A Travellerspoint blog

Mumbai

sunny 28 °C

Hello All!
We have successfully made it to Mumbai! Udaipur was our last stop in Rajasthan and although it was what we had been looking forward to the most, supposedly the "Venice of India" it was a bit disapointing. Our hotel was nice but we went in the off season so the spectacular lake was more of a dried up and polluted swamp. The city palace was really nice and there was an awesome German bakery that we hit up twice for cheesecake and breakfast. We also did some shopping but the whole city shut down at 11, we were even locked into our hotel so we couldn't wander the lake at night. Everyone is really concerned about safety over here and at times, it makes things a bit of a bummer but we appreciate the effort.
We thought we would have 2 full days in Udaipur but were unpleasantly surprised to learn that our train to Mumbai was actually leaving from a different city and we had to leave at noon so on our second morning we got up really early to catch some more sights and then left for the train back through the same mountains that we had arrived through, this time we stopped for some pics (which I will share later).
We ended up getting to the very small train station about 4 hours before our train got there and it was a middle of nowhere city with nothing to do so we sat and played games. I was pretty nervous for our first Indian train ride, not sure why, I have taken trains zillions of times in China, but I just couldn't shake it. It all ended up being unfounded, the train was fine and actually much quieter than Chinese trains, we were both pretty beat and hit the hay around 10, sleeping until we were almost in Mumbai. The scenery outside the train was really something. THere is so much poverty here, most of the villages looked like they had been taken out of the Children's Aid commercials, really sad and such a contrast from Mumbai.
We arrived at our hotel without too much hassel although to avoid the scheming taxi drivers we ended up going a bit out of our way (but saved over 700 rupees!) Our hotel here is nothing great but is in an awesome location, just next to the train station and the main highlights of the city. We really feel at home here, its so much like Shanghai (except that they drive on the wrong side of the street!). We spent our first day wandering and checking out the fantastic restaurants. Travelling always takes it out of us, so we turned in early with a busy day planned for today.
Unfortuantely, today didn't turn out quite as expected. We had wanted to go to Elephanta Island and do some other sight seeing but instead spent most of the day in the Tourism Office trying to plan out the rest of our trip, something we should have done ealrier as trains were full. It was a frustrating day and we had to cross off the Ellora Caves from our travel plans (it was doable but stress filled). SO tonight, with all our plans and tickets purchased we are off for some dinner and much deserved beer!
TO let you all know, we will be heading on the Konkan Railway to Goa on Saturday, its a resort/beach area and we hope to do some relaxing and enjoy some natural beauty. On Tuesday we take a train to Hampi, there are some ruins and rolling hills that we hope to explore. Next Saturday we will take the train to Bangalore, a city we don't care to spend to much time in, so we will arrive in the AM and leave in the PM back to Shanghai.
THis has been a great trip so far, we have seen so much its hard to express, especially the cultural differences. Nate and I have spent alot of time talking about the differences and similarities between here, China and the States. Pictures describe our experience best and I can't wait to share all that with you when we get back to Shanghai and have a chance to upload the thousands of pics we aer taking.

Love you all and talk to you soon!

Posted by heidigras 05:21 Archived in India Comments (0)

India!

22 °C

WEll, we are 12 days into our trip and I have finally found a internet bar that has access to this website, I sent out a email to some of you a week of so again so some of this might be repeat but bear with me.

First of all, when we arrived in delhi, we were comepletely unprepared for the culture shock that we were going to excperience, having lived in China, we thought we kind of knew the ropes and knew what to expect but immediately we were chocked by everyone's leve of English and also the very apperent poverty even in the capital city, people actually living on the streets and eating out of the trash, it was all quite difficult to take in and our first couple days were a biut stressfull and we learned the new cultures and custums of a new country.
In Delhi, we found a travel agent that helped us plan our trip through Rajathstan. WE had originally planned on doing trains the whole time, but a drive seemed to give us some more flexibility in our traveling and also saved us some time traveling from place to place.
So on the 2nd of Jan we met with our driver, Raj, he's a 27 year old guys just doing the job to make ksome money for his upcoming wedding, really freindly guys and his englsih is just great so our experience with him has been nothing but great so far, he has become both our driver and a good friend.
Our first stop was in Agra, for the famed Taj Mahal. We first went to the Agra fort, which was nice, there are a zillion forts in Rajasthan and the highlights of most of these forst is the amazing view it gives of the city it over looks. WE had an awesome hotel the first night (all these things were prearanged for us) and we just chilled in the room most of the night ans in general its not too safe to wqander about after dark. The next day was the Taj Mahal day, quite disapointing, we were able to go inside and see all the buildings but the there was a dense fog that prevented us from actually seeing the outside of the building, so I guess we will just have to get a psotcard!
Next stop was Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, we got there pretty late, like 10 pm and just orderd room service (very bad reoom service)
Our day in Jaipur was lovely, the cities were a dirty mess, all curvy and no nice grid pattern like we are used to. WE saw the City Palace, Jantar Mantar and the Water palace (all t hese things don't mean much to you now but when we get to Shanghai or a better internet cafe, I will upload some pics. At sunset we went tothe Naharagarh Fort which overlooked the city, Jaipur is known as the cink coity because of the many sanstone buildings and we had an awesome and very romantic veiw of the city!

The next day was not a good day for me, I was really sick and couldn't really eat anything allday and as a result had pretty low energy. WE did end up going up to AMber fort, which again was amazing, the intricate work of all the buildings and the sheer vastness of it was amazing, it was like a maze wandingering throught the halls of what used to be a royal palace.

Our next stop was Pushkar, which is a HIndu Religious town. THere were hundred and hundred of pilgrims at this city, there is a main lake inthe city that is considered holy and so people bath in the lake (ghats) to purify themselfs. THis was our favorite city, it was very small so we didn't nee the driver and we just kidn of walked around at a leisulrely pace. The people were so friendly (which has been true in all fo india) We had leisurly rooftop lunches and just observed the very very religious and devot ceremonies that were going on around us. I loved Pushkar, luckily we spent two nights there. On a side note, I had the best pizza in Pushkar that I have had in 18 months, a little SHop called Little Italy and I would Highly reccomend it to anyone who goes to that city.
And onward, we headed of on the 7th to Johdpur. We got there late and our hotel was in the middle of nowhere so it was a buit of a bummer night, but it was a just a short stop on our way to Jaisalmer, so no biggy!

FInally it was off to Jaisalmer and our came safari! We arrived around 4pm and got right on the camels, the took us a ways out into the desert, the desert was a mixture of shrubbery and sand dunes. WE stopped the camels on the top of a sand dune and waited for the sun to set, it was the most amazing sunset I have ever seen, I will post pics later but I"m sure they will not be able to show the fire red skies. ALso on the trek we had a litle boy sing some sor t of HIndi song wishing us a good luck, it was quite a surreal experience ( I got it on video). Afte the sun was set we headed back to camp, basically they were clay huts with a cot inside, and also a "bathroom" (we will use this work loosely here). We, along with some other tourists, sat around a campfire, linstening to Hindi songs and dances. THe people we met were really friendly and it was a absolutely wonderful night, I had forget that there were so many stars in the sky! The next morning, they had breakfast waiting for us outside out tent and then we headed to twon. The town was charming, we wandered up to the fort again, and its an amazing view of the city from the top, we spent alot of time there walking throught the mazes and finding beauty around every corner. WE again had a delicous Itailain dinner (yes we did eat Indian food here but thats more Nates thing so I"ll let him expalin that stuff.

WE had to stop at Johdpur again on the way to Udaipur, we are not huge fans of this city, kind of mess, un organized and difficult to get around, but of course the peopel were still friendly. We saw abnother fort, this city is the blue city so although the fort was cool, the view of the city below as spectacular, we took lots of pictures to bee= seen later. After the fort we headed back to the main center of town, THe CLock Towere, but we could mind a restaurant anywhere. LUckily Nte is quite friend and outgoing and struck up a conversation with spice shope owner and he recfommended a local, non-touristy place to get soem tandoori chicken, which was amazing and it was a very local joint..
Sorry for the lenght, only one more day to go! WE left fpr Udaipur from Johdpur around 10 and the drive is a beautiful one through the mountains, the loandscape is both dry desert and also has oasises where there are farming land and small villages. Nate esscpecially enjoyed this ride alot. WE stoped at a Jain Temple that was kind of hidden in the mountains in the city of Ranakpur. It was just another amazing example of very intricate marble carvings, there were hundreds of collums in the temple each with a unique design. Everytime we see these things we are just in awe and try to imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago, mind boggling really.

And now we have arrived in Udaipur, our last stop in the norhtern state of Rajathstan. I will leave you will just a few genereal impressions that we have made in our short time here:
-People are SO friendly and (although it took us a while to figure this out) they are not all trying to scam us
-THere are cows and livestock EVERYwhere, even in big cities in the middle of a nice ceighborhood
-People here are so poor, even compared to CHina, the poverty is just so much more evident here, there are actually small little communities on street corners who huddle around fires and have no place to go
-THere are absolutely NO women out at night
-NO matter the class of a woman, her clothing and jewelery is always amazingly clean and colorful
-Finally,. my driver calls me Mary but I didn't notice until like half way through the trip which seemed to late to correct him, so I guess for this lag of the the trip, I am "MAry"

The nexy 2 days we will be in Udaipur, supposedly the Venice of India, I have high expectations and am really looking forward to wandering, no Raj today so everything is by foot. TOmorrow night we will take the night trip to Mumbai and we don't have a clear plan after that, so I will keep you updated. Can't wait to show you all our pictures!

Love you and wish that you were all here experienceing this with us =)

Posted by heidigras 23:06 Archived in India Comments (0)

Busy Busy

5 °C

Hi Everyone,

Sorry that its been so long since I wrote last, this is mainly due to nothing exciting going on over here. We've just been working and haven't taken any vacations in a long time, but that is all about to change!

Tomorrow we will be leaving for a 26 day trip to India! India is 10.5 hours ahead of you guys in Michigan. We will arrive in Delhi at noon on Wednesday. We don't have a real specific itinerary for this trip, mainly we have some destinations that we want to be sure to get to, but we will kind of play it by ear. For now, we plan to spend about 3 days in Delhi, celebrating the New Year and getting familiar with a new country and culture. We plan to visit the Taj Mahal and spend about 10 days exploring the northwest of India. After that, we will be traveling down the west coast, through Mumbai and ending our trip in the middle of the south at Bangalore on January 25. We plan to take alot of trains and buses, we hear that travel is pretty convenient both language and routes-wise, so hopefully all goes smoothly.

We know that some of you were a little concerned after the attacks in Mumbai, but we have talked to some people who live there and things seem okay now. However, we know that everyone will continue to worry so we will be updating our blog frequently during the trip, telling about our adventures and our plans so that you can all have a rough idea of where we are most of the time. We won't be doing any skype but would love to hear from you guys through email.

This is only the beginning of a busy 4 months for us. I (Heidi) will be back in the States from Feb. 13- Feb. 22. Then it will be back to Shanghai and then we will set off for our 2 month backpacking tour through SE Asia and then we will be moving back to Michigan May-ish. It sounds hectic, but we are REALLY excited about everything and can't wait to see all of you guys again soon!

Happy New Year and check back frequently in the next month, hopefully alot will be happening!

Love Nate & Heidi

Posted by heidigras 21:12 Archived in China Comments (0)

Fall Festivities

semi-overcast 24 °C

Happy Fall everyone, I hope you are all enjoying the changing of seasons, I know that we are! The weather here has remained pretty hot, in the 90s and humid. Finally on Friday the weather broke, a cool front came in and took the humidity with it, so the past few days we have been enjoying clear cool days, its been in the mid 70s. Its funny how we have acclimated to the weather over here, 75 is not cold but since we are used to such hot weather, we have been wearing our jackets and added a blanket to our bed!
We have finally settled into new jobs, Nate got a job at a local High School, teaching English to Juniors and Seniors. While teaching is not his dream job, he has really enjoyed this new environment, being able to have conversations instead of just teaching basic words. I have also taken a teaching job, just 1 day a week at a Middle School, which I am also enjoying although I must say that Middle School boys are annoying over here too! I have also been in the (very long) process of interviewing for a job at a community center in Shanghai, I am hoping this all pans out but so far the process has been a bit drawn out. If this doesn't work out, I will keep looking and will take another teaching job to keep myself busy.
For fun, we have both taken up some recreational activities. Nate is doing Kung Fu 3 or 4 mornings a week at a park near our house. His class goes from 7-9am and is taught by an elderly man, 72, who is very nimble for his age! He has been teaching Nate some staff and sword forms and Nate now has his own sword to practice with. Its a great way for him to get up and at 'em everyday, good exercise and good Chinese practice! I have joined the gym in our apartment complex and am going to yoga classes. The classes are all in Chinese (yikes!) and the people in the class are about 100x more flexible than me, but its still fun and good motivation to learn some more Chinese and work on my flexibility!
We are on Holiday right now, Golden week, and everyone has off starting Wednesday, schools are already out so we have the week off. We had a good kick off for the holidays last weekend, a few of our friends moved so we had house warming parties on Friday and Saturday, we have been kind of busy lately getting used to our new schedules and taking care of visa stuff so it was nice to have a couple nights to relax with friends we haven't seen in a while!
I'm not sure if you have seen it in the news, but China launched a spacecraft this week and did their 1st ever spacewalk. This was really big news over here! There were news specials telling us everything about the astronauts, the ship and the equipment. They even did a special on the manufacturer who made the pencils that the astronauts will be using to take notes! Yesterday the China Daily printed the astronauts schedule including when they drank water! They also began unpacking their spacewalk suits, something that will take 2 hours. But! never fear, the China Daily assures us that the astronauts "will not become exhausted and will be given time to take a rest".
"Take a rest" is probably the phrase I hear most often from Chinese people. The work culture here is really interesting. People work really long hours in China, but generally speaking, the work is not very difficult. It is quite common to see people sleeping at work and talking on MSN is also quite common. People here just think it is very important to rest frequently, whether you are working, walking, hiking, or any other daily activity, we are often encouraged to "take a rest". This can be frustrating when traveling with Chinese people, when we are on vacation we just want to go, go go, but when traveling, Chinese people often want to sit because they get tired so easily. Reading in the newspaper that even the astronauts are given a chance to rest in space was humorous, just because it is so typically Chinese!
So, for the holiday, we will be doing alot of resting. We had to turn in our passports to get new visas and no passport equals no traveling in China, so we will be spending some time sight-seeing in Shanghai and eating and drinking with friends, we are really looking forward to it!
To see some pics from our adventures this last month, check out our web album:http://http://picasaweb.google.com/heidigras
Until next time...

Nate & Heidi

Posted by heidigras 05:18 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Olympics

rain 30 °C

As I'm sure your all aware, the Olympics came to an end last night. I'm not sure if you all watched the closing ceremony but it was pretty cheesy but nice none the less. Over the past few weeks we have watched more sporting events than we have in our entire lives! We got our TV hooked up so that we wouldn't miss anything and left it on, as background, almost everyday. One thing that was really nice about Olympic coverage in China is that it is well balanced and all inclusive. There were about 5 channels on regular TV that covered the Olympics 24 hours a day, as a result we were able to watch sports that we didn't even know existed. We watched a good deal of women's handball, shooting, archery, weightlifting, field hockey, etc.. . The coverage was more balanced, they played most gold medal events even if China wasn't competing. And we wouldn't be in China if we didn't watch hours and hours of badminton and ping pong

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Michael Phelps became quite the superstar over here. They replayed his races several times everyday and CCTV had a gold medal countdown chart for him which they updated daily. People talk about him as if he is some supernatural being and I even heard some Chinese people refer to him as a "god". US basketball was also really popular. Everyone just loves Kobe over here! Everyone expected them to win and even when they played China and beat them by quite a few points, the general attitude was that China did the best they could.

It was interesting to observe the medal count here. China counted medals by the most Golds while the US counted by the most total medals. Of course, China "won" if you count by their method and the US "won" if you count using their method. We wondered if either country would have changed their counting method if the medals had been distributed differently...

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The general atmosphere around town was pretty uplifting, people were alway talking about the latest competition and TVs were on everywhere you looked. In the mall near our house, Panasonic set up a display area with several 57" flat screens. Every time an event was on there were crowds of people watching, some even getting comfortable and sitting on the floor, you could often here cheers through the mall as points were scored. Smaller shops also put TVs outside and people gathered around to watch during the day. Women's beach volleyball seemed especially popular on these TVs, groups of men gathered around, able to watch without their wives nearby ; ) There was a group of men totally entranced by a volleyball game one afternoon so Nate wandered into the group and said "So, you all really like volleyball huh?" they all looked at him with smirks on their faces.

We went to one Olympic Event. Some of the soccer was held in Shanghai and we got tickets to a Women's game. It was Brazil vs Germany, which was kind of fun because we saw those teams play each other during the world cup. Nate was cheering for Brazil and I was cheering for Germany. I left disappointed with a final score of 4-1 (see below). The energy at the stadium was really exciting, most of the crowd was Chinese and they cheered equally loud for both teams. We can now say that we have been to the Olympics!

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We are sad to see the games end, it was nice to have something to watch on TV (I haven't watched TV in a year!). It was also nice to get drinks with friends and watch a game, there is something about sporting events that creates a sense of community with everyone around you (and is also a good excuse to get together). But back to life as usual!

We have been listening to a new podcast lately that we thought some of you with iTunes would enjoy, its called "Dear Amber" by ChinesePod. Its a short, 15-20min, podcast that talks about daily life and culture in Shanghai. It is pretty accurate and often makes us laugh. Check it out if you have time.

Until Next Time...

Nate & Heidi

Posted by heidigras 05:53 Archived in China Comments (0)

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