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Lydia

    Bonjour Geneva!!

    The surprise is out!!!

    After a week of being sworn to secrecy by my best friend’s boyfriend (who I have to thank for booking me an impromptu flight so I could be here to celebrate my friend’s birthday with her *you are the best boyfriend EVER*) I have just touched down in the beautiful Swiss city of Geneva!!!

    I am here for a grand total of 24 hours, and intend to make the most of every single minute of it (sleep is unlikely).

    Christmas markets, fondue, mulled wine, more wine, cocktails, sightseeing and of course, some exciting blogging opportunities!

    Stay tuned!

    I hope you all have a fab weekend… I know I will :)!

    The Great Army of China

    For me, China was a roller coaster of highs and lows.

    Being scammed, leaving my rucksack containing my passport on a bus and getting to Beijing airport only to discover that my flight to Delhi had been cancelled, were understandably, definite lows (don’t worry, I’m not still stranded in Beijing airport – my passport was retrieved and I did eventually make it to India). However, getting the rare opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China (check out The Student Travels great post on the Great Wall here) and the chance to see the Terracotta Army in all its glory, were highs, which definitely outweighed the lows… bad experiences such as these ones, only add to the experience anyway, don’t they…?

    The Terracotta Army is a unique masterpiece, situated 12 hours South of Beijing, in the ancient city of Xian.

    When you put the concept of the Terracotta Army in perspective, it is just unbelievable… (apologies for the brief history lesson, which is about to follow).

    In the late third century BCE, the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang ordered approximately 700,000 workers to carve an Army to protect him in the afterlife. Consisting of around 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, he had each sculpture individually carved using local people as inspiration thus, ensuring that every soldier was different and lifelike… It is rumored that deadly booby-traps were planted in the tomb to protect the Army and any treasure that was buried in it.

    The tomb was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a water well and have been being excavated and admired ever since.

    The Terracotta Army, China - Pit - My Culture Craving

    When visiting the tomb, there are three pits containing Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army, each of which are in different stages of excavation and restoration. Pit one is the most breathtaking. Containing line upon line of lifelike warriors, carved at different heights and with varying hair styles, expressions, uniforms, gestures and facial hair, it is the largest and most impressive pit of the three.

    Although pit two and three are definitely still worth a visit, they are no way near as restored, organised or vast as pit one. Therefore, I would recommend starting at pit three and working your way back, otherwise your visit might become a bit of an anti-climax.

    The Terracotta Army, China - My Culture Craving

    The Terracotta Army, China - Sightseeing - My Culture Craving

    TOP TIPS AND INFO:

    – Read up about the history of the Army. If you don’t understand the context of what you are looking at, they are going to look like a load of weird terracotta men standing in a row in a room. If you don’t have time to learn about the history beforehand, pay for a guide, it will make your experience a lot more worthwhile and memorable!

    – Get a bus to the museum. It takes around an hour to get there and is cheap as chips (around 70p-£1 each way). The bus you need is bus 5 (306), which you will find sat opposite Xian train station.

    – Entry cost is around 150RMB (approx £15). If you want to be a dare-devil like I was, try showing your driving license and say it is a student card to get student discount… it worked for us however, if you end up looking like I fool (which also happened to me later on in my trip), I take no responsibility. Alas, if it works, you heard it here, on The Globe-Trotting Graduate first!!

    – The museum is open all year round, 8.30am – 5.30pm.

    Enjoy!!!

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India

    Varanasi is chaotic, archaic, picturesque and above all, magical.

    Situated on the bank of the River Ganges, Varanasi is considered the holiest city in India. With its endearing history, unique, ancient buildings and mesmerising, spiritual Ghats, Varanasi is a city like no other.

    Due to an unfortunate train delay, my time in Varanasi was sparse. Therefore, I had to utilise the 24 hours I had in this unbelievable city…

    If you are short on time when visiting Varanasi, be sure to squeeze in these four things:

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Clothes - My Culture Craving

    Walk alongside the River Ganges

    Start your day by having an amble around the Ganges and admiring its multipurpose Ghats.  

    Varanasi’s Ghats are timeless.

    As you wander alongside these holy waters, there is something special in the atmosphere, which is hard to describe.

    Everywhere you look, there is something heartwarming to admire. Joyous children flying their vibrant coloured kites, nonchalant cows smugly roaming along the riverside, locals bathing and playing in the Ganges, men crafting traditional wooden boats by the water, kids excitedly playing cricket amidst the crowd, families washing and drying their clothes on the sidewalk, masses of rowing boats floating atop the gentle water, and, most noticeably, the bodies, which are wrapped and embellished in vivid, iridescent materials, being carried through the city, towards their bed of rest.

    Varanasi is a melody for the senses. Love it or hate it, this is the real India.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - My Culture Craving

    Visit the Blue Lassi shop

    Whether you venture here for a light snack after wandering around the Ghats or for breakfast, lunch or dinner, this Lassi shop is a must visit whilst in Varanasi!

    Blue Lassi has been making the yummiest lassis in town for three generations!

    Nestled down one of Varanasi’s many rustic side streets, this lassi shop is a backpacker haven. Decorated in previous traveller’s notes, anecdotes and sketches, as well as photographs of the shops predecessors, Blue Lassi is a heartwarming and memorable experience, before you’ve even indulged in a spoonful of one of their delicious, creamy lassis.

    With a choice of over 80 flavours (I know!!) ranging from your standard sweet, sour and salty to your more exotic ingredients of pomegranate, banana and chocolate, you are bound to have a hard time deciding which one to go for!

    When they arrive, the lassis are garnished with all of the necessary fruity toppings and served in an adorable, traditional clay bowl.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Burning Ghats - My Culture Craving

    Experience the burning Ghats 

    Spend some time watching and learning about the rituals, which take place at the burning Ghats.

    The burning Ghats in Varanasi are something which, if you are travelling in India, you will without a doubt have heard about. Whether you have been told horror stories of burning flesh and floating limbs or tales of fascination and enlightenment, it is a tradition, which is so far-fetched from our own, you must experience for yourself!

    Hindus believe that if you are cremated and scattered in the Ganges you will go to ‘Nirvana’ – it is the ultimate end to life for them.

    Everyday, up to 400 cremations take place at the burning Ghats in Varanasi.

    When I arrived at one of the ceremonies, the first thing that struck me, was the vast amount of bodies lined up, awaiting their turn to enter paradise… I knew that the Ghats were in high demand, but wow, that was alotttttt of dead bodies! The second thing which shocked me, was that all of the bodies were completely covered (I think the tales of burning flesh and floating limbs had taken their toll). The bodies were wrapped in beautiful, bright fabrics and draped in traditional embellishments.

    The cremations are touching and insightful not explicit and scary. Embrace the opportunity to experience such a spiritual ceremony and learn a lot in the process!

    The main burning Ghat is called Manikarnika however, there are also a few smaller ones scattered alongside the Ganges.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Ghats at Sunset - My Culture Craving

    Go on a boat trip on the River Ganges at sunrise/sunset

    Fit in a boat trip on the River Ganges at the beginning or end of your day. 

    Begin or end your day bobbing along the Ganges whilst watching the sunrise/set across the hazy horizon of Varanasi. If you choose to venture out at sunset, be sure to float along to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch the spiritual Aarti ceremony, which illuminates the Ganges every night at sunset (have a read of my post about the Aarti festival in Rishikesh here).

    Varanasi is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. What’s your verdict? 

    A Day at The British Museum, London

    On Sunday my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a fun day out in London. Being a little strapped for cash, we needed something to do, which wouldn’t stretch our budget… so, we thought, what can we do in London for free? Museums!!

    After much debate about which museum to go to, we gathered our archaeological tools (aka. our coats and coffees) and headed to the grand British Museum.

    Encasing some of the most fascinating historical antiques from human history, The British Museum is an educational, awe-inspiring and compelling place to visit.

    Housed in an architecturally stunning building, which is adorned in magnificent Greek pillars, this museum holds over 8 million artifacts! Ranging from Egyptian mummies, Chinese ceramics and Greek sculptures to Viking relics, Japanese fashion and Asian Buddhas, here, there is plenty to keep you busy and entertained.

    However, with the ample amount of antiquities to see, it is difficult to fit everything in. Therefore, I would advise doing some research into the different sections of the museum before arriving. This way, you can ensure you don’t miss out any of the areas you are most interested in seeing.

    We managed to wander around the Egypt and Asia rooms in around an hour and a half…

    Admiring the mammoth amount of Buddhas (I was in heaven) and educating myself on the enthralling history of mummification, I came away brimming with historical facts and information… and I hadn’t even skimmed the surface of what the museum has to offer!

    The British Museum, is an enlightening experience. It gives you the chance to learn a huge amount about the heritage and lives of our ancestors as well as take a peek into the history and culture of some of the countries that are visited so frequently today, which, when travelling, I think is just as essential as your passport.

    So, if you’re in London, head to The British Museum and get cultured! It is open from 10am – 5.30pm daily and entry is FREE!

    Nearest tube station – Tottenham Court Road.

    Have you been to The British Museum? If so, which was your favourite section? Let me know :). 

    Festivities in the City of Light, Paris

    With the season to be jolly fast approaching, I thought it was about time I did a festive post about good ol’ CHRISTMAS.

    Over the past three years I have been blessed with having a best friend living in Paris (she has now moved to Geneva… alright for some, eh!?) Therefore, each year, we made it a tradition that I would visit her in Paris over her birthday weekend (December) for mulled-wine-fueled celebrations and mince-pie-filled festivities.

    During my first trip (I had never been before, minus the obligatory Disney trip when I was younger) I was captivated by Paris’ enchanting aura (it’s not just Disneyland which is magical in Paris!) – how had I never visited this incredible city before?

    Its charming buildings and charismatic cobbled streets, which were lined with the hustle and bustle of people sitting outside drinking, smoking, eating and chatting, gave me that fuzzy, festive feeling you get close to Christmas. This merry ambiance was heightened by the twinkling Christmas lights, which were sprinkled over every arrondissement of the city (they don’t call it The City of Light for no reason) and the abundance of ‘Christmassy’ things to see and do.

    Here are a few of my favourite things to see and do to get you in the Joyeux Noël mood in Le Paris:

    Festivities in Paris, France - Christmas Market - My Culture Craving

    Champs-Elysées Christmas market

    There is no better way to get you in the festive spirit, than snuggling up in a jumper, hat and scarf, sipping on a delicious cup of spiced mulled wine and taking a stroll around a Christmas market.

    Stretching from the Champs-Elysées roundabout to the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées Christmas market is the largest in Paris. Lined with cute, iconic wooden chalets, selling everything from gingerbread, macaroons, mulled wine and crepes to clothes, memorabilia, gifts and toys, here, there is enough to keep you in your Christmas bubble until New Year!

    It also benefits from a view of both the big wheel at Concorde (see number 3) and the Eiffel Tower! Make sure you keep an eye out for the Eiffel Tower’s stunning sparkling show, which glistens on the hour, every hour (after sunset) until 1am.

    The Champs-Elysées Christmas market is open from 10am to 11pm (Sunday – Thursday) and 10am to midnight (Fridays and Saturdays) from 14th November 2014 through to 4th January 2015.

    Metro: Passy, Champs Elysées-Clemenceau or Concorde.

    Festivities in Paris, France - Christmas Tree - My Culture Craving

    Go to Galleries Lafayette to see the huge Christmas tree 

    Galleries Lafayette is like a grand opera theatre, Harrods and Selfridge & Co. laced into one. It is outstanding, upmarket, elegant and vast.

    With its theatre-like layout, magnificent, detailed ceiling and extravagant centerpiece Christmas tree, this is a department store, which is definitely worth admiring whilst in Paris (even if you can’t afford to buy anything!)

    Galleries Lafayette is open from 9.30am – 8pm (Monday – Saturday) with late nights until 9pm on Thursdays.

    Metro: Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette.

    Festivities in Paris, France - Concorde - My Culture Craving

    Visit the Roue de Paris (or big wheel) at Concorde

    The Roue de Paris takes centre stage in December.

    Illuminated by a promenade of trees embellished in shimmering Christmas lights, the Roue de Paris, which was originally built to celebrate the millennium, gleams at the pinnacle of the Champs-Elysées.

    It is open everyday from 11am – 12 midnight from November to February.

    Tickets cost €10 for an adult and €5 for a child (10 years and under).

    Metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile.

    Festivities in Paris, France - Ice Skating - My Culture Craving

    Ice Skate at the top of the Eiffel Tower or at Hôtel De Ville

    With the frost in the air, the Christmas carols in full swing and the sweet, indulgent smell of roasting nuts floating through the high streets of Paris, there is only one thing missing to complete this festive harmony – the chance to topple over into a puddle of icy water… ICE SKATING!

    Whether you are a child, adult or OAP? I don’t think the novelty of ice skating ever wears off. And in Paris, there are plenty of choices of where you can glide your way back into childhood.

    You can ice skate at new heights on the Eiffel Tower, whilst enjoying the fabulous view over Paris or spiral your way across the ice rink outside the lavish Hôtel De Ville. Either way, you will be ice skating in your very own wonderland with a view to die for!

    The Eiffel Tower is open from 10.30am – 10.30pm daily from mid December to late January.

    Tickets cost approximately €9.

    Metro: Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel on line RER C.

    Hôtel De Ville is open Monday – Friday 12pm-10pm and Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays 9am-10pm from December 19th 2014 to March 1st, 2015.

    Admission to the ice skating rink is free however, skate rental is around €5.

    Metro: Hôtel de Ville.

    So, get those ear muffs on and get skating!

    Happy Friday everyone. I hope you all have a wonderful, festive filled weekend :)!

    What are your favourite things to get up to in Paris around Christmas time?

    A Wedding To Remember in Jaipur, India

    When I was volunteering in India during my Gap Yah I was given the offer of a life time.

    As I was there during the wedding season, I was invited to go to the wedding reception of one of the volunteer project manager’s relatives – I was beyond thrilled… what better way to get an insight into the Indian culture and traditions, than at a wedding!?

    Hindu wedding celebrations are very important to their religion and can last for several days therefore, I felt blessed that I had the chance to be a part of one!

    After having the tricky task of choosing a sari for the occasion, from an exquisite selection of luscious fabrics, vibrant colours and sparkling embellishments, we were ready to razzle dazzle…

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Sari - My Culture Craving

    When we arrived, we were swooped up into the heart of the celebration and invited to join the extravagant parade or ‘Baraat’, which leads the groom into the wedding.

    I had no idea what to expect and wow, was I stunned.

    The fast-paced music blaring out of the gramophone-like speakers from the live band, which were performing on a moving podium. The accompanying trombones, trumpets and drums that marched alongside the procession. The groom atop a bejeweled white mare, wrapped in shimmering white, red and gold textiles… the energy was incredible, bouncing from person to person as they rejoiced and danced their way into the ceremony.

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - My Culture Craving

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Horse - My Culture Craving

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Crowd - My Culture Craving

    Once we had made our way into the wedding it was time for the feast!! Two sides of the room were lined with fragrant, local Indian cuisine. Curries, chapatis, dal, parathas, rice, lassis, Indian sweets, naan bread – the list goes on.

    Although the food was a little on the spicy side for me, it was to die for.

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Food - My Culture Craving

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Saris - My Culture Craving

    During the time we had spent overindulging in the delicious food on offer, we noticed that the bride had sneaked onto the stage. She looked sensational. Dressed in a gorgeous red sari, which was covered in lavish, intricate, gold detail, decorated in detailed henna and draped in A LOT of gold jewellery – from a head-piece, nose ring and earrings to bangles, rings and necklaces, she was without a doubt the centerpiece of the wedding.

    However, she wasn’t.

    This amazed us a little. Unlike western weddings where the bride is the centre of attention, at this wedding the woman emerged from nowhere.

    No aisle. No confetti. No fuss.

    It was the polar opposite to a wedding in our culture however, it was fascinating to learn about the wedding traditions in Hinduism and how they differ to ours.

    We soon found out that at Hindu weddings, it is customary for the bride to look sad as she now has to leave her family to go and live with her in-laws.

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Couple - My Culture Craving

    Like the celebs we are, we also got asked to go up on stage to have our picture taken with the bride and groom…

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Bride and Groom - My Culture Craving

    We spent the remainder of our night dancing away to Bollywood classics with these cuties…

    A Wedding to Remember, Jaipur - Children Dancing - My Culture Craving

    It truly was a wedding to remember and an event, which I feel so lucky to have been able to experience!