Sunday, March 25, 2012

As promised

My dad's Thailand pictures:

Thanks, as always, for letting me steal them, Dad :-)

Friday, January 20, 2012

So you think your travel day was bad?

A day and a half late and after nearly three days of traveling, I am relieved to report that I made it safely to Normandy. I'm going to try to keep this from getting too long, but no promises. Here's the story:

Jan 17 - In the midst of a rumored strike in Kathmandu, I was informed by my parents' travel agent that my flight for the next morning had been canceled and I would have to get rebooked on a later flight. Since I would miss my connecting flight, that meant spending an extra night in Delhi before going on to Paris. Not seeing another option that wasn't an insanely tight connection in a foggy part of the world, we all scrambled to sort that out.

Jan 18 - Out of curiosity, I checked online just before leaving for the airport and discovered that, according to the internet at least, my original morning flight actually went after all. So that means that all the subsequent headaches could have been avoided. But that's neither here nor there. I got to Delhi without any problems, only to discover: 1) The airline had absolutely no intention of providing me with the complementary hotel room the travel agent had promised, and of course I had been unable to get any kind of documentation from her in time; 2) Even if I could locate an affordable hotel on my own at night in Delhi (clearly not advisable), the Delhi immigration officials are notoriously strict and I most likely would have issues trying to get out of the airport for the night and back in again; and 3) Apparently my flight booking and my ticket number were for different airlines, which created a world of problems, as you might expect. After much back and forth, I finally managed to get the airline to give me a boarding pass, begged them to make sure my bag made it on the correct flight, and seeing no other intelligent option, settled in for a 20-hour wait at the Delhi airport. I won't go into details on that, but you can imagine how fun that was...

Jan 19 - Thankfully, my flight to Paris was more or less on time, but it took forever to get our bags, and of course mine was literally the last bag off (I was completely convinced it was lost forever by that point). By the time I got my bag, I knew I wasn't going to make my inter-city train to Normandy I had hoped to take, so I spent the next hour or so trying to navigate the French public transportation system (in French, naturally), at a run, carrying all my stuff, in hope I would still be able to catch the second last train of the evening. I got to the inter-city station just in time, sweet-talked the closed ticket office into selling me a ticket so I wouldn't have to run all over the station trying to find the right machine to do it, found my train, grabbed a seat, and collapsed in relief. Unfortunately that relief was short-lived. 5-10 minutes later, a guy came and informed me that, oh no, even though this train says it's going to your destination, it's actually shutting down for the night. Apparently, there was a different train I was supposed to be on. I ran out to the platform, only to discover that the correct train rolled out 3 minutes before and there were no more trains until morning.

There were a few hotels nearby, so I went in and asked the price, and almost fell over when I heard the answer - 190 Euros for a single room for a night. And yes, that was the going rate for this area. Lucky for me, the guy at the front desk spoke English and took pity on me, so he told me how to get to an area with cheaper hotels using the city metro. After successfully finding an open shop that sold SIM cards, buying the SIM card, getting it to work in my Gambian phone, and talking to Jacob (who was waiting for me at the train station in Normandy), I set out to find a more reasonably priced hotel. Sidenote - I am so grateful I have to have a husband who is so level-headed, has complete faith in my ability to take care of myself, and doesn't panic about stuff like this. He always makes me feel better :-) Anyways, after a short metro ride and some searching, I located a hotel with a room available (for 47 Euros) and called it a night.

Jan 20 - After a decent night's sleep and a much-needed but very cold shower, I headed back to the inter-city train station as soon as the metro trains started running in the morning. I got there with 10 minutes to spare, caught the first train to Normandy, met up with Jacob, and then everything was happily ever after. Or something like that :-) The end.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An education in Aussie and British English

So, as you know if you've been following my posts about my India/Nepal trip, I've spent the past two weeks with a very international group of people which included quite a few British and Australian people. I quickly realized that while all they were pretty familiar with American English from tv/movies/etc, I was light years behind on their lingo. Of course they said things like "loo," "dodgy" and "mate" that most Americans recognize and understand, but they also used other words that were completely new to me. This isn't a comprehensive list by any means, but here are a few examples for all your entertainment:

1) Woolies (winter clothes)
2) Jumper (sweater that doesn't open in the front)
3) Mozzies (mosquitoes)
4) Lappy (laptop)
5) Peckish (hungry)
6) Bathers (bathing suits)
7) Taking the piss (making a joke)
8) Gutted (disappointed)
9) Capsicum (bell pepper)
10) Bobble (pom pom, like one on a winter hat)

India/Nepal Trip - Part 5

Jan 15 - Sticking with a common theme of the trip, we were up before dawn to drive to the top of a nearby hill to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna mountains. The sunrise was so gorgeous it almost made us forget that we were losing feeling in our fingers and toes from the cold :-) Unfortunately, the super low light was really beyond what my little point-and-shoot camera could handle, but I should be able to steal pics from people who had better cameras later. I promise I'll get pics from the trip up as soon as possible and post the link here. After defrosting a bit, we all got back in the bus to drive to our final stop on the trip - Kathmandu. Upon arriving in Kathmandu, we visited the Monkey Temple (which was pretty touristy and not particularly exciting), then we went to the hotel to enjoy much needed hot showers before our farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Jan 16 - Our group started splitting up today :-( Some people are heading directly home to the places like the US, Australia, and Europe, while others are continuing traveling in Asia. It's been a great trip and our group got along really well, so it's sad to part ways. Never fear though - we made sure to all become Facebook friends, so we'll be able to stay in touch that way at least.

I opted out of this pricey optional activity, but some people who didn't have early flights tried to do an Everest flight this morning (contrary to my expectations, you cannot see Mt. Everest or any big mountains from Kathmandu). Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate, so their flight never ended up taking off. They got fully refunded, but it was still quite a disappointment for them. Those of us still around later in the day wandered around and did a bit more shopping. We went out for one last dinner with our rapidly dwindling group at an awesome funky middle eastern restaurant that we stumbled on. What a great way to end an amazing two weeks!

Jan 17 - Last night we started hearing rumors about a strike today. Strikes are almost as common as power cuts here and can seriously disrupt people's ability to move around the city, so everyone with a flight anytime today headed to the airport before dawn to be on the safe side. The four of us remaining discovered relatively quickly that the strike wasn't really happening after all, so we did some more exploring and just hung and relaxed until it was time for me to catch a cab to go meet an old friend from CARE who works at the US Embassy here now. He is also a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (he served in Cape Verde), so we had a nice evening reminiscing about our Peace Corps experiences and talking about Foreign Service. I also successfully made Chicken Yassa (one of my favorite Gambian dishes) in a western kitchen for the second time. I'm practically a pro now!

Jan 18 - My morning flight was rescheduled for mid-afternoon, so I got to spend the morning hanging out in my friend's comfy Embassy apartment catching up on email and enjoying amenities like heat and hot water. I'll head to the airport in an hour or so, and if all goes as planned, I will spend the night in Delhi (blegh), then join my wonderful husband in Normandy tomorrow evening :-)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

India/Nepal Trip - Part 4

Jan 12 - Yet another early morning today because we got up early to ride elephants in the park. While riding elephants can be exceedingly uncomfortable (as I discovered in Thailand), it was a very cool experience, especially because we got to see a mother rhino with her baby only a few feet away. Chitwan is known for its rhinos, but obviously we were not guaranteed to see any, so we were lucky. After the ride, we went back to the hotel and relaxed for a few hours (read: slept) before walking into town to explore the small town on foot. After exhausting the town, we rented bikes and biked out to some nearby communities, which allowed us to see a little more of what daily life is like here. We finished up the day with a bonfire again to keep warm.

Jan 13 - Slept in a bit then drove to Pokhara today. The drive was rather scary because we kept seeing overloaded trunks that had either tipped on a curve or gone off cliffs. That said, it was one of the most stunningly beautiful drives I've ever done. After settling into our hotel in Pokhara (which is again lacking in the heat department), we spent the remainder of the afternoon/evening exploring the town and trying to stay warm. It's a very nice town - clean, organized and full of cafes and cute shops. It's probably a bit touristy during tourist season, but we're still at least a few weeks ahead of that, so it's really quite nice.

Jan 14 - Got to sleep in for the second day in a row, then did some shopping and catching up on internet stuff then got ready for paragliding (an adventure sport that involves riding the air currents like a bird while being held up in the air by a parachute). I'm not exactly sure how I got talked into it, but I, along with most of the rest of our group, ended up running off a cliff and paragliding over the lake for half an hour with the Annapurna mountains in the background. It was nearly as scary as I expected and basically was just incredibly awesome. I loved it! Tomorrow we're back to getting up early to see the sunrise over the Annapurnas before driving to Kathmandu. I can't believe the trip is almost finished. What an amazing couple of weeks!

India/Nepal Trip - Part 3

Jan 10 - We got a very early start today to give us the whole day to get across the border into Nepal. Luckily the trip and border crossing went smoothly and we made it to our hotel by early evening. This was our nicest hotel yet, so we all enjoyed the hot showers and comfy beds. For the second night in a row, we ended the evening playing games at the hotel restaurant. Our group is a really good mix of people and we get along really well. It's amazing how well we've all gotten to know each other in such a short time.

Jan 11 - We got to sleep in a bit today before visiting Buddha's birthplace, which I particularly appreciated because of all I learned about Buddhism during my time in Thailand. After the visit, we drove to Chitwan National Park. The road was very hilly, windy, and foggy, but our driver navigated it expertly. We stopped for chai in a hilltop village along the way at one of the most beautiful spots we've seen yet. Our hotel in Chitwan is a combination lodge/development project, and despite the lack of hot water and heaters in the rooms, it's a nice spot in the buffer zone around the park. After a nice dinner, we had a fun night chatting and drinking beer around a campfire with another GAP trip which is also staying here.

We all are very happy to finally be in Nepal after the crowds, constant noise, pollution and general sensory overload of India. Despite the pollution cough I picked up, I very much enjoyed my time in India and would recommend it to anyone. That said, after a week in India, the fresh air and peace and quiet of Nepal is a very welcome change.

More to come later!