A Peek at Life in India: the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

From where we stood, halfway up the hill to the Monkey Temple, the waning light was turning ‘The Pink City’ a pearly, golden hue. The jagged skyline’s stack of buildings and telephone poles, a thousand candles, was like a fanciful birthday cake.

I scanned the horizon across Jaipur, noting the immense desert city that sat sprawled between mountains. We’d come because the city that had been painted the color of hospitality was rumored to be beautiful but gritty, busy but manageable. The Amer palace was the draw, but I had my eyes locked on the cake topper in the center of the cake – the Hawa Mahal.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Ali, warned us that the Hawa Palace was not really worth seeing. “It’s a house. A pink house. Better at Mughal market for the shopping.”

I’m sure you say that to all the ladies, Ali. Tu t’aime las filles, after all.

On our only full day in Jaipur, we did a whirlwind tour of the Fort, skipping the elephant ride as we climbed the hill on which the intricate palace sits before seeing the Janta Mantur observatory. While Ali tried to persuade us that it was better to skip the pink palace for a lassi drink and browsing the spice market, I couldn’t get over the pink lattice windows that peeked out above the city palace.

Like in many countries I’ve visited, the Hawa Mahal is essentially a fancy brothel, beautifully constructed living quarters that once included gilded doors and extravagant fountains against a facade that resembles a honeycomb. The five-story building is riddled with staircases, rooms, windows and lattice-work, allowing its inhabitants to see life on the streets below without actually being seen themselves.

Hayley and I saw a great deal of India from a tuk tuk, not quite on in a hit-the-pavement sort of way I had craved when we booked tickets. Even through the kindness of hotel owners, who helped us when we were scammed, through driving tuk tuk down deserted roads, to posing in pictures with sari-clad Indians in front of the Taj Mahal, I feel as though we barely scratched India’s expansive surface.

Like the women who once lived in the small bedrooms of the Palace of the Winds and could witness the trading and chaos, the wandering animals and the comforting hum of daily life in Jaipur, our India experience felt like theirs – someone not quite on the inside. I suddenly had the urge to skip Mumbai and stay in the Pink City, to consider India in the future. After five days, two train rides and countless interactions with strangers, I knew one trip to India would never be enough for me.

Ali was waiting for us at the Tripolia Bazaar, feet up on the narrow dashboard of his motorized tricycle. “So, very boring, yes?” he questioned as we climbed into the back and he sped off towards the spice market.

I somehow knew India had gotten under my skin in that very moment.

Have you ever wanted to learn more about a destination after you’d visited? Or do you see things and then mentally cross it off a bucket list?

Taking a Stand Against Animal Cruelty: Support for the Travel Blogging Calendar

Seville’s central streets echo with the sound of hooves before the flamenco chords set it. The yellow-wheeled carriages carry tourists around the city’s main attractions and through the María Luisa park. It’s a romantic way to see the city, particularly for horse lovers (or those willing to pay to be whisked around).

Growing up, I spent my Sunday mornings at the barn, learning to care for horses. I was amazed at just how powerful the creatures were, and how gentle they became after being tamed. Pudge, my mother’s first horse, was an important part of our family until I was 22.

When my family came to visit shortly after putting Pudge down from an injury, I mentioned the horse rides. My mother staunchly refused, unwilling to take part in anything she hadn’t been properly informed about. After all, we hear about the cruelty towards work horses in New York City.

As it turns out, most Spaniards are great animal lovers, and the horse is one of its most revered creatures, valued for its beauty, power and noble personality.

Not every country has such a special relationship with animals.

I’m proud to be a part of the Travel Blogging Calendar this year. Service and charity have always been a part of my life, which is why I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and raise money for a charity that’s very special to me. The Travel Blogging Calendar has used influencers in the industry to be a voice for the voiceless, including orphanages and disaster relief funds. 

This year, proceeds from the digital calendar will go to the Save the Elephant foundation located in Chai Ming, Thailand. This city is a backpacker mecca, and thus poachers capitalize on tourism by capturing elephants and using force to subdue and domesticate them. This process is called phaiaan, and it’s based on fear. If you ride on an elephant you, in short, are promoting this horrible practice.

The foundation and its animal park, Elephant Nature Park, use a technique of positive reinforcement to reverse phaiaan, and the park is now home to 26 pachyderms. Each of the elephants has been bought legally, and park founder Lek Chailert has been saving elephants since 1995.

Here’s the thing: it’s hard to not want to cuddle up to elephants – they’re adorable – and support local economies. But please be informed about how your dollars or euros could be affecting our four-legged friends. Tourism is a double-edged sword: while it can keep economies from collapsing, it also promotes terrible practices and has the potential to destroy culture and tradition.

How Can I Help?

I’ve always operated under the “You get what you give” motto, both in my classroom and my life outside of it. This prize rewards your generosity and voice in the fight against animal cruelty with a pretty sweet prize that will take you to the place where it all happens: Thailand.

I know you’re interested in winning a $2000 voucher from Flight Network towards a flight to Thailand and an week-long, customizable tour from Where the Sidewalk Ends for two people, which includes visiting the Elephant Nature Park. The contest will be held in raffle form, but a small gift towards stopping animal cruelty can mean a trip of a lifetime. And here’s the best part: The prize is valued at $3300.

You can purchase the digital calendar, which is in blog format and will allow you to travel around the world weekly, thanks to blog posts by other big names in travel blogging. A newsletter will also keep you abreast of fundraising efforts and the bloggers involved.

The amount of money you donate directly correlates to the number of entries you receive. For example, $20 gets you 10 raffle “tickets,” so a high donation means more chances to win. Sharing on social media through rafflecopter will also mean more entries.

Entering is easy – donate using this website, then use the widget to share on social media. Using your voice to spread the word about the harmful practice of phaiaan is just as appreciated.

The flight is a $2000 voucher, donated by Flight Network, that you can put towards a flight to Thailand. The tour with Where the Sidewalk Ends includes hotel, tours and transport, along with a trip to the park to meet Lek and her pachyderms is for two people. More information can be found on the Travel Blogging Calendar website.

You can also support the organization by sharing their story through Facebook or Twitter.

For more on Lek Chailert, the founder of this organization, check out her interview on Green Global Travel.

Please consider a small gift to help Lek continue the work she does, or even by sharing this post on social media. People really can change the world with small actions, and I appreciate you reading about this incredible cause and the great work it does daily.

A Beginner’s Guide to Turkish Food

While I’m off dancing my brains out at the Feria de Sevilla, the most wonderful time of the (Sevillian) year, here’s something to make your mouth water and to tide you over till Camarón and I return later in the week.

It’s no secret that my stomach has just as much fun traveling as I do. Traditional plates are something I spend my big bucks on, preferring to take public transportation or walk than skip eating something typical. Turkey was a treat for my eyes and ears, as well as my tummy, and we stopped as often to try food as we did to take pictures of the gorgeous, old as dirt city after buying our airline tickets. Sometimes our bellies smiled, sometimes they weren’t so satisfied, but here’s a rundown of Turkish food for beginners.


I couldn’t wait to get what was seemingly Turkey’s national dish in my tummy. Every street had a token kebab stand, meat swirling before our very (large) eyes in front of a heater. We tried to hold out, we really did, but caved the very first day. A friendly man at a kebab shop near a touristy area of the city carve us hunks of seasoned chicken and offered us a good price. While there was no sauce (I’m a condiments type of person, much to all Spaniards’ dismay), the chicken was practically roitesserie and the vegetables crisp. Kebab shops are scattered around the city and are cheap, quick and really really good. #glutton

Price: 1,50 – 3,00€ for chicken, slightly more for beef


As our hostel owner, nicknamed Beanie, made us coffee one morning, he pulled out a round loaf of bread with seeds and said, “The Breakfast of Turkish champions.” I don’t know what shocked me more – that there was a Turkish cousin to the bagel, or that Beanie actually knew some English.

Street food carts are all over the city, from hole-in-the-wall places in the old town to small glass pastry shops on wheels on the Galata bridge. We had corn on the cob, churro-like pistachio sweets, nuts and simit served up hot and when we needed it, which makes a great break while touring (or waiting in line at the Haya Sofia). Simit was by far my favorite, a poppy-seeded luxury from back home, piping hot and easily eating.  I couldn’t wait to eat the stupid ring of dough.

Price: = 0,50€


Meze is to Ottoman cuisine what tapas are to Spanish cuisine. Small dishes meant to be shared, meze can be of any scale, from savory to sweet, varied to simple. We tried a spread, which is typical to share before the main course of a meal, while watching Agamemnon’s dancers in his palace that included humus, babaganoush, vegetables and a potato salad, but a quick wikipedia search will show you that the variety depends on location and scale of the dinner.

Price – from 5€ and up


My favorite Spanish dish is lentejas, so I squealed with delight when I read in Allie’s guide book that Turks love their lentils, too. I was dying to try çorba, a red lentil soup. At a little backstreet self-service right near our hostel, we found a big vat on a chilly night, and the bowl and bread cost us 0,75€! Stretching back to the Ottoman times, this dish has been well-copied, but we got homemade deliciousness by form of lentils, onions, paprika, potato and vegetable stock.

Price: 0,75€ – 2,00€ per bowl, often with bread.


My body in Spain follows a well-worn eating habit, which includes a coffee sometime in the 90 minutes after I have lunch (the exception being Friday nap time). In Turkey, those bitter little coffees were often washed down with sweets, either Turkish Delight of baklava.

I grew up across the street from a Greek family, so the gooey nothin’-but-butter-and-sugah pastries have always been one of my favorites. Every coffee came accompanied by a round of baklava for us seven to split – flaky pastries layered with honey and butter, pralines and pistachio. Being a pistachio fiend, I really loved the ones flavored by the nut (which even took its green coloring!) and the round rounds that resembled tiny nests with candied pistachio eggs inside. We stumbled upon Saray Baklava, just off the beaten track. The owner serves up about a dozen varieties, but weighs the goodies instead of just giving you three for 9,50€. You’ll find it just opposite the entrance to the Basilica Cisterns, in front of a shop called Finito de Córdoba. who would have thought!?

Price: 20 – 60€ / kilo

Having loved the Narnia books as a kid, I couldn’t skip the Ice Queen’s favorite treat – Turkish delight. Kinda nougaty, kinda starchy lokum, as it’s called in Turkish, the varieties are endless. Rose, lemon, mint, pistachio and walnut seemed to be in abundance, and there were stands and stores hocking the sweet around the main tourist drag, Istiklalal. I personally prefered baklava, but picked up a few boxes of Turkish Delight for my boss and hosts in Zaragoza.

Price: 2€ for a 500g box, much more from the shops.

Of course, there’s more – kafta, humus (not so propio, but easy to find), fresh fruit drinks, shepherd’s (spicy) salad, eggplant, rakibut a girl’s only got so much room in her stomach!

Any other memorable food travels? Have you ever done a gastronomic trip?

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