I thought about making a new “year end” post every year. Even up until today I thought I had only missed on year of these but it looks like the last one was in 2013. Yikes. It’s funny to start this back up again in a year which looked to be my biggest year of travel yet. Until March 2020 I had seven international trips planned—mostly for work. It’s what I had been working toward since I started traveling for business in 2010. In one week in March all of that fell through. I can’t complain though, I’ve been very lucky and even managed to get out of the country three times in 2020 before the US finally figured out what the rest of the world already knew about COVID-19.
January 2020: London, New York City, Mumbai
By January 3rd I was already on a plane to London. I stayed in Shoreditch for the first time, visited the Mary Quant exhibit at the V&A, the Tate Modern (all special exhibits were sold out!), and finally took a stroll through The Barbican where all of my dreams of a brutalists future world came true. Shoreditch is very inconvenient to the museums, but made it easier to catch up with my boyfriend from my days living in Newcastle in the 90s.
My trips to NYC are often short, sometimes only 24 hours. I made it to The Met’s In Pursuit of Fashion and Frank Lloyd Wright Textiles: The Taliesin Line, 1955–60 exhibits and managed to ruin my brand new dress at work while cutting apart foamcore to make a sign.
Toward the end of January I set off to Mumbai with a fancy year-long business visa and an empty suitcase to bring back fabric. The last time I was in Mumbai I stayed at the YMCA, but this time I figured I could do a little better. I flew in a few days before work started and stayed in Cuffe Parade near Colaba so I could walk around to see sights. This business trip was rescheduled so many times that by the time I had a real ticket I only had a week to book a hotel and plan my time and most of the cute places I found were sold out. Hopefully I will get another chance to come here in the coming years. A highlight was fabric shopping in Mangaldas Market and wandering around alone like I used to in my RTW days.
As embarrassing as it to admit on a travel blog where I am known for riding in the back of a cage for 24 hours through bandit country in Africa, when you travel this much for business you become loyal to certain brands. For me, it’s United and Marriott. Once you get to Platinum and Titanium respectfully you get so many perks that it’s worth it to stick with them. However, all of the Marriott properties in Mumbai were an hour in traffic from the sites so I stayed at perfectly fine local hotel.
February 2020: Mumbai, New York City, Paris
My jobs usually last 3-5 days tops so this two week stint was an interesting change for me. Sadly, it was in a suburb called Navi Mumbai so once I checked into the Marriott up here my world became commuting 30 minutes by car, eating thalis in the vegetarian cafeteria, and learning all the differences and similarities in this work from my Indian colleagues.
I was home for a week before heading back out to New York City for five days. Because I go to NYC so much I have had a membership to MOMA for a few years. Obviously my favorite thing to do anywhere is to go to museums, but with the increase in tourism globally they are getting so crowded to be almost unnavigable—and MOMA is one of the worst.
Two days to unpack/repack and off to Paris. So spoiled. Even so, all of us in Paris kept saying “I’ll see it next time” when we felt too tired to go out. We had another trip planned for the summer and we knew we were going to be back for even longer. I had a 3rd trip besides that planned to Paris in June as well. There is plenty of time! Why rush!? This is also when COVID started getting more real—the first time I heard contingency planning come up in a meeting, and when I started hanging back from getting into elevators full of tourists, and when I moved galleries when a woman kept coughing next to me in the Marche et Demarche exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. We all thought COVID wasn’t really going to affect us, but the day after I flew home the Louvre was shut down.
Traveling Through 2020 is continued in Part 2…
Thiruvananthapuram, India | 30 January, 2007 | $9.04
I’m not sure why this hotel was so expensive, perhaps because Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of Kerala? The town has some nice colonial architecture and grand universities to wander around. With a whole day to wander around I ran errands (like buying soap) and getting passport photos taken. After sitting for the photos I watched am employee adjust them in Photoshop. As a designer I had a really hard time watching someone butcher my photograph. For some reason he decided to make my hair black and even started to darken my eyebrows before I was able to stop him.
Madurai, India | 28 January, 2007 | $4.52
Madurai was fascinating! This was my first real taste of the chaos and jumbled, statue-covered temples of Tamil Nadu. After seven hours on the bus I was ready to get a look at the temple. Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple is like nothing I had ever seen before. In retrospect, I wish I had a map of the temple to consult because I just followed the crowd through hallways, courtyards and into small shrine-filled rooms and probably missed a lot of amazing things.
At one point an elderly woman approached me, dipped her finger into a stone statue and pressed a dark red paste onto my forehead. I continued to acquire markings and bindis on my forehead from passing worshipers throughout the day. Every corner I turned I saw something amazing—women painting colorful patterns on the floor, a long hallway of countless statues, a wedding party picnicking in the courtyard, an elephant tapping people on the head in exchange for one rupee, women in colorful saris flowing past stalls of religious memorabilia… I even saw a fortune telling bird! This temple was truly a magical place.
The following evening I got on a night train to Thiruvananthapuram. It’s often easiest to buy train tickets out of a town as soon as you arrive, but in this case I wish I hadn’t. Madurai is once of the places on my trip I would have liked to spend more time exploring.
More (better) photos of Madurai can be seen in the gallery.
Kanyakumari, India | 27 January, 2007 | $5.65
Finally, I made it to the end—the Southern tip of India. After leaving Kerala, and certainly after leaving Varkala Beach, I encountered few Western tourists. Southern India has a vastly different feel than the North and I hope everyone traveling to India has time to experience both. This spot is a special place, not only the Southernmost tip of mainland India, but also the meeting point of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Oceans. A short boat trip bring tourists and pilgrims to two tiny islands where a monument and a large statue of the poet Thiruvalluvar stand.
More than the tourists sites, I enjoyed watching Indian tourists hang out on the beach, wade into the water and buy ice cream from colorful vendors. The day I spent in Kanyakumari was overcast, but the real excitement happened after dark. Something was happening in the temple in town, and after following people through the dark corridors I came up a scene of worshipers chanting around idols. It was hot and humid in the tiny rooms and most of the men were shirtless and covered in sweat. I had no idea what was going on but followed the crowds and eventually found my way out into the cool night air.
More photos of Kanyakumari can be seen in the gallery.
Varkala Beach, India | 25 January, 2007 | $5.65
Another three nights on the beach, still recovering from India before diving back into the big cities. Varkala is really interesting because the town, hotels and restaurants sit atop a high cliff, and visiting the beach requires climbing down the cliff. Aside from a few chair and umbrella rental services, the beach was only populated by people, not the typical sprawl of shacks. Dinner each night was beautiful and relaxing, watching the sun set from a cliff-side restaurant covered in candles and cheap, fresh seafood.
More photos of Varkala can be seen in the gallery.
Alleppey, India | 23 January, 2007 | $6.77
Alleppey was really just a one night stopover on my way South, but I stumbled upon some interesting sights. While walking on the edge of town after a self-made tour of the colonial canals running through town, I saw a large field of military or police officers training children how to march. Along the beach at sunset more schoolchildren turned up to run into the waves and flirt with the boys who stayed a respectable distance down the beach.
Kerala was a refreshing break from dirty cities and crowded Indian cities. I don’t remember running into any other tourists in town and everyone went about their business with only a smile in my direction, not a sales pitch or pushy rickshaw driver in sight.
More photos of Alleppey can be seen in the gallery.
Kochi, India | 22 January, 2007 | $6.77
Heading further South along India’s West coast, Fort Kochin and Kochi are solidly in the Kerala region. I attended a Kathakali performance put on for tourists which has been shortened for the Western attention span. Coming to the theater early is a special treat, because you can watch the performers apply their elaborate makeup and red eyes. The performance has words, only subtle gestures and expressions that carefully convey meaning. Even at the shortened length it was a little long, but definitely worth attending.
More photos of Fort Kockin/Kochi and the Kathakali performance can be seen in the gallery.
Palolem – Kochi, India | 20 January, 2007 | $9.21 (sleeper train)
This train must have been pretty unremarkable since I didn’t bother to record how long the trip took. Perhaps after four nights on the beach I was too relaxed (or antsy) to care.
Palolem Beach, India | 18 January, 2007 | $5.64
How cute, my own little cabin on stilts! The markets around the beach in Goa cater to the want-to-be hippie crowd, full of sarongs, toe rings and patchwork bags. It’s fun to look at first, until you start to realize it’s the same mass-produced skirts and jewelry you see everywhere. I purposefully avoided the “party beaches” as much as possible, hoping to get some fresh air and time to read a few books.
More photos of Palolem Beach can be seen in the gallery.
Panaji, Old Goa, India | 15 January, 2007 | $5.64
I arrived in Old Goa during daylight hours and found another tourist to share a rickshaw from the train station. The driver was happy to take us to a hotel, but when we got out he asked for an astronomical amount for the ride. I had been traveling around India for a while and knew when I was blatantly being ripped off. I suggested a different amount. The driver got mad and tried to take my backpack. I reacted swiftly in defense of my camera and computer and began trying to get his hand off my bag. By the time we finished our fight and the man was tired of being hit by a woman a crowd had gathered. The women seemed pleased that I was standing up for myself, and I paid the man at least double the normal fare (still, less than he wanted) and left.
My passenger, who I had only met 20 minutes earlier, had just arrived in India and was a little shocked. The hotel she wanted to stay at was full, so we ended up walking around town looking for a new place. Old Goa was more expensive than I was used to but the room was very nice and clean. Later that day, as I walked down the street I heard a rickshaw revving its engine, and looked down an alley to see my driver. He was yelling “give me my rupees!” I was on edge for the rest of my visit, not knowing when the driver would show up next.
The next day, while I was taking a self portrait outside of a church a man stood 15 feet away, watching me while masturbating. A policeman watched the scene with little interest. These close encounters set the tone for my visit to Old Goa.
More photos of Old Goa can be seen in the gallery.