Saturday, May 7, 2016

Birthday at Tahoe

Time: April 16, 2016
Place: Lake Tahoe
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Prologue: The only snow experienced in the past winter was in Jan and kiddo didn’t enjoy it too much because of extreme temperature. So we thought we might as well visit Tahoe again since it still had snow and temperature was in 60s. It was my wife & my birthday celebration too, so double fun! We initially planned to make it as a day trip, but then thought it was too hectic for our birthday. So booked a hotel at 4 pm(check-in started at 3 pm!) for the night and started getting ready to go.

Day 0: Left home at about 7:30 pm in car on Friday. This helped avoiding all the traffic surrounding Sacramento. We took cake on our way to cut the next day. Munched some packed dinner on the way itself and took just one pit stop. After 3.5 hrs, we reached South Lake Tahoe. Room at Days Inn was pretty comfortable. But it was chilly!! Retired for the night.

Day 1: After a fairly decent breakfast, we cut the cake, sang the birthday songs to ourselves(!) & headed directly to Gondola at Heavenly, which was our only focus for this trip – since we had never been on it. It was not in action in Oct 2015 when we were here last, and we didn’t know about it when we visited in May 2012 and it didn’t even exist when I visited in 2006 (although I did experience Squaw Valley gondola).

It wasn’t too crowded, so got gondola tickets easily, and hopped on the cable car. It is extremely impressive. The angle at which it ascends is almost breath-taking. The hush of the forest underneath and the expansive view of the lake behind us suddenly makes the jaw drop. After about few minutes, we get to stop at Observation Deck from where we could see the Lake Tahoe in all its beauty. We had access to snow right at the deck, and kiddo started playing with snow. It was bright and sunny, and hence not at all cold. We allowed her to have as much fun as she wanted, and hence we ended up staying just at the deck for over an hour! Then we headed further up in the tram to arrive at a wide expanse of snow where all ski-lifts started for further up ski trails. But this place was sufficient for us.

With white blanket covering all around us, kiddo did a snowman, a snow angel, threw snow at us and we had a gala time altogether. Also had nice hot chocolate and munched some snacks. More snow, more fun time, lotsa pictures. At one point, we sat on patio chairs & just relaxed in the cool breeze. It was a beautiful day to be in the snow on this sunny day!

With that, we finally got down the gondola. It almost took 10 minutes! Then headed to Nikki’s Indian eatery and had sumptuous lunch buffet. Little shopping for some memorabilia and then at 6 pm we headed back home. After a brief stopover to visit a friend’s place at El Dorado Hills, we drove home uneventfully and reached at about 10:30 pm.

Epilogue: It is always great to celebrate birthdays differently, and this one was really special. Wife and I hadn’t done this grand ever before, and to top it off, daughter had fun in the snow too. Looking forward to Anniversary now!!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Antelope Canyon

Time: March 29 – April 2, 2016
Place: Page (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend) & Las Vegas
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Prologue: To visit Antelope Canyon was an year long dream (or maybe more). We forgot when we came to know about this place or how but looking at the pictures, we really felt like visiting it. The fact that we had traversed right through it in December 2012 gave us a huge dismay but the consoling thing was that the light rays in December would not have been that good anyways. So it was ok to visit those parts again. March end seemed like a good time to visit with not much crowd, not too cold and good enough sunlight. So we booked the flight tickets, the tour tickets, the hotel tickets, the car just about a month back and we were ready to go!

Day 0: Left home at about 4:30 pm in car to ParkSFO – long-term parking for SFO. With a coupon, it seemed reasonable. Reached airport at about 6 pm. Took the southwest to Las Vegas at 8:30 pm. All three of us flew free - with points. For the first time ever in life, flying for free!! Reached Vegas at 10 pm. Shuttle to rental car. Quite a long line to shuttle itself. Not a good designed airport, looks like. Sixt & Fox folks need to take double shuttle. Thank God, we had Budget. Got a new black Nissan Versa. Good enough. Drove to our Super 8 for the night, and retired.

Day 1: Extremely sumptuous breakfast. Very fulfilling. Left hotel at 9 and drove north towards to St George. Unlike in 2012, this time I was ready for the Virgin River Gorge – with its beautiful winding roads across the rocky valley. Took exit towards Zion National Park. At Hurricane (city), found a play area for kids, and rested for Tontu to play on swing for some time. Had little snack, debated whether to go to Zion or not (as per original plan) since drive-through costed $30. Decided yes, and continued on. Lost a turn, and had to drive back for about 5-10 minutes. Then headed towards to Zion. Just at the entrance, mother and daughter had some motion sickness issues that had to be taken care. Thankfully had a nice restroom nearby. Once done, we went to a Thai restaurant (Thai Sapa) – the same one which we had relished in 2012. Excellent service, and the waiter happened to be an ex-National Park Serviceman. So he gave us a rundown of some hikes including the Angel’s Landing. Now, although, our plan didn’t include any hike or trail on Zion (just a pass-through), we suddenly started thinking ‘why-not’ – at least on the way back. It would be hectic, as well as some plan changes, but still why-not.

Anyways, started driving uphill towards Zion’s exit on the other side and we were welcomed to some amazing cliff structures. The tunnel was amazing too. Last time, we had driven the other way at night and hence had missed all of this. Stopped at Checkerboard vista point for some snaps and continued on. We saw some mountain goats posing for us and then we were out of the Zion’s reddish roads. We had planned to go to Page via a lesser-known road called Johnson Canyon to admire Grand Staircase but we somehow missed the exit. When we finally found it, we were shocked to see that it was unpaved. We couldn’t risk to go on an unpaved road, checked with a local and even he said he had never been on it. So had to strike off one of our to-do things in our trip plan. Instead took the highway, and headed straight to Page.

During 2012, we had driven the other way back and hadn’t realized that the cliffs to our right were indeed Grand Staircase. But that knowledge helped us to scrutinize them further this time. It was quite grand indeed. Just near to Page, we found Wahweap Overlook. It was a nice vista point for Lake Powell view just before the Glen Canyon dam. Took some pics at the windy place and headed to our Super 8 hotel. Ordered a pizza from pizza hut, discussed a lot on what to do with Zion and Angel’s Landing, and finally decided to stick to originally planned itinerary. Although reached hotel at about 7 pm, ended up straining ourselves unnecessarily (researching) for about 2-3 hours. Instead could have rested.

Day 2: Once again a fantastic breakfast. This was all-inclusive continental. Thoroughly enjoyed. Today was the big day, and there was huge dependence on Sun and clouds. Thankfully, we were blessed with a near-clear sky with sun shining down on us. A short 10-minute ride took us to Ken’s tours of Lower Antelope Canyon. We had the 9:40 am tour booked. As the guide took us to the steep steps that led down the Earth’s level to the slot canyons, we positioned ourselves to be the last in the group. Flip side of this is that we cannot hear much of what the guide explains. But the best part of this is that we get to take lots and lots of pictures, since we would have almost 10-15 minutes before the next group catches up to us. As we descended, we got to see the natural carvings of flash flood water and it is surreal. Although we had seen many videos of this exact venue, it is only when we see with our naked eyes that we can truly appreciate the experience and the beauty. Paavani had great adventure with ladders and claustrophobic canyon walls. The guide was very patient with us and allowed us all to take as many pictures as we wanted. After we reveled in the picture-taking and walked for almost 1.5 hrs in the serpentine canyon route, we came to the end, which is actually the opening for the flash floods to enter. So we were walking all the time in the reverse order – from lower depths to earth level via a series of ladders. This coming out of the crack of the earth seemed so unearthly! And with that, we were done with Lower Antelope Canyon.

Our next tour of Upper Antelope Canyon was at noon but we had to report at 11 am. As per what we had researched, the site for Upper was right opposite Ken’s tours across the highway - Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours. So, just a minute’s drive and we were there. 

Tip#1: Upper charges $8 per person for Navajo permit whereas Lower charges $8 per family. But if you show Lower’s receipt to Upper, then the $8 per person is waived! But if you go to Upper first and then Lower, then you end up paying the $8 per person. So we got lucky booking Lower first. In fact, we had initially thought that Lower was without tours but a casual chat with a friend of mine who had visited informed that Lower was through tours only too, which resulted in research and subsequent booking.

Tip#2: Upper Canyon tour with Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours is nearer than anyone else because they are right at the entrance. Any other tour company is located somewhere in Page, and they have to go through this tour company property (add almost 15-20 minutes of drive one-way). 


After munching up some snacks and killing time till noon, it was soon time for us to depart. For Upper, we had to go on a bumpy 3 mile 10-minute truck ride to the mouth of the Upper Antelope Canyon. Unlike Lower, Upper is like a huge natural triangular Earth tent with a tiniest shadow of light filtering through the opening. Hence the rush for the lunch time, to see the Sun beams cast its glory to the canyon floors via the myriad shapes and canyon wall carvings. The guides here were expert in photography and suggested us all the right configuration to get the right pastel shades. I am no camera expert and without the guide’s excellent suggestion, the whole Upper Antelope Canyon album would have been a black and white mess! In fact the guide even helped most of us to keep the camera at unique angles to get the right shots – such as some US president faces, wolf face, a heart, sunrise, sunset, bird flying, etc. It was hard to get a family picture since there were too many people. And unlike Lower, in which we enter at one end and exit at the other, here we enter and exit at the same place. So we have to head back the way we came, thus leading to lot of traffic issues inside! 

Despite all this, Upper Antelope Canyon is beautiful too. Maybe it is because we went to Lower first, we liked it better but Upper is as good. There are no ladders, it is just plain walk and hence Tontu didn’t have that much fun. She was tired of all the canyon walls since it was almost 3 hours, and she wanted to head back. We were blessed with good sun beams in both Lower and Upper canyons, so we were pretty contented. It was worth travelling 2 hours in flight and driving almost a day to get to see this! Bumpy ride back and we were back to our car at about 1:30 pm.

Headed back to Lower Canyon visitor center to buy a magnet. On the way, stopped at roadside for a scenic photo. Kept my glasses on the car, and forgot clean about it, and drove away. Alas, by the time I realized (which was in a Mexican restaurant in Page) and went back to the spot, my glasses were broken, thanks to a car that has gone over it. Morose, returned back to hotel room, since we were pretty exhausted and there was nothing significant to do anyways. Took some rest and unfortunately, I had to attend a 5 pm office call which went on till 7 pm. So even though, we had plans of going to Marble Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, we had to forgo it. With the happenings of the day, we were ok with it. Retired early.

Day 3: After another nice sumptuous breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and headed to Horseshoe Bend trailhead which is again a short ride from Page. Trail was less than 20 minutes and not strenuous. Soon, we were at the edge of the cliff overlooking at the Horseshoe Bend of the mighty Colorado river. It was indeed quite a scene. Thanks to the natural wonder, there is a huge overlook area, and hence even if the place is crowded, there is always a place to see. The cliff is about 1000 ft drop and hence one has to be extremely careful. We took about gazillion pictures from all possible angles with all possible permutations - individual, family, individual selfie, family selfie, just the bend, videos, etc. and spent almost an hour basking in the beauty. Then headed back to the car.

We again went to the same Mexican restaurant and had an early yet heavy lunch. Then we were on our way back to Vegas. But we felt we had quite a bit of time and hence took it easy. We went to Glen Canyon dam, went to the visitor center to search for another magnet (since we thought we lost the one which we had bought the previous day) but it was futile. Took some nice pics of the dam, and finally we were on our way. It was about 1 pm when we left Page finally.

All the way, we took pics of Grand Staircase as it paralleled our road. Excellent scenery all through. This time, we didn’t go through Zion & took the highway route. At Hurricane, we stopped at the same exact park where we had stopped on Day 1. Some snacks, some play in the park, fuel refill and back on our way. Once more through the Virgin River Gorge – same excellent landscape – and then dry desert miles together. We had decided on going to the Valley of Fire route, and hence took the appropriate exit. I was hoping it was a 30 minute diversion but it was not so. It was quite a long deviation indeed. After we left the highway, we drove almost 30 minutes just to get to the entrance of Valley of Fire. But once we entered, it seemed worth it. There are a bunch of rocks with cave-like holes in them and with the Sun setting, the park indeed seemed like on fire. It was orange-ish all around (especially more so with the sunglasses on), and mesmerizing indeed. We felt we should have come a bit earlier without having the Sun threatening to set on us. So we had to hurry around, especially to some of the shorter hikes. But to be fair, the park actually needs one whole day for itself, since most of the trails are pretty lengthy. So despite the setting sun, we felt we were on short change. But with whatever time we had, we saw whatever we could and took pics.

Finally, with no more stops, we headed straight to our same hotel in Vegas as on Day 0. This was a Super 8 vacation! After quickly freshening up, we headed to the Strip at about 8 pm. Parked our car at Bellagio, and showed Paavani the fountain. She enjoyed thoroughly. There were also a bunch of cartoon characters on the Strip and Paavani had a nice time talking to them all. Showed her the Eiffel Tower.  Then walked down to the New York New York to show her the Statue of Liberty. More pics. Then the tram to the iconic Vegas Pyramid. By then, she was way too exhausted and she slept. Carried her all the way back to Bellagio and headed back to the hotel to sleep. All the casinos which we wanted to show Paavani at night with lights, we were able to show and hence it was rather fulfilling.

Day 4: Was really exhausted and hence got up really late, at almost 9 am. After breakfast and getting ready, we finally left at 11 am. Considering we had a flight at 7:30 pm, that wasn’t such a good idea. We should have left the hotel early. Anyways. Read somewhere about a shark show in Mandalay Bay. So, got to the car parking in Mandalay Bay, walked through a series of passageways and finally when we got there, there was a big queue. So, ditched the plan, walked all the way back and took the car to Aria. From there, walked through Aria, to the Strip, through Paris resort, Strip again, Caesar’s, and then walked to Bellagio’s, took the mono rail back to Aria, since it was already 3 pm. Then drove to Circus Circus. There was some delay due to traffic & parking restrictions. Stopped over at McD’s for a quick bite of lunch & ice cream. Saw one amazing acrobatic aerobic show in Circus Circus, and headed back to car, ready to be off to airport.

There were a few more casinos we wanted to see & show to Tontu – like Wynn, Venetian, etc. but due to lack of time, we had to forego. So with a heavy heart, we left. Lost our way to rental car return, got back on track, returned car, took shuttle to airport, checked-in, security, and finally we got to the gate. After an uneventful journey in JetBlue – which we flew after almost 7 years! – we landed safely in SFO, took the shuttle to car parking, drove back home and reached at almost midnight. Thus ended the Antelope Canyon & Vegas trip…

Epilogue: The main objective of the trip was the Antelope Canyon, and we were extremely lucky to have got a clear and sunny day for most of both the canyons. There were certain other aspects of the trip which kinda pulled the mood down at times. Such as losing my glasses. And most importantly - not having seen any of the place in its entirety. There were small places in Page which we couldn’t see like Marble Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, etc. There was Zion & Angel’s Landing which got us thinking and the thinking fell flat. There was Valley of Fire’s landscape which was so beautiful which we could not see enough because we hardly had time. And although we were short by a day in Vegas(!) - considering how much there is to see in each resort – we felt we should have done a good job planning the last day’s activities instead of being lackadaisical & leaving the hotel so late in the morning, which left us just with 5 hours. I guess the fact that we have been to Vegas many times before took us off guard...This is my fourth time already.

But the trip as a whole was safe and enriching. And I guess that’s just as good as anything anyone can ever ask for, right?. So, then this was the first big vacation for 2016. What’s next?!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016 New Year Snow!

Time: Jan 1st 2016
Place: Soda Springs Ski Area
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Wanted to usher the new year with snow, just like how we had on 2012 in North Conway. But had not planned anything until 31st evening. Finally decided on Soda Springs - but just as a day trip, considering the drive was about 3 hours. Left at about 8:30 am and reached about 11:30 am. There was a huge line for the ticket. We took Planet Kids since we wanted the daughter to have her day of fun. And once we got the ticket, we went on the short sleigh ride to Planet Kids base lodge, where there was another huge line for ski rental. Looking at the line, perhaps we should have arrived about an hour early. It was almost 2 pm (just 2 hours for closure) when we got the ski and hit the short slopes.

Skiing for the first time is never easy. And the 5 year old was more scared than had fun but she did ski a little with help. The thing she had more fun was snow tubing which she did for a few times. Then the cold (13 F) caught onto her and started biting into her toes. So we had to rush back inside for warmth. Then came out again for some snaps and to just take in the setting. The sun had already set by then and it was getting far more colder. 

We left at about 5 pm with a slightly dejected feeling that the kiddo did not enjoy as much as we would have liked her to. There were times when she was just playing with snow, and at such times, I should have just let her enjoy instead of asking her to hurry up for ski or snow-tube. And the cold was far too much for her to really enjoy and have fun. So the combination of the day/place/temperature was not correctly chosen either. 

Anyways, it was still a nice drive amongst snowy mountains. Surprising that we had so much snow within a 4 hour drive from our place. There were many feet of snow. So much, that we saw people on top of housetops shoveling down the snow! The scenery and the setting was all very beautiful for a day's trip.

The return drive was slow, because of the traffic and light snow drizzle. Stopped at Punjabi Dhaba in Dixon for a dinner buffet. By the time we came home it was 9:30 pm, and we were all exhausted. 

Overall it was a 13-hour outing, with an 8-hour drive to start the new year 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Florida

Time: Nov 22-26, 2015
Place: Disneyworld Orlando, Kennedy Space Center NASA, Miami, Key West, Everglades National Park
Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights: 

Day 1: Got up at 4 am, left home at 5:30 am in freezing cold, and all three of us walked to the BART station dragging our luggage. Shocked to find it closed. Totally, totally forgot that BART on Sundays is only from 8 am onward! Our train was at 9 am from OAK! Quickly went home, got a parking slot booked and took car OAK. Had a tough time finding parking spot but finally found it. Then walked back from car (again, cold) to shuttle stop, took shuttle to OAK airport, walked to terminal and finally glad to be on the airplane. It was a short flight to PHX and extremely short layover (35 minutes). Finally, boarded the flight to ORL. 

Landed at ORL local time about 5 pm. Took baggage, waited for rental car shuttle, took car and reached hotel at almost 8 pm! Never expected it would take 3 hours! Exhausted, we retired for the night.

Day 2: Got up really early, had breakfast at hotel, and left at 7 am. Got the direct local bus to Disney World, which was $2 per adult. Compare that to $20 parking fee! It was a short ride and we entered Disney World just before standard opening time of 8 am. Rushing in, we went through the ritual of standing in the line either for rides or for character meet and greet. Initially it was for Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, and then some rides. Then some more characters and then some more rides, and so it went on all day until it became dark. 

The only ride for which we waited in line a long time was Winnie the Pooh. It was for more than an hour and very frustrating. We also didn’t go on the Splash Mountain ride even though we had a FastPass, which was another negative thing. Unusually it was cold entire day. At night, there was a spectacular show of Elsa and Anna and icy castle. It continued on with light parade, and then one more Mickey and Minnie show and finally it was time for fireworks. After another great display of fireworks, we trudged out of the park. Tontu, although extremely tired, kept herself awake all day and enjoyed thoroughly. It was biting cold when we had to take the bus back to hotel. Finally reached, and slept.

Day 3: Relatively easy day, but still had to drive about an hour in the morning. Reached at about 9:30 am and took the shuttle bus to Launch point. It was mesmerizing actually, although not much for the daughter. There were actual simulations of how it felt in the headquarters when Neil Armstrong almost missed Moon, and the first rocket launch experience and the rocket itself which is hung over the ceiling. It is awesome to come so close to the launch pad and think about all that Man has achieved.

Back in the visitor center, we then went to the auditorium where they showed the history and story of Atlantis. Just the thought there is something called International Space Station which is catering to Man’s problems on Earth is outstanding. I felt so little in front of it all, and was humbled by how little I know. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of ISS until that day. Perhaps I had read about it, but the full significance of it never entered my head. The props there were all stunning - the actual Atlantis itself hung from the ceiling, the commode where astronauts had to "go", the position in which they had to half-sit/half-sleep, exercise, etc. Then there was a small simulation of an actual rocket launch (which me and my daughter skipped), and then we headed to an IMAX auditorium to know more about spacesuit evolution and the likes.

And then, we spent some time on the rocket garden & explorers required for MARS video presentation. We missed the ‘Meet-the-Astronaut’ event. We left at 6 pm and drove on for about 2-3 hrs to reach our next hotel at West Palm Beach. 

Day 4: After a fitful sleep and rest, we had a nice sumptuous breakfast and then headed to South Beach, Miami. Not expecting too much in the morning (since this place is more known for night time entertainment), we headed to the sand but still the sight was mesmerizing. The turquoise greenish-blue water color and the high-surf was awesome. The beach was not entirely empty. We spent about an hour until 1 pm walking on the sand. We then headed to a quick lunch in an Indian restaurant, and then dropped off the car at MIA off-airport. Took shuttle to MIA and then headed to Advantage for next car, which was a convertible. 

Some confusion led us to have a Beetle light-grey convertible which seemed very repulsive. So had to go back, stand in the line again, and get the paperwork re-done to get the white Ford which was much better. Then took some more time acclimatizing with the convertible features. Due to all of this, the original plan of going to Everglades had to be ditched. Instead, headed directly to Marathon where we had booked our next hotel for the night. The daughter had some difficulties with too much wind (especially since she was in rear seat) and we had to sort it out for the next day. 

Day 5: Left early at about 7 am. After a quick 1 hour drive, went to the Southernmost Point of US spot for some nice snaps. Then headed back. This time, with the convertible top open, went over all the bridges with their excellent views. Stopped at couple of places to enjoy the scenery and get some air and some pics. We made quick time, so headed to Everglades (Ernest Coe Visitor Center) although we only had about an hour’s time. We decided on Pa-hay-okee overlook as the only spot that we would see and headed straight there. It turned out to be the best place to go with only one hour to spend. It has a short trail, but with a view of miles together of the famous Florida swamp & river of grass. Alas, that is all we could see. Headed back to MIA & reached MIA at about 2:30 pm for return & boarding non-stop flight back to SFO at 5 pm.

So totally exhausted that all three of us slept completely from take-off to touch-down without ever getting up. But even after arriving at SFO at 8 pm, the journey was not over. Thanks to the first day’s goof-up, we now had to head back to OAK to retrieve our car, even though the BART would have taken directly to home! So, we switched trains twice to get to OAK, and then waited for rental car shuttle, then took the car back home (lost direction midway due to missing of an exit) - and by the time we reached home, it was almost midnight!

Overview: All-in-all, it was a great trip although slightly hectic. Disneyworld was mind-blowing especially the night-time shows. NASA was mesmerizing. South Beach Miami was splendid. Drive to Key West was nice, especially all those bridges. Everglades was serene. We realized that we covered most of Florida in less than 4 days! No wonder it was hectic! 
I had been to Florida thrice - May 2005 (Miami, Key West, Epcot Orlando) and September 2005 (Tampa, Univeral Orlando) and July 2009 (Seaworld & Universal Orlando) - but hadn’t taken wifey to Key West & Miami. This was on the to-do’s for a long time. Especially on a convertible. Check!

Point Bonito

Time: Oct 12, 2015
Place: Golden Gate vista point, Point Bonito, Rodeo Beach
Company: Family, parents, brother, sister-in-law, wife, daughter

Highlights: A chance encounter on Google Maps led us to this stunning picturesque destination. We were actually checking for the address for the best Golden Gate vista point which is on the north side on top of a hill and the map showed a road that led all the way to the ocean with ‘Point Bonito lighthouse’ at the very end. So, this time (it has been many times that we have been on this vista point), instead of turning back after taking some amazing clicks of the Golden Gate - not so chilly, which was a surprise actually - we continued on till the end of the road which (the road, I mean) was itself stunning. It was then a short downhill hike to the lighthouse from the parking lot. But unfortunately it had closed just a half hour back, and the pedestrian tunnel walkway was closed. Nevertheless, we took some more pictures and then headed to Rodeo beach. It was a different beach, with black sand but the waves were awesome. Some folks were riding the surf too. Munched some snacks, spent about an hour and headed back home.

Lake Tahoe

Time: Oct 9-10, 2015
Place: Lake Tahoe loop
Company: Family, parents, brother, sister-in-law, wife, daughter

Highlights: For daughter’s birthday on 11th, parents had come from India & brother and his wife had come from Detroit. To make the family get-together extra special, we planned for a small vacation to Lake Tahoe. It was to be my third (first on September 2006 & second on May 2012)

Day 1: Tontu finished her school at 11:30 am and then we had quick lunch and departed at about 2 pm. There was some traffic near Sacramento but it didn’t keep us up too tied up. Just as the daughter finished seeing Frozen (for the second time in her life and for the first time in a moving vehicle), we reached our hotel in South Lake Tahoe city. It was a nice big suite-kinda-family room that housed all of us. Quick rest later, we went to Nikki’s chaat cafĂ©. I was surprised that Taj Mahal restaurant was no longer in operation. And then it was time to retire back at the room. Of course, the 4-year-old was a big entertainer!

Day 2: It was heartening to see the Tahoe lake so dry, what with California being in draught. We decided to go around the Tahoe in a clockwise route so that we could take in all that Tahoe had to offer (something that I hadn’t done before in my previous trips). Our first stop was at Emerald Bay, where we took some pictures. It resembled of Crater Lake. Then we drove on. Much of the road didn’t skirt the shoreline so it kind of became monotonous. But then we took a stop at King’s Beach. This place was awesome. The depth of the lake was so shallow (maybe because of evaporation) that we could walk in many yards into the lake and feel as if we were surrounded by it and yet the water was just a few feet deep. Added to this, there were tiny waves which made the feeling more special. We spent a long time here. We continued on and had lunch at a Thai restaurant in Incline Village, then made one more stop near Zephyr Cove beach for more pictures. After that, at about 4 pm, we headed back home which was a 4 hour drive. 

Overall: We missed some good attractions such as the Squaw Valley gondola and even the South Lake Tahoe gondola due to seasonal maintenance, which was very unfortunate. Also, it was a short trip that could have been extended but we had to be home early because of the birthday party the next day!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Point Reyes

Time: September 26th, 2015

Place: Point Reyes Lighthouse and nearby beaches

Company: Wife, daughter and parents

Highlights: Left house at about 11 am and reached the Bear Valley Visitor Center at about 1 pm. Nice, easy drive with a short bit of easy winding road. Then headed directly to lighthouse. Reached at 2 pm. A magnificent view of a straight-line coastline with crashing waves greeted us at the parking lot. After a short walk, reached the start of the stairs that went 308 steps down to the lighthouse. Quite a spectacular view. The lighthouse itself was quite interesting, with actual diary entries recorded, way back from late 1800s. Spent some nice time looking at the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and then headed back. 

After a quick lunch, headed to Chimney Rock spot where there was an Elephant Seal Overlook. It wasn't all that great. So didn't spend much time at that place. Headed next to the Point Reyes South Beach. The sand on this beach is very coarse and actually has tiny colored stones. Spent some nice time relaxing and then headed to Drakes Beach. We didn't expect this beach to have any waves considering this is in the bay area. However, we were surprised to see some waves crashing in single file with quite a thunder. It was pleasant with quite a view - a backdrop of cliffs. However, we didn't stay for long since it was chilly.

Our next stop was Point Reyes North Beach. This seemed to be the best of the three. The waves here was much better than South Beach. Here the crashing waves appear in great sets and is non-stop. The sand on the beach was much finer and smooth. We spent the maximum time here, mainly to wait until the sun set. It was a clear sky and we were rewarded with a nice enough sun set although - at the very end - there seemed to appear some clouds from nowhere. We were hoping for the sun to sink beneath the ocean but it disappeared just above the horizon. Still, it was a good enough sunset.

Left at 7:05 pm after sunset and reached home after an uneventful trip at about 9 pm. Driven 166 miles, spent 6 hours all in all at Point Reyes National Seashore (from the time we entered Bear Valley Visitor Center until we left the North Beach) and it was good enough time spent for a nice weekend outing.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Point Lobos

Time: September 6th, 2015

Place: Point Lobos State Reserve, Mount Madonna Hanuman Temple

Company: Wife, daughter and parents

Highlights: Did not plan anything significant for the Labor Day long weekend. Ended up with a single day trip to Monterey-area (Point Lobos state reserve). Initially thought of visiting the Point Sur lighthouse too but it has many restrictions such as 3.5 hr walking tour, no visitors in parking lot, only 10 am on Sundays, etc. So ditched the plan. 

However, because of this ditching, we planned to leave the house an hour later (9 instead of 8), ended up leaving at 10 instead and hence got stuck in the traffic almost all the way, and what should have been a 2- hr drive became a 3-hr drive. Also did a brief stop-over at Monastery beach which I had initially thought was great but it wasn't this day. Then we saw 'parking lot full' with no access to vehicles in Point Lobos. 

So we had to park the car somewhere afar and walk some distance (to Whalers cove) to have a picnic lunch. The views were good though. Then, realizing that we could not cover everything by walk, went back to car, and got it inside (by which time, the 'Parking lot full' board was removed). Drove quickly to some other viewpoints such as Sandhill Cove, Weston Beach, China Cove, etc. Although not beach-like, it was quite a sight, with waves crashing against rocks and the bluish-green hue was mesmerizing. Because we also wanted to visit Hanuman temple, which was due to close at 7 pm, we had to hurry up. A good lesson learnt was that we should have left almost 2 hours early.

Thankfully, there was not much traffic on the way to Hanuman temple. We entered 30 mins before close and were greeted with a very warm arathi and prasadam. Did not expect to see so many people there on the middle of a long weekend. Very fulfilling and refreshing. Headed back, and home by 11-ish.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cycling on Golden Gate

Time: July 11, 2015

Place: San Francisco

Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights: To celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary "day" (Rio was already considered as our 7th wedding anniversary vacation), we finally chose cycling on Golden Gate after carefully choosing many nominations (hot air balloon, cycling, stretch limo ride, vacation, etc.)! Left house at about 10:30 am, took the BART & embarked at Embarcadero. First stop was the office where I work at Beale St. Then walked to waterfront and took snaps in front of Gandhi statue. Took street-side Indian samosa and then walked to Cupid's Span. More snaps.

Took a pedicab (like a manual cycle rickshaw in Indian terminology) from Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. The last time I came here was in Sept 2006. Walked through the hustle-bustle to Blazing Saddles bike shop (had reserved previous day to get discount) and took two bikes. I rode the one with the daughter's child seat on my back.

After initial traffic of Fisherman's Wharf, it kinda became easier until we reached the Fort. The uphill was too much and had to walk through it. Then rode beside the beach (which was not so good because it was unpaved) until we were almost below the Golden Gate. Then again walked uphill towards the bridge. Finally we were on the bridge but for the first time, we were on the west side.

As usual it was cold and windy. Rode all the way from one end to the other. More snaps along the way and at the ends. The breeze and the chill added to the thrill of cycling on the bridge. Soon, we were back to the safety of the visitor's center on the east side. After a quick pit stop, it was all downhill. This time the ride was good and pedaling was easy (took the paved road). Even climbed the fort without getting down - and whooshed down! Spent some time in the beach in front of Ghirardelli and took the bikes back to the store for a roaring welcome! That was a surprise. 

Had planned to get back to Embarcadero by the trolley but the line was way too long. Thankfully, a neatly dressed man approached us and said he will get us there for the same price as trolley. We followed him, and guess what! It was a stretch-limo!! We were shocked at our surprise! Inside the limo, we clicked away a dozen more pics before we were joined with other customers. Then enjoyed the ride through the ups and downs of San Francisco.

Ended the day with a nice dinner & dessert at Osho Thai (my usual hangout for lunch with team mates during project parties). Then some more snaps at the night time Embarcadero. Walked back to BART station and took the ride home (it was packed but we were lucky to get seats). Reached home at about 11 pm.

All in all, it was a great day and had a great time. Cycling on Golden Gate was one of the items in our to-do list and so was riding in a stretch limo. Both done on this special day! Three cheers to our Seven years!!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Rio for 7th Wedding Anniversary

Time: June 24-28, 2015

Place: Rio De Janeiro & Iguazzu Falls (Brazil)

Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights:

Preview: Considering that we took all the trouble to go to India and had our visas stamped in Chennai, it made sense to take a little more trouble to visit another country before it was time to re-initiate visa extension and be stuck in US. Added to this, was our 7th (wifey’s fav number, by the way) wedding anniversary just around the corner. With a max air ticket budget limited to USD 600 per person, we started scooting around. Preference was countries in a different continent which we could not visit when we shifted back to India for good. So South America. Next search was for countries in South America that needed no prior visa processing for Indian citizens. There weren’t any eye-catchy countries, and if it were, air tickets were too pricey. Ecuador was, with its equator but too expensive for just experiencing equator. Machu Pichu was very enticing but it seemed too far to reach and highly expensive. We then found Rio de Janeiro for a little less than $600 per person. Quite surprised. We booked the tickets and relaxed for a few days. Then came the shocker.

The Brazilian consulate gave visas only on prior appointment and their first open slot was on the day after our planned departure date!! A few tense days ensued. Thankfully, we found out that there were travel agents who could get us our visas on-time but we had to pay additional fees. It set us back on our strict $600 budget but now we had no choice. A bunch of paperwork was needed, more for Tontu since she was a minor. Some notary seals too. So much hassle just to see new countries! We were wondering if all this was needed! If we had known about this issue with visa, we would never have booked the tickets. Be that as it may, we gave our passports to the agent and we got them stamped with Brazilian visa just days before our departure. Thank the Lord for the agents!!

During the wait, we read a lot about Brazil – how unsafe it was, how tough it was to get veg food, how we should not flaunt jewelry and be careful with our wallet, things to do, places to see, taxi and their fares, etc. All very useful.

Day 1: Flight was at around 2 pm. We left our house in BART at 10 am and reached SFO airport at 11:30 am. Some confusion at airport. Tickets booked as US Airways but flights are run by American. So we had to walk between terminals. Added to this, we were not seated together. The check-in machine at the kiosk was not working properly and I had to enter all three passports' information manually. Then the flight was delayed by 30 mins. Considering we only had 58 mins as layover in Miami, it was now reduced to 28 mins! Once on the flight, none of the passengers agreed to swap their seats to accommodate us three together. So I ended up seated separately from wife and daughter. This was the first time such a thing happened to us. Once we reached Miami after 6 hrs, we had to take a shuttle train and then run to catch the next leg to Rio. Our names were being called as final boarding call. Finally made it through and relaxed for the next 8 hours. 

Day 2: At Rio airport local time 10 am, after immigration formalities, exchanged $300 to Real, got our baggage, took the taxi to our hotel – Mercure Arpoador. We had chosen this hotel because it was one of the rare ones with a kitchenette. Yes, we had got some articles to prepare food considering getting Veg food was a rarity. Not only that, we even got some cooked food from US to ensure we don’t get hungry for first 1-2 days! This really helped all of us.

We had booked a shuttle (cheapest after we compared many other taxi services from GIG to Copacabana area) from airport to hotel and it was fairly comfortable. On the way, we saw dilapidated buildings and slum area everywhere – resembles Mumbai’s slum area neighboring the airport! And then as we near the beaches, the city transforms itself to international standards! Although check-in time was 2 pm, the staff gave our keys at 1 pm and until 4 pm, we ended up getting settled in the room, which was more of a 1 bedroom apt! Then, we walked to the Ipanema beach which was just 2 mins walk. It was great. The crashing waves are so good to see and relaxing. Reminded us of Hawaii beaches. Sun set at 5:20 pm but it was clouded and we headed back to the hotel for an early rest.

Day 3: We took a cab from the hotel at 7 am and reached the same GIG airport at about 8:15 am. We had a flight to catch at 10:15 am to Foz de Iguacu which is the airport closest to Iguazzu Falls. Flight was uneventful. At the airport, we took a taxi to the park entrance and then the shuttle to the falls itself. First sight at the last stop was pretty disappointing because we only saw the top layer of the falls and we could only hear the falls and the mist. But then we took the hike along the falls and then were greeted spectacularly to the mesmerizing falls which falls right beside us. If we thought this is it, we were then greeted with a small trail that goes on top of the flowing water further into the falls where we get a 260 (not 360 because it starts flowing off!) degree view of the falls. There are roaring waterfalls everywhere. Although the walk on the Falls trail resembled Cave of the Winds, this omnipresent falls makes mighty Niagara Falls look like a small trickle!! It was absolutely breathtaking! Added to this was the bright Sun which dazzled the falls with brilliant rainbow. Across us, we could see Argentina.

After getting soaked with the mist and soaking ourselves with this Nature’s glory, we started hiking beside the falls for a full mile – all along there were many more falls in the distance. Finally, we could see the last of the falls and we took the shuttle back to the park entrance and then the taxi back to airport. All in all, we spent 3-4 hrs at the falls and we were satisfied with it. A strange animal called Quitas are omnipresent near the falls and we almost had a run-in with them – need to be careful with food around them. Flight back to Rio was uneventful nor was the taxi back to hotel. However, since it was almost 9 pm, the fare was 1.5 times what we paid when we took the shuttle the previous day.

Day 4: The alarm was not sufficient to get us up and going, and as a result, we were late to get ready. By the time we got started, it was almost 10 am. A short taxi ride took us to the tram to Corcovado mountain. After a half hour wait, we took the tram to the top of the mountain. Nothing great about it but it was still fun. A few more flights and there we were – CristoRedentor: The massive statue of Jesus Christ looking over the city of Rio. We were so high up on the mountain that we could see miles and miles. Added to this, it was a great sunny day and we were lucky not to have clouds amongst us. It was overcrowded though and everyone seemed to be taking pictures. We spent quite some time observing Rio from all possible angles and posing in front of Jesus. Then it was time to head back to the tram and then another short taxi to Pao de Acucar – Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Here, we took the cable car (Tontu’s first) up the first mountain, spent some relaxed time looking at everything that Rio had to offer, and then took the next cable car to the next mountain. Views were different here, more so the beaches. Again, spent a considerable amount of time enjoying the beautiful scenery. Had some snacks, fruit salad ice-cream and then headed back down. There is a small beach right at the bottom and we spent some time there before heading back to hotel.

Day 5: Alas, our last day in Rio. It was a day reserved for Copacabana beach. Rightly so, we spent almost 3-4 hrs just relaxing and lazing. This is one amazing beach especially on Sundays when the roads are closed out to vehicles and hence used exclusively for tourists. Tontu had a great time with sand castles and playing with the waves and beach picnic, etc. Truly a tourist spot with so many beach-goers enjoying the beautiful sunshine and warmth of the day. The waves were spectacular, people were surfing, kids were enjoying. A pure blissful atmosphere. Then, we went to Ipanema again and this time the views were different. There was a haze over the edge of the mountain and it looked great. Some more pics, and it was time to head back to airport. Return flight was on time and uneventful.

Day 6: Immigration lines at Miami were too lengthy and it took forever to get to the next leg of the journey. It seemed they were severely understaffed to handle the onslaught of multitude of airlines landing in Miami at 4 am in the morning. Anyways. We got through and this time the three of us were together for the MIA-SFO flight. Reached SFO at about 10 am and after BART, reached home at about 1 pm. All in all, it was: Taxi from hotel to GIG airport, Flight to MIA, Inter-terminal shuttle train, Flight to SFO, BART train to home station and then the walk back to home!!

Overview: I never thought I would visit Rio, the city that is depicted as part of one of my all-time-fav movie Cidade de deus! And yet, Rio was a great vacation – it had waterfalls, mountains, beaches and excellent weather – and a great way to celebrate our 7th anniversary. Even though we just spent only 4 full days, we felt it was sufficient. There were other things which we could have done but we didn’t – the colorful steps at Santa Teresa, Tijucu Forest, favelas, The football stadium, Rio downtown, etc. but that was intentional. We covered only our priorities and interests. Also we refused to go on Rio day tours which seemed really exorbitant for a family of 3. Maybe those are good for single travelers. The coconut water was absolutely amazing and we had almost one daily. The coconut was paper thin and delicious. The beaches are great and water is not too cold. It really was a safe place and we never felt threatened by the state of affairs. The books and material we read were very informative, and as rightly mentioned everywhere, there is no need to rent a car because of the amount of risk that it entails. Taxis are everywhere and seem safe enough. Slightly expensive but better than the rental car risk.

The only learning was that I should have used my 0% foreign transaction fee credit card more often than cash and should have exchanged lesser USD cash in the beginning. The reverse conversion of remaining Real to USD was a total rip-off. We never once had dinner or lunch or alcoholic drinks in Rio! We didn't realize it until we came back! We survived on all that we had taken, the food that we prepared in the kitchenette and that put us through all 6 days. Despite all this, overall cost per person for this vacation was almost $1100. If this trip was planned in peak local summer season or during Carnival season, it would have been even more expensive.

After Asia (Singapore, India, UAE), Africa (Mauritius), North America (US, Canada, Mexico), it was South America’s (Brazil) turn! Now which will be the next continent?!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sequoia and King's Canyon

Time: May 22-24, 2015

Place: Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks

Company: Wife and daughter

Highlights:

Just like last year, we had nothing planned until the very last minute although this time we had an inkling that we will head to Sequoia. Reason why we had not planned was because the weather prediction said it will rain over the weekend. But it also predicted snow showers until the Memorial day long weekend. So we hoped we could ski in May! Hence, last minute packing and plans. Booked only for Friday night halt at Red Roof Inn the day before departure thinking there might not be too much to see or explore for more than one day. But we were mistaken.

Day 0: Left on Friday at 5 pm in own car. Considering that the nps website said snow chains were mandatory for many roads, and seeing review comments that some visitors without snow chains were sent back from the entrance, our first stop was on a nearby Walmart but alas, they said it was seasonal and didn’t have it in stock. So, we continued on. Our next stop was at a rest area which we turned into a picnic spot. Nice little packed dinner with the setting sun at 8 pm and good time for the kiddo to run around and have fun. Continued on to find another Walmart in Fresno, saying no to us. Finally, reached Red Roof Inn at Tulare at about 11 pm and retired.

Day 1: Left at about 9 am to AutoZone to ask about snow chains. Again, same response – not in stock. Took the chance, and continued to Sequoia National Park entrance from Three Rivers side. Found one more store which said Snow Chains available. Just before buying, however, I called up the Park and enquired if the snow chains were really needed and they said no! All the shops we visited were utter waste!! Anyways, thanking ourselves that we didn’t end up buying, we continued on to the entrance to Sequoia National Park.

After a short break at the visitor’s center, our first stop was at General Sherman Tree – the World’s largest tree. A short trek down from summer parking and we were welcomed by a series of large trees. Very majestic indeed. It was quite cold though, in 40s. After clicking a few pictures, we then took two shuttles to Moro Rock. However finding Moro Rock too cloudy (a series of steps that leads to more clouds!) and with zero visibility, we continued in the same shuttle to Crescent meadow. A nice enough meadow, with a small simple trail and quite quiet. However, suddenly, at a distance we saw a bunch of people quite excited and pointing fingers at a faraway point whereupon we saw couple of bears grazing! It was quite a chilling thought to see untamed bears so close! Silently, we continued on, took some snaps and enjoyed the thrill of the adventure. Then took another couple of shuttles back to our parking lot at Sherman tree. Shuttles are mandated at some roads to avoid overcrowding of personal vehicles.

Although, all through the day it was cloudy, it hardly ever rained suffice for a few drops. But it was definitely cold due to the elevation. And we could feel ourselves being inside the traveling clouds. Once back inside the warmth of our car, we had our home-made packed lunch and then thought about next plan of action. Since it was already about 5 pm, and house was about 6 hrs away, it would have been a long journey back home. Also, we were not sure what we were missing in King’s Canyon. So, we decided to head back to Fresno to stay overnight, head back to King’s Canyon the next day and then return at nightfall.

At about 6:30 pm, still 1.5 hrs from Fresno, we came across Sequoia Kings Canyon motel - in the small city of Squaw valley - which displayed a Vacancy board. Expecting the rate to be upwards of $150 since it was a long weekend, we were shocked that it was just $80, with breakfast included!! Unbelieving, we unloaded and enjoyed rest of the evening in the beautiful teeny tiny room. Pizza was right next door and it was delicious.

Day 2: Left at about 9 am after a sumptuous rest. After a quick halt at King’s Canyon visitor center, we headed to Panaromic Point. It was truly Panaromic! What with snow-capped peaks and the overhanging clouds over mountains all around, it was very picturesque indeed! We skipped the General Grant Tree and headed down the King’s Canyon. It was a great drive, very similar to Zion.

There are a bunch of great view points like Yucca point, Junction view, etc. and we took a fair share of pictures. After about an hour, we come right down the canyon beside the gushing river and nature is at its best! Our next stop was at Grizzly falls. It seemed the falls was too thin – not sure if it is because of the drought. Nevertheless, it was nice and refreshing. Then we headed to Roaring River Falls. This one was good too but too far to feel the water fall-mist. Finally we reached the Road’s End and we headed back. On the way, we went to Zumwalt meadow. This was another nice meadow except that there were no bears! But nice scenic views everywhere! Had a quick lunch and finally, we headed back to home sweet home. It was pretty much a non-stop drive apart from few pit stops and we reached home by 8 pm.

Overview: It was a pleasant trip for a long weekend. In some aspects, we got more than what we expected in terms of views and waterfalls and trails – we were expecting only large trees. In some aspects, we got less since we wanted to ski and had high hopes of encountering snow. King’s Canyon was much better when compared to Sequoia since former has rivers running through it and has stunning views whereas the latter is just about trees. All in all, 675 miles driven and it was another memorable trip – especially because neither wifey nor dotty suffered motion sickness despite winding roads!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

India 2015 Vacation

Time: Apr 9, 2015 – May 3, 2015
Place: India (Bangalore, Chennai, Mantralayam, Karighatta, Nimishamba, Gosayighatta)
Company: Wife and daughter
Highlights:

Prologue: Kept weighing pros and cons of visiting India since late 2014 but was waiting for visa extension. Finally, in Feb,decided "for". Booked tickets in March. Started jotting down things to do, and looked forward to it eagerly!

Day 1 (9) T: Left the house at 4:30 am. Decided to go to SFO airport in BART so as to avoid long-term airport car parking. Dropped wife and daughter at Pleasant Hill Bart station at 5 am with luggage. Went back to apt, parked the car, and headed back on foot to station. Took the train to SFO. Was surprised to see the train was full, and I had to stand halfway despite such early hours. Reached airport at about 6:30 am. Was quite difficult to drag all the 5 suitcases from BART station to the counter but managed it somehow. Check-in done, had some breakfast and headed to security. Took the 9:30 am Etihad to Abu Dhabi. It was a long 15 hr flight. But Tontu was fine. She saw Frozen movie twice. I saw Drushyam and Excuse My French. Despite having got up early, didn't sleep till late.

Day 2 (10) F: Reached Abu Dhabi. Long walk in the terminal. Packed waiting room at the gate. Then had to take the bus to the next airplane. Next leg: Abu Dhabi to Bangalore. Tontu slept all through and was fresh at the BLR airport. Timing was perfect - parents waiting at the arrival lounge. After hugging the lot, took the taxi to home. Jumpy ride to Tontu although this time the road is all constructed well and good. Reached home by about midnight and retired.

Day 3 (11) S: Tired after the long journey. Had planned for friends' get together. But it got cancelled. Went to Jayanagar complex for US visa photo.

Day 4 (12) S: Relatives' visits. Dropped wife and daughter at in-law's. Complex to get photo and some shopping. After over an year, spent the night without wife and daughter. Tontu badly missed me and cried for me - apparently. Refreshing rain.

Day 5 (13) M: Complex again for some more shopping. And got ready for the morrow office visit related to visa stamping. More rain.

Day 6 (14) T: Office, to collect the visa related docs. Then met up with pals over lunch. Headed back just before some more rain.

Day 7 (15) W: Wife and daughter returned. It was the first time Tontu traveled in BMTC bus. Grand dad's 99th birthday. Left to Chennai.

Day 8 (16) T: Mine and wifey birthday. But holed up in the Chennai guest house all day until evening when we ventured out to Biometric scanning. Too hot!

Day 9 (17) F: 8 am appointment at the consulate. Was smooth. Good relief. Headed back to BLR in the 1:35 pm train. Good timepass. Reminisced previous BLR-CHN-BLR trips for visa-related. Every time we think its the last but it has never been so, so far. Was this the last?!

Day 10 (18) S: Karnataka Bandh. Stayed home.

Day 11 (19) S: Met some more pals. Tontu enjoying the two-wheeler wholeheartedly. Left to Mantralayam in train at night with parents.

Day 12 (20) M: Predictable and typical day at MALM. Reached station, took auto to hotel, refreshed, darshan, lunch, relatives visit, back to hotel for a siesta, back to temple for darshan, auto back to station and took Udyan back to BLR at night. Nice new station now!

Day 13 (21) T: Hectic day. Went to Kumaran's to enquire about admissions. Took rest at in-law's for the noon. Headed back home at 5. Went to Fort High School for Mysore M Nagaraj and Manjunath Carnatic Violin Duet performance. There was a standing ovation for accompaniments! Back home at 10 pm.

Day 14 (22) W: An outing! Went to Karighatta - a nice 3 hr drive on Mysore road. Wife had missed this temple in the last visit. And since we had not planned for TTD this vacation, KG was the best fit place. After spending some time here, went to Nimishamba which was just a short 10 min drive. Another nice temple right beside the river. Another 20 min ride later, we were in our fav spot Gosayighatta. Been coming here since I was a kid and still enjoy the same gushing river. And this time being Tontu's first - she enjoyed it too as much and didnt want to come off! Finally convinced her and made our way back to BLR. Had nice food at A2B on the way back - a pretty good rest area with world-class amenities. Massive rain on the way back. Reached safe and sound at about 10ish. Got news that stamped PPs were ready for pick up. Since we had planned for PP renewal for Tontu, worked till late night to get the Tatkal appointment set up for her.

Day 15 (23) T: Another hectic day. Up early for more prints. Drove all the way to Hebbal office to get the PPs with stamped visa. Then drove down to Lalbagh PP office for Tontu PP renewal. After 3-4 hrs, was all set with Tontu new PP. Headed to Tontu Pedi clinic for a casual visit but pedi out of country. On the way, showed Tontu birth hospital. Gandhi Bazaar for some shopping. Reached home just in time for more rain. trees uprooted everywhere. Still went to Mutt - the usual Thursday BLR routine. This being after a long gap, it was special! Couldn't go to Sai Baba temple because of lack of access due to fallen trees. 

Day 16 (24) F: Relatives' invite to a breakfast in a grand hotel. A nice gesture, and a nice breakfast at Krishna Grand. 

Day 17 (25) S: Shopping at complex.Caught up with office work. Water woes at home. Helped mom for morrow.

Day 18 (26) S: Dad's 70th birthday celebration at Kalyani Mutt. All day activity. All relatives visited and impressed with Tontu's accent and activities. 

Day 19 (27) M: Stayed overnight at in-law's place. Took it easy. Nice stroll in the evening and park for the kids.

Day 20 (28) T: Had plans of heading back home alone but Tontu did not let go of me! So changed plans and stayed over. Had enough office work anyways. So was busy all day. In the evening, went to Meenakshi Temple on Bannerghatta Road.

Day 21 (29) W: Came back home and started shopping for the trip back home. Had to start rejecting relatives' invitations since schedule became tighter and tighter.

Day 22-23 (30,1) T,F: Lots of chores - financial transactions at post-office, getting sweets, dresses for Tontu and other home-needs. Packing too. Met some more pals. Went to Ragigudda too! This Thursday, we did make both the Mutt and the Sai Baba temple although it was raining. Even went to Dwadashi Mutt food in the morning.

Day 24 (2) S: The last day in BLR. Final packing, adding, removing, new suitcase, changes, etc. Hectic all day long. Although the taxi came at 3:30 pm, we thought we had enough time and left at 5 especially because it was raining heavily. Big mistake. Heavy traffic everywhere. Got tensed because it was almost 6:30 pm and we still hadn't reached Planetarium. But once there, it moved rapidly. Thanks to the planners who made road from there till airport almost zero-traffic light. We were at airport at 7:10 pm. Although this drive was tension-filled, it was nowhere close to what happened last time! Quick checkin, quick security and boarding almost 1 hr in advance! Aboard Etihad from BLR to Abu Dhabi at 9 pm. Eventless flight.

Day 25 (3) S: Flight on-time everywhere. Nice and easy transit. Surprised to undergo Immigration at Abu Dhabi itself for US Customs. It was so much better and easy. All I had to show was PP, not even the petition. I had heard SF customs was tough, but this was a bonus. Then got into the final leg of the flight to SFO. Quite uneventful. More Frozen for Tontu. I saw Mardaani. Reached SFO at 7-ish. Quite surprising to come out directly to arrival's lounge on a US airport instead of Customs! But what a relief! Took our luggage, then to BART station, then aboard the train and then 1.25 hr on the train and finally our station. Repeated the same steps in the reverse order. Got the car, got the family and luggage and finally, home sweet home!

Epilogue: This trip was more of a precursor before we head back to India for good, that thought never being too far away. It allowed a great amount of joy - with family and awesome food. It was also an eye-opener in terms of many relatives advising against coming back to India for good. It was too hectic though from start to finish. Rain added to much of the delay but it was refreshing and kept the city cool - weather was something which we were fearing would be very hot. One thing I noticed about myself in BLR was that my temper was usually high. It was something I am not so used to in US! Tontu had great fun and kept saying she wont return to US but convinced herself to get back to US. She especially enjoyed the many parks we visited - whether it was for an evening park with simple rides or morning parks for walks. We love those parks! Missed out on a chance to go to Lalbagh though. She even had memorable fun in the two-wheeler rides, after years of being confined in car-seat on the backside of the car! She made more friends and spent so much time with them that we started missing her, what with she always being amidst us in US!

Even though it was 25 days away from usual grind, it still seemed less. Sigh.