Author: marina

Incredible India – Part I

Incredible India – Part I

It has been almost 3 weeks since I got back from my trip to India so it’s time to try putting this adventure into words. True to it’s slogan, India was really incredible: Incredibly beautiful, chaotic, interesting, noisy, colorful, dirty, fascinating, unique and crazy. So many different impressions and contrasts, I’m really glad I went and got to experience it.

First things first: I got to see the Taj Mahal and it was amazing! Seeing one of the Wonders of the World was one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip and it was even better than I thought.

It was my first trip by myself, so I was a little nervous. In order for my solo trip not to turn into an all-alone-trip, and because I was a bit intimidated (okay, a lot) by India, I signed up for a group tour through G Adventures. Within one week, we covered the Golden Triangle, which consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

Day 1: Delhi and Meeting the Travel Crew

I arrived in Delhi on Thursday night, got picked up at the airport and then went straight to the hotel and to sleep. My first impression was mixed, so I was a bit worried if this trip was the right decision. Spoiler: it 100% was. The 7 days that followed were fantastic πŸ™‚

Lodi Garden

In the morning of my first full day in India, I was scared to leave the hotel by myself but thankfully 2 other girls from my group had arrived early as well and together with them I ventured out. Nothing really went as planned, but in the end we still had a great day. We wanted to go to the Red Fort and India Gate, but wound up at Lodi Garden since our Taxi driver insisted we go there. We tried to argue but in the end we went with the flow and it was really nice.

First Indian Food

After exploring the garden, we went back to the hotel and decided to do a late lunch at Kitchen with a Cause, a project that was recommended by G Adventures. We had great lassis, curry, naan and rice, a great culinary start to the trip. During the day with company, the area around us still seemed chaotic, but much less scary πŸ™‚

Meeting the Group

In the evening we had our welcome meeting and got to know everyone in the group. We were a total of 14 people from all over: England, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to be exact, and me as the only German, thankfully πŸ™‚ Our guide Mo from Jaipur, gave us an outlook on the week and took us for dinner.

Cheers to new friends! πŸ™‚

Day 2: More of Delhi and Drive to Agra

Streets of Delhi

We started our second day in Delhi by exploring its streets. Our guide came from the project City Walk, which belongs to a trust helping children. He showed us their headquarter and also told us about the life of street children in Delhi and all over India.

Jama Mosque

Our next stop was Jama Mosque in Old Delhi. We wandered around the buildings and the huge courtyard and also climbed one of the towers. The view was really nice – we managed to see the Red Fort from above after failing to get there the day before πŸ™‚ According to a sign, “unaccompanied woman and child are not allowed to visit the tower” but thankfully Ben, one of 2 men from our travel group, escorted us and made sure we did not get into any trouble πŸ˜‰

Sikh Temple

Our next stop was a Sikh Temple, Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib to be exact. We visited the inside where people were chanting and then saw the kitchen. Every day volunteers prepare free meals for thousands of people. Anyone is welcome to help and also to have food there.

Afterwards, we got some pakoras and samosas for lunch and drove to Agra, where we had more delicious Indian food for dinner. Paneer twice a day is never a bad idea πŸ™‚

Day 3: The Taj Mahal and other Agra Gems

The Taj Mahal

Day 3 was definitely the most anticipated day for me: it started with a morning at the Taj Mahal. I can’t even really put it into words. It was pretty surreal seeing it in person and we got so incredibly lucky with the weather. No fog, not much smog, and sunshine with a bright blue sky. I pretty much smiled the whole morning and took way too many pictures. Thankfully, the girls from my group indulged me in snapping all of the touristy shots I wanted πŸ™‚

Agra Fort

Agra Fort, our second stop, was really beautiful as well. Surprisingly, one of the things I liked most about the trip was that I was not prepared. I roughly knew the agenda but because it was so close to Christmas, it just snuck up on me and I didn’t really do any research. That meant that basically every day my mind was blown by all the sights we saw and different things we got to experience. Agra Fort was one of them. Having zero expectations walking in just meant that around every corner was something new and beautiful to see.

We also had fun taking silly group photos – the theme was supposed to be “boy band album cover” or “Beverly Hills 90210” πŸ™‚

Baby Taj

The Baby Taj was another surprise. According to our guide Mo, it’s a small, really beautiful and underrated monument that often gets forgotten next to the much much bigger Taj Mahal. He was definitely right. It was really peaceful and so pretty there. Walking around barefoot in the warm afternoon sun made it even better.

Marble inlaying

After a fantastic day of sightseeing, we stopped by a workshop that does marble inlaying, the same technique which was used on the Taj Mahal marble. It was really interesting to see. The amount of work that goes into each piece is crazy.

Another Dinner with a Cause

For dinner, we headed to Sheroes Hangout Cafe, a place run by acid attack survivors. Before we had dinner, they showed a video about the incredible women who work there and their stories. The food was delicious and knowing we were dining for a good cause made it even better. It was also the evening I earned the reputation for being the … let’s call it “most hungry” person in the group. Somehow, everyone was suddenly done and I ended up finishing all of our food. Even our waitress was impressed and cheered me on πŸ˜‰

To be continued …

Happy New Year of the Rat!

Happy New Year of the Rat!

Today is the last day in the year of the pig and tomorrow, the year of the rat begins – it’s Chinese New Year again!

After only 10 days in China I’m getting on a plane to India today for a one week trip of the Golden Triangle. Thorben is still in Germany over CNY and we’ll be both back in Shanghai in February. Until then, have a great start into the rat year πŸ™‚

New Year’s in Paris

New Year’s in Paris

I’ve been back in Shanghai for a week now and it’s time to write about our last trip of 2019 before the next one starts!

We finished 2019 and started 2020 in Paris. Our friend Rich moved there in the summer and so we stayed with him for a few days. We had 3 great days of food, wine, catching up, hanging out watching Netflix, more food and some walks through Paris.

On our first day, we went to Caves du Louvre, a cool little museum/wine cellar. It was an interactive exhibit about wine and wine making and in the end you could taste 3 French wines from different regions. Afterwards, we headed to a market to buy some spreads, cheese and baguette and then hung out at home and watched too many episodes of RuPauls Drag race. So many references I finally understand now πŸ™‚ We also had a great dinner at Jaja.

On the 31., we did a market tour with food tastings, another fun AirBnB experience. Our guide was really nice and gave us a lot of information about wine and cheese and local specialties.

For our NYE dinner, Rich had hired a great chef, who made us a lot of fantastic food. Truly a great last meal of 2019 (and there were so many!). Our spot for celebrating the new year was a little cabaret theater/bar, where Thorben was identified and mocked relentlessly as the only straight guy in sight. In summary: 2020 started with laughs, champagne, singing and dancing πŸ™‚

After a very lazy first of January, we finally got off the couch as it was getting dark and went for a walk around Paris. We checked out Notre Dame, or the damage to Notre Dame and because I’m a silly tourist, I requested to stop at the Louvre and to take a very touristy photo in front of it.

Even though I’ve already been to Paris 3 times, I had this urge to go to the Eiffel tower. Like the trip to Paris would not really be a trip to Paris without having seen it πŸ™‚ Thankfully, Thorben indulged me with this plan on our last morning, even though it meant another long walk – damn you, metro strike! We also got to see the Arc de Triomphe on the way. Trip to Paris: complete!

2019 – Another Year in Review

2019 – Another Year in Review

I had so much fun doing my 2017 and 2018 review, so here we go again, starting with the exact same sentence:

2019: it’s been a crazy year!

January

I spent half of the month in Germany combining work and seeing friends and family, while Thorben returned to Shanghai a bit earlier. He brought some North German culture with him and hosted a GrΓΌnkohl dinner. I also finished the planning and booking for our big 2019 vacation – a long awaited trip to New Zealand.

February

Over Chinese New Year, we explored New Zealand. We spent 1 week on the North Island and 2 weeks on the South Island and went skydiving! It was a great trip, maybe my favorite one so far, and I wish I was already planning the next one.

March

March was a food month: It was restaurant week again, and I had fun eating and also making lots of food. I also started my BonApp “career” (I’m now a power user πŸ˜‰ ). My mom turned 60, so I surprised her on the morning of her birthday and spent a fun week in Germany.

April

Spring really started in April and brought beautiful weather and even more beautiful cherry blossoms which I enjoyed with friends at Gucun Park and during Thorben’s long birthday weekend. Work took me to Wuzhen Water Town, another amazing place in China. There was lots of great food as always, for example the dumplings we made at our friends’ house.

May

As usual, May was the best month of the year because it’s my birthday, which we celebrated with lots and lots of food (surprise) and great people πŸ™‚ Other highlights were my sister and Timo’s visit and a trip to Disneyland. I also started a new job in May and Thorben went on a trip to Thailand with his colleagues for their annual outing.

June

June was filled with travel: We took a trip to Kuching to celebrate Eid and see Orang Utans and I went on a business trip to Germany which I could combine with some belated birthday celebrations and a trip to the BUGA. I also said good bye to a friend with a fun food tour through Shanghai.

July

Work, dinners, brunches, birthdays, walks with Khan … July was a pretty normal Shanghai month for me. It was hot and humid, but not as bad as the 2017 summer. Thorben started a new role in July and went to Germany for business.

August

August continued with work and food and friends and fun πŸ™‚ I also tried crayfish for the first time and talked about it on TV. The month finished with restaurant week and a party at the W, neither of which I blogged about. Oops.

September

In September, I finally went to visit my sister and Timo in Singapore. We had lots of great food and I enjoyed their pool. Back in Shanghai, Jana came to visit and we did a tour of a chocolate factory and ate a lot.

October

Our Golden Week trip took us to Indonesia. A few days with Marlyn’s family in Jakarta and a week on Flores: we saw Komodo Dragons and other beautiful islands close to Labuan Bajo and explored traditional villages in Bajawa.

November

In November, I baked a lot of Christmas cookies, while Thorben was on another business trip in Germany. I took advantage of 11/11 to get started on my Christmas shopping, in preparation for the annual US trip. We spent Thanksgiving in Arizona, eating, shopping and having fun with my host family.

December

The biggest event of the year happened in December: I became an aunt! Christmas parties, cookies, dinners … December in Shanghai went by really fast and on the 19th we flew to Germany to celebrate Christmas, birthdays and spent time with friends and family.

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming

I was just about to title this post “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” and then I realized that my Christmas post last year had that exact same title. Looks like I haven’t gotten any more creative with my blogging this year πŸ™‚

Anyway, back to the actual topic: I started the Christmas season early and finished my Christmas cookies in November already because I wanted to have them ready for our US trip. It took me 2 full weekends plus a few weeknights of baking, but I’m quite proud of the result. 8 different kind is a new record for me! I still have a long way to go to reach my mom’s 17 kinds, but I’m slowly improving πŸ˜‰

Thorben went on a business trip to Germany in November and brought back some Gingerbread, Spekulatius and goodies from my mom, so we were ready to get festive. When we came back home on December 1st, all that was left to do was get some Christmas decoration and start eating all the cookies.

… which is exactly what we did on our first weekend back. We had little Advent tea at our place on December 7 and ate our way through a few plates of cookies.

Since then, there were quite a few Christmas parties or holiday themed events here: A GGI gift exchange, an Italian aperetivo, a trip to the Christmas market that turned into a Raclette and mulled wine night because there was a massive queue to get into the market, a small Christmas dinner with friends, a very big Christmas dinner with a Secret Santa and drinks afterwards, another Christmas get together with hot chocolate, games and movies and then we hosted a dinner at our place followed by cookies on Sunday.

The Christmas season in Shanghai was really fun and festive and definitely got me in the mood for more. Tonight, we’re flying to Germany for some more holiday spirit and of course to celebrate Christmas with our families!

See you in 2020, Shanghai!

Thanksgiving in Arizona

Thanksgiving in Arizona

This year, the annual US trip was a bit slower than last time, only Arizona was on the agenda, so no crazy flying around between 3 states. We spent 7 full days with my host family, and had lots of fun and food.

Family fun

Games, charades, swimming in the pool, cooking, baking, eating together, snuggling (or yelling at) the 4 dogs, watching movies, and just hanging out talking – that’s how we spent the majority of our trip. I was lucky that I got to see 4 of my host siblings, plus my host sister’s super adorable twin girls, which let me practice my auntie skills a little πŸ™‚

Burgers & Shopping

In N Out deserves it’s own category! I managed to get 2 cheeseburger meals in, which we worked off with a day of outlet shopping. We also took a trip to Costco to give Thorben the full American experience πŸ™‚

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was our second to last day and we spent the day before and half of Thanksgiving itself making lots and lots of yummy food. We had an awesome buffet with all the classics: a 15 pound turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and a potato hash casserole (which I named heart attack potatoes), homemade rolls, green beans and roasted veggies. The desserts were an American-German collaboration: pumpkin pie, pecan pie bars, apricot bars and Apfel-Streusel-Kuchen plus the first round of Christmas cookies, which I’d finished just in time for our trip πŸ™‚

I’d say the 2019 US trip was a big success. As always, I wish it could have been longer and hopefully, I’ll manage to see the Utah part of the family on my next visit! Thanks to my awesome host family, it’s been 13 years now that they put up with me at least once a year πŸ™‚