I Finally Saw The Taj Mahal!

We were finally in Agra…the city where the Taj Mahal is located and the ultimate reason for my trip to India! The morning started off incredibly foggy so our tour guide decided we would go to the Agra Fort first and hope that the fog would clear in the afternoon.

There are monkeys all over the fort and they are not shy. I swear this monkey family sat and posed for all of the tourists hoping for a little treat. They got nothing from me except a smile and a clap and a thank you for allowing me to take their family portrait. You’re welcome monkeys!

Okay, so I will admit that I fed this guy in order to get him to pose for the picture. The first two were not very cooperative and climbed all over my body instead of eating nicely out of my hand. They are just so cute that I cannot handle it and I had to hold one!

I promise the pictures of the fort are coming but I love capturing the animals and the people I meet. The tours have quite a few people on them and as human nature would have it, there are only a few I got to know. One was Scott (pictured above) and his uncles. They turned out to be fantastic people and I spent quite a bit of time with them!

Inside the fort was full of beautiful marble. As in more marble than I think I have ever seen outside of the statue section of the Louvre! You can see the amazing marble archway that connects one room to another (and also my travel companions).
Kalindra and I had fun taking pictures in archways all over the place and this was like a changing of the guards or maharanis as I was joking. We each got our turn in the archway and graciously passed the torch to one another.

The Agra Fort is a vast fort which was the home of the Mughal Emperors and their many courtiers during Agra’s era as capital. Enjoying an important position on a bend of the Yamuna River, Emperor Akbar the Great initiated construction, building a vast sandstone fort. However, it was his grandson Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal, who added to it and embellished it using the finest marble, intricate carvings and inlaid precious stones. This architectural largesse was not entirely appreciated by his son, Aurangzabad, who thought Shah Jahan was wasting the Empire’s fortune, thus deposing his father and keeping him under house arrest in a tower within the fort – his one consolation, a view of the Taj Mahal, home to his beloved late wife.

It was time for the ultimate of ulitmates…the Taj Mahal. This has been on my list of must see places for a while for reasons I was unclear about but felt the need to see it. This is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world and is now number 5 of 7 for me that I have seen! I still need Mexico and Jordan to complete the list to see Petra and Chichen Itza.

I will just let the pictures speak for themselves!

22,000 men and more than 1,000 elephants spent 22 years constructing this monument. It is the only monument that has two people buried in it because Mughal ruler Shah Jahan wanted to be buried with his wife after he died. This is an eternal symbol of love and inspiration with intricate mosaics, precious designs and perfect architectural symmetry as if they were poetry created by hand from prized marble. No pictures are allowed inside the mausoleum.

The Taj Mahal seems to float above the banks of the Yamuna River, and blends Persian, Indian and Islamic elements in perfect symmetry.

This was such a magical day and I was incredibly happy. We had quite a bit of free time to walk around and explore and at one point I just sat and stared at the magical building!

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A Quick Trip to India starting in New Delhi

I am not usually the type to go on tours since I like to take my time places and experience things on my own. But when a 12 day tour to India comes up for about $1000, you take the trip!

I have traveled with Worldspree before when I went to China and had an idea of what I was getting into, or so I thought. We received our flights about a week prior to departure and saw that we left on December 4th and arrived into India December 6th…you read that right, two days of traveling. We started our adventure Air China and we were off!!!! LAX-PEK (12hr 50min) and PEK-DEL (7hr 30min).

After landing and clearing customs and waiting for luggage for about 2 hours for 34 people, we made it to the Westin Gurgaon for a nap and breakfast and ready to start what was already day 3!

The day started with a drive taking us from one end of Delhi to the other. I cannot even begin to describe how many cars, scooters, cows, rikshaws and other things were on the road. What should have been a 5-6 lane freeway looked like it was 15-20 lanes.


All the trucks have writing on the back of them which in one way or another say honk, or merge or something indicating how you should use your horn. I am not sure what anything else says. The horn is a way of communicating move or I’m coming around the corner or get out of the way and used A LOT on the streets. To read a little more about Indian driving laws click here.

The first stop for us was at the Gandhi Smriti which is the site where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life and where he took his last steps and final breath. To be honest, I did not really know the entire story of Gandhi including his assassination. There is a type of serenity and peacefulness about this place that is very hard to explain. The energy is quiet and you can feel the warmth that was left by Gandhi.

As we were walking around the complex there was this beautiful World Peace Gong. It seemed like no one else was around and we had this complex to ourselves. Once again, absolute peacefulness.

Next up, we went to a mosque called Jama Masjid. Anyone is allowed into the Mosque and you must remove your shoes and if you are not covered enough, they provided gowns. Cameras were not allowed inside unless you paid a fee which I totally respected. This was the first day we were in India and the ATM at the airport was out of money due to the financial crisis and we were not prepared for how difficult it would be to get money…anywhere!

Next stop, a rikshaw ride through the old city. Only two people can go in together (two of us Americans that is) and since I was traveling with her friend and her mom, I partnered up with someone else in the group who ended up having a great new friend.

I wanted to stop at nearly every store that we drove by full of saris and jewelry and wedding dresses and just beautiful things. However, we were just there for a ride to get an experience of how a lot of the locals, including school children, travel around the city.

I was hoping to capture the craziness of the ride but I didn’t seem to film long enough. However, this is an idea of how bumpy the ride was and the entire time I was hoping to just not drop my phone.

 


As we were driving we passed many markets and with all of the traffic we were stuck in, I was able to capture a little snapshot of what life is like for the daily shopping.


The very last stop after an entirely too long of a day, was a stop at India Gate. By this point, we were totally exhausted and I don’t think we fully appreciated this area. This is a war memorial to 82,000 soldiers and is now a “gate” into New Delhi. Many people come here to pay their respect and visit this place.

What you see in these pictures is a combination of smog and fog. New Delhi has a SERIOUS air pollution problem. I was happy to only be here for a day in regards to air quality.

Overall, my first ACTUAL day in India was absolutely fantastic and a great way to get into seeing a little bit of what this country was about.

London for the Millionth Time

Jumping across the pond tends to be easier to do in/out of London. There are so many flights and then all of Europe is open to explore!

It seems that every time I travel I meet about 4,000 new people that live in London. I had plans for a few nights but I wanted to spend a little time on my own to get everything ready to fly home and explore.


The beauty of having no plans is the ability to do something spontaneous. There were some last minute tickets available for Kinky Boots and so I took myself on a little date. I was able to get a half price ticket for a pretty good seat.


One of my friends from my travel family found a free alternative walking tour which had a ton of street art and graffiti. The tour guide was full of interesting and fun facts about London based on street art. I highly suggest this tour.

Located on Fournier St. by Shok 1

By artist Stik

Crane by Roa

Artist Bolt

Paste up by Pyramid

Street art can be found anywhere

Artist Citizen Kane

Artist Ben Eine

Artist Noriaki Noriaki

One of my favorite things is getting people together from around the world. I met up with some friends for dinner with people I met in Plovdiv, Bern, and Rome and introduced them all to each other because they all now live in London. It was an awesome way to end 46 days of traveling!

Read about my other trips to London here and here and here and here and here and here.

Going Through Berlin Like a Local

I really have been repeating destinations on this European tour but every time I travel I meet more people and just want to visit them. This time a friend from West Hollywood moved to Berlin and there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see him! You can see what I did in Berlin last time here and here.

Obviously my love for street art will never go away. Since my friend moved to Berlin he has not seen a single touristy thing in Berlin. I thought we had to at least see the East Side Gallery because I love it!


We basically spent the weekend eating at the restaurant he works at and hanging at his house and going to different bars. It was really nice to not be a tourist most of the time and just hang with a friend.

The dog was probably one of my favorite parts of the visit. He was incredibly cuddly and made me feel like I was home!

Prague for a Second Time

Prague by day and Prague by night are two totally different experiences. Last time I didn’t adventure at night as much as I did this time and I am so glad that I did! After midnight either everyone was at the club or asleep so the normally very crowded tourist areas were pretty empty. I am glad I chose walking around over heading to the club!

The Powder Tower

Prague Castle


Even though I went to the Lennon Wall last time, I had to again because graffiti is always changing and will never look the same even a day after you visit. I love it!

The weather got pretty cold super fast and I was not prepared. I found the jacket pictured above in this amazing thrift store where everything is 49 Koruna ($1.98)! I could not believe it and was incredibly happy with my purchase.

I spent my other evening in Prague adventuring around the Signal Festival which you can read about here.

Signal Festival Prague

I love traveling to cities having no idea that a festival or event is even happening. I went to Prague a few years ago (read about it here here and here) and loved it and wanted to go again to cut the traveling time of my trip from Vienna to Berlin. Signal Festival or Festival of Lights happened to start the night before I was leaving and I totally geeked out and went to as many installations as I could in a few hours! There were pretty long lines for each installation so I could only make it to five but obviously I took enough pictures of each one to make up for it.

Brocken 5.1.

The installation Brocken 5.1 is based on a phenomenon called the Brocken Spectre or mountain spectre. This phenomenon appears high in the mountains when a climber stands with his back to the sun and gazes from the ridge into the mist, creating a gigantic shadow of the observer that is surrounded by a rainbow. In this installation the viewer enters an interactive object intersected by 60,000 holes that create the illusion of a flight through a starry sky. Brocken 5.1 also makes reference to the topic of absolute darkness, that is, a commodity that is altogether insufficient in large cities.

Brocken 5.1 was first presented as part of the DEPO2015 project in Plzen and subsequently at the BLIK BLIK 2016 festival. In both cases the installation gained great popularity with viewers. This interactive object is also influenced by daylight, and the installation can therefore be visited and tried out before night falls.

The Japanese artist Yasuhiro Chida originally studied architecture at Musashino Art University. His interests include specific topics such as spatial awareness or change of somatic perception. Part of his creative process involves nature, where he spends much of his time, and which he incorporates into his work. He allows various forces of nature to act upon his installations, such as the movement of the sun across the sky throughout the day.

Voice of Figures

This videomapping by Radugadesign transforms the façade of the Kinský Palace into vivid color. And yet there is more to this performance, which at first glance seems like a cheerful play of basic abstract shapes and saturated colors, than meets the eye. Radugadesign has taken the large volumes of data known in the world of computer technology as “big data” and converted them into a soundtrack. The initial confusion and cacophony of shapes represents the unorganized data the creators of the videomapping have used as their medium, which ultimately come together through the facade of the Kinský Palace into shapes that form a harmonic melody.Thus the patterns and sounds created through this technically challenging process serve as the end product of a range of figures and formulas.

Since its founding in 2007, the Russian media and design studio Radugadesign has managed to carry out an unbelievable 350 projects. As a result, the studio has established a leading position in Russia in the field of entertainment technologies and interactive installations, achieving renown beyond their homeland as well. Radugadesign has been featured, for example, in France, Belgium, Korea, and even at the North Pole. The wide range of their activities includes everything from audiovisual shows to interactive installations, using combinations of their primary specialties – space, technology, and design. They collaborate frequently with a range of experts across creative fields including architects, designers, artists, musicians, and even programmers. The collective efforts of these individuals have created projects that for almost ten years have resonated with audiences throughout the world.


Rezonátor

Rezonátor combines elements of technology with a philosophical subtext, all derived from scientific understanding. As expressed by its title, it consists of a model of a resonator – that is, a fundamental component of the mechanism of a laser module. And yet the artist doesn’t stop at the technical aspects of this device, but also presents the resonator as a metaphor for human existence. In his view, each human being figuratively functions as a sort of sociocultural resonator. During our lives we perceive all possible external influences of society in the same manner as this device. In response to feedback and reactions within us we give forth our own “memetic light,” reacting most frequently in the form of spoken expression.

Czech visual artist Jan Hladil studied graphic design and subsequently supermedia at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague. During his studies he worked intensively on mastering the entire process of creating video in all of its forms. For several years he has worked as a VJ and has worked on videoinstallations and created content for the audiovisual label Lunchmeat. He has also collaborated, for example, with Laterna Magika on the New Scene at the National Theatre. In his freestyle work he focuses on interpretations of social, cultural, and yet physical processes, converting their specific visual manifestations into an artistic form of understanding. He has presented his audiovisual works at the National Gallery, the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, the Gallery of the Capital City of Prague, the Chemistry Gallery, and the Zdeněk Sklenář Gallery.



Fantastic Planet

Five otherworldly beings have occupied the planet SIGNAL this year. These giant figures
created by Amanda Parer seem to have just landed on earth, and now explore their
surroundings with silent interest and awe. They curiously touch the ground, timidly observe the activity around them from behind a corner, or roll delightedly across the soft grass. At first glance they appear fearsome, but their viewers soon recognize them for the kindhearted visitors they are.

This monumental installation is inspired by the 1973 Czech/French animated film of the
same name (known in Czech as Divoká planeta). It represents an incomprehensibly remote future in which our planet is settled by giant futuristic beings, where humans are merely wild aborigines no more sophisticated than creatures of the forest.

The work of Australian artist Amanda Parer explores the world of nature in all its vulnerability, as well as the role of humanity within it. In all her works, whether paintings, sculpture, or installations in public spaces, the main role is played by all manner of unconventional beings and wild animals. Enthusiastic audiences the world over have encountered the installations of Amanda Parer at festivals from Sydney to Sweden. While she has already been introduced to neighboring Slovakia through the White Night festival, her work will be presented to the Czech Republic for the first time as part of her Fantastic Planet installation. The SIGNAL Festival therefore serves as the European premiere of this completely new installation.


Monolith powered by Mercedes-Benz

The Monolith installation gives homage to the quiet and the noise of the city at night. This light object absorbs all surrounding light sources and transforms them into an engaging digital show. Through alternating landscapes and environments, the installation evokes the impression of a dynamic ride in Mercedes-Benz brand automobiles, providing its viewers with an original experience of night in the city full of light, energy, and elegance. An integral part of the installation is a hypnotic sound that was created specifically for the Monolith by world famous composer from Bosnia Billain.

This installation is composed of 3,328 LED bulbs. Each of them is an independent point of composition, capable of displaying the entire color spectrum. This technology ranks among the newest trends and is now appearing at SIGNAL for the first time ever.

Hyperbinary is the latest project by Amar Mulabegović, Jan Šíma, and Martin Pošta. This international studio for Experiential Design is devoted to the development and production of light installations and videomappings, as well as concept development and visual presentation for large-scale cultural events.

*All descriptions of the installations are directly from the Signal Festival website

 

Budapest Round Two

Last time I was in Budapest was a few years ago and I was sick and didn’t really get to experience much. The ticket from Milan to Budapest was only about $11 so I figured why not give it another shot and see what the city really has to offer.

Every airport is different and unique and some are pretty awful. Milan had a wonderful airport with delicious food. A glass of vino and a delicious baguette and I was one happy camper and ready for my flight!

Much like when I stopped at the Four Seasons in Paris, I took myself on a little tour of the Four Seasons Budapest. The brand is known for their flower arrangements in the lobby and while this one was not as grandiose as Paris, I found the simplicity to be quite lovely.

Budapest is full of amazing architecture and history. The Bookcafe is no exception to this. Hidden inside an actual bookstore, the cafe is full of incredible details and a ton of gold. It just so happens that this can be found on the way to one of the thermal baths as well and makes for a perfect stop prior to a day of lounging.



Budapest sites over multiple natural thermal springs. The bathhouses are a common activity for locals and a tradition that has spanned ages. I chose to go to one of the more touristy ones since it had a gorgeous outdoor warm pool. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to be here. Some of the bath houses have different days for men and women but this one is always open to all. The pools range from ice cold to about hot tub level and the entrance allows you to stay all day! This really was a great experience and a must see in Budapest.


I often forget to take pictures and show or explain what hostel life is like. The hostel in Budapest was very cozy and small which is exactly what I was looking for. Hostels are where you can meet new people and create memories with total strangers without thinking about cultural differences or age. The picture above had people age 21-32 and from Israel, Brazil, Sweden and the states. The one thing that bonded us together was our love for travel!

Milan

For some reason Milan has never really been a place I wanted to go but it was on the way from Lugano to Budapest so I thought a quick stop here would be helpful in not moving around a lot.


The main site in Milan aside from the fashion and shopping is the Cathedral. When you come out of the metro the cathedral just looms up in front of you. By this point of the trip I have seen my fair share of cathedrals so I opted out of entering this one. However, it is a beautiful site.


I like to find some of the random focal points of a city and the finger statue did not let me down. This statue was dressed with a ribbon for breast cancer but stands in front of the stock exchange as a big FU from the people to the Italian Stock Exchange. Personally I thought this was pretty funny and entertaining.

One of the amazing aspects of social media is the ability to stay connected with people and make plans. I found out my friend Sarah would be in Milan for 3o minutes for a train switch and so we met up for a quick hello and a hug. Traveling really does show you how small the world can be.


The main tourist area of Milan is pretty clean but once you get out into some alleys, there are some grimey sections and of course some street art. I thought this little guy was pretty cool.

I am glad I went to Milan but it is not a spot I would add as a must see when there are so many other beautiful places in Italy.

Lugano

Not a lot of people have heard of Lugano, Switzerland. It is the Swiss side to the very popular Lake Como and from what I have been told, just as beautiful. My friend that I was in Paris with is currently working and living here so I thought a visit for a few days would be great!

There is a small airport in Lugano but it is much cheaper to fly into Milan and take about an hour mini bus for €25.00. Once there we jumped on a mini tram and showed up to the house.

I spent two days relaxing and doing laundry and hanging out with my friend and the little guy you see pictured below. Switzerland is very expensive (think $30 for a hamburger) so two days was enough for me and it was time to move on to Milan!



Porto

Porto was always on my list of the must visit places in Portugal. Before looking at a map I actually thought Porto was where Lisbon is and visa versa for no particular reason except I had never looked closely at a map of Portugal. This just goes to show you how much I actually know about geography. The city is incredibly hilly and you better be prepared to walk a lot to get anywhere but so worth it!


The Douro River flows along the coast of the city and eventually leads to the beach. There are these lovely little boat tours that tell you all about the history of the 6 bridges in Porto which they are very proud of. I was a little more focused on the view rather than listening to the history. It is a great way to see the city from a birds eye view.

I spent most of my time walking around and just exploring the city including an entire day of port tasting which you can read about here.

Porto is an absolutely gorgeous town with spectacular and an amazing history. Sadly, this was the end of my time in Portugal but I fully intend to come back for a longer visit.