the grand canyon

Hi friends,

With this episode we move on to the famous canyons in the USA. Needless to say, the Grand Canyon is undoubtedly the most popular and commonly visited canyon. There are other canyons which are more picturesque as you will discover in the forth coming episodes. We traveled to the canyons from Las Vegas….since there are day trips available from there.

One can visit various parts of the Grand Canyon like the north, south or west rim. The West Rim provides one with an opportunity to walk on a glass bridge called the Sky Walk. This Sky walk is 10 feet wide, and extends 70 feet over the rim to get a clearer view of the canyon floor. There are various options like helicopter ride to get an aerial view as well as visiting the Colorado river float where a boat ride on the river is available.All these are of course at additional cost.

Be that as it may…let’s start our journey to the Grand Canyon

Our trip to Grand Canyon was booked with Canyon Tours. It was a one day bus tour to the South rim of the Grand Canyon. We had made the online reservations from India itself. On arrival at Las Vegas, they needed a confirmation call to inform the room number of the hotel. Having completed all this, we were all set to go to the canyon. The cost of the tour was 75 dollars per person.

The pickup was from The Excalibur Hotel and we reached there around 6.15 am. There were lot of tourists waiting there for multiple pickups. After some eager waiting, our Gray line bus arrived and we boarded it. This bus took us to their office and we were separated into different groups depending on the part of the canyon chosen and additional activities opted for. We were provided with green wrist bands for easy identification!!

We got into our specific bus and our first halt was at Hoover Dam. Hoover dam is an arch gravity dam on the Colorado river on the border between the states of Nevada and Arizona. This dam protects Southern California and Arizona from the disastrous floods in the Colorado besides providing power and irrigation to many areas along its path. It has also resulted in the formation of Lake Mead. It is located close to Boulder city, Nevada

Repeated years of drought have reduced the water level in the dam reservoir which is clearly seen along the reservoir walls.

Located between Nevada and Arizona following different time zones, this dam provided the opportunity to pass through the two time zones as we drove along.

The Hoover Dam and the winding roads leading to it

The Arch Bridge

The white line represents the original water level …..effect of drought

Clock showing Arizona time…there’s a similar one for Nevada            

The plaque showing the location in the two states

Lake Mead                                                                                                    

At Hoover Dam

From Hoover dam we boarded the bus and reached the visitor centre at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park by noon. Our guide asked us to look out for elk as we drove by but we were not so lucky to spot one.

The drive to the canyon

At the Visitor centre, we were provided with a sumptuous lunch which was part of the deal. We had a choice of dishes for the meal. Meanwhile, the tourists who had booked for a helicopter ride over the canyon had finished that and they joined us at the visitor centre. Needless to say, the helicopter ride over the canyon provides an ariel view of the wonder…..

The Park Entrance   and Visitor centre with the stone Elk …note the green wristband!

The driver who doubled up as a guide( something that is usual in these tours here compared to what happens in India) gave us an insight about the details of the Canyon.

The Canyon and the rim are located within the Grand Canyon National park in the Colorado Plateau and consist essentially of horizontally layered rocks predominantly reddish in colour. The Grand Canyon is actually carved out by the Colorado River and is about 450 km long, 29 km wide and more than 1800 metres deep. This canyon was formed about 5 to 6 million years ago and the river continues to carve deeper and deeper into the rocks.

We reached the first View Point….Mather point lookout

After a short walk , we reached the rim of the canyon and the sheer size and depth of the vast expanse that one beholds was truly amazing. The rim is protected with metallic grills and we stood at the tip of the rim and enjoyed the scenery. Took a lot of pictures and walked along the rim.

The first view as one walks up to Mather Point                             

The differently coloured horizontal layers of rock

Different views along the rim                                                

A short video of the canyon

On the Edge!!!                                                                   

The Colorado River(dry) at the bottom of the canyon

After spending half an hour at Mather point, we boarded the bus and were taken to The Bright Angel Lodge view point.

Here we walked through the Lodge which has a small cafeteria and toilets and came out at the other side which literally opens into the canyon. The view from here too was awe inspiring! At bright angel point, we saw some hiking trails and also the Grand Canyon Railway station. As we walked along the trails, there were some really isolated points where people were indulging in daredevil photography! Unlike at Mather point, people can really walk up to the edges of the canyon and there are no protective railings. This probably explains the dubious distinction that the canyon has….of swallowing people into itself!!!

The lonely tree at the edge

People risking their lives at unprotected edges of the canyon

Is your life worth wasting for a few likes on Facebook??                        

The Train at Grand Canyon Station

It was a bright and sunny October day and after the walk, we enjoyed some awesome icecream at the lodge.

Boarded the bus back to Vegas and were dropped back at the hotel at 9.30 pm after a short dinner break at a Mc donald’s joint on the way. After the sun goes down, it tends to get chill very quickly….typical of the desert climate.

As we drove up to Vegas, it was an amazing sight of the lit up city with its bright neon lights. A tiring but satisfying trip to the south rim of The Grand Canyon had come to an end!!

I hope I have succeeded in taking you all through a virtual trip of the Grand Canyon….would appreciate comments and feedback please….

See you all next week at The Antelope Canyon….a photographer’s delight….

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las vegas 4

Our last hotel at Vegas was Flamingo…checked out of Bally’s and checked in at Flamingo.

It is one of the oldest hotels on the strip and has Flamingos as its theme…it has a courtyard which is a habitat for flamingos. The decor in this hotel is all pink…to match the pink of the flamingo.

Good hotel and the advantage of having a monorail station just behind; it makes commuting out of the Strip very easy.

The illuminated entrance to flamingo hotel and casino

Flamingos inside the hotel

Flamingos…outside!!!!!!!!

A short video clip of the Monorail

Having heard a lot about Fremont street, we decided to go there . Took a bus from The Strip to Fremont street which is in down town Vegas.

Fremont street is actually the older part of Las Vegas and hence the hotels, casinos etc are older than the ones on the Strip. The glitz ,glamour and feel of Las Vegas is the same here too. The neon signs …some of them flashing incessantly were actually blinding at times. The  crowds were of course there with daiquiris in their hands, smoking away.

We saw some of the most famous casinos here…golden gate, golden nugget and queens…to name a few.

Some famous casinos on Fremont street

The Fremont street experience was our next stop…

Fremont Street Experience

It is a pedestrian mall and attraction occupying a few blocks of Fremont street known as Glitter gulch. The central attraction is a canopy which is approximately 90 feet high. Various shows are held here under the canopy.    Music is played throughout this area except at the performance venues. There are 3 stages where free performances are held.

People with painted bodies dressed up like for a fancy dress and giving performances are also a common sight.

The lit up canopy at night

A live performance under the canopy

One of the main attractions here is the Zip line…we were not adventurous enough for trying it out and stood and watched others zip by …

A video clip of the Zip line

After experiencing Fremont street, we returned to our hotel by the regular bus.

Glitter Gulch ……this is the name that downtown Las Vegas got in the 1940s. The building of the Hoover Dam( to be covered in my next blog) brought abundant electricity to Las Vegas and soon the main thoroughfare of Fremont street was glowing with neon lights everywhere. This set Las Vegas apart from the rest of America…the sheer number of Neon lights….and that’s Glitter Gulch for you!!!

Glitter Gulch…..

The following picture symbolizes Vegas….happiness and cheer all around….

So friends let us say bye to Vegas on this happy note….

C you all next week with another exciting episode…

Now we move on to the Canyons….so brace yourself up for some exciting journeys….through some of the vast and beautiful landscapes of the Canyons in America…..

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Las vegas 3

The weekend saw unusual weather with temperatures dipping to near zero and we were caught unawares! Not having expected  this cold wave we had not carried our woollens and we did shiver at Las Vegas!

We had decided to stay at different hotels in Las Vegas to enjoy different experiences. So we had to move to our next hotel and that was Bally’s. Checked out of Luxor and left our luggage there, explored more of the strip and reached Bally’s by 3pm. The check in was cumbersome with a long queue of people. Finally we got our room and reached there.

Bally’s is a 26 storey hotel and casino with no specific theme and like most hotels  has the casino in the ground floor with rooms on the top floors. One of the main features is the Grand Bazaar shops…. Neat rows of shops in a quadrangle catering to every need including restaurants offering cuisine from around the world, retail outlets selling mementos and trinkets, cannabis shops, bars, game parlours etc.

Bally’s Hotel and one of the shops at Grand Bazar

We explored Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino

Caesar’s Palace as the name implies has a Roman theme .It is one of the most popular resorts in Vegas and prides itself in hosting many celebrity shows specially in its main performance arena called The Colosseum.

Once we were inside, we were transported to the Roman times with the entire hotel depicting roman architecture. The novelty is the ceiling which is painted like the sky and so one gets the impression that one is strolling on the streets under a Roman Sky!!!

Inside Ceasar’s Palace( the roman architecture and the ceiling resembling the open sky)

Enjoyed some middle east dishes at the Grand Bazar including some delectable Baklava

Next we headed to Bellagio hotel and Casino

Inspired by Lake Como in the town of Bellagio in Italy, the highlight is an 8 acre lake between the Strip and the Hotel building. Set in great landscape, the lake is beautiful and during the evenings, there is the famous Bellagio Fountain….a musical fountain similar to the Burj Khalifa fountain in Dubai. The picture at the beginning of this blog is that of this famous fountain.

Even inside the hotel building there are many well manicured flower beds and gardens that make this hotel one of the most beautifully designed ones in Vegas.

It was Diwali time and the decoration at Bellagio was in Indian style.

Bellagio Hotel with lake where the fountain plays

Diwali decorations at Bellagio centre court

Beautiful flower beds at Bellagio

Evening we did yet another wonderful resort on the strip…The Venetian

The Venetian together with the adjacent Palazzo resort which is a part of it, is the second largest Hotel in the world.

Needless to say, it resembles Venice…the city of canals. Amazing thought and architectural brains have put together a hotel and casino with canals running through it …complete with gondolas and the boatmen who are synonymous with venice!!!

It includes an indoor shopping area called The Grand Canal Shops and The Convention centre.

The decor transports one to San Marco…or The St. Mark’s  square ; the biggest public square in Venice.

The ceiling is designed to resemble the sky which makes the feel more authentic .

The Grand Canal Shops resembling the ones in San Marco.( Venice)

So friends… take a deep breath…let me take you to Venice for a few minutes….just close your eyes and imagine sitting in one of those gondolas!!!! and the boatmen singing typical Italian tunes…….

The gondolas cruising the canals inside The Venetian…..

Did any of you feel the gondola swaying in the water???…if it did…I have been successful in taking you to Venice…..

From Venice we were instantly transported back to Vegas as we stepped out of the Venetian and walked back to our hotel wonder struck by the sheer expanse and beauty of the resort….

See you next week again at Vegas with a different experience….

So…CIAO CIAO….!!!

(P.S…Ciao is the Italian word for goodbye…..)

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Las Vegas 2

ABBA was on top of my mind…Money money money..the famous song kept reverberating in my mind…..after all we were hitting the casino….what if we hit a jackpot???

So we walked into the casino full of hope…took some time to understand how to play at the slot machines. After the initial learning process we actually started gambling…and soon realised sadly that it was definitely not our cup of tea!!Were pretty unsuccessful and decided that it’s wiser to hold on to our hard earned money rather than lose it to the prospect of a windfall. So we retreated quietly…much of the excitement lost…!!! and sure enough the song disappeared from my mind!!!!

Non the less…let me walk you through a casino….have a look at the video and imagine yourself walking around……

A short video clip depicting the interior of a casino

Trying his luck!!

Next we decided to explore the adjacent resorts of Mandalay Bay and Excalibur. All these are connected by a tram system and we took the tram to Mandalay Bay….the hotel adjacent to Luxor.

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is  a 42 storeyed resort spread over 120 acres  and is famous for its golden beach, alluring wave pool, great entertainment and night life options. It also houses the Shark reef Aquarium. Named after the poem Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling, its theme is Tropical….

The Tram connecting the three resorts

Mandalay Bay with the sphynx of Luxor next to it

The pool at Mandalay Bay

From Mandalay Bay we took the tram to Excalibur Hotel and Casino.

This hotel is  built with a castle theme and its exterior reminds you of the castles in fairy tales. Like its sister resorts, this too has plush interiors with brightly lit casinos, a variety of dine in options and innumerable entertainment shows.

Excalibur Hotel and Casino resembling a castle.

After spending some time there,we took the monorail to Stratosphere which is located on Las Vegas Boulevard …..away from the las vegas strip

Stratosphere

This hotel and casino has an observation tower which is 1149 ft tall, tallest in the US. The tower is topped by a Pod with a revolving restaurant, lounges and observation decks.

Stratosphere hotel and casino and Las Vegas Boulevard

On Top Of The World!!!( on the observation deck at Stratosphere)

View of Las Vegas from the stratosphere….the glittering lights exemplify the spirit

The beauty of the lit up Vegas brought my thoughts back home where it was Diwali.. the festival of lights which I had missed !!!

Returning back we walked up Las Vegas Boulevard for some time and took the monorail to our hotel.

So friends….let me meet you next week again at Vegas..at yet another marvelous resort

Bye for now…..

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Las VEGAS 1

Hello friends…welcome to Las Vegas…the Sin city …….known for its gambling, night life, dance bars, casinos,fun and frolic. For the next few weeks we are going to be at this fun place…seeing things which are quite unfamiliar to us….so come along with me…

We flew in to Las Vegas from San Francisco….as usual on Southwest airlines . Las Vegas is located in a desert in Nevada in USA. As one approaches Vegas by flight, the landscape changes to sand dunes and dry desert areas.

The desert like Nevada landscape

The Las Vegas Strip….as we landed at the airport...

The Las Vegas airport is itself a mini casino with slot machines and bright flashing lights and gizmos. As one enters the terminal , one gets a feel of what lies on the other side of the terminal. I noticed a general difference in behaviour of the people from here itself. Everyone seemed to be on a HIGH… literally!!!

Slot machines at Las Vegas airport

Taking an airport shuttle, we reached Luxor Hotel and Casino where we had our room bookings.

The Hotel is built in Egyptian theme ; the main building is in the shape of a pyramid and the entire decor inside including the wardrobes have an Egyptian feel . Luxor is actually a city in Egypt on the banks of the river Nile and is famous for the Karnak temple…the second largest temple complex in Egypt.

The Luxor Hotel Pyramid Building with Sphinx                   

Main Entrance

The Hotel Lobby…everything Egyptian!!!                                                   

The Hotel lobby and interior as seen from our room

The pyramid has a sky beam touted to be the strongest beam of light in the world. We had a room somewhere in the middle of the pyramid and we had a view of Las Vegas airport from our room. The adjacent resorts are Mandalay Bay and Excalibur and all three are connected by a tram system.

After some rest, we freshened up and explored the hotel and casino. Amazing to see the sheer volumes of people at the machines and the number of restaurants and shops at different levels of the hotel.  It is a world of its own. There are various shows and exhibitions at the hotel for which you need to reserve tickets.

Later in the evening we stepped out and had our first experience of walking along the Strip. The Strip is basically a road with hotels and casinos on either side with pedestrian bridges across the roads with escalators .There are various restaurants and shops…all lit up with neon lights. Las Vegas strip by night is really very colourful.

Another unique thing was the various Cannabis shops and cabs displaying neon lights with phone numbers for cannabis supply.

There were people dressed up like for a fancy dress and one could take pictures with them for a price. Semi clad girls with various colourful gear was also something unique.

The Las Vegas Strip by day

A typical pedestrian bridge across the Strip

The Vegas Strip at night

The bright neon lights and the crowds on the Strip

As we walked along the strip, the mood was very festive….lots of loud music from the various bars and restaurants, the flashing lights, people walking around with diaquiris in their hands….all laughing away and generally having a great time…

We enjoyed the festive spirit of the strip and returned to our hotel looking forward to trying our hands at the slot machines the next day…

See you next week at the slot machines…

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        The Columbia River Gorge

Our last day at Portland …

we had a pre-booked tour of The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The bookings were done online from India itself. As usual, it was via VIATOR…they have never disappointed us…The local agency assigned to us was Hub World Travels..Portland.

The tour was scheduled for the afternoon and so we took a late breakfast at the hotel and took the Tri Met train to town. One of the most beautiful sights in Portland is The Willamette River...As we traveled to town on the train, we crossed the Willamette….

The Willamette River

The Willamette is a tributary of the Columbia River and we can see how the lives of the people in Portland are so intimately connected with the Columbia River

Alighting at Lloyds centre station, we took a quick round of the Lloyds centre.….the high end shopping mall. Once we were inside, we were in for a very pleasant surprise…an ice rink in the centre court of the mall and a couple skating gracefully to the strains of music.….Mesmerized by their graceful moves, we stood and watched in awe….Unfortunately could not film it for you…privacy issues are sacrosanct in these countries…

After a quick round of the mall, we waited for our tour company to pick us up and soon we were on the tour bus. As we left the city ,the beauty of Portland unfolded itself in front of us…

Before we actually reached the destination , our guide gave us a brief about the place. Let me share it with you….

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area is located 40 km from Downtown Portland, and is a naturalist’s delight!Extending more than 100 miles, the Columbia River carves this canyon on the Cascade ranges. In the process it creates innumerable waterfalls.

The Gorge itself is up to 4000 ft deep at places and forms the border between the states of Washington and Oregon.It is an ideal place for outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing and windsurfing .Over 90 waterfalls  dot this area; notable among them being Latourell, Multnomah, Wahkeena, Bridal Veil and horsetail.Some of these freeze in winter.Further east , is the Hood River which is also a popular destination with recreation facilities.Breweries and wineries are an added attraction.

In 2017, a lot of destruction took place in this gorge area due to a forest fire triggered by a teenager.As we drove along, we could see the aftermath of wild fires at several places .

The road skirts the Columbia River as it turns and twists between the mountains and it provides loads of beautiful view points. Our first halt was at Latourell Falls. The peculiarity of this waterfall is the straight fall from the height unlike various waterfalls where the water trickles along the edges of the slope…

The Latourell Falls

After spending some time at the falls we drove down to Crown point Vista House. Located on a 730 feet cliff, it offers a panoramic view of the Gorge, and has an observatory and museum.

The Vista House and the Columbia River with adjoining hills in fall colours

A short video clip of the Columbia River and Gorge as seen from Vista House

From Vista house, our next destination was:

Multnomah Falls

Located on the Columbia River Highway and fed by rain and melting snow, it is a year round attraction and partially freezes in winter

The peculiarity of Multnomah Falls is that it is a two tierd waterfall..two levels with a wooden observation bridge( Benson Bridge) in between. One can take a short hike up to this bridge.

The two tiers of the waterfall with the Benson Bridge spanning the lower falls

The lower falls as seen from the wooden bridge

On the Wooden bridge with the upper falls in the backdrop

There is a small picnic area close to the falls with a coffee house and a trinket shop. We sat around sipping some hot coffee enjoying the sound of the falls.

After that, we returned to Lloyd centre station and took the train back to our hotel marking the end of our Portland holiday…

See you next week at….Las Vegas!!!

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Portland(Oregon)

Day 1

Our next destination was Portland…the city of Roses

With rosy dreams of Portland, we boarded the Southwest Airlines flight from Midway Chicago to Portland.

The flight was comfortable and rewarded us with some great views .

The captain drew our attention to Mount Rainier and Mount Hood …the snow capped mountains in the distance and it was really an awesome sight. Unfortunately it was too far for a picture….

As we flew closer to Portland we had amazing views of The Columbia River winding along like a snake.

The Columbia River

The ariel view of the trees in fall colours was another treat as we reached Portland….it was indeed a riot of colours.

The airport at Portland was also very attractive and well done up. The decor and interiors just hit you as you arrive there….far from the dull drab environment seen at most airports. Subsequently I was given to understand that it has been voted one of the best airports in US under several categories over many years.

At Portland Airport

We took a cab to our hotel …..Ramada by Wyndham. Nice cosy place. Walking distance to the light rail station and with good eateries and a Target store close by. After checking in, we explored the locality and located the light rail station for our trips the next day.

October is fall time and Portland was a riot of colours….

Beauty of fall in Portland

Day 2

Walked up to Southeast Main station and took the Tri Met train to town. We hopped off at Washington Park Station to explore the recreational facilities there. Washington Park Station itself is unique.

Washington Park Station

It is entirely underground and part of the Robertson tunnel.It is the deepest transit station in North America.The Robertson tunnel consists of two single track tunnels, one in each direction.Really unique concept of geological exhibits created from drilling samples during excavations runs along the platform walls.The east side tunnel walls are yellow symbolizing sunrise and the westward ones are orange symbolizing sunset

Two elevators take you to ground level where you have the Oregon Zoo, The Hoyt Arboretum, The World Forestry centre, Vietnam Veterans Memorial etc..The parking lot at this level is beautifully landscaped and in autumn, it is simply majestic!!

A free shuttle starts from the elevator landing area every hour and takes tourists to various spots in the area including the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese garden.

The conceptualisation and implementation of this underground system and ensuring connectivity to all places of interest is simply amazing!!

The Robertson tunnel and the exhibits of excavated rocks exhibited on the station walls

The beautifully done up shuttle pickup area and parking at Washington Park

We took the free shuttle from just outside the station. This shuttle runs every hour and takes you around all the tourist spots nearby. We decided to visit the International Rose Test Garden.

The International Rose Test Garden exemplifies Portland’s nickname City Of Roses

It is home to more than 600 varieties of roses blooming from April through October…peaking in June.

New varieties are continuously tested here for various parameters like fragrance, disease resistance and colour. We saw rare varieties of roses.

The garden and some of the roses

After we finished the rose garden, we took the shuttle back to Washington park.

We visited the Oregon Zoo

We had a lot of school children for company as they were having a picnic in the zoo. We really enjoyed the excitement created by the children on seeing the animals.

Outside the Zoo

After finishing with the zoo, we took the Tri met train back to the hotel.

Next day was The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area tour….meet you there in my next blog…bye for now…

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Chicago

Day 1

Travelling to Chicago

From Washington DC onwards we used Southwest Airlines for our entire domestic travel in USA.

We found them to be the only local airline allowing 2 check in baggages per person. All others allow only 1 and since we were doing a long trip, we found this very convenient.They usually fly to the smaller airports which are close to the cities and so reaching the hotel from the airport becomes easy.

Their seat allotment is also different. 24 hours prior to your flight departure, you need to log in to their site. A number is assigned to you…like a queue system. Depending on your number in the queue you are also assigned an alphabet. At the boarding area, you are allowed to board only as per your order in the queue and you are free to choose the seats of your choice. I found this unique.

They are also little unconventional in their announcements etc. The crew often indulge in small acts of mimicry to add some fun…

We boarded from Ronald Reagan National Airport which was easily accessible by metro and had a comfortable flight.Landed at Midway Airport Chicago. Our hotel…Sleep Inn Midway Airport was very close to the airport and we took their shuttle. Reached the hotel late evening and had an easy check in . Nice comfortable room and close to good eateries.

After some rest, we ventured out on to the streets of Chicago. We got to see aircraft landing at low altitude…you almost feel as if the aircraft is going to hit the buildings!!!

A short video of aircraft landing at low altitude

After a short walk around, we returned to the hotel for the night.

Day 2

Took the airport shuttle to the airport and from there took the metro to downtown.

The metro passes through some congested areas with the tracks running very close to balconies of houses…similar to Mumbai or Bangalore

The Chicago Metro….. and observe……. how close the apartments are to the station

We had planned to do a city tour on Big Bus but unfortunately it was cancelled due to The Chicago Marathon

We were in for a real surprise as the entire area was flooded with people and security personnel. Most people had colourful banners and other graffiti to cheer the participants. The whole downtown area wore a colourful look…almost like a fair.

Ofcourse there were traffic restrictions too and everyone were on their feet!!

Some pictures of the Chicago Marathon

We walked alongside the marathoners to reach the Millenium park which is a public park near the Lake Michigan shoreline. This park houses the Cloud gate, Jay Priztker pavilion and Crown fountain….some of the important tourist spots in Chicago.

Our first stop was at Cloud Gate the bean shaped steel sculpture. One of the celebrated works of the Indian born sculptor,Anish Kapur; it is also called The Bean.This outdoor sculpture reflects the sky for the most part and bridges the gap between the viewer and the sky….this is the concept and hence the name cloud gate.It reflects the skyscrapers around it and one can easily stand underneath this giant steel bean.You can see your own reflection against the background of the skyscrapers. We clicked a couple of pictures here.

Exploring Millenium park further, we reached the Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain is an example of Video sculpture. Consists of two 50 feet glass towers on either side of a reflecting pool. Video images of some citizens of Chicago are projected on the screen and gives an illusion of water spouting from their mouths.

The Crown Fountain

Next we were at The Jay Pritzker Pavilion

This huge outdoor pavilion hosts a variety of music and performing art events

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion

From Millenium park, we walked towards the Lakefront and reached the Lakefront trail.The Lakefront Trail is a beautiful path along the western shores of Lake Michigan.This trail lies between beautifully landscaped parks and the lake. It is used for walking, jogging, cycling and other outdoor activities.

Lake Michigan and Lakefront Trail

Walking along the trail, we reached

Shedd Aquarium..a very famous aquarium with plenty of exhibits; we spent about an hour there.

The Adler Planetarium, close by is another of chicago’s tourist spots.

From this end of the trail, we got a good view of the Chicago skyline

The Chicago Skyline

The Willis Tower

Another landmark of Chicago;this was originally called Sears tower. It was once the tallest tower but was soon overtaken by others. It has a viewing platform and a skydeck. Unfortunately , due to marathon restrictions we could not visit it.

The Willis Tower in the background

After the long walk around the city, we headed to a coffee shop nearby and soaked in the scenes of the marathon returnees.Most of them were tired but seemed to enjoy the festive spirit around.

As we were there, I did notice something unexpected…..someone scanning the garbage bins for something to eat!! What a paradox… a sad part of life in all parts of the world amidst so much fun and frolic around !!!

After that we headed to the metro station and headed back to the hotel.We were to leave for our next destination Portland the next day.

Washington DC

Day 1…Travel to Washington

Our next destination was Washington and we decided to do this by road to soak in the feel of an American road trip .After the usual internet searches, we decided to take the Greyhound ( the government interstate buses)

We were dropped off at the Port authority bus terminal which is just a   block away from Times Square.Needed   some convincing  from the cabbie that we were at the right place!The entrance looked like a small door in the midst of a busy thoroughfare!Once we were inside, it was a different world in itself!Really surprising to see so much activity going  on below; unmindful of the activity in the streets above.Amazing to see such far sighted planning and implementation; way back in 1950.

The bus ride was comfortable with push back seats and the bus had a toilet too.The distance to be covered was approximately 370 km took around four and a half hours.The fare from New York to Washington is only around 15 dollars…very reasonable.

Once the bus  left the terminus, it crossed over to New Jersey through the underwater tunnel.There are two such tunnels…..the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the Washington bridge that connects Manhattan to New Jersey.Then we were on the highway for a major part of the journey.

We crossed New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Baltimore on the way and were dropped off at the Washington union station bus terminus.

After some snacks and coffee at the station, we were to take the metro to Shady grove station where we were to be picked up by a friend.Then was the process of buying tickets from the vending machine seemed a little challenging in the beginning but we managed to do it.There are clear sign boards and so we easily located our platform and boarded the train.Even in the train, there are maps with exact stations on the route and where to change over in case you want to go elsewhere.Life becomes so much easier when there is proper organisation…

In the train we found ourselves among the regular office goers….That’s the advantage of taking public transport…you really get to feel the local pulse…Living and housing costs in DC being much higher than the national average; the more affordable adjoining states of Maryland and Virginia are the choice

We were picked up from the station by our friend who was our host.      He actually lives in a place called Monrovia in Maryland.      After meeting his family and having a sumptuous Indian dinner, we crashed for the day.

Day 2

After a breakfast with the family, we were dropped off at the same metro station and we took the train to union station.

We decided to take Big Bus here too ( like we did in New York) and purchased the necessary tickets from the agent at the station itself.

The first monument that you pass is the Capitol, and then the bus winds its way on the National Mall.The entire National Mall area has monuments, memorials and museums.For people who are not particularly interested in getting into each of these memorials, a ride on the bus gives a quick roundup.It is next to impossible to see everything in detail…so the best option is to decide on your choices and alight there.

The National Mall is a landscaped park with tree lined avenues and it houses many memorials and museums like the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.It also houses some of the most treasured museums in the world…The Smithsonians.

Our first stop was at Washington Monument.

Built to commemorate George Washington, the first president of USA,it is a hollow Egyptian style Obelisk……surrounded by a row of the US national flags.

Construction started in 1848 but was halted for a few years due to the civil war and lack of funds.The colour of the stone used during the first and second phases of construction was different. The difference in colour between the top and bottom of the monument is due to this .

The Washington Monument  

Next we visited the Lincoln Memorial 

Built in 1868, this memorial is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and externally resembles a Greek temple.The  monument has highly symbolic elements…the 36 columns representing the 36 states at the time of his death, and 48 festoons above representing the 48 states in 1922.There are three main chambers and the central one houses a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln Memorial

Boarding the Big Bus, we passed by the Jefferson Memorial

Built in memory of President Thomas Jefferson, it lies on the banks of the Tidal basin on the Potomac and houses his statue.The highlight of this monument is the cherry trees planted near it…a gift from Japan.If you visit this monument at the right time, you can have a visual treat of the cherry blossomed avenue.

The Jefferson Memorial

World WAR II Memorial

Built to honour the soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in WW II, this is also a memorial of national significance.Consisting of 56 pillars representing the states and two arches surrounding a fountain,it was dedicated by President Bush in 2004.There is also a freedom wall with gold stars representing the Americans who died in the war.

The pillars at WWII Memorial

As I said earlier, it’s almost impossible to cover all the monuments separately, so we drove past them on the bus which did offer reasonably good views.

Smithsonian museums

A description of the National Mall is incomplete without a mention of the Smithsonian.Named after its founding donor James Smithson, they are a group of museums and research centres. There are 11 museums and galleries on the Mall and several others elsewhere.Entry to all these are free….the goal being Diffusion of Knowledge

Some of the museums are:

Air and space museum

Holocaust Museum

Museum of Natural History

Museum of American History

Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden etc

Needless to say, it is almost impossible to cover all these.

So we decided to visit the their flagship museum……the Air and space Museum

Air and Space Museum

It is indeed an awe inspiring museum and is a centre for research in spaceflight.Exhibits of aircraft from the Wright Brothers era to the latest are seen here.Spacecraft, missiles, rockets , space artefacts are exhibited here.A planetarium and Imax Theatre form part of the Complex.A space enthusiast can spend hours looking at the exhibits.

National Air and Space Museum

Due to time constraints, we spent only around an hour there and decided to head back home for the day.

Day 3

In  anticipation of another exciting day, we followed our earlier schedule and reached union station DC by 9am. Seeing The White House and doing a Potomac Cruise was on our agenda.The bus took us on The Mall once again and dropped us off at the Wharf for the cruise.

Potomac Cruise

Since it was early in the morning, we  were among the few people for the Cruise.As we sailed down the Potomac, we could identify many of the monuments on the Mall which we had visited the previous day.We also saw the Arlington Cemetery and The Ronald Reagan Airport which are actually in Virginia.

The first halt was at Alexandria Pier, which has a quaint old world charm about it.      There are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the banks of the Potomac.A leisurely evening is probably the time to visit Alexandria.

Alexandria Pier

After a half hour halt at Alexandria, we sailed to the National Harbour. There are many US Navy institutions near here.   We did see an aircraft marked US 1 there.    After the National harbour, we returned to the wharf to be picked up again by the bus.

  This time, we took a different loop of the bus which goes to the Virginia side.As we traveled around in Washington DC we found ourselves moving between Maryland, Virginia and DC.This is due to the peculiar history of the formation of DC from the states of Maryland and Virginia

It is essential to give a brief history to understand the geography of these three territories; as we travel along.In 1790, the US Congress established a territory which would be the permanent seat of the Federal government.This territory was named District of Columbia after Christopher Columbus.President George Washington chose this place on the Potomac River and it was named after him.That explains the name Washington DC.The adjacent states of Virginia and Maryland ceded land to this new territory.The Virginia portion was subsequently returned…This explains the close intermingling of the two states and DC.In fact as you travel along, you will often crisscross Maryland and Virginia.

Our next destination was The Arlington Cemetery.

It might sound a little odd to the lesser exposed ; that, a cemetery is a tourist spot.Well, this needs some elaboration.

Cemeteries are very different in this part of the world!They are so well landscaped and maintained and spread over vast areas.I saw such a cemetery first when I visited Canada and it really hit me!!!The reverence shown to the place of final rest of ancestors is something to be seen.

Now Coming to Arlington specifically,

Arlington Cemetery is a military cemetery and hold your breath…..it is spread over 639 acres!!!Located in Virginia across The Potomac, it is the final resting place of many Americans who died in conflicts starting from the Civil War.

The Arlington Cemetery

We just spent a few minutes there strolling along the well manicured lawns and seeing some of the tombs.

Took the bus again which actually took us away from the Mall.Here we did see the streets of actual Washington city .

We then headed to Madam Tussaud’s Museum

The museum in Washington is much smaller than the others I have visited.So it was a bit of a disappointment.The exhibits relate mainly to dignitaries of the US …that too very limited.So if you have seen it elsewhere, and there are time constraints, it can be skipped!

At Madam Tussaud’s….

After seeing the wax replicas, we decided to see the President in person and went to the White House!!!President Trump was the president at the time of our visit.

The White House

This neoclassical style building is the official residence of the President of The USA.It also houses the offices of the Presidents staff and Vice President.Due to security constraints, we could not get anywhere close by.Sitting on the White House grounds and enjoying the ambiance around is all that we could do.Pennsylvania Avenue, where it is located is shut to the public.At the time of our visit, the height of boundary walls  were being increased and hence there were temporary structures there.

The White House

Our next stop was The US Capitol

The US Capitol

Located on Capitol Hill, on The National Mall, it is the meeting place of the US Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the US Federal government.This is also built in neoclassical style and has a white exterior.The structure draws heavily from well known churches and buildings in Europe like the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican and St Paul’s Cathedral in London.Like most of the National Mall, it has lush green lawns and we did enjoy the rest there after being on our feet the whole day.

The US National Library known as the Library of the Congress also functions at Capitol Hill.

The US Capitol

Finishing off day 3 at the Capitol, we walked to Union Station and headed home.

Day 4

Our last day at Washington, we decided to take it little easy.

This is essential in long trips like what we did…a day to just laze around…to help soak in local ambience.

We walked around the local community, visited their garden and play area etc .What struck me was the importance given for open spaces, parks and recreation areas in all communities.Lot of effort and planning goes into this …not only here but in many countries.That makes a lot of difference in the quality of life of its inhabitants.Something that should be an example in town planning.

There is a Hindu Temple close by.Our host took us to the temple and also visited the priest who is his friend.It was news to me that it is easier to migrate to the US as a priest than most other professions.Their residence permits etc follow different rules and time frames.The daughter of the priest enthralled us with a brilliant Bharat Natyam performance.Perhaps we would not give that much importance to a temple visit or a dance performance when we are here.

It is really strange how INDIAN we feel when we are abroad…alas..the strange ways of the human mind!!!

With these thoughts, we finished our Washington leg of the journey. Next Destination…Chicago

New York

The land of opportunities….USA beckons one and all.

So let me start my travel blog with my experiences as I traveled across USA.

We started our US trip from New York.

We traveled to New York from Toronto by American Airlines flight to La Guardia airport as our hotel was in the financial district near battery park.The self tagging and loading of luggage on the belt was a first time experience for us. This might prove a bit challenging to the lesser exposed .As the flight took off from Toronto we had spectacular views of the Lake shore area of Toronto , the massive Ontario lake  and of course an aerial view of Niagara falls at a distance which was truly a bonus!

The landing at La Guardia was also a visual treat;….what with an aerial view of all the islands, bridges, the Statue of Liberty , Empire state Building etc

Our hotel Hilton Garden Inn at Battery park,close to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal; offered great views of the bay and the ferries cruising along. They offered us a comfortable stay and the accessibility to town was also good.A short walk from the hotel, we were at the bay front with views of the lit up statue of liberty. We walked around the area  that evening soaking up the feel of our first day at NY

City Tour

DAY 1

We took a city tour on the Big Bus….

Big Bus is an easy way to get around the city for people who have to rely on public transport.The tickets can be purchased from the agents who are available at all their scheduled stops.The guides provide a description of the places we are passing by .The cost per person was 50 dollars.

The Big Bus With open upper deck ……. and both of us On the upper deck

As the Bus wound its way through the streets, it offered us views of New Jersey across the Hudson bay, saw some of the costliest real estate in the world which is home to many celebrities, and of course the skyscrapers which are home to many multinational companies….some of the costliest commercial space in the world.

The medieval architecture of most of the buildings facing the Hudson Bay have been retained while the newer skyscrapers line the inner streets. This helps to retain the feel and ethos of a place.

The iconic Titanic pier where the ill fated Titanic was due to dock lies along the Hudson river here

The Titanic Pier

Our first stop was at the 9/11 Memorial .

The entire place is very well done up and there’s something sombre about the place…The new WTC , the shopping area, the museum, the gardens, the fountain…the entire place is well designed.

The Fountain with names of victims engraved on the side

One definitely feels a tug at the heart when we see the names of the victims engraved on the sides of the fountain. We also saw a couple of visitors break down at this place….perhaps family or close associates of the victims. Actually the atmosphere here is very sombre

The new tower….Stands tall as a symbol of Human resilience and determination

The museum with exhibits of the remains of the disaster

This is the survivor tree that was found in the rubble  after almost a month, nurtured and replanted….a tale of resilience…proof of nature’s spirit of survival against all odds

The 9/11 Memorial mall                                                 Inside the Mall         

Another sight that unnerved me was that of the flights whizzing past the new tower..mind you, it happens every few seconds…

Continuing the city tour we were at Brooklyn bridge

As you walk on Brooklyn Bridge you can see the Manhattan Bridge (seen in the background of the picture) which carries trains apart from the vehicular traffic and pedestrians. Notice the vehicular movement below where I am standing

The Brooklyn Bridge is  a national historic landmark of the city. Connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan island across the East river; it is an example of farsighted planning. In use since 1883, the visionary thinking is hard hitting….the pedestrian bridge on top with 6 lanes of vehicles below ….how far sighted can one get??

A view of both the bridges…Brooklyn being in front of the picture.

Next we took the cruise to Liberty and Ellis Islands.This cruise came as an offer with a two day Big Bus ticket.We boarded the cruise from the designated pier.

On board the cruise as we sail by the Statue of Liberty.

This statue is made of copper and the greenish colour seen today is due to oxidation of copper. It was a gift of friendship from France. It is located on Liberty island which is close to Ellis island.

Ellis island was the immigration station in the early days.The Statue was considered an icon of hope for the immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island.We also sailed past the Ellis Island during the cruise.

This marked the end of our first day city tour. We returned to the hotel and rested.

DAY 2

After boarding the bus and taking a trip around China Town,we hopped off at the financial district, and headed for The Charging Bull…a symbol of Wall street.The Charging Bull is a bronze sculpture created by the Italian artist Modica in the wake of the stock market crash of 1987. It was originally dropped off by him at the New York Stock Exchange building and subsequently relocated to the present site.It is a symbol of power and prosperity…

Can he take the bull by its horns?

Boarding the bus again ,we were at Times Square….the colourful ,vibrant face of modern day New York.Once called Longacre square, it was renamed Times Square after New York Times moved its headquarters there.

It is a major commercial, tourist and entertainment destination and is sometimes referred to as The Crossroads of the World The colourful billboards are a perhaps an external manifestation of the glitter, glamour and business that happens there.We alighted here and walked around the area soaking in the sheer vibrancy of the place

The glitter, glamour and activity at Times Square

Leaving the glitter and glamour of Times Square behind, we changed over to the blue loop of the big bus and had a ride around the Central Park area. This part of New York has some upmarket residential buildings…many of them retaining their medeival style.As the name suggests, it is also more green…

Last we  headed for the ferry terminal deciding to take the Staten island ferry.

The Staten island ferry is a free ferry service that carries people to and from Staten island . The cost of living at Staten island being much lesser, many people prefer to stay there and commute to work on this ferry.

The Staten Island Ferry Terminal

The New York Skyline from the ferry

We returned to the hotel with great memories of the city and looking forward to our next destination…Washington DC.