Saturday, September 19, 2009

Greyhound to Charlottesville (Sep 19, 2009)

I tweeted a lot today, and it is for the inefficiency that plagues the Greyhound system, especially at the DC center. In NYC you have the usual issue where the bus is always overbooked and if you are lucky you may get into the first two buses. Else you will be the few people left out who has to catch the next bus. This has happened to me once – I was supposed to catch the 12.15 am bus to Boston which was 3 times overbooked and this led to me catching the 3 am bus, and reaching Boston all screwed up.

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

MegaBus to New York Part Deux (Sep 18, 2009)

I got tickets for 1USD from Boston to New York and another 1 USD from New York to DC which led me to this trip to one more of the 501 cities. The city is Charlottesville VA, and is considered to be the best city in US to live in. Also, Thomas Jefferson has had a huge influence here.

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!

MegaBus to New York (Sep 18, 2009)

The irregularity in my postings continues. I promise I will try to be a bit more regular with them from now on.

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!!!

Phoenix Airport (Aug 9, 2009)

I have had absolutely had no time to update my blog for the past 3 days, not because I was too tired but more because I have been having so much fun that I never wanted it to end.

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!

Newark Airport (Aug 6, 2009)

I have been on a long hiatus from blogging and this I sorely blame on my parents. They were here the past month and it has been a different life for me. A complete stop to the late night partying, saying my prayers and eating home food. On a serious note though, it was nice to have them here, and I think they were pretty happy with the tour and the tour guide.

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!!!)