January 3, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia

The Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel: Iconic masterpieces like these often seem larger than life. But then you see them in person and, well, there they are, larger than something and no doubt impressive, although maybe not as large and magnificent as you’d anticipated after all those years of hype and history books.


The Taj Mahal, however, is not one of those places.



I initially saw the Taj while seated on a distant rooftop, where I munched on a lunch of spicy rice and yogurt-dipped naan bread. The architectural marvel, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his *favorite* wife, peeked above the skyline like a mirage amidst a sea of trees. It was intriguing to be sure, but still a distant, almost incomprehensible speck, like trying to fathom the size of a city from a plane 35,000 feet above.



Tummies full, we joined the groups of Indians trekking down a long road to the Taj. The families were making the pilgrimage from all around the nation – an irony not lost on me considering that Candace and I had recently completed our very own pilgrimage on the Camino only months before.




Along the way, we folded into the crowd, joining them like family, making friends, sharing snap shops of who we, where we were from and why we were there. Oddly enough, not unlike the Camino, I felt bonded to my walking companions in an impossibly short amount of time and, in many cases, without even exchanging any words. I think we all shared the same enthusiastic twinkle in our eyes born out of an eagerness to know one another, not to mention the treasure at the end of our path. So it was bittersweet when we arrived at the Taj entrance and had to part, Indian citizens going through one line and Candace and I through another.



I don’t much remember the moments between leaving my new Indian friends and those few that followed; I was too distracted by what lie ahead. While I’d seen the Taj from a rooftop, once I was on street level it had disappeared, tempting me in its absence. But finally it appeared once again, revealed through a key-hole gate, where it grew larger and more radiant as we crossed the threshold.



And there it was. Somehow all the tufts of trees seemed to fall away – it was as though the skyline that I’d seen from the rooftop had vaporized into nothing, and that the Taj were now sitting on a gigantic platter for all to see. There must have been thousands of us scattered on the land that surrounded it, and yet we somehow fell away too, insignificant and nearly invisible in comparison (well, except for this darling little guy below).



Indeed, it was large and it was magnificent. And it turns out that even hype and history books can’t overstate the magic that is the Taj Mahal.

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December 19, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia

“What did you like most about India?” – that’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days when asking me about my recent trip. And I continue to have one very simple answer: the Indians.


I’ve never encountered people so friendly and welcoming in all of my travels. Often not rich in wealth, the Indians I met were abundantly rich in happiness and warmth. It radiated from them as brightly as their vibrantly hued saris and shimmering gold jewelry.

What made this so especially meaningful was that it allowed me to engage with their culture in a way that I haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to elsewhere. We shared a mutual curiosity: They wanted to ask me questions, take pictures of me and with me, and I therefore felt comfortable doing the same with them. The result was a warm exchange between two cultures – one that left me humbled, awestruck and even perplexed.

This couple was nudging their son to step forward so that I’d take his picture



Perplexed because it made me wonder: if we could all approach those that are different than us with this same enthusiastic curiosity – the same happiness and eagerness to get to know – then what a different world this would be.

So while India offered me an experience filled with magical moments — the food, the sights, the music — it was the people that truly left the most meaningful mark on me. And it’s because of the people that I am certain I will one day return.

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November 28, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain, Trips to the US

Sometimes you meet a soul friend — a person that, with very few words or encounters, you just feel like you’ve known for a lifetime. My friend Candace is one of those people.


It might seem like a cheesy term, I suppose — soul friend — but there’s really no better way to describe our friendship. We first met two years ago at a travel-blogging conference in Copenhagen. Both feeling somewhat out of our element, we formed an instant bond over the spontaneity of chasing down a horse-drawn carriage that was delivering the season’s Christmas beer. Sporting illuminated blue Santa caps, we toyed with the idea of a future get-together (Spain, perhaps?) but, like most chance meetings, she could have very well just ended up being one of many Facebook friends that I “met that one time when I was traveling.”



That wouldn’t be the case for us, though. A year and a half and several sporadic emails later, and Candace messaged me to say she was finally thinking about coming to Spain. Not just to visit, though, but to do the Camino de Santiago.


Hmmm, I thought, the Camino.


The idea danced in my head, both tempting and terrifying me. I didn’t have any gear, I’m not a backpacker (far from it), and I barely knew Candace. But the time was right and the Camino called.


So I went, and I had one of the most moving experiences of my life. We stayed in grungy albergues (hostels along the Camino), ran through frigid poring rain, and lamented over gnarly foot injuries. We cried, we laughed, we complained, and we covered not only ground, but probably every discussable subject possible. We saw magic on that trip in the people we met, in the pain (both physical and emotional), and in the triumph of powering through it all to arrive at our destination.



And then Candace was off again, to the States and then to India (her new home, if you can believe it). “Yes, yes, I will see you in India,” I said with the same certainty as our first conversation in Denmark, aware that only time would tell when or how our paths would cross next.


Indeed, our next chance encounter wouldn’t be in India, but instead in San Francisco. My flight was already booked home last summer when Candace told me she would be in the North Bay for a writing conference. “Will you be there? Would you like to come?” she asked on the off chance I’d be around and interested. My answer was a resounding “yes” (or more like: “You’re what?!!!? When??!! Yes!!!!!).


Even better, with the event taking place in a tiny town, she not only needed transport, but a place to stay. So for several days, we held slumber parties at my friend’s house in San Francisco, and commuted each morning through the ethereal fog engulfing the Golden Gate. Once again we saw magic: magic in the conference, magic in spending time together in a third country (our country!), and magic in the serendipity of it all.



But alas, this trip too would end with no guarantee of when our worlds would intersect once more. Again, I vowed that I’d come visit her in India, knowing that logistically many stars would have to align (those stars being my budget, timing, and more of my budget).


Of course those stars lined up just like Orion’s belt. Not only would Candace be free in November, as would I — perhaps the very best time of year to visit India — but I was able to buy a plane ticket with miles! In fact, my whole trip to India would cost me a sum total of roughly $400 (flight, visa, food, souvenirs and (free) lodging). The travel and friendship gods must have really been smiling down on us, especially since silly me didn’t realize I needed a visa until just nine business days before the trip, when it was supposed to take ten days to process; it only took seven.


And off to India I went, where our next adventure would begin.



When Candace and I parted at the airport last Friday, we embraced, knowing that even though we have no idea when we’ll see each other next, that it will happen, and there will be magic.


Thank you, Hammie Hamster, for another amazing journey!

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