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Travel

We were slightly majorly delayed heading back to Newark last night for a round of doctor appointments and tests in New York today and tomorrow. As usual [knock on wood] Kai flew well, even after an aborted takeoff, hanging out in the airport for a few more hours while the plane was fixed, and reboarding the plane hours after her normal bedtime. I was amazed and relieved that she made it all that time without any cranky episodes. Remember, this is the loudest baby that our daycare has ever encountered.

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So what’s on the agenda in New York this week? Any new information?

No new information. A pretty packed agenda though.

This morning I will get loaded up with radioactive glucose to have a PET scan done. Between nerves and fasting since midnight, I’m sure that I am delightful to be around right now. The fasting is so that any cancer cells, who have faster metabolism than normal cells, can go to town on that radioactive glucose and show up extra bright on the scan.

I’m irrationally scared of being PET scanned because, over and over again, I have played out the scenario in my mind where they scan me and the whole thing lights up. Not likely, but terrifying nonetheless. It is silly to let me get to myself that way. Fortunately, going back to work this week has been a very good thing. I’m one of those people who is lucky enough to like my job and like my co-workers, so going to work was a welcome distraction from my nonstop Googling.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of the day’s events is being slightly radioactive for the rest of the day. I am supposed to avoid contact with children and pregnant women, so holding Kai, or even getting close to her, is a no-no right now. Fortunately, I have plenty of people to help with Kai. Unfortunately, I am convinced that I am like the Supreme Master of Kaicare. Obviously there is nobody else as capable.

Um, right. So she survives daycare day in and day out. Even perfect strangers seem to do it just fine.

Today I will also meet with another surgeon. Not surprisingly, it is pretty sketchy to open up someone’s upper chest. It turns out that there is a lot of important and easily damaged stuff in there. I don’t know for sure at this point (I should have asked) but I think I am being shuffled between different types of surgeons so that they can compare approaches and decide who can access this mass in my chest in the safest way possible.

Finally, tomorrow I will have another, hopefully conclusive, biopsy done. Unfortunately, there are two things working against me on this one. First, the tumor is difficult to access well enough to get lots of cells to analyze. Second, if we are talking Hodgkin’s lymphoma here, the cells needed to type it are very large cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. It sounds like they are not all that likely to be picked up with a fine needle aspiration which is what I am having done.

What does all of this mean?

Well, the PET scan should give us an idea of how much of this we are dealing with and where it is located, the biopsy may or may not tell us what the ‘this‘ is, and the surgeon may or may not feel good about opening me up. I have a feeling that the surgeon is the only one who will yield any meaningful immediate feedback.

It sounds strange to say this, but I am really looking forward to finding out the what and the how much. I will be able to reallocate my Google time to more productive searches and can hopefully focus on a real scenario, not multiple worst case ones.

Hopefully my mom is having as good of luck with Kai today as I did on her twelfth flight last night!

After countless people told me that we were crazy, I won’t necessarily dispute them, but I will be sure to tell them that they were wrong about taking Kai to Australia.
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As I alluded to in my last two posts, Kai flew quietly from Indy, on through Chicago, and to Los Angeles. We were quite impressed, but a bit nervous that a solid day of sleep would bite us when it really counted on the flight from LA to Sydney. We got even more nervous when we boarded our flight and found out that we would not have the bassinet that had been promised to us again and again over the past few weeks. [Huge customer service fail.] That little change of plans made me seriously question my judgement. Um, wait, I’m going to hold the loudest baby daycare has ever seen for the next fourteen hours?

Indeed, I was, well, with a few breaks provided by Chris anyway. Surprisingly, it went pretty well. Naturally, we were on the plane long enough for Kai to get fussy to let me know that her diaper was dirty and, admittedly, we had two screaming outbursts lasting more than a minute or so.

The first was when we had to do a diaper/clothes/diaper change when Kai decided that she needed to go more halfway through a diaper change. To her credit, she did calm down right away after she was clean and fully dressed again. This baby does not like to be naked!

The second was when we had to wait for nearly ten minutes for the bathroom with the changing table. Some dude was in there treating it like his home throne. He was in there long enough that I knocked and asked him if he was ok. He did not answer me, but he did promptly emerge from the bathroom.

I might have tried changing the diaper at my seat, but I could feel her little rear end rumbling in my hand, so I was sure that it was going to be a serious diaper. I was right and, after the double diaper change earlier, I was glad that I hung out and waited for a proper changing table.

Other than those two incidents, things went amazingly well. In fact, she cried significantly less in this twenty four hour period than in a typical one at home. Kai seems to be a sucker for white noise, so an airplane might be the perfect soothing device for her.

All in all, things went well. In fact, it may have been the least traumatic 12+ hour flight* I have ever been on. Normally I face unprecedented levels of boredom by say, hour two, but Kai did a good job of keeping me busy and entertained the whole way.

*economy

Watch out world! Here comes Kai!
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One more successful flight behind us. We managed not to get booted off the plane between Chicago and LA. Keeping my fingers crossed for the really long one!

If you think you hate your passport photo, I can’t wait to hear what Kai has to say about her first passport photo someday. Over the course of two photo sessions, Chris and I did our best to capture her image in compliance with U.S. Department of State Passport Photo Standards, the most difficult of which were to make sure that the picture was taken in full-face view directly facing the camera with a neutral facial expression and both eyes open.

Haha. Yeah right.

I’m not sure if they’ll accept this or not, but it was the best that I could muster and involved restraining her to keep her hands out of her mouth. Pretty wild looking. I swear that she is cuter in person than this photo reflects; this event was pretty miserable for both of us.

The first photo shoot last night with Chris was kind of fun because it was amusing to look at the pictures that we were getting versus what we were trying for. When it seemed like crying was eminent, we gave up for the night.

This morning it was crunch time and I was determined to get a compliant photo, no matter how long it took. I am pretty satisfied with the result except that I had set out on this endeavor in pursuit of a cute picture that fit the bill. Let’s just say that I decided to adjust my expectations after a few minutes.

Now to guess what color eyes she has for her passport application. I think we’re going to list her as a blonde with blue eyes. At this point her hair is definitely blonde, but her eye color is solidly up in the air. Two days ago I was convinced that they were turning blue, but yesterday they definitely looked brownish. No idea yet; I am excited to find out!

Kai’s first international travel experiences should be pretty exciting, but not necessarily in a good, relaxing for Chris and I way. I have to go to Australia again in March and, since I am her only food source, she will be coming too. (Chris will also go to watch her.) Hopefully we are not completely scared off from travelling with a baby after that 16 hour flight from LA to Melbourne because we have signed her up for a jaunt to Paris in April.

These are reckless, irresponsible plans. Hopefully we can get Business Class upgrades for our own sanity.

Go big or go home, right? [I’m sure I’ll have some exciting (but not necessarily good) update stories.]

I envisioned arriving at the Chennai airport, breezing through the business class check in line, passing through customs one last time, and then heading for the lounge to guzzle free water until it was time to pass through security to my gate. Just to be sure that this plan worked out, in spite of the hot humid temperature and lack of air conditioning at the airport, I elected to wear Chris’ hooded sweatshirt through this process to avoid questions about being pregnant.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

No. I didn’t get stopped for being pregnant. Instead I was held up for any and every other reason imaginable. Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but for the first time ever I was glad to have arrived at the airport two hours early because I needed every minute of those two hours.

First stop: Check-in.

I rolled my three checked bags, Continental’s maximum allowed number for international business class, up to the counter. All of them weighed in ok, were tagged, and I thought I was about to be on my way until the agent said that I would need to go to the Lufthansa office to pay my €150 fee.

Wait. My what?

The first leg of my trip was a Continental/Lufthansa code share. My ticket was purchased through Continental.com, but the Lufthansa baggage policy was being enforced.

I began to protest. €150 is a lot of money! Finally they agreed to set my bags aside and verify Continental’s policy.

My waiting began. I stood, in the non-air conditioned airport, sweat drenched in Chris’ hoodie, for thirty long minutes waiting for some person in the Lufthansa back office to check Continental’s baggage policy. Finally, the ticketing agent’s radio crackled to life. ‘She must pay.’

I protested. I spent the next twenty minutes talking to the ticketing agent’s manager, then his manager, trying to get them to call Continental or Lufthansa customer service. Somehow I was making zero progress and they were beginning to close down the check-in windows. ‘Ma’am, you must pay or pick one bag to leave behind.’ Right, just leave the black one, I didn’t want to bring that stuff home anyway.

Frustrated, I was led to a tiny office in a typically inaccessible corner of the airport to pay my baggage fee. ‘€150?’ I questioned. There was a pile of receipts for bags on my flight that were all for the amount of €50. ‘Why is my extra bag three times the price of the other extra bags?’

‘Ma’am, business class extra bags cost more because you can afford to pay more.’

‘Are you serious? I paid five times as much for my ticket and you thank me for that by charging me three times as much for an extra bag that is within the policy of the airline who I purchased the ticket from? Can we call Continental customer service?’

‘No ma’am. This is Lufthansa.’

‘Can we call Lufthansa customer service?’

‘No. That is a daytime job, they do not open until Europe daytime.’

‘Is there anyone else here who I can talk to?’

‘No. You must pay €150. Your flight boards soon.’

I paid. I was furious, red faced, sweat pouring down my face, through my hair, dripping down my back. I was still wearing Chris’ hoodie just in case. The guys in the Lufthansa office must have thought that I was a nutcase.

I made my way through customs and had approximately five minutes to grab some cold water in the lounge before it was time to head to my gate. As I slumped into a chair, de-hoodied, and had just loaded the Continental baggage policy website onto my phone to double check myself, my favorite ticketing agent tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Ma’am, there is a security problem with one of your bags.’

My mind was racing. What could I possibly have packed that wasn’t even checkable? Nothing registered. I tried to show him the baggage policy, but he refused to even look at it. We headed into the back of the airport to investigate my unauthorized cargo.

‘Please open the bag.’

I complied. I proceeded to pull out the first pointy, ‘sharp’ item in question, explaining that it was my camera tripod and no, it did not contain batteries. The baggage inspector did his best to take it apart to ensure that there were no batteries in it.

Next up was explaining that the mass of ‘wires’ in my bag were not wires, but tent poles. Before I knew it I was pitching a tent in the underground of the airport to demonstrate what it was and that it was not dangerous. Not kidding, I wish I were.

I looked nervously at the time. My flight was supposed to be boarding and I was on the wrong side of security.

The security guy asked if the belts I had in my bag contained metal. [I bought a few cheap belts in Indonesia last week.] I don’t think so? They are just wood, beads, and fishing line.

Finally, we examined the two headlamps that I had in the bag. Yes, they did contain batteries. No, the security guy did not want to confiscate the batteries. I am still not sure why my nonexistent tripod batteries would not be ok, but headlamp batteries are. I suppose that it doesn’t matter. I was finally free to repack the bag and make a frenzied beeline through the airport.

I made it through security just in time to learn that my flight was delayed. Of course it was, but naturally all of the passengers were already queued for boarding anyway. I joined the line, hair soaking wet, still sweating like I had just finished a run, wearing my hoodie to ensure that there would be no snafus with boarding, and stood waiting for twenty minutes until I could get on the plane, sit down, and feel the sweet relief of air conditioning.

Later today I will be calling both Lufthansa and Continental in attempt to get my money back, but I doubt I have much recourse now that it has already been paid. I wish that I had checked both airlines’ baggage policies, but it didn’t even occur to me ahead of time. Disappointingly, I could have shipped all of that stuff home for free with our household contents, I was just trying to take some of the packing burden off of Chris. Surely there was one bag worth of stuff that I could live without until January.

On a more positive note, I will be home to New Jersey later today and I will finally be finished dealing with unexpected annoyances at the Chennai airport.

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Our first full day in Bali was action packed. We started out bright and early in search of a surf spot for Chris. Based on Bali’s reputation, this sounds like it should be an easy task, but with the extremely calm, flat water it was more challenging than expected.

Thursday night Chris gathered a list of potential spots in anticipation of some Friday morning surfing. We set out early on Friday to check out the first one. Nothing. Moving on to candidate number two, still nothing. Instead of going for a surf we took advantage of the perfectly flat water to do some snorkeling. While the marine life was not the most exciting that we have seen lately, the underwater landscape was incredible.

Stop number three led us farther down the road, and finally on to some actual surf, a reef break that looked really far out. I could barely make out the line of surfers waiting out in the water, but Chris was determined to go.

After slathering on a ridiculous amount of sunblock and putting on my rash guard, I lamented the fact that I forgot my hat in India. The sun was intense. I grabbed the boogie board and fins and followed Chris out towards the ocean.

Because of rough surf over the reef, we walked way down the beach then paddled, or in my case kicked, out through a channel before swimming north to the wave. I have no idea how far we went, but I imagine that we swam out about an hour. Finally, about halfway there, I could see tiny colored specks bobbing up and down in the ocean. Chris was right, there were surfers out there.

As I hung out and watched Chris surf for a bit, it was a constant battle to stay out behind the lineup and far enough north to be near the big group. The current was strong! I swam and swam just to stay in one place.

Finally, as I began to worry that I needed to re-sunblock, Chris said that he was ready to go in. Luckily, the swim back in started out pretty easy as the current was pulling inland and back towards the channel that we came through.

Maybe a little too hard south. We overshot the channel and suddenly found ourselves still a ways out from the beach, but in inches deep water over a sharp reef. Um, not ideal. Too sharp to stand on, almost too shallow to paddle over. We slowly and patiently made progress back north until the water became a bit deeper. Whew.

I was so happy to be back in deep water. I have a knack for cutting my knees on reef and once again managed to do in my right knee, just days after it finished healing from a Maldives reef injury. Figures. When we finally got out of the water, nearly three hours after we began this adventure, I was ready for some water and some sunblock.

Our next stop, for what was supposed to be lunch, was to a Bali must see, Rock Bar, for a sunset dinner. After just barely being let in due to Chris’ board shorts and Rock Bar’s dress code, we descended a funicular to the famous cliffside bar and requested a table in the shade.

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No dice. It was completely open and sunny. Furthermore, we were disappointed to see that they only served appetizers and that small bottles of water cost $9. With nearly two hours until sunset, we decided to eat and run giving our seats up to others in the long line of people hoping to get in. The food was not stellar and we were far too thirsty to quench our thirst on $9 beers for Chris or $12 mocktails for me.

Uluwatu Temple ended up being our alternate sunset destination. Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, the draw of this temple is it’s location more than anything noteworthy about the temple itself.

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As we walked through the temple complex, I noticed that there were stray flip flops everywhere. Strange, but I thought that possibly the uneven ground was causing an unusual number of flip flop blowouts?

We climbed up and down trails and stairs Chris actively avoiding monkeys as I indulged in more monkey photography than was really necessary. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for taking pictures of monkeys, something about the combination of their human-like characteristics and dog-like behavior always draws me in.

I began to notice that these were more ‘friendly’ monkeys than I have seen at other temples as I noted a few young Aussie guys with monkeys on their shoulders, unable to remove them. That would not fly with me. It seemed to make them a bit uneasy as well.

I tried to brush it off and continued my usual, from somewhat afar, monkey photography. As I clicked away taking pictures of one monkey, I suddenly heard Chris shout ‘Brit, he’s after your shoe!’

Huh? I was initially confused, he was right in front of me. As I felt a tiny hand grab my ankle, I realized that he was not the subject of my photo, but instead his friend.

My heart was suddenly racing. I took a few steps, hoping that he would let go, but the monkey still clung to my leg.

What is the protocol for monkey removal? And if you remove them aggressively will their friends come to their defense?

Chris and I both started ‘ch-ing’ the monkey, the sound we make to our dogs as a ‘knock it off, that’s not ok’ warning. No dice, the monkey did not understand the ‘ch’s’ the way Duke would.

I continued to do my ‘get this monkey off of my leg dance’ as a bunch of people looked on. Still unsure what to do, Chris finally shouted a firm ‘No.’

The monkey released my leg and gave up pursuit of my flip flop. A wave of relief washed over me.

Needless to say, I was on edge for the rest of our temple visit. I laughed at Chris in Nepal when he was freaked out by the monkeys, but I take that back now. Chris has been monkey-averse since his Tanzanian monkey attack, but I didn’t fully grasp his lingering fear until I had my own monkey encounter.

What a day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sir, are you flying on Malaysia Airlines? Is that a skateboard?

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Riiight. Chris said to cut the guy some slack. My middle of the night cranky pants wouldn’t comply.

Last night was my second to last time leaving MAA after midnight. As usual, the bathroom was soaking wet, with no toilet paper. Do you think I remembered mine? Nope. Naturally I didn’t realize the toilet paper problem until I made it a half liter into my giant bottle of water. Hydration is that important.

On the bright side, traveling in South Asia during the pre-dawn hours of Thanksgiving is far less crazy than doing so in the US. I suppose that is something to be thankful for. We made it through our overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur with minimal sleep, but reasonably good attitudes. Just one more flight to Denpasar!

If all goes well, I’ll be able to hunt down some pecan pie sometime today. Last year I am pretty sure that I managed to single handedly eat an entire Costco pecan pie over the course of Thanksgiving weekend. Although it wasn’t homemade, a family tradition, or even particularly special in any way, I am totally jonesing for it’s corn syrupy goodness.

What Thanksgiving treat are you most looking forward to?

Today I decided that it was time to start packing to go home. With just three full days remaining in India and an expected influx of laundry after our upcoming trip to Bali, I couldn’t justify putting it off any longer.

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It doesn’t seem like very long ago when I was unpacking my suitcases, carefully arranging my clothes into different closets, one for work clothes, another for everything else. As I pack up the items that I left home thinking that I couldn’t live without, it all seems a bit surreal. I am amazed at how quickly the past few months passed and stunned by how much I have learned here, it should not be surprising to me how much this experience has shaped my worldview, but somehow it still is.

In retrospect, upon examining the items that I shipped to India with the idea that I couldn’t part with them for a few months, I can’t believe how many things went unused. Chris and I both tend to value experiences over stuff and this just drives that point home. It turns out that of the tiny fraction of our belongings that we brought here, we hardly needed any of it. Granted, neither of us has exactly looked like a fashion icon over the past few months, but we have had such a wealth of experiences lately that I don’t think either of us cares much.

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Over brunch on Sunday, Chris and I talked about how the last few months have been so busy and packed with adventure that it might take several more months to reflect on them and process it all. In the past five months I have had the opportunity to visit eleven countries, eight of them new, with two more expected in the next week. Twelve for Chris with eight new ones. Pretty wild to think about. During that time I have also grown 45% of a baby and learned a lot about myself.

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When I first moved to Indiana, many people at home asked me how I could live there. If you have ever seen that cartoon of the New Yorker’s view of the country, with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and a big void until you reach California, I think that Indiana seemed like some kind of no man’s land, a place without real people, experiences, or anything to speak of. What those people failed to realize, something that I have said all along, is that it is the people who make a place. Upon announcing that we were going to India, I got many of the same reactions, but I knew it would be ok because Chris was going.

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After a few solo moves after college, I quickly learned that new places seem scary, lonely, and maybe even depressing until you make a friend or two. Luckily, for my past few moves, I have been accompanied by a built in friend. My second relocation to New York was infinitely better than my first, mainly because Chris and I went together. It is much easier to make plans and get out of the house, or even just sit home ‘alone’ when you have someone to do it with. This phenomenon repeated itself when we left Purdue to move to Southern Indiana. Once again, when we embarked on this adventure, Chris came through, immediately erasing much of the unknown that went along with moving to India.

As I get ready to head back home and on to Indiana, my other home, once again, I know that it will be ok because of the great people I will see there. This morning over coffee, Chris and I talked about that some. A few people in my life have been feeling bad for me that nearly a month will pass between me arriving in the US and Chris coming home. What those people fail to realize is that because they are there everything will be ok. Chris, on the other hand, will probably be the one with a rough month ahead of him. I’m confident that he can manage though because if there is any outstanding characteristic about Chris, it is his extremely strong will.

Ultimately, although on many levels I am sad to see this great experience end, I am beyond excited to return to familiar people, old routines, and all of the things that make the US in general feel like home.

Anyone want to put my Christmas tree up with me? 😉

After our visit to Agra, we set out on a five-hour journey to Jaipur to see the second of three cities in the Golden Triangle. I was very excited to go to Agra ever since I read a book about it a few years ago.

[The book is called “Dreaming in Hindi” and it is about a lady, Katherine Russell Rich, who moves to Jaipur to do a Hindi language immersion program.]

The book described many of the architectural details of the city which I was very curious to see in person. Most notably, I wanted to see the Palace of Wind because of the intricately carved lattice windows overlooking the bazaar in the center of town. The purpose of the windows was to allow the ladies of the house to see outside and watch what was going on without anyone seeing them. I was pretty intrigued by this idea. Luckily, we arrived in Jaipur right before sunset and had just enough time to see the Palace of Wind and City Palace. The light was particularly good for photographing the Palace of Wind!

Bright and early the next morning we set out to see two other noteworthy Jaipur sites, Lake Palace and the Amber Fort. Lake Palace was my favorite in Jaipur because it looked so serene in the early morning light. It is kind of rare to have a quiet, peaceful moment in public, at a tourist site no less, in India.

Our next stop was the Amber Fort, which, in stark contrast to Lake Palace, was bustling with people even before it opened in the morning. The hawkers were out in full force selling everything from hats, to parasols, to wooden figurines. Somehow, despite my protests, I ended up with a glittery white parasol. Chris said that I needed it to ride an elephant up to the fort. I’m not sure if I needed it or not, but it was kind of fun goofing around with it as we rode to the top of the hill.

Our visit to the Amber Fort was going swimmingly well, until suddenly the camera battery died. Notice a theme? At this point, we did have a charger and had even charged the spare battery, but it was in the camera case…in the car. On the bright side, I felt like we had a chance to really take in the fort rather than be distracted by photographing it.

In fact, we even had an interesting discussion about it as we roamed around. After visiting many forts, palaces, castles, churches, temples, and whatnot around the world it is interesting to compare the architecture from different places during the same era. Take the Amber Fort (1592), the Blue Mosque (Istanbul – 1609), Versailles (1624), and Himeji Castle (Japan, latest reconstruction – 1609). Completely different levels of sophistication. [Not trying to take anything away from the Amber Fort, just an observation.]

After we got our fill of the fort, we hoofed it back down the hill, got in the car, and made a beeline for Delhi, the last stop on our Golden Triangle whirlwind tour.

The Taj Mahal is one of those places that I have been aware of for as long as I can remember and I have always dreamed of visiting. When Chris started traveling to India frequently for work, I had a secret fear that he would visit the Taj Mahal without me and that it would suddenly be demoted to the bottom of our joint list of vacation plans. Lucky for me, Chris never made it there without me and we finally set things in motion to go.

We set out from Delhi before dawn on a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The driver told us that it would take about five hours for us to get there, but in reality we made it to Agra in just over three hours.

After buying tickets and transferring the last kilometer to the Taj by bicycle rickshaw, we passed through a short line at the security check and were on our way to see one of the Wonders of the World. Amazingly, it was fairly uncrowded considering where we were. We were able to make it through the entire complex in about ninety minutes.

Our first mission was to make an attempt at getting that classic photograph with the Taj in the background. Chris quickly spotted a British couple who had a camera similar to ours. “I’ll take your picture if you take ours.”

Done. Excellent choice. As soon as I saw the man focusing the camera on us before shifting it to capture the whole scene, I felt like we might get at least one decent shot. Hopefully that couple is as happy with Chris’ photography.

Next, we headed to the shoe drop, which in retrospect I am kind of bummed about. I hate walking places barefoot. In and around my own home, sure. Public places barefoot creep me out though. Almost immediately after giving up my shoes I noticed that all of the smart tourists were wearing clean room booties over their shoes. How did I miss that memo?

Finally we were close enough to the Taj Mahal to really see the detail. Almost every surface was embellished with some kind of flourish whether it was intricate stone inlays, delicate carvings, or cut patterns reminiscent of Waterford crystal. I am always awestruck when I see such old and massive structures built with this degree of attention to detail, especially considering the tools that were available at the time.

Just as I had always imagined it, the Taj Mahal looked almost like a giant size version of a beautifully made jewelry box. I am so thankful that I finally had the opportunity to see it as it has been on my life ‘to-do’ list for a long time.