Archive for January, 2011

India Travel Planning Links

 

Udaipur, Image from TravelInfo Rajasthan

Two weeks from today I’ll be in India.

I’m still reeling at that reality. Reeling, mostly, with gratitude. A trip to India is something I never would have dreamed was possible, but a friend’s wedding there inspired me to boost both my faith and my resolve. So, in two weeks’ time, I’ll be in India.

I’ll write as frequently as possible while I’m there. For now, I want to start posting links I’m finding helpful in my travel planning in the hopes that they’ll be helpful to others (and to keep them all organized myself).

Delhi

  • 36 Hours in New Delhi, New York Times: I tend to have the same tastes as the writers of these columns (art, the changing face of the cities reviewed, etc) even if budget requires my tastes to be less expensive
  • Time Out Delhi: Gallery listings, cultural events, restaurant reviews, all from a rather Western perspective (for better or worse)
  • Lonely Planet Delhi: I love their “Top Picks,” as I’m spending limited time here and this is a great focusing tool – without buying the book. They also allow you to purchase PDF chapters of their books online, great for reduced costs and luggage weight.

Udaipur

I’m so excited to visit here, at a friend’s recommendation—and would have otherwise missed it. Udaipur is called India’s most romantic city and the “Venice of the East.” I depart for here on Valentine’s Day. Naturally.

  • Uncornered Market Blog on Udaipur: This just inspires me. This is why we travel.
  • Trip Advisor forums featuring UdaipurMagic: If you’re willing to sort through it all—and/or you’re looking for specific details—this Trip Advisor user seems to know it all.

Visakhapatnam (aka, “Vizag,” which I can actually spell)

This is where I’m spending the most time, but I’ve done the least research here, as I’m fortunate enough to have locals in town. But here’s a photo of the beach to get you—and me—inspired.

 

I’ll keep adding to this list as I go. I’ll also post more details on the visa-getting process when I have time to write it up and the process of making a transfer between terminals in Mumbai’s airport after I’ve experienced it.

Adventure awaits!

Use Your Words

Istanbul Skyline

I’ve called myself a writer since I was five years old. I have a vivid memory of writing a series of illustrated story books about the Rainbow princess and her tribe of valiant warriors, each of whom bore a costume in a color of said rainbow. Apparently, even as a child, I understood the power of franchising opportunities.

So, from a young age, I’ve been good with words. Able to express myself. Well-versed in getting my point across, in print, on the phone or in person. I’m a smart girl, if I do say so myself, and I can talk to just about anyone.

But that’s all in English.

When I studied in Spain in 2000, I first grasped the frustration of not being capable of saying what I was thinking. I spoke Spanish reasonably well, but in a 400-level literature course analyzing the poetry of Ruben Dario, I quickly realized how maddening the limits of my vocabulary were. (I still don’t know how to say “existential crisis” or “I believe the imagery in the third stanza symbolizes the enduring struggle between the Id and the Ego” in Spanish.) Incredibly frustrated, I finally announced to my professor one day, “I am not stupid. I sound stupid in Spanish, but I am not a stupid person!” To my credit, I’m pretty sure I managed to say it in Spanish. But expressing myself on that high of level, day in and day out, in a foreign language was absolutely exhausting.

But that was just Spanish. And I was wearing clothes.

I spent two weeks in Istanbul last year to kick off my trip to Europe, spending time with American friends who live there. I wasn’t planning on learning a lot of Turkish for my 12-day stint, other than the requisite “Merhaba” (hello) and “Tesekuleh” (which I know is spelled wrong, but hey, I’m pretty proud that I remembered how to say thank you in Turkish a year later).

My lack of language skills proved to be a bit more of a challenge than the average tourist faces, as I was staying on the Asian side, far away from the English-speaking tourism touts. I brought home nearly a pound of baklava from the corner bakery because I couldn’t manage to explain that I really just wanted one piece. The Turks’ famous hospitality and friendliness neatly accommodated my complete inability to communicate in most instances, but I felt consistently helpless and utterly reliant on the help of others. It’s a rather instructive place to be once in a while. I was loving every minute.

Until I went to the Turkish bath. A language barrier is all well and good when you’re trying to navigate the bus system, but try being naked. My friends, in an effort to make my experience authentic, save me from getting ripped off, and help me avoid the coed baths frequented by European travelers, sent me to a bath at a mosque on the Asian side. I went clutching a hand-drawn map with key vocabulary words: “massage,” “soap,” “men,” and “women.” And thank God for those last two, because the full impact of stumbling into the wrong door became evident to me when I walked out of the rain, through a beaded curtain, and straight into a room with a whole lot of large topless Turkish women just sweating it out.

Between my crib sheet and the fact that money tends to communicate pretty well all on its own, I managed to pay and be shown to my changing room without incident. The trouble came when I was down in the baths themselves. There’s a whole system to the thing: get yourself wet with water, but not too much, and not too hot, and don’t use soap,well, not yet, then go the sauna, but for how long?

When the people on both ends of a conversation are mostly naked, some of the normal coping mechanisms we use when communicating with someone in a foreign language are rather less effective. Subtleties of body language are overcome by–well, by bodies. One must be delicate when gesturing when one is talking to someone unclothed. Add to all that the general frustration of not being understood. It’s like I had a dream that I was back in that Spanish classroom, trying to wax intelligent about Dario poetry but I’d forgotten to get dressed. But I was awake. And still naked.

The bath lady was twice as frustrated as I, which didn’t help. There was a lot of yelling in Turkish. She threw some water at me, in what I sincerely believe was an intention to be helpful. Finally, a young woman about my age who spoke a little English gave me some pointers. During my massage (which was awkward all on its own; marble slab + soapy lather = slippery), my bather used some of her very few syllables of English to get me to roll over: “Laa-dey, move.” She said “lady” as if it had three syllables and followed up her command with some pretty brutal scrubbing.

Not the most relaxing experience of my life, but I left with the softest skin I’ve ever had, a new perspective on cross-cultural communication, and extreme gratitude for clothing as I conversed with Turks for the rest of the week.

I’d like to say that I stuck around, befriended my masseuse by the sheer power of authentic eye contact and learned Turkish vocabulary and scrubbing techniques from her over a nice cup of tea, laughing over our previous gaffes and learning to communicate in a language that transcended words.

I didn’t. I went to the mall. Yep, there are malls in Istanbul. (And before you judge, I will maintain that there was intense cultural learning in this experience, too. Have you gone clothes shopping in a Muslim country? All very modest. Great for tall girls, actually.) And then I drank a latte at a German cafe in the Turkish mall. (Starbucks was full.)

But as I drank that latte, I sat down and wrote about it all. Because sometimes you just have to use whatever words you’ve got. They’re never enough, words, but when used well, they inspire us to dig deeper and express the shadows of that which can’t be said. My words couldn’t make me understood at the baths, but using them helped me understand myself and my reaction to my surroundings a little bit better. And I think it’s that process of reflection that makes all the difference. Even if we’re too exhausted or not equipped with the resources to make all the dots connect, at least we’re giving it an honest try.

Even if I do sound like a stupid person in Turkish.

Telling Stories

As I gear up for another big—though, this time, much shorter—trip, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the incredible stories that last year’s Europe sojourn both included and inspired.

I’ve long proclaimed that traveling is good for the creativity. Being in unfamiliar situations makes us vulnerable. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that stability and familiarity tend to be the enemy of creative production. I heartily disagree with the concept that genius is only born out of madness, but, in my experience, it never hurts to shake things up a bit.

All that said, I’m going to start sharing some of my travel stories here. As I alluded to above, posts in the “Travel Stories” category are both from and “inspired by” my travels. Some are nothing but the truth, and some are absolute raving fictions set in a location with which I fell in love.

I’ll let you guess which is which…

My Mobile Life

In one of my jobs as a communicator, I teach others how to communicate better. Part of that process involves strategically choosing and considering the messages you actually send.

In the midst of working on this, I have realized I can post to my blog via email from my BlackBerry from just about anywhere. I can publish detailed, illustrated updates from anywhere in the world. I find this fact both exciting and terrifying: convenience and speed may well be the enemy of targeted, strategic, empathic communication.

But we all succumb once in a while, she says as she excitedly tests the feature with a photo of my favorite cafe. Choose your communications battles well, friends. And I’ll promise not to tweet any photos of my breakfast. Er, not today at least.

 

A long overdue love letter

Times Square

Dear New York,

I’m writing because I know sometimes I can be bad at expressing how I feel about you. Life gets so busy (you, of all people, know how that goes), and well, those day-to-day banalities and frustrations of our relationship sometimes get in the way, but all those excuses aside, I really do need to tell you something, and make sure that you know…

I love you.

There. I said it. I know I should say it more often. But it’s true. I love you.

I love the way you’re always the same but always changing. I love your passion, how you’re equally excited about everything from indie music to corporate finance to Louboitin pumps. I love all the crazy people you invite around to spend time with you. You’re so good at inviting people in, welcoming everyone, and judging no one. Actually, that’s probably the thing I love most about you.

I love you because you’re absolutely, stunningly beautiful. But you know that… oh, yes, you know that. No one can ever accuse you of being humble, my dear New York. But I love that about you, too, your confident boldness. It inspires the same in me.

You and I both know that neither of us is perfect. You forget to clean up sometimes, and you can be busy and crazy and loud at all the wrong moments—just when I really need some peace and quiet. And let’s be honest; some of your parts are just more attractive than others. It’s OK, love. We all have our bad sides (ahem, Times Square) and our good (downtown). You’re not always the most sensitive guy in the room—I know you never mean to hurt me, but you do make me cry sometimes. Sometimes you’re just kind of hard to be around… But I keep coming back. I just keep coming back.

While we’re being honest, let me just say it—you know you’re not the only love of my heart. There have been other great loves, New York. I won’t deny that, nor will I deny that there will be more to come. But you, dear, were most definitely the first.  You will always hold a place in my heart.

And today, as we spent some quality time together, I just realized once again how grateful I am for you—for how spending time with you has made me dig deeper inside myself, dream bigger dreams than I ever thought possible, and … well, this is going to sound silly, but I’ll just say it. You’ve made me become a better woman.

Even as I write this to you, a little smile is playing across my lips. A secret little smile that you and I share. You make me smile, both inside and out, all too often. Thank you. For all the little things that only we share; for all the graces you’ve shown me; for all the journeys yet to come…

I love you, New York. I always will.

The Intangible Value of Diamond Shreddies

I like being fascinated, and this is fascinated. A must-watch for anyone who produces or consumes communication (yes, that’s you), especially that of the promotional type.

Canadian, Kiwi, and British friends: tell me more about Diamond Shreddies, please. I was compelled to do some research to believe that this really happened. It really did. Wow.

A brilliant dose of creative perspective tinged with good old British dry wit. Enjoy.


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Where I’ve Been

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