Monday, July 10, 2006

The Big Apple

July 03, Monday

The cheap hotel which we had booked in New York really turned to be 'cheap'. After understanding it was no use arguing with the hotel guys, we shifted to another hotel, which was pretty decent.

After getting ready, we set out for New York expedition, before that we dropped Ponamma to catch her with other appointment. Parking in New York is one hell experience and we promptly returned our car to the agency. Then onwards it was taxi.

First visit was to World Trade Center.

As we walked to the Ground Zero, those satanic images of planes crashing into skyscrapers were repeating playing in my mind. I was thinking how many innocent lives unaware of what is waiting for them would have come into their offices in WTC on that fateful 09/11.

There was emptiness in the site. Once there stood two magnificent towers with booming life. At the site there were boards describing how the transport was restored, what happened at Pentagon and there was a list of all people who lost their lives in the attack. All together 2373 lives. There was graffiti on near-by wall most of them paying homage to all the departed souls.

Paid homage to all the departed ones and a silent thanks to all the firemen. In the near by World Financial Center, there was a model of the upcoming 'Freedom Tower', which is to be built in the place where WTC stood. Mind was still thinking about how anybody would think in such destructive way, what meticulous planning would have gone in this. But what did they gain out of this??

Next took a taxi and landed up in Empire State building. Before getting into Empire State building, something about taxis here. Most of the yellow taxis are driven by Desis especially the Sardars. We always ended up in Sardar taxis throughout our travel in New York.

Empire State building is the second tallest structure in US with 102 floors. There was a huge queue to get into the top of the building. After taking tickets for that, we landed on the observatory section of the empire state building. The view of New York from there was awesome. Good that we took the 'Tony the Cabie's audio commentary'. It was nice to listen to the commentary about each building we were seeing.

From there we landed up in Times Square. The first impression was awe. It was nothing but glittering. So many people, so many lights, sign boards, flashy bill boards, advertisements, it was a perfect place to roam in the night. Roaming in the Times Square was like walking in the Brigade-MG Road. We just strolled the street and had dinner at an Italian restaurant. Times truly reflected the 'never sleeping city'.

It was time to go back to hotel. But we didn't know the address of the hotel! Neither was it written on the key they gave. At that time we were in Time Square at 7th Avenue 47th Street. So 'somebody' in our group called up and asked for the hotel address. Depending on that, we took a taxi and went to 7th Avenue, 146 th street to find that there was no hotel there! Again when we called it was known that the hotel was in 7th Avenue 46th Street. This meant the hotel was next street from where we started! We laughed at ourselves for this, when we saw Times Square from our hotel window!

July 04, Tuesday

As soon as we were ready we went to the Central Park, which was at a walkable distance from the hotel. Central Park was so huge and everywhere people were seen jogging, cycling or skating. After spending strolling across the park and enjoying the central park benches, it was time to bid adieu to Dips.

We were back in Central Park and Archana was insisting that we will hire bicycles to roam around. So hired the bicycles for 2 hours for a rent of 20$. Last time I rode a bicycle was atleast 4-5 years ago. So first few seconds were shaky & finally I got the grip.It was awesome strolling the central park on the bicycle. It was good to see so many joggers, cyclists, skaters & walkers around us.

After 2 hours we returned the bicycles and went for one last round of stroll in Time Square before we left for the airport.

We reached JFK barely with any time left, but plane was made to wait for nearly 2 hours on the runway due to some runway problem, which meant that when I arrived in Phoenix, I had missed my connecting flight to LA. I was put in the next day first flight at 6 AM.The stupid airlines argued that they can't provide accommodation. Suppi took me to his home with an extra burden of dropping me in airport for the first flight.

I almost missed that flight too, but somehow made it! But it was not the end of action as my baggage didn't arrive when I landed in LAX. Finally everything ended fine!

Climbing Statue of Liberty
Getting soaked in Niagara
Drive in the freeway
Silent moments at WTC
Top of the world in Empire State building
Stroll in Time Square
Cycling in Central Park

So many wonderful moments throughout the trip combined with the presence of my awesome friends without whom this trip would not have so much fun and memorable.

Still savoring each moment from the trip...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A magnificent statue and an awesome waterfalls

It was tough to get back to work in office after spending an awesome time with friends in awesome places. I’m just back from a trip to New York and Niagara.

The idea of this New York trip originated during our last Las Vegas trip. Even though we thought we will book the tickets & hotels well in advance, it never happened. Finally it boiled down to just one week before the trip. Then as always we rushed and in hurry tried to book air tickets. Even though it was little expensive, it wasn’t bad either. At some point, we almost dropped the idea of the trip seeing the prices. Somehow everything fell in place.

But this time, biggest villain was hotel! We literally struggled to get a decent hotel and when we finally booked a hotel at a surprisingly low price, we were elated. Not knowing what was waiting for us next.

When everything was fine, suddenly at my work place, there was some concern about me taking an off. Somehow I convinced them. Same thing happened with Suppi too.

Keeping aside all these initial hiccups, so finally we kick-started the trip from flying to New York. Only after landing in JFK Airport in New York, I and Suppi realized that still there are lots which we need to battle. Our plan of hiring the car from airport went for a toss as there was not even a single vehicle available in any rental agencies. After roaming frantically for 3 hours and after surfing on the spot, we managed to get a car from a rental agency which was 10 miles from JFK.

Mean while it was not going good for our friends who went to hotel to rest. The hotel would have been easily rated one of the worst. We were deceived by the hotel’s flashy website & the price carrot.

July 01, Saturday

Finally it was 10:30 on Saturday morning, when the same gang of Deepti, Archana, Supreeth & I met in Battery Park. Only addition was Ponamma. This was the place from where the ferry would take us to one of the most recognized monument in world, Statue of Liberty.

There was an intense security check, just like in airports, before we boarded the ferry. As the ferry moved nearer to Liberty Island, the famous statue was becoming more and more visible. It was a memorable moment to see the Statue of Liberty in person. After getting down on the island, we proceeded to the statue. Entry to the Statue requires tickets and thankfully I had booked it online.

As we entered the Statue, again there was one more round of security check, this time it had some puff test, which blew air on the body! Now we were in the Statue and the stairs led us to the exclusive exhibition about Statue of Liberty and its history.

Did you know this? Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of Statue of Liberty was thinking of ways to provide the support from inside to the statue. He consulted Eiffel and Eiffel suggested that there should be a tower like structure which runs across the statue to support it. And that idea worked. By the way, Eiffel is the same guy after which the Paris’s famous tower is named.

It seems there is a path up till the lamp. But that route is no longer accessible.

So there we were at the feet of Statue of Liberty. The gigantic, green and magnificent statue, gifted by France to US, to mark the later’s independence. The Statue stood as a symbol of freedom, hope & liberty. It was the first sight any immigrant entering to US through New York would have seen during those days. One interesting thing to notice was that right feet of the statue was on toes, something like to ‘ready to go’ state. (Well, Archana cooked up some cock-bull reason why it was like that ! )

The view of Manhattan from Statue was amazing too. We took some funny pictures around Statue, had lunch and started back in the ferry to Battery Park.

According to plan, we left New York for Buffalo, a place 450 miles away. Our Plan was to visit Niagara and come back again to New York. Suppi started the driving from New York and drove till we were totally out of New York traffic. Then I took over and as always it was pleasure driving. Especially driving in the freeway is an experience. We got a good company of some 4-5 cars who consistently kept me competitive. After 4 hours, Suppi took over. It was 1:30 night when we reached the hotel in Buffalo. The hotel was too good compared to other in New York, thanks to our IDM manager !

Buffalo streets was full of Saturday night parties and energy level was quite visible-audible. But we badly needed rest and slipped into sleep.

July 02, Sunday

Tired with the journey we woke up pretty late and started towards Niagara, which was about 50 miles from Buffalo. By the time we reached the place and found car parking, it was already afternoon. Information Center informed us about the combo-trip package which covers the Niagara Falls extensively. We booked the tickets for that and tickets were available only for 4:30 trip.

Meanwhile it was time to attack the lunch at a near-by Punjabi restaurant (In fact the name was Punjabi dhabha which made us to run to it!).After a good buffet lunch, we were all set for the Niagara expedition.

Niagara Falls actually consists of three falls – American Falls, Bridal Vail Falls and Canadian Falls (Horse Shoe Falls).

First of the trip was called ‘Maid of the Mist’. This is the trip where the cruise passes near the American Falls and takes right into the Horse-Shoe falls. Before boarding the cruise, we were given blue colored plastic gowns and as the cruise moved towards the falls, we realized why the gown was required. The entire atmosphere was misty and there was a strong wind blowing, making water droplets flying in all directions.

The American falls sight was magnificent and the sun rays and the water drop had created a big rainbow across the falls. American falls was 1060 feet in width and had a 180 ft height. When we were still enjoying the American falls, at a near distance we heard the thundering noise of water thrusting. The boat took a slight turn and slowly the Horse-Shoe Falls appeared. In next few moments, we were in the middle of Horse-Shoe falls. To the left, to the right & to the center, it was water in majestic form. It was jumping as if it has broken all shackles attached to it, as if there was no tomorrow...

Imagine a waterfall which is 2600 feet in width and 173 feet height and water jumping in full form. It was an absolutely stunning experience. When the announcement in the ship went “Ladies & Gentleman, THIS is Niagara Falls”, automatically all the hands in the ship clapped in unison with loud cheering. Truly, it was a moment to cherish.

We couldn’t stop talking about the view of Niagara after we came out of that ‘Maid of the Mist’ trip. Next on our list was ‘Cave of the Winds’ tour. This time the queue was extremely long and before entering we were given the yellow plastic gowns and water slippers.

There was a small pathway, which lead to the falls and when the path ended, we were right below the falls. Now we knew why water slippers were given. As we climbed nearer to the falls, the water was splashing on us from every side. As wind blew, it carried a barrage of water droplets and sprinkled on us. We stood right below the falls with water falling with massive force and what a force it has. Thanks to the gown, clothes were dry, but couldn’t resist getting the head wet thoroughly.

Up close to the falls was an awesome experience. We could have continued like that forever. It was getting dark and slowly the lights were coming on. We came out of the ‘Cave of the Winds’.

The powerful light sources on the Canadian border were projecting the colors on the falls. The water falls was taking new colors and in the night it was another different world. It was such a myriad image to see the falls in blue, green, red and in many other eye-catching colors. It was around 10 in night now and the fireworks started on Canadian border. It was excellent show but got curtailed due to rain.

We returned back to our car with Niagara running in our minds and the images constantly lingering in eyes. Time for dinner and we went to one more Indian restaurant. There the owner of the hotel and a Desi had picked up the fight and arguing stupidly. We carried with our dinner and before dinner got over, we could see the hotel owner trying to be nice with that Desi customer by calling him ‘Beta’ and hugging. It was hilarious!

After refueling the car, it was 1 in the night when we started our journey back. I started the innings with me being in driver’s seat. After roaming for the whole day, folks were feeling sleepy and soon Archana & Ponamma slipped into sleep. We made Suppi to sleep so that he can take over from me. Deepti tried giving company to me by continuing her request show and talking to me. Finally she also slipped into sleep.

Meanwhile the drive was extremely cool, as always started with 65-70 mph and slowly ramped up to 80-85 mph. This time there was no company to chase or play with on the freeway. Archana, I think got worried twice when the car swayed at few turns. Ponamma was sleeping sound as if she was sleeping in a nice cozy bed. Finally it was 4:30 when I handed over the wheel to Suppi and I slipped into sleep for some 2 hours.

We were on our way back to The Big Apple..

Coming up next...Ground Zero, Empire State building, Time Square and many New York attractions