Saturday, June 28, 2008

Toronto & Niagara Falls - Day 2 - 8 June

Toronto is a livelier city than Detroit. It's systematic & clean and yet you don't feel so deserted in most of their sub-divisions like you feel in Detroit. Yet, lots of Americans prefer complete isolation (they call it privacy!).

In US, the best way to see a popular city is take its city tour bus or something. So we took this bus tour called the Hippo tour. Why Hippo? Because its a bus that gets converted into a boat when in water! So it was a land and a boat tour combined, without even leaving the bus. We started this tour in Toronto downtown and soon winded our way through their streets. There's a street called Younge Street in Toronto which holds the Guiness World Record for being the longest street in the world.

The view from the C.N. tower -Canada's tallest free-structure building is awesome. On a clear day, you can see as far as Niagara Falls from here. of course, I couldn't see it, because 1) it was rainy and cloudy that day, and, 2) such clear sky days, when you see all that far, are very rare. There's a place in C.N.Tower called the Skyglass or something, where a part of the floor is build out of glass, so if you stand on it, you can see all the way to the ground - the bottom of the building. Like the Skywalk in the Grand Canyon. It's scary and I chickened out, so I didn't stand on top of it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Toronto & Niagara Falls - Day 1 - 8 June 2008

We arrived in Toronto, Canada yesterday by road with mama & mami's very good friends, Goolu, Cawas and Khorshed aunty, making a short picture-cum-recreation stop en route at Windsor river front, a quaint little dead town on the US-Canada border. So, winding our way through the underground tunnel under the river that separates USA and Canada, we reached the other side in barely 20 mins. Detroit (USA) and Windsor (Canada) are separated by just a river and lie opposite on the river banks. We spent some time on the park on the riverfront at Windsor.

Parks are a way of life in America. Any open space they see near the river or sea front, they do not allow it to go to waste. Most of the riverfronts in cities and towns are converted into recreation parks; lots of greenery, tall trees, benches, sidewalks - there must be sidewalks to walk on - and of course restrooms. This is another American tradition. There is never a shortage of restrooms. Wherever you go, you will always find restrooms. Be it tourist spots or roads or streets or even highways. When in USA, your bladder can never burst open!

Today we were at Niagara Falls. We watched the Falls from Canada side, which is more beautiful than the Falls as seen from the American side. Weather forecast was dark, dull and rainy, but fortunately the only rain we encountered was on our way back, later that day. Niagara was very pleasant. First off, we checked out the tunnels underneath the Falls. This engineering marvel takes us behind the walls and underneath them. There are three outlets to this tunnel that takes us out in the open and right behind the Falls. We can only see water falling in great gusto and speed, cannot see the sky and cannot even see or make out what's on the other side. Very exciting!

Next off was a ride in the boat - called Maid of the Mist - on the Niagara river. This is a thriller ride; the boat's speed though very slow, takes us right near to the great Falls. Water that falls from up above falls at such great speed and force and a lot of mist rises and all the people get very very wet. They give us special and disposable raincoats to wear. Despite that, getting wet is inevitable. But its most exciting and a must when you go to Niagara.

And finally I ran into some good luck at the casino! I won US$18 at a local casino here. After this, I headed for the Skylon Tower; the tallest structure at Niagara Falls where you get a panoramic view of the Falls.

Casinos in Atlantic City - 3 June 2008

Atlantic city is a couple of hours drive from Philly and is a nice place to spend a few hours here and there, so around 10nish, we zipped there in Khushru's car. Besides its well-known Casinos (nothing like Las Vegas though), it's also known for its shopping. You get top brands and a whole host of stuff at attractive prices, but mostly clothes.

Later, I went to a Casino for the first time in my life. Hundreds of slot machines in rows after rows, as far as your eyes can go, playing all sort of sounds - as if they're singing 'please come and play me' - lots of people focusing and concentrating on their own slot machines much like young children focusing in a class at school, groups of young and old playing poker at the various poker tables, much like James Bond in Casino Royale (there are special rooms in Casinos for very high stakes poker games also) and glitzy chandeliers all over the place, making the place more lit up than the Taj Mahal hotel lobby. You mostly find old people there who come to play for hours and hours. It's an addiction for many of them. There are also tours that take people either in a bus, say from Philly to Atlantic City, spend an entire day at the Casinos (those interested in shopping can do that too) and return back home that evening and stay a night there and return the next morning. There are charter plane tours too that take people from all over USA to Las Vegas on a 3-day Casino extravaganza and back! I gave in to the temptation and played $5. The moment I lost $3, I cut my losses and checked out.

There's a nice ocean-front walk that we can take, called the boardwalk. Good way to relax and spend your evening there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Washington - Day 2 - 1 June 2008

Unlike NY, Washington D.C. is a very laid-back city. It works at its own pace. Things open up late here but close early. You have so little time to do so much in Washington. Then again, places like the Capital Hill are closed on Sundays. So that's a disadvantage. I was fortunate to be staying near the Capitol Hill and so was right in the centre of all the action.

Today, I took my Grayline bus and checked out places like the house where Abraham Lincoln spent his last days after being shot at, in the Ford theatre opposite to this house. The Ford theatre was closed for repairs, so couldn't see that. Followed by Lincoln Memorial and the World War memorials. The sprawling WWII memorial was the most beautiful one, but then all memorials have a tale or two to tell.

Washington D.C. was by far the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The first part that strikes you is the greenery. Its lush green everywhere, even when you are in the middle of the city - they call it The Mall. Of course the tour takes you through the best places - I am told there are places so near to the route, for instance, where you shouldn't be; high crime rate, unsafe areas, etc. Blacks are again a majority in Washington D.C., just like Philly.

Next stop: Arlington Cemetery. This is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. It is what I would say, the world's biggest graveyard. It probably is. Rows and rows and rows of never-ending tombstones of all those Americans who have made some or other contribution to USA - mostly soldiers and war veterans who laid their lives for the country, there was even a journalist corner where few journalists covering the wars were buried, ex-presidents like John F. Kennedy, etc - atop the huge Arlington hills, overlooking the Dulles airport, Virgina and also the Pentagon. Places of rest are always the most peaceful, and Arlington Cemetery was no different. You can either take a bicycle ride or a guided tour in their shuttle. I took the guided shuttle tour. You cannot take your own vehicle inside. Spend at least 2 hours here; its totally worth it. There's a place in here called 'The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier' that's guarded. Every 1/2 hour, the guards change in what is called a guard-changing ceremony. A nice spectacle, but nothing like the guard-changing ceremony at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah, near Amritsar in the state of Punjab, India.

I did not have much time to see anything else after all this, so I took the Grayline bus and proceeded to the Union Station - a must-see railway station in Washington D.C., and probably the second only to New York's Grand Central Station - to catch the Metro to Shady Grove to meet one of our young Indian guns converted to Yankee Doodle (Oh-India-is-so-dirty-and-America-is-so-clean-types) Cyrus.
Washington D.C. has four metro routes and i took the Red Line, supposed to be the best of the four. I actually like Washington's Metro more than N.Y.s', because it's cleaner and looks also safer as most its stations are well-lit and also the type of people who rode it. I am told its the latest underground network in the US. But nothing can compare to the network of the NY metro.
We had a fun time with him and his roommate at his place and then he treated us to a fine Malaysian cuisine at an upscale restaurant in Bethesda, a suburb in Maryland.

Washington - Day 1 - 31 May 2008

After a late start from Philadelphia (Philly), we arrived in Washington D.C. a little after noon and soon embarked on a Grayline city tour bus. It was an open-air double decker bus and it was a swanky new one. But unlike the NY city tour bus, this one had recorded messages explaining the various sights and sounds of the city, instead of an actual speaking and guiding us through the city. I would much rather prefer the latter because recorded messages are not personal and they can also make a mess if, for whatever reason, your bus turns, say right and then left, instead of the what the message is pre-programmed to say "now the bus will turn left (first) and then right". Which is what happened on Day 2, and created some confusion.

Anyways, within moments we were at the impressive and very imposing Capitol Hill. I got off, and then went about about to explore the external facades of this majestic structure and also the area. The Thomas Jefferson building - its essentially a Library - is absolutely majestic. Each wall and each painting on it and even those on the ceilings has some story and significance behind it. Next to it is a Supreme Court building where I couldn't help but notice two men - one of them could be a woman, but I couldn't tell because they were heavily robed and clothed, much like a monk or someone - what looked like to be in their prayers. One of the two men (or just two) had his mouth gagged, as if in some sort of protest or mourning. That was strange. Anyways, it soon started to rain very heavily - as per the weather forecast we saw earlier that day - and the entire day's trip got cancelled.

As a savings grace, we drove to Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. This is a lovely, quaint little town where it looks like all its citizens ever do is to have picnics, 365 days a year. The mood looks forever festive and the young and old are seen to either have some quiet evening out or a fun time chatting with one another and having fun, holdings hands, eating ice-cream, basking in the evening sun, people out with their dogs for a casual evening stroll, children getting fascinated with them and wanting to pat them, play with them.....
There's a beautiful fountain where the four of us spent some time frolicking and chatting. After many months, I had good Thai food at a restaurant at King's street - the hub of Alexandria town - and rounded with some good 'home-made' ice-cream at a nearby parlour. Old Town Alexandria wears a festive look in the evenings, with the street lit up with lights as if its Christmas, restaurants laying down chairs and tables on the streets where people eat and have a good time - and almost all restaurants look well patronised, especially the ice-cream parlour we went to, nice and well-maintained houses you wish you could own...all a very European-type atmosphere. A good time to spend your evening, you'll never know when the hours will fly. Do make it a point to spend an evening at Old Town Alexandria the next time you are in Washington D.C. It's worth the time.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Philadelphia City Tour - 30 MAY 08

We arrived in Philadelphia on 29 May 08 by Amtrek train. It was my first train ride ever in a foreign country. It was nice experience. US stations are quite different from the Indian ones, especially the large ones and those present in major US cities. They work just like airports. You do not wait on the platforms. You wait in large central halls, with your luggage, that double up as waiting rooms. The platforms, and in the case of the Pen (Pennsylvania) station in NY even the main central hall, are all underground.

When the empty train enters the platform, they announce the train departure and the gate through which you have go through (just like at the airports) and you descend onto the platform in a queue and board the train. After the departure is announced, the train leaves in just about 10 to 15 minutes. Everything happens in clock-work precision. I didn't like one thing though, they do not have a separate rack on the floor near the entrance to put our large luggage; I had a hard time mounting my very large suitcase in the overhead rack. Seating is free. And punctuality, unlike in India, is religion. Even if the train is late by 2 minutes, they make an announcement!
Anyways, the best part of going to Philly was to meet Khushru and Tanaz; I was meeting them after a year and half after they got married and went off to States in January 2007. Their Philly home is as Indian as it can get; a Godrej storewell, chairs and tables imported from India, a Living Room sofa-cum-bed, a small table in bedroom with hair brushes and various other toiletries like the one you'll find in apro middle-class Parsi bedroom in a Parsi colony in Bombay.

Today, we took a city tour of Philly. The city is quite unlike New York or any hustling, bustling type. It's mostly an industrial town and is Blacks are a majority here. Its one of the oldest towns in the US, so most of the localities we went through, had very old and humble homes with very average middle class American families. We took the train from Primos station to the 30th Street station (one of the three downtown stations) and took a Trolley tour for the city sights - a single-decker bus that is specially built for tourism and looks very heritagy in appearance. We checked out the Bell Franklin Museum and Museum of Natural Sciences, which took most of our time. Both these places weren't half as interesting as the ones we had visited in NY. It was like a lesson in Science, history and geography and I wasn't much keen for that. Plus the human heart - a giant replica of the human heart at the BF museum (a star attraction) through which you walk to understand how and what the human heart looks like - was no way near to Bodies...The Exhibition. But the natural sciences museum had many dinosaur fossils that was an interesting bit. The main road in Philly - at the heart of the town - is the only decent place to be if you're right there smack in the middle of the town. It looks nice as the road is lined up flags on both sides. These flags are of those countries with whom Philly engages in trade and commerce. Our last stop of the day was the Liberty Bell.

All in all, a day's tour in Philly was a lesson in history, geography and science. I can make my peace with geography and science and I can also learn a bit of history of the places that I visit, but unless you are an American, you don't really appreciate or rather, relate, to their history. The bright spot was that I saw yet another American city and also I get to look forward for an evening with khushru and Tanaz.

Day 5 - NBC and Carnergie - 28 MAY 08

Today was Day 5 and my last day in NY (on this particular tour) and I had to see whatever was left to be seen. So I began the day tour at the NBC Studio Tour. The tour begins from within the NBC Experience Store - a pricey store that sells memorabilia of NBC shows like Friends, Seinfeld, Heroes, etc. I was taken through the NBC news building at the Rockefeller Centre. I saw the MSNBC studios and also the studio where they film their hit show 'Saturday Night Live'. We were told some interesting stories and anecdotes of few of its illustrious guests like singers Sinead O'Connor (who, on a show that was aired Live on 3 October 1992, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II after she finished one of her performances), Jessica Simpson and Gwen Stefani (lead singer of the musical group No Doubt ).
Then, they took us a mock news room but complete with real cameras and equipments that works in a typical newsroom. They asked for 2 volunteers; one to read the news and the other to read the weather report. It was a fun session.

Later, I took a tour of Radio City Hall. Although I had originally planned to take a tour of the Carnegie Hall, it's a good thing I went to Radio City Hall instead, because that week Carnegie was closed on account of graduation ceremonies being held there. Radio City Hall was an amazing facility with some of the most beautiful art deco that you'll ever see. It's a concert hall where musicians and singers perform. So, from the tallest chandeliers in the world, a grand staircase that is befitting of a Mughal palace and a beautifully woven carpet that contains patterns of musical instruments (obviously) such as a guitar, to washrooms galore, each of them artistically decorated in art deco and their walls and ceilings telling stories to a special meeting room that entertainers use to throw private parties or even to have luncheons, meetings, etc. The wall in this room is gold-plated 24-karat, can you believe it? The tour also takes you behind and below the stage and shows us the path-breaking technology of how a particular portion of a stage (there are 3 portions) is lifted up in an elevator sort-of mechanism, whereby the performing artist, say Elton John with his piano, makes his grand entrance on stage. It's showmanship - performers do not like entering the stage from behind the curtains anymore, they like to make a grand entrance. The story goes that the US government visited this site of the Hall and studied this technology and applied to its airplanes in World War II so that they can lift themselves up from a ship; a common sight in this day & age. Our (slightly-elderly)hostess on the Radio City Hall Tour was extremely gracious and the best tour guide that I have ever come across and made this tour all the more memorable.
With this, the New York trip came to a close. It's a beautiful and a very vibrant city that captivates you and has a lot to offer. It's expensive, but is so totally worth it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On My Own - NY - 27 MAY 08

For the first time in our NY trip it rained there, on the morning of 27th. But the weather forecast predicted a good day ahead, with mild showers here and there. That's one good thing in US. Weather forecasts are taken very seriously and a whole dedicated team tracking the weather works keep citizens informed 24/7 about weather forecasts. Though I am told that even in US, many times the weather forecasts go wrong. But, as weather is very unpredictable in many cities in the US, you always check the forecast of the day before planning your day. There are also, infact, two separate TV channels that just track and speak of weather, 24 hrs a day!
After a great breakfast at our usual corner - Vienamese Deli on Lexington Avenue - I headed for the United Nations. Now outside the UN building, although its mandatory to have all the member nation flags hoisted at all times outside the UN building, they weren't hoisted that morning, because it had rained earlier. Its only in rains that they don't put up the flags there. A Japanese tour guide took us - a group of around 10 people - through the building complex that's open to tourists. Several things are meant to be seen inside the building - a grand painting that's bifurcated in three parts, one that tells a story of stone age, 2nd part tells the story before World War II and the third part tells the story - thereafter, gifts from Thailand (an exact and one-of-its-kind superb replica of a boat that's used in boat races in Thailand) and China (a Chinese railway model made of Ivory before the material was banned). UN Security Council Hall has been out of bounds from tourists after 9-11, but I went inside United Council of Economic & Social commitment and UN General Assembly Hall.
After the tour completed, I quickly walked upto the spectacular Grand Central Station and took a subway to Fulton Street station where I wanted to go to the South Street Port to check out the exhibition called 'Bodies...The Exhibition'. NY subway is the best way to explore NY city; the next best way is to walk around. It's not as clean as the one in Washington D.C. and probably also not as safe during after-hours, but it's an intricate network that makes it possible for you to any nook and corner of the city, from no matter where you, right across and underneath the river, up to Brooklyn and even New Jersey. Unlike in India, you buy the tickets yourself from the ticket vending machines - they accept credit cards too. Your ticket comes out in the form of a card (like a credit card, etc) that you swipe it in a slot (like in a quick swoosh-like motion) next to the gate through which you pass and one that opens only after you have swiped in your card (valid cards, only) successfully. Even our Calcutta and New Delhi metros have the same system. No ticket-less travellers this way. Our Bombay Suburban system should also switch to this system to check all ticketless travellers. Remember, in the NY subway (NYorkers call it Subway, Washingtonites call theirs, Metro) you've got to swipe your card (ticket) in a particular way. I just couldn't do it and it was a bit embarrassing to swipe and then (hoping the gates to open) bang right into the gates because they just won't open as I didn't swipe it "correctly". But there's nothing like the NY metro network. It's efficient, it's quick, it's cheap and it's a great way to move about in a crowded city.
'Bodies...' was by far the best exhibition I have ever seen. Using live and real samples of cadavers and many such body parts to intricately rebuild the complex network of nerves, tissues, muscles and bones and entire bodies as they would look from the inside - without skin - Bodies...seeks to explain how each and every part of our body functions and what happens and how, if if we do not take care of them. They have preserved real human bodies and organs for the exhibition. For instance, they had preserved liver specimens, one from a healthy person and one chain smoker, to highlight what becomes of our liver if we smoke. I am not much of a museumy-kinda person, but Bodies...was one exhibition that I would strongly recommend. It's the best exhibition I have ever been to.

NY - 26 MAY 08 - Uptown and Central Park

Today was meant to be a more relaxed and leisurely day. We started a bit late and took the Uptown tour. This tour was more a sitting-on-the-bus-while-you-are-driven-around tour, as we went through the streets, past the Lincoln Centre American Museum of Natural History and the shady suburb of Harlem. This suburb is mostly black-dominated and witnessed a shootout of 6 people either that same day later or very early next day.

Around 90% of the area that the Uptown tour covers lies on the periphery of the Central Park. You can't miss the park most of the times as its omnipresent. I got off at the Guggenheim museum stop and took a short walk near the Jacqueline Kennedy water reservoir at Central Park. Beautiful views, yet again. I am not much a museum person, so wherever I go, I do not much look forward to visit museums. Give me good and breathtaking views, scenery, you know the nature stuff, where I can click some fantastic pictures and I'm happy. These are images that stay in my mind for years to come and that's how I always appreciate the places that I visit. Else, you visit one museum, you've visited them all.
Next stop was the Central Park main entrance, in front of prominent buildings like The Pierre Hotel, The Plaza Hotel and the Trump building where the show 'The Apprentice' is shot.
Central Park was very beautiful. Mom & I both enjoyed taking a stroll through it; she remained seated most of the times while I took a stroll further inside the park. Children playing, parents driving baby carts, people sun-bathing, cyclists passing by on the specially-made cycling path, people running and jogging, elderly people seated on endless rows of benches chatting and yapping, it was a Kodak moment. If you go to NY, take a walk through the Central Park. And if you like riding bicycles, then there's a beautiful cycling track; I wish I had the time to ride a bicycle there.
After having lunch at the same Italian cafe on Times Square, we headed to Pier 83 - a dock for boats - to catch the Circle Line Cruises. This is a boat ride on the Hudson river. There are various Piers on the NY river coast. If you ever wonder on which street a particular Pier is located, just subtract 40 from the Pier No and you'll get the Street number. So Pier 83 - where I went to catch my cruise boat - was on 43rd street (83-40). I enjoyed the cruise and got to see Manhattan from a boat, all the way to Liberty island - but we didn't get off anywhere en route - and back in about 1 and half hours.

NY - 25 May 08

After a disastrous Saturday, I had to salvage the rest of the days now. So we started off early on Sunday too and after a quick breakfast, we headed off to the Empire State Building by a taxi. First in this awesome tower, we took a ride called 'New York City Sky Ride'. This is a simulated helicopter ride that takes you on a virtual tour over the skies of New York. You enter a dark auditorium with a giant screen ahead of you. Looks like any other cinema hall - albeit a private kind since its much smaller - but the excitement is a big difference. It's a simulated copter ride, so it feels like you're sitting in a roller-coaster-like helicopter; your seat begins to move up, down, right and left, and you experience as if you're really sitting in a helicopter. of course there are seat belts like in a roller coaster so you don't fall off. Nice fun! Then, we headed for the Observation Deck on the 80th floor from where we are treated to magnificent views of NY. If you want to go further up on the 101st floor, there's an additional charge of $10; we didn't take that.

Since mom likes bus and boat tours more than walking, we headed straight to the Battery Park and took the Brooklyn tour. We saw the historic Brooklyn bridge but didn't go over it to Brooklyn because no heavy vehicles like buses and trucks are allowed. Coincidentally, Brooklyn Bridge celebrated its 125th anniversary a day before that (we were at Liberty island that day), so it was nice to see the bridge to lit up later that day when we took the Night Tour (more of that later). But NY bridges, that cross over the rivers there are so tall that when starting to go on top of them, you feel as if you're sitting in a airplane and are taking off. Their pinnacles are as high as 10-15 stories of a common residential building. It was a 2-hour Brooklyn tour; the suburb was nothing spectacular; the guide though spoke very highly of it though. Partly because she was paid for that job and partly because that was her home! Nevertheless, I thought she was amongst the best tour guides though.

One of the best things about US tour guides is the fact that they are very engaging. They intersperse their talk with a lot of their own personal experiences, like and dislikes. You get a feeling that its not just a guide talking, but someone telling you a story.

We returned to Times Square that evening and had dinner at an Italian cafe. Portions in US is in abundance and one sandwich can be consumed by two people if they have an average appetite. Since I wanted to take the Night Tour that same day, we had to spend at least an hour there since summers in US have long days and there's sunlight till about 8.00 pm and light till about 8.30 pm! Finally I lost patience and day light or no day light, I took a tour that started at 7.30 pm, even though there was daylight.

We meandered the same streets for the second time in the day (and third, overall), as the Night Tour again took us to and through their downtown, all the way up the American bridge, to Brooklyn.
The view of the NY city (Manhattan) skyline and the lit up Brooklyn bridge was just awesome. One of the best views of NY city is at night under the lights. End of a very profitable day.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Disaster - 24 MAY 08

Today was our first full day in NY and nothing prepared me for my life's most traumatic moment that I was about to experience later that day. Woke up pretty early at 5.30 am since I had to collect the New York Pass at Madame Tussuad's and then start the bus journey (hop on, hop off).

The best way to see cities in US is to take a ticket for a hop-on-hop-off bus. These buses are run by various tour companies and they have a fixed route, with various stops en route depending on places of interests that the routes cater to. You hop ON a bus and ride on it to the next point of interest. Then, you hop OFF and proceed to explore a point of interest, say a museum, a building, a ride, etc. Once you're done, you come to the stop from where you had hopped OFF earlier, and then wait for the next bus (of that same company) - that serves the same route - to arrive. You hop ON this bus and similarly go to your next destination and then you hop OFF again. Buses run after every 1/2 hour or so, and you much come back to the same point to board the next bus from where you had earlier hopped off. It's a great and one of the most efficient ways to tour a city. There are guides on the tour bus, so they talk and explain about the sights and sounds you see whilst on the bus, so even if you do not want to get off, you get a good idea of the city just by sitting in.

My first chosen stop was the Statue of Liberty ride. To go to the Statue of Liberty, you have to go to Battery Park and then take a boat that takes you to the Liberty island. Our turn to hop on the boat after an agonising wait of over 2 hours since it was morning + weekend + Memorial Day weekend. So NY was very crowded. Once we hopped on the ferry, I took mom to the top deck of the boat since I was keen on taking some great pictures of the NY skyline. Mom felt it was "too sunny" so she went down and sat on the first deck. Unfortunately, when the boat reached Liberty island, everyone - save for 4-5 passengers I suppose - got off. Since I was on the top deck and there was mad rush at the entrance, i thought mom would have gotten out. But she hadn't. And I got off. By the time I realised she was still on the boat, it was too late - the boat was ready with another set of passengers waiting to go onwards with their journey and the boat was ready to leave.
I had to wait for an agonising 3 hours at the Liberty Island waiting for her to take the next boat to come back, but that didn't happen. After almost three hours, I reluctantly took the boat myself and headed off to Battery Park, where, thank GOD, I found her. Turns out, she had gotten off at the Battery Park from the same boat that we had boarded earlier that day.

Anyways, the day was ruined, my mood was off and despite checking out Wall Street and the Bull as a saving grace, we checked in back at the hotel and retired for the day at 16.00 hrs. I did not expect that I would be back at my hotel at 16.00 hrs on my first-ever day in NY.

Arriving at New York - 23 MAY 08

On 23 May, we left for New York. After having being completely frisked at the Detroit airport - we were shortlisted for special screening - we boarded the Northwest Airlines (NA). I kinda got a feeling that we were profiled because we are Indians and perhaps, not white. Although the flight was on time, I did not like the service. There was this snooty air-purser who was oozing attitude as if he's the CEO of Northwest. Now, in US everyone has a lot of ice in their drinks, even water. So whenever we place an order, we have to outrightly and immediately tell them to go easy on ice or no ice. So when this purser came up to our seats, I asked for a glass of juice with no ice. I thought I wasn't loud enough, so I raised my voice, albeit by a bit and said it the second time "no ice please", not to be rude or anything, but in a way that I thought I wasn't loud enough in the first place.

Very snootily, he replies back "Do you see ice in here?" I didn't respond to that as I do not believe in unnecessary confrontations, but if this would have happened in some Indian based airline in India, I would have ripped his ass apart. USA may be ahead than Indian in several matters, but in hospitality industry India is the best. US airlines suck. They do not know the abc of service and are just interested in picking up passengers from one destination and throwing them at another. Unlike Indian airline companies, they do not serve food anymore. Just water, coffee and/or soft drinks. No airline knows to serve their customer better than India. You travel by any of the Indian-based airlines and they treat you like Kings and Queens. I have heard good reports about Chinese airlines too, but I have not first-hand experience there. International staff should get some training from Jet Airways or Kingfisher Airlines.

Rest of the flight was good. We took the famed NY yellow taxi and reached our hotel on Lexington avenue. I decided to venture out in the afternoon and within minutes I got lost and was stranded.
NY is a large and very vibrant and lively city. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps. It's very easy to get lost in NY the first time, but it's even easier to get accustomed to the city and then never get lost, ever again.

Manhattan - NY'S main island and the centre point of all activities - is like an island. There are streets and avenues in Manhattan. While streets run from left to right (horizontally), avenues run from top to down (vertically), depending upon from which angle you look at the map. While streets are numbered from 1 to 49, avenues are usually numbered from 1 to 10. There are a few avenues that have names - like Lexington avenue where I stayed, Park Avenue, etc., but that's not much of a problem and easy to get accustomed to. The trick to finding your way is to get to know two things - your street number and avenue number. Then you simply, meander your way through an array of horizontal and vertical rows and columns of streets and avenues to get to your destination. The best way to explore NY - and by that I mean Manhattan - is by foot. Else, you got a perfectly working underground railway, new yorkers call it Subway, or take a bus and simply stop a taxi. Like Bombay, you'll find taxis everywhere. But the Subway is my choice of getting wherever you want to, whilst in NY. It's cheap, efficient and fast. Also, like Bombay, you'll find lots of people everywhere. You don't find people walking about in Detroit, but in NY, they're everywhere. Pedestrians also break traffic rules and attempt to cross roads or even cross at many times even when the pedestrian signal is Red. And if you drive to NY and manage to find a parking spot, consider yourself to be blessed! But despite such heavy traffic, narrow roads and high population, things never comes to a standstill and they keep moving and there's an enormous amount of discipline - road discipline - to be seen there.

Anyways, I checked out Times Square, Grand Central Station and the main hall of Madame Tussuad's on day 1. In the evening, we watched a show at Broadway called 'Mama Mia'. This wonderfully crafted play has songs sung by ABBA interwoven in the story. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch a show at Broadway and I am anyways a huge fan of ABBA, so it was perfect way to spend the evening. The tickets were very steep and my pocked was light to the tune of $320 for 2 tickets. But it was worth it.

Dhansakh at Havovi and Erich's

Just 3 days away from my NY tour, mama took me to AAA. This is an institution across USA and Canada that has database of every travel to all the parts of the world that you can go to. In exchange for a annual fee, you can avail of services like maps, travel guides, AAA travel agents that guide and / or plan your entire travel, arrange tours for you, etc. It's a pretty neat organisation and the officials there really take time out to help you, very patiently.

Another thing that I observed there was the courteousness with which most sales staff of any shop / help desk, etc would help you. They'll ask: "hi, how are you going today?" to complete strangers and they always greet you with a smile. You do get some grouchy ones here and there, but those are to the bare minimum.

Later, it was time to go to Erich and Havovi's house. Havovi had cooked great dhansakh and my favourite dessert - chocolate mousse - to go with it. Dhansakh was awesome and I didn't mind over-eating. In addition to being a fabulous wife and caring mom, she's also a terrific home-keeper. And like many women of my family, a terrific host.

Erich's home lived up to all the hype that I have been hearing for quite some time. Everything is grand here. The seating area, the dining area, the entrance, the patio, the bathrooms, everything. Obviously a lot of sweat, toil and of course Vitamin M, has gone into building it. Two things that I loved most about his home; his home theatre in the basement - who would want to go to the cinema after watching a movie there - and his backyard that he had specially made for his kids to play around.

Next day, Mama & mami took us to a mid-eastern restaurant and we had nice Lamb Wraps there. The best part of the restaurants in US - and something that we later had a first-hand experience throughout our stay in New York - is that one portion can suffice for two. Wraps available here are three times the size and quantity of the wraps that are available at say Tibbs Frankies at Aga's Place in Coloba. A nice afternoon siesta followed. zzzzzzzzzzzz...............

My first ever Starbucks

If you think that the Mall culture is vibrant only in India, think again. Of course, in Detroit and in other cities across US, since spending is such an integral part of their culture that stores are always in abundant everywhere, that they have had, for years, a cluster of stores and shops in one big complex. These are not malls, they are called shopping complexes, where you have several shops, just like a mall, but unlike the latter, they have separate entrances and are technically separate from one another but are just there in the same complex so that customers are convenienced.

But on 20 May, we went to this luxury mall in Troy, mama & mami's home suburb for over 20 years, before they shifted to Novi. For us though, it was more a window-shopping experience. But I had my first-ever Starbucks coffee there. I am not much of a coffee person; I like to have my tea wherever I go. But coffee culture is soon spreading in India too; coffee parlours like Cafe Coffee Day, Barista and Mocha have becomes a good dating ground infact. Starbucks serves tea too, and though I wanted to have tea more than coffee, I thought it's sacrilege to have tea in Starbucks when you are visiting it for the first time in your life. So it was coffee, then, for me and chocolate brownie to go with it. I would have preferred Kayani's Shrewsberry biscuits, but the brownie was great too.

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...