Sunday, December 04, 2011

Seattle to Atlanta

25th October to 4th November

The travel gods are still mad at us.......

So after a brief introductory visit to Seattle, we head off to Atlanta and our flight was delayed - again - by 3 hrs. But by now we've learned to take these things in our stride, so we just relaxed, people watched, played "what do you think this man/woman does for a living" airport game, and boarded 3 hrs later.
{A brief side note here - Some of you may not know but Atlanta was the very first city we moved to in the US in 1984. My husband came to do his PhD at the Univ. of Georgia, and I tagged along - a young sort-of-blushing bride with a 2 yr old!!! My memories of Atlanta are pretty dim cos after 9 months there we moved to all I remember was being terribly homesick, astounded that I had to do all the house cleaning myself, and our outings were basically limited to the apartment - campus - KMart triangle!!!!}

So I really didn't know what to expect, but I was certainly not expecting a city full of gorgeous Southern brick and stone homes a la Tara from Gone with the Wind, wide open roads lined with fall colored trees,  people bursting with happiness and cheer, 70 degree weather in November and some good old fashioned jazz and blues wafting out from taverns and restaurants serving up good old fashioned Southern fare! I loved it!

Over the next few days with my brother-in-law and his wife, we toured the Coke museum, got high on at least a 100 different caffeinated drinks, toured the CNN studio where I was really hoping for an Anderson Cooper sighting, took the funicular up Stone Mountain, ate good food and spent some great family time together. My favorite was an evening of jazz at this tavern listenening to jazz master Reggie Hines mesmerize us with the saxophone! We four were the only non African Americans but we were so warmly welcomed and everyone was just having so much unfettered foot tapping fun, we felt right at home!

On my last day I took some pics of my SIL's townhome.

Some gorgeous art work done by my SIL's sister-in-law - Archana of Rang Decor

On the wall behind the sofa is artwork done by by SIL's! :-)

So that was our 10 day stay in Atlanta. I have decided its my next fav city after Seattle and DC! I have also decided Anderson Cooper is not as cool as I thought cos I discovered he is now hosting a daytime Jerry Springer like talk show which I happened to catch a bit of!!! I am so disappointed!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Autumn in Seattle

21st October to 24th October, 2011:

I love Seattle! Its cold, its wet and rainy....but this city has just grown on me.

The last 4 days we spent getting reacquainted with this city, like catching up with an old friend. Its freeway system, its quirky weather (rain one minute, brilliant sun the next), its gazillion parks, the floating bridge, the fall colors at the Arboretum, Husky stadium....were all there waiting for us.

Seattle does not have fall colors like the East Coast, but I saw some gorgeous splashes of red and orange colors I had to take pictures of.

We met up with lots of friends, ate good food and exchanged news from the past years. I went to Trader Joes and oohed and aahed like an Indian tourist....even though I had shopped there so many times in the past.

In other words, I had a lot of fun. We'll be back here in Seattle in about 3 weeks time, I have still so many things to do and friends to visit. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First stop Seattle!

20th October, 2011: India to US!

Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". 

Smart man this Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project who said this. He must have known a thing or two about British Airways!

So our vacation got off to a brilliantly nerve racking start. After umpteen bye byes and a million kisses to my doggies, we left home at 3am for a 6.45am flight. About a half mile from home I hesitantly asked Raga if he had all the necessary paperwork, passports, visas etc. (I say "hesitantly" cos you know how defensive and belligerent these men folk get when you question their ability to remember important stuff like that.....) Well, in this case it was a good thing cos he checked his bag and realized he had forgotten our old US passports which has our Indian visa stamped on it and which we will forever have to carry with us like 2 extra appendages!!!! 3 years ago we forgot to take it with us and were almost denied entry back into India and got threatened with deportation. I am not joking. 

Well, back we went. The gate had been locked, my mother had cajoled the pooches back into the house....and here we were ringing the bell again! Doggies came running and all excited, they have no idea of time and thought we were back from vacation... :-( So after another round of byes and kisses, off we went to the airport. We got there around 4am and as we approached the BA counter were kindly handed a note saying the flight had been delayed an hour and 15 minutes! Huzzah!

The kind but inefficient man behind the counter told us we would be missing our connecting flight at Heathrow. NO, really???? So they would be re-routing us via Denver. Hyderabad - Heathrow - Denver - Seattle. We didn't argue...I mean, if that's the only choice we have how can we? We really should have paid close attention to the timings but we didn't. (You'll understand why later). So after the ritual of checking in and security we went to the departure lounge. BA folks - kind people - had told us we could use our boarding passes for free breakfast at Indian Paradise! Yippee. So dutifully we went and stood in line...a long twisty line. For a brief moment I felt like Oliver Twist.....

Well, we got our breakfast. A plasticky tray thingy with 2 idlis, a vada, some chutney and sambar. For those new to Indian cuisine, this is a very typical South Indian breakfast. In normal circumstances very delicious and satisfying. But at 6am with slightly frayed nerves and the thought of an impending long "3 more flights to go" journey was neither. 
Then we headed off to wait for the flight, boarded at 7.30 or so and soon were airborne! The flight to Heathrow was nothing great. I mean I know no flight is, but this was even more uninteresting. The entertainment system was down till about 4 hrs into the flight, the plane rattled with every turbulent thermal bounce, Raga didn't understand a word the British attendants spoke so I kept translating. Our vegan food requests somehow became vegetarian food we pecked at it. The only saving grace was that it was only a half full flight, so we had plenty of room to stretch out and snooze which I promptly did. 

Fast forward 10 hours...we land at Heathrow. Its now almost 2pm London time. We get off and look for our Heathrow Denver boarding passes....ummm...not finding them. We look again, in the bags, coat pockets, we go back into the flight...maybe its in the front seat....we look everywhere...nothing! So after a "you had them"..."no, you had them" dialogue, we go to the BA counter and get new ones. But, we have plenty of time. Its 2.30pm, flight is at 4pm. So we hang around biding time and we hear the boarding call for the LHR Seattle flight WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON!!!! DAMN! Too late for that now I figured cursing British Airways. So to calm myself I got a Starbucks Soy Caramel Macchiatto. Whatever Howard Schulz envisioned his coffee drinks to do, one thing they can do is soothe a frazzled nerve! Ahhh....

We board our next flight on time....Newer plane, only half full so plenty of room, entertainment system working, food smelling good...all seems well! But when food time finally rolls around we realize that not only has our vegan food request not been conveyed, even the vegetarian options are slim pickings!! We even get offered a chicken caesar sandwich.....huh? So once again we pick and peck at the meals and nibble at the peripherals.....enough to keep body and soul together. 
So between bouts of sleeping and movie watching the 10 hours roll by. As we get ready to land at Denver I realize the flight is half hour late and instead of landing at 6.30pm we are now landing at 7pm. Our connecting flight is at 7.40pm - you do the math. In 40 minutes we have to disembark, get the baggage, clear immigration and customs, go to the US airways counter, check in and board! Even my 2 doggies can figure out that is not going to happen! So I ask the head flight attendant if they can get us out of the plane first, I've seen that being done before. He declines. 

British Airways fail!

So we get off as usual, 33 rows after the rest, and head off to immigration. Again I ask stern customs official if he can expedite matters for us. I've been told they look stern but they are actually teddy bears. That, my friends, is not true, cos he gave me the glinty eye and told me to wait my turn!

So we get thru immigration. Time - 7.25pm...all I hear is tick tick tick, this deafening sound in my head. Off we go to baggage and get our bags at 7.40. We clear customs - time is 7.45pm. Seattle flight bye bye!  We head on up to the 6th floor to the ticketing counters to see what our options are and happen to see on one monitor that the Seattle flight is 15 mins late and is leaving at 8pm. We race to the US airways counter and plead with counter man. He does not budge and tells us to go to the Continental counter and get on the 9.30 flight. By now I am hopping mad so I say go to hell, and head off to the BA counter to whine and complain! Its pretty sleepy all around but we catch a lady there...and I vituperate! I rant and complain about everything and insist BA needs to put us up for the night cos I am not going to go knock on my friends door at 1am in the morning, so how about they give us a nice hotel room and put us on a morning flight to Seattle....she listens and nods and tsk tsks sympathetically and then hands me gift vouchers for 50% off at Marriot!!! Ok, so when is the Continental flight leaving???? 9.30pm? OK.

So back we go to the Cont. counter, I make sure they do not charge us for baggage which should have gone straight thru to Seattle - by now word has spread - there is a raving Indian lunatic woman at Denver airport!!!! While waiting to board I call my Seattle friend and tell her we'll be there in the wee hours of the morning. Then I call our car rental agency to make sure they hold the car for us....they tell me I should get there by 11pm, cos thats when they shut down. I say not possible....flight only landing at 11.30pm. Maybe it was something in my deranged voice or my tone cos she hurriedly said they would transfer our rental to 24hrs open Hertz!!! Whew!

After all this the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. I slept thru the entire 3 hr flight, we landed, picked up our baggage, collected the car and drove to my friend's place and got there at 1am.!

The good news is things can only get better from now on!!! Pics of unappetizing meals to follow soon.....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Australian Autumn - day 8,9,10

April 10th, 11th and 12th:

You know this whole business of blogging while vacationing is not a good idea I realize! After a busy day of sightseeing and eating, the last thing one wants to do is come back and write about in the interest of time, I am consolidating the last 3 days into one post! If a day warrants an entire post devoted to it, then I will do so.

So where did I leave off? Oh yup, my birthday. Let's move on......

April 10th:

Sunday the 10th dawned bright and beautiful so the 4 of us adults drove to the beach a couple of minutes away and went for a walk. A long 2 hour lovely walk along the coast, watching planes swoop in and out of the airport (which is a km away from home), cockatoos screeching in the sky and flying in droves and landing on trees, joggers, runners, walkers, dogs....the usual things one sees along a beach walk. We oohed and aahed at the gorgeous homes along the waterfront. The 2 hrs went by so quick. Then a little shopping stint at an Asian market where my SIL stocked up n all kinds of goodies and then back home. After a quick brunchie thing we headed to the Sydney Wildlife World per my niece's request. She said we simply had to see the world's biggest croc in captivity! So off we went. Parked downtown and took the monorail to the SWW. It was lovely weather...mid 70's, sunny, warm. Place was full of kids all squealing in delight at the animals.

When we exited the building 2 hrs later it was cold, rainy and windy!!! What happened? We abandoned some other plans we had and scouted around for a good place for lunch. Then headed home and did some sundry things the rest of the day.....watched an Australian classic movie called 'The Castle". Funny stuff!

11th April:

Today Raga and I decided to take the train into downtown and check out the area. Got dropped at the Rockdale station, a very helpful ticket agent helped us figure out what tickets we needed to buy - a RT ticket to the museum and back. Got into downtown at the Museum around 10.30. Raga wants me to mention the cool seats on the train which can be slid forward or backwards depending on which way you want to face...his engineer brain loved the idea!!!

First stop was the Anzac Memorial at Sydney. Then a bit further the Australian Museum, a fascinating place to learn the history of this country. What has happened to the indigenous Aborigines is terrible...being deprived of land that is so rightfully theirs in addition to other injustices! Then we went into the St Mary's Cathedral and sat inside in awed silence while a service was going on.

After that we walked towards the Opera House stopping here and there along the way of something caught our fancy......the Parliament, The Botanical gardens, the State Library. At one point we saw a native Australian walking ahead of us and Raga stopped him to talk to him and let him know how much he empathized with him and his people. The man - Dan, native name Japadanga  - was a bit startled at first, but I think when he realized we meant it, he warmed up and even let us take a pic with him and walked along a bit with us quite chattily.

Then we headed on to the Sydney Opera House......
....browsed around, checked out the galleries along the waterfront, stopped at a cafe in front of the gardens on the way back for lunch.......

rubbed the nose of a boar called Il Porcellino which is supposed to bring good luck,.....
and took the train and headed home!

12th April:

Was a very laid back day today. Hubby went off to the bank to find out some stuff, I tagged along. Then came home, had a leisurely lunch and headed to Bunnings to buy some seeds and garden stuff for our garden back home. In the evening we got dolled up and went to see the Madame Butterfly ballet at the Sydney Opera House! What can I say? It was beautiful.....a sad poignant story with incredible music and some fabulous ballet dancers!

Then as if this wasn't enough, we topped it off with an elegant dinner at this restaurant! Sigh....I love Sydney!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Australian Autumn - day 7

9th April: My 50th birthday!!!

Its official! I am half a century old today. :-(
My sis-in-law keeps saying 50 is the new 35, but I don't know about that! So how did the day go? It was as the Aussies say "brilliant, just brilliant!". We started by going to this place for breakfast, a wonderfully cosy but stylish organic cafe. I was so tempted to order something creamy and decadent, but I figured turning 50 was all the more reason to eat healthy, so while my nephew got the Belgian sugar waffle, my niece the Almond Croissant and my BIL the Banana bread, I opted for the homemade organic multigrain granola which was delicious but gave my jaws a good solid workout for half an hour!

After that a quick run to the grocery store to stock up on all essentials for lunch. A quick side note here - my SIL is a fabulous cook. Not only does she make some incredible dips - hummus, pesto, guacamole - she does amazing things with veggies. Salads, stir fries, simple veggie dishes.....all fabulous. So when she kindly asked me what I wanted as a birthday lunch my answer was of course - salad. So we bought assorted char grilled veggies at the deli - peppers, artichokes, fat plump olives, feta cheese, squash, baby beets, asparagus - I knew I was in for a treat at lunch time. She would not let me near the kitchen to help, kept shooing me away and then 2 hrs later produced this magnificent lunch.

I meant just one, but she went all out and made 5 salads...roasted mushrooms and asparagus; a marinated tofu salad, roasted baby beets, squash and feta, mixed greens with garbanzos and assorted veggies and a romaine lettuce with olives, tomatoes and avocado. I was in salad heaven! I stuffed myself with all this food while sitting out in the balcony looking at the wonderful view.
Post lunch was a fun afternoon......skyping with folks back home, talking to a gazillion people who called to wish me, chatting, laughing and just being lazy. No sooner had my lunch digested than we were heading out to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. Lovely place, great food, wonderful ambience and some seriously fabulous belly dancing. The girl roped in my nephew who joined in like a good sport, imitating all her wiggly moves and sexy hip swinging! 

Back home, the eating wasn't done yet! All insisted we get a cake, so the food frenzied birthday was capped by some oozingly delicious carrot cake! 
What a day it was! Granted, I ate way way more than I usually do, but it was all so good I could not resist! And other than the carrot cake, it wasn't too unhealthy, right?