12 Days • 4 Countries • 7 Flights • 7 Passport Stamps • 1 Police Report
Before I get started, I just wanted to recommend an app that saved my butt throughout this whole trip. I had some issues with my cellular provider and I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of changing SIM cards and getting coverage in the 4 other countries I would be visiting. So I went without. Instead I used the Google Trips app! This app allows you to easily find all of the best things to do in a new place and you can download the city onto your phone so that your maps are still visible in the Google Maps app. You can’t navigate unless you have WiFi, but you can see your current location at all times and simply navigate yourself from one point to the next. As someone who travels to new places a lot, I highly recommend this app because it makes planning super easy and it streamlines your experience.
On my way to Chennai, I was flying standby so I scheduled an extra day at my layover in Frankfurt to make sure I would get to Chennai in time. It was super cold so I had to bundle up and eventually bought a pair of warm gloves but overall it wasn’t bad, especially when the sun was out. It’s mainly a business city so there wasn’t all that much for a tourist to do, but I found a few fun things for the day. I spent the day exploring street markets, Römerberg Square, and the Palmengarten botanical garden. Pro tip – hardly anyone here takes credit. Definitely get some Euros before you head out, but plan to use an ATM because the ATM fee will be significantly lower than the conversion rates and fees.
I was the first one of our group to land in Chennai and it was 2 in the morning by the time I got through immigration and customs. Exhausted and rather confused, I headed into a throng of people outside the airport who were yelling and trying to get business for their taxis. If you’ve ever been frustrated with traffic and the Uber/Lyft driver lines at the airport, you will find a whole new appreciation for it when you see the chaos that is outside Indian airports. I eventually found a guy that I felt I could bully a little bit because they always try to up-charge tourists and I didn’t have cell service to call a proper price-controlled Uber. After a lot of haggling and pretending to walk away, I finally got the ride down to a reasonable price and then foolishly proceeded to try getting into the driver’s side – forgetting that the driver position is the opposite from American cars. I asked the driver to give me his cell phone so I could watch our trip on Google Maps because I know they will sometimes try to trick you and drop you at a different place. After an eternity of honking and seeing cows on the side of the road, I finally arrived to Feathers Radha hotel which was one of the best hotels I had ever stayed in and it cost less than $100 dollars for the night! When I woke up in my hotel the next morning I had the most incredible view with beautiful hazy sunrise light floating over everything.
When the rest of the group arrived, we went to the hotel where we were staying for the wedding. After waiting to check in and enjoying a rooftop breakfast of fresh dosas and masala chai, we got ready and headed out to our scheduled surf lessons at SurfTurf. We enjoyed a nice afternoon of relaxing and eating lunch before the lesson began. I only got up on the board successfully one time and quickly fell off so I wouldn’t quite call myself an amateur, but at least I know the basics to get into it when I visit California in the future!
Shopping in T Nagar was extremely crowded and packed with shops and street vendors selling everything you could think of including sarees, lehengas, purses, shoes, gold jewelry and colorful bangles, fresh fruit, jasmine garlands for hair, and so much more! My blonde hair stood out so intensely that we had people swarming our group trying to get us to buy from them – the guys didn’t seem to have this problem when I wasn’t around them. I eventually bought a dupatta (scarf) in a feeble attempt to cover up and blend in a bit more. It was so crowded that I didn’t think it was a smart idea to pull out my camera but I did buy several sarees and a few small items to bring back with me, but I did get a cute iPhone photo of Wil and his bananas!
We attended 2 days of the wedding and had such a good time! Here’s a couple images of my outfits and my failure to wear a saree correctly (it’s super hard, even when you pin it in place!).
Kee looked absolutely beautiful with her perfect wedding glow and beautiful wedding sarees. Both Kee and Vig were radiating with happiness as they spoke with family and proceeded with the wedding ceremonies.
The last day, I was the last to leave so I took my time packing and when I was ready to go I still had a few hours before I needed to head to the airport. I decided to wander the streets of the nearby area exploring the shops, seeing the people, and embracing my final sights and sounds of this place. I accidentally walked down a side street and into a housing alley and got many strange looks from families as they called their relatives to quickly come and see the crazy white lady walking by the house (it was seriously jarring how much I stood out, but I just smiled and said hi to everyone nicely).
Just to get back to Europe, I took the same flight back to Frankfurt, but I was only there long enough to get my checked bag and switch over to KLM Airline.
This was by far my FAVORITE part of the whole trip! The first day I wandered through Vondel Park and admired the luscious light dripping through the monumental trees and the song of bright green Indian Ringneck Parakeets flying overhead. As it got dark, I ventured down the streets with no clue where I was headed. I stopped into a nice little gastropub called Ron for dinner. The menu was primarily meat-based but the vegetarian options included something called a flammekuchen (a flatbread of sorts?). Literally one of the top 5 things I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. It was one of the meals that haunts you for years with cravings that you just can’t satisfy. 10/10 would recommend.
I started the morning by looking for the stroopwafel stand at the Albert Cuyp Markt. This is one of the few places that serves a proper fresh stroopwafel, which is so amazing and good! Don’t let the packaged ones from United flights or Costco fool you – fresh is a whole different experience. It was bitter cold so I bought a cheesy tourist hat (there wasn’t anything normal for the sake of staying warm). I had a bit of time left before the Heineken museum opened so I stopped for a drink in a nearby coffee shop.
The whole time I was in Paris, I chose to slow down my touristy side and simply explore and appreciate. Thanks to a ridiculously long semester spent learning the Parisian metro system in high school, I was able to catch the train and figure my way through Paris a little easier than planned. When I arrived to my hotel, I took a stroll to see the Eiffel Tour and bought a ticket to go to the top. Did you know that if you’re 24 or younger, you’re considered “jeune” or “young” and get kid pricing to all of these things?? It was super windy and cold but the night view was beautiful and the architecture was stunning. I would have loved to see it at sunset. After I left, I stopped into a 24 hour cafe for a delicious crème brûlée and then headed back to my hotel for the night.
The next day I went to the Arc D’Triomphe with another solo adventurer I had met at the Eiffel Tour the night before. He was from Budapest and it was interesting to have another perspective as we discussed photography and the different tourist sites. I speak intermediate french from my high school days and was super rusty but I was able to have a few broken conversations with old men in the Luxembourg Gardens and along the streets. The traffic was absolutely insane as cars flew around the roundabout but there’s an underground tunnel that takes you to the tower. With a hefty climb up the tightly wound spiral staircase of the Arc, we eventually made it to the top and had a stunning view of the entire city and several historic landmarks all around.
Ok – so now the story you’ve been waiting for: the police report. My last night, I had some wine and cheese by myself near Moulin Rouge. Afterwards, I went to a bar for some wifi to figure out if there was anything else nearby. The gentleman next to me only spoke English and had trouble communicating with the bartender when his card was declined. I helped translate for them and we started talking. Shortly after, I felt the man on the other side of me pull his hand out of my purse and I confronted him quite frankly with some of the best french I’d used all trip. When I opened my purse to show that I knew he took something, he threw my phone back into the bag and tried to take off out the door. The guy on the other side of me jumped up and tackled the pickpocket to hold him until the police came.
When the police arrived, they asked for both of us to come to the police station to make a report on the man in custody. I climbed into the back of the cop car, half inebriated. I was seated in the middle between an officer and the man from the bar who tackled the pickpocket. I couldn’t figure out the seatbelt before we took off and the officers spoke very broken English so I just went with it. The lights were flipped on, the sirens blared, and the officers took off driving full speed, even though there was no rush at this point. I sat in the backseat trying my hardest hold myself steady and not be thrown on top the people on either side of me, all the while wondering how I had gotten myself into this crazy situation. At one point we were going the wrong way down a narrow side street and another car came toward us. The officer driving simply threw the car into reverse and drove just as quickly backwards and around the corner before continuing on.
Finally at the police station, it turned out the pickpocket had quite a bit of stuff from other people as well so I had to give a full statement. They said it was best if I could give the statement in broken French rather than use a translator because error in translation could have been used in the thief’s favor. Guess I got the practice I’d asked for brushing up on my French! I just didn’t anticipate that I would be stumbled through a formal statement and used a lot of charades to describe my words. Oh and I got a copy of the police report – quite the souvenir!
After waking up a little late from the craziness of the night before, I found one last flight to the US from Paris and took the train to see if I could catch a ride with Delta. Luckily it worked out and I had the most comfortable flight of the entire trip!
I was jetlagged for over a week and a half after my trip with a crazy headache and nausea. It was kind of a bummer that I went during the winter months because it was so cold but I am so grateful for this experience and cannot wait to go back again!