Well, here it is! My travel adventures in a blog post! Even though I’ve been running around trying to ‘find my life’ again after being gone for so long, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my experiences over the last month and a half. I’ve had a lot of you ask to hear about my travels, and I’ve been having fun doing it! (I’m flattered that so many of you were interested! Makes me smile :))
(Here it is in a nutshell! At the end of the post there is a video of this, should you be interested :))
Europe (Italy and France)
So, I left the U.S. of A. on December 11, 2010 for a trip to Italy and France with two friends, both also horticulturalists and interested in seeing gardens of Europe. We also went to visit a very good friend whom we all worked with at Longwood Gardens, in PA. Our friend is currently working as a gardener for a private estate in Florence, Italy. So we spent about 4 days there. Food was limited, as Italian food tends to have a lot of cheese and pasta, but I enjoyed myself none the less. Wine was also cheaper than water in most cases, which I found very amusing!
Blog Post Link: Boboli Gardens (Unfortunately I’ve only had time to write up one horticulture/garden related post so far – here it is!)
Next was Rome and Tivoli. We spent a day in Rome exploring the city itself (and walked countless miles it seemed!) and enjoyed the sunny yet crisp weather. Then we spent a day in Tivoli, visiting Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) and Villa D’Este, a very famous fountain garden.
Our flight to France had a small hiccup that left us in Brussels. We spent about a day ‘enjoying’ the rugged countryside of Belgium while being transported on a bus to Paris – in a snowstorm. Once in Paris, we spent a day touring around the city on foot, looking mostly at public parks and gardens. In the snow! It was truly beautiful. Our last day in Paris was spent just outside of it, in Versailles. Words cannot describe how much we enjoyed it. I’m sure it’s breathtaking in the spring and summer months as well, but I wholeheartedly fell in love with the ‘winter Versailles’. (Yes, that last photo is us at a McDonalds in France… but they have really good potato wedges there! :D)
Catching the train under the English channel landed me in London just a few days before Christmas. I was met there by one of my classmates, whose family was generous enough to invite me to stay at their home for the holidays. I spent much of my time in England trying to catch up on sleep (and recover from some health problems I’d been experiencing), but the highlights of that part of the trip include The Nutcracker Ballet at the London Coliseum theatre, tasty English holiday dinners, multiple occasions of Christmas crackers, a small town English pantomime, and a fox hunt.
January 6 marked the end of my time in England, although there was a point that my classmate and I didn’t think we’d be leaving. We hit severe traffic on the M25 headed towards Heathrow (5 car pileup happened one junction ahead of us). Jumping across the highway with luggage, catching a ride with a highway worker, and leaving an unattended car in the front of Heathrow are all just parts of the story. But to make the story short, we made it juuuust in time to catch our flight. And were grinning like buffoons as we flew into Dubai International Airport.
The Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Oman)
In Dubai, we met up with the whole class plus two chaperones from Longwood Gardens (7 of us total) and headed straight to Oman. There we visited the Oman Botanic Garden, which is still under construction. We ate a traditional Omani meal with the staff there, which involved plastic, a large plate of yummy rice, the use of only our right hands, and a whole big mess at the end! (It was FABULOUS. I could get used to that!)
(As my class and I worked really hard to produce blogs about each day that we were on the trip, I’m going to link to them here. There are some really fun photos and we even have some great video footage of our travels – check them out if you have time! :))
Blog post link: O-man, What a Day!
Blog post link: Oman Botanic Garden
Next we went to Abu Dhabi, to visit the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, which is also a new project. There is currently an existing zoo, the new master plan encompasses 5 times the amount of what’s there. They are planning a desert safari that will represent desert regions of the world. There we were fed the most amazing cuisine, although I was mostly taken by the dates (a weakness of mine) that were absolutely to die for! (Most of the food they served I wasn’t able to eat, but it was so beautiful I was happy just to take pictures of it!)
Blog post link: Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort
We had a quick stop in the city of Dubai before heading out of the UAE (United Arab Emirates). One of the things that struck me the most was how abrupt the city was. It was miles and miles of sand and in some rare cases, rural dwellings, but then BOOM. A city! Right out of the sand. No suburbia, no crazy traffic… nothing that you’d normally expect from a established city. We enjoyed seeing the tallest building the world, Burj Khalifa and experiencing the ‘worldclass’ nature of Dubai.
We arrived in the southern most tip of India, in Trivandrum (Thivananthepurum is the technical India name) where it was incredibly humid and hot. My first impressions of India were actually in line with what I expected – lots and lots of people, semi scary drivers, and a huge range between poverty and wealth. And the food? Well… let me tell you… South Indian food is a MUST EAT for those of us in the gluten free world. Tasty idly, crispy dosa’s, and flavor bursting curries are all naturally gluten free. Lets just say that for the first time since I left the states, I ate a like a queen! Pictures include local markets, food served to us at a fancy hotel restaurant, and food from various local restaurants.
Blog post link: Thiruvananthapuram
Blog post link: The Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (Kerala)
Blog post link: Brindavan Garden (Mysore)
Blog post link: Lalbagh Botanical Garden (Bangalore)
Northern India was much more pleasant in terms of weather, it didn’t have the crazy humidity of the south! At first, I was really bummed to be leaving the region of rice and coconut milk, but when we got to Delhi we discovered that they had ‘southern Indian’ sections on menu’s! So I still ate a lot of rice and coconut milk curries while in the north :)
Photos here include the Taj Mahal, local cuisine, our train ride in the foothills of the Himalayas, and a view of the Himalayas. At the very bottom you’ll find photos purely from Delhi. Pineapple, grains in sackclothes, making sugary treats, a date cart (WHOO!!!), street food, and the last one is a young man selling Indian bread out of an open basket.
Blog post link: New Delhi ‘Rest’ Day
Blog post link: Lodi Garden and President of India Estate (New Delhi)
Blog post link: The Taj Mahal and Ram Bagh (Agra)
Blog post link: The National Botanic Research Institute (Lucknow)
Blog post link: Nek Chand’s Rock Garden (Chandigarh)