Chicago is always a good Idea

Chicago is always a good idea runs an old saying and I second ¬†that wholeheartedly ūüôā

Chicago travel happened in the month of April 2016 when Boston was still cold  and half of the tourist places were  recovering  and not yet  contemplating to open their doors. Having seen the east coast just 5 months back , Chicago seemed a good choice  and  flights were booked  from Boston.

The ¬†Chicago O’hare airport is well connected with trains that take travelers to different parts of the city and the city itself has an extensive travel network ¬†.Soon after landing my eyes started scanning each place I crossed for familiarity ,having seen nooks and corners of this city several times in various Hollywood films.

When we collected tickets from the automatic machine , we were instructed to change trains in between at some station .When we reached that station it was ¬†a little confusing and we boarded a wrong train and went somewhat opposite but realized soon and came back and got into the right one getting down at the nearest station to our hotel. However we boarded a bus which dropped us somewhere opposite to where our hotel was and we had to again walk all the way back but the best part about U.S cities are that no place is too far and the locals will always motivate you saying ” 4 blocks down and then 2 blocks right” and you will realize the exact distance only once you have walked the entire distance ūüôā

So we reached Mariott downtown which I must say is a great location for any tourist who would need to use public transport or simply walk around.All the places , be it the harbor side , or the big brand showrooms, or the tallest buildings or several eat outs and restaurants …all like I said earlier is just a few blocks up or down right or left ūüôā

Since we reached around noon , we freshened up and instead of resting we ventured out to have a feel of the city and hunt a good place for dinner . A Hard rock Cafe at the corner of the road  seemed to be the perfect place to spend the evening .Very soon a chicken platter arrived and we had a sumptuous dinner accompanied with good music.

The next day we had a HOHO ( hop on hop off bus)  trip booked  to see various places and the instructions said that the bus stop was about 10 mins walk from the hotel .We went to a dunkin donuts nearby for breakfast and soon headed for the bus.At that hour it was freezing cold and I was disappointed that none of my short dresses carried with such excitement all the way from India was of any use even in this city , Boston having disappointed me the previous weeks already.So after clicking a selfie with a new top on , I quickly wrapped myself in my jacket and grabbed a cup of hot chocolate while walking towards the bus stop.

The HOHO buses ¬†have the best views ¬†if you sit at the top deck and tourists like me will do it however cold it is as it also gives me oppurtunity to click good pictures.The bus went around several places ¬†and ¬†stopped near coffee joints . The city is so full of life and full of ¬†good looking people , especially women with stylish dresses and coats and equally stylish puppies accompanying them ūüėÄ

A funny selfie at the top of HOHO bus ūüôā

The HOHO downtown tour runs all year round daily  and covers the below spots :

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower
Michigan Avenue Bridge
Art Institute / Millennium Park
Hilton Chicago / Grant Park
Adler Planetarium
Field Museum / Shedd Aquarium
Maggie Daley Park / Millennium Park
Sheraton Hotel
Navy Pier
The Magnificent Mile
The Water Tower
360 Chicago (formerly John Hancock Observatory)
Hard Rock / River North

We took  the tour and alighted the bus to see the Shedd aquarium  and Adler Planetarium.The windy city lived up to its name and we seemed to fly .The place is extremely beautiful and we could not resist clicking some pictures though it was extremely difficult to hold on to the camera or the hat and  hair was all haywire.At this place one can see the city as the shoreline and a most common capture .

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chicago -downtown-adler-shedd-FieldMuseum-Architecture river cruise-magnificent mile

 

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Shedd Aquarium, Chicago Museum campus

The Adler Planetorium is the first American Planetorium and has many space lessons and fun activities including a show on the  earth and the solar system . It has one of the worlds most technologically advanced dome theatres. The cafeteria at one end is one of its kind and has beautiful open views of the sea  which can be enjoyed for hours  on any given day  without letting the chilling wind bite into one.

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Adler Planetorium, Chicago Museum campus
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Space centre , Adler Planetorium, Chicago Museum campus
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Solar gallery ,Adler Planetorium, Chicago Museum campus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later in the day we returned to the downtown area and  shopped at some of the stores and had hot chocolate whenever we were cold.

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The Disney store in Chicago at Michigan Avenue
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A mighty happy Captain America ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening my cousin brother and his wife came from the suburbs to meet us and treated us to a sumptuous indian dinner at Gaylord and this place is highly recommended for the food , ambience and the servers who have interesting stories to tell about the city.

The Day 3 highlight was chicago architecture river cruise

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The Architecture River Cruise begins

The Windy city is neither as big or glamorous as New York ¬†and it doesn’t have the Hollywood appeal of Los Angeles, yet millions flock to Chicago every year where you have 26 miles of lakefront ¬†complete with bike paths and beaches and huge robust architecture. The boat ride is a testimony to that ¬†and the architecture of each building is surely a sight to behold.The tallest tower in Chicago, the John Hancock ¬†which was also the tallest in the ¬†world before the same architect decided to build the Burj Khalifa in Dubai much taller than the ¬†former.

The 75 minute guided tour gives an insight into ¬†how from a small settlement the city grew into one of the world’s largest cities in less than 100 years with its ¬†buildings and engineering ¬†giving ¬†birth to the skyscrapers. .As the boat goes down the Chicago river ¬†one would uncover the hidden gems and renowned landmarks among 40 notable buildings ¬†like the Trump tower , John Hancock building ,Wrigly building and more.The Skyline looks spectacular and the events like the Chicago fire and others ¬†while going past all three branches of the Michigan river is a must do.

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Architecture of the robust Bridges

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Chicago Suntimes

Tour tips:

  • Dress warm
  • Arrive 30 mins before
  • A full snack bar is available on board
  • Do not forget your Camera.

 

Day 3 second half Field Museum of natural history.

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Field Museum Showstopper , Sue the Dinosaur ūüôā

After the Cruise at Navy Pier  we took a  bus to the  Field Museum  which is one of the largest museums in the world  and  will usually  take a whole day to explore  and about 4.5 billion year of history under one roof. My 5 year old was most excited to see the  huge dinosaur fossil  Sue the T Rex   which is 67 million years old .

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Fossils in all shpes and sizes

The other attractions were the Fossil prep Lab  and the DNA discovery centre where visitors can watch as conservators  work to preserve anthropological specimens  across the world or scientists extract DNA from a variety of organisms.

 

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Terracota Warriors show

The animal and birds exhibits are also interesting as is the gems and other dinosaur fossils and there are also some interesting shows with insights on extinct tribes and lessons from history.

When we came out of the Museum  it was closing time and  it started raining very heavily and  as we tried  to get into a   bus, I looked at the harbour side one last time which looked hazy with an overcast sky.We got down at the place what is known as the Magnificent mile which is a said to be the mecca for shoppers and there is a store for everything .

Tulips all the way along the magnificent mile

We walked around ¬†quaint shops selling antique items ¬†where we ¬†shopped a little for some souvenirs .Then we headed to ¬†chilly’s for some spicy dinner and chilled beer lazily soaking in the days activities.Since it was our last night in chicago , we walked around till the shops closed and took pictures of the city amidst the lights ¬†before calling it a night.

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Eggsperience – a breakfast place for all

Day 4 started on a bright note with a very preety breakfast at eggsperience .

The staff are very friendly and the food is tasty and  served in a very pleasant manner

Experience Eggsperience ¬†egg lovers or not ūüôā

 

 

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pancakes to soak:-)

 

 

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Flight was at noon , so we lazed around the morning soaking up some sun and clicking some last shots of our memorable trip . As the taxi sped towards the airport , I looked back to see the  city of Skyscrapers and the entire city looked exactly like I had seen in the movies and with a smile on my lips and a warm little hand in my hands who too savored in the sights like me , we left with a  heart full of lovely memories.

 

 

 

Off the beaten path in Kodaikanal and the aroma of cooked rice

Monsoons in Bangalore is always extended and gets monotonous .So when it rained very heavily on a friday , I  decided to travel out of the city and without any bookings , took a night bus from Majestic on our way to Kodaikanal.

Bangalore has very good bus services to many tourist destination and Kodai is  one among that.The journey will take you to a place called Dindigal downhill where the bus halts for breakfast and then a one hr uphill climb to arrive at the queen of the southern hill station.

This being my second trip to kodai but first for my husband , I became the unsaid guide .Like most tourists after finding a good place to stay and freshening up we headed to the lake ¬†and spent a good laid back time cycling around , spotting ¬†Rekha’s ¬†( the filmstar) house and eating kababs .

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Kebabs and rainy hilltops

However the next day we had planned a trek up the mountain roads which was not one of the popular  tourist spots  but nature at its best. We travelled by a shared cab till a point and then walked and trekked on mountain roads .These mountains are a part of the western ghats and at that height always have a misty look . Here one could  walk on winding hilly  roads , drink from a stream of water flowing out of Gundar falls , try to spot the Berjam lake   and capture the beautiful city from top , sit and laze the whole day with not a single soul in sight save the cows or monkeys and  breathe the purest air.

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The Road not taken ūüôā
Kodaikanal-hilltops-Gundar falls-Berjam lake
A preety little stream
Rooted
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Princess under a misty veil
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The Kodai city with the La Salette church visible at the extreme left

We walked almost half a day and by lunch time were totally famished but little did we know that lunch at that isolated place is only by the kindness of the village folks who allow tourists to pay and eat a simple yet sumptuous lunch at their houses. This though a way of earning money is not their only source of livelihood , farming being the primary .

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‚ÄúA simple act of kindness the size of a rice grain can weigh as heavy as a mountain.‚ÄĚ ‚Äē Feroz Bham

So on a cold  september afternoon two hungry souls  savoured a plate full of hot rice , sambar and some veggies amidst the Kodai hills , the simplicity of which touched our heart and has  remained memorable ever since.

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Me and tranquility all around

 

 

The Waiting-room at Dehradun station

Kathgodam station

Journey to Nainital

I always thought that natural Lakes have a mysterious thing about them .They may not be vast or deep as the sea but somewhere they contain with their closed ends a lot many things waiting to be discovered .The first natural water lake I had seen was the Changu lake in sikkim which was not  frozen when I
visited and it had a lasting effect on me.Surrounded by mountains on all sides , the calm pristine water creates a quietness which one has to see to feel   and vice versa.
So when we were planning an Uttranchal trip one december where Dehradun and Mussori were already finalised , it did not  take me much time to add Nainital to the itenary though that would mean a long train journey with my 4 year old when most trains were getting delayed or cancelled due to the winter fogs.
As luck would have it , after a very fulfilling trip seeing Dehradun and Musoori , we reached the Dehradun station at 10 pm only to know that the train to Nainital is delayed by 5 hours and at 3 degrees , the ladies   waiting room seemed to be a blessing though it started getting crowded very soon.

As said by Ruskin Bond “you sit on a railway platform long enough and you will have a story to tell”.

In the non smartphone era people were more patient and a night like this would look long and probably one would try to sleep off but since smartphones rule us and not otherwise, I started discussing the situation with my sister who is on the other side of the globe and had started her day .I joked that how in real life  to find a place in waiting rooms itself is a blessing  leave alone  meet a long lost lover in an empty waiting room as they show in the movie Izzazat !

As I tried putting my son to sleep in the chairs we occupied ,  there was a huge rush of a lot of gypsie women who were carrying blankets and in a zigzag pattern they started lying down on the ground such that  their blankets served both as mattress and blanket  in some way and  they could fight the cold well.This got me thinking how these people are always prepared to face all kinds of situation and have stuff with them which people like us never think of. We would probably carry a lot more medicine but not think of how to save ourselves from catching a cold !!!

Then at about 2 am another train arrived and some of the seats got vacant and I got a bed for my son to lye down.There ¬†I met a ¬†bubbly girl like myself who was travelling back home from her hostel for christmas vacation and we started chatting .The rest of the night passed by with a lot of hostel life conversation and laughter ,with me reminiscing my hostel days. My husband who was in the general waiting room had to come to check on me as he had ¬†stopped receiving any wats app message from me which till then was ¬†an agreed upon ¬†mode of staying in touch while spending the night in separate waiting rooms ¬†ūüôā

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Haldwani Station

Then at 4 am the train arrived and very soon we all were fast asleep in our bunks with my kiddo sharing mine and when we woke up , we could see the small yet preety Haldwani station the neatness of which would not miss the eye .

 

 

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The Rustic Landscape

The landscape was rustic with trees planted in rows for miles together and as the train sped by I thought how the steady rhythm of a  train journey transforms us much like the changing landscape  which unfortunately a flight can never compensate.

 

As we arrived at the majestic Kathgodam station , the tiredness seem to vanish and the hills seem to call .

A beautiful morning beckon us ¬†, one I can recall still as fresh as that day . A car journey on the winding ¬†mountain roads followed ¬†where we would go up a certain distance and then go down another as one hill connected to another.There is this puzzle about mountain roads but that we shall solve some other time. For now let it be the land of the lakes ūüôā and for anyone wanting to see Nainital , I would recommend to make this train journey from dehradun to Kathgodam which is the nearest railway station and then travel uphill by Taxi ….the sights and sounds of this journey ¬†will ¬†surely stay with you .

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Sunrays filtering through mountain flowers

Qurum Beach Muscat, Oman – Serene shores and splendid sunsets

Pristine clear Qurum beach , Muscat Oman

 

The Sultanate of Oman rests majestically on the gulf of Oman and Arabian sea and lays claim to some of the most stunning and secluded beaches the Arabian peninsula has to offer.The beaches are among the most cleanest beaches in the world. Qurum beach is one of the largest beach resort areas in the country and is very popular with tourists.

Qurum beach Muscat oman at sunset
The horizon at Qurum after sunset

I  first visited  the Qurum beach  on 31st dec 2016  . I had landed in Oman just  five days back and for some unknown reason been attacked by the cold virus. 31st was marking the end of the year and since I was feeling a lot better I decided to make a visit to the beach. The taxi driver told me that I should have gone at least an hour early to see the sunset but since Muscat roads are super clean and devoid traffic most of the time , we reached just in time and was lucky to see the sunset in its many hues and the long stretch of the coastline slowly turn from orange to black.

Qurum Beach Muscat Oman Sunset
Tequila Sunset

Thereafter several times I have been to the Qurum beach …my elder son ¬†loved playing in the sand and water while I and my husband walked through the coast with the little one in the baby carrier .The Qurum beach is very clean with white sands and crystal clear water .I feel a city with a beach like that is the perfect place to unwind ¬†be it a evening spent ¬†after work or a leisurely weekend evening.

Qurum beach Muscat Oman Sunset
A Silhouette of love

One can see several children playing on the shore making sand castles or flying a kite . Many families are seen sitting in beach chairs and lazing around with tea in  huge flasks while others like me are walking along the beach.

 

There is no noise except for the lapping of the waves and looking at  the vast sea  calms the mind like nothing else  which is so very essential in a  world full of distractions.

 

curio and coffee shops at Qurum beach Muscat Oman
Curio and Coffee

The Qurum beach is surrounded by coffee shops , fish and chips places, restaurants , curio shops and a small shopping area where one can buy Omani jewelry  and handicrafts .

 

 

The coffee shops serve interesting breakfast and evening snacks ¬†. My favorite is the Starbucks and the Al Makan cafe on the Qurum beach road drive . Its located strategically overlooking ¬†the ocean on one side and mountains on other.The rooftop open cafe in Starbucks is just awesome especially on a full moon night .The beach road ¬†also connects to the sea beach with stairways going down to the shore ¬†so that one could go to the beach ¬†and have a feel of the water .A ¬†perfect end to the evening ¬†is to grab ¬†a coffee with some cheese chilly croissant at the Starbucks ¬†rooftop ¬†and chat with a dear friend while the roads slowly ¬†lit up ¬†and make the coastline look like a necklace made of shimmering ¬†beads ūüôā

Starbucks Qurum beach drive Muscat Oman
Starbucks Rooftop is the place to be
Al Makan cafe Qurum beach driveway , Muscat Oman
Al Makan Cafe overlooking mountain on side and sea on other
Qurum beach road driveway , Muscat oman
The beach road drive way
Qurum beach road driveway , Muscat oman
A necklace at night