OTTAWA and MONTREAL,

We wanted to visit some of the important cities in Canada from Toronto. After some scouting around online, we narrowed down on a tour agency called Tours 4 fun. They were offering 3 day trips to these cities and so we booked with them. They cater predominantly to Chinese tourists . They did a good job overall.

We were picked up by the tour bus at Mississauga near the Chinese shops. Our first halt was at Kingston.

Kingston is a city in Ontario in Canada on the banks of lake Ontario at the mouth of the  St Lawrence river. It is known as The Limestone City…due to its 19th century limestone architecture. It was a military post in the 16th century. It is called Kingston in honor of King George III. It was the first Capital of Canada . It prides itself in having a robust healthcare system and is home to a variety of educational institutions. At Kingston we saw the city hall,good lakeside homes like retirement communities, a marina and a locomotive exhibit.

The city hall is an imposing piece of neoclassical architecture with a prominent dome.It is the seat of local government in Kingston. It overlooks Lake Ontario which has a beautiful marina with lots of yachts anchored there.

The City Hall and Lake Ontario

An antique coach and a locomotive exhibit at Kingston

After spending about an hour in Kingston, we headed to Ottawa.

Ottawa city, the capital of Canada is located in Ontario on the banks of the Ottawa river.

We reached Ottawa by noon. After lunch at a restaurant , we proceeded to see the Canadian Parliament.

The Parliament is located on Pariament Hill on the banks of the Ottawa river in downtown Ottawa. In the foreground of the parliament building is the flame and water monument called Centennial Flame. The flame burns continuously and works with natural gas  bubbling through water cascading underneath.  The flame prevents the water from freezing in winter. It commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.

The Canadian Parliament

The Centennial Flame

Next we visited the Museum of civilization  also called Canadian Museum  of History on the banks of the Ottawa River. It houses thousands of artifacts, archival documents, works of art and other ancient material relating to the indigenous people of Canada to the present time. Interactive shows related to Canadian History is another attraction at this huge complex.

Museum of Civilization

The Ottawa River seen from the museum

We next visited the Notre Dame Basilica…the largest and oldest church in Ottawa.

The Notre Dam Basilica

After the visit to the church, we proceeded to Montreal for an overnight stay.

Montreal is located in Quebec province and is predominantly French speaking.

We were put up at a hotel and next morning, we set off sightseeing Montreal.

Approaching Montreal….

We visited St Joseph’s Oratory. It is the biggest church in Canada built in Italian Renaissance style and has a copper dome which is one of the biggest church domes in the world. It is a National Historic Site. It is located on the highest point in Montreal located on Mount Royal.The insides of the Basilica is decorated with intricately carved murals. On display at the Basilica is a wall covered with thousands of crutches from those who were purportedly healed by the divine healing powers of Brother Andre.

Some restoration work was in progress when we visited and that can be seen in the picture

St Joseph’s Oratory

Next we visited the Olympic Tower….now known as Montreal tower, this is part of the Olympic games complex built for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.…..and is the tallest inclined structure in the world.

This tower is inclined more than the Leaning tower of Pisa and the cables that hold the retractable roof of the Olympic stadium is suspended from the tower. The opening shot of this blog shows this …..

There is an observatory in the tower that can be accessed by an inclined elevator from where one gets a view of the Olympic village.

Montreal Tower and view of Olympic village from Montreal Tower

The Biodome which is located adjacent to the tower was our next destination.

This housed the velodrome for the 1976 Olympics and the  track cycling and judo events were held here. After the Olympics, it was converted into the Biodome which showcases  four miniature echo systems.These are filled with plants and animals found in these eco systems and visitors can walk through the different ecosystems and enjoy nature under a roof. Some of the featured ecosystems are…Tropical forest, Laurentian Maple forest, St Lawrence Marine,Labrador coast and sub antarctic islands.

So one can imagine….the range of plant and animal life residing there…from the parrots and monkeys of tropical forests to the fish of St Lawrence River to the penguins and puffins of subantarctic zone…Its a different world inside the Biodome…

The Biodome from outside and inside

Some inhabitants of the Biodome

After visiting the Biodome, we continued our journey across Canada to yet another iconic city...Quebec…

See you next week at Quebec…the quaint city

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TORONTO

Hello friends,

This week we do Toronto. Since we were at Toronto for a month, there were lots of things we did and this blog is a sum total of this. Unlike in my previous blogs, here I narrate various visits and my regular readers may notice that it is not a continuous flow.

First thing that struck me was… as you alight from your flight and enter through the gates into the terminal….you see a large board…You are Welcome in Canada…this is something which I found unique….this board would surely have reassured many a foreigner stepping on Canadian soil with trepidation and uncertainty.This would apply more to potential immigrants who would like to chart a future in Canada. Very Immigrant friendly country!!!

We landed there at night and woke up after a long sleep overcoming jet lag.As I opened the front door and looked out, I wondered if I had landed in Canada or Punjab? Every person I saw was an Indian and most of them Sikhs…that’s how much this city has embraced our people and vice versa. Indian seniors sitting on garden benches and chitchatting while soaking in some sunshine to beat the biting cold, is a common sight.Travelling by public transport, you often hear telephonic conversations in Hindi and Punjabi. So if any of you travel to Canada…particularly Toronto, have no worries of feeling alien….you will feel very much at home.

OK…now let me get into specifics….

First let me introduce you to our friends in Toronto who were so kind to host us and also take us along sight seeing.

Our friends at their beautiful house in Brampton, Toronto

We did a lot of commuting in Toronto, partly by public transport and partly driven around by our friend. Here are some pictures of the local buses, trains etc…just to give a perspective…

The local city bus and bus stop

The double decker GO Train outer and inner view

For us Tim Horton’s is synonymous with Canada….where ever we traveled, we enjoyed their coffee and snacks. This restaurant chain kept us pepped up with energy during our long trips many times…So I decided to include a picture of one of their outlets for all of you to see. We sort of got addicted to their awesome coffee and I particularly enjoyed the pumpkin spice flavor which is associated with fall…the season we were there….

A Tim Horton’s Outlet

Let me start with our visit to Downtown Toronto .

We were dropped at the Toronto airport by our friend. From the airport, we took the Union Pearson Express train to downtown Toronto.

After getting down at Union Station, we explored the place on foot and decided to do a hop on hop off tour. Booked our tickets from the agent near the station and boarded the double decker bus with an open upper deck.

The Sightseeing bus

The bus wound its way through the streets of Toronto and we were in front of the

CN Tower… the iconic structure in Toronto.

We alighted there and wanted to go to the top of the tower to get a panoramic view, but unfortunately the queue was too long and we did not have time to wait for our turn . So we walked around, clicked some pictures.

The CN tower is a telecommunication tower and is the tallest free standing( not held by wires)tower in Canada. But it is the  fifth tallest free standing structure in the world.

The C N stands for Canada’s National tower.

It has an observation deck with floor to wall glass windows and a glass floor. Apart from that there is an observation point in the sky pod from where you may be able to see even Niagara falls or New York State in US on a clear day. One can also take a walk on the famous Edge walk…(a 1.5 mt wide ledge around the outer edge of the pod) attached to a safety harness. Apart from this there is a revolving restaurant in the tower which offers 360 degree views of the city and the landscape around.

The C N Tower

The entrance to the tower

Next to CN tower is the Ripley’s Aquarium and the Roger’s center.

The Roger’s center is a domed sports arena. Its unique design allows for the roof to be retracted under favourable conditions. Roger’s center is the home of Toronto Blue Jays… the baseball team….and that day we did get to see fans trooping in to the center to watch a match….most of them in Blue garb. The cutest thing was a poodle also dressed in a blue jersey hopping along with its master to cheer the Blue Jays!!!

After we finished with these views we boarded the bus again and hopped off at Casa Loma. Casa Loma in Spanish means” Hill House” It is a building resembling a medieval castle set in a garden. Due to its unique architecture, it is a popular filming destination. It houses a museum. It is also a popular destination for wedding ceremonies for which it can be rented out.

Casa Loma

Next we visited Lawrence Market which houses a variety of vendors selling food, flowers etc. We took a break here for lunch.

Post lunch, we took the cruise to the Toronto Islands.

These are a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario south of mainland Toronto. These are just offshore from the city’s downtown area. It houses the Billy Bishop Toronto city airport, an amusement park, yacht clubs and a public marina. This is a car free community and access to the mainland is only via ferry. Bicycles can be carried on the ferry.

We took the ferry from the mainland and as we cruised along, got some great views of Toronto city.

View of Toronto city from the cruise

Yachts anchored at the Toronto islands

After the cruise, we returned back to the station and took the train back home.

Riverwood conservancy was one of the places we visited

We took the local bus to Riverwood conservancy ; the 150 acre park..an urban oasis with accessible trails, creeks, wetlands and wildlife. The Credit River also flows by its borders. Children from the local schools often volunteer here for nature studies.Bird watching trails are also earmarked here.

It amazed me to see how such a serene and quiet place exists right in the middle of a buzzing metropolis! Also how the river water is so crystal clear and pristine….says a lot about the local people who refrain from maligning it!

The Credit River

Some views at Riverwood conservancy

Square one Mall is a high end shopping mall situated in downtown Mississauga. It is the second largest shopping center in Ontario. Needless to say, it houses many branded and high end shops and restaurants,Both the interior and exterior are beautifully designed.

At Square one Mall

Lakeshore Toronto

One morning ,we were dropped off at Lake shore by our friend and we spent a morning there. There are well landscaped gardens along the shores of Lake Ontario. Walking and cycling tracks draw the locals to this place. Being September, it was the start of fall and we did get a taste of fall colors on the maple trees.

Some pictures from our visit to Lakeshore

After a relaxing morning at Lake shore, we took a bus to downtown and visited Nathan Philips square; a plaza in front of the city hall . Here we saw the Toronto signage..one of the most photographed places in Toronto. It provides the backdrop to a  reflecting pool which is used as a skating rink in winter. This square is the site of concerts, art displays, the farmer’s market, the winter festival of lights, and other public events. There are kiosks selling variety of food items and appeared to me like a picnic spot for the locals.

Nathan Philips Square

During Christmas time, this square is decorated and lit up. This is called the Cavalcade of lights.This officially marks the beginning of Christmas celebrations. A huge Christmas tree is also lit up. A stage is set up and many high profile music programs are held here. These celebrations last for almost 2 months.

Cavalcade of Lights

We also had the opportunity of visiting the Sai Baba temple in Mississauga. This temple looks unique from outside. In fact it is housed in a commercial complex and externally looks like an office. Once inside, it resembles any typical Indian Temple.

The entrance to the temple

There was another unique tourist destination we visited The Cheltenham Badlands.

Badlands is a geologic term for an area of soft rock devoid of vegetation and soil cover that has become molded into a rolling landscape of rounded hills and gullies

An area of approximately 0.5 km, it features essentially clay that is easily eroded by water. The Queenstone shale has brick red to maroon color. Formed as a result of tectonic activity hundreds of years ago, this region was used extensively for cattle grazing. The unscientific agricultural and grazing practices over the years added to the erosion by nature and led to this formation.There are trails here where you can explore the badlands. But entry on to this fragile shale is prohibited.

The Cheltenham Badlands

Since we stayed at Toronto for a considerable period of time, and moved around and interacted with some locals , we really got to experience day to day life here…would like to share some pictures…a sneak peek into the life of immigrant Indians in Canada…take a look

There was a reasonably big park with lot of recreational activities that we used to visit ….close to where we stayed….. Sandalwood park. Some pictures…

At Sandalwood park

We had a small picnic with some Indians one evening at the park. Also attended a birthday party hosted by an Indian family…take a look

A picnic and a birthday party

Well, I hope I have conveyed the essence of Toronto to all of you…..

From Toronto, we also visited Ottawa,the capital of Canada, and Montreal and Quebec which are some important cities in Canada. My next blogs will cover my experiences in these cities…

Till then…goodbye

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Niagara Falls

My first blog from the series on Canada….

Most of you would agree that Niagara falls would be a nice place to start this series…it literally sits on the US-Canada border!!!

Having seen it….or rather experienced it twice; I can tell you, its simply amazing!!!

We visited Niagara falls from Toronto . (pictures in this blog are a mix from both the visits and some keen eye among my readers may notice it) .Since the view of the falls from the Canadian side is way better than from the US side, we decided to do it from Canada.

A brief on the falls before we get to the actual travel and attractions:

The Niagara falls is a name used for a group of three waterfalls at the border between US and Canada.The largest…the horseshoe falls is located in Ontario province in Canada while the American falls and Bridal Veil falls are on the American side of the border. These falls are formed on the Niagara river as it empties Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Niagara falls was formed at the end of the ice age when the Great lakes carved its path through the Niagara escarpment on its way to the Atlantic ocean.

Some Statistics and Comparisons

There are about 500 waterfalls in the world taller than Niagara.

Angel falls in Venezuela with a height of 979 metres is the tallest waterfall in the world.

Victoria Falls on the Zambezi river in Africa is 108 metres high but is very broad….a width of 1708 m!!!!

The Iguazu falls in South America bordering Argentina and Brazil is a conglomerate of 275 waterfalls….becoming the world’s largest waterfall system

In spite of all this, Niagara is so popular. Have you wondered why?

Niagara has a height of only 51 metres. But the volume of water that flows is very high. 2832 tonnes of water flows over the falls per second. It is this peculiarity that makes it so popular

The water at Niagara is green in color due to the enormous amount of minerals being swept over due to its erosive nature.

Where does the water come from?…this will be the next question in everyone’s mind..

From the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes is the largest collection of freshwater in the world…18% of the fresh water.The water flows from streams and rivers that empty into the Great Lakes, from Lake Superior down through Niagara to Lake Ontario and then into the St. Lawrence River and finally Atlantic Ocean

Future Of Niagara?

The falls continuously erode. At a rate of 1 to 1.5 metres per year. Rock falls occur regularly at the edge of the falls. Flow control and diversion for hydroelectric power has managed to reduce the natural rate of recession. Climate change is also affecting Niagara. All things considered, scientists speculate that perhaps 2000 years from now, the American falls would dry up. The falls could be reduced to a series of rapids…

Well…that is far far away in time….for now, enjoy the falls as I take you along…

Coming to our trip....

We were in  Brampton,Toronto and were hosted by a close friend who drove us up to Niagara falls city which is  about 130 km. The drive was beautiful and we passed lake Ontario on the way. Had a short coffee break at a Tim Horton’s outlet at Grimsby.

Tim Horton’s is a chain of restaurants you find all over Canada.I must tell you, the coffee at Tim Horton’s is just too good.Highly recommended for future visitors!!

Reached Niagara by noon and checked into Embassy Suites located bang opposite the falls …..it offers lovely view of the falls.

Our hosts at Toronto….with the falls in the background

Rested for sometime and visited the falls in the evening.

As we walked up to the falls, there are a few nice view points along the roadside from where you get a panoramic view of the falls like the one in the picture below.

The Horseshoe falls at Niagara

As you reach closer to the falls…the sound of the water builds up the excitement and when you actually stand by the railings on the footpath and look at it; it’s a life time experience!

The sheer size of the falls and the volume of water that gushes by every moment is awe inspiring!!No amount of description will match the visual treat…so just putting some pictures for you to enjoy….

Some pictures depicting the sheer size and volume of water flowing by…..

A short video of the Horse shoe falls

Wanting to get an ariel view of the falls, we headed to Skylon Tower.

Skylon Tower is an observation tower in the Niagara falls city in Ontario (Canada) that overlooks both the American falls and the horseshoe Canadian falls and the Niagara River.

An aerial view of the horseshoe falls with the cruise boat sailing towards the falls

After that we returned to the falls in time for the illumination of the falls. How is this done?

Hundreds of LED lights are housed in three locations across the Niagara gorge. Together these lights create a breathtakingly beautiful view. This takes place daily at dusk.On special occasions they are lit up in specific colors too!

The illuminated falls is a great sight to behold…

Some pictures…

Illuminated falls

Niagara Fireworks

A fireworks display over the brink of the falls is held in summer and also during the winter festival and other special occasions

Fireworks over the falls

After a spectacular view of the illuminated falls, we returned to our hotel

Day 2

After breakfast, we again headed for the falls..this time to get closer…to get to the bottom of the falls. We then took the Hornblower cruise to the bottom of the falls. Each of us was provided with a red rain coat and we cruised towards the falls. As we came close to the falls, there was lot of spray and the raincoat protected us. However, taking pictures was almost impossible due to the movement of the boat and the spray..But the experience was exhilarating…to say the least..

If you do the same activity from the US side, you use the Maid of the Mist cruise and you are in blue coats!!

After that we walked up to see more of the American side of the falls…much smaller than the Canadian one..

The American Falls. The cruise boat heading to the bottom of the falls is also seen

The buildings you see in this picture are in USA…the falls are located just at the border.

We also saw the Rainbow bridge the bridge across the Niagara river connecting the land borders of Ontario in Canada with New York in USA.

If you zoom and see…you will see the Canadian flag closer to you and the American farther away…There is a full fledged immigration station functioning here for people crossing over..

After that, we walked around Niagara falls city…

Though the falls is the highlight of this place,Niagara falls city has lots more on offer…. it is a full blown entertainment city too.There are plenty of Casinos, theme parks, game centres and various entertainment avenues here…including the Niagara wheel…a giant wheel which also offers great views as one ascends ….

A casino in Niagara falls city

During our walk at Niagara falls city

Besides this there are helicopter rides that take you over the falls. As we sat around the beautifully landscaped park across the falls, we saw this activity taking place too.

We spent our second evening at Niagara again enjoying the illuminated falls and returned to the hotel.

Next morning we took a bus from Niagara falls bus station to Brampton Terminal and then home…ending a wonderful visit to this wonder of nature…

Next week we meet at Toronto….

Till then…good bye

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For those of you who would like to see some awesome views of Victoria Falls…in comparison to Niagara, do visit

Gallery: Victoria Falls – what a treat

THE KEYS

A day that we were excitedly looking forward to….the trip to Key West.  Key West is the most popular of the archipelago of islands called Florida Keys

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 A brief summary about the Florida Keys:

“Key” is derived from the Spanish word cayo, meaning small island

The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands off the southern tip of Florida between the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These islands are linked by the Florida Keys Overseas Highway which is rightly called The Highway that goes to Sea. The drive from Miami to Key West takes 4 hours and crosses over 42 bridges ; the longest bridge being 11 km long. The water surrounding this highway has shallow flat lands, mangroves and coral reefs. The drive to the Keys is indeed mesmerizing with a straight road ahead of you with water on either side for the major part.

The Highway that goes to Sea

Initially, the Keys were accessible only by water. A railway link was subsequently developed but was disrupted due to repeated hurricanes. Following this, the rail road bridges were converted into automobile roadways.

The Old railroad bridge that was destroyed by the hurricane

The keys are divided into 5 main regions..Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and Lower keys and Key West.

Key Largo is the largest and it is home to living coral formations.The Coral Reef State Park located here is the first Underwater state park. Glass bottomed boats, snorkeling, scuba diving and other coral reef viewing activities are available here.

The keys are home to a variety of plant and animal life particularly a variety of deer and is a refuge for the great white heron. The Everglades National park encompasses many of the keys and is home to turtles, alligators and manatee.

Key West

Key West, the southern most Key is the most popular and is just 90 miles from the Cuban coast.

Our Trip

The Key West Express Bus picked us up from our hotel in Biscayne Boulevard (Miami) and soon we were on the way to the Keys. The drive to the keys is really beautiful with water on either side of the road and crossing multiple bridges. The landscape includes a mixture of shallow flat lands, mangroves and well developed tourist resorts on both sides. As we approach the main Keys, there are lots of restaurants, hotels and resorts along the road.

View from the highway of  some of the resorts as we drove by

After 4 hours of this beautiful drive on the highway to sea, we were dropped off at Key West

Typical street scene in Key West with Spanish colonial villas

Once we were dropped off at Key West with time to explore on our own,we decided to take the conch train.

We took the train tour and our first destination was Duval Street which is the epicentre of Keywest. This thoroughfare is lined with bars, pubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and other attractions.The famous Key West butterfly and nature conservancy is also located here.

Walked around the street and savored the ambiance and had some good food .

The Train Tour     

  Some good food at Duval Street    

After re boarding the train we hopped off at The Southernmost Point….

 There is a red Buoy to mark the southern tip of Florida which is only 90 miles from Cuba

       

The Buoy at the southern tip of florida

 

Boarded the train again and hopped off at Mallory Square.

Mallory Square is a plaza located adjacent to the cruise ship port. This Square is particularly famous for its sunset views. Tourists gather here in large numbers to watch the sun go down. There are various activities here around sunset time….street performers, food carts, art exhibitors etc. Since we were leaving before sunset time, we missed the celebrations in Mallory square. Spending one night at Key West will definitely be worth it, if your schedule permits.

       A short video of Mallory square with people enjoying the water sport activities

                                                                         

At Mallory Square with the cruise ship in the background

From Mallory square, we walked along the water front and reached a marina where lots of yachts were anchored. Also some high speed motor boats were seen anchored there. 

Key west Marina with the high speed boats and a passenger catamaran

Tourists enjoying the evening at the marina at Key West

While discussing Key West, it will be inappropriate to not mention one of its main attractions… snorkeling. Home to the only living coral reef in America, it is a prime snorkeling site. Since we had experienced snorkeling at great barrier reef in Australia and we had dearth of time, we did not snorkel. For snorkeling, you are taken in a catamaran to the designated sites and guided to snorkel.

Another attraction at Key West is Hemingway House which is a museum dedicated to the famous english author Earnest Hemingway. We also saw this during our tour around key west.

The sun was slowly going down on yet another beautiful day and we headed to our bus for the return trip.

Meanwhile, tourists who were staying overnight at Key West were gathering around Mallory square for the sunset and other activities.

Spending one night in Key West is definitely worthwhile if your itinerary permits!

Boarding the bus, we had another beautiful drive on the Highway that goes to Sea…this time in the other direction. Enjoying the scenery, we bid farewell to Florida and USA.

Well as I said earlier; with this blog, I finish my blogs on USA. From next week, its going to be Canada….

I hope you all enjoyed your US trip with me…

Get set to cross the border to Canada.

See you all next week at a great destination…NIAGARA Falls!!

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Miami

One of the most popular cities in the Sunshine State of Florida, Miami is famous for its white sand beaches and it’s typical Latin -American mixed culture and vibrant night life. It is also one of the starting ports of the Caribbean cruises. Cruise liners are a common sight in Miami. An important tourist destination by itself, it also attracts visitors to the Caribbean for their cruises. This doubles the tourist potential of this fun city.

Miami offers an array of local transport options ranging from metrotrains, metromover, tri rail, buses, taxis and luxury cabs. Its your pocket that decides what you want to use.

We flew in from SFO to Miami and reached by noon.

Took an airport shuttle bus to our hotel…Holiday Inn  at Biscayne Boulevard. Walked around the Biscayne Boulevard area in the evening savoring the warm Miami air. Walking along Biscayne Boulevard, I noticed an illuminated Spanish style clock tower. That was Freedom Tower

The Freedom Tower

The Freedom Tower is a national historic landmark on Biscayne Boulevard.. It was originally a safe haven for Cuban refugees who arrived here seeking asylum. During the Cold War there was an influx of Cuban refugees in Florida due to its proximity to Cuba. This tower with Spanish architecture  is now with Miami Dade College and serves as their main cultural center. This Cuban influx has left its mark on Miami . A lot of locals are of Cuban lineage and Little Havana, a neighborhood in the city has predominant Cuban shops and restaurants.

 The Biscayne Boulevard overlooks the Biscayne Bay. As the sun goes down, Biscayne Boulevard lights up in all its glory. The waterfront market called Bayside Market is dotted with restaurants serving international cuisine. Sea food courts are the highlight of course! There are shops that cater to all pockets …from exclusive branded goods to small wayside vendors. There are dinner cruises that start from here in the night . The reflection of the lit up cruise vessels is really beautiful.

Bayside Marketplace

The illuminated shops and restaurants with reflections on Biscayne bay

One of the many cruises that depart from the Biscayne Bay

Next morning, we set out to explore more of Biscayne Boulevard and surrounding areas on our own. Walked along the seafront and was pleasantly surprised to see some dolphins playing around in the Bay. There are lot of shopping options in and around Biscayne Boulevard and so we did some shopping . We also saw the FTX Arena ( formerly American Airlines Arena) which is a sports and entertainment arena located here.There are many residential and commercial high rises overlooking the Biscayne bay. And I do not have to tell you that those must be some of the most valued real estate in the world!

Biscayne Boulevard at daytime

Wanted to visit Fort Lauderdale and North Palm Beach. So we took the Tri rail from Airport station.

As the train left Airport station, we were surprised to see the sides of the tracks. Lot of metal junk dumped all over .Old dilapidated buildings with graffiti painted on them. Dirt and filth around. It was a far cry from what we had expected. More like any third world country!

Some parts of Miami have high crime rates and moving around on lonely streets after dark is not advisable. This kind of fear is palpable in this city as one goes around.

The Trirail which took us to North Palm Beach

The train to North Palm beach passes through various stations and at places, the tracks are close to the seafront. We wanted to explore Fort Lauderdale which is known to offer great holiday experiences, but it started raining and without raingear, it was impossible to alight here. So we continued our journey. We saw Fort Lauderdale airport from the train itself. This is the other airport close to Miami.

Fort Lauderdale is known to have nice beaches and boating canals and is the Yachting Capital of the world. It is refered to as the Venice of America and we wanted to visit it .The rain really spoiled our trip that day. We missed the canals and the beachfront. Fort Lauderdale is also renown for the International Boat Show that it hosts. This Boat show is a showcase of luxury yachts, water sport equipments and related activities.It also offers water transportation education.

We continued our journey by train and reached Palm Beach

After alighting at Palm beach, we took a cab and drove to the beach. We also saw the famous Mar a Lago…the residence of President Trump. Photography restrictions prevented me from taking a shot of the imposing mansion!!

The Palm Beach…across this is Mar a Lago…

Next day we took the Metro mover and explored downtown Miami.  Visited little Havana….the famous Cuban neighbourhood in Miami. This area is like a slice of Cuba….with Cuban Coffee shops, Cuban Cigar shops etc.

Late afternoon, we visited the world famous Miami Beach.

Miami Beach is actually an island city separated from mainland Miami by the Biscayne Bay. Bridges connect it to the mainland. It comprises of the South Beach area and the Art Deco District. The main Beach is in the South beach. The Art deco district houses some ancient art deco architecture.

The roads are palm fringed and have a lot of skyscrapers overlooking the ocean

A typical Miami street scene with palm fringed beaches and skyscrapers

We went to the water front at South beach and then relaxed on the sands . Plenty of families relaxing under colourful umbrellas, lot of sunbathers and other fun activities kept us enthralled.

Miami beach front

Lifeguard station

The most popular area in Miami Beach is the Ocean Drive…a road along the beach. Plenty of restaurants, bars, pubs line this road and as the sun sets, the preparations for the night begin. The bright neon lights come on, the tables are laid out under umbrellas and tourists start trooping in.

Restaurants and bars getting ready for the night

The Art Deco District with ancient architectural buildings

After enjoying the sights of Miami Beach,we returned to our hotel looking forward to our trip to the KEYS …

See you all next week at my final destination in USA…Key West…

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Yosemite National Park

The Beauty of Yosemite lies in its diversity

History and Overview

Yosemite National Park located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains  and spread over more than 1200 sq miles , is known for its the granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, sequoia groves , meadows , lakes , glaciers and valleys and has unmatched biological diversity. Tunnel view is a popular view point here from where you get an overall view of the popular granite cliffs and some of the waterfalls. It was first protected in 1864.

About 10 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada mountains were uplifted and tilted due to tectonic activity; resulting in steep valleys and canyons. Snow and ice accumulated in the higher altitude alpine ranges forming glaciers. The downward movement of ice masses cut and sculpted the terrain as we see it today.

Yosemite is the name of an indigenous tribe that originally inhabited this area  and were driven out as a part of the California gold rush in the early 19th century.

The Yosemite Valley represents less than 1% of the park area but this is where most visitors arrive today.

Granite Cliffs

El Capitan(the captain) and Half Dome are the most popular cliffs and are sought after rock climbing destinations. Permits for hike are distributed by lottery.The introductory image in this article is that of sunlight falling on the Half Dome

Giant Sequoias

The Tuolumne, mariposa and Merced groves have giant Sequoia trees. The Tuolumne and Merced river systems flow through the park. Hydrological processes like glacialisation and flooding have been responsible for creating the various landforms in the park.

Waterfalls

Yosemite is also well known for its innumerable waterfalls, the most famous among them being the Bridal veil falls seen from Tunnel view. The best time to view these are between April and June. Many of them are dry during the dry season.

Fire fall is another phenomenon peculiar of Yosemite. Occuring at sun set in mid to late February, the sun rays hit  the Horsetail falls  causing it to look like molten lava

Apart from this, Yosemite is home to a variety of  wildlife species which changes according to the plant species and the altitude of the area. Noted among them are the black bear, coyote, raccoon, marmots, deer etc

Wild fires occur seasonally and clear the park of dead vegetation making way for new growth. The Giant Sequoias need fire to reproduce. It clears away the competing firs and cedars and exposes bare mineral soil for the tiny seeds to take root. These fires do help some of the other trees as the fire clears the way for sunlight to trickle into the forest floor.

Lodging Facilities like the Yosemite lodge and various other options are available inside the park and in neighboring communities.

Wilderness Permits are required for all overnight visits.

Suffice to say that this is not a place you can rush through in a day. You need to camp and spend time exploring the place. It is a naturalists delight and the more you explore…the more you discover….

Our Tour

We had booked with Extronomical tours for this trip and we were dropped off at city Hotel at 5.30 am ;from where a cab picked us up and drove us to Livermore. Driving to Livermore was an eye opener about San Francisco traffic….there was heavy traffic at that early hour. We were dropped off at a Starbucks outlet at Livermore where there were other people waiting to join the tour. After a half hour wait, the tour bus pulled up and we all excitedly boarded the tour bus

Our first halt was at The Tuolumne Grove….The grove of giant sequoias.

The main attraction here is the Giant Tunnel tree, but a steep trek is required to reach it. The tour guide dissuaded us from taking the trek as there was limited halt time here. So, we walked around the grove and admired the giant sequoias.

The missing of the Tunnel tree was a disappointment …but we did get some nice pictures at the grove.

The single dirty toilet here with long a  queue was also a sore thumb…..

The Tuolumne Grove

Giant Sequoias

The Sequoia grove is at one end of Yosemite and so after we left the grove, we were driving through thickly forested areas and winding roads with amazing scenery.

So, the drive was really captivating and we reached the Tunnel View  point where we could see The Half Dome and El Capitan. These are granite cliffs sculpted by the vagaries of nature and are popular rock climbing destinations .

Tunnel View

The El Capitan (blue) and Half Dome( green) and Bridal Veil Falls(red) opposite the El Capitan

At Tunnel View with the cliffs in the backdrop

We were then taken to the picnic area where we had around two hours to spend. We had lunch and walked around the area and also took some pictures. The Merced River was flowing like a small stream…the effect of drought over the years.

The Merced River with the reflection of the cliffs        

                

The wooden bridge across the Merced

After the break, we were picked up by the guide and we reached close to El Capitan from where we could see Rock climbers as tiny specks on the cliffs….that was something really unique!!! These climbers even halt overnight on these vertical cliffs…..literally the heights of adventure……

The El Capitan with rock climbers (marked with red arrows)                 

A general view of the park with the Merced River.

There is yet another exciting event that occurs in Yosemite….the firewall.The horsetail falls here gets illuminated by the sun rays in a particular angle during a few days in the month of February.This gives an illusion of fire falling along the rocks…hence fire fall.

Photo by Ruvim on Pexels.com

(The above picture is courtesy Pexels…It would be unjust to miss this phenomenon in a description of Yosemite and hence chose to put a non personal picture .)

Let me show you some pictures we took as we walked around. Take a look…

Some general pictures from Yosemite

I leave this description with a note that Yosemite is not for you to cover in a day. Whether you are looking to hike the cliffs, or simply enjoy the stillness of nature or even ski the slopes, you will not be disappointed.You need to spend a few days camping there to extract the cream of Yosemite

Meanwhile, please do not forget to subscribe below

See you all next week at the Sunshine state of Florida….at Miami

Till then take care….

In case you missed my last blog on the Big Basin Redwoods, here’s the link

https://travel-along.in/2021/12/10/big-basin-redwood-

BIG BASIN REDWOODS Park

Continuing my series from San Francisco, this week I take you to an amazing place..

The Big Basin Redwoods

Brief history and overview

One of California’s oldest state parks, The Redwoods Park is home to ancient coast redwoods that are among the tallest and oldest trees on earth.

Covering more than18000 acres and ranging from sea level to heights of more than 2000 ft elevation, this place is truly awe -inspiring!!! Some of the trees are more than 300 ft tall and 50 ft in circumference and are estimated to be 1000 to 2500 years old.

The coast redwoods ( Sequoia Sempervirens ) are native to the US and are found only along the Pacific coast from Oregon to California….No wonder the Redwood is California’s state tree!  Sempervirens means “ever living”

There is evidence that this place was inhabited much before the Spanish explored the area in 1700s. The European explorations followed by the gold rush resulted in wide spread logging and deforestation. A group called the Sempervirens club was formed to halt this destruction and finally in 1901, a state park was created

Apart  from redwood, this place is home to Douglas-fir, Red alder ,oak  and myrtle apart from lot of native shrubs. Foxes, coyotes, bob cats and a variety of birds inhabit this park.

There are plenty of facilities for  recreational activities like hiking and camping .

Peculiarities of REDWOOD TREES

Bark: It can be upto a foot thick and protects the growing part of the tree

Roots: Are remarkably shallow for such tall trees but they grow sideways and fuse with neighboring roots forming a network which gives more stability

Leaves:Can catch water from fog and hence helps tide over drought

Dormant Buds: Continue to grow after a part of the trunk or branch falls off

Red Pigment: Tanin, the red pigment is a potent insect repellent

This explains the relative strength, resilience and longevity of these trees…no wonder they are “everliving”

Our Trip

Located at Santa Cruz county, we drove down to Big Basin Redwoods State park. A huge tunnel tree at the entrance welcomed us to the park.

Let me take you through the park with my pictures so that you can see these trees yourself…better than any explanation I give…take a look….

The huge tunnel tree at the entrance…a giant by any standards!

One of the many walking trails in the park

A fallen redwood tree

Sunlight trying to filter in through the canopy   

Mother of the Forest Tree( zoom to see details)

This is one of the oldest and tallest trees in the Big Basin

The Campfire area with seats made of fallen redwoods   

The Campfire area looks very attractive…with seats carved out of fallen redwood trees.a covered stage and a huge fire ring.

 

Measuring tree height….a display board explains 

I visited this park in 2019….however, after that there was a major fire here .

(CZU fire) Forest fire in 2020

Unfortunately this park is now closed to visitors temporarily. A fire swept through the visitor centre of this park in August 2020 destroying most of the visitor centre, some parts of the camp ground and a few redwoods. Majority of the ancient trees however survived this fire . Hopefully the park should reopen soon after the renovation activities.

Let us hope, that happens fast….

There is another amazing sight in this park,….a fallen tree…its roots displayed like a sculpture…take a look

Standing against a natural sculpture…the roots of a fallen redwood tree….see the beauty even in its fall…….

When I saw the beauty even in the roots of a fallen tree, I thought….

These trees would say:

Here I stand strong and tall

Withstanding it all

Giving hope to one and

Even after we fall….

See you all next week in yet another amazing place…Yosemite National park…till then goodbye

Meanwhile, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog…

In case you missed my last blog..here’s the link

San francisco 2

San francisco 2

This week we continue our visit to San Francisco city.

We did a city tour of San Francisco with the Big Bus…

We drove past some of the iconic buildings and other landmarks in San Francisco. Detailing a few of them for you,

Transamerica Pyramid, the second tallest skyscraper in SanFrancisco, an icon in the San Francisco skyline. It houses offices and is not open to the public.

The Transamerica Pyramid

The City hall, the seat of government for the city and county of San Francisco. Built after the older city hall was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906, this structure was built to showcase the rebirth of the city in time for the world’s fair of 1915.

The City Hall

The Lotta Crabtree Fountain..commissioned by actress Lotta Crabtree. Located at a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco, this served as a meeting place in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire.

Lotta Crabtree Fountain

The Painted Ladies

These are old Victorian houses and buildings repainted in 3 or more colours that enhance their architectural details

The Painted Ladies

The Cable Cars

This is an iconic structure of the city and is the world’s last manually operated cable car system , a tramway where the cars are pulled along by cables embedded in the street. It is part of the Urban transportation system but is mainly used by tourists today. It has the distinction of being the only transportation system to be called a National Historic Landmark.

The Cable car and a typical street scene in downtown San Francisco

Next we visited Pier 39 also called Fisherman’s Wharf.…a fun place ; an outdoor shopping mall by the bay filled with dozens of shops and restaurants of all types. Set with wooden planks, there are two levels of shops . Most of the restaurants are family run and serve sea food. Clam Chowder in Sour Dough Bread ( clam soup in a bowl made from sourdough bread) was really a unique dish I found here. That seemed to be the most popular dish around.

Most of the restaurants offer great views of the bay. An added attraction here are the sea lions that visit the back docks. One can watch them lying lazily around and creating a cacophony….

Some pictures from Fisherman’s Wharf

Sea Lions basking in the sun….at Pier 39   

    

The Homeless.the unglamorous part

I must also mention here that apart from all the glamour of San Francisco, there’s a very sad side too. As we drove around town, we found lot of homeless people sitting amid dirt and grime on the footpaths, smoking and generally looking drugged. Makes  one feel highly unsafe. We were also witness to needles and syringes lying by the road…probably left by a drug peddler.

Most of the flyovers and bridges in San Francisco have hutments below them; small dwellings covered in coloured plastic sheets . The hapless homeless make themselves these shelters to escape the vagaries of nature

Again at Embarcadero, we did see people scavenging the dustbins for food. The roadside benches near Embarcadero have people sleeping on them in broad daylight.

Suffice it to say that inspite of all the high and powerful outer image, there’s a dirty underbelly to this place.

Sweeter side

We then visited Ghirardelli Square….I guess I don’t have to elaborate on what that is!!!

Tasted and bought some yummy chocolates and Ice cream. There was a quaint old lady walking around with a basket and distributing free chocolates to every  one . She resembled a character from an old fairy tale…

Nice quadrangle with shops selling a variety of desserts.One can spend hours here shopping for chocolates and other goodies or simply enjoying the views downing some coffee or icecream!

Don’t miss that  enthu smile on my face in anticipation of the treat ahead…

That was really a sweet ending to our San Francisco city tour…

Next week we visit the famous Redwood forests of California….

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In case you missed my last blog, click on San Francisco 1

https://travel-along.in/2021/11/26/san-francisco-1/

                                                   

San francisco 1

San Francisco : An Overview

San Francisco is the Spanish word for “Saint Francis” and it is a cultural, commercial and financial centre in the state of California. Founded in 1776 by Spanish colonists around the Golden Gate area; the gold rush brought rapid growth to the area.Unfortunately 3/4 of the city was destroyed in 1906 in the earthquake and fire. It was rebuilt rather quickly and subsequently became the birthplace of the UN in 1945. A popular tourist destination,it has a hospitable climate and various landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz Penitentiary, fisherman’s wharf and china town.,It also serves as the headquarters of many multinational companies and social media giants.The city and the surrounding bay area is home to a variety of cultural and educational institutions.

Where else do I start my SFO blog from ; than…the Golden gate bridge?

An iconic structure in San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world .

The Golden Gate Bridge:

Opened in 1937, it  has become a  symbol of San Francisco and connects San Francisco with Marin County. It is 1.6 km long lying across the strait between the San Francisco Bay and Pacific ocean. On both ends, it is flanked by the natural beauty of The Golden Gate National Parks. It carries US Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the strait and has pedestrian and bicycle traffic.There are walkways on the bridge for pedestrians and cyclists on either side of a six lane highway. There is a visitor centre and gift shop near the parking area.

The vermillion colour of the bridge was chosen to complement the surroundings and for visibility in fog.

Unfortunately it has the dubious distinction of being the most used suicide spot in the world!! After many such episodes, protective barricades have been put up.

We were driven down to this icon by our host. Arriving at Vista Point, the parking area, we walked up to the bridge and soon we were standing next to a great engineering marvel. We enjoyed the sight of the bridge and took some photographs. Later, we drove on the bridge….a novel experience! This was our golden gate bridge visit from the land side.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Driving on the golden gate bridge

We had a tryst with this iconic structure for a second time during our stay. This came courtesy our second host at SFO….our cousin who lives in Pleasanton.We did a Bay cruise . This cruise took us on the San Francisco Bay and we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. A view of San Francisco city and Alcatraz Island is  an attraction on the cruise.

The Golden Gate Bridge from the bay       

                                            

On the Bay Cruise  

View of San Francisco city from the bay

Alcatraz Island

This is another tourist destination in San Francisco. It is the site of an old abandoned prison and has the oldest functioning lighthouse on the US west coast. A ferry from Pier 33 takes one to Alcatraz island.

A view of Alcatraz island as we sailed on the Bay Cruise.

After finishing the cruise, we were driven down to Sausalito.

Had nice lunch at a Mexican restaurant there. Mexican food is similar to Indian and i grew fond of it.

Sausalito is a picturesque residential community with large number of houseboats which can be hired for stay. It has a wide choice of restaurants and is generally a fun place. We walked up along the waterfront enjoying the scenery.

A Typical street scene in Sausalito..duplex houses    

One day, we set off on a picnic to Santa Cruz Beach with a bag filled with goodies to munch on the way.   A nice drive on the highway and then off to the side road  and we found ourselves on a festive looking beach front. An amusement park on the beach with lots of excited children and adults with happy smiles and colourful gear…..

Had fun walking around and enjoying the festive beach front

Selfie time at Santa Cruz beach

                  

A local wanted to pose with us….a bonus….

And some good food!

All in all , a great time indeed!!!

From San Jose, we had the opportunity to visit Stanford University.

Stanford needs no introduction….and a visit to this iconic education centre  ; set in more than 8000 acres adjacent to Palo Alto was indeed very gratifying.

The tree lined avenues, landscaped lawns and traditional old architectural buildings, admixed with modern buildings and shopping centres  makes it an amalgamation of the old and the new. One does feel a sense of envy for the lucky ones who have been associated with it!

The corridors of learning

The church at Stanford

Some pictures from Stanford Campus highlighting the amalgamation of the ancient and the modern

Well friends, with this I stop here for the week…see you next week once again at San Francisco…..

For a detailed itinerary on SFO, please visit the link below

http://the-full-itinerary.com/2021/04/11/san-francisco-ca/

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In case you missed my blog last week…click on the big sur below:

The big sur

The big sur

We met last week at Zion National Park(https://travel-along.in/2021/11/12/zion-national-park/)

Leaving the canyons behind, we arrived San Jose from Las Vegas. We were picked up by our friend who lives in San Jose.Well we have been family friends for years , being neighbours we are like extended family….So it was a home coming of sorts for us!

We took a walk around his house and since it was halloween time, saw the decorations in front of many houses.

He treated us to dinner at an Italian restaurant that night.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant with our hosts

Next day, he drove us to Big Sur..

Brief overview

The Big Sur is a rugged stretch of Pacific coastline of central California known for its scenic beauty.The Santa Lucia mountains rising abruptly from the Pacific ocean results in steep coastal cliffs, redwood forests and beaches.The narrow road lies between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific ocean.It has often been described as the longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in America.In 1937, the present highway was completed after eighteen years of construction. The highway has since been declared California’s first Scenic Highway, and it provides a driving experience unsurpassed in natural beauty and scenic variety.(Resembles the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne with lesser winding roads!!)

Highly restrictive development plans for the area has led to it being sparsely populated and hence helped preserve its natural beauty.There are various look out points along the coast, besides hiking trails, reserve forests and camping grounds

Historically the name Big Sur was derived from El Sur Grande, The Big South( the name given to the unexplored wilderness areas south of Monterey)

Traveling to Big Sur

You can travel to the Big Sur only by car…either your own or a rental car.

Depending on the time in hand , you could spend anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days doing this trip. It entirely depends on how many stops you take!

Carmel, and San Simeon are two cities between which this beautiful drive lies. You could start from either end and skirt the pacific coastline. Whalewatching is another sought after activity here.

The Monterey Bay   

 

At Monterey with our friends…

         

The Bixby Creek Bridge

                                                            

The Pacific Coast

We visited Carmel...a small beach city in the Monterey peninsula known for its scenic beauty and artistic history.

Its narrow streets are dotted with restaurants and retail establishments. The atmosphere is very festive with tourists thronging the streets. Had lunch at one of the restaurants and strolled around the streets for some time.

I must mention here that I have never had such delicious Tiramisu anywhere else!!!

Our Next Destination was The 17 Mile drive

The 17 Mile Drive is a scenic drive in the Monterey Peninsula  along the Pacific coast and passes through famous golf courses, beaches, mansions and other attractions. Visitors have to pay a toll to use this road which passes through a gated community.A route map is provided to the visitor .

Most of the drive passes through the Del Monte Forest area and you can access the beaches at designated places. There are clear sign boards and following them one can reach the choice destination.

In contrast to Big Sur,which is natural by and large; 17 mile drive is more man made….with golf courses, large mansions,picnic spots and other recreational avenues.This is more a representation of American High-end Cultural lifestyle. Whatever it represents or whichever way it came….its definitely worth a drive.

The map showing the drive and attractions on 17 mile drive

One of the main attractions is Pebble beach

Pebble beach has a famous golf course by the sea…which is a novelty and is a venue for many international golf tournaments. I am no golf expert but from what little I know, there is no other golf course by the sea. It is extremely beautiful.

At Pebble Beach                                                                         

Golf course on Pebble Beach

Another point is Point Joe

Particularly rocky part which is infamous for ship wrecks in olden days named after Joe a native who lived here in a driftwood hut

Point Joe

Driving further down we were at Bird Rock

On a lucky day one can spot seals on the rock….but we were not in luck!

Finally we reached Lone Cypress

It is a single Cypress tree atop a rocky pedestal overlooking the Pacific.

The Lone Cypress

The view of this single lone cypress tree on a small cliff overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean is beautiful to say the least.

As I stood and watched this, a poetic thought rushed through my mind….

Here I stand lone and tall!

Here I stand lone and tall!

Happy to see you all!

Must visit me one and all!

Do come to see me…lest I fall!!!

So let us get inspired by this lonely tree standing up to the vagaries of the mighty Pacific …Meanwhile you all stay strong till we meet next week at…..downtown San Francisco

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