But before we left we took a tour of the garden at the house.  Apparently there were peacocks in a tree earlier that morning but Shannon and I missed them.  We did see the parakeets that were in the garden that Aditi's Dad keeps.  There must have been sixty of them flying around!
flowers from the garden of Aditi's parents hourse
more flowers

Our trip back to Delhi was uneventful, mostly we slept.  Shannon and I are getting very good at sleeping the majority of the day.
Now, lets is Wednesday today.  I still have to cover Tuesday.  The big event Tuesday was our massages.  Shannon and I both got massages and though they didn't put us to sleep they were very relaxing!  I liked it a lot but it isn't something I will repeat too often, I am afraid I can't get used to strangers touching me, I think Shannon feels the same way!  The rest of the day was spent sleeping, reading and watching movies.  
Today we were a little more active.  This morning Shannon skyped her parents and then we headed to another shop full of fabric, sarees, scarves and all sorts of beautiful clothes.  Sharmi had to pick out some fabric for skirts so we tagged along with her, Aditi, Vivan and Barumami.  Afterwards we came back, ate lunch and then slept the afternoon away.  Shannon is suffering from allergies and is stuffed up to bursting.  She has been sneezing and blowing her nose all day, I feel terrible for her, I can't imagine having allergies in this heat.  I should think it makes them ten times worse!
the American and Indian version of Lays chips!

The Spanish version!

Tonight we went out for dinner with the family.  I think that today or sometime this week starts the New Year in India so there was an event at the club.  And when I say club I am not referring to a bar of some type but the kind of "I am a member of an exclusive club that has a three year waiting list" kind of thing with its own gym, swimming pool, and restaurants.  So, we stopped by there for a few minutes and tried some food and watched the traditional dancers then we moved in to and Indian Chinese restaurant.  Here we got an array of dishes that all tasted delicious!  Especially because there were lots of bell peppers and onions, my how I have missed the bell pepper!
Now we are comfortably snuggled in bed and my next job is to select a good movie to watch before bed!
Good night!
~ Rebecca