Friday, June 22, 2007

What a week...

It has been quite a week around here. First of all, my Dad is probably not going to be able to join mom and my cousin, Kristen on their trip over here this Saturday. Dad is one of the million people waiting on their passports to be processed. He applied in plenty of time for this trip; however, he still has not received his passport. I am so upset and mad about this I could just scream...but there is absolutely nothing I can do. AHHH...

Anyway, then there is Maxie. I noticed last Saturday that she was holding up her back paw when she walked. I am not sure exactly what happened but I knew something was not right. I took her to the vet on Monday to have it checked out. The vet gave her antibiotics, a medicine to soak her foot in every night, an ointment to apply on it, and a shot for pain and inflammation. After we left the vet, Maxie vomited all over me in the car. She has never gotten car-sick. I got her home and she got sick again. I called the vet and told her what was going on. She said that if she vomited another time to call her back. Well, she vomited 2 more times. So I had to take her back to the vet for a second visit.

The vet gave her a medicine to stop the vomiting and she was fine after least the vomiting was over! Now on to her paw....

All week we have been soaking it, applying the ointment and taking the antibiotic. I took her back to the vet today for a follow-up visit. Her paw had gotten worse and now she has to have surgery tomorrow morning. AHHHH...... The vet thinks there is something in her paw that needs to come out so she has to cut it open and see. It seems like it is going to be a simple little surgery...and I am sure it will be. But as you know...I am a bit nervous about them having to put her to sleep to do the surgery!

I have to travel to Amsterdam to pick up mom, Kristen...and maybe Daddy (I am not giving up yet) so I am hoping Maxie is up for the 2 hour drive! We are also taking the train to Paris on Tuesday and had planned on taking we will see how this works out!

It should be another interesting week next week! At least I am on vacation!!!!!!! YAHOO!

I also have to get my hair cut and 'enhanced' tomorrow by someone who I am sure does not speak any English! With the track record I have had this week....I am a bit worried how this is going to turn out for me!!!

Say a little prayer for Maxie and my Daddy...oh and also, my haircut!!!!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Indian Cuisine

We had an awesome opportunity to have dinner at a traditional Indian restaurant while in New Delhi, India. The restaurant is named "Bukhara" and is located inside a business-class hotel in a heavily manicured section of Delhi. This restaurant has been judged as the 36th best among the first top 50 tables in the world. No other restaurant in the whole of South Asia or Far East has been included in the list drawn up by "an international panel of 300 restaurateurs, chefs, critics and journalists" assembled by the Restaurant magazine. Isn't that cool??!! When US Presidents or other famous people come to India they stay at this hotel and eat at this restaurant!

The atmosphere was very informal yet very nice. You are served amid stone walls, rough-hewn dark-wood beams, copper urns, and blood-red rugs. Once seated we were instructed to put on what we would call an apron, but to them it was your napkin! Check us out...

I have been known to be a little picky in my choice of cuisine....but the food here was so incredibly delicious!! We ordered 3 different types of of which was chicken for me! The menu was heavy on meats, marinated and grilled in a tandoor (clay oven). The murgh malai kebab (boneless chicken marinated with cream cheese, malt vinegar and green coriander) was unforgettable (my favorite!). There was also tender sikandari raan (leg of lamb marinated in herbs). I cannot remember what the other kabob was...sorry!

We also had Bukhara's dal (black lentils simmered overnight with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic) is so famous it's now sold in cans. It tasted a bit like chili to me.

I was surprised to see that you are not served with utensils. You have to eat with your fingers! It was hilarious! They give you a lot of bread to soak up some of the juicer items (like the lentils). It was hard to get use to. Then after dinner they brought you a bowl of hot water with lemon to wash your hands in! What an experience!

For dessert we have "kulfi" which is basically an ice cream that tasted like frozen condensed milk to me. It was not my favorite mainly because it was too rich! However, the meal was wonderful and a memorable experience! If you are ever in must go here, just get someone else to pay!!!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!!

Happy Father's Day Daddy!!! I love and miss you!!!!!!

I'm Back!!

I made it back to Brussels on Friday and I am incredibly excited to be here!! India was really not as bad as I thought it would be; however, the last week was a struggle. Being there for 1 week was fine, but the second week was tough! I do not think my stomach could take too much more!

I have a few more stories I want to share, but I am too tired to post them today. More tomorrow!

Have a good Sunday!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Marble in Agra, India

After we left the Taj Mahal we went to an incredible marble shop. There is not any industry in Agra only craftsmen. The citizens of Agra make their living my hand making goods…one being items made out of gorgeous marble from Rajasthan (the same marble that Taj Mahal is made of). We had the opportunity to tour an excellent workshop where they were making marble tabletops, vases, jewelry, etc.

I was so impressed with the work these guys were doing. You start out with a piece of marble which is cut to the size needed to make whatever you want. Since the marble is white, a coat of pinkish type paint is applied over the marble. This is done so that the guy carving the designs can see what he is doing.

Then, there are other guys making cuts of precious gems in the design to fit what the other guy is carving out of the marble.

Once this process is completed, the gemstones are inlaid into the marble into the design carved. It is so impressive. It takes 2 months to complete a table top the size of an end table you would have in your living room. The gemstones are imported from various parts of the world…Chile, Africa, etc.

I was so impressed with the work these guys were doing that I decided to purchase a table. I cannot believe that I spent as much money as I did on this table…but I have no regrets and no buyer’s remorse. How many people can say they have a table from India, inlaid with precious gemstones which took over 2 months to create, and is made from the same marble the Taj Mahal is made out of??? I thought I needed to treat myself!

I forgot to take a picture of the exact table top I bought before they packaged it up for me but the one below is similar to the one I purchased. I guess you will have to come to Brussels to see my little conversation piece!!!

Below is a picture of the owner of the marble shop!

Taj Mahal - Part 2

After a week of fun in Mumbai, we headed to New Delhi, India on Friday. We flew KingFisher airlines and it was an incredible experience. If you ever have the change to fly KingFisher, I highly recommend it. Even in coach, you are treated like royalty and you even get your Northwest miles! Can’t beat that!

When we arrived in Delhi it was like a sauna when we stepped outside the airport. North India was experiencing an extreme heat (great timing for us). We arrived after 6PM and it was miserable outside. We knew at that point that Saturday was going to be terrible when we went to the Taj Mahal!

The next day (Saturday) we got up early and met our driver who was taking us on the 3 hour drive to Agra, India where the Taj Mahal is located. The drive is really terrible, but if you are 3 hours away from the Taj Mahal…you have to suck it up and deal with it, which is what we did. Along the way we experienced some of the worst poverty I have ever seen. I really cannot describe it for you to get a clear picture of just how bad it is here. Really sad to see kids playing in trash and looking for food, homes made of plastic tarps and metal sheets falling in, dogs digging in trash for food, etc.

When we arrived into Agra we stopped and picked up a tour guide who was going to take us through the Taj Mahal. We then drove to another location, got into a small bus to another location, then got into a rickshaw (more about those later) which took us to another part of Agra where we were able to walk the rest of the way to the gates of the Taj Mahal. Whew, it was a trip just getting there!

Once we finally made it to the gates and walked in….wow! It was exactly like the pictures I grew up seeing, but much more impressive in person. Before going on, I have to say the heat was over-powering. It was over 115 degrees and was the hottest day India has had in over 20+ years. I am not kidding when I thought I was going to be sick and have a heat stroke. Over 100 people died in Delhi that weekend due to the heat.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and sits on the right bank of the Yamuna River. The Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who was his second wife. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648. Some dispute surrounds the question of who designed the Taj Mahal; it is clear a team of designers and craftsmen were responsible for the design, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri considered the most likely candidate as the principal designer.

The Taj Mahal (also called "the Taj") is generally considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures.

Jahan was grief-stricken when Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their 14th child (yes, I said 14). Construction began soon after Mahal’s death.

Mumtaz’s tomb is placed at the precise center of the inner chamber. Both base and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious gem. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz. On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest a writing tablet. Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration on graves, so the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are laid in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber of the Taj.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from Rajastham, the jasper from Punjab and the jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Before we could walk into the Taj Mahal we have to either take off our shoes or put on shoe covers out of respect to their religion. The inside was smaller than I imagined. The marble work and detail was very impressive and quite beautiful. As we walked around I could not believe I was standing and looking at the Taj Mahal…I never thought I would see this incredible site.

As I mentioned before, the heat was unbearable. It really took away from being able to really absorb what you were seeing because the soles of your shoes were melting. I have never in my life been in heat this intense. It was so bad you had trouble breathing. The pollution was extremely high on Saturday which did not make it any better. I could not stand in one place for a few seconds without feeling very nauseous.

When we walked out of the gates of the Taj, there was a TV crew standing outside. They walked up to me and wanted to interview me about my experience inside the Taj and if I was going to vote for it on the new Seven Wonders of the World list. It was really bizarre to have someone shove a microphone in your face…especially when I was dripping sweat and about to throw up! HA! I am sure I looked really cute on Indian TV!

Finally when we could not take it any more, we left…hopped into a bus and made our way back to the car.

Who would have thought a little girl from Mississippi would travel all the way to India and see the Taj Mahal? I am truly blessed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Taj Mahal in Agra, India - Part 1

Things have been wild around here this week in Mumbai so I have not had a chance to update my blog. There is so much to tell about our weekend in New Delhi and Agra, India. The best part was our visit to the Taj Mahal although it was the HOTTEST day on record in India in the past 20+ years. It was between 115-120 degrees and humid and the pollution was high. I have never felt such heat where the soles of your shoes were melting! Since I am not able to post the stories now...I will at least post a couple of pictures to help hold you over until I am able to complete my stories and send them along!!!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Gateway of India

I have to be honest and say Mumbai is really not that bad. It has a lot to do with us not really having the chance to get out and do very much but work and go back to the hotel. However, Thursday night Benjamin and I took Glenn, my Director, out to dinner. We decided to go to downtown Mumbai and see the Gateway of India and go to a restaurant the hotel recommended.

Before I tell you about the trip downtown, here is a little history of Mumbai taken from my travel book: When British Governor Gerald Aungier set up camp on Bombay island in 1672, he probably had no idea what he was about to create. Fast forward 200 years and Bombay (now Mumbai) is India's "Maximum City", bold, brash, fast and frenetic, always faddish, fashion-obsessed and undeniably animated in all aspects of its life. Three centuries of development have transformed 7 scrubby islands into a mighty metropolis of towering apartment blocks, colonial mansions, seafront promenades and air-conditioned shopping malls.

Mumbai is where Indian fantasies of wealth and glamour engage in a bizarre dance with poverty and slums, and where economic boom flirts with social collapse. More than 60% of Mumbaikers live in shanty-towns, yet the city also boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

In my opinion, the description above over-glamorizes Mumbai; however, since we are staying outside the city and can't go into downtown without it taking an hour and a half, I have not seen any of the 'nice' areas of town. But even on our drive to downtown, we did not see any of the 'nicer' neighborhoods or at least what the above description indicates...but apparently they are somewhere around here. Aren't there suppose to be princes and princesses in India???

As I mentioned before, driving here is just not an we, of course, hired a driver from the hotel to take us downtown. The drive itself is part of the adventure. The streets are completely out of control. Imagine the worst traffic and the craziest drivers you have ever encountered and multiply that by 1000 (I am not over-exaggerating). In the area where our hotel is located there are basically no traffic laws, no lanes to drive in, and no control whatsoever. You literally just jump into the chaos and go. You could not drive in Mumbai without a horn to honk! I am going to get more street pictures next week to be able to post and try to show you what I am talking about.

Also contributing to the street traffic is the amount of pedestrians on the street. People live on the sidewalks in makeshift tents and huts thus making it difficult to walk. People walk, ride bikes, etc along with the cars on the streets. Unbelievable!

Anyway, it took us 1.5 hours to get to downtown and the Gateway of India, which meant it was getting dark outside. Downtown Mumbai is a coastal city and surrounded by the Arabian Sea. Driving along Harbor Drive we saw beautiful sandy beaches and a lot of people hanging out on the beaches. I need to research and see if people actually swim the water...I have no idea and did not see anyone in the water.

We finally made it to the Gateway of India, Mumbai's most famous landmark, which was built for a one-off visit by King George V in 1924. The arch was intended as a monument to the enduring nature of the British Empire, but just 24 years later the last British soldiers marched through the gateway to waiting boats as India stepped forward to Independence. Architecturally the Gateway is a classic triumphal arch, but the style and decoration borrows heavily from the 16th century Gujarati architecture.

I was a bit upset India did not build a monument to welcome us to this country! What is up with that??

The Gateway of India

The area by the Gateway was extremely crowded with tourists and locals trying to sell you things. The funniest part of our visit to the Gateway of India was this little girl trying to sell magnets to Benjamin. She approached him as soon as we got out of the car and simply would not take 'no' for an answer. He tried and tried to ignore her, but she just kept on nagging him and walking with us. Glenn and I didn't seem to have much trouble telling people 'no' so they would go away. This little girl was hilarious! She was probably 9-10 years old. As I was trying to take a picture of Glenn and Benjamin in from of the Gateway, the little girl looked up at Benjamin and said "I pose too". It was so hilarious! Check out Benjamin's adopted daughter and other pictures from the Gateway of India! By the way, Benjamin did not come home with any magnets!!!

Glenn and Benjamin with his adopted Indian daughter!

Tippa and Benjamin with his adopted Indian daughter!

Due to the overcrowding and the time of day, the pictures taken at the Gateway of India did not turn out all that well.

After we left the Gateway of India, we headed over to a restaurant named Indigo. We sat down and the waitress presented us with our menus. Please note...."Robert Moulder and Friends" printed on our menus! We certainly felt welcomed here!!!

Meet Robert (Benjamin) Moulder and Friends:

The meal was incredible and probably one of the best I have ever had and everyone agreed. I had sea bass, Benjamin had steak, and Glenn had chicken! YUM! I also had mango with ice-cream for dessert and Benjamin had a peach tart (I think). It was incredible! We will definitely try to get back to this place next week! It was certainly worth the 1.5 hours drive to and from the hotel!!

Catching Up

Hey everyone! Things have been crazy this past week so I have not had a chance to post any updates. We are currently in New Delhi. I will post stories and pictures from Mumbai and Delhi soon!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mumbai, India (Day 1)

After work on Monday Benjamin and I headed to a 'must see' on my list....the Hard Rock Cafe! We were talking about the thrill of going to a Hard Rock Cafe no matter where you travel, especially internationally. I cannot remember really why I started collecting the shot glasses and t-shirts, but I did, and now it is a must find place no matter where I go! The t-shirts did get made into a really cool it made saving them all worthwhile!

We hired a car to drive us to the Hard Rock and anywhere else we wanted to go. I quickly noticed Mumbai is not a place where you want to drive. It is complete chaos. Seriously, out of control. They drive on the opposite side of the road and car than in the that is weird for me, but it says nothing about the amount of cars, people, animals, and babies on the streets of Mumbai. Just driving around last night I was amazed in the amount of people here. The population of Mumbai (including suburbs) is over 25 million people...that's a lot of people! In my opinion, they do not have the civil infrastructure to handle that many people on the roads or sidewalks...thus resulting in massive congestion. The metro population ranking is projected to rise to 4th in the world by 2015 due to an annual growth rate of 2.2%. Yikes!!

Anyway, we got to the Hard Rock in about 30 minutes...but it took us over 1.5 hours to get back to the hotel due to traffic. Here are a couple of pics!

Someone asked me about my first impressions of India...well, here they are (and they are not good):

  • Mass Chaos - There are no lanes or any organization when it comes to driving. There are typical cars, taxis, rickshaws, motorcycles, and bicycles everywhere. I cannot believe there aren't any more accidents and/or deaths (or at least I have not heard of any).

  • Overcrowded - The sidewalks are either non-existent, torn up, or have people living there in tents which does not allow for much walking space...thus people take their lives in their hands and walk in the streets....unbelievable.

  • Incredible poverty - I had heard you were either very rich or very poor here and I have witnessed that. There are shacks built up on the streets and sidewalks and little kids being bathed out of a bucket on the side of the street. It really makes me very sad and extremely appreciative of all I have.

  • HOT - It is very hot and humid and the monsoon is getting ready to come within the next couple of weeks....get me outta here!!!

Being here has not been terrible. I feel safe, the hotel is wonderful, extremely comfortable and nice and the food has been fine. It is probably better than I imagined it to be thus far. It is just when I walk outside I realize where I am. I cannot say my stay so far has been bad...I am just ready to get it over with! I guess they call this 'culture shock'!!!

I have to remember I have only been here 1 day and I cannot judge this place too soon! I am going to keep an open mind and get to the Taj Mahal and back to Brussels quickly!!!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Greetings from Mumbai, India

Hello from Mumbai! WOW, I cannot believe I am here! The flight over was uneventful and I actually slept about 6 hours! I never sleep on planes! I flew British Airways and the seats in business class lie that was really nice! I arrived rested and ready to see what this country is all about...God help me!

The hotel where we are staying is unbelievable! The rooms are great, bathrooms are incredible and the food is awesome (there goes me losing those dreaded pounds!). I took a quick shower, met up with co-workers for lunch, and headed to work for a few hours.

I will catch you up on the fun Benjamin and I had this afternoon tomorrow! Until then...have a great day!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Some Facts About India...

As I get prepared to leave for India tomorrow I wanted to post a few things I have learned about this country that I will be visiting for the next week and a half:

  • Mumbai is 3 1/2 hours ahead of Brussels...that is 10 1/2 hours ahead of Memphis. Isn't that the weirdest thing you have ever heard? I have never heard of a time zone that is a half hour ahead or behind of anything!!
  • There is a Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai! I am so excited about that! I will at least get 1 good meal while I am in India!
  • You cannot drink, brush your teeth, or do anything with the water in India. Bottled water at all times for everything!
  • Delhi is the capital of India (I thought it was Mumbai).
  • The majority of India's population is Hindus (I assume that mean Hindu??) while around 200 million (20%) are Muslims. Several other religions, such as Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Christianity are flourish. India has no official religion and all faiths can be freely practiced.
  • The temperature is going to be over 115 degrees in Delhi and in the 90s in Mumbai! Just a little warm!! Yikes, it was 70 in Brussels today!
  • The 2 travel guides I have for Mumbai and Delhi both have a "survival guide" section. God help me!!!
  • There are many regional languages spoken but English and Hindi are used as official languages.
  • In the Survival Guide, there is a special section for women traveling to India...great!! It talks about the basic travel tips...don't travel alone, don't wear anything revealing, etc. I keep hearing that the local people are going to want to take their picture with me because they are not used to 'white' people! Yes, another adventure waiting to happen!
  • Toilets...oh this is going to be fun. I will save that for another posting!
  • The currency used in India is the 'rupee'.

That is about all for today's lesson in Indian culture! More once I arrive! Please keep me in your prayers!

Friday, June 1, 2007

I found it....

It only took me a little over a month to find Diet Dr. Pepper!!! I have been craving the weirdest things since I arrived in Brussels! Things like Velveeta cheese, Skittles, tacos, and Diet Dr. Pepper (yes, I know, nice and healthy!) . Anyway, today I went to Waterloo to pick up some items from a lady who was moving back to the US. On the way back I saw a gas station type store with a sign which said "American and British food sold here". I had to check that out! Anyway, I walked in and thought I was at home! They had cake mixes, soups, condiments, Rotel, Chicken Noodle soup, Jiffy cornbread mix, and DR. PEPPER ZERO (the British version of Diet Dr. Pepper)! I wanted to hug the guy when he told me he had it! All of the American food items were very expensive. The cake mixes were over $7 per box, can of Rotel was $5, can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup was $5, etc. Needless to say, I have to really be craving some of these things before I will pay that for them!

Luckily, my dear friend Benjamin will be joining me in India and is bringing me some Velveeta cheese and Skittles! I am soooo excited!!!!!!! THANKS BENJAMIN!!!!