PORTUGAL: DISCOVERING TORREIRA

Three years ago my boyfriend thought I was finally ready to be apart of his family’s tiny, little secret. A secret that is a half mile by a half mile long, straddled between the Atlantic Ocean and Ria de Aveiro, and home to the best sardines Portugal has to offer. He took me to Torreira, a small, quaint beach town in Northern Portugal, within the city of Aveiro, that is nearly abandoned during the colder, winter months, but full of life and energized by the warm, summer sun.

Torreira Google Map

The beauty of Torreira is its simplicity. It’s the kicking of the wind as you stroll along the beach, the guiltless feeling of having a drink before noon, and the feeling of sublimity as you watch the sunset at your favorite bar.  It’s a town that takes all of life’s favorite pleasures and makes them feel innocent, and more importantly, necessary. It’s paradise.

Any day in Torreira should start watching the sunrise on Torreira’s west coast, overlooking Ria de Aveiro.  Every morning, I’d stare as the sun rose right in front of me, rising over the mountains in the distance, reflecting on the river.  After I witnessed it, I’d normally go back to sleep, but if you’re a morning person, walk down Rua de Hintze Ribiero which will take you directly to the “town center.” Most stores will be beginning to open up and you have a sense that time is irrelevant here.

Torreira River

Enjoy breakfast at the quintessential Portuguese bakery, Paderia Varas, and savor in the greatest croissant you will ever taste. Buttery, sweet, and moist, this croissant will give you a reason to wake up every morning! Take another one if you’d like, or try a chocolate croissant (my favorite!), it seems as if they never run out. Mornings in Torreira were made for croissants.

After you’ve finished your croissant orgasm, stroll along the boardwalk and head to Sardinha’s, a beachfront bar, and take your time to grab an espresso or tea. The owners of Sardinha are the sweetest and most interesting people you will ever meet and they will talk up a storm with you! They’re friendly and love to know who their patrons are.  Get carried away in conversation and really enjoy your drink before relaxing at the beach.

Tea at Sardinha

As you step on the plush sand of Praia de Torreira, beware of the harsh winds. The beach may be beautiful to observe, but the wind can possibly ruin your day if you don’t grab a wind-guard.  Otherwise, you’ll feel significantly chillier while waves of sand flood over you.  So, do yourself a favor and pick up a wind-guard and a book so you can relax off your hard morning!

Wind blockers on Praia de Torreira

Like the days, evenings at Praia de Torreira will steal your heart. Go to Maribar and grab a cushion (and a caipirinha!) to watch the sunset. They throw sunset parties so people can line up along the beach to watch the sun put on its daily show as it sets over the horizon. It’s a beauty that will keep you coming back day after day.

The sun was really important to me in Torreira, because it was the only determinant of time. When the sun was out, it didn’t matter if it was 11am or 5pm – a drink just felt right. The sunset acted as a stimulant to awaken all the youth of Torreira and to begin a night of bar-hopping and drinking at Sardinha, Maribar, or a favorite restaurant.  Everywhere will be packed as people indulge in one euro beers and two euro shots.

Torreira Sunset2

The beauty of the nightlife lies in its conclusion. If you stayed out late enough, you’ll be rewarded with the sweet smell of croissants being made at your favorite bakery. The bakers will open the back door and start selling them to those who have been waiting.  Trust me, this is the best reason to stay out. A warm croissant in the morning is great, but a hot, freshly-made croissant after a few beers is perfect.  And then guess what? The sun will rise and you can start this perfect day all over again (there’s a reason why I slept after after the sunrise!).

The isolation Torreira offers makes you feel as if you’ve discovered the Garden of Eden and life is made to enjoy life’s simplest pleasures. It makes it feel that spending a full weekend totally relaxing is acceptable and normal. Torreira personifies a vacation. It personifies summer.

Torreira Town Center

INDIA: TRAVEL TIPS

Prior to our booking, the verdict for Jyoti Singh Pandey’s assailants were convicted, sparking nation-wide protests for female security; I read threads and threads on message boards about women being groped in public; and my cousin told me a personal story where her friend was disrespected by multiple men in Goa. So naturally, I was skeptical. But, despite all this, and with assurance from family of friends, my best friend and I booked our ten day, three city trip to India. And guess what?

My experience proved them all incorrect.

For any Westerner, it will be a culture shock. The smell. The driving. The density of well…everything. Did I mention the driving? But, as you’ll find out, it is wondrous.

There is so much to learn from Indian culture – which is impressively vast, diverse, and welcoming. I have never gone on a vacation and learned so much from complete strangers. I watched joy and excitement of a homeless girl pour out over the luxury of rubbing antibacterial soap in her arms (I really wish I captured this moment of honesty); I learned about the impact the Moghul Empire had on shaping present-day India; and I finally caught on to the Indian food craze, which was a HUGE step for me. India taught me that absolutely nothing should be taken for granted and, most importantly, everything should be experienced with an open mind and soul.

You can read about my experience in
Mumbai, Jaipur, and Delhi.

Cow in India Streets

Now that I know how it feels to land in a place that feels like worlds away, below are a few travel tips that I wish I had known before going.


TRAVEL TIPS

  • Dress conservatively. If you’re a woman, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered at all times. I was really hot at Elephanta Caves, so I wrapped my light cardigan around my shoulders, so they were slightly exposed. I still received unwanted stares, nonetheless. Palazzo pants and maxi skirts will be great to avoid feeling under-dressed without being overbearing.
  • Be comfortable with bargaining. Bargaining is a lifestyle. My first tip from an Indian traveler was: “Don’t even go down half, go down to a third of their suggestion and then they’ll meet you halfway.” I was too weak to try this, so don’t be like me and pay the asking price!
  • Prepare yourself for extreme pollution. The pollution is intense. India ranks 174th (out of 178) in Air Quality by the Environmental Performance Index. Avoid exposure by covering your mouth with a scarf or small washrag when outside for a prolonged period.
  • Plan your travel accordingly. The best time to travel (to beat the heat and their monsoon season) is in October and November. I went in the middle of November and had 75 F degree weather, with cooler nights. Bring a couple sweaters if you go around this time.
  • Learn the art of taxis. There are two important questions to ask your taxi driver: 1) Are you metered of fixed? Most airports have a fixed rate, but city drivers will do either. If you can, take metered – they are always cheaper. And of course, rickshaws, also known as tuk-tuks, are the cheapest. And 2) Do you know how to get to (insert destination here)? This will save countless headaches as the driver pulls over and asks every pedestrian directions. Which happened in 95% of my taxi rides.  However, your taxi driver can be your best friend during the short (or long depending on traffic) ride. Make conversation. Most people have a decent grasp of English. Plus, they’ll pull over to grab you a cup of chai and what’s wrong with that?

In Jaipur, taxis work on a commission as well as their driving rate. Most taxi drivers paid hotels to guarantee business and if you pay them for the day, (they will try to convince you to let them be their driver for the day – it’s not expensive and it is really convenient), they will take you to a textile store where they receive a certain percentage of your purchases. You are under no obligation to purchase anything, of course, but it is interesting to see.

  • Keep sacred places sacred. Do not bring any food to the Taj Mahal or any temple, for that matter. I can’t stress this enough. Unless you plan on participating in a ritual where food is given to the respective deity, food should not be brought with you. Also, the security at the Taj is really tight and, surprisingly (or not), better at most of their domestic airports. They’ll throw away your food. AND your selfie stick!
  • Stay clean! Anti-bacterial wipes will save you in situations where an outhouse is your only available bathroom. It’s also really useful to wipe your feet when places require you to take off your shoes and socks. For the temples that allow you to wear socks, bring an extra pair of socks to throw on. Your feet can pick up myriads of bacteria, so throw an extra pair in your bag to slip on!
  • If you want to budget: Between traveling, sightseeing, eating, and shopping, I spent around $40 USD/day. I did shop a lot and used taxis for transportation, except in Delhi where the subway system is super simple. Food and lodging in India is incredibly cheap, so you can easily get by comfortably in India with less.
  • Consult your doctor before you go. This isn’t necessary, but it will prepare you for any viruses that you may be at risk to. Hepatitis A and Typhoid is prevalent in India, but you should be safe as long as you eat cooked food and avoid their water. My doctor prescribed me an antibiotic for typhoid, if I were to get exposed while I was there, and also gave me medication for Malaria. Mosquitoes shouldn’t be an issue if you go in the cooler months, but should be a concern if you travel during Indian summers.

INDIA: MUMBAI

How can I describe Mumbai? I’d like to call it a living paradox. Extreme poverty surrounded by vast wealth; hungry citizens who slept next to street food vendors; “No honk please” bumper stickers encompassed by cars that would honk anyway; the smell of smoke clashing with the smell of curry and Mumbai’s most popular street food, bhel puri. The city is very much alive.

Vendor in Mumbai selling Peacock feathers

Sleeping Mumbai Taxi Driver

Mumbai is a great city to acclimate yourself to the Indian culture. You’ll find plenty of Western luxuries, done with an Indian flair, especially if you stay near the Taj Mahal Hotel in the Colaba area. So, if you’re accustomed to Western culture, like me, you’ll freak out over the Starbucks behind the Taj, but you won’t see any native drinking a Starbucks frap though – take a peak in their cups and you’ll smell the sweet scent of chai.  Surprises like these exist all over Mumbai and one place to really see it is in Malabar Hills, the area of some of the wealthiest and poorest citizens of India.

Malabar Hills is an absolutely beautiful walk. If you map it out, you can figure out a best possible route and, regardless of what you decide, try to end the day at Chowpatty Beach to watch the sunset. Chowpatty Beach is not for the faint of heart though – you’ll find starving children running around naked and shoeless, screaming for their parents. It’s definitely a huge shock and one that really can’t be described in words; but if you have the opportunity, try not to miss out on this experience. You’ll find beauty amongst all the sorrow.

Couple watching the sunset on Chowpatty Beach.
A couple watching the sunset at Chowpatty Beach.

There’s plenty of more to see in Malabar Hills, including the terraced, Hanging Gardens, which pretty much seems like a work in progress.  It’s really fun to bring kids since there a bunch of animal-carved hedges, but the best part about here is the view it offers. If you head to the southeast end of the park, you can get a view of the Arabian Sea with Mumbai’s business district in the background.

Enjoying the view at Hanging Gardens

You can also find incredible temples in this area. One of the oldest temples in the city called, Babulnath Mandir,  resides just hidden off the main road (to get here, follow the  entrance from Babalnuth Road and climb a series of steps), and it is one of the most intricate temples ever. It’s majestic. The guards here are pretty strict with pictures, so I couldn’t snap any using my camera and, like all Hindu temples, shoes and socks are not to be worn (you can get away with wearing socks by telling the guards your feet hurt). In addition, you can also check out a Jain Temple (which is further south of Hanging Gardens) and Walkeshwar Temple by the holy Banganga Water Tank.

One of the greatest attractions in Mumbai is the caves at Elephanta Island. Seriously, this is a must. You don’t exactly need a tour guide for this, but if you really want to learn about the history of the caves, one will probably be a good idea! However, you can get a decent gist of the sculptures through guide books, or you can pick up one in the shops leading up to the caves. Beware: there is a LONG row of vendors after getting off the ferry and before going to the caves and they will try to make deals with you to guarantee a sale. For instance, my friend was interested in a carving of the sleeping Buddha, so the vendor gave her a little elephant as a symbolic contract of her future purchase and nearly chased her down because she decided against it last minute. So, just beware of really insistent sellers, but keep in mind everything they are selling on the island, you can easily pick up in Mumbai.

Elephanta Caves 2

Elephanta Caves

So, aside from the 16 foot sculptures, the coolest (and my favorite!) part about Elephanta Island? THE MONKEYS! Seriously, it’s like Planet of the Apes. They were EVERYWHERE! One robbed me of my lunch! And another robbed a man of his orange soda! (Actually, this was the same monkey, other monkeys just followed him and cheered him on). So, if you want to be entertained and NOT endangered, do not eat in front of them or taunt them with food. Just a warning.

Monkey at Elephanta Island
Elephanta Monkey 3

Finally, a trip to Mumbai will not be complete unless you shop! I shopped mostly on the street located a couple blocks away from the Taj Mahal Hotel (it’s called Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg), although I heard Fashion Street and Chor Bazaar were excellent as well. I wish time wasn’t so restricted, because the collections of scarves and jewelry available to purchase are endless!

There’s plenty of more to explore in Mumbai. I love visiting countries twice, so whatever I missed, I’m sure I’ll see again – but if you have any leisure time, stop to watch a pickup Cricket game occurring by the University grounds, or enjoy a stroll through the University’s campus.  There is so much to discover and experience in Mumbai and it really was the perfect city to become accustomed to Indian culture. Being said, it really helped me when I arrived at my next destination, Jaipur, which you can read about here!

Cricket in Mumbai
Worker at Babulnath Mandir

INDIA: JAIPUR

I bought Fodor’s Guide to India as my tour guide and the first sentence in the Jaipur section says, “You have not seen the world until you’ve seen Jaipur.” Too true.

Jaipur was the home of royalty, a fact that it very much takes pride in. It’s walls are painted in pink (my rickshaw driver swore it’s orange!), and you can feel the eminence as you drive through Tripoli Gate and enter the heart of the city. There is so much to see in Jaipur, so I’d recommend at least staying for three days, but honestly, you can spend an entire week in this city and experience everything thoroughly.

So, Jaipur may be the city I visited with the most tourist attractions. Since it has such a rich history rooted in royalty, there are a lot of palaces (mahals) and forts to visit. Luckily, almost everything is within close vicinity and you can spend one day exploring Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, and City Palace.

Hawa Mahal Woman
captured at Hawa Mahal

From the top of Hawa Mahal, you can see the breathtaking views of the terrain around you. Jaipur is enclosed by forts to the east and west (I believe!) and you are able to see Amber Fort in the distant background from Hawa Mahal.  Unforgettable.

Hawa Mahal 5

City Palace is equally, if not more beautiful than Hawa Mahal, but I still loved Hawa Mahal more. You are free to roam all over Hawa Mahal (considering it was a place royalty viewed the public), but City Palace was stricter and you may need a tour guide. We were fortunate enough to have the kindest security guard escort us around City Palace where we learned the history of princes and especially, the Elephant Prince.

The most impressive site (aside from the forts!) is Jantar Mantar. It’s an observatory and probably the most systemic observatory I have ever witnessed. Again, this will be a great place for a tour guide (we did not have the luck of having someone show us around), but I did listen in on some English tours that described a few instruments. One of which was able to tell time to the 6th second of every minute. Impressed yet?

Jantar Mantar Clock Jaipur

You cannot complete a trip to Jaipur without visiting the Sun Temple. Beware. There are plenty of monkeys and they are definitely not as nice as the ones I witnessed at the Elephanta Caves in Mumbai. However, if you get to the top safe and sound you have a view that you will remember for ages. The sun never looked larger as it set over the horizon in front of us. A great way to end an evening of sight-seeing!

Monkey at the Sun Temple Jaipur

Jaipur is definitely a tourist city. The attractions cater to them (i.e by hiking up their “foreigner” prices) and you’ll see any type of ethnicity hop on and off a private tour bus. Like any other city, there is a lot more to witness in Jaipur than just their sites. Certain areas may not be totally safe at night, but during the day, feel free to ask a local to recommend a great place to grab a chapati roti with masala or a place to enjoy a cup of chai. Don’t be afraid of the environment that isn’t glimmering with gold. Sometimes, those tend to be the most beautiful.

Flute player with Snake in Jaipur

So, when you do visit Jaipur, you cannot miss out on the chance to spend a day with an elephant. This was my absolute favorite part of the trip and the excursion I most anticipated. I spent an entire day at Elefantastic, one of the more ethically-based elephant villages in Jaipur. The owner, Rahul, prides himself in the way he treats his elephants and you can see it in the happiness and health of these spectacular creatures. You’ll spend majority of your time feeding them (they can EAT), but after you get to paint, bathe (you may get a shower as well!), and partake in an hour long ride around the elephant villages. Seriously, it was the experience of a lifetime.

Tamanna Perfect

Tamanna Ride

Lastly, do not skip out on the forts (like me!). I only visited Amber Fort for their light show, which was really informative, long, and (I know people may hate me), boring. It’s a total tourist trap that I fell for and I would have been fine just exploring the fort instead. Nahagar Fort is equally incredible and definitely worth setting aside a day to visit. Depending on how fast you are, you can probably see both within a day, but take your time and explore! It is so worth it!

Beautiful Amber FortView of Amber Fort at dusk. How gorgeous!

If you’re enjoying my travels in India, don’t be shy to read my adventures of Mumbai and Delhi! Also, you can check out some additional tips on traveling to India here!

INDIA: DELHI & AGRA

As the capital of India, it’s not a surprise that Delhi is one of the most progressive and modernized cities in the country. It has a burgeoning and accessible metro system; daily scheduled tours to visit some of Delhi’s major attractions; and a centralized shopping center in Connaught Place.  But, that’s not to say the city is perfect. I was told by numerous people to return to my hotel before dark to avoid any chance of “trouble” (which I ignored and was completely fine, but still, be on guard).  And needless to say, poverty is still pretty prevalent.

Getting around in Delhi can be solved in two ways: you can sit in hours worth of traffic or take their REALLY awesome metro system. It is clean, easy-to-use, accessible, and incredibly secure.  The last compartment is exclusive to women in an effort to combat their harassment issue. Officers are normally stationed in these compartments to prevent men from coming on, which made each ride ten times more enjoyable.  The only caveat I found with the entire system was that destinations use a more localized name (at least from what I understood), so to get to Connaught Place, you will take the metro to Rajiv Chowk. If you’re unsure of where to go, feel free to ask a fellow passenger, who will happily direct you to your destination.

Now, I’ve mentioned Connaught Place several times. What is Connaught Place you ask? Well, to me, it felt like the central hub of Delhi. I came here pretty much everyday – whether to shop, transfer on the metro, or get to Delhi’s Tourism building to take a tour bus to the Taj Mahal. It is a great shopping center, with storefront shops and street vendors lined up on the sidewalks. It is also a great food destination, with an INCREDIBLE dosa place called Saravanaa Bhavan, that is incessantly filled with diners. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

So what is there to see in Delhi? PLENTY. If you have a tight schedule, you can be like me and use the government-run tours to see the city.  It is incredibly convenient (and cheap!) and covers most landmarks within the span of a business day. You’ll get a glimpse of the rich Muslim history by visiting the magnificent Qutab Minar, where it was originally used to call for adhan, or the calling of Muslim prayers. The tour will also take you to the Lotus Temple, a center of worship for the Bahai faith, which is open to all people for prayer, regardless of religion. There is normally an organized line to get inside the temple, but once you’re in, you may experience a feeling of hope and comfort. I swear I wanted to switch to Bahai faith after visiting here!

Qutab Minar Lotus Temple 2

Delhi’s Red Fort is also apart of the tour, which is just outside the Old Delhi district. Regardless if you take a Delhi tour or not, this is a must see for all visitors. Built during the era of the Moghul Empire, the fort was used as the residence of the royal family and only a third of it exists today.  Being said, the remainder of the fort is still HUGE, which explains the nice half-mile walk from the parking lot to its main entrance at Lahore Gate.  Once inside, you’ll pass through the primary shopping bazaar for women (well, for women when it was originally built in the 1600s, but now the bazaar is for everyone) before you get to the main grounds. In the grounds, you’ll stand in the site where the Emperor once addressed the public, you’ll pass by the separate bathing rooms (I say rooms, but it seemed like buildings), and see the private Masjid, or mosque, the residing Mogul used. From the size to its history, the Fort is just mesmerizing and definitely a site worth visiting.

Plus, the fort is perfect for you to experience a true Old Delhi bazaar in Chandni Chowk (keep an eye on your purses and bags here!) and see one of the most gorgeous mosques ever, by visiting Jama Masjid, both of which are right across from the Red Fort in the Old Delhi district.

Red Fort Front View

If you can’t find your way to the Taj Mahal from Delhi (which you have no excuse for – okay, fine, maybe you do), you can go to Humayun’s Tomb, which is the burial site of (guess who!) the Moghul, Humayun.  The site served as inspiration for the Taj Mahal and is sometimes called the “Taj of Delhi” (after seeing the Taj Mahal, I feel as if only Delhiites say this). However, that is not to minimize its beauty. The tomb is completely symmetrical, complete with a central water channel with its doors facing the east, so it will always see the sun rise. I learned the direction an entrance faces is central to Muslim architecture, which is meant to symbolize the rise of the empire. You are allowed to go inside and see his tomb and climb to the top, which, if you go late enough, can offer a beautiful view of the sunset. Again, this is a must-see for visitors.

The Moghul Empire is also responsible for the greatness that is the Taj Mahal, the “palace of love.”  For those who are unfamiliar with the history behind the Taj, it was built as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of the Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan.  Having died during her 14th childbirth, Shah Jahan decided to build the Taj Mahal in Agra to honor her.  Made completely of marble, the palace personifies their eternal love, which was built to withstand time and nature. Imagine a love so great that the world’s most beautiful building was created to commemorate it.

Getting to this impeccable piece of architecture is extremely accessible from Delhi. You can hire a driver, take a taxi, book a tour bus, or hop on a train to Agra. If you drive or take a bus, expect a three to four-drive. As a wonder of the world, you should jump at ANY chance to go. Again, I went with Delhi tours which also included visits to Agra Fort and Akbar’s Tomb, which limited our time (we spent around an hour and a half) at the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal 1

From the parking lot, it is quite a walk to get to the entrance gate, so our tour guide hired a cart; but, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a camel ride there, or just use your feet. Once you get to the entrance, here is where it is finally beneficial to be a tourist in India! Even on a Saturday, the “foreigner” line was pretty much nonexistent, but the “national” line wrapped around and around and around. It seemed endless. However, after you’ve waited in line, you have to wait again to pass through security which is EXTREMELY thorough. If you read my travel tips, I mentioned how strict they are with items allowed in. There is absolutely no food allowed, no large electronic devices (this one tourist knew this and brought her Macbook with her and almost got kicked out because of it), and surprisingly, NO SELFIE STICKS! I think the latter was due to ignorance, but I had to throw mine away in order to avoid being escorted (i.e pushed) out. Be very minimal here. Camera, phone, wallet. That is all.

This is one place where I actually get incredibly emotional thinking about (I actually cried when I saw it). Think of the most gorgeous place you have ever been, and now imagine that thrice-fold. It looked like a painting in the sky that just did not fade over time. Majestic does not even begin to describe its beauty. You can get a perfect shot of the Taj from any angle, but nothing beats the central, completely symmetric, marble-glowing shot. It’s perfect.

As you stroll through the grounds and work your way up the stairs, guards separate you into another “foreigner” and “national” line and if you’re on the former line than you are required to wear cloth feet protectors to preserve the marble, and if you’re a native, it is required you go shoeless.  The perfection has to remain somehow, right?

You are not allowed to take pictures inside and there is a crowd of people moving in a circular line to see the tomb, which is fenced off. Once you have made your round, you are directed to the back of the Taj which overlooks the Yamuna River. Just when you thought it couldn’t be more perfect.

I didn’t mention this before, but aside from the scheduling, the biggest caveat with taking these tour buses is that there are mandatory stops at government-run shops. So, for the Delhi tour, we stopped at a gift-shop, which had everything from picture frames to real gold jewelry. In Agra, they will take you to an authentic marble store where you can purchase furniture and souvenirs made of the same marble used to build the Taj.  This will occur on the ride back when you are extremely exhausted and just longing for your bed.

I did talk a lot about the tours available in Delhi and to Agra (from Delhi), but there is much more to Delhi than its attractions. Delhi is a great place to do yoga and amidst all the chaos, you can really achieve peace. (I recommend Sivananda Yoga Center which is open to visitors and have 1 1/2 hour classes). Also, shopping is excellent and you can really grab anything you can imagine here (I really bought wayyy too much)! I recommend Dilli Haat, which has a 20 Rps. entrance fee, but has around 100 vendors within their vicinity and really awesome food. But just go to Delhi and enjoy its culture. Enjoy the history. Enjoy the people. The city is huge and there are SO many pockets to discover in a lifetime.

Outside Humayun's Tomb

I’m including a price list of sights I visited in Delhi and Agra. Below are prices for Foreign prices only.

Site Foreign Price
Red Fort 250 Rs.
Humayun’s Tomb 250 Rs.
Lotus Temple 0 Rs.
Qutab Minar 250 Rs.
Taj Mahal 750 Rs.
Agra Fort 250 Rs.