Category Archives: Travel

From Exhaustion to Tiredness to Complete and Utter Excitement

Merry Christmas from Fiona Andrews

Well, I have been back in the US for a month now and I’m still enjoying the novelty of hot showers, faucets with potable water, and pizza delivery. As incredible and beautiful as my time in India was, the holidays are a great time to be around those you love. But after a couple months away I feel like I have shed everything that was bad and am only left with the good!

When I moved to India, I was exhausted and thoroughly depleted from three years of constant stress. But when I left India, I was exhausted again. I had spent the first month and a half relaxing and stripping away the negativity I had harbored for the past few years with daily yoga, meditation, and pranayama – but then felt like I undid a good portion of that with eighteen hour train rides and bumpy, nauseating bus trips as I rapidly made my way from the very south of the country to the very north. I was no longer depleted, but I was simply tired – so I thought I would have no problem sleeping, eating, and just enjoying time with friends and family throughout the holiday season.

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Amma’s Darshan: My Encounter with the Hugging Saint

Check out last week’s post about my weekend at Amma’s Ashram- here’s part two! 

Amma's Ashram, The Hugging Saint

After dinner, it was my turn for darshan (a hug!) so I got in the queue by the stage. After not moving for about half an hour, I verified with one of the devotees coordinating the process that I was in the right place. She explained that many Indian devotees just come for the day, so Amma tries to see all of them first so they can catch their trains and buses home. Although I usually would have been mildly irked by such a poorly organised system (why not tell me to come back later instead of sitting and waiting?), I continued to sit and observe. Devotees brought silks, malas, fruit, and cookies for her to bless. Whole families went up at once to receive her sacred hug, often all but carrying their eldest members. 

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10 Things to Get You Through 32 Hours of Travelling

Travel tips to get through long trips
 

I travel a lot, and I travel cheap. This often means crazy inconveniences, like 15 hour overnight layovers in Portugal or crazy long journeys to get halfway around the world. I have certainly learned a thing or two about staying sane on the cheap while spending ridiculously long times in transit. Here’s what gets me through.

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The Next Big Adventure

Since graduating last May, I’ve had many adventures including but not limited to sliding on glaciers in Iceland, hitting casinos in Vegas, climbing Macchu Picchu in Peru, buying a car, becoming a certified yoga instructor, riding steam trains, skinny dipping in Croatia, partying with the Scorpions in Prague, stowing away in Geneva, enduring a hurricane, bartending at strip clubs, running a half marathon, completing a tough mudder, baking my first pie, and having a full time job. I met so many awesome people and had so many thoroughly unforgettable experiences that it’s a little difficult to think about what comes next.

I’ve been working at Marketsmith, Inc for over two years now, after starting as an intern in the summer of 2011, telecommuting while at school, and graduating university a year early in order to return for a full-time position. I’ve learned so much and worked with some really special people on the skilled and talented Marketsmith team. I enjoyed my work and am so grateful for the many opportunities offered to me.

However, anyone who knows me (or really has even met me in passing) knows that I am not good at staying in one place for too long. I’ve been seeking out my next big adventure for awhile now, and I think I’ve found it.

fiona andrews yoga teacher
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Why I Do Bizarre Things (Why Not)

snow feetI know I have already written about why I like to spend my life barefoot, but running around barefoot is only one of many things I do that the general public seems to find strange, closely followed by prolific tree-climbing and excessive marmite consumption.

It has never occurred to me not to do exactly what I want to.  I don’t ignore my responsibilities or run around pillaging – I just mean that if I think something looks fun or seems like a good idea, I do it.  Being barefoot is a good example because it’s something largely frowned upon by society.  As I’ve said before – I get mixed reactions including anything from thumbs-up to weird looks and occasional rudeness.  But that never really made me want to put on a pair of shoes.  I don’t like shoes, so I don’t wear them.  Fin.  Another example is my penchant for travel.  Most people I encounter in the US find me to be extraordinarily well-travelled, but to be honest I never really put much thought into it.  Really, what usually happens is a thought like “Wow, I would love to go to an awesome new place” closely followed by a visit to kayak.com and a few weeks later, another stamp on my passport.  Assuming you have some sort of income, don’t have to lug a bunch of kids with you, and aren’t trying to go somewhere with strict visa procedures, yes, travelling really is that easy. Continue reading

I’m back!

Hello!  First of all, my apologies for just taking off.  I do that sometimes, particularly when faced with major life changes like finishing university. Perhaps my last post about travelling foreshadowed that it was about to happen again, but it was a fairly spur of the moment decision.  Anyway, I am back now.  In case anyone is interested, I thought I’d include a brief update on my life before I resume my usual blogging habits.

Graduation photo

Yes, I graduated barefoot.

First, I finished up my last coursework and graduated from Syracuse!  I now have a music degree with focus on voice and piano, a minor in marketing, and a minor in IT.  Managed to scrape by Magna cum Laude as well!

Right after graduating I moved out of my place, donated about half of my belongings to charity, and send the rest back to New Jersey with my family.  Two days later, I got on a plane to England.  I stayed with some family before taking off for Prague, Croatia, Switzerland, and making another stop in England, and then I made it back stateside. Continue reading

Travelling

I have always loved travelling.  Recently, however, my wanderlust has been particularly strong.  Since 2009, my international travels have included the Bahamas, India twice (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Shekhawati, Dharamsala, and Bir), Scotland (Edinburgh, Loch Lomond), the Netherlands, Spain (Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona),  Italy, France, England (London, Rye, Kent, Wadhurst), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), and the Dominican Republic.  In less than 2 weeks I graduate, and two days afterwards I will be off again- starting in London and then most likely heading to Greece (Mykonos or Kos), Morocco (Fez), and the Czech Republic (Prague).

Whew.  Considering I’ve done all that while being a full-time student and also holding jobs, that’s not too shabby.

Edinburgh

Climbing the mountain by Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

Most people want to travel, I don’t think I’m any different in that respect.  The difference is that with me it’s a borderline compulsion.  I find a way to do it even if it means not buying groceries or textbooks or selling half my possessions on Ebay.

Why?  Good question.  I have had many conversations with many people about why I have a constant need to travel.  I think a large part of it is that I feel as though I am a citizen of the world, not any one place. Continue reading

Home

Home is where the heart is.

Cliche, but true.  However, it is never taken literally enough.  Home is exactly where the heart is- it is your body.  You live nowhere else but inside your physical being.

The period in life between high school and finishing university involves lots of traveling for most people, whether it’s taking time off to see the world or going back and forth between “home” and school.  It’s a period of transition, and I know that I for one have never felt particularly settled in any one place (granted, I seem to have a crippling inability to stay in the country for more than three months at a time, but still), even the home where I grew up.  Life in general is constantly moving; sometimes it ebbs and flows but the waves are always there.  We are nomads.

This can be quite a crisis- it seems to be part of human nature to try to find one’s place in the world- a sort of niche where you fit in, a sense of belonging.  It’s what makes us travel and explore the world, and also try new things.  But at the same time, it can create a huge amount of angst.

I think that where you physically are has very little to do with how at “home” you feel.  To me, “home” is a sense of security and assuredness.  It’s typically associated with a place, but I don’t think it has to be.  I can feel at home anywhere from the mountains in north India to a tiny dorm room in Syracuse, and I think that sense of adaptability comes from a sense of security with who I am.

A sense of belonging isn’t something you need to find in a place, it’s something you need to find in yourself.  It’s a sense of self-reliance rather than dependence on a place that makes you comfortable.  Perhaps travelling the world and visiting new locations will help you discover who you are and find that self-assuredness, but ultimately your true home is nowhere else but your own body. Be comfortable in yourself and with yourself, friends.  Namaste!

Bir

More about India!  This is a followup to my first post about Dharamsala.  Less Hangover-esque shenanigans, more monks and motorcycles.

After I woke up for the second time on New Year’s Day, I asked the coordinator exactly what was in store for me.  It was like a terrible rendition of “Who’s On First.”

Me (groggily): “So, where am I volunteering today?”

Him: “Beer.”

Me: “Oh god, no more beer.”

Him: “We are going to beer.”

Me: “No, we drank beer last night…shouldn’t I be in orientation or something?”

Him (insistently): “No, beer!”

Me: “…”

Him: “We are going to beer.”

Me: “Wait…spell that?”

Him: “B-I-R.”

Me:  ”Bir….is it a place?”

Him: “Yes, we will leave in one hour!”

The view from the home I stayed in

So, we piled into a taxi with one other girl who had just arrived from the US and four volunteers who had been visiting Dharamsala for the weekend and began our trip through the gorgeous Kangra valley.  It was about 2.5 hours of winding mountains and valleys with fields of rice and tea and small towns every so often.  We took the first day to recover from all of the travelling and get oriented with the small town.  Bir is a Tibetan colony so although it is in India, most of the locals are Tibetan.  Their primary language is Tibetan (much to the dismay of two girls who had been learning Hindi) and their culture is a bit more westernized than most of India.  The Tibetans are mostly businessmen that own shops in the center of town and the Indians tend to do the labor, such as building and making clay.  They seem to coexist very well, but there’s a very clear divide between the cultures that I found somewhat unnerving.

Nyingma

Nyingma

Chok Ling

Chok Ling

On the second day, we began to teach the monks.  We taught at two monasteries, Nyingma and Chok ling.  We had been told that we would be assisting teachers who were already following programs, but in reality we were introduced to about 20 incredibly polite but slightly confused boys between the ages of 6 and 17.  Many of the boys at Nyingma already spoke decent English, so it was very challenging to find new things to teach them.  I taught the more advanced group- by the end of my time there, they were beginning to understand how to arrange sentences into a cohesive story.

Tea Garden

Tea Garden

Bir is a very small town, so you see the same people every day.  I continuously ran into the same guys that I had spent New Years’ with, and nearly every night we went out driving, drinking, and dancing.  It’s funny because in the US, when someone asks you out for a drink you usually go to a bar.  In Bir, you literally go out for a drink- you go buy a bottle of something and sit on a mountain and drink.  I much prefer this, to be perfectly honest.  Sometimes we ordered food from a nearby Indian restaurant and they brought it out to us while we danced under the stars with music pumping from a car.  It was a bit chilly, so sometimes a bonfire was involved as well.  Sometimes the other volunteers and I would go for tea at the tea garden down the road.  It was beautiful- I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer.

Chok Ling

Chok Ling

One experience that I particularly enjoyed was going to morning prayer.  We went to our two monasteries as well as another one, also called Chok Ling.  The monks were very accommodating- they rolled out mats for us and brought us tea while we sat and listened to their chants.  It was wonderfully meditative, and they used some really interesting instruments.

 

Sunset in Bir

Sunset

Another thing I learned to love (in about four seconds) was motorcycles.  Drunk me had made particularly good friends with a local named Jigme on my first evening and he had promised me a ride.  Sober me did not remember this, but Jigme did and after my first day of volunteering he was waiting to whisk me off through the jungle.  We went for rides every day, sometimes to temples and sometimes just up in the mountains to watch the stunning sunsets.  In the evenings, we went to Chauntra, the next town over, where some of the other guys I had met my first evening lived.  They taught me to play a popular game called Shok, which is similar to Parcheesi but played with shells and coins and no board.  We unintentionally adopted the most adorable puppy, who accompanied us on our late-night dance parties in the mountains.

It’s strange how a culture so different from ours still has so many similarities- going out for dinner and drinking liquor in fields is also a favorite pastime in the small town that I grew up with.  We also like to hang around and play games at people’s houses, or just pile into cars and drive somewhere.  I think the main difference is how people treat each other.  Everyone in Bir was always friendly to everyone else, especially to travellers.  I don’t think new people would be welcomed nearly as quickly back home.  The Tibetans are also extremely lackadaisical about their business- one day I needed photocopies, and the machine at the shop I usually went to was broken.  Rather than just tell me so, the shopkeeper walked me down the street to his competitor and had him make me the copies.  Something like this would never happen in the US- but it’s like the idea of competition just doesn’t exist.  In any town there are always at least four stores selling the exact same things, but nobody tries to undercut each other or take business.  There’s just a really strong sense of community, which I really loved.

More photos from Bir

Tashi Delek

When I was in Bir, I learned a common greeting: “Tashi Delek.”  It does not translate to “hello” or “good day-”  it means “good luck.”  I think that wishing “good luck” to someone is a wonderful way of saying hello, but it did make me think about the concept of “luck.”

Someone once told me that I have great luck.  I thought about it, and it seemed true enough.  However, I also have had absolutely terrible luck.  This sort of begs the question- what is luck?  It’s perception.  There are people who have had more incredible things happen to them than I have, but there are also people who have had more terrible things happen to them than I have.  If I were to tally it up, I’d say I come out nearly exactly in the middle- and yet I consider myself one of the luckiest people on the planet.

A major factor of how “lucky” you are is your perception.  If you are optimistic, you will automatically be more lucky simply because you focus on the positive.  If you are pessimistic, you will remember the negative and naturally feel much less lucky.  Luck is sort of a logical impossibility really, because there is no real reason why one person should attract any more positive events than another.  A far better alternative to “luck” is the idea of karma.  If you don’t believe in the power of positive thinking or buy the idea that good actions done bring good results, that’s fine- the science there is pretty shady too.  But if you ask me, anything that gets people to do good or think positively is a good thing.

It’s too easy to blame things on “bad luck.”  It’s a way of escaping responsibility.  Sure, sometimes things really just don’t go your way- that’s life.  But you can always control your perception of it.  Though it’s extremely unlikely that thinking positively will cause you to randomly find a fifty-dollar bill on the street, at the very least it will cause you to feel better about little things that happen to you.  Thinking good thoughts can cause small occurrences like running into an old friend seem exponentially better, and can also make bad things seem much less tragic.

Whether you believe in luck, karma, the flying spaghetti monster, whatever- you can make luck just by altering your perception of the smallest things.   People I regularly converse with always think I have the most amazing life- and that’s true, but only because I perceive it that way.  You can too!

Tashi Delek, friends =)

New Year’s in Dharamsala

It’s Friday and to be honest, I am exhausted from preparing for my impending recital and dealing with more responsibilities at work.  Today I am going to write a little bit about something fun and exciting: my trip to India!  I figure it’s about time since I’ve been back in the US for a month now.

This is the plane that took me from Delhi to Dharamsala. Cute, right?

So after about two days of travelling, I arrived in New Delhi.  Immigration gave me a really difficult time (probably because I look like a hobo) so I didn’t get through until about 3.30 AM.  The car to take me to my hotel was long gone, so I camped out in the airport for about eight hours (nothing compared to my fifteen hours in Lisbon last summer) until my flight to Dharamsala.  While I was in the airport, several people came and struck up conversations with me with very polite English- one lady even plopped her (adorable) toddler in my lap while she went off to the ladies’ room without even saying a word.  On the plane to Kangra, I sat next to a monk who was one of the Dalai Lama’s closest followers.  Definitely a great start to my adventure!

 

Those cars are about four inches from the side of a cliff with no guardrail. Everyone folds in their side mirrors and squeezes by with about 2 cm of space.Not kidding.

I arrived in the tiny Kangra airport in Dharamsala (one plane lands at a time and there are no gates- you just walk on the runway) and saw a cab driver who spoke no English, but he had a paper with my name on it so I figured it was as good an idea as any to just let him take me wherever I was supposed to be- at this point, it was still not clear where my volunteering position was.  So I hopped in his cab and braced myself for a ridiculous ride- not only are roads in India rarely maintained, but the idea of staying in one lane is fairly foreign to them.

So after about half an hour in the taxi, I got out and blindly followed some very friendly people into a house (dodging monkeys, water being splashed from balconies, and a cow on the way).  I had no clue where I was and there was no one who knew what to do with me, so I figured taking a nap was as good an idea as any, since I hadn’t had any sleep in three days other than a bit of wine-induced dozing on the flight over.

Spinning Tibetan prayer wheels in the Dalai Lama's monastery

 

I woke up to a well-dressed Tibetan man coming into the room- finally, someone who knew what was going on!  He walked me around Dharamsala- he took me to the Dalai Lama’s monastery and out for a traditional Tibetan dinner.  He asked what I wanted to do in the evening- I was still exhausted, but I figured I’d be damned if I went to bed early on New Year’s and told him I would absolutely be going out.

New Year's in town- just like Times Square, right?

So, I slept for about an hour before we went out again.  We sat in a tea-house for awhile, and when we left it was getting late.  The streets were mobbed, but only with men- women don’t really go out in the evenings in small towns like this.  Some other girls who had already been volunteering later told me that they had to go home long before midnight because the men were just too raucous.  Luckily, the coordinator had a few of his friends visiting, and I wasn’t bothered much since I was surrounded by them.  We went to a restaurant and drank lots of Kingfisher and listened to drunk guys singing folk songs, then we walked around town and met up with his friends.  Around midnight, we went to the roof of the restaurant and counted down, kissing everyone when the clock struck- apparently, some traditions are the same in many different cultures.  To be honest, the rest of the evening is a bit hazy from the combination of alcohol twice as strong as I expected, very high altitude, and sleep deprivation- but I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to go!

View from the house that I stayed in my first night

…That’s a lie.  I woke up with a splitting headache wearing jeans that were drenched (apparently we went to a lake), with a (fully clothed, don’t worry) new friend in my bed who seemed to think we were married, and having entirely forgotten where I was.  So I ate some curry, brushed my teeth, went back to sleep, and woke up an hour later- THEN I was refreshed and ready to go.

Construction on the main street

We left for Bir, the Tibetan settlement where I ended up spending most of my time, later that day.  The rest of the trip was (for the most part) much more of a spiritual life-changing experience than this first rather wild and irresponsible evening that I will write about later.

Was this part of my adventure entirely irresponsible, wild, and potentially dangerous?  Yes.  Yes it was.  But you’re only young once, and sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind!

For lots more photos of Dharamsala, check out my facebook photo album!