Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dil mange more...

When the going gets tough, the tough takes a break! That’s exactly what I did when I traveled to west Coast for a second time. If the first visit had been to San Diego and Los Angeles, this time it was the famed Bay Area and Las Vegas. I set out on a cold Saturday morning to San Jose loaded with mighty expectations of the next three days.

After a three - hour flight over the desert of Arizona, I reached the land of Google, Yahoo and Stanford. San Jose seemed so very different from the hot and humid Texas, what with a fog engulfing the entire city in the morning. My first stop was the home of Deepti, one of my friends from TAPMI. She too works with Infy and is based out of San Jose. Sounds cliché, but inside most of the apartment communities in San Jose, one feels that you are in just another Bangalore apartment complex because almost everyone you meet would be Indians.

After having a cup of tea, we set out for the city of San Francisco without much delay. One of the disappointments of the trip was that I could not visit the Stanford campus because time was not in my favour. It would have been great to visit the institution that you have heard so much of :( Our first destination in SFO (as San Francisco is popularly known) was the one and only Golden Gate Bridge across strait that connects the Bay with Pacific Ocean. The topography of SFO is quite different in that the roads have steep ups and downs. After getting lost in the city for about an hour, we finally reached GG Bridge. It’s a truly amazing experiencing to drive through one of the most beautiful architectural marvels that man has ever created. And the view of the Bay from Vista Point is quite splendid to say the least.

A visit to SFO is incomplete without walking through the streets leading up to the Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. There are regular boat rides to the Bay and the famed Alcatraz prison where the infamous gang leader Al Capone was put behind bars. San Francisco is a one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world, not to mention its name as the ‘Gay capital of the world’, and one gets to see ample instances of these while walking on the roads. Our last stop at SFO was the Ghirardelli, the outlet of the chocolate manufacturer by the same name. It was founded more than 150 years ago, and is undoubtedly the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t miss getting some for my family back in India:)

Now, let me come to part that I’m so thrilled to even write about. The foremost motive of this trip was to watch the rock concert of my all-time favourite hard rock bands Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. I’ve been a huge fan of Iron Maiden since my college days and it had been my ‘dream’ to watch them LIVE! Iron Maiden was touring the US as part of Ozzfest, the rock festival named after Ozzy Ozzborne, the legendary lead singer of Black Sabbath, the pioneers of the so called heavy metal genre. So, here I was, among a 50000 strong crowd at the Shoreline Amphitheater at San Jose, watching the Gods of metal play some of the greatest rock numbers!!! Boy, this certainly was one of the nights of my life, for sure! The atmosphere was just electric, and so much of stuff happening, including some that I cannot even venture to pen here:)

The next afternoon, I found myself flying to that little strip of wonderland named Las Vegas. I checked into a hotel and couldn’t wait for the dark to fall, because night is when life begins at Vegas. Las Vegas, is literally a desert which has been transformed into this magnificent piece of land on earth where people can offload all their worries in the world and enjoy life to its fullest, if only for a few days. The Casinos are simply spellbinding and the bright lights indeed elevate you to an altogether different level of euphoria. I walked up and down the ‘strip’ and ventured into most of the Casinos. My favourites were Paris, Caesar’s Palace, New York New York and of course the most popular of them all, the MGM Grand. The million streetlights at the Vegas downtown is also unique and not to be missed.
For me,this was one trip of a lifetime, for reasons more than one. Until next time, so long…

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Weekends!

Friends, finally, I’ve attained freedom! After being in the US for more than four months, I received my Drivers License. The weekends would no longer be dreary and I wouldn’t have to ‘time’ my shoppings to match that of my colleagues. And to add to the fun, my new roomie, Prakash, is always game for a drive!

So, here I was, driving to Houston on a bright Saturday morning with Prakash in a rented 2005 model Mazda 6. We reached the Kennedy Space Center around afternoon and quickly started our journey to space, (well almostJ). The Houston Space Center Museum is a fifteen minutes drive from the actual space center of NASA, which the visitors can watch from a distance. The launches, though, occur from the launch pad situated at Florida. The space center is full of information and was indeed an eye opener regarding the nuances about space exploration. But the highlight of the day was the presentation that talked about the crew and the preparations for the launch of space shuttle Discovery, the first mission in two years after the unfortunate accident of Columbia, which killed seven astronauts including Kalpana Chawla. Discovery is scheduled for launch at 3.51 pm EDT on July 13.

The night was spent at the home of Prakash’s friend Deepak. The next morning, it was time for to be religious as we went to the Meenakshi temple located at the outskirts of Houston. Oh boy, for half an hour, I felt that I was in the heart of Tamil Nadu. Houston is the oil capital of USA, with more than 85% of oil refining happening here (remember Enron). A lot of Indians work in the petroleum industry in and around Houston and it feels like a mini India. After having some excellent South Indian food from the temple, we left for the Water Wall. This is an artificial waterfall where water flows down 24*7 and has been the locale for a couple of Hindi movie shootsJ.

It had always been one of my dreams to watch a heavy metal band play live. It finally came true when I drove down to San Antonio’s Verizon Amphitheatre to watch Judas Priest, the British band from 1970s and one of the pioneers of heavy metal. The two-hour show was just thrilling, what with the chants of ‘Priest, Priest’ echoing in the air amidst the rendering of classics like ‘Breaking the Law’ and ‘ Painkiller’.

The much-awaited July 4th long weekend on the occasion of the Independence Day saw us driving to South Padre Island located on the border with Mexico. An ideal weekend getaway, the island is known for its water sports facilities and the long stretch of beach. We spent a good amount of time in the waves and I even slept on the sand for half an hour. But the real highlights of the day were parasailing and bungee jumping. These were two things which I had always wanted to do. It is an amazing feeling during parasailing, when one is more than 400 feet above the Gulf of Mexico and it is only the vast sea and nothing else that you can see till the horizon. Boy, what a feeling! And bungee jumping is a totally different experience that is very difficult to describe. The entire thing is over in a matter of 4-5 seconds, but this small duration is more than enough to send shivers through your spine. I loved it!

The other destination of our trip was the beautiful coastal city of Corpus Christi. The main attraction, apart from the beach, is the naval aircraft carrier ‘USS Lexington’ which served the Allied forces during World War II. The Lex, as it is popularly known, served the US Navy for 48 long years from 1943 to 1991 and holds the record for the maximum number of aircraft takeoffs. USS Lexington was decommissioned in 1991 after taking part in Gulf War and is now opened to the public as a museum. It was indeed a great experience to walk inside this huge piece of history. There were also a number of fighter aircrafts (Sky hawk, Phantom etc) on display at the flight deck of the ship. After spending about three hours aboard the Lex, we started our return journey, away from the soothing coastal belt of Texas back to its dry and hot cities.

The past few weeks have been very fruitful in ways more than one. I watched some ‘classics’ like Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane (voted the best movie of the century), Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece ‘Seven Samurai’, Guru Dutt’s ‘Kagaz ke Phool’ and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’. The amazing use of frames and the technique of narration in these movies created decades ago, make them definite masterpieces. So, that is it from my end for the time being. I’ll be back with more ‘action’ soon. Till then…

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Experiencing the past...

So, it’s been quite a while since I ‘post’ed. But, things have been happening for the past one month and it has been real good weekends. Let me start off with my visit to Minneapolis early June. I’d been to the Northern State of Minnesota on wok and got a chance to spend the weekend with Rajeev, my schoolmate for twelve whole years. He’s working with Guidant in the program management office after his after his post grad from Purdue University.

Friday night was customarily spent at a pub on the banks of the Mississippi river with a listening to a live band. The University of Minnesota is just a few yards away and the enthu of the young crowd added to the ambience. We had some real good ‘Mong’ food, which is quite similar to Chinese food (but tastier) at a restaurant owned by immigrants from Laos. They were brought into the US in return for their ‘favours’ done during the Vietnam War. Minneapolis also has a large population of people from Somalia, thanks to the immigration after civil war erupted in the African nation. People from these two nations have become an integral part of the community here, hmm, well almost.

Minnesota is known as the land of 10000 lakes (no, the number is not a typo) ! So, it was only natural that I went to some of the lakes around. Lake Calhoun and Stillwater were my favourites. Another of the attractions was the Saint Paul Cathedral situated at the twin city of St.Paul. The entire shrine presented a calm ambience and we marveled at the beautiful sculptures made at the beginning of the century. The last, but the most awaited of the destinations was the ‘Mall of America’, the largest mall in US. It is situated in a sprawling area of 4.2 million square foot and housing outlets of most of the leading brands of the world. It even houses a theme park for kids inside. After spending a couple of hours at the mall, I bid farewell to Rajeev and Minneapolis and was back to the heat of Austin.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Magic Falls!

There have been three places that I’ve always wanted to visit in the US- Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. I’ve always felt something mystical and magical about these locales. So, I was all excited when things coincided in such a fashion that the Niagara was only an overnight journey from my client site at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To add to that, I would also have a chance to meet my friend Sandeep from REC Surathkal, who is in Buffalo doing his M.S.

I boarded the bus from Boston’s South Station, wondering what was in store for me during the next couple of days. But the little did I know that I wouldn’t have to wait too long for the excitement to begin. I started talking to the lady besides me, and, lo, I find out that she’s French! We got going quickly and in no time we were talking about our respective families, interests and cultures. Marion is doing her degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is into Indian culture, and Buddhism in particualr. She talked about the rigidity of the French educational system and how people found it difficult to cope up once they left the shores of France. It was new experience getting first hand account of a different culture. Sadly, she had to get off midway for a bus change over and we parted hoping we’ll meet sometime in France! The last I heard of her was that she was having a fabulous time at the Rockies… hmmm…

Buffalo is a city with beautiful buildings made of yellow stone that gives it a nice ‘un-modern’ look. The tram that goes through the downtown makes travel easy to the University. Sandeep George, known to his friends as Jorjee, is doing his MS in Mechanical Design and shares a house with four others. It was definitely great to catch up with him and relive some of the old memories during the good old days of KREC.

Reached the Falls around noon and was spellbound by the sheer beauty of the spectacle. I couldn’t wait to go close to the Canadian Falls, which could be seen at a distance. The queue for ‘Maid of the Mist’, the most famous boat ride of the universe was pretty long, but every single person knew that it would be a ride of a lifetime. The boat takes you right in front of the Horse Shoe falls to give a picture of the grandeur sight. So here I was, in front of the ‘Niagara Falls’ with all its majesty, a dream come true for me. Water was splashing all over us, but the sight was so captivating that it is impossible to put the feeling in words. Trust me, this certainly is something that needs to be experienced at least once during a lifetime. And to think that I’ve been fortunate enough for this…..

The walk through the edge of the river before it jumps with enormous force to the depths below, is a very enthralling one. It is quite wonderful to think about the dramatic change in the course of each of those tiny water drops… The American Falls are definitely good, but everyone comes to the Niagara to marvel at the Canadian Falls. The view from the Goat Island of the horseshoe shaped falls, is simply breathtaking. I stood there at the edge of the falls for a long time and didn’t have the mind to return! The ‘Cave of the Winds’ was the last stop for the day. This is a ride on an elevator to 200 feet below the ground level to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. The sight of the rainbow created by the force of the falls is one that’ll be etched in the minds of every visitor.

So, that was it, one of the greatest days of my life. It has been three weeks since and this note was long due. As for now, I’m enjoying the extended weekend here in Austin, thanks to the Memorial Day holiday. Watched the movie ‘Catch 22’, adapted from the novel of the same name. A satire on the American policies during WW 2, this definitely is a ‘must-read’ for anyone who reads fiction. So, until the next trip, which by the way, is real soon…

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The City!

I’d been to New Hampshire on an official trip and this time I was intent on traveling to a couple of destinations. New York City and Niagara Falls were on the cards, but I wasn’t sure how exactly things would work out for me. But as luck would have it, work went pretty smooth and I was all game for the trip to the ultimate city – New York (NYC, as its popularly known). Okay, I know there would be much argument to term it the ultimate city, but guys, New York, according to me is ‘The City’. One of the things that I had always wanted to try out was a train journey by Amtrak. So, here I was on a train from Boston to marvel at the Big Apple on a cloudy Saturday morning. My guide and companion for the next couple of days was to be Archie, who I had worked with at Mangalore Infy. She works at New Jersey and travels down to NYC almost every weekend for her shoots. So, I was sure that I would have a great time there, and how did it turn out to be!

The day started with a visit to the Grand Central Station which is about a couple of centuries old. The huge ceiling paintings and the architecture was impressive as was the cosmopolitan ambience, what with an exhibition going on which showcased the skills of artists from countries across the world. The next on the itinerary was one that is the trademark of NY – Times Square. It’s a wonderful feeling to just stand there and marvel at buzzing life around you. The street is a heaven for shoppers around the world and houses NASDAQ, the premier tech stock exchange. Although it had started drizzling by then, there was not even an iota of change in my enthusiasm. We went inside some of the stores which were the largest in the world in their categories, including the Virgin Megastore and Toys R Us.

To add to the excitement, I met Rajeev, my classmate for twelve years in school at the ESPN Zone pub. His folks had come down from India to visit his brother and him, and even they were on a trip to NYC. So, as fate would have it, we met after a gap of almost four years in this great city, and it was indeed great to catch up with him after long. He works with Johnson & Johnson and is based out of Minneapolis. And to add to the flavour, our woman fell flat for his tattoos and his brother’s handsome looks. It was indeed fun to be on the other side for once, coz, its usually I who goes head over heels about my friends’ friends!

From Times Square, we moved to the Central Park, the sprawling park that is situated right in the middle of Manhattan. The gardens, statues, benches, fountains, walkways, lakes all make it an apt place where one can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We walked around for a couple of hours and Archie did quite a bit of shooting with her darling, the Canon SLR. Our final destination for the day was the famed Brooklyn Bridge, from where the view of Manhattan is simply superb, especially at night. Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, two of the four islands which constitute the city of New York, the other two being Queens and Bronx.

As dusk drew closer, we took a train to New Jersey, where we were to stay over at Archie’s cousin’s place. If I was thinking that a long and tiring day had come to an end, I was in for a shocker. In New Jersey, we were driven directly to a cinema for a Hindi movie Waqt starring AB, Akshay Kumar, Shefali Shah (of Satya fame) and Priyanka Chopra. It was the first Hindi movie that I’d been to after landing up in the US and it was a decent one what with Boman Irani coming up again with a stellar show as a comedian.

The first on the list for the next day was Ground Zero, where the WTC twin towers used to stand tall. The place makes you real nostalgic and one cannot help but remember and pray for the victims of the tragic incident. Right next to it is the famed Wall Street Journal that houses the NYSE. After having my favourite ‘Chai Tea Latte’ from Starbucks, we walked towards Battery Park to get a view of the Statue of Liberty. It was sort of funny that when I looked at the ocean, it seemed that I was standing at Marine Drive in Cochin, but just one look at the skyscrapers brought me back to the reality that was NYC.

Travel is very convenient in NY, what with a very good metro subway system as well as frequent buses to most destinations. We took the train to the 34th Street which houses one of most exquisite modern buildings ever made by man – the Empire State Building. It is a magnificent creation with a flat base which narrows towards the top and ends with a long spire. The view of Manhattan from the top of the building is supposed to be a sight in itself, but alas, I could not experience this as there was a waiting time of about an hour and a half for this and I was running out of time. But, I’ve promised to myself, that this will be the first thing I’ll do the next time I land up here, which I hope would be pretty soon.

The last on the itinerary was the Greenwich Village where the New York University is located. It is a typical campus where one can readily relate to the vibrancy of youth. It was so very nice to see people engaged in their own activities, some strolling through the campus with their puppies, while some played the guitar, and this guy playing chess against twenty others simultaneously! Not to forget, the babes were cute too... From Greenwich, we headed straight for Chinatown, from where I had to board my bus back to Boston. Chinatown, as it is aptly named, gives you a feeling that you are in China, what with only Chinese shops and restaurants situated on both sides of the roads for a couple of miles. The Chinese population here might be feeling very much at home as does the Indian Diaspora around the Bay Area of California.

It was definitely one of the best weekends I’ve ever had in my life. On a personal front, I got to know Archie more as a person, and I’m sure our friendship will grow over time. The experiences which I had in this ‘city’, although for a brief period of time, has made me love it. Hopefully, it is just the first one of the my many visits to NYC. So, until next time…

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Short but Sweeeeeet !

I'd been thinking of going to San Antonio, ever since I arrived in Austin. Just a drive of hour and a half, its one of the 'Top Ten' destinations in the US and also famous for the NBA team San Antonio Spurs. But I really miss not having a car here (and friends, for that matter). And the visit never seemed like happening. That's when I thought to myself that enough and enough and that I needed to do something about this .So, inspired by my friend Archie, I found myself in a bus to San Antonio on a cloudy Sunday morning.

Had my first surprise of the day when I found myself seated next to an Indian. And for a change , he was not one of the techies one finds all over the US. Veerbhadra owns a chain of Indian restaurants named Sarovar. Had some real good chat with him on topics ranging from IT, morality of the youth, educational system of the US and much more. So the day had a great start with a pretty exciting and informative ride.

Reached San Antonio by noon and headed straight to 'Riverwalk'. Known as Paseo del Rio in Spanish, the Riverwalk consists of the walkway besides the San Antonio river (the city got its name from the river) with restaurants and hotels on either side of the river. And the amazing part is that all this is right at the heart of the downtown! The ambience is simply superb, what with tall modern buildings and ancient structures lying side by side besides the calm river. The boat ride, complete with the narration, is one of the main attractions. You can have a virtual tour here. Believe me, its quite good!

After having walked almost the entire Riverwalk, my next destination was the Alamo. This is the monument which remains as the memorial for the Texan struggle of Independence. A siege lasting thirteen days took place here in 1836 resulting in Texas gaining freedom from Mexico. After having seen many of the monuments in India, the Alamo wasn't great in any sense, but it was good to learn about the history of the state of Texas.

The next on the cards was the Wax museum and the 'Rippley's Believe it or Not' museum. Although its nothing compared to Madame Tussaud's, it was still good to see the life-like wax structures. I especially liked the one of Cindrella! I just about had time to dash to the IMax for a show called Forces of Nature, which shows the magnitude of the destruction that nature can cause. The documentary is a rude warning to all of us that nothing can stand against the fury of nature.

On my way back to the bus station, I chanced to set my eyes upon the Harley Davidson store and couldn't help but go in. The most popular example for a 'cult' brand, the Harley motorbike is a spectacle in itself. The looks and the 'roar' is just breathtaking. And after seen some of them on the roads, I've become a big fan myself and has started dreaming of riding one in the future:) I purchased a Harley cap , a key chain and a miniature model of the bike. These will be my treasured possessions from now on...

So, that was one eventful day, and the coming weeks promise some more. I'm planning to do some good amount of travel again . Lets see how things turns out. Anyways, I'll be back with more... Till then...

Saturday, April 09, 2005

West to East !

Hmm, so it's been a while since I've ventured out to create a post.. Sounds hackneyed and I really hate to say this, but life(read work) been "hectic" to say the least.. Its pretty funny to think that I've never spent such night outs during the fifteen odd years of formal education.. so much for the extra dollars, huh :)

But, I’ve been fortunate enough to do some traveling over the past few days. Its been one of the best days of my life, for sure. And it's definitely one of the “highs” of my short stint in the States. Went to San Diego, on the southern tip of the west coast and had a real gala time there. Each day’s experience was mighty, yes, “mighty” enough to write about on individual posts. But that would be make it a boring read, coz, these are moments that one really has to “experience” rather than read about and enjoy. Anyways, cutting the crap, let me begin…

San Diego is called the “nicest city” and not without any reason. Its sunny for twelve months of the year but at the same time , there’s a cool breeze flowing all the time , thanks to the winds from the Pacific Ocean. So its always bright and sunny throughout the year, but one never feels the heat. Now that’s what I call “perfect” weather. Another unique feature of San Diego is that it has a lot of mountains as well as the ocean, all lying side by side. It’s a paradise for trekkers as well as windsurfers. There are highways passing through woods. But all this does not come for free - the price of real estate and living is the highest here in the whole of the US.

The most popular destination in San Diego is the Sea World, which conducts the famed dolphin and killer whale shows. These are awesome and the show of the whale ‘Shamu’ is just awesome. It happens in a big amphitheatre with a giant screen at the center. Also part of the theme park are aquariums, rides, a 4- D show, penguin and sea lion show and much more. But the highlight of the day was the dolphin feeding session where I actually fed the dolphins. The bodies of dolphins are so smooth and feels like the surface of an eraser !

The other popular destination is the San Diego Zoo. I was not at all excited about this as I’ve seen a lot of zoos in India and didn’t expect anything different out here. My thinking was that “A zoo is a zoo is zoo”, be it in Hyderabad or San Diego. But, I should say that I was in a for a pleasant surprise. The zoo is extremely large and it still is a forest, and the animals are provided as much of natural habitat as possible. One feels like walking through the jungles, especially in the bird sanctuary. This place is to be visited not so much for watching the animals (which definitely is wonderful) as for experiencing their natural habitats.

Another amazing place I went to was Point Loma, the southern most tip of US mainland where land meets the ocean. The drive on the road leading to the vast Pacific Ocean is mesmerizing. The backdrop of setting sun on one end and the downtown and port on the other from Point Loma will be vivid in memory forever. Encintas, also on the Pacific coast, where the ‘Ashram’ of the late Paramahamsa Yogananda is situated was the next on the list. Its got a wonderful garden and the serenity of the place is just compelling. For the uninitiated, Paramahamsa Yogananda was the founder of the Self Realization Foundation and his “Autobiography of a Yogi” is one of the best books to be read.

San Diego is an amazing city, with the harbour, airport and downtown located almost at the same place. Spent the evening at the Sea Port Village which reminded me about the carnivals and “ulsavams” (festivals at temple and church campuses). Another highlight of the trip was the dinner at ‘Coconut Groove’, a restaurant which served delicacies from Kerala. The best part was that the waiters were both US nationals, but they could pronounce the names of the dishes (tough by any standard for someone from other than South India) as well as we did. The food tasted nice too. By the way, had prawns after a long time :)

The Universal Studios at Los Angeles turned out to be much more exciting than what I had heard about it. Home to innumerable classics (Spielberg movies, to name just one) , the Studio takes one back to the age of black and white movies of the last century as well as to the future through the exhilarating rides. The “Back to the Future” and “Revenge of the Mummy” rides last not more than a couple of minutes each, but are thrilling experiences of a lifetime. The attractions which I was able to go to were the Jurassic ride(believe me, it’s a hair raising experience) , the Shrek 4-D movie and the Waterworld show. The one hour “Studio tour” by bus takes us though the story of how the sets and the special effects are actually made. My favourites were the motel of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and the shark of Spielberg’s “Jaws”.

Within ten days of traveling to the southern West coast, I found myself flying to the northern East coast, this time on business though. My destination this time was a small port city called Portmouth in the state of New Hampshire which is part of the six states that constitute New England, the others being Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,Rhode Island and Vermont. This is a place where it snows for six months in an year, but fortunately or fortunately, this year’s winter is already over. Talking about the place, there are three things which strike any new traveler – the coniferous trees on both sides of the road for miles together, the buildings made of bricks (so typical of English architecture) and the warmth and hospitality of the people.

The post has grown pretty long, so I’ll stop here for the time being. Will be back with more details on New England later, coz, I’m slated to travel there again in two weeks, and stay there for a month this time. So, hopefully, a lot of traveling is on the cards :) As for now, I’ve started reading “Run to the Hills”, the biography of Iron Maiden, my all-time favourite British heavy metal band ( do I hear some grins, uh). Its just great to listen to the band while reading about the how they actually grew up to become the Gods of heavy metals! So, till next time…