Jaipur

A few weekends ago we took our first trip out of Delhi. This sounds like a simple thing: take a long weekend to see some of the many interesting sights within driving distance of the capital. And if we were still in Europe, it would be quite easy to skip on over to a place like Jaipur, the gorgeous pink city of Rajasthan, just 160 odd miles southwest of Delhi.

But it’s India. So that kind of trip involves taking a very long train ride at the crack of dawn or hiring a driver familiar with the area to make the 5+ hour trek with you. Why, might you ask, does it take 5+ hours to go 160 miles? Well, because the highways are really more like rugged streets filled with trucks and camels. From the back our our minivan it felt like we were on an off road adventure. A really, really long off road adventure.

palace for the ladies of the court to watch the city life

But we made it. And although just as dusty and hazy as Delhi, Jaipur was gorgeous with it’s salmon-pink walls and painted elephants. And it was a suprisingly kid friendly trip. Our first stop, after settling in to the quaint little hotel Madhuban: the city palace.

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We did a guided tour, saw some snake charmers, then hit up the handicraft hall for some souvenirs. Oh, and we sold The Babe off to a local weaver to help pay for the trip.

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That night, we made a stop at Chokhi Dhani, a recreated Rajasthani village, complete with games, food, entertainers, elephant rides and a playground for good measure. It felt a little bit like an Indian version of Ocean City, or maybe how Disney would interpret an Indian village. But the kids loved it.

The next morning we got up early to ride an elephant up to the Amer Fort. This was definitely the most touristy part of our trip, but also totally awesome. I mean, when an elephant is offered, you take it.

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But by far the highlight of the trip was Elephant Polo. Yep, that night we drove out to an old hunting lodge turned into polo grounds so I could climb a ladder, sit on an elephant and try to knock around a soccer ball with a very long stick. After sipping gin and tonics while my kids fed camels. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

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If you want to get in on the Elephant polo action and see the pink walls of Jaipur, here are a few tips:

- We stayed at the Madhuban, a beautiful old haveli with very friendly staff and a nice garden. But this place seems like an even better option.

- The elephant polo portion of the trip was booked through Csar Tours. Beaty is a gem and she will help wrangle together lodging, train tickets, driver…whatever you need.

- If the kids need to burn some energy, we drove by a nice looking playground at Nehru Children’s Park. Sometimes they can only take so many hours of historic fort exploring before demanding something FUN.

- Food is SPICY, and lunch and dinner are much later in India. Pack lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the littles. And hand sanitizer. Lots and lots of hand sanitizer.

A simple trip to the tailor.

Say you live in Delhi and you need a tailor to sew together the blouse that goes under your new sari. So you call up the guy that a friend recommends, the one that serves all the expats and comes directly to your house. He arrives, takes a few measurements, makes an extra hard sell for his bespoke suit services and then disappears for more than a week. You text a few times to see when he might be bringing back your sari blouse for a fitting, to no avail. Finally he calls one day out of the blue and says he’s on his way to your apartment. Which is wonderful, except you’re out of town. You make plans to meet the next day.

When your fancy tailor finally returns with your finished choli, you are slightly alarmed because it seems baggy and the zipper is misaligned. But your tailor assures you he has made it this way so you can breathe easier. You pay him 2000 rupees and after he leaves your housekeeper tells you your new blouse is way too big. And it’s on backwards.

Because your housekeeper is pretty much the most wonderful person on earth, she sends you to a tailor she knows. She has explained to your driver (who happens to be her sweet husband) what needs to be fixed on the blouse, so he can explain in hindi to the new tailor. At the market your driver leads you through ramshackle fabric stalls and past a random street festival tent to a dark and crumbling corner where a young man is working feverishly on an ancient foot-powered Singer sewing machine. You are sent up a steep ladder to the attic to change into your blouse among the long forgotten scraps of fabric and garbage.

Once back in the shop, the new tailor takes one look, a few measurments and says to give him 30 minutes. While you wait, some guys from the street festival burst in the door with huge tin cannisters of curry and rice, passing out plates to everyone in the shop and urging you to try some. And in less than 20 minutes, you’re back up in the changing-attic, admiring a blouse that has been expertly fitted and freshly pressed. You pay the tailor 100 rupees (about a buck 40), which your driver tells you is only so expensive because we needed the work done urgently. You thank him for all of his help, and make a mental note to stick with the locals next time.

The Truth About Traveling with Toddlers

Right before we left Vienna, we spent three weeks road tripping through Europe with Cletus and The Babe. One week in Slovenia, a short break back home, then 2 weeks through Croatia. It was an ambitious agenda by most standards, but probably sounds absolutely insane to anyone with small kids. Just getting to the grocery store and back with those animals is usually adventure enough. But, crazy world wanderers/gluttons for punishment that we are, we just couldn’t leave that part of the world without checking some stuff off our list first. So we hit the highway, packed to the brim with snacks and travel cribs and coloring books and DVDs (thank GOD for the DVDs). We saw castles and medieval cities, hiked through lush forests and felt the spray of magnificent waterfalls. We sat on rocky beaches met by stunning turquoise waters and drank cold beers while the kids looked for seashells. It was glorious.

Except when it wasn’t.

The thing about traveling with very little people is that while you will certainly have moments so perfect and spectacular that you can hardly believe your luck, mostly your time on the road will look like this:

I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!

And this:

human pack horse

And this:

vacation is so much fun!

There will be tears. Someone will probably vomit. At some point you will want to burn your passports and forsake vacations completely until they’re 25.

Yes, when you have kids, what you used to call “vacation” instantly becomes The Amazing Race: Toddler Edition, full of roadblocks, insane challenges and stretches of time spent running through crowded tourist areas searching for something (a missing blankie, a dropped pacifier, a wandering child). Has this slowed us down? More than a bit. But I look at it this way: would I rather deal with another tantrum in my living room, or while sipping crisp white wine on the rocky Croatian coast?

The key to winning when you’re traveling with the under 3 crowd is embracing that Amazing Race mindset and rolling with it. For all the people out there wondering how we do it, here’s a brief look at our strategy:

Pack a multi-purpose arsenal of supplies.

The kids get to bring their blankies, a favorite stuffed animal, and a few small toys. Otherwise we try to go minimal, with a few helpful supplies thrown in – things like tin foil (to make instant blackout shades, wrap leftovers, entertain the tots with swan sculptures) and painter’s tape (homemade stickers, matchbox car roads, makeshift babyproofing on arrival). A small bottle of dish soap is critical (washing sippy cups, stained clothes in a pinch). Basically, if MacGyver had kids, this is what you’d find in his suitcase.

Book an apartment.

My husband and I fondly remember a time long ago when the first things we did upon entering a hotel room were crack open the minibar and flop on the bed. Maybe then we’d unpack, but not before sitting on the balcony for a while, contemplating dinner options. These days we swing open the hotel room door and launch into a SWAT-style sweep for baby hazards while simultaneously assessing optimal Pack-n-Play locations and checking to see how early we can get breakfast the next day. Or we just book a centrally located apartment through AirBnB and save ourselves a lot of headaches.

Adjust your expectations.

Do not plan on a 3 hour historical tour or a meal at the coolest restaurant in town. Do not even assume you will make it to all the major landmarks at your destination. Do ask around for playgrounds or green space near some of the things you’d like to see, and split your time between the two. Street food will be your best friend - easy, quick, and no big deal if they spill. Let the little guys take naps per usual and chill out for a while in front of foreign language cartoons (it’s educational!).

And remember: even the most well planned, toddler-proofed trips can and will go awry. Like that time in Mallorca when it rained for 3 days straight, the power went out, and the bed collapsed when I threw myself on it in despair. Or that time on the way home from Crete when Cletus, strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, puked so profusely that the vomit streamed down my chest and pooled at my feet while I waited at the baggage carousel. Or that time we drove 7 hours to the Croatian border only to realize we forgot our passports. That was a good one.

But when mayhem ensues, please remember that there will be moments of unparalleled beauty and days of awesome discovery. And wine. Lots of crisp white wine.

I know you’re dying to know.

It’s been nearly two months since I arrived here in Delhi, and I know you are all dying to know one thing: what my oven looks like. Or perhaps you’re wondering if it has tried to kill me yet. Well, I am overjoyed to report that I have a beautiful, boring old American style oven.

Delhi oven

It features a gas range and oven space wide enough to fit baking sheets and roasting pans I haven’t used in almost 7 years. The temperature dial is in Farenheit, there are no pictograms, and it seems to run reliably well. It is rather precariously hooked up to some decrepit old gas tanks out back, but other than that, I am sorry to disappoint you.

But before you decide to unfollow my blog on the grounds of insufficient subject matter, let me show you my microwave:

silly microwave

This technological kitchen wonder has at least 500 settings, none of which I can really figure out. I usually just throw leftovers in there and punch the keypad blindly, hoping it will start making noise. But if I ever need to make that ancient Indian delicacy known as “chocolate cake,” I’ll be all set.

Monday musings.

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Absolutely nothing better in this world than sari shopping. An hour of being draped in luxurious silks will cure just about all that ails you.

Eating on the edge.

Sorry for the radio silence folks. I am just now bouncing back from a weekend of adventurous eating, and the resulting week of gastrointestinal distress. Yes, Delhi Belly is a real thing – an accute bout of indiscriminate tummy troubles that is practically a right of passage here. It was not so much fun. But completely expected after three days of authentic Indian eating.

It all began when Husband and I hit up the Dussehra Ramlila festival in Old Delhi. Dussehra is a Hindu holiday that celebrates lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. It’s often celebrated with performances of the Ramlila, a dramatic folk story about the life of Rama which ends with a ten-day battle between Rama and Ravana.

(If that sounds confusing, it is. Just nod your head until I get to the part about the food and death defying Indian carnival rides.)

We signed up for a special tour of the festival with Delhi Food Walks, which I highly recommend. Our guide met us by the metro station and walked us through the slightly harrowing yet festive alleys of Old Delhi, stopping along the way to try some jalebi – basically little Indian funnel cakes fried in ghee and drenched in simple syrup:

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As I stood in the street with ghee dripping off my chin, one of the processions plowed by:

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Then we made our way to the food tent where we sampled all kinds of spicy snacks: little fried puff balls filled with a broth that I can only describe as liquid fire, fruit cups filled with crunchy bits and spices, lentil pancakes stuffed with more tear-inducing spice. Did I tell you it was spicy? Holy Lord Rama.

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It was all carefully washed down with bottled water and hand sanitizer. But there was one moment when we watched a worker douse the same freshly cut fruit we’d just eaten with a bucket of sludgy looking water and thought, Merde. This could get ugly later. But the damage was already done, and there was still Disco Fruit Ice Cream to be tasted!

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This special festival confection is made by pouring fresh fruit puree and milk over a hand-cranked frozen tube. If you want to recreate this machine at home, the Disco chef told me all you need are a few spare rickshaw parts.

It’s hard to top Disco Ice Cream, but our guide was undaunted. After a brief pause to watch the Ramlila unfold on stage, he skipped gleefuly to the rides. Most of which were hand cranked and also seemed to be built out of spare rickshaw parts. No one in the group seemed keen on taking a rickety spin on the tin ferris wheel of death, which really bummed our guide out. So I jumped on, saying a silent prayer to Shiva, Ganesha, Rama and anyone else I could think of to please let me live to eat another jalebi.

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Even after that exhilarating experience I was still feeling pretty good. Stomach felt mostly normal. I woke up the next day ready to tackle an authentic Punjabi meal for dinner. And some local biryani for lunch the day after that.

Which may have been pushing it, because that’s when it all came crashing down. The next morning I woke up in a world of hurt- a place of porcelain god worship that could only be escaped by sleep, fluids and mass quantities of probiotic supplements. A week later I am five pounds lighter (bonus?) and asking myself some important questions, like “Was the puff ball of fire really worth it?” and “What if this happens to one of my kids?” and “Is there enough hand sanitizer in the world to keep us safe from harm?”

Probably not. But am I going to let that slow me down? Never! Then I wouldn’t have any material left for this blog. So I’ll be back at it this weekend, living dangerously – one Disco Fruit Ice Cream at a time.

Making DC look good

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The filing system at the Delhi DMV.