May 10, 2011

Weekend at Ocean Shores

This week we are celebrating three years of our engagement. Keeping up with our tradition of a weekend trip this time every year, we booked a room at Collin's Inn at Ocean Shores along the Pacific coast of Washington state. This city is about 150 miles from Seattle and almost 2 and a half hours long drive. We set off on Saturday morning after a lazy start to the day. With a long Friday movie night behind us, we were in no hurry to begin our drive early. So after a home-made brunch we left at noon and reached Ocean Shores close to 3 pm.

Before we checked in at Collin's Inn we decided to check out the beach :) The beach strip is unbelievably huge and its one of those where you can actually drive on the beach along the waves hitting the shore. I was fascinated to do this since I have never been to a "drivable" beach before. Collin's Inn is at about a 5 mile drive from this beach and it has another beach at walking distance which is more private and not drivable. We checked into our room and were thrilled with the jacuzzi tub and surround shower equipped room that set the mood for a perfectly relaxing weekend. Very strikingly the room also boasted of a thousand pillows in different sizes and softness. The restaurant at Collin's Inn has a very homely feel to it. It is also very well furnished with a piano and beautiful candles and very striking accents to go with its archaic style furniture. However it is quite pricey and we decided to eat dinner in the city where there were other highly reviewed (on Yelp) options.

In the evening we headed back to the sort of city area and drove along the entire long stretch of the beach. It was too windy and hence chilly to actually spend time outside of the car on the beach. We ate at "Viet Ho", a highly reviewed Chinese & Vietnamese hotel. We loved the food and were impressed by kindness of the lady who served us the food. The next morning began with a complementary brunch at Collin's Inn. They had amazing pastries and chocolate covered strawberry starters. However I was not too impressed with their main course. They had eggs benedict which I didnt try and quieche which I tried for the first time but wasnt impressed by it. I think I am too used to my standard oatmeal, hash brown and pancake based brunch options.

We then went for a long walk along the other beach close to Collin's Inn. I enjoyed collecting patterned shells that were still intact and I managed to collect almost a couple dozen. Later that afternoon we headed back to the main beach. It was another windy day so we choose to fly kites which seemed like a popular activity on that beach. We bought a single threaded kite and enjoyed watching it fly and fall in a cyclic manner :) The beach also had horse riding and tricycle and bike riding options. We then headed for a late lunch meal to a place called La Chica Taqueria. Its a tiny taco shack run by a Swedish woman who knows how to make those Mexican dishes to perfection alongwith engaging her customers in a pretty fancy conversation. We tried her puffy tacos and 1.5 lb burrito and the variety of salsas, horchata and churros and I cannot say enough about how each of these was the best of its kind we have ever had. This is definitely a highlight of our Ocean Shores experience.

So we have now found a great weekend getaway destination at a comfortable driving distance from Seattle that can make a beautiful and relaxing and quiet and serene weekend.

March 17, 2011

My brother as a kid ...

There are some memories from childhood that are permanently imprinted in your head and cherished in your heart! My little brother and I have shared all our childhood times with each other! I always wanted a baby brother to play with.. when I was told at age three that I was gonna get a sibling, I announced to the world that my brother was coming. It was my way of telling "Its a boy". I also picked a name for him (I don't know how I did that at age three). It now feels as if I was always prepared to welcome him to this world and build my budding years with his! Just as typical siblings growing up together, we fought a lot, took the other's side when the other was in trouble, played pranks on each other, planned pranks on others, loved, cared, and yet made life tough for the other one! Reminiscing  some of the days that  I vividly remember from my little brother's cute, mischievous and absolutely adorable toddler years -
  • In his first grade he asked a friend cut his hair with the scissors that he took to school for craft work. His friend cut his hair from either sides of his head around the ear leaving the top of the head intact. He got punished severely by his school teacher and they banned scissors for craft work for primary school after this incident. But he looked so cute in that weird hair cut!!!
  • During our trip to Goa as kids we were watching our older friends play water volleyball in a swimming pool and we were at the edge of the pool. Clapping and cheering every shot, the next moment my brother landed straight into the water and his mini slippers were floating around. An alert lady swimming nearby came to his rescue, got him out of the pool and thumped his back to get the water out! My parents were called for and panic struck everyone! Fortunately my brother was on his feet in no time but gave a good scare to everyone around!
  • At my uncle's place on the second floor my mom suddenly realized that my brother was not in sight. We thought he may have wandered into another room or may be the neighbor's house while playing but that was not the case when we looked for him. He was smarter and more curious than we thought! He climbed down the stairs to the ground floor on his own to play with the cocks and hens wandering in the campus of that building.
  • In another trip to Jabalpur, we reached the house of our hosts at 2am and they had prepared an awesome meal for us! There was a huge HOT pressure cooker in their kitchen just moved from the stove to the ground. My brother loved pressure cookers. He got excited when the cooker whistled and would be ever ready to hug the cooker while it was whistling! The family almost believed he would become a chef in future ... that night my brother missed his cooker hug narrowly when my mom rushed to him and grabbed him out of the cooker's vicinity!
  • He was once asked by his school teacher to pick a bird that he would like to dress up as for the Annual Day at school. While his friends picked peacocks and sparrows and parrots, my brother's choice happened to be "crow". When he came home and told me about his choice, I burst out laughing! His cute defense was - "But no one selected crow so I did"! He did dress up as a crow ...
  • On one hand he loved pressure cooker which was not a toy but on the other hand he was scared of balloons which is almost every kid's favorite! He hated attending birthday parties for the fear of balloons bursting around him! One day our neighbor uncle got a small balloon and put it in my brother's tshirt without his notice. That made him realize how harmless balloons were!
  • My mom, my three year old brother and I were sitting in the principal's office to seek admission to the school for my brother. During those times the principal would ask some basic questions to the little kids and then approve their admission. My mom had spent days teaching my brother how to answer simple questions like "What is your name?" and "How old are you?" and so on... Now on the D-day my brother felt bored in the principal's office and opened the door and ran out of the building onto the main road. Seconds later my mom rushed out to grab him and I was left alone in that room to answer all the questions. I was told later that I had a lot to speak to the principal while my brother enjoyed his silence!

February 28, 2011

Mysore Mystique

The Mysore Mystique poster has been on my mind today and so I cant help writing a line about it! One of the most amusing posters I saw at a market stall in a fair at Mysore, Karnataka. After Hyderabad, Mysore was the other city that we explored in our India trip in December 2010. We flew to Bangalore and then went to Mysore in the Volvo bus which runs between the two cites hourly. It was a good 3 hour ride and we spent most of the time catching up on much needed sleep! We stayed at the Ginger Hotel which is a pretty decent hotel in terms of rooms and amenities, however I was not impressed with their food. I hoped to find authentic South Indian food but they served the broader category of Indian food which mostly has North Indian dishes.

Mysore Palace by sunset
On the first evening I ate to my heart's content dosas at an authentic South Indian udipi place. I have to mention that I am a big fan of South Indian food. We then went to see the majestic symbol of the city - the Mysore Palace. The palace was closed so we took pictures from outside. Since it was Friday, the palace was not lit up it its most famous way. However the dim lights with colorful sky at sunset offered some amazing snaps of the palace! We then headed to a fair across the street from the palace. It was very crowded and had stalls selling a variety of items ranging from clothes, footwear, domestic appliances and articles to locally made handicraft and decorative pieces and a variety of food of course!

Mysore Palace lit up at night
We booked a cab for the whole of next day to explore the tourist attractions of the city. We started with the Chamundi temple on the Chamundi hills. The temple had amazing sculptures on its entrance. We also visited the huge Nandi (the bullock) statue in the same neighborhood. On our way downhill we stopped at a location that offered a spectacular view of the city and the palace domes standing out from the rest of the buildings. We then went to Karanji Lake. This lake was a pretty usual one, the only attraction there was a bird sanctuary that had a variety of beautiful birds with unusual colors! I cant name most of those except the peacocks and the white peacocks.  We then took a short stop at the Montogomery Church which was well decorated for Christmas festivities. We headed to Vrindavan gardens and on the way we stopped at the scenic KRS dam. The gardens are huge and the layout is perfect and symmetric. The variety of fountains and the effect of colored lights after dusk is fascinating! We then headed back to the palace to witness the palace lit with few thousand bulbs. The sight of the palace was almost like a fairy tale book coming to life.

Mysore Palace by day
The next day was our last day at Mysore and we planned to set off for Bangalore after lunch time. We spent the morning again at our favorite place in the city - Mysore Palace! This time we took a tour of the palace from inside. You have to see it to believe the lavish interiors, abundance of gold and silver architectural structures and precious paintings and carvings and gems adorning the palatial walls. We rented an audio guide and enjoyed every bit of the description of the palatial rooms that took us back in time to the Wodeyar era.

We brought back with us memories for a lifetime and delicately carved wooden frames portraying a famous chariot scene of Arjun and Krishna from Mahabharat! We also bought a delicious sweet Mysore Pak, and the popular South Indian coffee to cherish the Mysore memories even later in its tasty offerings.

February 16, 2011

There is something about the ocean ...

I have grown up in Mumbai, a city that is empowered and outlined by the Indian ocean. I now live in the Pacific Northwest and from the time I moved here I have visited several destinations along the US Pacific coastline and the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific. There is something about the ocean that fascinates me and its hard to describe the connection that an ocean view makes with the depths of my heart!

That something is probably ...
the size, the depth, the expanse, the magnitude ... that humbles me!
the power, the force ... that is creepy and scares me!
the voice of the ocean in its waves ... that soothes me!
the horizon ... that makes me believe that the ocean meets the sky!
the life in the waters ... pretty and unique!
the changing colors ... reflecting the mood of the sky!
the beaches at the coasts ... that make the most beautiful relaxing destinations!
the sunsets across the water ... that makes me feel the ocean can drown the sun!

I spent the last weekend at Big Sur, California with a bunch of friends. We took the CA1 freeway along the coast and the breath-taking ocean view throughout our journey was a reality that still doesn't sink within me! We stopped at several vista points on our way and at each stop I was only more in awe of the picturesque sight than the previous! We sat at these lookouts and heard the waves run towards the coast and retreat as well. We spotted several whales coming to the surface at periodic intervals. We saw the sun through its journey from noon to sunset. We saw the color of water change from bright blue to pale to grey as it reflected the drowning sun's rays front and center. Our cottages were ocean facing which is why we booked those! However the icing on the cake was that each bed faced a full length glass wall facing the ocean so we could watch the blue waters as the first sight in the morning! I couldn't have asked for more from this view but I haven't had enough of the ocean yet! So here's a toast to more trips to the farthest islands and coastlines of the world ... that I will keep visiting and describing here :) Cheers!!!

January 29, 2011

Hyderabad: From the lens of an NRI

In December of 2010, I visited and worked out of Hyderabad city in India for 3 weeks. My last visit to Hyderabad was 5 years ago and this time it seemed like the city has been on a fast track literally and otherwise in terms of growth and infrastructure development. The airport is truly world class with its magnitude of space and comforts. The roads leading you to the city from the airport compare with the US freeways with the only exception being official speed limits imposed! :) The Hitech city, where I spent most of my work time, has grown tons of times its size 5 years ago with hundreds of corporate offices of Indian and foreign tech companies and educational campuses like ISB and shopping malls and restaurants and the likes.. During this stay, I also visited several tourist spots of the city and my experience was surprisingly spread across a wide spectrum of emotions. Each place had a charm of its own that was either pleasantly reflected in the energy around it or dishearteningly lost among the camaraderie of crowd and its mundane activities in the arena.  Here is my mini-guide for tourists who visit this city with my lens.

Charminaar and Chudi bazaar and Laad Bazaar: These beautifully carved minars (pillars) at the crossroads of one the busiest junctions of the old city is worth a visit to wonder how lonely and neglected a structure of such historic and architectural significance might be! You need to do some ground work before you can brace yourself to shop in the crowded markets, that are most known for pearls and bangles, along the Charminaar crossroads. Warnings of cheating on price and originality of those gems float around in plenty especially if you are an accented English speaking, camera holding admirer of Charminaar's intricate design.

Golconda Fort: The Sound and Light show in the evenings at this huge fort is an experience I will never forget. In the voice of Amitabh Bachan, this show takes you back in time to the days when this fort was full of life and riches and a symbol of strength and power.

Hussain Sagar Lake & Buddha statue: My only low point on this happening area of the city is the strong stench of the stagnant lake water that is quite discomforting after a while. The good news however is that the largest monolithic Buddha statue in the country at the center of this lake is only 10 minute boat ride away and absolutely worth a visit.

Eat Street: This is the most happening food place in the city with a variety of options from Mumbai Frankie to South Indian dosas to Indo-Chinese to MacD to Chaat and several more... They have a comfortable common seating area facing the lake. This place offers some great night shots of the lake and a ride to the Buddha statue as well.

Chowmallah Palace: This is a group of beautiful well-maintained palaces built by successive Nizams. The collection of photographs, crockery, furniture, apparel, currency, weapons and many other royal artifacts including the royal throne in a room roofed under magnificent chandeliers is very interesting.

Ramoji Film City: The film city is huge and can easily consume an entire day worth of time exploring. It has amazing sets in the form of replicas of India's most famous monuments, boasts of a variety of gardens each with its own theme and color, and an arena full of demonstrations of the tricks of the film world. Since I have been to film cities of the likes of Universal Studios, I should have reset my expectations from film themed rides and shows to outdoorsy exploration of natural but not original lawns and parks sets to feel content with this plan.

Birla Temple: Built at a height this temple offers a view of the entire city spread around the lake. The different levels of the temple connected with quite some flights of stairs have a unique layout and magnificent sculptures on the walls.

Qutubshahi tombs: These are domed structures built on a square base and reflect a blend of Indian and Persian architecture. If Charminaar's neglected state can cause any bout of pain, then these tombs will only make one cry for the lack of maintenance and solitude these endure.

Salar Jung Museum: This is one of the oldest museums in the city and has the largest compilation of personally collected artifacts from all around the world. It has hundreds of rooms and requires a lot of time and patience to see each artifact at ease.

Snow World: A big room full of artificial snow, a dirty ice-slide and an igloo and maintained at a temperature below the freezing point is no fun for the ones who have had the experience of snowfalls for entire winters. This place was the biggest letdown of my trip and a complete negative experience being a part of hundreds of visitors packed together in an environment that lacked hygiene and discipline.

A visit to Hyderabad is not complete without eating the famous Hyderabadi biryani. The most popular Paradise restaurant and Zafraan Exotica with awesome ambience and tasty food were among my favorite biryani places. Based on my trip experience my last thoughts on this city - it is now ruled by rickshaw drivers who impose exorbitant fares for rides and tourists like me have no option but to obey their HIGH command!!! 

January 21, 2011

My favorites Live in Concert!!!

The year 2010 has been awesome for several reasons - we traveled to many different places in the US and to Canada, visited and hosted several friends and family, celebrated the arrival of our nephews, moved into and furnished our new apartment and I can keep going on and on. While counting my blessings for this year, the two other unexpected and major events that made it to the list were hearing my favorite musician A. R. Rahman and my favorite band Euphoria live in concert!

A. R. Rahman
Rahman's concert was announced in May and I was both overjoyed and disappointed. After years I thought I had the chance to fulfill my dream of hearing the maestro live but among the locations where he would perform, Seattle was not listed. However my gloom turned into glee when I saw the gift of my tickets booked for his concert in San Francisco. My emotions were filled with excitement with each passing day counting down up to the concert till they were drowned in sorrow with the news of the cancellation of the event. After several such hiccups, I had very little hope left, but I think I was destined to attend the concert this year and so on a beautiful sunny September afternoon in Vancouver my long wait ended. The stage was the grandest of all that I have ever seen. He started the concert with a fusion of "O Saya" and "Maa Tuje Salaam", one of my favorite songs. I was at the edge of my seat for each of his songs and often jumping like a frog only to amuse those sitting around me. The one thing that I would have loved to change about my experience was the passiveness of the crowd around me. Each time I screamed my heart out, leaped out of my seat to applaud and whistled and waved, all I saw around me were some raised eyebrows.. but who cares!! I did what I wanted to! Focusing back on the concert,  the stage, lights, sound, choreography, his entire crew of singers and performers were flawless. The stage was so dynamic, it changed structure with each performance and the variety ranged from classical and historical touch to acrobatic, western and digital wonders (3D projection of Lata Mangeskar to accompany Rahman for the song "Luka chupi"). Among the other popular singers in his team were Hariharan, who stole our hearts with his "Bharat humko" and Shaan. But words fail to describe my feelings hearing classics like "Yeh jo des hai tera" and "Dil Se" from the man himself. He also surprised us by singing one song from the center of the auditorium just few feet away from our seats. The grand finale to this unforgettable evening was expectedly "Jai Ho"!!!

Our response to the next announcement of the Euphoria concert in Seattle in November was a no-brainer. We booked tickets immediately and were pleasantly surprised to get to know on the day of the concert that we were the first ones to book for that concert! I love the songs Maeri, Kabhi aana tu meri gully and Dhoom Pichuk and have been a huge fan of Palash in my undergrad days. I attended their concert few years ago at a college festival during my undergrad days in Mumbai. And I was pleasantly surprised to experience the same sort of energy, and attitude in their performance even after so many years and in a different set up altogether. I could not stay put in my seat after 1 song and jumped out of my seat into the "standing" area closer to the stage. From then onwards there was no moving back from there! Every song pumped in more energy that the previous one and made me nostalgic as I relived the concert time spent with my buddies from undergrad days. The performance almost seems like a one-man show since Palash is only lead singer and the only one who literally keeps everyone on their toes. The same reason was a cause of disappointment for some who expected the whole band to be sharing the limelight on stage. Others were a bit taken aback by Palash's repeated sarcastic remarks to those comfortable in their seats to try shaking a leg and let go of the seat that they paid for. Since this was not a college concert setting they were justified in their disgruntle however I personally got more than what I expected from this concert and returned home  nostalgic and ecstatic with refreshed memories and renewed enthusiasm!!!

So 2010 goes down as the year of  watching my stars "Live" :)