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…