Travels with Melissa’s Aunties

Linda and Sue arrive!

We love visitors – totally, completely love them. Not only do visitors let us revisit familiar places to see them with new eyes, but they also give us the excuse we need to visit unfamiliar places. Travels with Melissa’s aunts Linda and Sue reminded us just how big and exciting our city is, how gorgeous the Galle Face views are in Colombo, how fantastic the Mahabalipuram rock carvings are, and how delightfully French Pondicherry is. We got to love those places anew, and we got to explore some new places too!

While in Bangalore, Melissa took Linda and Sue to see the central market, Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, the Bangalore Fort and and the Big Bull Temple. All four of us got to enjoy a day in the Nandi Hills at Tipu Sultan’s Summer Fort and the Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple.nandi-hills1

Our first stop out of Bangalore, took us to Colombo, Sri Lanka. We only stayed there for one night, but splurged on the beauty of the Galle Face Hotel, a historic site with beautiful ocean views and spectacular breakfasts.

Ah, the splendour of the Galle Face Hotel and the joy of putting your feet in the Indian Ocean for the first time!

While we had visited Galle with Rachel and Laurence last year, we hadn’t actually stayed in that charming old town – this time we spent two nights in the heart of Galle Fort and made the most of it: the sunset views from the wall, the historic buildings, the great shopping, and the kottu (amazing dish made from chopped up paratha and veggies). The Antic Guesthouse was the perfect base from which to relish it all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From Galle we headed to Yala National Park where we stayed at Cinnamon Wild, a jungle resort right on the edge of the park. We saw crocodiles in the lake, wild boar wandering around the grounds, and spectacular bird life everywhere. We were warned that leopards and elephants sometimes made their way down the resort’s paths and so were required to have an escort to get from our cabins to the main building where we ate after dark. Sadly, no such exciting thing happened while we were there, though. Our outings took us to the ruins of an ancient buddhist monastery that once housed 10,000 monks and on a safari where we saw many cool animals (but no leopards no matter how hard we tried to will them to appear).  It was all so enjoyable, sitting by the pool, watching the wildlife, sipping wine with a view of the lake, or just relaxing on our decks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s always hard to leave Sri Lanka, but we knew good times were ahead of us back in India. Last year we lingered in Mahabalipuram, but this year we made it an afternoon’s stop-off on the way to Pondicherry. The carvings are well worth the trip and easily viewed in a few hours, still arriving in Pondicherry in time for the evening promenade.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pondicherry was Tom’s last stop since he had to return to work (vacation is never long enough!), but Melissa and her aunties got to carry on to Rajasthan.

We arrived in Jodhpur and checked into our home for the night, although it turned out to be a spot we might not have chosen if we’d had a bit more information – it was far from the part of the city where all of the buildings are painted blue so we never got to see that. More of an issue, though, was the two flights of stairs to the room (not a favorite of Sue’s knee) and the fact that the restaurant didn’t serve anything that was sufficiently spice-free for Linda and Sue to enjoy it. A dinner of nothing but parathas only takes you so far. The next morning, we decided to find somewhere else to eat and discovered The Filos a mere 4 minute drive from our hotel. Such friendly service and delicious food – we highly recommend it for anyone traveling to Jodhpur! With only about 20 hours in Jodhpur, we couldn’t see much, but we did make it to Mehrangarh Fort. Mehrangarh is a 15th century palace carved into the cliffs overlooking the town and is a breath-taking marvel. It was a bit distressing, though, to see the handprints (some of them clearly of young girls) left by the fifteen wives of the Maharaja on their way to throw themselves on his funeral pyre, a practice known as Sati.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After our delightful Filos breakfast, we were picked up Shayam who drove us 75 minutes into the desert to our next stop at Mihir Garh. Despite our intentions to drive straight there, we couldn’t resist a stop at an incredible place selling gorgeous textiles and other handicrafts of the region. We thought we’d be there for 30 minutes, but it turned into a nearly 2 hour spree. Poor Sue had tolerated as much shopping as she could stand at the end of the first hour and was practically begging Linda and Melissa to leave by the time we finally headed out of the store with plans already in place to return. We all agreed, though, that we found beautiful things. On the return trip, Linda and Melissa both ordered beautiful coats which we hope to see in San Diego along with all the other purchases.Textiles

Mihir Garh was amazing from start the finish. Melissa found a great deal online and proposed it to Linda and Sue, still thinking it might be an excessive splurge, but they were game! Everything about it was beautiful from the grounds to our rooms to our private pool, and everyone there was so kind. When we arrived, we felt like royalty with umbrellas carried by attendants to protect us from the sun as we walked through the entryway. At dinner, we met actual royalty when we were welcomed by the son of the current royal family who built the hotel. Everything there was designed by the family using products, handicrafts, and artisans from the area. This was a magnificent place to relax for a few days, reading books, drawing, and gazing out over the desert in between perfect meals by the pool.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a stop at the textiles place on the way back to Jodhpur, we boarded a train to Jaipur – every visit to India needs at least one train trip, right? In truth, sitting in the AC Chair Car is not so different from sitting in a standard Amtrak car back home, but it’s still pretty fun. We arrived in Jaipur after 9pm and were picked up by our hotel, the wonderful Pearl Palace Heritage. We expected to be somewhere a bit rustic, a bit basic, but still charming – well, it was plenty charming, but there nothing rustic or basic about it. Every room is decorated differently, every bit of hallway is ornamented, and we were in heaven. It was just a short walk to their sister property, the Pearl Palace, where Melissa and Linda had dinner at the Peacock Rooftop Restaurant the next night. They told us that they will be adding their own rooftop restaurant, swimming pool, and fitness center and I suspect that their prices will double when they’re done. Go now!Jaipur hotel

With only one full day to enjoy Jaipur, we hired a guide. We headed straight toward the Amber Palace, stopping off at the foot of its hill to admire an ancient stepwell before continuing on. It was a bit of a walk in a bit of a crowd, but with lots to look at. All was going well until we noticed that Sue was suddenly a bit green. The infamous Delhi belly had struck! She thought she’d be ok waiting for us in the first of the four levels so we found her a shady spot and Melissa and Linda continued on with the guide to see it all before leaving.Amber Fort

It was stunning, but our delay made for a stressful ride back to the hotel for Sue. Once she was safely in bed with the hotel staff racing around town to find ginger ale (so kind!), Linda and Melissa headed back out with the guide visit the Jaipur city palace and museum, the Jantar Mantar (18th century astronomical instruments built by the Maharaja in five sites around the region – Melissa and Jesse visited them in Delhi), view the water palace, and stop at yet another handicraft place where we saw gorgeous handmade carpets, among other things.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next morning, with Sue feeling a bit better, we started the drive to Agra, meeting up with a guide to take us to the Agra Fort. Although the Taj Mahal gets most of the Agra hype, the Agra Fort is pretty amazing. It’s huge and intricately ornamented (particularly the rooms built to house/imprison Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal, but was deposed by his son who wanted to protect the royal coffers from the plan to build a second Taj Mahal in black marble). From there, we got our first views of the Taj Mahal in the slightly hazy distance. In Agra, we opted for a charming homestay called the Coral Court, relatively close to the Taj Mahal which we planned to visit the next day for sunrise. On the downside, again two flights of stairs up to our room; on the upside, the kind staff served us dinner on the rooftop and we got mehendi (henna) on our hands!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next morning, Sue stayed at the hotel to continue her recovery (much to our sad dismay) while Linda and Melissa went to the Taj Mahal. Melissa was prepared to be underwhelmed after hearing so much hype for so many years, and was then completely awe-struck. Once you start taking pictures at the Taj Mahal, you can’t stop – every angle, every detail, every inch seems to warrant another photo, and then you need a few more because you know your photos simply aren’t doing it justice. What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? We’ll let the photos speak for themselves, even knowing that they undersell it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From there, all that remained was a drive to the airport in Delhi. No visit to India is ever long enough to see it all, but Linda and Sue certainly tried!

 

Melissa’s Musings: Zentangling My Way to Serenity

When we planned to move to India, I had this secret hope that I would discover my inner artist, and begin to create beautiful paintings or mosaics or sculptures or something. Having never before demonstrated any kind of artistic talent, I couldn’t really imagine the form it would take, but I hoped it would take form. And then we arrived with all of the chaos of adjustment. I colored in my coloring books and greatly enjoyed paint by numbers, but I was a little scared of my watercolor paints, and I couldn’t find any art classes that weren’t a 90 minute drive away from our home in far northern Bangalore. I started making peace with my lack of artistic expression (which was really making peace with my own lack of initiative) and looked for other places to put my energy. Then I found Zentangle.

If you’re not familiar with Zentangle, it’s a kind of structured, meditative doodling. It was developed by Rick and Maria Thomas. Maria was an artist, and Rick, who had practiced meditation for many years, noticed that Maria went into a meditative state when creating some of her detailed images. They realized this was something they could share with people who longed for both creativity and peace. That’s me.

When I was invited to my first Zentangle class at my friend Meredith’s house back in December, I was interested in the idea of something creative, but I was more compelled by the chance to hang out with a bunch of interesting women for a couple hours. While I thoroughly enjoyed the chatting, I was actually hooked by the Zentangling by the end of the class. I loved learning to make these tiny little patterns, and how to personalize them within the structure. At the first class, we used Christmas trees as the shape to fill since it was December.

At the next class, we learned how to create our own shapes to fill, drawing random lines zentangle collection(called “strings”) onto a small card and then filling in the spaces. I began doing it all the time at home, sometimes focused in the silence, and sometimes while watching TV or listening to an audiobook. I even Zentangle when I’m out and about, carrying my special pens and a couple colored pencils in my purse most of the time, so if I find myself waiting semi-patiently for something, I can pass the time with a quick Zentangle.

When I wanted a new challenge, I sketched a landscape (loosely based on a photo of the view from Tom’s family home on Hood Canal) and Zentangled that.zentangle big

I haven’t discovered an inner artistic genius , but I have discovered a love of color and line, and a kind of satisfaction from making something all my own. More than that, I’ve found a great way to settle myself down in moments when I might otherwise be agitated or anxious. I heartily recommend Zentangle for anyone looking for a new hobby/relaxation technique that just might expand your own sense of creativity.

Winter Break #6: Colombo, Sri Lanka

Our visit to Colombo was really two visits. We had such a nice time on our first night in Sri Lanka (having arrived from Tiruvvanamlai) that we promptly took advantage of a special “welcome back” offer and booked20171228_182305 for our final night as well. Coming from Bangalore, Colombo felt almost artificially sanitized. There’s a little bit of litter, sure, but no garbage piles at all. Traffic is a bit heavy in the city, but people actual use lanes for driving and (the biggest shock of all) they stop at crosswalks and wait for pedestrians to make it across the street. Amazing!

We stayed at the Movenpick Hotel, which has gorgeous views of the Indian Ocean from our hotel rooms and from the rooftop deck, where one could admire the view from the comfort of the infinity pool before reclining on a lounge chair with a cocktail. Yes, we were truly spoiled.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sadly, Rachel was battling some stomach distress so didn’t join us for our first Sri Lanka dinner, but the remaining travelers ventured out to the Palmyra restaurant where we 20171228_212104 sampled our first hoppers (a sort of bowl-shaped, rice-based bread that’s thick on the bottom and crispy on the edges, often filled with things, not unlike appam, which we enjoyed at Koshy’s on our first breakfast outing in Bangalore), vegetable fried rice (basically Chinese, but everywhere in Sri Lanka), cashew curry (yes, nothing but cashews in curry sauce – yum!), and sambol, a tasty dried coconut and chili condiment that spices up anything. Also, some kind of saffron pilaf and a meaty thing for Laurence. It seemed clear that we would eat just fine in this new country.

The next morning proved that true when we went to the beautiful Galle Face Hotel for brunch. We arrived just 15 minutes before they 20171229_103114were to begin clearing away the food, so there was no time to waste! We frantically helped ourselves to everything that looked good and just barely managed to fit it all on our table. When it was time to leave Colombo, we didn’t want to go! We hadn’t yet done much wandering around the city itself, and it was hard to part with the luxury of the Movenpick. Such a happy thought that we could return for the final night of our trip.

When we came back again, our room didn’t have the same magic as our first room (broken AC, lower floor with an inferior view, smaller bathtub), but it was still a delight20180105_135651 to be there. We wandered around the fort area which had some gorgeous old buildings and monuments but paled a bit in comparison to the charm of Galle Fort which we’d visited just the day before. The heat was pretty incredible given that this is  20180105_145024supposed to be the coolest time of the year, and we were glad to call an end to exploring by mid afternoon and retire to the terrace of the beautiful Galle Face Hotel where we enjoyed cocktails while admiring the ocean view before going back to our own hotel to relax before dinner.

For our final dinner of vacation, we had a couple of factors to consider. We wanted to celebrate in style, with at least some of the amazing Sri Lankan food we’d been introduced to in the past week. Also, Rachel and Laurence flew out to Shanghai that morning, and while it was sad to see them go, we were also able to enjoy a day and evening as the two of us instead of the four of us. We considered many dinner options and even visited a couple restaurants in our earlier wanderings. We ultimately decided that the Galle Face was so beautiful that we just couldn’t go wrong by returning. We were right. It was a wonderful buffet in a glorious setting. A perfect final night to our trip.

The next morning, we lounged at the rooftop pool, enjoyed brunch at the hotel (another amazing buffet), and gradually prepared ourselves for a return to normalcy. We realized that it’s only an hour-and-a-half flight back to Colombo, and on a weekend we need to escape hectic Bengaluru, this is an easy retreat. It was an amazing trip, but we were actually ready to go home our own bed and our own routine. At least until we get restless and head out on our next adventure!

Arbor Brewing

It’s debrief time. You have just experienced the most Indian of markets, were overwhelmed with fabulous aromas, beautiful colors, and generous people. How do you process it all? Why, you go to a most American of brewpubs, of course.

After saying goodbye to Tej, our tour guide for the day at the market, our entire crew of eight headed to Arbor Brewing for a late lunch and a beer. As much of a cultural shift as it was, it was a very good choice. The beer was the best we’ve had yet, the food was tasty, and the people were delightful.

Let’s start with the beer. The first surprise was that there wasn’t one but two IPAs, a session IPA, the Beach Shack; and their standard American IPA, the Raging Elephant. We both got the session IPA, which was ever so slightly better than the other IPAs we have had, and Ethan got the Raging Elephant. He won. It was head and shoulders better than anything else we’ve had in Bengaluru. It would have been a middle of the pack IPA in Portland or even his (far inferior) beer town of a home town, Seattle and the San Juans. We were just so excited to have such a tasty beer that we kind of experienced it as the best beer ever. Tom’s excitement was slightly tempered by the fact that the name comes from [shudder] Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the owner graduated college and frequented the pub of the same name before coming home to Bengaluru to open his version.

20170826_132421
That’s Ethan in the foreground and his son Quinn at his own table behind.

The next best part of our experience was the staff. They were just so ridiculously friendly and attentive. Instead of the all-too common urgency to please, they just kind of chatted with us and were on top of our every request. The best part was how they handled the kids. Ethan and Colleen’s kids, Shea and Quinn, started out at a table of their own. Once the food started coming, Shea ended up at the adult table with us leaving Quinn on his own. The staff loved on him. They chatted him up, joked with him, brought him his own bottle of water, and generally made him feel important. It was adorable.

20170826_135901
We forgot to take a photo before diving in. It was delicious. Trust us.

The food was great. We only ordered the onion rings (really really good) and the Grilled Cauliflower and Broccoli Skewers (outstanding). The skewers came coated in a masala rub that was so delicious we didn’t even bother with the “magic mustard” dipping sauce it comes with. Everyone seemed pleased with what they ordered — pizza, salads, sandwiches, and tacos.

We debriefed the amazing day we had, ate and drank all forms of deliciousness, and headed back out in the world happy and satisfied. We’ll be back.

Bengaluru Ganesha Chaturthi

We knew we wanted to somehow honor this holiday in celebration of the birth of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, but we weren’t quite sure how to do this. Melissa spent some time hunting online for possible events and came across the 55th Annual Bengaluru Ganesha Chaturthi, an 11-day festival downtown with different performances every night. While the information was limited, we decided to take a chance.

When we got to the National College Grounds, we saw that they’d covered the huge parade grounds with a tent. To one side at the front of the tent was a sort of temporary temple with a giant Ganesh and other symbols on the holiday, with people lining up to walk past and receive the attentions of the priests.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To the other side was a big stage with a women’s choir already singing as we arrived around 5:30.

 

The main event (a dramatic dance performance of Krishna’s life called Krishna Leelaavarna) was to begin at 7, but of course we’re living on India time. After the choir finished, a drum line with 30 drummers situated near the altar began to play with great gusto and for longer than we would have imagined anyone could sustain. It was incredible and projected on the screen above the stage the whole time, interspersed with shots of the candles being lit and offerings being made to Ganesh. It would have been nice to have things explained, but we still found it exciting to be a part of it all.

Exhausted from our day of walking, we didn’t make it to the main performance of the event, but the evening felt complete.

Melissa’s Musings: Day One Alone          

Tom and I were both worried that I’d struggle once he started orientation at the Canadian International School. He’s used to having summers off, to being home alone while I go off to work, but I’ve never before been the one at home. Would I be bored or lonely? Would I feel useless or sad? Nope. None of that.

My first day on my own was kind of perfect. I had time to think my own thoughts, to research things I was curious about, to exercise (just a little), to tidy up and putter. When I was tired of my own thoughts and poking at productivity, I had the Gilmore Girls to keep me company. Any time I felt guilty at not doing more, I reminded myself that I’d been saying for months that I needed some time off, and this was it. This, right now, is my long-anticipated time off, and I need to appreciate it while I have it.

A highlight of the day was when I went for a stroll outside and met three little girls who live in my building – two of them at the end of the hall on the floor where we live and the third two floors down. Mimi, Ruchi, and Suchi are vivacious and excited about everything. Once I let them know that I was very happy to be talking with them, the questions started to fly: Are you from England? Where’s Uncle? Is he a boss? Can we see your apartment? I invited them up, but there’s not much to see here yet so I think it may have been disappointing.  Nonetheless, they squeal, “Auntie! Auntie!” and wave wildly when they see me, so I’m pretty sure we’re friends now.