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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Travel, Travel Wishlist, Uncategorized

Welcome to Delhi…Oh Sh*t

All smiles atop a moped in Delhi’s city center.

I arrive in Delhi at 5:30 a.m, and I make my way to baggage claim. I have everything crossed as I’m not entirely sure my bag is going to be here. It has been checked through all the way to Delhi from the UK, and probably spent most of yesterday floating around Moscow airport. Thankfully, it is here. I then find the closest bathroom and have my first experience using a non-western toilet. I see Asia is going to be great for strengthening my quad muscles.

During the drive from the airport to the hotel, I get a small glimpse of what India is like. It is early morning, and people are waking up from where they have slept the night before, be it the back of a rick-shaw, the top of a bus, or the side of the road. Some are cleaning their clothes on the side of the road, using the sewer lid as something hard to scrub on. Many people are just hanging out on the side of the street, some waiting for transportation, others just sitting, watching and waiting for nothing in particular. There is a massive amount of extreme poverty here, like I have never witnessed before.

The market at Connaught Place, Delhi

There are also signs of growth. My driver tells me that Delhi is the host of the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the next Cricket World Cup, so a new Metro system is being built. Construction seems to be going on everywhere, with signposts that read “For a Better Tomorrow.”

I arrive at the hotel, which is a little safe haven of luxury, away from the complete craziness of Delhi. First things first, I take a shower to get rid of the grime of two overnight flights and a day in Moscow, and now, it’s time for breakfast. I sample some Lassi, which I ask our waiter about. He informs me it is curdled milk and insists I try it. I don’t think twice, but my father looks at me like I have two heads. (Ten business trips to India and no visit to the Taj Mahal yet… we’re going to work on that.) Lassi, which tastes like a yogurt smoothie, instantly becomes my new breakfast drink. It’s sweet, sprinkled with pistachio nuts and jam packed with probiotics… in Delhi, it might be good to have a few extra of those on hand.

The scene of the crime.

We spend the afternoon at Connaught Place and the Red Fort. Connaught Place is considered to be the center of Delhi. Seven roads converge into a circular round-about, and other than that, there’s not much to see. The plan is to walk through the market and then take the metro to the Red Fort, but the market is just pure insanity. People flock to us selling everything from food to jeans, to bags, to watches. In an effort to escape the insanity, we walk along the outside of the market and find ourselves surrounded by a few men, all who are trying to point us in the “right” direction. Since we are both feeling a bit uncomfortable by this point, we decide to make a beeline for the metro. Before this can happen, though, there is some commotion and a man exclaims, “oh no sir, it looks like a bird has pooped on your shoe.” We look down to see a pile of fresh shit right atop my dad’s shoe. I quickly remember reading about this in my guide book. It’s a typical prank in India. Don’t ask me where they get the matter from, but it’s definitely no bird. It works like this: A scammer approaches you, flings a sizeable amount of crap on your shoe, and before you have time to do anything about it, he’s “helping” you to clean it off and then asking you for an obscene amount of money. I figure out what is going on, and ask the man to leave us alone.We are then left to clean up ourselves… good thing I came prepared with tissues and wet wipes. We brush it off and have a laugh, and spend the rest of the afternoon trying to determine what kind of birds they are breeding in India that take a crap that size.

From here, we find the metro and get the hell out of Connaught Place. We head to the Red Fort where during the five minute walk to the entrance, it feels like every scammer and beggar approaches us, well actually approaches my dad. They pretty much leave me alone, but for some reason, they love his moustache and everyone comments on it.

Delhi’s Red Fort

At the Red Fort, we are able to bypass the long wait because we’re foreigners. I’m astounded by the number of Indian tourists at the sights we are visiting. Very few American and European tourists seem to be traveling here. We spend the afternoon touring the fort, which was built by Shah Jahan, the same Emperor who had the Taj Mahal built. He ruled here during the Mughal Empire but was overthrown by his son, Aurangzeb, who was the last to rule from here. Today the fort is used as a place for the prime minister to give key speeches, especially on Independence Day.

The entrance to Delhi’s Red Fort.

From the Red Fort, we are back in the craziness of Delhi’s wide open roads and try to get the first taxi we can. This happens to be some sort of Land Rover, so we hop in the back for another driving adventure. Driving is a true free for all here. Lanes are non-existent. Traffic lights are sometimes obeyed, but not on Sundays when the city is not as busy. All types of transport go- truck, van, car, bus, rick-shaw, horse, or your own two feet, and that applies to any road- whether it’s a village road or a major highway. And they will squeeze in as many people as will fit. It’s not uncommon to see a family of three atop one moped.

 

Our choice of transport for the afternoon.

We make it back to the hotel (safely). It’s late afternoon and finally starting to cool off. The heat has been oppressive today. We get some bizarre looks as we climb out the back of a Land Rover at hotel reception. My dad gives me a look that says, “what have you got me into this time?” I’m kind of wondering the same thing myself…

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Layover, Moscow, Russia, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Tripper… to Moscow

Moscow: subway ride: $.75, Water: $1.00, Internet: $2.00 (15 min), Americans spotted: 4

It’s 6:40 pm Moscow time, and I’ve just spent the last 13 hours in Moscow trying to take in some sights during my day-long layover. I arrived at 5:20 this morning. I suppose the smart thing to do would have been to buy a guide book on Moscow while I was in the UK, but I was winging it today. I figured I had plenty of time to find my way back should I get lost. I spoke to a few people in the airport just to get some general directions. At first, I was surprised by how little English people speak. I suppose it doesn’t help that I don’t speak a lick of Russian. I learned how to say goodbye on the plane, but to be honest, I didn’t even know how to say thank you. I felt like a bit of a twit. (Lesson 1- learning just a bit of the language can go a long way). I was THAT girl a few times today where I was holding the map and pointing at where I wanted to try and go.

The train into the city was quiet straightforward- 30 minutes, one way, one stop. You can’t really screw that up, can you? But then there was the metro (or metpo, as they say).I approached a mother and daughter who fortunately knew English and they sent me on my way. A one-way ride is just $.75. It’s not a complicated system once you get your bearings, but it’s not easy either. The stations are not clearly marked and transferring from one line to another can be quite confusing, Not to mention the Cyrillic alphabet!

I intended to start my day at the Red Square, but my Russian friends had told me about a good museum at Tbepckab. (yeah, try saying that. It’s actually pronounced Tverskaya). I was getting turned around, so I exited near the museum, which wasn’t open yet. Then I saw a Marriot, felt a sense of relief and made my way to get some clearer directions. They hooked me up with a street map, info on guided tours and walking directions to the Red Square. I was much happier on foot – you can soak it all in a bit more.

 

It was a pretty neat feeling to approach the Red Square. When I saw St. Basil’s Cathedral, I think it finally sank in that I was in Moscow!! The city is different to what I expected. It’s very beautiful architecturally and very colorful. In my mind, I pictured the city to be a bit colder and less colorful. It’s incredibly clean and tidy.

I do sort of feel like I’ve stepped back in time though, and I expected a more cosmopolitan city. It’s just that there’s still such a striking dichotomy between old and new. You have a beautiful old Russian Orthodox church on one corner, and across the street is the entrance to Louis Vuitton. It’s as if Prague took some steroids and went to visit Paris
.
Now for the people- I can’t make too many sweeping generalizations because I have literally only been here for 14 hours, but there’s definitely a cold exterior. However, people are not turned off by being approached and they are willing to help, or to try to. A smile goes a long way in Moscow, and most people are quite friendly. With a bit more time here, it would have been fun to befriend some natives and see Russia from an insiders’ perspective, but for a day I was happy to play the tourist card.

I queued up for Lenin’s mausoleum. We were walked through a courtyard where I’m sure many of Russia’s famous leaders are buried (I wouldn’t know, because again I couldn’t decipher the names). Lesson 2- It does help to do the research first and makes for a more fulfilling trip. If not, it’s sort of like going to a concert for a band you don’t know. You can dig the music, but it would be a hell of a lot more fun if you could sing along… We were shuffled downstairs to a cold, stark, dimly lit room where Lenin has been resting since 1924. Needless to say, there were absolutely no photo ops.

From here, I went to get some info on guided tours, and a lovely lady gave me a list of things to do for the afternoon. Given my lack of knowledge on Russian history, I thought it would be smart to hit the historical museum next. Here I was able to get a snapshot of Russia from the Stone Age all the way up to Nicholas the Reformer. By the end of this, I was fading. 3 ½ hours of sleep on the plane the night before was catching up with me. I headed for some food and coffee.

I then made my way back to the airport, getting turned around on the metro one last time! One thing I will say is I admire anyone who can pick up another language, but I truly respect a native English speaker who learns a language like Russian, Greek or Chinese, etc. It truly is a whole new ballgame.

Last observations of Moscow…

The Russians smoke. A LOT! Especially the young ones. And from what I can tell, they do like their vodka.

You can sense a big gap between the last couple of generations. It seems that Russia’s youth is really taken with pop culture, fashion and money. I suppose this also has a lot to do with the fact that Russian’s in their 20’s are living a completely different life to their parents and grand-parents since the wall came down…
The youngsters, especially the women are the fashionistas. Even the female police are sporting baby blue short dresses and stilettos- not kidding!

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Layover, long term travel, Moscow, Russia, Travel, Travel Wishlist, Uncategorized

And I’m Off…

I left the states over a week ago, but I don’t feel like my journey has truly begun yet. So now, I am officially off. I’ve come to realize that I’m the type of person where things don’t really hit me until they are happening. And well, it’s happening! During my taxi ride to Heathrow airport tonight, I realized that I am going to step off the plane tomorrow morning in Moscow… this is very surreal.

My time in England was spent catching up with family, indulging in pub lunches, seeing old friends, and galavanting around London.  And I spent the last 2 days sorting my Russian visa, so that I can leave the airport during my 17 hour layover tomorrow. A $200 rush visa (transit visa at that) is worth it to me, but hurts a little bit!

When I started planning this trip, I began thinking about the places I have traveled, will travel, want to travel, and then thought about the places I might never make it. Russia is a place that interests me, but it’s not #1 on my list of places to go, so I never really knew when I’d make it. But since I booked the flight on miles, I let Delta plan the route and, subsequently, have a day in Moscow tomorrow. We arrive at 5:20 am which is 2:20 am to my body, so I will need some strong coffee before sorting out a day tour.

Ok- so now I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous about Russia. The only word I know how to say is “No.” and isn’t the country full of corruption? What if I get in a taxi and don’t get out?? Do they accept Euro? I don’t know what to expect other than the standard sterotypes: they drink a lot of vodka, and the women are all beautiful blondes out of fashion magazines. Needless to say, the day will be interesting. That’s if the flight leaves. Better go check.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Travel, Uncategorized

Preparation Mode

The saying is you can never be too prepared. And for a trip like this, I have to agree. Alright, traveling without an itinerary and seeing where your path leads is really exciting (and probably more adventurous), but given I do have a time limit and a budget that will eventually dry up, I want to do all I can in advance to ensure the best experiences in each place I go, as well as an overall stress free trip.

I first started with an honest look at my budget. Living in New York City for the past 5 years has not really been conducive to saving. And given the trip is just over two months away, I’ve now started to do desperate things, like cancel my cable service and my gym membership. I figure all the trekking will make up for not going to the gym for 2 months!

I was fortunate enough to book the main legs of my journey on frequent flyer miles. If you are a mile hoarder and want to do a trip like this, please note, the airlines actually make it quite feasible, unlike booking a normal frequent flyer ticket for domestic or international travel. Delta offers Around the World tickets, that include 6 flights (or legs), as long as you are moving in one continuous direction, for 180,000 miles in Coach. Considering one international ticket will usually cost you 50,000 miles, this isn’t a bad deal.

I was able to book four legs, Atlanta-London, London-Delhi (via Moscow), Hong Kong-Sydney, and Sydney-Atlanta for 110,000 miles!! The cheap costs of the internal flights made it pointless to use miles.

So the shell of the trip is booked, and I’ve mapped out a logical route within each stretch. The big picture can be overwhelming, so breaking the trip into sections has been helpful. Now I spend every free second with my nose in a Lonely Planet guidebook or surfing the travel sites and blogs online.

I’ve set up an account with couch surfing, and a friend recommended I check out www.airbnb.com , which seems to be a step up from couch surfing (meaning you might actually get a spare bedroom, not just a couch). I’ve also emailed everyone I know who has traveled to the places I’ll be going to try and get some pointers. Thank you to everyone who has shared their tips, stories and packing lists, as well as offering up their friends to host me!

Wow! Who knew something so fun would be such hard work 😉

Around the world travel, Backpacking, long term travel, Travel, Travel Wishlist, Uncategorized

Some Background…

On Wednesday night, I spent my evening driving our creative team home from a client meeting in Pennsylvania. During the journey, the art director proceeded to tell me how he had missed his daughter’s birthday. I couldn’t help but think that there was something so fundamentally wrong with this. A similar thing happened two weeks ago. I was pulling an all-nighter at the office to prepare for a creative presentation the following day, and the studio director proceeded to tell me about his failed first marriage, which he blamed on the number of hours he was working at the time. Well, I say life is too short! Don’t get me wrong, I work hard, but there comes a time when you have to say are you living to work? Or working to live?

I wouldn’t be able to work the way I am right now if I didn’t have a light at the end of the tunnel, which is my travels. So Thursday morning, after my long drive from PA to NYC, I confirmed my around-the-world ticket with Delta. Now, any amount of time I spend on preparing, researching, or booking this trip assures me that my current situation is only temporary. It makes the present a little more bearable.

This trip has been something I’ve been tentatively planning since my senior year of college. I remember working in the International Studies office during the summer between junior and senior year, sitting on airtreks.com costing out a number of different itineraries. Fortunately, since then, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places and meet some incredible people, but for some reason, the around-the-world trip has been put off again and again for a number of reasons. Money (or lack of), time, school, work, leases, reltaionships, etc. The list goes on and on, but there came a time when I realized if I didn’t make it happen, it was simply going to be a dream growing dust on a shelf. With my lease up at the end of July, three torturous years of grad school behind me, a career path that has me less than excited, and the itch to travel like never before, now is the time.

Some may say it’s a little unrealistic and impractical to quit my job during an economic slump, to give up the steady paycheck, benefits, and insurance. Some people ask me if I can afford to do this, and my response to them is, “Can I afford not to?” Most people are thrilled for me and want to hear every little detail. But there are the skeptics too, the ones who give you a funny look and say, “You’re doing what??” Fortunately the people who know me best find this far from surprising.

Unfortunately I was bitten with the travel bug at a very young age, and well, there’s only one cure. So on July 21st, I will begin my around-the-world journey, which as of now will last until December 2nd. Planned stops along the way include England, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Australia and New Zealand. Oh, and if you count a very, very long layover in Moscow, add Russia to that list.

The only similar experience I’ve had is a backpacking trip I took after high school. At the age of 17, my best friend and I spent six weeks traveling Europe by train. I have traveled quite a lot since then, but not for such an extended period of time, nor to the types of culturally diverse places I will be going.

Some of you who are following me on my travels hope to one day take an around-the-world trip and others are quite content to just read about it. I hope for the former this can be the encouragement you need, and for the latter, you can live vicariously through me. Either way, I hope to relay the highs and lows, and bring you on what I anticipate to be a life-changing journey.