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…