Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Beautiful Dubai

About Dubai:
Dubai is one of the finest places that we have ever been. Being such a touristy place, we could not have imagined it to be so neat and clean. Dubai has the two extremes: beaches and deserts. Talking about extremes, the temperature goes up to 130 F in summers. We went there in mid-January, when it was winters in Dubai. But as per us, it was spring-like weather. Sleeveless during day time and a light cover during night was good enough. Even though it is a different country, but being so close to India (3.5 hours flight time), hindi seemed to be the second language there. It definitely felt like home. Even though it is a religious city, it is very modern too. Talking to the local people, there are no crimes in Dubai since punishment is pretty severe. We could not see any cops in Dubai in our 4-day stay. Of course, oil/gas is half the price and people pay no taxes, which means no sales tax, no income tax, no property tax etc. Driving is right-side, like the US. Alcohol is not sold in stores. You can only buy alcohol at airport or have it in the bars which makes it quite expensive. Unlike other countries, non-citizens cannot apply for Dubai's citizenship.
It is common to tip taxi drivers by rounding up to the nearest AED 5 while for other services such as having your petrol pumped, bags brought to your room or car valet parked, it is usual to tip between AED 2 and AED 20. Dubai is indeed a very prosperous city!

About our trip:
Some pictures of Dubai: TheBeautifulDubai

The entire Dubai trip went very smoothly for us. We booked our tickets through Emirates which made the visa process very easy. Emirates have an impressive online visa service and you get the visa in 2-3 days through email. If you do not book your flight through Emirates, then the other way to get the visa is by requesting the hotel where you have reservations. They do it easily too. Since we are Indian citizens, residing in the US, we had to apply for the visa prior to entry. For US, UK citizens and some others, visa can be attained on entry.

Day 1: We reached Dubai on Jan 11, 2012 from India on Emirates flight. The service of Emirates is worth appreciating which includes good food, good staff and better leg space than other planes. After a 3.5 hours flight, we arrived in Dubai around 1:30pm local time. Immigration took around 1.5 hours. Many people are not aware since there are no signs but the lines for women for immigration are separate than men. Immigration includes eye-scan which is quick and easy, once you get there. The immigration lines for visa and eye scan do not apply to those individuals who hold a passport that grants visa on arrival (UK, US, Australia and most of Europe etc.) We took a taxi from airport to our hotel: Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road which we had booked through The taxi took around AED 40. At the hotel, we were upgraded to a business suite and we had a fantastic stay. I would give 5/5 to the hotel. It had a bar at the 43rd floor with awesome views. The pool and spa on the top floor was a great advantage. Staff was very kind and helpful. Lot of variety in breakfast was totally worth it. We loved the food. Free wi-fi in the common areas was another plus. TIP: Staying in any hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road is recommended since there are metro stations nearby and taxis are very easily available.
After freshening up, we took a taxi to the Textile Souk Area (near to Bank of Baroda 2 building). We walked through the textile area, and had an early dinner at the much-recommended, creek-side restaurant: Bayt-Al-Wakeel, which is near to the textile souk entrance. We loved the excellent views of the creek from the restaurant and spent some quality time watching the tall lighted towers around. The air was filled with light breeze and the melodious voice of the “Namaaz” (Prayers) being read in the nearby mosques at their scheduled time made it even better. The food was decent and we would definitely go there, only for the views. After food, we walked along-side the creek and kept walking until we reached the Heritage Village. Heritage Village had a great display of the local culture (food and bazaar) and various events being held. Exhausted from walking until 11:30pm, we decided to walk back to the textile souk area to take a taxi back to the hotel, capturing the view of the Grand Mosque on the way back .

Day 2: The day began with the grand breakfast at the hotel and then a taxi to Jumeirah Mosque. We had to reach there by 9:45am to take a tour by Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, SMCCU . They take you inside the mosque and talk about Dubai and Islamic culture - very informative and highly recommended. The fee for the tour is minimal and reservation is not required. Decent clothing is recommended for the mosque. They give the ladies a scarf to cover heads, arms and chest.
After the 75 minutes tour, we went to Jumeirah public beach which was at a walking distance across the mosque. It is easy to reach destinations in Dubai by following directions given by people around. Even during that winter time, the sun felt very hot.
After spending some time at the beach, we took a taxi to the Mono-rail station. The mono-rail 5-min ride ticket is AED 15 one way per person. I think it was a good ride and we enjoyed the views of Dubai. The mono-rail goes through the Palm Islands. So, you do not really see the Palm but you do get to see some great views of the the Atlantis resort. We got off at the beautiful Atlantis. People without reservation at the hotel or water park can visit the resort’s mall which has Starbucks, several places to eat and some expensive stores. We spent around 2 hours there before proceeding to our next destination: the magnificent Burj-Al-Arab.
Prior reservation is required to be made for entry to Burj-Al-Arab. We had booked the afternoon tea at SkyView bar at the top floor at 4pm. TIP: Reach there early and give your name at the desk on the second floor for entry to the bar. They call out names for going in the elevator to the bar, according to your arrival time. For better seating and views, it is recommended to check-in early and then see the hotel around. We were the lucky ones and got great daytime, sunset and night views. They give you a royal treatment, starting with a glass of champagne cocktail (only one is covered in their regular charges. So, be careful!), fruit cream plus other appetizers. Then comes the unlimited choice of delicious appetizers and unlimited choice of evening tea. We were at the hotel until 6:30pm and it was good enough time to spend there. The classy evening tea was totally worth the money.
Next we proceeded to Mall Madinat Souk. There is a free buggy ride available from the hotel for the souk. You just need to tip the driver. Madinat Souk is built by the creek and has fantastic night views. It has some good shopping stores too, mostly local and excellent places to eat as well. You can do a 25-minute moonlit abra ride there for around AED 50 per person, which we missed doing.
Our next destination was Mall of Emirates. We took a taxi to the mall. It was a short 5-min ride. Nice huge mall with mostly US and UK stores, nothing special about it except the huge Ski area (Ski Dubai) which looked good for kids.
Next we took metro to Ibn-Batuta mall. The mall is known for its architecture. The metro station is just inside the Mall of Emirates. And the station near to Ibn-Batuta mall is at a walking distance. Ibn-Batuta mall has different courts/shopping areas representing around seven different countries including, India, China, Egypt and Paris. It is a bit far from the main city, but not to be missed. Then we took the metro back to our hotel. Tip: If you know that you are going to travel a lot by metro in one day, then it is better to buy the day pass for AED 16.

Day 3: Our third day was a Friday. Most of the things including the Metro are closed that day until 3-4pm since it is the Big Prayer day. Friday and Saturday in Dubai are like Saturday and Sunday in most of the other countries. We had late breakfast and then proceeded to the Dubai Mall. It is one of the few things open on Friday afternoons. It was a short taxi ride for us since our hotel was very near to it. We decided to shop in the mall that afternoon and get back to it again the next day for the top of Burj Khaleefa, Aquarium and the Musical fountains. These have their entry through Dubai Mall. The Mall was huge with most of the US and UK stores there. The prices were little less than US but more than India. The Dubai Shopping Festival was going on at that time with some good discounts. This festival is held for one month in the beginning of every year. After having a light lunch there, we proceeded back to the hotel for our Desert Safari tour.
We had heard several scary things about the Desert Safari tour companies. Arabian Adventures and Lama tours are some of the recommended expensive ones. Our hotel booked us with their agent: Universal Desert Safari tours and I must say that they were quite good. It can be really dangerous in the deserts, but the 23-year old driver, Ahmad knew his job very well. Ahmad picked us up from the hotel in his Toyota Land Cruiser. We had a Romanian family with us in the SUV. The guy was a fun non-stop talker and his wife could hardly speak English. Their two kids were nice and quiet. Ahmad drove us to the desert area which was around 20-kms drive. It was a scary roller-coaster ride in the desert on the sand dunes – up and down the dunes. After a 25-30 minute adventure ride, we reached the desert camp organized by the tour agents. We reached early enough to do various activities like camel-ride, dress up in Arabic costume and get pictures, hold the bird and get free henna on one hand, before other people arrived through their desert safari agents and the lines got worse. The toilets in the camp were clean. Unlimited non-alcoholic drinks were included in the tour along with some snacks. Sunset views in the desert were gorgeous. Next, there were performances on the stage around which we sat in Arabic style seating. The performances included belly-dancing by women, and unbelievably excellent Arabic dancing by men. The dinner buffet had many options and was good food. With all the dust in our sandals and clothes, we were ready to be dropped at our hotel around 9pm. TIP: Wear light and loose clothes and take flip-flops with you.
Back at the hotel, we went to the hotel’s 43rd floor lounge for drinks, enjoying the gorgeous views from the open-roof top bar. The light breeze and lovely blue lightings made the night even more beautiful.

Day 4: Last day in Dubai and we had booked a Bastakiya (Old Dubai area) tour from SMCCU but it got cancelled. So, we decided to do it ourselves. Our first destination was the SMCCU center and then we walked around the Bastakiya area which had several museums, art galleries, and offices open for visit. Some maps to help: Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3. The Bastakiya art café is a recommended place to eat there. It took us around 2 hours in that area including taking pictures of the beautiful Grand Mosque (which we had seen during night time on our first day visit to the Textile souk area).
We walked to the nearby Dubai museum after that. It was a well built museum, good to see how Dubai was really transformed into what it is now. We captured the pictures of Al-Fahidi fort on the way towards the creek.
Next we walked towards the creek for an abra towards Gold Souk which is on the other side of the Textile Souk. The 5-min Abra ride for AED 1 was fun. We walked thought the Spice Souk to reach the Gold Souk. Haggling for the “make” in Gold Souk is common. There was too much gold everywhere with same rates as in other countries but much more variety.
After Gold Souk, we took the abra back to Textile Souk Abra station, took a taxi from there for Al-Karama market to buy some cheap knick-knacks. After spending around 1:30 hours there including lunch at some local restaurant, we proceeded to the Dubai Mall for our 5pm reservation for the Top of Burj Khaleefa, the tallest building in the world. It was a 20-min taxi ride and 15-min walking inside the huge Dubai Mall for the entrance to the top of Burj Khaleefa. TIP: Book the Burj Khaleefa from their website ( for a slot when you can capture both daylight and sunset views. The reservation opens 30 days in advance and such evening slots fill up very quickly. At the top of the Burj (124th floor), it felt like we were at the top of the world! Even though the Burj has 40 more floors above this one, 124th is the one which has the Observatory deck. We very much enjoyed the views and spent around 1.30 hours there before proceeding towards the Dubai Musical fountains for the 7pm show. The entry for the fountains is again from the mall itself. TIP: The lines for the elevator to go down the Burj can get pretty long. So, make sure, you are ahead of the time for other planned activities. The 5-10mins Musical fountains at 7pm were a fantastic show. After 7pm, the shows happen after every 30mins. The night view of the Burj from the fountains area is more than beautiful. That beautiful night could have only been captured through the eyes.
After seeing two musical shows, we proceeded to the Dubai Aquarium which also includes the underwater zoo. The entry is again from inside the mall. It indeed is a huge aquarium! After having dinner in the mall and shopping around a bit (since the malls are open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays and until 12 midnight other days), we took a taxi back to the hotel.
We had our 16-hour non-stop Emirates flight back home early next day. Unexpectedly, the 16 hours went by pretty quickly. Perhaps, it depends on the person you are traveling with!

Some pictures of Dubai: TheBeautifulDubai

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lassen National Volcanic Park, California

Some pictures of the park: Lassen Volcanic Park

We visited one of the most gorgeous parks of California in July 2011 - Lassen Volcanic National Park. It is a US National Park in northeastern California, around 150 miles from Sacramento, on the way to Redding.
The dominant feature of the park is Lassen Peak; the largest plug dome volcano in the world.

We stayed in a small town called Susanville which is 50-60 miles from the park. There are not many hotels available near the hotel and they get booked pretty fast. My favorite spot in the park was the Cinder Cone which is a 700-foot-high volcanic cone. Now dormant, the cone was formed in two eruptions of ash and volcanic cinders in the 1650s. The cone was built to a height of 800 feet above the surrounding area and spread ash over 30 square miles around it. The Cinder Cone Trail is a worthy hike at Lassen. The trail is 4 miles long and starts from the Butte Lake

Campground located at the far northeast corner of the park. To get there we had to drive out of the park and back in on a dirt road. The first 2 miles of the hike are flat, going through forest area but the last half mile includes a fairly steep 800 feet ascension of the cone itself. The cone is made of pure gravel and this makes it hard to climb it - one step forward followed by two involuntary steps backward. But seeing the bare volcanic landscape is worth the effort. Taking a wooden stick for support on the trail is a good idea. Painted dunes can be seen from the top of the cone. The beautiful colors are formed by oxidation of the cinder rocks and ash that fell from volcanic eruptions. Round trip to and from the cone takes around 3-4 hours.

Drive to the Manzanita lake from this end of the park is around 60 miles. It is a beautiful drive. Manzanita Lake is located close to the northwest entrance of the park.

Next is the Bumpass Hell trail, which is the largest area containing geothermal features in Lassen Park. It is a 3-mile round trip and has steaming fumaroles and mudpots. The active area can be seen from some distance away. We could not hike this trail since it was closed due to snow. We could walk through the snow on the roads as the roads were closed for traffic. It was pristine - thick pure white snow on the huge mountains all around. Bumpass hell is a shorter version of the Yellowstone volcanic park.

Another side, Sulphur Works is one of the sites of Lassen which is right next to the main road through the park. To get there one needs to park the car and walk for a very short distance.

We also walked to the Kings Creek falls which was beautiful. It is an easy trail.

Two-night stay is good for venturing Lassen park, without climbing the 5-mile strenous Lassen Peak which I guess takes 3-4 hours. One of the most amazing parks in the US - I loved Lassen Park.

Here are some pictures of the park: Lassen Volcanic Park

Our second visit to Mendocino

Fort Bragg/Mendocino is a nice place to visit. Being on the coast, it can be very windy there, as it was this time when we went in April end of 2011. Last time we went there in mid-March to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary in 2008. 2 nights/3 days are enough for a relaxing stay in Mendocino.
This time, we stayed at Pine Beach Inn in Fort Bragg. It had a private beach and a Thai restaurant inside. Even though the restaurant had good ratings on Yelp, I did not like it.

Places to visit:

1. Point Cabrillo light house: It is little further from Fort Bragg, towards San Francisco but it is a must visit. They let you climb to the top of the lighthouse which has scenic views. No elevators inside!
2. Glass beach, Mendocino.
3. Botanical Gardens, Mendocino: Expensive for its worth. I would not go there again. It is like a big park with not many interesting things.
4. Glass-making factories/shops in Mendocino
5. Point Arena lighthouse/ Russian Gulch State Park
6. Small town of Noyo which has a harbor as well.
7. Van Dame State Park: Only good for camping

Recommended pizza restaurant in Mendocino: D'Aurelios, 438 South Franklin Street, Fort Bragg. Mom-pop restaurant with good service and excellent pizza.

On our way from Sacramento to Fort Bragg, we took a little detour and stopped in a small city: "City of 10 thousand Buddhas." To reach there from CA-20, take ramp to Ukiah and merge onto US 101-S. Then take exit 548A to merge onto CA-222 E/Talmage Rd and continue onto Bodhi way. It is around 10-mile one way extra, if you are going to Mendocino via CA-20. It was worth the trip - Small, peaceful, traditional village with a Buddhist temple and schools/colleges inside the little village. It is called so because there are 10 thousand Buddhas inside the temple. The vegetarian restaurant inside is open only for lunch which we missed.

The hilly roads to Mendocino are very winding (around 30+ miles). Dramamine would help for those who have motion sickness:)

The Redwoods and the Sequoias: Our visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

The California trees "redwoods" are actually two distinct species:

1. Sometimes called simply the "big trees," giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) grow only in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains toward the state's eastern border. The most massive living things, they can reach 280 feet tall and 23 feet across. The largest rise a little over 300 feet and spread almost 30 feet across. The oldest have been around over 3,000 years

2. Coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervivens) are the tallest living things on our planet, growing 300-350 feet tall and 16-18 feet across, with record specimens soaring 360 feet. They are the primary tree in the redwood forests that grow from near the California coast from the northern border down to Big Sur.

One of the best places to see Sequoias is the Sequoia National Park, CA. We visited the park in mid-May. The weather was perfect except for the unexpected snowfall! We woke up on the last day of our 2-night trip to white grounds and blocked roads. We stayed at Wuksachi Village and lodge inside the park - a nice, clean lodge but expensive in spring through summer.

Places we visited in Sequoia Park:
1. Tunnel rock.
2. Crystal Caves: Ask for tickets right at entrance. There are no tickets available once you reach the caves which is almost 14miles from the gate.
3. General Sherman Tree: The largest tree (by volume) on Earth - 2000-2300 years old - 36.5 feet diameter at the base.
4. Morro Rock: A steep hike with stairs. Beautiful at the top.
5. Crescent Meadow Loop: Nice peaceful walk from tunnel log to the meadow.
6. Hospital rock: The creek/river down there is beautiful.

The park has sequoia tree which fell down almost 100 years ago with diameter around 22 feet and more than 2000 years old.
The Kings Canyon National Park which borders the Sequoia park is a must visit. Full of rocky mountains and waterfalls, it is a beautiful place. Map at the entrance should be good enough for guidance. The Grizzly falls and Rushing River are not to be missed.

As it snowed on Sunday - the day when we were to go to Kings Canyon from within the Sequoia park and since the roads were blocked, we could not make it to Kings Canyon through the park. Sequoia is at a higher elevation than Kings Canyon. So, we decided to get out of the park, coming to a lower elevation, and then drive through the outer periphery of the park and we made it to Kings canyon! Though it was a single-lane road and very winding, but it was well worth it. The route was quite scenic which it is from the inside of the park as well.

Yellowstone - Heaven on Earth

Link to pictures: Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Yellowstone National Park offers one of the best views of nature - in fact I would say, it is the ooh-la-la of the BEST. With beautiful hot sulphur springs erupting from the ground and snow-clad mountains in the background, the park takes away your breath for a moment (actually for several moments!). The park which stretches over three states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, lies on a volcano. My trip to yellowstone with our friends on Memorial Day weekend was a very memorable trip. The park opens on that weekend and then closes before thanksgiving weekend because of the extreme winter weather in that area.

In my opinion, Memorial day weekend is the best weekend to visit yellowstone as it gets really crowded there on other long weeeknds due to the summer-ish weather during that time. The roads inside the park are one-lane and when people spot wild-life while driving, they stop their cars/trucks on the way (as there are hardly any shoulders) to take pictures, causing the traffic to come to a halt.

It was amazing to see snow, sleet, hail, rain, sun at the same time in yellowstone. One mile, it would be snowing, the other mile it would be sunny and then the next mile one could see sleet. More than awesome! There were snow-covered mountains one side and dry mountains just opposite them. Lots of hot sulpur springs with steam coming out made it look heavenly. The park was so beautiful that I did not even want to blink!

We stayed at a hotel just outside the west entrance of the park. West yellowstone is a small town and the nearest entrance if you arrive from Utah. We flew from Sacramento to Salt Lake City and then drove to West Yellowstone. The drive is 6 hours which doesn't seem too bad as the view is scenic. There are not many gas stations or rest areas on the way. So, make sure to fill your gas tanks as you spot the gas stations. There are a few local airports around which are near to yellowstone but are quite expensive and there are not many flight options.

There are some lodges inside the park but they get booked really fast. We tried booking a couple of months before our trip but could not find a vacancy. Staying in a Best Western hotel just outside the park was not a bad option at all.

We started for the park next morning. The entrance fee for the park is valid for 7 days. Cell phone coverage inside the forest is not too good. Once you enter the park, you can see wild bisons on the road, walking in groups. Bears, deers and elks are other wildlife you can easily see in the park.

We spent 2 full days in the park. Recommended places inside the park are: Old Faithful, Mammoth springs and the Upper, Lower and Tower falls besides many other beautiful spots you see on the way. We also visited the north entrance of the park which is close to Livingstone - a small town.

People there did not seem to be very tourist-oriented as most restaurants and shops were closed on Sunday evening of the long weekend. The roosevelt arch/gate at the entrance was beautiful. On the 3rd day of our trip, we started our way back via Grand Tetons. Grand Tetons is another park which is connected to Yellowstone park. It is a must visit. There is no separate entrance fee for Grand Teton if you exit from Yellowstone. The same entrance fee is valid for Grand Tetons as well. Grand Tetons is another breath-taking park. There were such beautiful views on the way from Yellowstone to Grand Tetons that we had to stop after almost every mile for the views.

If you visit Grand Tetons,then you must go to the restaurants inside the park. The views from this building/lodge (which has 2-3 restaurants, coffee shops, conference centers etc.) are breath taking. The eating place inside the building has gorgeous views. The ambiance is awesome and the food is good. It is not too expensive either - a must visit. This place falls in the state of Wyoming.

On the way back from Grand Tetons to Utah is a town called Jackson Hole. It is a small relaxing town. I am glad we stopped here for a while. The way back from Grand Teton to Salt Lake city is again a scenic drive, passing through the large potato farms of Idaho. The 5-hour drive was a very scenic drive.

If you get to Salt Lake city early and have time there, then you should visit the Salt Lake park. It has a $5 entrance and is almost 40 minutes drive from the airport but is well worth it. It is a beautiful place.

Yellowstone-Grand Teton is a must visit. I have yet to read about any park better than this one. Visit it and you'll fall in love with it!
Link to pictures: Yellowstone and Grand Teton

London - Our travel in 2008-2009

I had thought that having lived in London for almost a year in 2005 would make things easy for us in December 2008 - January 2009 and they did except for the unclear tourist visa formalities for London. We were planning to stop in London on our way back to US from India. Our 5-day trip was more than awesome and memorable.
For Indian citizens living in the US, the visa is a 6 month tourist visa for which the papers have to be sent to the Embassy in Los Angeles. They have a real quick service and the visa is stamped in less than a week. They ask for the fingerprints and stuff which is quite a rigorous process. The best link for visa to UK:> Visa for UK
The visa fee per person is around $138 from US and approx 80 pounds from India.
Though different sites might confuse you, but if you are an Indian citizen living in the US, you do need this UK tourist visa. If you are in transit to UK and would be at the airport for more than 6 hours, then you need to apply for the Transit visa.

Once you are done with the visa issues, London is a beautiful place to go as a tourist. The excellent transport system makes it very easy for the tourist. If you are going for less than a week, then buying a Day Pass for the Tubes would be the best, else the Weekly pass. Get a pass and you can travel whole day on the trains and buses for the zones you buy the pass.

London is divided into 4 main zones - Zone 1 and 2 being the most visited tourist zones. With all the main museums in Kensington, the GMT in Greenwich, the Tower Bridge, Hyde Park, Harods Mall, the night life in Picaddily Circus, Oxford Circus, Covent Garden, St. Paul's cathedral, Waterloo, Victoria Station, Trafalgar Sq., Parliament Houses and Big Ben, London Eye, Madam Tussads' Museum, lying in Zone 1 and 2, it makes easy and less time consuming to travel between the famous spots. Easy transport access to nearby places like Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Bournemoth, Isle of Wite, Scotland etc. makes the trip even more fun! These places are much worth a visit.
Another good thing about London is that you get a lot of vegetarian food, which is much unlike US. As Mexican food is to US, Italian food is to London. The weather is too good in Summers and spring with really long days.
All said above, London just rocks!
Below was our itinerary:

Day 1: Landed in London late evening on New Year's eve. Went to London Bridge for New Year's fireworks.

Day 2: Parliament Square, Big Ben, London Eye, Buckingam Palace, St, James Park, Trafalgar Square (Watched the new year's parade), National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, National Science Museum, National History museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Apple Market in Covent, Picadilly Circus.

Day 3: Oxford (in bus, easily available from Stratford station through Megabus and various other operators). Visited the City Center, Oxford Science Museum, Radcliffe Camera (Had food at local restaurant: The Kings Arms - Was great), Back to London and a visit to Picadilly Circus again.

Day 4: Liverpool street station (for my old memories since my office was near Liverpool Station back in 2005), Greenwich, Royal Observatory@Greenwich, Local Market@Greenwich, Canary Wharf, One Canada Square@canary Wharf, the beautiful St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Millenium Bridge.

Day 5: Hyde Park. Flight back to the US from Heathrow.

The Scenic Highway1 - California

I just love the route along Highway 1....Have been to a few places on highway 1 and would love to go on others (which I do not even know about)....Such scenic beauty - mind-blowing - the oceanic views are just awesome!!!
1. Mendocino
2. Pointe Reyes Light house/Bodega Bay
3. Monterey/Carmel/17-Mile Drive/Big Sur
4. Cambria
5. Mount Shasta (some drive from sacramento to Shasta includes highway 1)
6. Hearst Castle

The latest we went to was Monterey/Big Sur on the Labor Day weekend. We started from Sacramento at almost 10.30am and stopped at Santa Cruz Beach. It was a long long beach with so many people, mostly with kids. It had a casino too and rides for kids. We liked the beach - just that the parking there was tough and the traffic from San Jose to Santa Cruz was really slow.

We started from the beach at around 3pm for our next destination - Monterey. It was almost 70 miles from Santa Cruz and the drive was ok. We went to Monterey wharf and Monterey Beach. The Monterey downtown near the beach was a nice place - nice small shops. There was a Greek Festival going on - we enjoyed the music/dances in the festival and ofcourse the awesum Greek food. Did some Monterey shopping and then drove to our next stop - Carmel-by-the-sea. Carmel - a small town with a beautiful beach which is at the end of its downtown. We liked Carmel - enjoyed the sunset on the beach which made our evening! Next we drove back to Salinas - 20 miles from Carmel where we had our hotel reservation. Salinas again was not a very big city but had nice eateries and everything one can hope for. We went to a Thai restuarant there - Yangtse's Taste of Thai on the Main Street which had a nice ambience and very healthy food. Their service was worth praising.

Next day we started early after breakfast and straight away went to 17-Mile Drive. 17-Mile had a 10$ enterance fee. It went through a small town with narrow roads and lots of houses - they seemed to be costly houses. We were kind of amused - is this what we paid for? And then came the awesum view - the best oceanic view we have ever seen - the 17-mile drive. The beauty of the coast can just not be described - it was more than stunning!!...The coastal oceanic view stretches for 17 miles and thus the name. 17 Mile Drive, Carmel and Montery are quite close to each other. After spending some time in 17 Mile, we next drove to Big Sur. The drive from 17 Mile to Big Sur was mind blowing - just simply mind blowing. It was an all oceanic drive - everyone was driving slow - looking at the beauty around. Big Sur was almost 40 miles from there. We went to the Pfifer State Park - did some strenous hikes there. Most of the trails were closed there due to the fire in Big Sur last month which had taken days to extinguish. While on our back home, we again stopped by Carmel beach going past its downtown - enjoyed the sun there and drove back to Sacramento!

I would really recommend the 17-Mile drive and the drive from 17-Mile to Big Sur. It was worth every single money and time we spent!

A trip to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China in 2008

Before I forget about one of the most memorable trips I had, I thought to write it down - our trip to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China. Hong Kong is a beautiful city with very disciplined people. There were no cops to be seen anywhere. It seems like I heard it correct that Hong Kong is almost a crime-free city. Thanks to our friend Adnan who made our trip memorable and so comfortable! We went to Hong Kong on our way back from India in early Jan 2008 and stayed at Adnan's apartment. Hong Kong is easily accessible by public transport (bus, train and ferry).

The rooms in hotels/apartments are very small in Hong Kong. Everything seemed small there in comparison to the US but enough for us. Another thing to notice was that we did not see a single obese person there.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1: Ferry cruise on the river at night (Saw the beautiful lighted Hong Kong), Clock Tower, Went to a famous restaurant: Water Park (Chicken chilli was awesome), Party District (a partying and clubbing strip)

Day 2: Cable car trip to Ngong Ping village (A must visit). It has a beautiful Buddhist Monastery; The Pacific Place Mall; Special Shopping market (on the road side, very crowded), Buddhish temple, Hong Kong Mall, Ended the day by going to a famous 5 star luxury restaurant: Hotel Peninsula (requires formal dress)

Day 3: Madam Tussads Wax museum, Peak Tram (You can see the peak of Hong Kong from here). Wax museum and Peak Tram is one same trip; Ferry ride, Watched the police parade outside the convention center, Had dimsum in the dimsum restaurant inside the Convention Center (Much recommended); Sea Food market; Hong Kong park; Visited a kind of hidden bar which is only for members and does not even have its name on the building: Heather Boa

Day 4: A day trip to Shenzhen, China. Since Shenzhen is on the border of HongKong and China, it is easily accesible by train from Hong Kong. Visa is available at the immigration services on the China border without much hassles (only long lines). Highly recommended for shopping with haggling; Back to HongKong - Maritime Square; Famous eating street: Wan Chai.

We flew by Cathay-Pacific. The airline was good, as far as I remember. It was a short 4-hour flight from India to Hong Kong. I would so love to visit Hong Kong again, some day but I am sure it'll be a different country every time we visit India:)