Monday, October 11, 2010

Star Trails at Cherry springs state park

After my crazy first attempt at star trails photography, which by the way was not hugely successfull, I gave it a sincere shot two weeks ago. Considering all the lessons learnt from my first try, I decided to try out a place that's not awfully light polluted like Valley Forge National park. After some googling, I found out about Cherry Springs state park, which claimed to be 'gold rated' for dark skies in the east coast of US. Wonderful! In a split second (and out of sheer enthusiasm), I decided to do the 200 mile drive all by myself to photograph a few stars.


I checked the weather - everything looked alright. On my way, I casually looked up at the sky and I saw the moon staring at my face. Before I could appreciate the beauty of it, I realized that such a bright moon would completely screw up the visibility in the sky! Oops! I should have checked the moon calendar. Since I had driven about 150 miles at that point, I decided to continue with the trip. I reached the park around 8pm, only to see a vacant astronomy field and not a soul around. I walked around the park (with the moon light shining, I did not even need a flashlight) to understand my coordinates. When I thought I had the whole field to myself, I see another car pull over. I was more surprised to see an Indian couple from New Jersey. After a few minutes of conversations, I understood they love nature and wanted to check this park out. And they did not even have a camera or a telescope. Whoa! after all, I was not as bad, there are people with dangerous levels of enthusiasm!


I then decided on a spot and setup my tripod. Any exposure more than 30 seconds made it look like a daylight photograph, thanks to the Moon who seemed like he was continously mocking at me! Few random conversations and some unsatisfying pictures of the moon later, I decided to sleep in my car hoping I might be able to get some sunrise shots. The morning was totally cloudy which made me return back home completely unsatisfied.


Moon and a lone tree

One of the astronomy observatories in the morning


As I was narrating this story to one of my colleagues Eric last week, he showed interest in going there again. My enthusiasm rose again. I checked the weather, moon calendar, etc., and decided to make it there this past weekend. And this time, Eric drove. When we reached the park saturday evening around 7pm, I just could not believe my eyes. There were 100s of people, most of them setting up humungous telescopes! In a short while, the sky started becoming darker and at about 8.30pm, the sky was like one huge planetarium screen. It was one amazing sight and I will not forget the view for a while now!


I then setup my tripod and started taking pictures, each of my shots needing exposures of about 20 minutes or so. We spent the new few hours taking multiple photographs and amazing ourself at the sight! Thanks to Eric, he brought a couple of chairs where we sat and discussed everything under the sky (literally!) while we were waiting for the camera to take the pictures. We left the place around 11pm. We would have spent a few more hours only if the weather was not getting unbearable cold. Here are some pictures!

Star trails captured by exposing the camera for 22 minutes


Milky Way

Star trails captured by exposing the camera for 12 minutes

Star trails captured by exposing the camera for 30 minutes

Arun and Eric on the way to the park

For any photographer looking for tips on
star trail photography, here is some technical info from my experience:


I first checked the ambient lighting by shooting a 30 second exposure at f/4 and ISO 1600. Once I knew how my camera sees the light, I reduced the ISO to about 200 and increased the exposure to 20 minutes. I had my camera set on a tripod and used a remote control to fire the shot. Since I also had the high exposure noise reduction setting ON in my camera, I had to wait for an additional 20 minutes for the camera to cancel out any noise. After 40 minutes, I got this photograph where I could see the trails rotating around Polaris. After two trips to the place and numerous attempts at star trails, I finally got a photograph that I was satisfied with! I was one happy camper for those few seconds! Regarding the composition, I used a 10-20mm wide angle lens and included a little bit of tree line in the horizon so that it adds perspective to the photograph.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Frankfurt and Amterdam - quick taste of Europe in 4 days - part II

Part I here

After a few discussions with the locals, we started the day2 at Amsterdam with a visit to Flower market, which turned out to be just a market that sells flowers (what a surprise!). I was expecting the place to provide a little more photographic opportunities. Nonetheless, it gave us an idea of how freaking expensive tulip bulbs are. Damn, who even buy those?!

Our next stop was 'iamsterdam' symbol, which I have seen in some photographs earlier and was planning on visiting. I dragged my friends along and took a tram to reach the place, which (as against my expectations) turned out to a place that has monkeys (in people's bodies) climbing on the very symbol for silly photos. I have always hated such people and wondered if some nice locations can be reserved for just photographers, at least one hour a day so that one could spend a peaceful hour shooting pictures without people monkeying around in the frame.

We had to deal with what we had. I tried my best, walked around a bit trying different compostions, but was not too pleased with the results. Later I resorted to taking 'typical tourist' pictures of ourselves. After all, the tram ride should be worth at least for my friends!

We spent the second half of the day at Madoradam, which I thought was very unique and European. Its a small park that has miniatureds/models of remarkable locations/icons in Netherlands. I liked the place (once again would have loved it if people were not around!).



Madoram

We spent close to three hours in the park and headed back to Amsterdam Main station, just in time for our ICE back to Frankfurt.

The day which went fine till then became all the more interesting when we started playing Dumb-charades in the train. Added to the fact that we had a coupe for just the four of us (which was considered to be a 'silent' one too with sound proof doors). We had an absolutely fun time in the return journey and I was secretly wishing for that journey to become longer than scheduled. Who knew I had such evil powers?!

Kranthy (one of our other friends) looked outside and called out that the train had just stopped at a train station called (Duisburg), the same station we had passed about half hour ago. Confused, we stepped out of our coach only to hear the announcement that the train is travelling towards 'Amsterdam'!

After a short 'what the fuck?!' moment, we took out our tickets to confirm that we indeed had a reservation on a 'direct' train from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. And we were not sitting on a wrong coach either. Frustrated at the pace the train was gaining (in the wrong direction), I and Vijai went to the train crew to enquire.

The crew lady slowly said "Oh sorry, this train is heading towards Amsterdam. You should have changed trains at Koln. We made an announcement too, didnt you hear?!" in a thick German accent. When I told her we heard no announcement, she simply apologized and pointed us to a senior crew member. Now, this senior crew member was drinking at the bar and suggested very casually that we should alight at the next station, take a train back to Koln and switch to another train to Frankfurt. As he finished talking, the train was already slowing down. His final word was that our current tickets were good to travel in the first class of whichever (or how manyever) trains we were going to take that night.

We got off the train at a station called Dusseldorf and walked to the next platform, only to read the signboard that said 'train to Koln is delayed by 35 minutes'. Awesome. As we were waiting, two cops came and asked us for ID (and said they were from some international border control/passport control or something). We all had our passports except for Kranthy. All he had was his work ID card.

I said to myself 'Great, this night is just getting better and better!". If it was US, we all would have been taken into custody, enquired and questioned till the cops confirm our identity from the immigration department. Looking at his work ID, the cops let him slide and wished us good night. Whoa! Europe is cool!

We waited for close to 40 minutes and the ICE train that was supposed to arrive never did. Instead, a local train to Koln came. In a few seconds, we got on to the local train, our only concern being what if the ICE train arrives afterward and overtakes this local train. The flipside was to wait to Dusseldorf station all night (if the ICE train never comes). We took the lesser evil and reached Koln in the local train.

It was close to midgnight (we should have reached Frankfurt at 10.30pm per our original schedule). With no other option than to laugh at ourselves, we waited for another one hour at Koln before the ICE train for Frankfurt finally arrived.


Four of us waiting at Koln station

When we thought it all ended finally, we came to know that the train was taking a round-about route and will take close to 3 hours (instead of regular 1 hour). Great. We finally reached Frankfurt at 3.30am. After taking four trains and a six hour delay, to say that we had a nice experience is a complete under statement.

Whoever said Europe's train network rocks, here, get it from me 'Europe train network sucks!'

On the same note, Vijai bought this toy called Rolling monkey at Amsterdam. For all that we went through that day, this is what kept coming to our mind!:


video

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Frankfurt and Amsterdam – a quick taste of Europe in 4 days - part I

It was about 3am Eastern when the captain announced that the flight has started its descent. That is when it truly dawned on me that I have indeed made the long awaited trip to Europe. Its been about 2 years I and Vijai have been talking about making such a trip and have been dreaming about it for even longer.

The flight touched down at Frankfurt Airport at about 7am local time. The immigration was surprisingly quick (if I compared to US) and climate was quite pleasant hovering about 8 to 10 degrees Celsius. Outside the airport, Vijai was waiting to receive me as well as for an unforgettable travel experience.

We reached Frankfurt Hauptbahnof (where Vijai lives) in about 20 minutes. After breakfast and a few hours of random conversations, we headed out to do local walk-about around downtown Frankfurt. Frankfurt was the first foreign city I visited (about 6 years ago) and it still sort of remains one of my favorite cities. Last time, I was gaping at the wide difference between Frankfurt and the Indian cities.

This time, I was able to appreciate more than a few things in the city, the best part being the architecture.




The city does not have towering skyscrapers, but it has a nice mix of old buildings and funky new ones next to each other. Such variety in architecture means only one thing: nice opportunity for photographs.

We pretty much spent the rest of the day roaming around the city, a nice long walk along the Main river waterfront and ending the day with a visit to Frankfurt Main tower observatory.






We had an early morning the following day, as we had reservations made on the ICE train to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is about 550 kms from Frankfurt and the ICE train covered the distance in about 4 hours. The train hit a top speed of about 300kmph more than a few times and it was quite a comfortable ride, thanks to Vijai for booking first class tickets.


We reached Amsterdam at around noon. After a delayed visit to the Tourist information centre (with a long line of freaking tourists!), we quickly planned for a high-level agenda for the day.

Amsterdam is about as dirty as any European country could ever get. It could have been a lot neater – I, for sure, did not expect people to pee on the roads (they have some strange road side closets that people pee on – I guess only the Gods and the locals can understand the funda behind the concept. For us tourists, it was nothing but a disgusting stinking intersection!)

As much as the city is clumsy, it still had an inexplicable charm to it. Blame it on the unstoppable tourists or the undying activities happening in the city or perhaps the numerous canals that act as veins to the city. We started off with a customary visit to Madame Tussauds wax museum, which in my opinion was so-so. The exhibits were alright, but the museum layout was so poorly planned that there was absolutely no room in most places. After coming out, we were joking that the museum was so cramped that Gandhi almost seemed like he was touching Dalai Lama's ass and Dalai Lama was blessing Mandela's balls!

We then checked into the hotel and took the Canon ride tour in the evening. Idea of touring inside a city completely on canals was a nice experience and felt very European to me.



We then went to photograph the only Wind Mill (or Molen as the dutch call it) in the city and spent about an hour there. I wish we had the time to go photograph a few more wind mills.


Later in the night, we strolled across the red light district (and our hotel was right there!) and took a few more photograph the city's night life. City did not have too much of what a photographer might call a night life.

The story of day 2 at Amsterdam and the funny ICE train experience on our return journey here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Gettysburg Battlefield!

I did a solo trip to Gettysburg National park this past weekend. This was the first time I made a trip to a 'touristy' location in US all by myself. It was a different experience having to navigate the auto tour using a map and driving at the same time. I started out at the visitor center where the national park guiderecommended me to visit the museum before I go on the auto tour. I am not a great fan of museums (and nothing much to photograph there either) so I paced through the various sections of the museum fairly quickly. If you like museums and a fan of history, this is a great place for you! If not, you may skip the museum. There was a interactive video and the famous Cyclorama in the visitor center, I skipped them too!


After a quick visit to the museum and a customary visit to the restroom, I headed back to the car and started the auto tour. The auto tour at Gettysburg National park is about 20 miles long (most of which is one way and perfectly guided by signboards). It covers pretty much all of the important spots that are relevant to the three day part of the civil war that happened at Gettysburg battlefield. Gettysburg battle is apparently bloodiest of all wars where more than 51000 soldiers died in a span of about 3 days (in July 1863). It was a little brutal to realize the amount of bloodshed, but what else can I expect during a visit to a battlefield?!


I followed the tour map and visited the various marked spots, stopping very frequently for photographs. I also considered this trip as a test run for my new Canon 7D before my trip to Germany/Amsterdam next week. Of all the features, I liked Canon 7D for its sheer speed. Man, the camera is quick! 7D takes 3 shots in less than a second, which I could never have achieved in my older 450D. The day was quite bright and I was able to shoot HDRs, without tripod most of the time.


Flipside of the day being too bright was it was too freaking hot. After every few pictures, I had to take refuge in my car as the sun was scorching right on the top of my head. But that did not stop me from continuing the tour. As I drove through the tour route, I marked a few spots in the map to come back during sunset (as I thought those places would be more beautiful to photograph during sunset).


I liked the Pennsylvania memorial better than many other spots for it gave me a complete panoramic view of the surroundings and still presenting a beautiful foreground. I took close to 4 hours for the auto tour, when the park officer suggested it would take about 2 and half hours. Maybe I spent too much time photographing a few spots than he had imagined.


During sunset, I was in the 'The Angle' region which in my opinion was the best! It could not have gotten better, I spent about 1 hour there (forgetting all about the other spots I had marked before to revisit - maybe some other time!). The region was very beautiful and every photographer would enjoy this place for the sheer number of different composition ideas this place offers! I had a great time and considered that a satisfying end to a tiring day.

Overall, Gettysburg is a great place if you are either a history buff or a photo enthusiast. For others, it might be a slight toss up!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Perseverence

It is a strangely inexplicable feeling when your loved one leans on your shoulder and cries her heart out, when you are absolutely helpless but to offer some vain consolation and talk hopefully about the future. It is sort of difficult to seem absolutely positive and say 'everything's going to be alright' when you have no clue of the future and are only half sure of what might happen. But I think I did alright with Kavi as she went through one of the toughest phases a Wharton grad can endure.

After having gone through what I call as the absolute testing times, Kavi finally got a breakthrough and got an awesome job in the financial capital of des last week. It was one hell of a journey and now it seems like all the turbulence has finally settled down.

I am not too good at expressing what I feel most of the time, but I wanted to write this blog post to tell her how proud I am of her. She fought through the tough times like a real fighter and she always seemed to know that she was going to get what she wanted. She used to occasionally falter, break down at the hard luck she is destined with, but she never doubted that she would get what she wanted.

If I was her, I would have succumbed to the pressure long ago, but she really stood out as a fine example of perseverance. I guess I want to congratulate her and I can't think of a better way than to write a post for this!

And with this, I am also one step closer to my long time ambition of becoming a house husband and now it seems very attainable! Wish me good luck :)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Desi Saga!

I don't think I have spent a weekend at India that has been boring and dry. And when one is on vacation, every single day seems like a weekend! In the last (almost) six years that I have been out of the country, I have made sure I pay a visit to chennai at least once a year (if not more) on an average. And thanks to excellent family and friends circle, any amount of time spent back home has seemed surprisingly short, every single time. This vacation I had a couple of weeks ago is no exception.

Though most of the days meant multiple commitments in terms of meeting people, I never felt too busy. I started the vacation with an awesome drive along the ECR with the best of friends (the same set of friends who surprised me at the Airport when I landed the previous night!). A drive to ECR, at least for me, necessarily means a visit to the casuarina bay. We did go there to do some random photo sessions, conversations and had a great time playing with our very own 'chennaiite's tennis ball high-catch!

The gang at ECR

Later in the day towards the sunset, we did the renowned Catamaran ride at Fisherman's cove where all 8 of us were taken deep into the ocean and provided with the option of jumping into the waters (with a life jacket of course). For someone who does not know to swim, faking to do so in the middle of the ocean is what I really call 'bliss'. To say that the one hour of laughter and fun, with the wobbling waves constantly bumping us around, was fun would be a total understatement.

In the same week, as if it's a personal Tryst I have with God, I made the customary trip to Tirupati. I saw actor Madhavan in the queue to darshan. Not that its a big deal nor anybody even took account of him, but adding such extra information to blogpost, in my opinion, sort of adds to the whole 'pointlessness' of blogposts. Anyways, a few pictures I took at Tirupati:

Tirupati Temple Pond

Tirupati Ghat Road (HDR)

And as a measure of being a dutiful son, did some furniture shopping and TV purchase for the house as well. A photo of the apartment with the new setup:

Apartment Makeover

To fulfill all desires, I went to a few movies, a few malls and an IPL match too (where Chennai lost miserably, as pre-planned). Also did a photo trip with a fellow photo enthusiast (Amar). Having done millions of such trips with him in the US, it was really nice to do one such trip in India. We went to Mahabalipuram and I had a whole new perspective for the place with the camera in my hands. I was a little bugged because they did not allow tripod in some places. When I tried to ask for a reason, I was told something that was completely out of my comprehension level. They don't allow tripods to photograph sculptures because placing tripods in front of them will create cracks in rocks! I swear to God, thats exactly what I was told!! I nodded at the lady who said this and put my tripod into my bag. Nevertheless, got a few pictures:

Lighthouse at Mahabalipuram
One of the temples at Mahabalipuram

Sunset at Mahabalipuram

Though the Volcanic ash over Europe tried to extend my vacation, it could not do better than delaying my return by a day. Have to give it to Jet Airways for re-arranging a flight thru Athens to get to the US.

Overall, just like every single trip to India, it was one hell of a trip!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cuyahoga and Erie - a weekend in slow motion...

I cannot believe it's been almost a week since our last trip. Time seriously flies and I don't know where. That is a topic to be pondered later. For now, here's an account of our uncommonly relaxed weekend trip.

Last Friday Arun and I took off on a 6 hour drive to Cuyahoga, Ohio. Thanks to evening rush hour, it took us an hour in crawling traffic just to get out of city limits. We passed the time by copiously cursing the New York-bound folks who clogged the roads, and derived much sadistic pleasure from not allowing drivers to switch into our lane in front of us. We were finally on the freeway and reached Akron, Ohio, where we were to stay the night, at 1am.

On this trip, I managed to coax Arun into not planning any 7am starts to the days. Can you believe that?! Alright, who am I kidding? It was snowing continuously and there was nothing to photograph until the sun decided to show. It's a victory nevertheless. Anyway, the first item on Saturday's agenda was a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Rail. The train was almost full despite the crappy weather. It was a 3 hour round trip that took us through the entire valley. I think the vast expanse of the valley was more evident thanks to the barren trees and miles of snow. There wasn't much color, but the untouched snow was so sparkly and pristine! The conductor told us that he spotted animals from time to time. All we spotted were animal tracks and some lame deer. Nevertheless, I have always loved train rides. This train was a such a cheerful sight, with its bright yellow engine and shiny metal and red carriages.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Rail

After the train ride we grabbed a quick bite for lunch at a local deli, and then drove to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to check out Brandywine Falls. At the trail head it said it was a short 1/2 mile hike to the falls. What it didn't say was that the entire trail was covered in about a foot of powder snow. Thankfully the trail was open. The snow was awesome, it felt like walking on loose face powder, without all the skidding. There were a few flights of stares which looked treacherous, but we managed just fine because we had our hiking boots on. Midway we found a branch of the trail closed, but that was the one that led us to the best spot to view the falls. So we jumped the barrier and went anyway. After 3 steep(ish) flights of stairs we reached the vista point. In a couple of minutes we found that two more groups had followed our lead. So much for rules, eh?!

We'd seen frozen rivers and frozen lakes before. This time we got to see a frozen waterfall. It was a beautiful and very different sight to see a water body that usually has such force, silently frozen in place.

Brandywine Falls, on the extreme right

Next, we drove a couple of hours to get to Erie, Pennsylvania for the night. Erie is supposed to be the fourth largest city in the state, but hardly feels so with its cozy streets, and parks every few blocks and its classic architecture. When we were looking for lodging options in Erie we stumbled upon the George Carrol House. It is a house constructed in 1872, now converted into a bed and breakfast. It had a classic atmosphere with modern amenities and was squeaky clean. The innkeeper Christine lives in the same house and was the sweetest person ever. I'm glad we selected this place over the regular hotels.

We usually are on the road so much that, more often than not, we end up having dinner at a Subway or some Pizza place in a service exit on the freeway. This time we got into Erie pretty early in the evening. So we went to one of the local restaurants for dinner. It was called Pufferbelly and was one of those old fashioned places with really high ceilings, dim lighting and antiques adorning the walls and surfaces. After loading up on some great Italian fare, we decided it was too snowy and too windy to walk around. So we warmed up in front of the faithful LCD TV for the night. Arun also got some awesome shots of the foot long icicles hanging from the roof, just outside our window.

Icicles adorning the window

Sunday was a day of lighthouses. The first one, Land Lighthouse, was actually within a residential property. I wonder how encroached the residents would feel on a warm summer day when their front yard is flooded with tourists and kids and dogs.

Land Lighthouse, Erie, PA

The next two lighthouses we visited in Erie were nothing great. So we drove to Presque Isle, an island which is a part of the city. The island was really beautiful with rows of pretty houses and shops. Lake Erie was completely frozen. We joined a few people who were carefully trudging into the lake, testing for thin ice before every step they took. We weren't sure we wanted to drown that day (pssst, Arun can't swim you know), so we didn't venture too far. There were also people who had come to the island to ski, and some crazy others who were para-sailing!

The last lighthouse for the day was the Presque Isle North Pierhead. There was a narrow walkway leading up to it. The water on either side was frozen and covered in snow, so you had to be really careful to ensure you stayed on the walkway. Arun risked his life and got this shot.

Presque Isle North Pierhead

Near this lighthouse there was a tall sand dune, now covered completely in snow. Give it to the Americans to make a sport out of it. There was a group of people there taking turns to crawl up the dune on all fours and slide down on a snowboard. It was super fun to watch and made me wish I had a snow board too.

People snowboarding down a sand dune

On the way out of the island we stopped at a cafe called Sunset Cafe for a late lunch. We arrived there just in time for a live performance by a guy who played the guitar, sang and played the harmonica, all at once. His singing wasn't too shoddy either. So we lounged around listening to him for a while over
our coffee and sandwiches.

Dinner that night was at another old world restaurant called Serafini's. We were forced to do Italian again because most places were fully booked for Valentine's day or closed for the Winter. We are not complaining because the restaurant had some great food and decor. Arun ate nearly a pound of chocolate cake, which made his evening and watching that sinful sight made mine.

We had planned to hike in a couple of famous Pennsylvania state parks on Monday. It's a pity to admit that we had to abort the plan, as even the entrance to both of them were inaccessible. "No winter maintenance" said the large welcoming sign. Hmmph, where do our tax dollars go? Job creation anybody? After taking a couple of silly pictures we set out for home and were back by 7pm, 6-7 hours earlier than the norm.

The only bear we spotted on this trip, he even let me hug him

That was our chilled out weekend trip! It's weird, but as much as we enjoyed this one-off laid back travel experience, Arun and I are sure now that we actually prefer our jam-packed itineraries that leave us happily exhausted in the end.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! And then some...

It's official. I LOVE the snow and the cold! As someone who grew up by the sea in the boiling cauldron called Madras, I was amazed at how easily I adapt to the cold. I went through my first winter here with no gloves or hat without so much as a sneeze. I relished walking the 20 blocks to school and back in the freezing weather. The crunch of the snow beneath my feet, the bite of the chill on my ears, steaming coffee cupped in my hands, I loved them all. It's my third East Coast winter and the love affair continues...

From a snowy trail run

As much as I was lamenting not getting out enough in the cold this winter, I completely capitalized on the blizzards the North East has been hit with in the last fortnight. We got 27 inches of snow last week and another 24 inches today. It's really coming down even as I write this! There are gusty winds at 20-30mph, the freeways are closed, airports are shut down. Some of the popular names going around are Snopocalypse, Snomageddon, SnoOMG!

However I find that snow, much like rain, really captures my imagination. There is a very serene beauty in the miles of sheer white blanket, with the essential road threading through it and the occasional car dotting it. I simply cannot resist the temptation to step into the soft white pillows on my balcony (and jumping around to keep from freezing). Even the tree that peers over the railing, once lush and green, seems reluctant to shake off the crystals that frost it.

Tree outside the balcony, while the snow storm rages on

I even enjoyed slushing around in the snow as Arun and I shoveled to get his buried car out...

Half shoveled parking space

..to drive 10 slippery miles and go here:

Soldier's Hut at Valley Forge National Park, PA

Lastly I've never been out in a snow storm before. And the first time I did it I ensured there was a lot to write home about. Here are some pictures that made my mom want to send me some of her hot Rasam to keep warm.

Looking the storm in the eye!

Taking a walk in the dying storm

Finally I could not let such a golden opportunity to do this pass by:

video

Making a Snow Angel!


So it's been one helluva a winter folks. Hope you enjoyed reading about all the craziness. We'll be back with more after this weekend, from Erie this time. Ciao!

Friday, February 5, 2010

President's day solicits visit to Ohio!

We can't believe we are running out of places to visit in the East coast already. Wait, let me rephrase - we are running out of famous places to visit in the East Coast already. So, we started scouting around the web to find places that could be interesting within driving distance. There is, of course no scarcity for remote places in this country, most of them quite beautiful in their own way.

After a little bit of googling, we have decided to do a road trip to Cuyahoga National park in Ohio (about 6 hours drive from Philadelphia) for the upcoming President's day weekenF. In the park, there are a number of hiking trails, a scenic railway, and a couple of waterfalls (which could very well be nothing but falling icicles now, but hey, who cares?!).

The plan is to spend a day at the National park and then drive to Presque Isle (which translates to 'almost an island' in French) in Pennsylvania. There is a state park, cruise rides, shopping district and what not? We have booked a mansion/hotel to spend a couple of nights there. And then on the way back, we'll visit one of the state parks in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

If I sit back and think, my visit to this country started off as a 'short-term work assignment' for 3 weeks, back in 2004. It has transformed into an almost 5 year stay making me learn a thing or two about this country and myself in the due course. Having visited more than 30 states, I still feel there is a lot to explore in this country, or for that matter, any place one lives in. The smallest, the most remote, less visited, less popular - all kinds of places have their own unique style and beauty.

Any time I step out of my doorstep, a whole new experience always seem to greet me! I'm sure any avid traveler would agree with me!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Travels

January was not a great month of travel for us. Work, weather and weary weekends were the culprits that kept us from making our customary weekend long trips. So I decided to write one describing our collective travels this month. Arun and I spent New Year eve at home with old friends, Wii, wine and home-cooked food. It was fun, albeit uncharacteristic of us to give up a long weekend and stay home.

The following week, I had to be in California for a few days. So I packed my running shoes and made good use of the balmy weather (well, in comparison) by getting a few runs in. It was almost nostalgic to do my old routes once again. I also made a trip to San Francisco to meet up with some friends. Nothing much in the way of travel though.


Around the middle of the month, it struck us that we'd not gone any place new since Christmas. No! We couldn't possibly let the winter go by without getting out there and braving the chill. You'll know if you've read our posts from last winter. So on an impulse we decided to visit the Botanical Gardens at Staten Island in New York. For some reason it didn't occur to us that we can see most of the same barren trees from the balcony at home. Here's one of the few good views we managed to see at the Chinese Scholar Garden.

Chinese Scholar Garden with frozen lake running through it

To make up for the otherwise disastrous trip, on our way back we stopped at New Jersey to meet a friend. We literally dragged him out of his house with less than an hour's notice. After eating a thousand calories worth of chaat, we watched the latest Jackie Chan movie, The Spy Next Door. Nothing to write home about this one, but a funny movie nevertheless.

If you are are still reading, you are probably thinking "What losers?!" That's what we thought too. So the following weekend we took off to the Washington DC area to do some real traveling. We left on Friday afternoon and drove to Baltimore, which is only about two hours away. We were there right in time for the city to light up and Arun got some great shots of the skyline.

Baltimore Skyline - shot from Baltimore Inner Harbor

Baltimore Skyline - one more

By the time he was done taking pictures from across the Patapsco river, we were both freezing from the wind. Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the place where we took these pictures from, is lined with restaurants. So we hurried into UNO Grill and warmed up with some awesome Chicago style deep dish pizza.

We drove down to Virginia for the night to stay close to
Great Falls National Park, which was the first destination we'd planned for the following day. But come morning, the sun was out and shining brighter than it should have been. Trust me, Arun was not pleased. Sun is a big no-no for waterfall photography. Did you know that? The sun definitely didn't on that day. So we changed plans and decided to spend the morning at The National Arboretum, just outside Washington DC, while we waited for the sun to go down. This visit completely redeemed us from our Botanical Garden debacle I described earlier. You can see for yourself from Arun's pictures.

Capitol Columns - columns that once adorned the East face of the US Capitol, now at The National Arboretum

Capitol Columns - a different perspective

There was a greenhouse with a Bonsai Garden which was fabulous. We got to see Bonsai that had been in training for over 400 years. The miniature creations of large oaks, pines and maples seemed fascinatingly impossible.

Bonsai on display

Later in the day we drove to Great Falls National Park in Virginia. It has three small waterfalls (couldn't figure out why they are "Great") cascading down one after the other. We did a short hike to the various vista points. The day being slightly warm, there were throngs of people at the park. I had a great time playing with all the dogs while Arun battled with his camera to get this shot.

Great Falls at sunset

Those were rough waters and hence popular with experienced kayakers. We didn't know this until someone asked us if we'd caught sight of any. We hadn't, not yet at least. But we got lucky. Half an hour later we saw a guy row upstream in his bright red kayak. It was so cool to see him expertly paddle around in the surf, as the current rocked him and splashed icy water all over him. Brrrrr! He really seemed to know what he was doing, judging by the gasps he received from his sizable audience.

Kayaker ruling the waters

We ended our trip by going back to the nation's capital. Arun took pictures of Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial from either side of the Reflecting Pool. Here they are:

Lincoln Memorial

Washington Monument

So that was a quick hash of our low key January. February should be good, for there's a long weekend coming up! Until our next jaunt...