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Showing posts from June, 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…

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 rest…

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 fin…

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 cou…

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 Lib…

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…

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…

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 the…

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 m…

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 …

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…

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 respon…

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-eat…

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 an…