Tag Archives: tour guide

Beijing – Olympic Park and Panda Bears………

While we were in Beijing, we wanted to see Olympic Park. This was an interesting thing to accomplish.

I don’t know if all tours are run like this in China or if we just got some bad tour mojo….. but …. yikes. Our travel agent planned an itinerary for our day and a half in Beijing. We asked to go to the Great Wall – the section that you walk up and luge down. That did not happen. We went to the wall and walked up but we also had to walk down. That was a big bummer!

He also coordinated visits for us to see the Summer Palace and Ming’s Tomb. I ask you – why would we go to stuffy ole Ming’s tomb when we could see where Michael Phelps made history? Duh? And why would we go to the Summer Palace when we could see the Panda bears. I mean, really. Honestly, if we would have had more time, we would have so gone to Ming’s Tomb and the Summer Palace but time was short and we were traveling with three younguns who love to swim – so priorities, right?

When we got on the tour mobile, we asked to make some changes to our original schedule. OOOOOOOppppps. Apparently that is not acceptable – well, it can be acceptable if you are willing to pay more. Huh? We wanted to change two sites for two other sites. In America, we call that a “no-brainer” – in China it is apparently called an “increase in fees”. Got it.

We were also told that we were going to be charged more money because we were not going shopping. You read that right – n.o.t. going shopping. Huh? We did not ask to go shopping. And, shopping was not on our original schedule. But, now we were going to pay to not shop. Hmmmmmm.

Oh, and our tour guide was happy to take us by an ATM machine so we could pay in cash. Yeah, how do you think that worked out for her?

So, very long, very frustrating story short – we made the changes and only had to pay extra for the zoo fees. Now, that makes more sense.  And hubby had sense enough to suggest insist that our travel agent in Delhi be billed by our guide’s travel agency directly in Beijing – no cash transactions, thank you very much. So nice of you to offer though. tee hee. (Now you know I did not just marry hubby for his good looks.)

We quickly put it all behind us and walked in awe through Olympic Park. It is a pretty cool place. Most of the signage in China is in, well, Chinese – so it was fun to see this sign that we could actually read.

The bird’s nest was huge and fabulous…

And then, of course, the water cube. Unfortunately it was not open – but we used our imagination. 😉 I could easily imagine Bear, Flower, and Angel diving off the same block that Michael Phelps used. Can’t you?

And the fun mascots…

And how can you go to Olympic Park and not take a picture of the rings? You can’t, right?

There were some pretty awesome statues throughout the park. And if you stand at angle with the sun in your eyes and lean to the left and lift one foot up, this guy absolutely resembles Michael Phelps.

Her, not so much…

Not too sure what this symbolizes – but it looked cool enough…

Maybe he was trying to envision the swimming statue as Michael Phelps, too? What? He could be. Or, maybe, it’s just hard to hold a sailboat with no arms.

The sign wasn’t much help either…

Sure, it’s nice information to know, but it didn’t so much help on the interpretation side of things.

Travel in China is different than what we have experienced in the rest of Asia. Truly, not many of the people we encountered spoke English. This lady and her sister were so kind to help hubby negotiate with a vendor for a better price on the stuffed mascots. If you plan to visit China, learn from our mistakes, you’ll want to know this about shopping with vendors in Beijing (and perhaps all of China). It is wise to have money in smaller denominations. Otherwise the vendors are likely to give you counterfeit bills as change. Wanna know how we know that? Go ahead. Take a guess.

We tried to buy her sister a set of mascots too but the only thanks she wanted was a picture with our family.

Next, we headed over to the zoo. Fun Fun. We have seen a panda or two at the zoo in Washington, DC, but the Beijing zoo has at least a dozen of them. And here was another sign we could read.

And these guys were fabuloso!


The pandas also had this wonderful playground.

But this guy was just too tired to play. So cute!

Anybear, we did have a wonderful afternoon and hope to go back some time and see more of the historical stuff.

This guy……………

This guy …..

will give you an amazing tour of Amritsar…

will sell you sunglasses for 200, no 100, okay 50 rupees – but only if you threaten to walk away first.

will get your stuff from one place to another….

is just chill-axin’…

is donating his time for the greater good…..

will kick your arse if you get out of line………..

will give you the most amazing tour of Agra and he will tell you that you are beautiful -what’s not to love!

Simply cannot be bothered – unless you have some snacks….

Will drive you all over India on the correct side of the road – well, at least for the most part…..

caught my eye…………..

did something apparently very important…..

will work his b.u.t.t. off all day long…..

will play the drums…….

will make you dinner…..

will make you some popcorn….

Sometimes I have pictures that just won’t fill an entire blog post but I want to share – and it’s my blog so I get to do what I want 😉 – so I think I am going to start a “this guy” series. Hope you enjoy it – tomorrow I will finish up with the Golden Temple. Cheers.

Jaipur – The Amber Fort…………..

Day Two of our adventure to Jaipur – the Pink City. If you have not read about day one – you can do that here.

Enter Day Two.

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This is called the Water Palace. Can you guess why? Yes, four of its stories are under water. We were told the only way to visit it was to swim across the (very dirty) water. We chose to take pictures from the road. I may be willing to move to India – but I do have my limits.

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This must a guard tower – or something. It looked pretty cool whatever it is.

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If you look closely at this picture, on the hill, you will see the wall of the really big fence that surrounds the Amber (or Amer) Fort. I guess if Legos and Lincoln Logs have not been invented yet, your imagination can run wild. It is hard to explain just how steep that hill is or how amazing this wall is. Maybe you should come visit and we’ll take you to it.

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And finally the elephant ride. Angel has been asking since before we left the U.S. if she could ride an elephant. Ride she did. It made her nervous and she doesn’t need to do it again anytime soon. But I feel good knowing I helped her check something off of her bucket list. Tomorrow I am going to post my Girlfriend’s Guide to Jaipur – if you plan to ride the elephants at Amber Fort, you’ll want to read it for sure.

The cost per elephant is 570 rupees (about $11).

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This man will try to sell you a blanket with elephants on it on your ride up to the fort. Hey mister, I am not going to actually buy it – but could you look over here and maybe smile -could you hold it a little more to the left – that’s it – I have a blog  – you and your pretty blanket are going to be on it. Lucky you.

The cost to get in the Fort is 150 rupees for anyone over 7 years old. Well that is any foreign visitor over 7 years old. Non-foreign visitors are 25 rupees or 10 rupees. We did not try to pretend to be non-foreign. It was as plain as the noses on our faces that were are not Indian.

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This was in the main courtyard. If I understood our guide correctly they were either filming a movie here or they do occasionally film movies here. Either way – at some point in time movies might be filmed here. And nope, they did not ask me to appear in a cameo. Dang.

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This was the entrance to the residence area. One poor king who once lived here only had two wives. Another had twelve. I will ask you to remember that I am biting my tongue on this issue. I did not make up the rules and I am (very) glad I did not have to live by them.

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Ganesha is everywhere.

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This is the palace of mirrors. The king with only two wives lived here with a wife on either side. Note to the readers of the male persuasion – if you limit your time to just one woman – you will have more to spend on her palace. The living accommodations for the king with twelve wives – not quite the same.

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I took this picture.

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My husband thought maybe he should take one too. Oh yes, I do see how much better it is. Must I point out that the picture above (the one I took) captured the full border of the panel? I think not. Whatever.

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Then we went to see a concert called Mehfil within the fort. I loved it – Bear, Angel, Flower – not so much. But sometimes it’s fun to torture your children with culture. I highly recommend it. Number One Hubby did not fall asleep – you can take that as a good sign. It was 100 rupees per person ($2). No discount for kids. And it only lasted 20 minutes.

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And they had dancers at the concert too. Flower liked the one in the yellow dress the best.

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And the doors, oh the doors – they are amazing and fabulous.

We learned that Tulsi (a form of basil) is special in India.

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This is a bathtub. Okay – I have bitten a hole in my tongue. But enough already. If you are going to have 12 wives, give them a place to bathe with perhaps a curtain – a faucet. Something. If I stood in this hole it would be about as deep as my shoulders are tall. Still – privacy please. And pssst – come here – shhhh – this is not the guide I would recommend. Don’t tell. And – yes, totally unrelated – but seriously – how do you like my shirt? I will tell you more about where I got it in a post coming to a blog near you very soon.

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We were not so easily wooed by the snake charmers at the fort. Not because they weren’t perfectly charming – but simply because one snake charming per lifetime is enough thank you. No need to tempt fate. And I am not clear if these snakes have ever been invited to a puja. So, step away from the snake. Yes, that big snake called a cobra who is showing off his hood.

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Our guide pointed out this temple to us at the base of the fort. He said there are hundreds of temples in Jaipur and somehow he managed to not take us to any of them. Hmmmmm. Lesson learned – insist on seeing a temple. The one we wanted to see but were talked out of seeing was the Monkey Temple. We are not happy about that. At all.

But Jaipur is lovely and there is a lot to see. Thanks for coming on our journey with us!

When Pages Come Alive……..

Right before we left the United States, I read an amazing story about the family who built the Taj Mahal. It was Beneath A Marble Sky by John Shors. It’s historical fiction. So he took the facts and filled in the blanks. If you ever think you will visit the Taj Mahal, please read that book first. The pages will come alive.

So, we jumped right in and visited the Taj Mahal this weekend. This will probably be a long one – so go ahead and get yourself a cup of coffee. Or a beer – or whatever.

First – the drive. The Taj Mahal is about a 3-hour drive from Delhi. That is if there is no fog and no traffic. We got both. The fog was so thick that it was like driving through pudding. Vanilla pudding, but pudding none-the-less. Fog should only be an issue in the winter months. In the summer months, it’s the heat. So, pick your poison.

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It took a little much, much longer than expected. But we made it in one piece.

The Taj Mahal is located in a town named Agra. Forget everything you know about towns. Agra is congested and narrow and dirty and, did I mention congested? There are monkeys and cows and goats and people and cars and bikes and buses everywhere.

We hired a guide to take us through the Taj Mahal and its sister monument the Agra Fort. I highly recommend this. He was 500 rupees for the day – which is about $10 – we paid him more than that. It was worth every penny.

For example. He knew that you cannot park near the Taj Mahal. It used to be that you could park right in front of the monument grounds – but they are now worried about pollution. So, you have to park in a lot and either walk, ride a bus, ride an auto-rickshaw, ride a horse drawn carriage, or ride a camel drawn carriage. Which one did we pick? You got it – bring on the camel.

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This was probably the slowest (and smelliest) way to go. But I thought it would be the most authentic. Yes, my son loves me very much for that. Apparently, India has taught him that he is acutely aware of smells. Especially bad ones. This cost 300 rupees – about $6. We paid for both sides of the cart. You do not pay them until the return trip to the car. That way they will wait for you.

I did not take pictures of all the vendors who were literally on top of us as we walked down the street. Our guide told us not to look at them, not to buy anything, and not to talk to them. I guessed pictures might not be the best idea. See that college degree did pay off. I am thinking! I did learn a new word. Nay – I am not sure how you spell it – but you say it like this – Nay, Nay, Nay, NAY, NAAAAAYYYYY. And you walk quickly. And hold your kids hands. It’s not dangerous but you want them to know that no is, in fact, no.

And yes, your kids will probably want most of what they see. So it is helpful to tell them before hand not to even bother asking. Because, it turns out that it is not so helpful to have them asking you for things when you are trying to shoo the vendors away. It’s a little bit of a mixed message and the vendors can smell the want in the kids eyes.

This is the entrance to the Taj Mahal. It cost 750 rupees (about $15) to get in per adult. Children under 15 are free. You have to go through security. Yes, they pat you down. The only electronics allowed are cell phones and cameras. No ipods, MP3, or game boys. Cell phones and cameras. That’s it.

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There are 22 small domes on the entrance representing the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal. Another reason for a guide is that he will know just where to take all the good pictures and can shoo away the professional photographers who will charge you money for photos. You are allowed to take your own – you do not have to pay for them.

The Taj Mahal cost 32 million rupees to build. Twenty thousand people worked on it everyday that it was being built. This is what you see when you walk through the entrance. The Taj Mahal was meant to seem like it was floating in air. Job Well Done Shah Jahan. Floating it seems.

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It is very hard to describe how it feels to see the Taj Mahal for the first time. It is overwhelmingly majestic. It looks so soft and when you know the story of the love behind it – well, you can almost melt into its beauty.

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The grounds surrounding the Taj Mahal are beautiful as well.

This might have worked out better with a professional photographer. But it was fun trying. If you do it right, it looks like you are touching the tip of the Taj Mahal.

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The Taj Mahal and its surrounding monuments and temples are all symmetrical. The only thing that is not symmetrical is Shah Jahan’s tomb inside the Taj. His daughter buried him next to her mother after her brother stopped the building of Shah Jahan’s own mausoleum and imprisoned him. She understood their love and knew that they should spend eternity together. Awwww.

The pillars on the Taj Mahal look like they are perpendicular to the ground. They are not – they are bowing out at a 93 degree angle. This is so that from a distance it looks like they are straight up and down. Our guide also laughed that this was so that if the pillars fell, they would not fall on the monument. I am guessing that could be true. How they knew to do that so long ago and how they measured that angle? Maybe there is something to this whole math thing.

This picture was taken on the bench that was built for Princess Diana’s visit. So, I have now sat on the throne of a Princess in the Mausoleum of a King and Queen. Okay, maybe not, but a girl can dream, can’t she? Bring me my crown.

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The decorative flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal are all semi-precious stones (like lapis lazuli, jade, crystal, turquoise, and amethyst) that that have been laid into the marble. The carvings are in one big slab of marble. So if they made one mistake, they had to start all over. I was amazed that you had to cover your shoes when you walk in the building (or take them off) but you are allowed to touch any part of the walls you want. Shoes not okay – oily, dirty human hands – bring them on. Okay. It was shocking how smoothly the stones fit into the marble.

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The rules said you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Taj Mahal. So I did not. I wish I had. But, rules are rules.

Follow me on to the next post – I am going to continue this so that there aren’t so many pictures for you to load in one post.