Sunday, October 25, 2009
From Copacabana, the bus numbered 583 takes you to the Christ, and 584 gets you back. It is not the last stop, but basically you just get off when half of the bus gets off as that is usually the main attraction on the route. The weather was amazing with only a few clouds in the sky, and this had happened after a week or so, the line to get on the train to the top was backed quite long.
One of the ladies, Suzanna knew Spanish and she somehow managed to get one of the mini buses for 40 Real’s, The train ride is supposed to be better, at 45 Real’s and it also takes you directly to the top.
The bus takes you to a certain point after which you have to get off and stand in line to get into another bus. As we were not aware of this we thought that it would be smooth sailing to the top. Once we realized we decided to hike the supposedly 2 kilometers to the top. The 2 kilometers must have been as the crow flies, because it was more like 3 or 4. Somehow we got to the top, and I have never been more disappointed.
The few clouds were right on the Christ and I could not even see his head. Fog was everywhere, and let alone Christ we could not even see Rio. After waiting there for at least half an hour we decided to leave. One of the modern wonders could not be fully appreciated by me, which was sort of a bitter sweet moment. Here I was – almost touching one of the greatest marvels in the modern world, and ah…well!
I returned back to the hostel, determined to see Rio from Sugarloaf, but it was getting later in the evening, and so I decided to take a short walk on the beach and see Sugarloaf on Tuesday.
Copacabana was pretty crowded, and I walked amidst the crowd enjoying the view of Sugarloaf and the amazingly beautiful Brazilian women. The crowd on Copacabana is a bit older in age, while Ipanema is more younger. I would definitely prefer Ipanema to Copacabana!
Dinner was a huge problem as I had no idea what I was ordering. I only knew the key words – Camaro for Shrimp and so on.
Also, Brazil has eat by kilo restaurants where you just add anything you want on a plate, weigh it and eat it. This is pretty cool, and at 19 Real’s per plate – I would say not so expensive and at least you have some idea what you are eating.
That night I wanted to go to Lapa, but there was no company. Luckily the hostel came to my rescue again. They were having a Favela party in one of the Favelas (slums) controlled by the police. I paid the 65 Real’s for the transportation and entry to this party. Also, quite a few people from the hostel were going and I also came to know a Englishman named Garry on the ride.
Garry had been doing a round the world ticket trip, and after doing Asia, central and south America was on the last day of his year trip. His recommendation – Bolivia. It’s so cool to hear such stories on the road. Even the Czech girls were doing a sort of South American trip, and it’s an experience just listening to them.
Coming back to the party – Brazilian hip hop and funk, with about 2000 people on the dance floor, while we were in the VIP section. Me, Garry and Dave (another Englishman) decided to ditch the VIPs and mix with the locals. It was a wild wild night, and the music was out of the world.
The crowd was young though, I would say around 17ish, but wow…was it something! And a party which plays – C’mon let’s twist again by Elvis, is surely worth it. And then there is the all time favorite – YMCA. Some of the Brazilian girls were impressed, and came up to us too. I talked with a girl for 15 minutes, and the only thing we exchanged was names and that I am Indian and she from Rio. Damn…I need to learn Portuguese!
Let me start from the beginning. I landed on the 10th, at around 9.30 am delayed by a half hour. This was largely because of American Airlines having a flight all set to leave in Miami, but no captain for the flight. A reserve captain arrived half hour after the flight was scheduled to depart. I was hoping that he was not out drinking somewhere which would have been scary!
Anyway, immigration and customs was pretty smooth. It is the same procedure; they check your passport and visa and stamp it. Also there is an entry/exit paper which is stamped too, and this will have to be in your possession till you depart Brazil. The stamp has a 1 on it, which means you entered Brazil.
Once out the airport I had trouble finding the ATM. It is situated in a place with not much signs. Once you exit catch the escalator to the second floor (for Indians) or 3rd floor (for Americans). There are ATMs of pretty many banks there and one should work.
Once done, there is a bus called Real Autobus at the exit outside. For 7Reals it takes you to the Rodoviaria (Bus station), Domestic Airport (SDU) and Copacabana and Ipanema along with the other main centers too. It will drop you pretty much wherever you want, so it is convenient and a cheaper option than the taxi, which may cost around 50 to get to Copacabana.
A short walk got me to my hostel – Walk on The Beach, a small but safe and easily accessible hostel from Copacabana. The breakfast is free from 9 to 11, and they do provide towels and locks for a minimal cost. The best part was the excursions which they organize. One such helped me a lot on the Saturday I landed, as it was raining and I was kind of disappointed that I would not get to do too much. I saw that there was a soccer game at the Maracana stadium which was being organized. So I joined in for 55 Real’s, and this was an amazing sporting experience.
The game was between one of the local teams – Flamingo and Sao Paulo. As we did not want to be killed, we were supporting Flamingo, and you should have seen it to believe it. This is one of the largest soccer stadiums in the world, and it was pretty packed. The noise was deafening, and emotions were running wild. An experience which I do not think I would have got if it was not raining, and I am so glad that it was.
Also, made a couple of friends – Paul and Simon from England who I hung out with the same night drinking Caipirinha’s which is the Brazilian national cocktail, and believe me extremely potent. Three for the night and I was on my bed –dead asleep. A mixture of the journey, the screaming at the stadium and the drink finally got to me and I slept like a log till 9.30 the next morning.
My first day was not exactly what I wanted – no glimpse of either Pao da Acucar (Sugarloaf) or Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), a very brief glimpse of Copacabana when I got down from the bus and rain all around. But all of this was made up by the pone game I saw at the Maracana, along with the fact that I met a few people who I could talk to and generally hang out with.
The weather reminded me so much of Mangalore, and I was for a moment lost in it. I had begun to love Rio and I will tell you how much as I write my next post on the days after that.
I am going to Brazil, will be landing in Rio and staying there for the first 4 days. After that I fly Gol to Salvador for 3 days before flying in to Sao Paulo on Gol again. This is the main part of my trip – the Formula 1 race with Jenson Button leading the championship from Reubens Barrichello. Go Rubinho…
Whenever I think of Rio the first picture which comes to mind is the statue of Christ on top of the mountain looking down at this beautiful city. This is the picture I take with me as I head on my best adventure yet.
Follow me as I explore this beautiful country…I know you guys are :)
Saturday, September 19, 2009
In DC too, when I was with my folks, we had to wait an entire 1 hour to get the bus to NYC. But today was the absolute worst – I reached DC at 6.30 in the morning, and my bus to Charlottesville was at 10 am from the DC greyhound station. After having a Starbucks breakfast at Union Station (which is a pretty cool station – the next best after Grand Central according to me of the stations I have visited in the US), I headed to the bus station at 8.30 am. We waited in line till10.20 when someone finally comes in and tells us that there are buses, but no drivers. C’mon greyhound…is there any better way to look foolish?
The wait went on till 11.25 when we finally boarded the bus, with the driver in it! The customer service was absolutely terrible; no information about when the driver was coming, and also no advance information that there would be a delay. Info was gleaned only through one of the mechanics who was hanging around. Also, the lady (I am guessing – the manager) did not even have a name tag on her!
I have remained pretty loyal to Greyhound for a while now, even though they have many faults – but this could just tip me over. Megabus is improving their service, I could sense it noticeably today – they are on time, their rates are less, buses are better and so is the crowd.
Greyhound – if you are on the verge of losing one of your loyal customers, who has even got a free round trip ticket from you, you really must be doing something very wrong indeed!
Friday, September 18, 2009
The bus journey involves a very tiring schedule – I will be in 3 buses from Friday evening (today) to Saturday Morning, followed by walking in the city, 2 return buses to NYC which will land Sunday morning, and then a day at Stamford, and finally my return journey which gets me to Boston Monday early morning. Try to beat that people!
Again I have to say - Megabus except for its lateness is a pretty nice bus. I am using their power outlets, their Wi-Fi and at 1 USD you can’t beat it. They have shifted their start point from South Station to the Back Bay in Boston, and I think this is because they have started these new double Decker buses. I am on the top deck right now, and it is nice to be here looking down at the traffic.
Tonight will involve a short stay at Times Square looking at the people and that is something which I really enjoy.
I will keep you updated as this trip progresses. Also, I have to still pen a post about getting a Canadian Visa and a Brazilian Visa in the US. Stay tuned for that!
Getting back to the Grand Canyon - which was ages ago, and I pretty much have forgotten most of it. As I was saying I parked my car and caught the shuttle buses which run in loops at the Village to get to the various points on the Grand Canyon. This is the suggested approach, as you don’t have to drive around. I caught the sunset at Mohave Point which was not so exciting just because of the awesomeness of the Canyon. Once this was done I decided to head back to my car in the night. The shuttles (first the Red, then the blue) took me through the GC Village where looking at all the lodges, I thought that it may be really cool to spend a couple of nights here (maybe with the wife!!!). I reached Mather point and I had to wait for the bus running the Kaibab Route (Green) to take me back to my car, but looking at the maps I saw that there was no bus along this route after nightfall. This was the worst part – I had to walk the remaining 2 miles to my car on the Rim Walk, with just my iPhone lending me the light, and one wrong step would have pretty much pushed me over the rim of the canyon. Not at all suggested to anyone, especially when it is 40F out (damn you Rachel…wrong info!!!). I did reach my car finally, but I don’t think I would be doing that again.
Also, most of the GC in the night is unlighted, so I would suggest getting a flashlight especially for situations like this. Even the parking at Mather Point is dark!
The ride to Flagstaff was quite uneventful, except for my car not handling properly at all, which scared me no end. I ended up at the Dubeau Hostel at around 10pm. My stay here was quite short, but the hostel was pretty neat. The charge was very reasonable at 20 USD, and it has quite a few restaurants and bars around. I slept like a log that night after a quick bite.
The next day morning was a quick grab at breakfast before heading to Sedona. It is a brilliant drive with twisting highways on hills along the around 1 hour drive to Sedona. This is a sleepy little town, but has a beautiful view of the Red Rocks around. I would suggest at least 2 days here on a relaxing vacation just to get a feel of the vibrancy of Sedona. The only suggestion which I did and you have to is the ‘Pink Jeep Tour’. They are a bit expensive – around 80USD, but it is absolutely worth it. I did the Broken Arrow tour and it took us over the rocks on an off road trail. This was my first experience at sitting in one of these vehicles, and I was astounded (Thank you Ben and Rachel). I had looked at most of these rocks from Sedona and driving up to them was something else. Our guide was very informative and she clicked a couple of photos for all of us which were some of the best I have ever been in.
Also, we saw the Snoopy formation, and it was something else. Having my fill of Sedona I decided to head off back to Chandler, with a short stop at one of the Vortexes which is also something you need to see when in Sedona. I was not able to hike to them, but it seems they are like these oval formations in the rock, which are supposed to be spiritual.
I reached Chandler in the evening, and hung out with Rachel for a while. Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant which was the best Mexican I have eaten, and frankly I am not a big fan of this cuisine. Arizona being close to the Mexican border has a pretty authentic Mexican taste. I had to return my rental car at the Phoenix airport, and this took a pretty long time. The rental offices are not in the Phoenix airport, but quite a distance away. My advice to you, if you are returning the car here - map it to the exact office address and not the airport as this is a distance away.
Rachel was initially planning of taking me and two of her friends to Scottsdale, but we ended up at Mill Avenue in Tempe, which was pretty cool. It has the baseball stadium built in sort of a rock and the nightlife is nice. I enjoyed my night and pretty much drank a lot. I don’t think I have gulped down so many rum and cokes in such a short time.
We returned back and I was off to sleep in my bed. The next day was one of the best I have had in my life. It started off by going with Rachel and her parents to the movie - ‘The Perfect Getaway’, which surprisingly turned out to be a good movie. After this me and Rachel headed out to Old Town Scottsdale, where I had a look around, bought a dream catcher (a Mexican thing – look it up, it is sort of an handicraft with a meaning behind it), learnt about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) from Rachel and it inspired me enough to get a small skull (who has been christened as Tequila and hangs on my desk at office!).
The only item which I wanted to buy was the poncho, but I thought against it as I had Mexico to visit in the near future anyway.
We headed back home where Rachel’s Dad had a Steak Barbeque going on.This was the best steak I have ever tasted, followed by bananas with chocolate filled in them also grilled on the same grill. This is an unbeatable dessert, and my mouth still waters thinking about it.
After this Rachel, her dad, me and Bean (her dog – a cute bugger) went off to feed ducks and grab a cup of coffee. Finally it was time to pack and head off to the airport. I bid my sad goodbyes to Rachel before making my way to the airport to scan my boarding pass on my mobile (I will keep repeating this, as this is one of the coolest technologies ever – mobile boarding passes!!!)
As my flight took off I contemplated on what has been an amazing amazing journey. More than that it was more about bonding with Rachel, who I never had spent a lot of time with although we did get along famously well. Also, the trouble she took to show me around, guide me was so awesome that whenever I think back to it – it will bring a smile to my face, and a tear to my eye that this trip did not last for ever.
Anyway I should be seeing her next year in Europe and I am looking forward to that. It’s a small world baby, and for me it’s getting even smaller!
Arizona – if you have a friend or not should be visited by everyone. The Grand Canyon without saying is a place you have to see before you die, but even Sedona, The Painted Desert (which I missed), or even the drive is what memories are made of.
Remember, don’t speed a lot on the interstates – the speed limits are high, but rather than cops there are a lot more cameras, so the speeding ticket comes directly home :)
I still have more to write, but I will break this post into another. Chao!!!
Rachel and her family were awesome and I leave behind fond memories of staying with a proper American family, in a proper American house and having one of the best American dinners ever (with barbequed bananas, a superb dessert…yum).
And to top it all – The Grand Canyon and Sedona, two sights no one should ever miss. Hole in the ground…not too much of a sight…are not at all apt for the Grand Canyon. On Friday morning I drove my rental from Chandler up north to The GC. The highway was good, but pretty similar to the ones in Nevada (desert on both sides). First stop was at the Sunset Crater on US-89. Here an ancient volcano eruption had occurred and there is a lava flow, and black rock. It is a pretty cool sight if you have never seen volcanic craters before. Lenox Crater is a small hike which can be done to see the volcanic rock. This is a part of a bigger National Park which also contains the Wupatki National Monument, which I did not have time to see.
Remember any hike you do here – take water with you. Even after the short 1 mile hike I was panting and guzzling water.
After this I left for the GC, along 89 and then on to 64. This is where I saw the Arizona Roads I wanted to see. It was beautiful - Single lane road, a few Indian Trading Posts along the way, and canyons and desert in the distance.
This road goes to the East Entrance of the GC, and I would advice you to take this entrance rather than the South Entrance as it is not crowded, and you can find parking along the lookouts.
The route is called the Desert View Drive, and the first lookout is Desert View. Here I got my first sight of the Grand Canyon and it literally blew my mind. I will not even try to explain what I saw as it is simply no use. You have to see it to believe it – The Buttes, the Colorado River and the various colours of the canyon.
There are a few points like Grandview Point and Moran Point where you can stop and get different views of the Canyon. Yaki Point is not open to cars, but the shuttle bus takes you there. I wanted to do a short hike there called the Kaibab Trail, but I thought the better of it and stuck to the Rim Walk, which is a much simpler hike along the rim.
I drove up to Mather point, which is the first view point from the South Entrance, and finding parking is tough here. I had to turn back and park at Pipe Creek Vista which is between Yaki and Mather point. But don’t return back after 8 pm and I will tell you why in my next post!
The last part of the previous post I will try to complete now. There is not much to say actually. The Niagara Falls on the Canadian Side is better than the American side by a pretty large margin. You can see the entire falls from here, most importantly the Horseshoe falls, which unless you take the Maid of the Mist ride, you will not see completely from the American side. Someone at the falls said this: The view is better from the Canadian side, but the thunderous roar of the falls is better felt from the American side. So depending on which you prefer (and the visa of which country you have) you can have your pick.
The other part of the Canadian Side is that there is much more to do. The town has good clubs, attractions and things to do. Even if you stay for a weekend you will not get bored. The same I feel is not on the American side, as there is just a park and a casino, but that’s it. Also, the feeling of watching an actual country border is way too cool!
The bus stop is in the proper city which is a few miles from the falls, but there is a bus to and fro, which should cost you 5-6CAD round trip. Form here I caught the MegaBus to NYC, which I swear I will not travel long distances with. NYC to DC is the most I can go with them I think, else you may be delayed by hours!
Now you must be wondering how come I am at Newark Airport? Well, I am on my way to Phoenix, Arizona to meet Rachel, and also see the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Sunset Crater. This was an on the spur plan when I found out that Rachel was going to be there till the end of August. I am pretty psyched about this trip; I get to meet Rachel obviously, see the Grand Canyon and also take a drive on the Arizona Roads, which can be both awesome in the day and quite lonely and scary at night!
My trip will consist of landing in Phoenix on Thursday night, driving to the Grand Canyon on Friday, stay over at Flagstaff where I can see Sunset Crater and the Wutakapati Ruins, Saturday drive to Sedona and maybe do a stop at Camp Verde at the Montezuma Park before heading back to Phoenix in the evening. After that Rachel is my guide till Sunday night, when I take the flight back to Boston.
As always I will keep you updated on how this progresses. For now I catch my Continental flight to Phoenix, and oh by the way – I have finally seen all the 3 airports in the NYC area (JFK, LGA and EWR…woohoooooo…dumb!!!)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I had booked the Greyhound ticket to Boston for 12.15 in the morning, expecting MegaBus to reach me at 10.45pm. Luckily I reached at 11.53pm, and literally ran with a heavy backpack from 28th to 42nd. All of this in vain, as the bus got full and now I will have to get onto the next schedule at 3.30 in the morning. Today in office is not going to be pretty.
Getting back to Toronto - after learning that the islands were not accessible I went up walking to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Also I had read somewhere that the Canada Walk of Fame was near the Harbourfront, but I could not find it. Later in the night I was walking and came across it at King St W, which is quite a distance away.
From here I caught the subway to the Visitor Centre, and got the map. Casa Loma was built by some rich dude in 1911, and it is a beautiful building, and supposed to have the most number of rooms in any building in Canada. The entry fee is 17CAD, which I did not do, but it may be worth a visit. The subway is Dupont.
The Museum Stop has the Royal Ontario Museum and the Bata shoe Museum, which again may be worth paying a visit to, especially ROM. I had a hot dog lunch here and got interviewed by a couple of students on Spirituality and Religion. After this I walked to the University of Toronto, which like most of the Universities in this part of the world are breath taking. Very serene and calm, with sports going on everywhere – you wouldn’t mind spending days there.
The last part of my hike was to Kensington Market where there are varieties of shops for different types of clothing from Cuban to Nepali. Met this girl called Stacie who took a pic on my camera, and also suggested to come over to a Reggae Dub band playing near King St. Once this was done I got on the sidecar and headed off to the Beaches. Kew Beach is the most popular one, and it is not possible to walk to there from downtown, but the streetcar numbered 501 takes you there, and it is worth riding on this for a novel experience.
I checked into the hostel later in the evening, and this was a very different hostel – The Global Backpackers Inn. Personally I was disappointed as there seemed to be people here who had stayed for ages at this place and knew each other. So it was tougher to meet new people. A private party was also going on at the hostel bar below, and I don’t know – it felt kind of weird to me. The layout also is a bit disjoint, and you will be disoriented when you enter in the first time.
One good thing was they sold the tickets to the top of the CN Tower, and I did not have to stand in line oops queue at the Tower. And just when I was reaching there I got JPs call, and we both made it to the top pretty much at the same time. The tallest free standing building in the world, till the Burj Dubai gets built is worth the 21USD. Obviously it is not NYC, where you can see the skyline from the Empire State, but just to be up so high, and look down from the glass below is amazing.
Dinner was at Momma’s Pizza near the Harborfront, where quite a few activities were going on. I said bye to JP and headed for the nightlife. King St is more the high end sort of partying, but Richmond St, John St have a good mix. I landed up at a club called Circa, for which I had got half off when I was walking the streets. Even then it was 15CAD, and I found the music quite crappy! Half way through I was falling asleep both of tiredness and crappy music. I don’t know how I lasted till 2, but I did and danced on an homage to MJ, and a song which I liked called Paris is burning.
When I came back the private party was still on, and I hung out below just watching the college crowd go at it. Finally 3 I went off to sleep, and woke up at 6 to catch the bus to Niagara Falls, ON.
This last part I will explain in the next post because my hands are aching doing all this typing!
I liked it there, bit I don’t think I would like to visit it too much as a tourist. As a place to stay and do work and mingle I think it could be good.
The day started off with me going to the Visitor Centre to find it closed and only opening at 10 in the morning. It is right next to the Dundas station on the subway, and close to the Bus Terminal on Bay St. I got the daily pass for 9CAD, and immediately set off to Union Station. The subway system is small and pretty small with directions given as Southbound, Westbound, etc and also the name of the last station on the line.
Union Station is so-so, and from there I walked to the Harbourfront. It is a pretty picture and one can walk on the boardwalk and look at the ferries and such docked on the Harbor. There was a strike going on, and so the ferries to Toronto Island were not operating. This was one of the places I wanted to visit as it is also nice, and has a good view of downtown with the CN Tower dwarfing everything else.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I heaved a sigh of relief after this was done, as I have no more tensions anymore. I will land up at Toronto and head to the Visitor Centre at Dundas and Yonge St.
My plans involve visiting the CN Tower, the Harbourfront, Casa Loma, Kiev Beach and the Toronto Islands. There are some other places which I may visit given time, but these are the major destinations. I will keep you updated as these come up.
Anyway, I am on the bus from Syracuse to Buffalo after which I will do the border crossing into Toronto. My trip involves a day in Toronto, partying at night and to leave early the next day for Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.
Once this is done I catch the MegaBus – Sunday afternoon and head back to NYC, where I catch a Greyhound to Boston reaching at 5am in the morning on Monday. Yes, I am living up to my crazy reputation.
Also I met another wonderful lady by the name of Melissa, and she is very interesting. I have been having a few good conversations about India and its people.
I passed by Albany and East Greenbush on the way here and for people who do not know - I stayed there for a year, and the memories just rushed back of the Residence Inn and my project there. How times change – visiting Boston a year back was traveling; now visiting Albany is!
I need to sleep; else I will be not able to do anything later in the day. Melissa is already sleeping up ahead, I need to also. Good Night!
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The explanation is as below:
I landed at around 6.30 or so in the evening and stepped out of the station. If Montreal felt foreign for me, Quebec was even more foreign-er. I was wondering where to go. I had printed out walking directions on Google maps from the station to the Auberge De La Paix (Peace Hostel), but they seemed to be pointing me to some random roads which seemed not to exist. Luckily the lady at the visitor centre had given me the Quebec map and it was easier to find my bearings.
Once I reached the hostel I paid the 25CAD and got a room. This is a pretty big hostel and as always my luck in hostels seemed to be going really well. The moment I entered my room I met this lady from the previous hostel again. Both of us were surprised. I learnt that they had not booked the previous hostel, and so came to this one. Sadly she would be leaving the next day early morning at around 5am, and so she wanted to sleep early that night. I was repenting my lack of luck.
As there were a few rays of sunlight left, I walked up St Jean, and then to Porte St-Jean. This is a path with shops and eateries on both sides and as you move to the end of the road the walls appear.
Quebec City is the only remaining walled city, north of Mexico in North America. This is quite an impressive structure too, and at one end is Le Citadelle (The Citadel). I was aiming to reach the ‘Plains of Abraham’ from where you can see the sunset. The sun had already set by then, but I did get an impressive view of the St Lawrence River, and also the Citadel with lots of canons surrounding them.
As I was walking back I realized that you could actually walk on the wall. So I jumped on the wall and began to walk. Here is where you will realize how even more pretty Quebec City is. You can see the top of ‘Chateau Frontenac’ from this wall, and it is a different experience.
I walked back to St Jean on this wall, and back to the hostel. I had planned of finding some disco club to go to, but nothing was showing up on yelp while I was sitting in the common room. Then the best part of this trip happened!
While surfing I saw this guy and girl chatting. So I too joined in the conversation. She was Martina from Austria, and he was a very complicated name from France, which I have forgotten. She was studying in the University of Maine, and we immediately hit it off. I was feeling hungry as I had not eaten since Montreal, but we chatted till like 10.30pm for maybe a couple of hours.
Also, the French dude and his pals were going to a club at midnight. We decided to go with them.
Finally, at around 10.30 I and Martina left to get some grub and a couple of drinks. Everything was closed for dinner except for this Italian place (with a Ferrari flag on it). Initially he said he only had pizza, and as Martina had already eaten I was wondering how in god’s name I could complete an entire plate of pizza.
When we sat down though the guy said that everything was on, and so I ordered a ham-melon dish, which was good. We made it back just in time for our midnight outing.
The group was me, Martina, 4 French guys and a cute French lady. A 20 minute walk got us to this club. The line though was long, and they stayed behind while I and Martina called it a night.
The next day after I had breakfast me and her headed off to the visitor center which is right opposite the Chateau. As she was staying for longer in Quebec she headed off by herself on a leisurely pace, while I headed off on my usual breakneck speed.
I hope to see her again sometime soon, as she is headed back to Salzburg pretty soon. I will be there next year (I must have mentioned about this trip previously too), and I now have someone in Austria to look forward to.
Also during breakfast I met an interesting chap from France called Florian, who was taking a 42 day trip around Canada. He was in waste management, and he was studying some process which the Canadians were using for better disposal of waste (I told him this too: It sounds like a very interesting field, especially as better methods of waste disposal are going to be needed very soon). He had been to Bangalore, and had made a tour from Kochi to Agra, and he was very nice. He too gave me his email id and told me to let him know when I make it to France. Although he stayed in the north of France and I am largely planning on touring the south, he still was kind enough to offer me any assistance if possible.
Getting back to my trip, I clicked a photo next to the Chateau, which is an imposing building, rode down the Funicular from the upper town to the lower town, walked the old city to the old port, and then walked back up the breakneck steps to the Chateau again. Try to do this as this walk is very picturesque, and will surely remind you of days gone by. The only change which you might consider is walking down the steps and taking the elevator up the Funicular!
From here I went to Rue de Tresor where paintings are displayed, and then to the Citadel. Along the way there is the Basilica Notre-Dame of Quebec which is half not as impressive as the one in Montreal.
The Citadel is an active military base – so you cannot roam about, but there are guided tours in both French and English which occur regularly, and last for an hour. The cost is 10 CAD, and you should take this. Our guide was really good, and he even conversed with me in what he called an ‘Indian’ language. He said ‘Suprabhata’. Is this Sanskrit? I have no clue!
After this was done I walked back up the wall to St Jean and to a restaurant called Mike’s. I had the Le Salmon something and some tea. This was one of the few restaurants where I could at least point at the picture on the menu and order. Most of the remaining have their menus in French, so it will be fun understanding what you are ordering.
Then I sat on a bench right there at Porte St-Jean. There were 4 dudes playing with their feet and a small ball. I will do some research on this sport, but to put it in words, they were sort of balancing and dribbling the ball with their feet, and throwing it at each other using their feet. No hands were used and the ball never touched the ground.
I was fascinated as they had very good control using both their right and left legs – WOW!
Finally I walked to the Plains of Abraham, taking some time to sit on the wall and just stare at life go by in Quebec City.
On my way to the station I saw this white poodle running on the road. I had seen it on the plains too and there was a collar but no owner. It was running wildly on the road and looking forlorn. I tried to call the poodle and so did many others, but it was running wild. I saw an ambulance nearby, and not knowing who to talk to – informed them. I hope the poodle does find its master. Losing a pet is hard, very hard.
Martina was the one who kept on saying – Sweet, and she called Quebec a Pretty City. She was right – Quebec is a pretty sweet place. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. America has some really good cities, but nothing beats the beauty of Quebec. It has to be seen to be believed. Martina also showed me a photo of Salzburg, and it was even prettier.
Believe me – Europe will be something unbelievable. I can feel it already!
Martina, Florian, the girl from Toulouse, Cathy- who I met twice in both the hostels, the guys and girl from France who I went out with – so many wonderful people. I am also glad that I could sit and talk with them – I could tell them so much about India, which many of them had heard of, but were not familiar with. I hope they go and tell more people about an Indian guy they met on the road while backpacking and they associate nice thoughts with us.
To end this huge post – when I was staying at the first hostel, a family was checking the rooms and she asked me – ‘Is this how you backpackers stay?’ This simple question made me realize that I am now an official backpacker, a hippie!!! I can’t be happier :D
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
They run from Montreal to quite a few places, especially North-East like Quebec and if I am not mistaken to Nova Scotia also.
Continuing on from yesterday night I spent the early part of the night sleeping till 8.30 or so. Then it was time to get dressed and go partying. This was a big mistake.
I walked up St-Catherine and there were a lot of strip clubs, but I did not see any good dance club.
After that I walked up St-Laurent and there were a few of them, but most were asking for reservations or that I have a girl with me. This search took me from 9.30pm to close to midnight. By then I had walked St Catherine twice and St Laurent 4 times.
Out of frustration I entered a pretty empty looking bar, ordered my usual – Rum and coke and watched replays of the NBA game between the Lakers and the Rockets.
Not one of my best days if I have to say so myself.
Even one of the dudes in the hostel was snoring like crazy and it was tough to get any sleep. Someone woke him up – luckily, and told him he was snoring. I don’t know how that could have helped, but before he could start snoring again I was dead asleep.
Next morning I woke up and headed immediately to the Vieux-Port which I had been unable to do the previous day. It was freezing cold but at least it wasn’t raining. I walked up two of the Quays, and then from there walked to the Basilica. I had not yet taken a photo in front of it, and it had to be done.
There was mass going on in French, which I caught some 5 minutes of and then I left. There were a few shops selling F1 gear, but I did not find anything enticing. Also, the prices were on the higher side which they had to be as it was original Ferrari stuff. Anyway I will be in Italy next year and I will buy it from there!
There was a small café called St Paul Café (on Rue-Paul obviously, another very old street). Puneet has advised me to get a dish called Poutine and I ordered for it. This is a fast food, which has cheese, fries and a sauce on it. It is amazing, but if you are worried about your weight or heart, please stay away. I am actually enjoying the food out here; I almost lick the plate clean which does not happen in the US.
Fresh and full I decided to do the last remaining activity – A 2 kilometer hike from Peel Station to the top of Mount Royal where you have a beautiful view of Downtown Montreal (The city is supposed to be named on this mountain). Half ways through my legs were caving in. Somehow I managed the hike to the top, but for saner people there is a city bus which takes you there. The view was captivating, and I spent a few minutes enjoying the view and clicking photos. I wanted to stay for longer but I was tired, and more importantly it was getting colder and colder. I walked back and took the metro to Berri-UQAM where my bus was waiting. The Orleans Express runs every hour from Montreal to Quebec and vice versa, and takes a little more than 3 hours. The round trip rates are at 84 CAD, which is pretty good (considering the USD is stronger).
Today I decided not to take the pass for the metro, which was a good choice considering that I paid 5.50 for two trips. If you are making anything more than 3 trips buy the daily tourist or 3 day card, which saves you a lot!
I have to crib a bit here – at Peel station the ticket machine was not working, so I went up to the guy at the gate who also sells tickets. I dropped the 2.75 in front of him in the small partition between me and him, and he was like screaming something in French. After I removed then dropped then removed the cash, he says ‘Drop the cash’. I dropped it, and then removed my hand fully so that he could give me the ticket. I guess he was worried he may get the swine flu or something – I have no idea!
And now here I am – finally up to date with my posts. I will write soon when I get the opportunity. Also I have to write one more post about getting a Canadian visa. Till then – Au Revouir!
Montreal is a different place. It is like visiting a European country, and it is easier too as most of the people do understand English. I felt so French though, I was bon-jouring everyone although in a rather low voice – fearing that they might laugh at my bad pronunciation.
I landed up at 7 in the morning (yesterday), the greyhound bus having got delayed a bit. But it was a smooth passage. The immigration lady cancelled my visa as it was a single entry, and stamped it for 16th May. This means I can shuttle between US and Canada till 6 months from this stamping. I will explain this in a later post about how to obtain a Canadian Visa.
My first stop was the visitor center on Rue Peel (Peel St), but as this only opened at 9, I headed off to the one place I had to visit – The Gilles Villenueve Circuit. Getting around Montreal is easy – the subway is pretty good. I got the daily tourist pass for 9CAD, which lasts you till midnight.
The bus station is at the Berri-UQAM stop and the circuit is Jean-Drapeau. This is a park with the circuit as one of the attractions. There are others like the Biosphere, the Montreal Casino and a lot more. Lots of people were jogging and cycling, and a rowing competition was also going on. The circuit was not blocked by anything as this was not a race day. I sat at a corner and thought of how Michael Schumacher would have taken one of these corners.
After a while I left for the visitor center on Peel St, and this was very helpful. The lady gave me a map, pointing out all the locations to go, the nightlife to see, and if needed she also would have told me about shopping, but I decided against that! She even told me about Quebec City and a map of that too. Also, while she was talking she was pronouncing the words in French, like ‘Montmorency’ and ‘Jean’, and so on. It is so good to listen to a French lady speak :)
As suggested I walked to the Basilica Notre Dame passing Chinatown and St-Catherine St on the way, which is a nice street with shopping on both sides. The Basilica was huge with the Place d’Arms opposite it. A wedding was going on, so I could not enter, but I will do it today. The entry fee is 5 CAD. I walked a bit more after this to Place Jacques Cartier and sat at this square. Very nice buildings, and good photo ops all around. By then I was feeling hungry and so I headed to one of the restaurant recommendations in a tour book called Stash Café. This is a Polish café and it has very good food. I finished off the dumplings in no time, and so also the tea. Very well made, nice people and really cheap. It is also in old Montreal so you don’t have to go too far. Visit this when you are in Montreal.
After this plate emptying meal I saw that it was raining really heavily. I wanted to visit the Pointe-à-Callière, which has stuff about Montreal’s history, and it may be worthwhile if you like that sort of stuff. The entry fee is 13 CAD.
In the rain I caught the metro to Pie-IX. I was not able to do anything except take a photo somehow in the rain. This is a very kid friendly place with a Biodome, and lots of things to see inside. The station here is Pie-IX or VIAU.
I could not do anything more and had to return back to McGill station and stay underground. This is the beauty of Montreal – they have a huge underground shopping mall, which spans 6 metro stations. It is called La Ville Souterraine. Days could be spent here. I got free wireless and sat and browsed through my iPhone for a pretty long time.
Finally the rain slowed down and I set off to St-Denis, which is supposed to be Paris-like in appearance. This street has a few cafes and one such is Starbucks :D
If you read my previous post I wrote it there. The rain did not let off at all, and I decided to brave it and go to my hostel for the night – The Auberge Alternative. Again - a highly recommended hostel – quite staff, good people and a mixed dorm. You get a locker and I would suggest that you get a padlock, but else linen and towels are provided.
It is right smack in the middle of everything and Vieux Port is a minute walk from here. As it was raining, I could not walk out. So as I had time to kill, I thought I will catch some sleep as I had a lot of dancing to do that night. This did not happen as expected because I and a girl from France got talking. We spoke for 40 minutes of which the actual conversation was for 10 minutes. I tried some French, she tried some English – it was fun!
The best part of the Philly trip actually came after I left Starbucks. I walked to the Museum of Arts and it was a wonderful walk.
Initially there was a fountain surrounded by a lot of museums, and the Art Museum straight ahead. The walk was around half a mile from here and it has flags of pretty much all the countries on both sides of the road. And as you come near the Museum you get some really good photo ops. To the left is a statue of Rocky, and then come the steps.
I was tired and pretty dead, so I did not make the run to the top, but a lot of enthusiastic folks – both young and old made the run.
On reaching the top you are greeted with a beautiful view of the Philadelphia downtown and I sat there for a good half an hour taking in the beauty. There is a spot where they have also marked Rocky’s footsteps – so I can say that I did step into Sly’s shoes :D
After that I decided to have my dinner before catching the bus, and headed back to Sansom Oyster house near Chinatown , where the MegaBus terminal and also greyhound terminal is.
My luck with food continued, as this place had shut down for renovations and I ended up eating at a Malaysian restaurant called ‘Banana Leaf’. Pretty much the same good old Malaysian fare.
On the way there was this rectangular hollow block near a fountain with ‘Love’ written on the top. This appealed to me as also to a few more people and we ended up clicking a few photos there.
I finally boarded the MegaBus back to New York. I had a chat with a New York based lady and she gave me the directions to the Port Authority from Chinatown where I landed.
Times Square was choc-block with people at midnight and I was astounded. But this is the original city which does not sleep, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I just landed in the bus…slept and woke up in Boston.
Philadelphia is a good experience and a must do for people who love American history.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
It has been a pretty good trip so far. I landed up in Philadelphia at around 9.15 am. The bus stop was near the Amtrak station on 30th and Market St. I had a bit of a walk to get to the area I had planned to visit which was Independence Park. The walk was quite nice as I passed through the towers of Philadelphia downtown which although were few in number, were quite commanding.
Also I passed through the Old City Hall which is an imposing building and a nice photo op.
Ultimately a 20 minute walk landed me at Independence Park. First I visited the Independence Visitor Center from where you can get free tickets for the Independence Hall, where the US Declaration of Independence was signed. You need to get this ticket else you cannot take the tour. Once this was done I went to the Hall and as I had some time to kill looked up the nearby buildings.
There was the Congress Hall which also had a short tour for free and a building called the Great Essential Exhibit. This contains one of the copies of the Declaration of Independence and it is a pretty cool thing. It feels like I was acting in a National Treasure movie.
I then took the Independence Hall tour which took us on a 15 minute walk through the hall. My final stop before lunch was the Liberty Bell exhibit. This is next to the Independence Hall and I really wanted to see this. Again a free entry and I was standing right next to the bell. It was quite impressive to look at and it was quite a reverent sight.
By then I was hungry and I was all set to eat the Philly special – either the Pork Roast or the Cheesesteak. I had looked up a place called John’s Pork Roast which was a 40 minute walk from Independence Park. I made the walk only to realize that the stupid place was closed on weekends. All that walking for nothing!!!
There was a subway opposite it, so I ate the cheesesteak there. Although you can’t call this an authentic Philadelphia experience, I was in no mood to walk somewhere else.
The walk back was another tiring one and I pretty much crashed on a bench at Independence Square which is right behind the Hall.
After a brief respite I walked to Franklin Court (Ben Franklin’s House), Betsy Ross House (The lady who made the first US flag) and Elfreth Alley (America’s oldest residential street). I did not spend too much time at these places as I already had my fill of history. Once all this was done I landed here and decided to recharge my laptop and my iPhone both of which seem to run out of batteries almost in no time at all, while sipping on a Chai latte.
I have one last walk to make and this is to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or more importantly to the steps in front of this also called as Rocky Steps. The movie Rocky was shot here and the famous scene of Sly Stallone running up the stairs and jumping in the air was filmed right here.
This should mark an end to a pretty uneventful and calming trip of Philadelphia. The rain has luckily not been too heavy and I have seen sufficient places to say that this trip was worth every penny I paid.
It is really cloudy and the weather forecast for Philly is not supposed to be any better. Luckily this is just a short splash and dash trip, so I am not bothered as much.
The main aim of this post was to also give my readers(!!!) an idea of the cheap ways of travel between Boston and New York City(NYC), and also points south.
Many people must be aware of the Chinatown buses which run between Boston and New York. Fung Wah and Lucky Star come to mind. These are cheap buses which load passengers and drive. They are the fastest way to travel (by bus) between these two cities as they have no stops in between and the drivers are single minded in their devotion to reach you there.
The buses are decent and they are a bit faster as the bus stop in NYC is in Manhattan just across the Manhattan Bridge and thus this bus reaches the city much faster than the other options. The rates are usually fixed at 15USD one way except for the early morning 2 am bus which costs 25USD.
Greyhound was the costlier option but they too have dropped their prices especially for the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). It is a flat web rate of 20USD which is quite good. Some of these buses have also started Wi-Fi and this should catch up in all of them pretty soon. The bus station in NYC is the Port Authority which is on 42nd and 8th.
The last two options: Bolt Bus and Mega Bus are the cheapest among these and also have a few more facilities. The major factor is the cost. If booked way in advance you could get tickets for a dollar. Even if you book a week or 2 before your actual journey the rates will be 10-12USD. There is free Wi-Fi too on these buses. (I am using it right now!)
The only slight problem is that these buses start off from outside Penn Station and the search to find the right stop is a bit of a hassle. Luckily there will usually be a crowd and more likely that is where the buses will stop.
From Boston all of them start at South Station – so there is no difference there.
If you really want to get into NYC in a hurry then Bolt and MegaBus may not be the right choice as to get to Penn Station in New York involves going through all the traffic. One of my MegaBus journeys took me close to 5 hours when if I had taken the Chinatown bus to Canal St and the subway to Penn would have taken me less than 4 hours. If you guys remember, this was the start of my UK trip.
Ultimately the train is more comfortable and faster, but the steep cost of the Acela express will deter lot of riders from plying on them.
Also, these buses have started to expand into other cities. Greyhound is the oldest so it does go to many cities, but the stops in many cities are not exactly in the best part of town.
Bolt goes to Boston, NYC, DC and Philadelphia. Mega Bus is expanding rapidly and includes the above cities along with a lot more cities. These two attract a lot more college crowd and the trip is quite pleasant but more crowded.
For more details:
Hope this helps as I thought a quick summary of these services could help in planning an inexpensive trip from Boston to NYC and back.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
These are in no particular order:
1. The Overseas Highway:
This was the most beautiful drive of my life. Nothing beats the 3 hour drive from Miami to Key West on US1. This drive takes you over most of the small islands of the Keys and finally terminates in the southernmost point in the Continental US – Key West.
You are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on both sides, and especially when you drive on the 7-mile bridge the view is panoramic. This is not a very long route – it is barely over 100 miles, but this is a two lane highway and you will be stuck behind cars for hours. This should not deter you from one journey you really must take.
2. Pembrokshire Coast
Readers of my blog should have known this was coming. This hilly coastline on the south west of Wales and spread over a large area is a scenic and wonderful route. Ideal for cycling or hiking, this is one wild coastline where the sea is right next to you hitting the rocks.
If you are a fan of nature, and do not mind the outdoor exercise this is something which you should do. There may be similar or even better coastlines, but in my short touring life nothing has come closer.
3. Las Vegas
I started this blog in 2007 and it was initially meant to be a help for people to get around Las Vegas. Las Vegas was my first city I stayed in outside of India, and this city had had an incredible effect on me.
Standing in the middle of the Nevada desert this small city is a place of marvel. Yes, Vegas has it casinos, its night life and just about everything you could expect in Sin City.
But, the more important part of Vegas which people tend to forget is the nature around it. No trip to Vegas is complete without visiting the Grand Canyon. Lake Mead and Hoover Dam should also be must see stops on your Vegas itinerary. Finally, a drive in the desert with the sand dunes, the beautiful landscape is a must for every family.
I end this with a note to all my nerd geek friends out there – if you are in Vegas and staying for a decent amount of time do not forget to take the drive on the Extraterrestrial highway to Area 51. Aliens Rock!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Note: Citizens of most European countries and USA do not need a visa to enter UK. The list is mentioned on the UK Visa site: http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/
This is for those unfortunate people who do need one. Luckily the process is not that drawn out, especially if as in my case you were applying in the US.
I applied online and for this you need to go to the above mentioned site, and click on the link for applying online. There is an online document which you need to fill, and the process of filling this may take from 1-2 hours. Keep your required documentation ready while filling this out. You can save in between and resume this process. This is quite handy.
At the end when you are done you can immediately pay online by using a credit card. Once you are done, a biometrics interview is set up for you ranging from within a few days to a week or two.
At the biometrics test which usually is at a centre in your city the fingerprinting and photographs are done/taken. After this was done I had to courier my stamped form, passport with US visa and I-94, along with all the supporting documents to the UK consulate in New York.
I was initially hesitant to this, but this looks to be a safe process. The embassy informs you when they receive the passport, and they also mail you when you either get approved or rejected. For me this was the next day, so I was very happy.
The passport is mailed with the new visa by overnight courier and thus as I said this process is quite smooth.
Usually the first time around you should apply for a 6 month visa, although a few of my friends did apply for a 1 year visa. This visa is multiple entry visa marked by ‘MULT’ on your visa.
Also while applying if you want the visa to start from a particular date (e.g.: date of travel) mention it at the end of the online form. Else, the visa will be valid from when it gets stamped.
The supporting documents are the usual - employment, salary, bank statements, flight tickets and either Sponsor letter (if staying with friends/relatives) with their passport and visa copy, or hotel accommodations if you are travelling by yourself.
This was the first tourist visa I applied for and it was a nice, smooth and painless process.
Drop me a comment if you need to know more, but I hope this should be sufficient.
And oh yeah, the 6 month visa should cost you around 130USD at the time of writing this post.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The trip was quite uneventful – I caught the tube to Waterloo and from there I rode on the Southwest train to Feltham. The only unfortunate event occurred when at Waterloo the trolley handle of my huge bag broke. I had to literally bend and pull it from there on.
I lazed around in Feltham, shopping for few chocolates – Liqueur chocolates, and a huge amount of tea bags. I had taken quite a liking to the tea here and I bought a big pack of PG Tips tea bags from ASDA (Wal-Mart owns this chain).
Finally it was time to bid goodbye and we hailed a taxi to the airport. Ajith was kind enough to accompany me to the airport and how much ever I pull his leg and say he was a terrible guide I don’t think I would have seen as much of London without him.
Ajith, I am revising your scores – 4.5 out of 5!
Again I started off late but there was not much hitch in the check-in. Only before going through security the Immigration officer sent me back to the BA counter, but the dude did something and I was allowed through.
My impressions of this trip: I was so glad I did this. Visiting my cousin and seeing the most of South Wales and South East England was definitely worth it. UK deserves more than one visit as it will keep calling you back for more. But for now I have other options to explore.
Next up: Canada.
People tell me that seeing 501 cities in my lifetime is not going to happen. Right now I am only at 27.
I say: Isn’t that what dreams are about. If a dream was possible, I don’t think it would be a dream.
As the Boss (Bruce Springsteen) would say:
Out here the Nights are long…
The Days are lonely…
I think of you and…
I’m working on a Dream
I ‘m working on a Dream
Getting back to London – Saturday was the day I had booked myself for a trip on Evan Evans Tours on their package tour to Windsor, Stonehenge and Oxford.
AT 44GBP it was a good bargain although the entry to the attractions was not included. Windsor Castle was 14 GBP and Stonehenge at 7GBP. First stop was at Windsor where I was able to spend around 2 hours roaming around. Also the changing of the guards happens here at 11 am and there was a good crowd to watch it. This castle is very near Heathrow Airport and even if you cannot make it into London City between stopovers, the castle is worth a visit.
Stonehenge was a stop for 45 minutes and as our guide said: this was more than enough time. The place was cold with only these mysterious stones and nothing but grass mounds and sheep around. Stonehenge is not a place if you are not historically inclined (This for you will be a place with stones standing atop each other – what crap!). If you are interested in how these stones came to be from around 10000 years ago, how they were brought here and built then you will relish the site.
Finally, we had a 2 hour drive to Oxford – the city of the dreamy spires. Our guide took us on a walking tour which was interesting. Even if you are visiting on your own there is a good walking tour and it is cheap. Oxford has to be experienced on foot, with its beautiful colleges, narrow romantic streets and a pleasant college crowd.
Fans of Harry Potter will have a field day here looking around the various places where the movie was shot and the book was sort of based on.
Finally a 2 hour trip took me back to London. The trip lasted from 9 in the morning to 7 in the evening, which is a bit short, but covering 3 places in such a small budget can’t get better. If you want to see these 3 places and want to do it in a hurry, this is a good tour.
I met up with Ali later on in the night and headed to Leicester square again and onward to Covenant Garden which has quite a few pubs. He had to work the next day – so we weren’t out till very late, but that was fine with me as my eyes were red with tiredness and now I was only looking forward to crash in my bed at home in the US.
London (or Londinium as the Romans called it) is an amazing city. It has a good mix of the ancient with the new, and all of the many areas that form a city – the rich (Chelsea), the Indian (Southall), the Chinese (Chinatown) and so many more.
When I had been here last time around I had walked on the path called Westminster walk from Big Ben down the Abbey, past the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square and finally Piccadilly Circus. Also, I had done the London Eye which I found quite fascinating, and as I had never had an aerial view of the city – it was a nice experience.
DT had also suggested a tube to Canary Wharf which is the place where the companies are based out of. I had gone there too to click a few photos and try to find out if I knew any companies there. It is supposed to have a really good nightlife in the night.
On this trip I met up with Ajith at Waterloo and he took me around. I dropped my luggage at Waterloo itself which has a place called Left Luggage to keep them. They charge 8GBP a day (7am to 11pm).
We went to Lord’s – The Home of Cricket. The tour was not great (I found the guide not too exciting), but the actual look at the ground was worth the 14GBP. After this was done we went to Buckingham palace for a few photos, and then walked along the Thames from London Bridge to Tower Bridge.
It was getting quite late and we took the tube to Piccadilly and met up with Ali. Had a few drinks at the nearby bar and also walked to Leicester Square to have a few more at Chiquito’s. This area is quite crowded and a nice place to hang at.
Also, you can drink your beers and other stuff on the road which must be one of the reasons why there is a lot of fun on the streets (and rowdiness too).
We hung out till not too late as I had to collect my bag before it closed, but I had a good time. London is a city which I will never cover how many times I visit, but it has the charm which only the cities like NYC have. I don’t even have to visit the city – it is a given – you have to make the visit at least once in your lifetime.
We parked in a Park and Ride at Long Ashton and took the bus to Bristol Center as traffic gets to be a lot sometimes in the city. On the way into Bristol from Cardiff we looked up and there was the Clifton Suspension bridge. Built in the 1800s it surely is an engineering marvel as it hangs up pretty high and also for the times it was built it, it is an awesome sight.
This is the most popular sight in Bristol. From the city it is not easily walkable unless you are someone who likes to walk uphill for 3 miles. The bus numbered 8 or 9 from the city centre takes you there in 15 minutes.
The other sights are quite close like the College Green which is a park having the Bristol Cathedral (my 3rd Cathedral in 3 days – This is becoming more of a pilgrimage), the Council House and the Library in front of it. The Old City has a few buildings of Victorian and Georgian Eras along with the Old Vic which is a theatre renewed to life by Kevin Spacey.
We walked all of this making our way through the Quay. Finally a bit of shopping was done along Queen’s Road which has those small shops which girls love shopping in, and I was with one – I had to do it J It has something for everyone though. It was just that I had promised myself to cut down on shopping as I was buying too much back in the US.
There is the University of Bristol on the top of the hill and it is housed in a really nice looking building.
Bristol still has a lot which I did not see. The oldest Methodist Chapel, a few more parks, Experience@Bristol, shopping malls and the Cabot Tower to name a few. I had decided that I would be coming again to UK (mainly Scotland) next summer and I would anyway have to come to Cardiff. So a trip to Bristol was on the cards as it is very close to Cardiff.
I packed up my stuff in the evening and today morning reached the coach station for my trip to London. The tickets online till yesterday were at 10GBP. At the counter it was 23GBP. Note: Buy your tickets online, if not early at least the previous day. They will still save you a lot!
I had fun in Cardiff, saw so much, and met new people. Now I head to the city called London, and this I know for sure is gonna be a real good time. Time to catch a few winks of sleep – that is something I need to do.
Friday, March 20, 2009
After I touched down at Exeter St David’s - one of the two or three stations this city has, I headed for the cathedral. Again I was walking blind and walked towards what I thought was the cathedral. There was a huge cross showing over the many houses and cross implies cathedral. This city is built on a sort of hill and so the houses are one behind the other. It is supposed to be a walled city with a castle in between. Most of the buildings were lost in WW2, but a few remain.
I lost my way but made it to a nice picnic spot with a nice looking pedestrian bridge. This is the quay (I am not very sure) and looked like a quite picnic spot. From here I found my way and made it to the cathedral. Again a beautiful cathedral but unlike St David’s the entry fee is 5GBP. I would say that unless you want to see the longest unsupported single span roof you can give this one a miss. They had a discount for tea and cake at the Refectory which I did partake (!!!) of in the evening.
After the church was done I went to the Guildhall which was under renovation. Nearby the cathedral was another one called Cathedral Close but I just took a photo as I had another walking tour to go on.
So far I was not impressed!
The Red Coat Tours begins from near the cathedral and again this is a free walking tour. This evening they did ‘Elegant Exeter’, which was better than I expected and way better that the Bath tour I did. On the tour they showed parts of the Walled City, Victorian Architecture and all the good stuff.
Looking around I began to see more and more of the college crowd, and finally when we did reach the many shopping centers and the modern architecture I began to like Exeter. The crowd was good, lively and when you see the Cathedral from the modern shopping streets, you do see the culmination of ancient and modern, medieval and neo in a breathtaking view.
The 501 must visit cities book had said that ‘Exeter is not a beautiful city, ??’ and I now realize why it is so. Initially I was disappointed and was wondering if the book had got it wrong. Now I realize that they did not. It just takes a while to grow on you. Then you begin to realize that it is an amalgamation of college and old.
There is supposed to be a castle but as far as I could see there was a gate and pretty much nothing else!
I would not recommend Exeter easily unless either College Crowds or Cathedrals are your scene. If so, Exeter is worth a visit if you get the time and are near there.
Now for the best part – I met a Spanish lady during the walking tour and we hit it off instantly. She was finding it tough to converse easily in English but she was doing an amazing effort. We talked all the while through the tour, and I learnt that she was from Lyon. 2010 looks to be a good time to go there and now I am pretty excited.
And this time around I did get her email address, so there!
Hmm…I wonder why I began to enjoy only after the Walking tour…hmm indeed.
These trips are good though, they introduce me to new people, new cultures – it is an experience. I leave you with these thoughts as I take the Cross Country to Bristol Temple Meads and then the Great Western trains to Cardiff.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I landed in the morning at Haverfordwest and caught the 11am 411 bus to St David’s. This drops you right in front of the cathedral. I got off from the bus and went straight in. The cathedral is HUGE with humongously huge altars (and a lot of them). The entry is free and you can go in and admire the art work. Also, from the outside it looks more like a castle than a cathedral.
Next to it is the Bishops Palace which is rundown but for 3 GBP it is worth the price of admission. One can climb onto the top and view the Cathedral from there too.
The refectory in the Cathedral has a pretty good place to eat and I had my lunch there. A pot of tea along with a Ham sandwich on wheat for 7GBP was pretty cheap. Once this was done I left.
Now let’s rewind to my bus journey. When I got in at Haverfordwest I was looking forward to seeing the Welsh coastline. You know those movies where they have these cliffs with sea/ocean waves hitting them. I was so looking forward to it that when I was half way in the bus I was disappointed that I wasn’t seeing any.
Suddenly the bus came over a hill and lo and behold there it was. Beautiful cliffs with the sea water – what a sight! My mouth was open.
After I completed my cathedral trip I asked at the Visitor Center for the closest place to see water and she told me about Caaerfai Bay. It was a close walk, about 15 minutes from the city center. I walked and when I came to it again I had that mind blowing experience. Below me was the sea with a small cove (like in the Enid Blyton books), and rocks all around. This has been a dream for a while and I had to sit for a while just to admire it.
I also hiked down to the cove and sat for a while too looking at the far away mountains, the ship in the sea, the rocks (I felt Boski there with me too). Words fail me – it was that beautiful.
I left with a bittersweet feeling – but realizing something: All along these trips I wonder sometimes if I am crazy. You know travelling alone, running from place to place – what am I achieving? Then I saw this today and it was all worth it. I could now say that I too have stood on the cliff above the sea, I too have seen the English villages, I too have sat on an empty secluded station with no one around (Exactly what I am doing now).
St David’s is highly highly recommended. The cathedral is nice, the people are nice (I chatted with most of them and they had a smile on their face), and the hike on the hills bordering the sea (It is called the Pembroke Trail) is out of the world. It goes on for miles, and I did just this half a mile.
Time for me to head back home but I leave St David’s with wonderful memories and a message from Fr Dorian Gray (either the Vicar or Bishop of the cathedral) to Fr Augustine of a church in Kerala. This is a reminder so that I do not forget and also of the friendliness of the people here.
I am on my way to Haverfordwest which is close to a city called St David’s where I am headed. This is the city of the patron saint of Wales and has a cathedral which is on the sea shore and quite beautiful. This was what I wanted to see. The tickets to Haverfordwest were at 19.7GBP (Arriva Wales) for a return trip.
From there a bus number 411 would take me to St David’s which is literally a village (It is the smallest city in the entire UK and was declared a city only in 1995). More details in the future post. Right now let me return back to Bath.
A worthwhile trip where I did get to see a lot. I landed up in Bath Spa at approx 9.30 and headed to the Roman Baths. This is right next to the Abbey, a huge church building and the Pump Room. The visit inside the Roman Bath cost 11GBP with a free audio tour and I enjoyed it. It was a fascinating feature of how the Romans mixed prayer and leisure in the same building. Most of it was in ruins, but still it was quite nice.
I was done by around afternoon and soon afterwards I moved to the Circus, which is a courtyard with houses looking exactly the same from the front built in a circle. It is a good architectural sight and so also is the Royal Crescent which are buildings in the form of a crescent. This is one of the sights with which Bath is recognized and I had my lunch in a park in front of this majestic view.
I went back to the Pump Room from where a free walking tour starts off at 10.30 and 2pm. This was not the best tour I had taken but it was free, rather decent at 2 hours and so it is recommended, especially if you have not studied anything about Bath, and are totally new.
Met two American ladies who I was chatting with, and more interestingly there was this girl in the group who was smiling at me. Woohoo Jatin, your time has come.
When introductions were done she said that she was from Germany (Germans are very pretty – my observation). Then this guy two people away from her said that he too was from Germany, and all my dreams vanished. She and he began to bond and there I was all alone again: D
Aah…feels so good to share!
Finally, the Roman Bath tour tickets also gets you a free drink from the Bath in the Pump Room. This tastes like very heavy mineral water with sulphur in it, but it’s worth a try for the authentic Bath experience.
This is a city which is close to London, and if a quick break from London is what you need this is the place for you.
Last two days were mainly spent at home with my cousin and the kids. The weather was mostly dark and gloomy and although it never got dark till after 5, it still was not weather where you could go out in. On Sunday after church we did go to Cardiff Bay for a while. Ate lunch at Nando’s – a fairly popular chain where there was some good chicken.
On the way here we saw the Mormon/Norman Church, and also the new Assembly Center which was pretty nice. It had its ceiling made of wood, and it was a rather modern looking building. At most of these places we clicked a few photos, but could not spend any time as it was damp and rainy. Also saw the Millennium Stadium which was mighty cool and the Cardiff (Cardydd in Welsh) Castle.
Today starts my actual visit to the various places with Bath the first on my list. This is a city with roman baths and is supposed to be a must see in UK. The rail tickets are rather cheap to get here from Cardiff – 16 GBP. I woke up in the morning around 7 and caught the local bus at 8ish. From my place at Cardiff to Cardiff Central it took me around 40 minutes. The bus was pretty full and I am pretty sure that unlike the US people prefer to take the public transport here. It was full of students and also a pretty professional crowd.
Here I am now around 9.30 in the train all excited. The train has already started to move…and wow it’s an amazing feeling.
I will post more on the way back. Till then its time to visit the Roman baths in England.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The flight was uneventful, and although we left 30 minutes late, we reached Heathrow 10 minutes early, because of some good tail wind. Getting in was easy too, the immigration dude just asked me two questions and I did not have to show any extra documentation. The moment I reached baggage claim I found my bag.
Now the three most important things to do once you are out, at least for me:
Get some pounds: I had called up my bank before I left for the UK to inform them that I would be transacting in the UK. This is because most of the banks block your transactions as they may be fraudulent. So before leaving make sure that your bank is notified.
I inserted my card in and entered my PIN. Again, a word of caution – Most European and Indian banks take 4 digit PINs. My BoA card has five. So I changed it to four to fit the accepted norm. The conversion rate was pretty decent – 300 USD for 200 GBP. I got the money and step 1 was done.
Buy a sim card. The ATM machine is right next to arrivals, while the Vodafone showroom is on the departures floor. If you have an unlocked cell, it is very easy. The sim costs 5GBP, and to my luck that day they started a scheme of giving 5GBP top up free. Even if this scheme was not there you should be able to make calls easily in the UK by spending 10 GBP.
The last step was to head to the coach station where my cousin Anu had booked tickets. The National Express stop is right outside the arrivals in Terminal 5 from gate 12 to 16. A simple matter of getting there and boarding the coach. This cost her around 40GBP and my destination was Cardiff.
To get into London (I did this the previous time) there are 3 ways to travel from Heathrow. The Heathrow Express takes 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington, from where you can easily catch the tube. This is expensive and I suppose it costs around 25-30GBP roundtrip. Next is the Heathrow Connect which runs on the same track as the Express except that it has many more stops. But this is the best deal as it costs only 13-15GBP roundtrip and takes 25 minutes. This is not so well known, but it is a good way to travel and my pick.
The last option is the tube from Heathrow. It is pretty cheap, 5GBP one way I suppose, but the issue is that this could get delayed easily. It takes 40 minutes to proper London. So if you don’t mind the time taken and want to explore the tube system this is ideal.
That’s it for now. It will take me around 3 and half hours to reach Cardiff – time to get some shut eye.
Epilogue – I know there are a lot of Indians here, but seriously, there are a LOT.
I am taking the flight from New York as I was getting cheaper tickets and thought it will be better to travel from here. Now I realize that this is not worth it. Getting from Boston to New York is quite cheap; I got a roundtrip for 25USD. The main hassle though is the commute.
I left at 1430 thinking I will get to NYC by 1900 and as my flight was at 2230, I would have enough time to make it.
But damn it all, I landed up in NYC Penn Station at 8.15pm. I literally had to scurry to catch the LIRR train to Jamaica. This costs around 7USD, and from here the JFK AirTrain at 5USD takes you to all the terminals. From Penn to Terminal 7 it should take you about 35-40 minutes, which is pretty decent.
The only issue is if you are running late like me. Luckily, I was not too late and made it by 9:15pm. There was absolutely no crowd at the check in desk and I went in dropped my bag and breezed through security.
Here I am now finally, all excited to get into the UK. Also, this flight will make me a silver member on British Airways. I am hoping that they upgrade me, like they did last time I flew to Bangalore. Business Class Rocks!!!
Monday, March 2, 2009
I never wondered what she meant to me, I knew it. She was there during the best part of my life, she saw me largely through my ups, but also was there for me when no one was. It is hard when you lose someone you love – you are at a loss for words. I cried such a lot today, for a friend who made me laugh so much – from refusing to eat anything remotely vegetarian, to sitting in front of me with the most saddest look on her face when she wanted my food, which was every time.
I tell everyone this, but this is a story which I will forever remember:
I tried my hand at cooking once, and I decided to do something very easy – Cook an omlette. So I took two eggs and some oil. The first time I poured too little oil, and then poured the beaten egg. It burnt to a crisp. So I thought – more oil. Poured in a lot more oil and the second omlette came out all watery. I was so upset, that I myself couldn’t even eat my own cooking.
But there she was below looking at me with her eyes. So I said – You want it? She just looked up. I put one in my plate, put the other in hers and both of us ate heartily.
True friends are like this, they don’t give a damn if you are ugly as hell or cook like an idiot. They still are there for you to make you feel good.
Boski, I will forever miss you. Jatin feat. Fat Boski (my favorite rap band) will be no more, but I know that you will still love to hear me sing as you have done for so many years.
Mickey Rourke gave his best performance in ‘The Wrestler’ and dedicated the golden globe to his baby Loki. I have not won any globes or Oscars, but just for making me what I am today – I celebrate my baby Boski.
PS: They have really good chicken in heaven, but you will miss my omlettes.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
This is a concept I read about in a book titled: ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’, which Ben had given me a few days back. The concept states that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy your life (It just makes it wayyy more easier!). Instead of spending your life making money to spend on a final great vacation, why not have something called as mini-vacations. This gets you refreshed often, and also you get to see a lot more and enjoy a lot more in your daily life, as compared to waiting for it.
Ok…so you might be asking me – You still need to be rich to take these mini–vacations. My answer is no, you need not. To put it in a nutshell, as one of the greatest movie roles played by any actor would say: “It’s all part of the plan” (Heath Ledger deserved the Oscars, and I am so glad he won it).
I will elaborate on this concept in my future blogs about the NRT (New Rich Traveler).
To get this topic started one of the main concepts is – Plan Early.
There are many types of travel, one is the unplanned travel. This according to me is the best sort, where you and your friends just decided to go somewhere on a whim, and end up doing it. But, for a backpacker or a lone traveler like myself, or even for a family, this is tough. You need to plan, if not everything atleast the dates, the places you want to visit, and so on. Here is my way, which may not be right, but this is my blog!
Take for example 2009. I plan of visiting UK. I see that I need atleast a week of vacation. First step, apply for it. I have found it very helpful to inform your company or project about your plans way in advance. It gets your dates confirmed, and makes it harder to reject as you have given advance information. There is no harm in applying say for April. If you ultimately don’t end up going, you can just cancel the vacation.
Also, what this makes you do is take action. Now you have applied for leave in April. You have a milestone set, which believe it or not helps a lot.
More of this boring lecture in future posts.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Also, what better day to write than on Valentine’s Day, which shows how single I am :D. But no worries, I am enjoying this life and my blog I hope - reflects this.
Okay, rewind back to Monday morning where I woke up early in my Austin hotel bed, had breakfast and set off at 8 in the morning to San Antonio. I fuelled my car, and I couldn’t believe it was so cheap. I paid around 11 USD to fill from something less than half tank to a full tank. The same - one year ago would have cost me 40 USD. (I should know…I paid that much on my Florida trip).
The drive was uneventful except for pockets of traffic in Downtown Austin and San Antonio, which was expected as it was a Monday morning. I saw a bit of Texas country on the drive, and I have heard it is good to go on a long drive with nothing but the long country roads in front of you.
My first stop was the Alamo, which I totally missed as the directions were wrong, but I didn’t mind too much as I had seen it Saturday. So I headed off to my next stop: Mission Concepcion. This is called as the Mission Drive, which covers five Missions set up by the Spanish to teach the Indians the Catholic culture. It starts from Mission San Antonio de Valero, also called the Alamo to the final Mission - Mission Espada with Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose and Mission San Juan in the middle.
This is a must do in San Antonio irrespective of whether you are religious or not as it is a very peaceful drive and you can see some of the most beautiful Spanish architecture with Indian and other influences. It took me approximately 4 hours to do this with me doing four missions. San Jose is the biggest and pretty much intact, but I loved Mission Concepcion.
Once this was done, I drove back to downtown, and came to my final stop – The Spanish Governor’s Palace. This is right opposite the Town Hall of San Antonio, and a very mall place with a nominal 2 USD fee, but worth a look.
Finally I decided to have lunch at a place close by called Market Street or Market Place or something along those lines. When I went back to my car I had a parking ticket. To top my trip – my first US parking ticket, Nice!
I drove back to the Dollar rental to return the car and headed back to the airport to catch my NorthWest flight back to Boston.
I enjoyed my stay in Texas, and it was a beautiful and fun filled stay. I would love to do this again sometime, and I would recommend these two cities to anyone as you could find a lot to do.
This finishes my trips for February.
March opens up new horizons as I land up in UK to visit my sister in Cardiff, Wales. I am planning this now, and hopefully you would be reading my posts in March to see how I fare.
Till then have a Happy V day, and remember: love is not only for one day, it is forever (Hope this makes sense).
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I reached Austin Saturday night, and checked into the Fairfield on Renili St. It was a nice place to sleep, but I knew I wouldn’t be spending too much time in it anyway.
Immediately got ready and decided to go to 6th St, which is supposed to be the happening spot for the nightlife in Austin. The lady at the desk advised me to not take my car as parking could be a problem, but instead to take a cab. Being the cheapass that I am, I decided one better – Let’s catch the bus (I never learn!). And luckily there was a stop half a mile from my place. The bus was the 10 to red river street, which is perpendicular to 6th, and it was a good bus – On time, and one of the few buses were the crowd seemed not to have poor people who had just come in from the streets.
6th street is a very popular place – it was crowded by 9.45 when I reached, and by 11 they had stopped traffic and people were running all over. A sight for sore eyes ;)
Yelp had given a dance club called Plush, a high rating and I landed up at this place. There was no cover, and the rum and coke cost me a whole 2USD (I hate Boston – 6 USD!!!). Sadly, it didn’t pick up at all and so I made my exit at 11. Roamed around staring at the sights, and went into a lounge called Hi-Lo. It was a so-so place – White Russian for 5, still affordable, but again less to no crowd. By midnight I was desperate to dance, and made my way to Vice, which was a proper dance club, with a pretty young crowd. It was fun, and I could dance a bit. My night was done by 2+, and I returned back to the hotel in a cab which again was quite inexpensive.
I was tired, and I suppose after covering 3 cities in a day, you have a right to immediately fall on the bed.
Sunday morning I set off around 10, and landed up again around 6th street. The places I saw were the State Capitol, a huge building with brilliant architecture, and quite prominent in Downtown Austin. It is supposed to be bigger than even the Washington Capitol. The highlight of the tour – A framed photo of Governor George Bush on the wall: D
Before this I walked up to the Renaissance Market, a place for budding local artists close to the University Of Texas, but there was no crowd, and few shops. Either I was too early, or Sunday is not the day to be here.
After the capitol, I drove to a place called Barton Springs which is not too far from downtown. These springs are in a huge park called Zilker Park which forms part of Town Lake Park. It has a beautiful view of downtown Austin with the Frost Tower at the background, and if you can walk a few miles, the photo op is good. Also, if you are here for more than a day, and love the outdoors you can do some canoeing, swimming, picknicking, et al.
Spent some good time there and then headed off to Mt Bonnell, which is a few miles drive from Austin. A short hike to the summit gives you a good view of Austin and also the lake. It’s a lovely place to sit and contemplate.
These were my main spots to cover and I headed down to downtown again to get some time on 6th and maybe a couple more photos. The lady at the hotel desk was wrong about parking though – Parking is much easier in Austin, than say Miami or Boston. A little searching off the main roads will get you some parking spot or other during nights and weekends. So it is not much of a hassle.
I walked up 6th and then Congress where the Frost building is located. Also, the bridge on Congress supposedly has bats under it, which fly out between April and August, and are supposed to be an awesome sight. I couldn’t get a glimpse of them, but I did walk under the bridge.
The walk on congress has a couple of statues of guitars, painted in all weird colors. Again a snap clicked!
I headed back home after this as I was so tired I could barely walk. Slept from 5 to 7pm, and then headed back again to…you guessed right...6th street, but this time in my rental.
Sunday is much quieter than Saturday, and the walk was peaceful. I ended up at a club called Elysium, which was playing 80s-90s tracks. This must be the first time I danced in the US waving my hands and trying to do the Moonwalk, and it was so much fun, when compared to the grind and bump of most dance clubs.
Left early but happy at 2 am, as I had more driving to do, and visit Churches in San Antonio early the same day. If I didn’t get some sleep I am sure I would fall asleep while driving there.