Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One final request.

Nikki playing one of my all time favorite songs - Marriage Dream.

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

D-Day...It's here.....!

Hard to believe, but its finally here......the day of our departure to India after 22 years in the US. I don't know where all those years went...they went by so fast. If it wasn't for the strong difference I see when I compare photos of myself 22 years ago and now, I wouldn't believe it!!

Tough to describe what i feel right now...excited at going back and being with those we have missed all these years, sad at leaving those with whom we have been all these years, worried at all the baggage we have, curious about the house we'll be living in in Hyderabad, nervous about the whole customs ritual we may have to go thru with regards to our container, very nervous about the heat in India, happy that we were able to see all our relatives in the last 6 weeks, tired from so many late nights and sleep deprivation, 5-10 pounds overweight from all the food we have been fed, fired up about the house remodel project....basically i'm in a state of chaos.

We just got back from a late lunch at Nanking, a fairly new Indo Chinese restaurant in Edison. Fabulous place and I am already salivating at the Indo Chinese food I'll get back home. Its 4.25pm now, we leave for the airport at 5.30pm, cos its a long haul to JFK from Princeton. If I am able to snag a wireless connection at either London or Dubai airports, i'll write something...if not, next post from Hyderabad.....!

I am not sure how long it will take for us to get our Internet connection, so it may be a while before i can update my blog. I do plan on writing it up each day so i don't forget all the details, but as for posting it, you all may have to wait....but then again you never know. Despite all the chaos in India, sometimes things happen surprisingly fast!

Monday, June 26, 2006

D-Day minus 1

Its almost here.....tomorrow evening we fly out of JFK for India. We are in the final shopping, packing, sorting frenzy trying to figure out how to take all our stuff and not have to pay for extra baggage....!!!

Had a fabulous time Sunday. Indira - my sis in law - hosted a great lunch, a sort of farewell lunch for us. It was a really fun day - the food was yummo, the desserts were delicious and the company was super. Played lots and lots of games including the ever popular Mafia and our new favorite - the south African card game, Mao. Its sort of like Uno, only you have to guess the rules as you go along, and then whoever wins adds a new rule in the next game without telling anyone...gets really crazy when the rules start piling up and you have to remember them. Gautam was home all weekend and that made it even more special. He was scheduled to take the early morning train to DC today, but then preponed it to a late 10pm flight last night, but when we got to the train station, the flight was delayed 40 minutes. Not only that, when he called the agent to prepone it, she mistakenly booked him on next Sunday's train. So back home we came....and he took the early morning train today like he had originally planned.

It was hard to say bye to him....i kept thinking its no different from our going back to Seattle, cos whether we're in Seattle or India, we'll still see each other the same number of times every 5-6 months or so....but it was still difficult. Anyway, i hope he can make it to India in Nov/Dec.He's doing an awesome job at the DNC and I'm very proud of him.

Washington DC is in a state of emergency due to heavy rains and floods. Parts of metro have shut down. Its been sort of stormy here too, but as soon as it clears i plan to take some pics of the house and people here in Princeton.

Was able to get s few shots of the house and the kids....

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Nikki playing the piano

A sound clip of my niece Nikki, playing "Nocturne in F Minor" by Chopin, on the piano. Unfortunately while listening to the sound clip, you are not able to see the joy with which she plays the piano. She clearly enjoys it...

this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, June 23, 2006

Connecti(cut)ing in Hartford

Spent the last 2 days in West Hartford, Connecticut with my cousin Vijay and his wife Ketki, and their 6 month baby son, Rahul. His parents (that is, my uncle and aunt) are also there, visiting him from India. Vijay and his wife live in a neat Cape Cod style house which I found out later is very popular in the east Coast, especially Ct area. It was a very leisurely time, spent chatting with them and playing with the baby, who is, hands down, the CUTEST, HAPPIEST, CHUBBIEST baby I have ever seen (sorry Gautam....i thought you used to be the CHC baby, but lil' Rahul takes the cake...and I suspect eats it too:-))He took a great liking to Raga....all kids do, I think his beard fascinates them.

We watched an Indian movie last night on his big screen (90 inches wide) called "Rang de Basanti" which we enjoyed a lot. Not the usual Bollywood song and dance ritual, but a serious movie on the efforts of an Englishwoman, who comes to India to shoot a documentary on freedom fighters, based on a diary written by her grandfather, an officer in the English army. If any of you gets a chance to see it, do so. For the non Indian speaking, it has sub titles and a lot of dialogue in English too.

This morning we all walked to the petting farm in front of the house and it was more of a thrill to me than to Rahul....cute little baby goats with little stubs for horns, pink piglets, soft furry donkeys and llamas,I got to pet them all. Unfortunately i didn't take my camera :-(

I have to mention that I saw a very different side of my uncle while in Hartford. This is my uncle who worked for the Indian Army and retired as Colonel, and I always remembered him as a pretty stern man, barking orders at everyone. My memories of him as a child were of someone who everytime I saw him was in the Indian Army uniform, all starched and ironed with medals glistening on his lapels and he carried this sort of stick in his hand....and everytime he spoke it was this stern deep commanding voice...we all quavered with fear...Ok, not exactly, but you get the picture!!!

Now here he is, a totally besotted grandpa to his grandson, bouncing him on his knee, sitting on the floor with him and cootchy cooing with him, giving him a bath, singing baby songs, and horror of horrors....changing his diaper!!! It was so cute....the same Colonel who aroused terror in the hearts of his subordinates, is mush in the hands of his 7 month old grandson.

We got back to Princeton about an hour ago after getting totally lost on the way home....took us an extra hour. Not sure what our plans are for the next few days...i still have to sort out my baggage situation..Hmmmm.

Video of Rahul

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Preparing for the journey....

Didn't do much today....except assess our horrific baggage situation and try to figure out how we are going to be able to take our stuff with the airlines having such stringent baggage restrictions. We may have to ship some stuff to India.

I have been searching on the Internet for days for a software or some mapping program that will allow me to plot all our multiple travel locations on a map, and i think I may have found one...

So, let's see if it works.

Click on this to view a map showing our pit stops from Seattle to Princeton

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Travel days are over.....almost

Back in Princeton again, resting up before our Transatlantic journey next week to India.

Its hard to believe that its been about 40 days since we left Seattle. We left on the 9th of May, with the excitement of the road trip looming ahead of us, and now its over. We have a short trip to Connecticut this week and then we have 4-5 days before leaving for India.

At the risk of sounding very formal, I should take this opportunity to thank all the people who have put us up, or maybe i should say "put up with us". We arrived at each destination with 4 giant suitcases, 2 bagpacks bursting at the seams, laptop and assorted wires and cables, and promptly made ourselves comfortable. In a few hours the place would be strewn with our belongings and one room in the house inevitably would become our makeshift office from where we could get on the Internet, spread maps out on the table, post comments on the blog, make phone calls to airlines, hotels and travel agents, pay our bills etc. Our hosts would be forced to put up with all this, as well as our weird food habits including our coffee addiction, and yet they would feed us and take us sightseeing with good humor.

It has been really good for us to reconnect with relatives we knew lived in the country but never got the opportunity to connect with, except for the occasional phone call. I knew it all along, but this trip has only reconfirmed that we have fabulous relatives and we are glad to be part of this close knit community.

As the day of our departure draws closer, I am feeling the enormity of our decision to go back. No regrets or anything, but just the realization that in about 10 days our life is going to be so different. I am also excited at this huge step we are taking.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy Father's Day to all dads out there....but especially to mine

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,

The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle's flight,

The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,

Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it ... Dad

The Grassy Knoll.....

17th of June - visited the site of Kennedy's assassination. 22nd November, 1963 is a date that is forever etched in the minds of many Americans. Of all the world leaders who have been assassinated, none seems to fascinate people more than that of President Kennedy.

The sixth floor of the Texas Book Store Depository has been turned into a museum to honor the memory of JFK. The last window on the right, on the second row from the top - in the attached picture - is the location from where the 3 fatal shots were fired.There are films and footages that trace back the events of that day, as well as a recreation of the exact spot where Lee Harvey Oswald stood. From the windows of the 6th floor, you can look down onto Elm street - the street onto which the motorcade turned - and there is an "X" that marks the spot on the street. Its kinda spooky...Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside, so i don't have any pics of the interior. But got some shots of the building from the outside as well as the famous "Grassy Knoll" from where supposedly a 4th shot was fired indicationg that Oswald was not alone in his motive...but that is still a controversy!

After that we walked around downtown Dallas, like i mentioned before not that much to see. We came home by 3pm and after a late lunch watched a fabulous movie by Deepa Mehta called "Water". Trifle depressing, but good.

Didn't do a whole lot the rest of the day.....

More pics of downtown Dallas and Texas BD

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Austin City limits

We really didn't want to go anywhere today cos of the heat, but we figured we may not be coming to Dallas often so let's go check out the capital of Texas - Austin. Its a good 3 hours away. We left at 10am and got there by 1pm. There's really not much to see as you drive in Dallas excpet for the occasional highway or freeway named after "one of the idiotic members of the current administration". Its just wide open spaces and land - and not too much to see scenery wise. After Seattle, we really miss the mountains and lakes.

Austin was super hot - almost 100 degrees. We started out by visiting the LBJ library on the University of Austin campus. The library was founded in 1971 and showcases the life of LBJ from his birth to becoming the 36th President. LBJ is a native Texan. Its just beautiful. We were just in time to catch the 2pm movie of his life story.

Then we went to the Capitol building. I have never been to a state Capital building so i really cannot compare it with any other. It looks like the others I've seen from the outside, that is its round. On the inside, i am guessing they are all the same with the Senate Chamber and the House of Reps Chamber and the galleries above each for viewing. The huge hallways are lined with portraits of bearded reps. Its all very grand and impressive. There was a guest book for visitors to sign and i really wanted to add a comment on it to say "Get that monkey out of the White House"....but again that irritating thing called "better sense" prevailed.

We walked back to the parking lot - I was really starting to wilt in the heat (once again getting concerned at how i was going to withstand India temps - (but then again i don't really plan on walking the streets in the mid afternoon heat, so maybe i'll be OK). We then went to the Univ of Austin campus and got a picture of ourselves by the Texas Longhorns...i mean a statue of the horns. The campus is nice but being summer it was completely deserted. Then since i needed caffeine like a shot in the arm, we went on our usual Starbucks jaunt. Fortunately found one not too far away and I revived after the usual Triple Grande Caramel Macchiatto.

All of this had taken about 3 hours and it was about 4.30pm, so we started the long drive back. Ummmm...bad idea. We got snarled in peak traffic. By the time we got to Dallas it was 8.30pm and we were ravenous (oh, small note - we had skipped lunch). We stopped for dinner and then got home by 10pm. Another long day - this vacation thing is really tiring...!!!!! Work was way more relaxing.....

Friday, June 16, 2006

In Bush country

Today was travel day so i don't have too much to post. We caught the 8.55 am flight to Dallas and got in at 10.35.....No, it wasn't a 1 1/2 hour flight. It was a 2 1/2 hour flight, Dallas is an hour behind Orlando. One word to describe Dallas when we got off - hot! Actually make that 2 words - really hot! It was a searing 95 degrees when we walked out of the airport, but the amazing thing is i could handle it much better than the 80 degree heat with 95 % humidity of Orlando. Also i was very relieved cos i was very concerned at my inability to handle Orlando heat, cos the city we will be living in in India gets to be about 100+ degrees in summer. So the fact that i could manage in the Dallas temperatures made me very happy! The air in Orlando is so heavy with moisture and it was so stifling at times, i couldn't breathe.

Quick note to those who may not know - R's mom's cousin Raju, and his wife Malathi live here in Dallas - well actually in a suburb called Mesquite. They have lived here for 25 years. When we got home Malathi had made an amazing home cooked meal. We rested up the rest of the day. 2 of her friends dropped by in the afternoon. In the evening after Raju came home, we went and visited another (plane factory (I say "another" cos we had already visited one in Duluth) owned by a friend of his. The company is called IndUS aviation and the owner Ram, builds single engine private planes. We visited the many hangars with planes in various stages of being built. I found it all very interesting - R was literally drooling! Ram is a doctor who always had a fascination for planes and a few years ago he gave up his medical profession to delve into aeronautics. Now his company also trains pilots. Its an amazing story.

After this we headed to Campisis in downtown Dallas - an Italian pizza joint famous for its hand tossed pizzas. Its also known for its celebrity sightings tho we didn't run into any today. The Dallas Mavs/Miami Heat basketball game was also on on their big screen, so the place was pretty crowded. Pizza was good tho Raju claims it wasn't up to par. It tasted good to me.....!

By the time we got home it was past 10.30pm. It has been a long day, so i called it a day and went to bed. Oh - Mavs lost to Miami... :-(

14th of June

We were so exhausted from the previous 2 days, we could barely get out of bed yesterday morning. But we all made a valiant effort, and by noon we left home to go to Disney. Our intention was to get on the monorail that goes thru the theme park, hop off at the various Park resorts, take a look at the extravagance of each and get back by 5pm or so. Before that however, M & M, wanted to take us to an authentic Southern Home Cooked breakfast place called Cracker Barrel. Hmmm....4 die hard vegetarians in a place renowned for Southern cooking....this should be fun I thought.....and it was! Right off the bat we told our waiter we were vegetarian. He didn't bat an eyelid and straight away rattled off all the things on the menu that we were to avoid which included the soup as well as the hash we were left with eggs, toast, buttermilk biscuits, pancakes and sandwiches. Not too bad i guess......but we could have gotten that at McD!!!!! But they were really good pancakes and biscuits!!! I ordered a lettuce, tomato and cheese sandwich came fried. I kid you not - the whole sandwich had been deep fried. I'll be feeling the grease on my skin for days!!! But like anything that's fried, it was tasty!

We headed on to Disneyworld and just like we planned, we got on the monorail and stopped at the 2 themed resorts. One was Polynesion resort, complete with tiki torches, white sandy beach, carved totem pole like things, bamboo furniture, mud huts with straw thatched roofs etc. Even thought the resorts have been designed so meticulously, and are so like the real thing, they look fake......i know it sounds contradictory, but they look almost too perfect! Even the people staying there seem to feel compelled to dress the part - you know, tanned people in Hawaiin shirts, sandals etc like they're really in the Polynesian Islands....!!! As a designer i cannot help but admire the decor, but its not my cup of tea.....i would NEVER pay $300 or whtever it is for a night there. I'm happy with Quality Inn and Hampton Inns with the free Continental breakfast!!!!!

Then we were off to The Floridian! This was equally extravagant...all southern charm and hospitality with white curving staircases and ornate balustrades, painted domed and coffered ceilings with marble chandeliers, rose motifs on the walls, tables with English lace tablecloths, floral couches and the mandatory guy in a suit playing a piano! Again, beautiful in its own right, but just too perfect! Its funny how people choose places that reflect their personalities...i mean the people there were all sort of fake looking too...all prefectly manicured painted red nails and coiffed hair!!!!

Anyway, after gawking like country bumpkins, we took the monorail to Epcot....just for fun. Its a 4 mile loop and we got to sit in the engine driver's coach up front so we got an awesome view of the track ahead of was pretty cool.
There was plenty more to do if we had chosen to do so, but we were really tired so we called it a day and headed home. We had a flight to catch the next morning so thought it best to catch up on some Zzzzzs.

A quick word about our gracious hosts M & M - i have described their house before, now here are some pics.

Mani, like i mentioned, used to work at GM in Flint, Michigan for some 25 years or so. Mythili, his wife was an Ob Gyn and had her own practice and has in her life as doctor, delivered 4000 babies!!!! 4000...WOW! Their 27 year old daughter Uma, graduated from Univ of Ann Arbor in aeronautical eng in 2001, worked at Northrup in LA and is now headed back to business school at Harvard! M & M are now retired in Celebration, Florida They are fun people with an incredibly refreshing but exhausting zest for life! i always thought people slowed down after retirement...not these two! We had a blast! They welcome visitors with abandon and never tire of going to Disney!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Epcot Center

Left for Epcot Center around 11am even though Alberto was threatening to bring in a lot of rain. Just before leaving home Mythili remembered some Disney rain ponchos she had and threw them in the car at the last minute. That was the best decision we made that day cos even tho it was only a bit cloudy when we left home, by the time we got to Epcot Center, it was raining cats and dogs. Not the steady rain we have been used to in Seattle, but an absolutely blinding torrential downpour. Even tho we had on our bright yellow raincoat ponchos, by the time we got to the ticketing booth from the parking lot (about 3 minutes), we were all soaked to the skin. So we all crawled into Epcot like wet rags, along with all the other gazillion drenched tourists who were there. The good thing is that the temperature was a balmy 85 degrees, so even tho we were all wet, it was not cold and uncomfortable.

Epcot is spread out over a pretty large area and despite it being a weekday with Hurricane Alberto had lurking around, there were hundreds of tourists. Lots and lots of kids. So we really had to pick and choose what we wanted to see and were willing to wait in line for. Again, i thought the admission price was shockingly expensive - $65 for an adult day pass! That's about $200 for a family of 4, not to mention the food, shopping, gifts etc! The first attraction was the AT&T exhibit in the Spaceship Earth Pavilion, about communication over the ages. Fabulous! You sit in a tram - 4 to a tramcar - and are taken 140 feet all the way to the top of the dome, and all along the way there are stages and props explaining the evolution of communication over time. Not unlike Treasure Island in Disneyland.

From there we moved onto the Exxon exhibit which explained the concept of energy. Most of these are geared towards educating kids, but its fascinating for us adults too. Then after a quick - well, maybe not so quick - lunch break at Living with the Land pavilion - we headed to the "Honey, i shrunk the audience" show. This was by far the best show. You sit in a theater and wear 3D glasses, and they show you a movie similar to "Honey, I shrunk the kids", only in this you feel like you're in the movie and part of the experiment. There was this one scene in which the inventor dad creates this machine that can duplicate anything, and his son accidentally uses it to create another pet mouse, only something goes horribly wrong and he cannot get it to stop. So he recreates hundreds of they show all these mice scurrying around on the screen, then the lights go off and a voice says "Now, where did all the mice go" and then suddenly as you're sitting in the audience you fell mice running around amidst your feet....FREAKY!!!!!! Then their dog sneezes and the audience feels the spray on their faces....!!!

Our next adventure was on the Test Track. This is sponsored by GM and you get to sit in a car - 6 to a car - and they test the car like they do for real in the GM motor factory. The car goes through loops and spins at 65 miles an hour, including a sideways track, breaking sharply and suddenly at corners, thru different temps. from hot to freezing cold and at one point, looks like its going to crash thru a barrier and then at the last minute, the barrier lifts. At least thats what Raga told me....i was so petrified at this whole thing, i pretty much had my eyes closed...! Quick side note - R's cousin Mani, who we are staying with, worked at GM in Michigan for years, and even tho the lines for this were huge, we got on thru a special backdoor entrance in 5 minutes! Unfair i know, but cool!

Next, we took the ferry across the water and visited World Showcase. These are basically small cities recreated to look like the real thing - for example, France has an Eiffel tower, a creperie and a pattiserie exactly like you would find in France, Japan has pagodas, Morocco has minarets, really feel like you're in the city and all the people working are from that particular nationality. We ended with then it was 8.30pm and we had walked a thousand miles and were exhausted. Fortunately the restaurant Cantina, was alongside the lake where the 9pm fireworks were to be we watched a spectacular show eating burritos and salsa and chips. For families with kids, I wonder how much they really get to see after paying $65 for each ticket. Summer is not even here and still some shows had wait times of 70 minutes...i cannot imagine what this place must be like in the height of tourist season.

We left Epcot at we were leaving we asked one of the park attendants what EPCOT stood for and he said "Every Person Comes Out Tired"...but really it is "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow".....! The attendant's answer is more accurate! We literally came home and tumbled into bed! Raga and Mani stayed up late to watch the Miami/Dallas basketball game - Miami won with one second to spare!

More pics at Epcot

Monday, June 12, 2006

Hi from Gatorland

Arrived here in Orlando last night to spend 3 days with R's cousin and wife. They live in Celebration, a city within Disney's 40 square mile park. Epcot, Disneyworld, Magic Kingdom and MGM are all a few minutes away. They moved here from Flint, Michigan after retirement. The house is fabulous and built in true Carolina style, complete with swimming pool and all, and looks like something out of "Gone with the Wind" with large pillars, a wrap around porch and wide wood shutters.

Unfortuntaley hurricane Alberto is lurking around....the bad news is that they have forecast thundershowers the next 3 days, the good news is Alberto has cooled things down considerably, bringing relief to 100 plus degree temps!!! So we will stick to indoor we plan to do Epcot Center, tomorrow Kennedy Space Center where the Challenger shuttle is open to viewing, and then on Wednesday, MGM studios.

I am looking forward to a gator sighting. Apparently they are seen very often because of the preponderance of lakes here and it is against state law to mess with feeding or anything of the kind. See attached picture...

Well, since Alberto had spared us and the weather was looking good, but iffy for the next day, we decided to do Kennedy Space Center today. It was an hours drive away from home. What an amazing place. Admission fee is shockingly expensive, but worth every penny. We started out by seeing a 3D IMAX film about the Space Shuttle.....the 3D glasses they give you makes you feel like you're up there with these guys in space. We saw a couple of people in the audience reach out to touch things as they came flying out towards us. I never cease to wonder at this IMAX technology.....HOW DO THEY DO IT????? I mean, where is the camera? Especially if they are filming in outer space and you see all the shuttle crew members floating about in space, where the heck is the camera located? After the movie we took a bus that took us on a tour of the various facilities around....the spacecraft assembly factory, the launch pads, the landing fields etc. We got to see the Discovery shuttle waiting on a launch pad for scheduled take off on July 1st. The whole place is so utterly fascinating even for a complete novice like me, so you can imagine how thrilled Raga was.

By then it was close to 4pm and we had not had lunch, so we had a quick bite of pizza...! Then we saw the rest of the exhibits including a 3D movie about the lunar module's landing on the moon complete with props and all, you feel like its happening on stage! Again.....HOW???? Amazing!

Oh...we DID get to see a gator today on our bus tour. Because of heavy rains the past few days all the little streams and culverts are full, so as the bus was rounding a corner, there it was.....laying in a culvert, eyes and parts of its body above the water. Creepy but cool. Then again on our way back we saw another one....

After we got home, Mani, R and I decided to take a walk by the lake in downtown Celebration. There is a beautiful boardwalk all around the lake and we were hoping to see some gators, which is apparently very common. But no such luck....

Pics of downtown Celebration

Kennedy Space Center pics

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Having a capital time!

Hanging out in our nation's capital today. We arrived here from Princeton on the Amtrak at 10.10am, disembarked at the legendary Union Station and by the time we got to our son's place it was clse to 10.45am. He lives in a really adorable English basement, sort of sized like a studio apt. What impressed me the most is how clean the place is...he tells me he cleaned it out last week so when he moves to his new apt. end of this month he will have less cleaning to do. All those years of yelling at him to clean his room during his teenage years seems to have paid off! Soon after we left home, first to quickly go check out his new digs and then to Georgetown for lunch at Le Madelaine. His new apt. is gorgeous....a 1920 hotel converted into apts. and he will be sharing an apt on the 4th floor with another roommate. It has a really opulent lobby and for $500 a year ($250 apiece) they each get to indulge in all the extra amenities which include a gym on the main level, dry cleaning pick up services and - get this - a full Continental breakfast in the hotel lobby every morning!!!!! Wow!

After lunch we went and saw the new movie out by Al Gore called "An Inconvenient truth". For those of you who have not yet seen it, I urge you to do so! Its fascinating and compelling and most of all, scary! The influence that global warming is going to have on future generations is grim...!

I just absolutely love this city...its row houses, the quaint streets and fabulous restaurants, the cabbie drivers, the energy it radiates, the young people....just great! In a couple of years Raga and I want to come and live here for a month.

This evening we are heading to see a live taping of the Bill Maher show - Politically Incorrect. Should be a blast if previous shows are any indication.

Just got back from a fun evening. Had dinner at an Indian restaurant (Gautam wanted Indian, he doesn't eat it often enough and was starved for some). Then we went to the Bill Maher wasn't the usual taping of the show but a sort of stand up routine. He was very funny, but very irreverent. Cracked some very off color jokes which had some of us squirming in our seats, but nevertheless very funny. Then we went to see the White House, the Capitol building, the treasury and other govt. buildings in the area and then walked and walked and walked till we got home...some 16 blocks or so.

G's new apt

Friday, June 09, 2006

Post trip R & R....

Nothing much to report for yesterday. For the past month all of our mail had been redirected here (by the way, we are staying at R's brother's place in Princeton) so Raga and I had to plough thru tons of mail and take care of business. You would think that without a house, or a car, or a job, we would not be getting any more bills....but i tell you they still keep coming. Stuff you wouldn't think anyway, we waded through that yesterday and are still not done. In the evening we visited Princeton campus and did the mandatory campus coffee shop visit....nothing much to write home about there!!!

Later in the evening, my sis-in-law Indira, my niece Nikki and I went on a 5 mile bike trip to the park. The weather had been kind off iffy all day and it seemed to clear up in the evening, so we thought we'd take a quick bike ride.....bad idea. As we were turning around at the half way point, the rain started and by the time we got home we were soaked to the skin. Then watched an Indian movie last night called 9-2-11....a quirky take off on "Changing Lanes" with S.Jackson and Ben Affleck. It was alright.

Today we have some mundane errands to run...Bank, PO, etc. We're off to DC tomorrow morning and our son has tickets to go see Bill Maher tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to that.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

28 days, 5500 miles, 13 states.....

No, that's not the Amazing Race finale, that is our road trip. Here are some fun stats:

The road trip lasted 28 days
We travelled a total of 5500 miles
We visited 13 states - Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey
We visited 2 countries - USA and Canada
We visited 45 relatives
We went looking for Starbucks stores - 15 times
We found Starbucks stores - 4 times
We got issued a warning for speeding - 1 time
We stayed at 8 different motels

All in all it was everyting we hoped it would be. We didn't overdo the driving distances although there were some days that seemed really long. The motels/hotels we picked by and large met our expectations, some more than others. I'll admit there were times when we would check into a motel and think to ourselves "Didn't we just check out of this one"??? Also, living out of suitcases for days on end is not easy to do. We tried to be as efficient as possible in our packing, but suddenly we would find ourselves without enough clothes to wear or some very important personal item missing! In the beginning it used to take R and me about an hour and a half to get ready in the morning having to share a bathroom (we used to have separate ones in the condo), by the end of the trip we had it down to half an hour from the time we woke up. R and I used to joke about signing up for the Amazing Race, and I used to tell him we'd be no good at it cos we'd be arguing all the time, but if this trip is any indication, i think we would have done great. We were in total sync! No arguments, but the fact that he would wait till the gas tank was bare bone empty to fill it up drove me crazy!!!! The car is totally trashed....inside there are remnants of food all over the place....cookie crumbs, chips, fruit peels....the exterior of the car is mud spattered and sticky, the windshield is spattered with blood from the constant "ping ping" of insects dashing against....yuk! Budget has their work cut out for them.

We saw a huge slice of American life in terms of how people in different parts of the country live, what they eat, how they perceive us and it was an education in itself! There is no denying the partisan divide in the country, its very visible when you do a trip like this. There are definitely some places i do not want to visit again, then again there are some i'd love to go back to.

There are still so many states we have not visited, we hope to do more road trips like this on our annual visits. For those of you who have not ventured out too much, I urge you all to visit all the fantastic parks and monuments this country has to offer.

We will be visiting DC, Orlando, Dallas and Connecticut over the next week but it will be a combination of air and Amtrak travel. Shall keep posting pics and commentary!

Home stretch - Niagara Falls to Princeton

Well, this is it! The last and final leg of what has been an incredible road trip. We left Niagara at 10am with the intention of going to Marineland to see the beluga whales, but it ended up being $35 for a day pass, and I didn't think that was worth it to pet some beluga whales, however cute i think they are. So we headed straight for Buffalo. As I mentioned before, we have had near to perfect weather for our entire road was the exception. It was great till we got to Syracuse, then it was non stop rain till Princeton. It was by and large a fairly uneventful trip, the only exciting moments were when we had to pay toll. The New York toll guys have it all down to a science! Very efficient and streamlined.

No pictures taken today...but i shall post a recap of our road trip tomorrow, complete with statistics of distance travelled, places visited, high points, low points etc....

Travel tip: When driving thru NY, make sure you have plenty of change handy for paying tolls. Some toll booths have a bucket sort of thing into which you throw the for that you need exact change.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Leg 13 - Toronto to Niagara Falls

We left Toronto at 10.30 heading towards Niagara Falls. We had decided not to see too much in Toronto and use the time to get to N.Falls early and spend it there. Oh, i must mention that we had to try Tim Horton's coffee......and we did! I have one thing to say and that is "They are not anywhere close to Sbux".

We passed a gazillion wineries along the way, many of them had signs offering wine tasting tours so we decided to stop at one, but wouldn't you know it, by then we had passed them all! We got to N.Falls by noon and checked in early at the hotel. This place is so fantastic! I didn't know quite what to expect, but this is a really fun fun place. Our hotel is right in the middle of all the action....shops, tours, Hard Rock Cafe, Theaters, name it, its right here! We had a quick lunch and then walked along the Falls and then took the boat tour "The Maid of the Mist" which takes you right under the Niagara and Horseshoe Falls. It is breathtaking! They give you a raincoat sort of thing to wear....and it was a good thing they did cos we were drenched at the end of it all. The boat takes you right under the Falls!

It was hot hot hot outside, so we got back to the hotel room at 4pm or so. Its 6.10pm now and I am in the hotel lobby updating this blog. We plan to head out for dinner now, then see the lighting of the Falls and get back. Tomorrow will be our last leg on this amazing road trip :-(

Since we had more or less skipped lunch we decided to have an early dinner. We stopped at a cute Italian place called Antica and had some vino, (Limonata for me)pasta and garlic bread. By then it was close to 7.15 so we walked about a mile to the end of Niagara Parkway to get a real close up view of Horseshoe Falls. You can actually look over the railing and see the water from Lake Erie gush into Lake Ontario. Its a scary feeling as you look over, almost feel like you're being swept away with the water.

The lighting wasn't due to happen till 9pm so we just wandered along the walkway till then. It was gorgoeus! Promptly at 9pm the huge floodlights came on to light up the falls beautifully! It takes on a whole new appearance when lit. By the time we had walked back to American Falls it had become quite dark and they glowed with a strange luminosity at night. There is so much to do here, I could easily spend another day, but now its time to go to bed and catch up on our Zzzzzz's.

Even tho tomorrow is the last leg of our road trip to New jersey, it is by no means the end of our travels. We still have DC, Connecticut, Orlando and Dallas to visit. But I shall post a recap of our road trip tomorrow.

Niagara during the day

Niagara at night

Film clip of the falls

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Leg 12 - Soo to Toronto

After a really pathetic breakfast, we left at 9.30am. Gosh! You would think when they say "Continental" breakfast there would be something besides old bagels and muffins! I guess i shouldn't really complain since we do stay at pretty inexpensive places....! Anyway, we left at about 9.30 am. But I am sorely disappointed at the lack of scenery along the way. All we saw was rocky hills on either side of the road for miles and miles with not one glimpse of the lakes. The names of the towns sounded cool.....very Frenchy sounding, but they were really nothing at all. I saw something all along the way that i am very curious about. All the rocky hills had a stack of stones on them, either shaped like an inverted "V", or stacked to look like a man with a head and 2 legs. They were about a foot and a half high. Many of them were intact and many had toppled over. I wonder if it is a Native American ritual of some sort......we did pass thru many Native American reservations. Hmmm....i have to investigate!

We stopped for lunch at "The Chaplain Inn" at the French River. I know it sounds fancy, but NO, its not what you think. It was a run down sort of dilapidated place, better looking on the inside than the outside and I think we were the first customers of the day. The lady running the place was sort of like the Seinfeld Soup Nazi. We looked over the menu and when we asked what the soup of the day was (it was listed on the menu) she said sternly..."No soup today"..!!! Thats it! The only vegetarian sandwich listed was a tomato and lettuce so R very nicely asked for a veggie sandwich....she looked at him and said.."We don't have that", so he replied "Can you make me a veggie sandwich with everything on it" and she retorted "No substitutions, only what's on the menu".....I wanted to say at that point that it really wasn't a substitution we were asking for but rather an addition, but better sense prevailed!! I bit my tongue and kept quiet! The fries that came along with it were GOOD! Not the processed extruded stuff you get at McD but hand cut fries with the skins on them. Yum! So really it ended up being OK.

We got into Toronto at 5pm. I think we should have studied Canadian road rules before getting here. We got on the carpool lane on the freeway heading to my cousin's place. Traffic was horrendous, so we were feeling pretty thrilled at whizzing by in the car pool lane. When we saw our exit coming up we had to move over 4 lanes from the carpool lane on the extreme left to the exit lane on the extreme right. So we did the usual move over, lane by lane. People were honking madly at us and we didn't know exactly why. Well, it turns out that you can merge onto a non carpool lane only at specified points, not when and where you like!!! No wonder they were annoyed!My cousin in Seattle, Jaisri, has a brother who stays at Mississauga, so we went over to his place. He stays in a really nice apt. with a guest room in the lobby for visiting guests, so we stayed the night there. Toronto is nice, a lot like Seattle. Spent the evening with them. I mentioned the absence of Starbucks stores and my cousin told me that in Canada, the coffee king is Tim Horton's. We saw many along the way, have to check one out tomorrow. Didn't take a single picture today, nothing worth taking!

Fyi - gas in Canada is a lot more expensive than the US, about $3.70 for a gallon, so maybe we shouldn't be complaining too much....!

P.S. On further research it seems that stacking rocks is some kind of ancient Shamanic ritual to demonstrate balance. This is what one site says "The rocks have demonstrated some things about balance. I can stack only so many of them on top of each other before they start to topple. The more things we take on in our lives, the more fragile the "balance" of our lives becomes.

I chose the stones in order of size and stacked them accordingly. Sort of like chosing priorities. Or, perhaps like making a stronger foundation for the other rocks...or corresponding things in my life.".....Fascinating!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Leg 11 - Du to Soo (Duluth to Sault Ste Marie)

Whew! Today was a really long day. We left Duluth at 8.45 and drove all along the western, northern and eastern shores of Lake Superior, and arrived here at Sault Ste. Marie at about 9.30pm. Originally we had intended to drive thru Michigan and Chicago, but we thought the drive would be really pretty along the wild Canadian countryside. The drive from Duluth up to Thunder Bay was gorgeous! We were driving right along the lake. Once we passed Thunder Bay, it sort of became pretty typical. We reached the US/Canada border at 11.30am and wouldn't you know it, they kept us there for about a half hour...we had to go into the building and meet the immigration officer and answer their umpteen questions, where are you going? what's in the car?...blah blah...blah!!! I won't go into too much will just make me mad!

Unfortunately the speed limit in Canada was 55 mph so we didn't have time to stop and really look at too much. After that it was a dullish drive cos we couldn't see the lake. We did see some cool animals every now and then cross the street...a moose and then later this evening, a wolf! Rajiv had burned us the entire "Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene on 19 CD's, so we started listening to them. It was all about quantum mechanics and physics and space/time continuum and I actually found it more interesting than the scenery! Either I'm really brilliant or the scenery was deadly dull!!!! We listened to 5 out of the 19!! Also, not a single rest area along the way...its really that wild and uninhabitated! All you have is little roads leading off the freeway into the forest and there you have it....his and hers honey buckets!!

Got into Soo (Sault Ste Marie is affectionately known as Soo) at 9.30pm. All restaurants were shut down so we ran to the grocery store and bought some soup and stuff!

I'll take some good pics of the lake tomorrow.

Travel tip: Audio books are a great way to compensate for boring scenery!

Film clip of the moose on the run