U.S.A. 2019 – Part II

This is part 2 of the U.S. 2019 trip post. To go back to part 1, click HERE.

Hello, New York City!


NYC is probably my favourite city in the entire world. I am yet to realise my dream of moving there some day, but I never miss a chance to visit. This wasn’t my first time in NYC, though. Our first family trip to the U.S. was in 2009, so technically, this post has been 10 years in the making. We toured the East Coast, including NYC, Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia. Since I had already covered most of the touristy spots like Liberty Island, the Empire State Building, and even the Niagara Falls, I decided to explore the city like a local this time.

My friend lives on the Lower East Side, where we saw a lot of eye-catching colours everywhere.



Day 1: I was lucky enough to have a close friend living there, who would not only host me, but also show me around the city like a local. My incoming flight with was delayed and I reached at 3 AM. I must say this though: American Airlines’ service was very bad and the delay was handled very poorly (nobody had to pay me to write this!) He waited up for me until I arrived and then we spent the next couple of hours just catching up before falling asleep.

Bagels and pudding!

When we finally woke up the next afternoon, I decided to spend the remaining part of my first day doing all the typical New York-y things I had always dreamed of doing: having an everything-bagel (Tompkins Square Bagels), climbing out onto the fire escape, taking the subway during peak hours, etc. One of THE things to do when in NYC, at least according to my friend, is to try out pudding, which, to my surprise, did not refer to the pudding I am used to in the U.K./Europe. This was almost as if a delicious cake had been mashed into a cup-shaped dessert, and in all honestly, was probably the best thing I’ve tasted in recent memory. We finished a different-flavour cup every day, so make sure to visit Sugar Sweet Sunshine if you are visiting the Lower East Side of Manhattan!


The Oculus with One World Trade Center in the background

10 years ago, during our first visit, we stopped at the site where the World Trade Center stood before the 9/11 tragedy. The site was under construction, and our tour guide told us that if we returned in 10 years, we would see a new tower there. At that spot today, stands the One World Trade Center, a shining new tower with an observation deck. The entrance to the station is via the Oculus, a dove-shaped, dome-like structure. Its insides are particularly beautiful, with the white dome towering over tourists trying their best to get that perfect Instagram shot while dodging busy commuters. We ended the day with superb fried chicken at Root & Bone.


Day 2: I had read about the launch of The Vessel, a public space boasting superb architecture, and it was #1 on my NYC to-do list. It was one of the most aesthetically-pleasing installations I’ve ever seen, and the place to go if you are running out of ideas for your next picture. The best part of the experience, apart from it being completely free, is the reservation system for entry. To avoid over-crowding, one needs to reserve a slot using one of the many kiosks nearby, and arrive at the designated time to enter the installation.






The Vessel

There is no time limit once you are inside, though. We had 1 hour to kill before our time slot arrived, so we explored the High Line. An elevated linear park right beside The Vessel, it was built on an abandoned railroad line and was now lined with green spaces to sit and relax, and a few pop-up stalls selling food and drinks. We finished the evening by making a quick stop at Grand Central Station, marvelling at its elevated main concourse and the magnificent (and famous) clock at its centre.


The High Line




Grand Central Terminal

Day 3: Now that I have Instagram (yes, I succumbed, but more on that later), I had to go check out the DUMBO neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and get my own version of that famous shot of the Manhattan Bridge (from Washington Street).


Because everyone has this picture…


…and this one, too!


Walking back to Manhattan via Brooklyn Bridge

From DUMBO, I walked back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge. Be mindful of the cyclists and lane separation while stopping for pictures with the pretty arches of the bridge. At the other end of the bridge (Manhattan side), you will find some of the most popular and least expensive NYC souvenirs.


Governors Island Ferry

Next, I decided to explore one of the nearby islands. The most popular choice is Staten Island, and its ferry ride is free. However, on the recommendation of another friend, I went for Governors Island (return ticket for the ferry is just $3). Spend half a day at Governors Island and explore old houses built for families from the military, the old fortifications, cafes, green spaces, and excellent views of Manhattan’s skyline. The ferry ride back also provides multiple opportunities for that classic skyline shot.


The second half of the afternoon was spent at the ever-popular Central Park. Its vast expanse offered options for everything: from water-side strolls, to open-air music and dancing, to boat and canoe rides and souvenir shopping. The park starts from 59th street and goes on to more than 40 streets, so keep ample time in hand if you’d like to explore its entirety. Right next to Central Park is the Museum Mile, known for its multiple, renowned museums.





Central Park


Museum Mile

What a lucky co-incidence that I was in the U.S. to witness the 4th of July fireworks AND the annual ‘Manhattanhenge’ phenomenon. For those who aren’t aware of this, every year in July, the setting sun aligns perfectly between skyscrapers on the opposite sides of the road – for 2 days every year. It is a pretty miraculous sight, seeing the sun almost come down to street level, perfectly positioned between two buildings. However, to get a good look, you’ll have to reach the viewing spot on a bridge (33rd street) and (probably) start queuing from 5 PM, which I could not (sunset is around 8 PM). The place gets packed to the brim; even the street below had been cleared out for the phenomenon, with honking cars and people with cameras jostling for space.


I tried my best!

I ended the night at Times Square. What trip is complete without a visit to this iconic plaza adorned with giant screens and bustling with people making merry. For a good view, go up the TKTS stairs, if you can avoid the crowds. For a better view, although not necessarily a better picture, try to enter any of the hotels nearby and head up to their café/restaurant located on the top floor. We headed up the New York Marriott Marquis, where the restaurant offers a bird’s eye view of the chaos below!


Times Square from street level


Times Square from the New York Marriott Marquis

Day 4: On Saturday morning, my friend and I, along with some of his friends, headed to Brooklyn to attend Smorgasburg, essentially a food festival that took place in an open park in Brooklyn with some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. The atmosphere is festival-like, with a variety of different food from all over the globe, and a few innovative takes on American cuisine.


After spending a few hours there, I realised I still hadn’t crossed off one thing on my list – The Rockefeller Center, and its observation deck – Top of the Rock. Offering 360-degree, unparalleled views of the city, this is a must-visit. The Center also houses prominent TV shows like Jimmy Fallon’s. I tried asking a few assistants how to get a ticket to his show, but could not get a definitive answer. Top of the Rock is also the place to get the closest aerial view of Central Park, unless you are staying at one of the posh suites of the upper-class hotels on the South End of the Park.


View of Lower Manhattan from Top of the Rock


View of Central Park from Top of the Rock

We spent my final evening riding the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island (regular ticket – works with the MTA card). Although, arguably, there is nothing special to do on the island, the aerial tram ride is definitely worth it, if only for the sweeping views of the city from above.


Taken from the Roosevelt Island aerial tram

Like all good trips, this one ended too quickly, even though, at the end, I realised that I had been travelling for 2 weeks. The U.S. was, is and always will be one of the top destinations to visit for me. Even after my third time, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Here’s hoping to more trips like this in the future.

Where did summer take you this year?

P.S. This year, I joined Instagram on the persistence of my close friend and host in NYC. If you’d like to get in touch, you can find me @adi.in.fr

U.S.A. 2019 – Part I

Apart from a few (and short) business trips, I haven’t travelled anywhere this year! So, when my family and I planned to have our annual reunion in the States instead of India, I was excited take off. When I got an offer to join a new company last year, I was in the U.S. and Canada, and my first vacation in said new company brought me back, fittingly, to the U.S. – this time to the East Coast.

Our first stop was Lincoln, Nebraska. I know, I know – why Nebraska? What’s there? Everyone keeps asking me the same question. Well, my sister is pursuing her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, renowned for its Food Science programs. Also, why not?! I never miss a chance to escape city life and explore the countryside. However, getting there was not easy. My parents and I both flew in to Chicago. From there, they took a long bus journey while I hopped on a flight which set me back by a lot (did you know: all check-in bags are extra on all domestic flights in the U.S., and they don’t come cheap.)

This was my third time visiting the U.S. (fourth for my family) and this time, we decided to live like locals. My sister rents a large apartment near her university, and, although small, the town is well equipped with restaurants, clubs and every amenity you could think of. It was quite nice to experience the countryside for a change.

Since living like a local meant less eating out and more cooking at home, we had to make a few trips to mega-stores like Walmart. The thing that struck me the most was the portion sizes. Having lived in Europe for almost 4 years now, I am used to smaller portions for decent to average prices (to the more expensive in Paris and Amsterdam). In contrast, the smallest jar/car/tub in the U.S. would be considered at least a medium to a large here. The amount of fat and fried food the average person (including my sister) consumed daily surprised me, and a friend later added that eating healthy was expensive.


This wasn’t limited to just food. Take cars, for example. In almost every parking lot, I came across at least 2-3 monster trucks (Ford F Series) that would be too big for any street in Paris. However, although public transport was negligible, their network of highways deserves merit. Miles upon miles of (seemingly) straight roads, coupled with the largely automatic gear fleet, made driving long distances a breeze.


Nebraska State Capitol Building



Me and my sister trying to look cool at Holmes Lake


Art Alley

There wasn’t much to ‘see’ in Lincoln, so we went out to town casually in the evenings, after my sister returned from university. We passed by the Nebraska State Capitol building (reach before 6 PM if you want to climb up to the observation deck). A good place to have a picnic, a short hike (or a long run) is the Holmes Lake Recreational Area. From the right spot, the sunsets are quite dramatic. We also stopped by an apparently popular neon art alley after dinner. Though small, the lighting and the installations set it apart from the regular lanes elsewhere.


Branched Oak Lake

Other short excursions worth mentioning are the Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari ($7 entry and you can explore with your own car and at your own pace) and Branched Oak Lake Recreational Area. In the latter, we saw (for first time) pre-installed grills for public use. Quite convenient, I must say.




We finished our tour of Lincoln by visiting the Sunken Gardens, built in the 1930s. It was, quite literally, the prettiest garden I’ve ever seen. My sister told us it is also a popular spot for couples getting married, and we could see why.

After 4 days in Lincoln, we decided to rent a car and visit Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were lucky enough to catch the 4th of July fireworks. Finding a parking spot was difficult, and finding a good viewing spot even more. It was a spectacular event, and the cheering of the locals made it even more memorable.

A quick shout out to Hotel Ramada by Wyndham, where we stayed for 4 days. Located outside the city centre, the hotel is easily accessible by road and was close enough for us to reach the city within 15 minutes. The hotel itself was one of the best we had stayed in (we travel a lot as a family of 4). The staff was friendly and the services were top notch. Definitely recommended for anyone visiting Minnesota. Note: I am not being paid to advertise the hotel. I am doing so on my own accord.



Minnehaha Falls

We headed out towards Minnehaha Falls the next morning. Set in Minnehaha Park, the “small” falls are enclosed within a lush, green viewing area. The park itself is quite large to explore, and multiple transport options are available if you don’t want to walk (mono-cycle, bicycle, quad-cycle).



Mall of America

From the falls, we headed towards the Mall of America, located near the airport. It boasts to be the largest mall in the U.S., in terms of total floor area, and the fifth largest in North America. The mall was so big, that it even had its own amusement park inside it (no really!) If you’re bored of shopping and eating, head down towards the rides or try out the zip line, without leaving the mall!



Lake Calhoun

The next day, we spent some time at Lake Calhoun (or Bde Maka Ska), one of the multiple lakes present in the city (we drove by Lake of the Isles as well). Bde Maka Ska, in particular, was perfect for water activities, and had options for biking, running, hiking etc. All this, bang right in the middle of the city.



Spoonbridge and Cherry in Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

From there, we drove to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which lies just in front of Walker Art Center. The Sculpture Garden is full of interesting art pieces scattered over the lawns, but the most eye-catching, and the most popular, is the Spoonbridge and Cherry. Standing out from all the other sculptures, this installation is considered as one of the city’s icons (and is a good photo spot!)


Photo tip: climb the ‘hill’ adjacent to Walker Art Center and reach the intersection of S Bryant Avenue and Groveland. You’ll get a nice shot of the Minneapolis skyline.


We finished the day by heading towards Mill City. This area comprises of the Mill City Museum, the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge, Saint Anthony Falls and Mill Ruins Park. For starters, walking on the Stone Arch Bridge, which was a former railroad bridge, gave us panoramic views of Saint Anthony Falls. The bridge is also a good spot to capture the old ruins of a mill, preserved pristine below the Mill City Museum. You can even see the old Pillsbury building on the other side of the Mississippi river from the bridge.


Come back down from the bridge and stroll along the trail underneath it to get a better view of the Stone Arches. The trail is excellent for those who want to discover the history of the city and its flour mills.


After a final night’s hearty dinner at a local American diner, we headed back to Lincoln the next day. There are also some well-known zoos in Nebraska (Lincoln and Omaha), which I had to skip because I was flying out to New York City for the second leg of my trip. My parents, who stayed back for a couple of more days, said they were worth the visit.

Overall, I found customer service to be of top quality in the U.S., and I think they should be proud of that. From the lady who handled my delayed arrival to Chicago, to the staff at the hotel they graciously booked for me, to everyone at Lincoln airport, especially the security personnel, to our hotel staff in Minneapolis, everyone was friendly, warm and welcoming. I could not shake off the feeling that Lincoln airport, which is smaller than most malls you’d come across, had some of the nicest airport staff I’ve met. In compared to what I’ve seen in the U.S., customer service is a joke in Europe, especially France!

Since this is a long post, I’ve decided to split it into 2 parts. Click HERE to read about the second leg of the journey.

2018: Another great year for travel

I thought last year was a good year for travel, but this year has been exceptional. While the first half was a bit ‘dull’, comprising of only short weekend trips or one-day bus trips to nearby towns, the second half really picked up the pace, with two major trips to North America. I’ll get right into these:

January: right after the winter holidays ended, I returned from India to rejoin work. Our annual ski trip-cum-conference was scheduled during the second week of January, which meant that I was off again. Last year we visited Chamonix, and this year we chose a less frequented Club Med resort in Villars-sur-Ollons. This tiny, sleepy town is an hour-ride from Geneva, and was the only place left that could accommodate such a large group at a moment’s notice. While there were multiple things to do in and around Chamonix, there wasn’t much here apart from the slopes. Plus, it hadn’t really snowed much by the time we arrived so the slopes were not that busy. However, we still managed to have a great time. There are just one or two local bars/pubs, which cater to huge crowds every evening with great music and a dance floor. I would recommend Villars-sur-Ollons to skiers who would like to avoid the crowds; but check the weather before going.





May: I had a few major health scares this year, which kept me from moving around for a few months. When I finally started to regain my strength, I decided to take it easy for a couple of months. First, I went to Disneyland, right outside Paris. This was something I kept postponing since my arrival in France. While most of the rides were fun, I really wanted to go on Space Mountain, which was closed for repairs. However, my overall experience was not at all good, mostly due to the French staff. I had a much better experience in Universal Studios in August.

In May, I also visited the Mont Saint Michel. There are multiple tour operators with one-day tours from Paris. Granted, the 4-hour bus ride seems long, but the visit was worth it. The place looks magical from afar. There are free shuttles that take you to the ‘Mont’ from the bus stop, but walking is the best option to get amazing views. The town itself is like any other, but viewed in its entirety from the outside, it is marvellous. I would like to visit again and stay the night. I’ve heard that the lighting is spectacular.











Mont Saint Michel

June: In June, I headed to Brussels again for the weekend to meet some of my school friends. It was quite chilled out. We relaxed under the sun at a café while enjoying Belgium’s finest brews. We checked out a Iambic brewery, one of the few that remain in that area. The short, guided tour took us through the traditional brewing process which is still followed to this day. And I also took this opportunity to visit the Atomium, which I couldn’t manage to fit in during any of my previous visits.

Around this time of the year, I came across an organisation that conducts guided tours, pub crawls etc in Paris. They were looking for volunteers to run the show, and I signed up. My first trip as a ‘guide’ was to the Champagne region of France. Seeing that I was planning to go anyway, it was a good opportunity to visit and guide foreigners. The trip was beautiful. We passed through Reims, one of the main cities in the region. Its cathedral is probably the most famous in France, where at least 33 kings were crowned back in the day. No wonder they have good Champagne 😊 Next, we headed to Epernay, a small town not far from Reims. Epernay boasts of having the aptly named “avenue de la champagne”, which, by some accounts, is the most expensive street in the world. The street is lined with Champagne ‘Maisons’, each having their own distilleries and caves, tasting experiences and boutiques. The caves run to around 100 KM underground, and it is a 45-minute guided tour, so have plenty of time on hand before visiting (we didn’t). A bottle of Champagne here will cost you around €12, less per bottle if you buy more. In comparison, a good Champagne starts at around €45 in Paris’ supermarkets.




Reims Cathedral





Cheers to the awesome tour guide 😉

In August, we held our annual family reunion in California. My parents and I flew out to join our sister there. I’ve posted a separate entry here.

September: While I was in California, I got a job offer from an American company, based in their Paris office. I was able to negotiate some time off between the two jobs, and decided to make the most of it. First, I met one of my oldest friends in Amsterdam. He lives and works in the US and this was his first time in Europe. He couldn’t be in Paris due to his work commitments so he asked me to join him in Amsterdam. We hung out with a Couchsurfing group we met while attending an event. Our unplanned and unexpected weekend turned out to be quite fun.



Amsterdam and Couchsurfing

The next week I wrapped up with previous job. I have a friend from Canada who completed one of her semesters with me in Lyon, and had been inviting me to visit since ages. I finally took her on her offer, rushed to the embassy for a fast-track visa and was off. Probably the best trip of this year. You can read about it here.

October: Right after Canada, I went back to Delhi for a religious festival. I wasn’t able to attend said festival for the last 3 years. It also gave me a chance to relax a bit at home before embarking on my new professional adventure.

On my return from India, I left for Milan. Another exchange student, now friend, had invited me over for a weekend at his place. The weekend was rainy and stormy, yet we made the most of it. Roamed around the pretty streets, saw the Duomo, tried authentic Italian food at a great restaurant, and went for a short hike/day trip to Bergamo, a small town nearby.












December: I started my new job in November. It was time to get back to real life, but I kept itching to head out again. But while all my colleagues were planning their end of the year holidays, I didn’t have any, as I had recently joined. In France, holidays work a bit differently. Unless you accumulate enough of them, it is not wise to take them. I shall thus be spending Christmas and New Year’s alone in Paris (even my roommates are off).

However, we do get the day before Christmas, which meant that I had 4 consecutive days, including the weekend. I was off again 😊. This time to Cologne, to catch the Christmas markets. France has recently been hit by waves of protests, which have shut down the possibility of having (safe) Christmas markets. Paris was hit the hardest. On top of that, the one in Strasbourg, famous in Europe, was hit by a terrorist attack. I decided to check out the ones in Germany as a last hope.

Cologne is a small city when compared to Paris, but retains its charm. In 8 hours, I was able to see the Cathedral, visit 3 Christmas markets, climb on top of the newly constructed Koln-Triangle (twice) and get a view of the city, and walk along the river in the new town. Architecturally, Cologne is beautiful. The Christmas mood was in the air. Walking through the crowded markets, one could smell fresh food being prepared. Definitely recommended for a weekend visit! Once there, try Kölsch, their local brew. Pretty light, and that’s why I liked it (I didn’t like the beers in Stuttgart last year). I also met a German friend who was with me during my Montreal hike/hostel days. It was good catching up with her.




Cologne by night – view from the Koln-Triangle



Christmas markets and Glühwein (mulled wine)






Cologne by day


Fragnance museum – where ‘Eau de Cologne’ was invented in 1709

Book your tours way in advance


Hohenzollern Bridge (Love Lock Bridge) – Locks put up by couples who want to seal their love – nothing for singles, though 😉


Meeting my fellow hiker from Montreal

I hope this year has been eventful for you as well. Thank you once again for stopping by. Here’s wishing all of you a warm, healthy, happy and prosperous new year, with more travels, adventures and memories.



Country Counter: 24        

Cities Visited: Toronto, Montreal

Timeframe: October 2018

Have you ever planned a last-minute, impromptu vacation, just because you suddenly had some time off? I had only heard of these things happening to others, when it happened to me. I am currently between jobs, and was lucky enough to negotiate an early release from my previous employer. This gave me enough time off to unwind, visit my parents back home for 2 weeks, and still have time left over for another trip. Not wanting to miss this rare opportunity, I decided to visit Canada. One of my friends from my MBA program, who lives there, has been asking me to do so ever since she visited us in France on an exchange program.


After a week of rushing to and from the embassy for my last-minute visa, I was off. My trip began in Toronto. I managed to get direct, round trip tickets (Paris-Toronto) for a good deal (€430 – Air Canada). My friend picked me up at Union station, from where we headed off to Oakville, one of its suburbs. As I was on some much-needed time off, I decided to keep it relaxed, and not be in a rush to see a million things in one day. Day 1 included an hour-long, picturesque hike at Rattlesnake point, followed by a walking tour of Hamilton, another suburban town which has gentrified a lot in recent years. In Hamilton, we hit Collective Arts Brewery, a micro-brewery that has gained recognition by merging fine brewing and art submitted by artists.


When you hit Canada Street, while in Canada! *Strolling through Hamilton*


Collective Arts Brewing

Halloween is a festival that is celebrated in North America like nowhere else. Preparations begin a month in advance. When my hosts wanted to pick up some pumpkins to decorate their front porch, we headed out to one of the (many) pumpkin farms around the area. Halloween, being the biggest draw for pumpkins, was a busy time. We stopped at Hutcherson’s pumpkin farm. I would have never imagined that picking up pumpkins could be an entire exercise in itself – we went through entire ranges, of different colours, shapes and sizes. One was aptly named the Prizewinner!




The next day, we set out for Toronto city. We were joined by another good friend of my host. First stop: Kensington market, a pedestrian-only zone lined with shops and street artists. We saw a group of 60 to 70-year olds playing as a band, restaurants selling different delicacies, street performers ranging from solo acts to kids as young as ten (maybe even younger). Post lunch, we headed out towards Scarborough Bluffs. The area, formed as a result of erosion over a number of years, provided for a nice hike, complete with its own ‘beach’ and a washed up boat (which intrigued my friend quite a bit).




Kensington Market



Scarborough Bluffs

After spending the weekend in Toronto, I headed out to Montreal. I had always had an impression of Montreal as being a purely French city. I was quite mistaken. Montreal combines the warmth of Canadian people with the charm of an old French city. The 3 days I spent in Montreal turned out to be among the best of this entire year. I would also like to give a shout out to another connection of mine, currently based in Amsterdam, who kept providing me with a list of places to visit and things to do while in Canada. Her advice was especially helpful in Montreal, where I did not know anyone. She did not ask me to write this 😉

One thing that instantly caught my attention was the street art/graffiti. Prior to this, my idea of street art was limited to what I see spray-painted on columns and walls under bridges in Europe, which comprise mostly of slang and slurs.

Even the street on which my hostel was located was entirely decorated to celebrate the LGBT community.


There was art everywhere, from metro stations to highway restaurants.


Since I had just 2 full days, I was out and about early in the morning. Although it rained the entire day, I was able to cover a lot of ground, owing to the fact that most tourists chose to stay in or start late due to the rain. I found myself first, and almost alone, at various sites. This gave me the freedom to take my time exploring. My first stop was Parc Jean-Drapeau on Saint Helen’s Island (accessible by metro). The park hosts several attractions, most notably the Biosphere. Designed by Buckminster Fuller, it survived fire and ice, and is now a museum.



The park has several trails. These pictures below show the trail I took. I was the ONLY one in the park at that time, and it was quite serene. The rain brought out the glow among the trees. Once I turned into a corner, and was greeted by an open space, with lights hanging on trees. They were still switched on, and the entire place looked like a magical forest. I also stumbled upon the Tour de Lévis (Lévis Tower), which promised great views of the park and the city skyline. Unfortunately, it was only open to public on weekends.





Parc Jean-Drapeau

My friend had suggested two notable eateries: Patati Patata for poutine and Schwartz Deli for smoked meat. Although poutine was available everywhere, this place stood out as being one of the best, as per user reviews. I went there for dinner and it was quite nice. One of the (friendly) members who have been running the place for decades suggested a simple poutine with bacon on top. Delicious! For lunch, I had headed up to Schwartz. Even though it was raining heavily, there was still a queue outside, with the inside packed. It was so packed that when I finally got in, I was made to sit on the only empty chair with a family I didn’t know. The place is still a family-owned business, and they claim that they smoke their meat daily to keep it fresh. I was tempted to order 2 sandwiches, but the person waiting on me suggested I start with one. The results are below. The sandwich was huge, hearty and simply amazing!



Post lunch, I headed towards Notre Dame cathedral. Nestled between residential buildings, the cathedral was bustling with tourists and performers playing live music. When I walked into the square, all the surrounding noise from traffic simply faded away to soothing violin music and friendly chatter. It was like I had stepped into another world just by crossing the street.



From there on, if you keep walking north along the water, you reach the old port (Vieux Port) of Montreal. During the walk to the port, I passed by Bon-Secours market. Along with Jean-Talon, these two markets attract a lot of tourists and locals alike for their variety of fresh products, and almost a million varieties of maple syrup 😊





Walking along the water, I stopped by the old port to get some pictures. The trees were just starting to change colour for fall, and it was a contrast to the dull, grey overcast sky.



View of the city from the Old Port

Another thing worth mentioning. My hostel, M Montreal, was the best one I’ve ever stayed at (yet). The location was great (right next to central Berri Uqam station), the staff was friendly, the rooms were fully equipped (personal curtains), loads of activities, a rooftop with spa and city views, etc. In short, everything was taken care of to make the occupants feel at home. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed such a hostel experience before, and I’ve stayed at many all over Europe. This experience was even better than the one I had in Los Angeles just a month ago. I would recommend this hostel to everyone, of all age groups. In fact, I might just go to Montreal again just to stay at this hostel 😊

Anyway, back to day 2. The hostel had a group hike on Mont Royal planned as one of its activities. I had read that the Mont (hill) was located inside the city, and therefore, a hike to the summit led to great views of the city itself. I did hike up on day 1 at night, but wasn’t able to see much due to rain and clouds. Even though it was pitch black at night, people were jogging on the hill. Hiking up at night, on a path I could barely see, was one of the most exciting (and a bit scary) experience.

The morning was better, weather-wise. Our group headed out on foot after a short bus ride. We soon got to know each other well, and spent the rest of the day together. It reminded me a bit of my hike to the Hollywood sign last month. There are two paths to go up. One involves a lot of stairs; the other, an incline. However, the hike is suitable for first timers or casual hikers. Once on the summit, there is a chalet, with rooms to stay, restaurant(s) and a café. A platform on the front has a bird’s eye view of Montreal. The skyscrapers are near eye-level, with the city in the background. A picturesque photo spot!


Viewing platform


View from the platform



The hostel hiking group

While our guide headed back to the hostel to cook (that evening was pasta night at the hostel), I suggested that we walk along the hill to the other side, towards Saint Joseph’s Oratory (Oratoire Saint-Joseph). Almost the entire group decided to join me, and we had a lovely time walking, talking and laughing with each other. We spent some time at the oratory before heading back to the free pasta that was waiting for us. Later, we hung out at the hostel bar and, as I was leaving the next day, some of them joined me for breakfast as well.




Saint Joseph’s Oratory


I returned to Toronto the next day and had dinner at my friend’s place. It was my last night in Canada and I was quite sad to be leaving the day after. An impromptu trip that had materialised at the last moment turned out to be an experience I will never forget, mostly due to the warm hospitality of my hosts, and people in general. I spent the next morning casually strolling in Toronto (I had an evening flight) as I wanted to take in the last moments in Canada before leaving.


*With my friends/hosts on my last night in Canada*

Among the places I visited were the Distillery District, which was once one of the largest distilleries in North America, and Saint Lawrence market.




The Distillery District


St. Lawrence market

This picture below captures another colourful moment during my stroll. I simply loved how the trees and the buildings contrast the grey skyscrapers behind them.


After having lunch with my friend, I decided to check off something that I had been planning to do since I had arrived. I’ve always had this weird fascination of capturing skylines of different cities around the world through my lens. I had seen a picture of Toronto’s skyline on the Internet before the trip, and I wanted to capture a similar one. But I had no idea from where it was taken. My friend suggested that I take the ferry to Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Islands. There are 3 drop off points, and ferries run every 15 minutes. With just 2 hours left before I had to take the train to the airport, I decided to risk it. In short – ran to the ferry station, booked the next ferry, reached Hanlan’s point, explored the islands a bit, and returned with loads of pictures. I had what I wanted.


I now have a 10-year tourist visa for Canada, and rest assured, I will be visiting again. My Canadian hosts said that the west coast is more beautiful. ‘til the next time, Canada! You’ve been amazing.


The United States of America (West Coast)

Country Counter: 23        

Cities Visited: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas

Timeframe: August 2018

Ah, the US! Who amongst us hasn’t had “the American Dream” in some point in their lives. I’ve always been a fan of Hollywood. So much so, that I pushed my parents to visit the US for our first international trip. We instead went for England. Anyway, come 2009, when Barack Obama had just been historically sworn in as POTUS, we finally decided to visit. My family and I received 10-year visitor visas, giving us ample time for multiple visits. However, I will share the story of my first trip to the US (East Coast) in a future blog post. My sister moved to the US last year but my parents couldn’t accompany her, as my father had major health issues. Our aforementioned 10-year visa also terminates this (10 years passed by like it was yesterday), and I hadn’t been anywhere this year (first trip of 2018, can you believe it?). Hence, we decided to take a family trip to the West Coast of the US. This is that story.


First, let me say that I fell in love with the weather in and around San Francisco. With the bay nearby, it was around 12-18 degrees (Celsius) in August, which was a relief from the heat in Europe for me, and from the heat of Delhi for my parents. From the start, everyone, from people who had visited before to our cab driver, warned us to avoid certain streets and be mindful of the homelessness problem. I had also read numerous articles on how the real estate market in San Francisco was literally not affordable for most of the working population in the area, so all these added warnings started to worry us. However, on ground, the picture was different. Yes, there were homeless people (which country doesn’t have them), but they did not pose any problem at all, and didn’t fail to distract us from the beauty of the city. Walking around the bay, watching people celebrate, everyone with a smile on their face – we felt welcome. And that is something I do not usually say for every place I’ve been.

The highlight of the city was, of course, the Golden Gate bridge. Made popular by countless movies, the bridge is a delight to witness. San Francisco’s resident fog, named Karl lovingly, constantly lingered over the bridge, so it was difficult to get that bright, sunny shot. However, even engulfed with fog, the bridge was marvellous. I drove back at night to get a shot with the lights on. Clearly marked walking and hiking paths were laid out everywhere, for those who wished to walk around the area while catching a glimpse of the wonderful bridge.


We booked a city tour, which took us around town and saved us from walking all over the hilly roads. I was constantly seeking to visit all the sites made popular by Hollywood – Twin Peaks, Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies, Lombard street (known as the steepest street in the world, which it isn’t) etc. Twin Peaks was windy but worth the short drive up the hill. On a clear day, you get amazing views of the city. I took this picture (below) while the view was blocked by Karl, but still managed to capture it. The Painted Ladies, made famous by the now-decades-old show Full House, brought back fond memories of TV from my childhood. The best part of the whole experience was that, being a city located on a hilly terrain, if you drive just a bit in any direction, you reach a spot with great views of downtown, like this one.





Another short, but memorable, drive we took was to the Muir woods, home to some of the world’s tallest trees. The place itself is so tranquil and well maintained that, not only do you feel dwarfed (and somewhat humbled) by the sheer size of the trees, but the area also instills peace while you are walking through it. There are multiple hiking paths inside the woods area, which are easy enough for beginners (like my mother) to cover within half an hour.



The only thing I regret is not being able to visit Yosemite National Park. The day we landed, the place caught fire and was closed for all tourism purposes. The fire was brought under control only after 4 weeks, and I read that California is facing its worst year of forest fires. May God be with the people there. It pains me to see such historic and beautiful places getting damaged.

After four days in SF, we drove down to Los Angeles. Finally, my dream came true! I have dreamt of visiting Hollywood since I was 6 years old.

While browsing hostels, I stumbled upon one whose location seemed, at first glance, to be incorrect. It was right ON the Walk of Fame, and next to the studio where Jimmy Kimmel Live is shot. I’m a big fan of the show, plus, being right on the Walk of Fame seemed to be too good a chance to give up. After confirming the location, I booked a full dorm room with 4 beds (very convenient for a family). While I won’t make this whole post about the hostel, let me just say that everything about the Hollywood Walk of Fame hostel was great – location, helpfulness of the staff, ambience, etc.

For sightseeing in Los Angeles, we booked a day tour with one of the operators based outside the Chinese Theatre. Note: I usually never discredit anyone, but DO NOT book with operators next to the Chinese Theatre. Not only was it more expensive than alternative, but similar, deals on offer, the tour operator was not at all knowledgeable, and we did not hit any of the spots that were promised on the tour. By the end, I was chatting up with other groups on the bus, who said they felt cheated as well.

The city itself is like any other metropolis, with the downtown area having its share of beautifully designed buildings. However, I realised that staying in Hollywood, on the Walk of Fame, is not exactly staying in the city. Hollywood is on the outskirts, and it takes a 25-minute train ride to reach the centre. But this did not bog us down because there is plenty of action packed near the Hollywood area, including THREE major studios with tours – Universal, Warner Brothers and Paramount.




We spent one full day at Universal. While I haven’t been to Disneyland in the US, I have been to the one in France. I had imagined the experience would be quite similar, as they are all movie studio-based theme parks. Boy was I wrong. Honestly, I cannot stop gushing about Universal Studios to anyone who asks (Disneyland Paris pales in comparison). Universal is well worth its ticket price of $110 or so. One of the major highlights of the trip, and not just for me. Even my parents, who have limited interest in Hollywood, seemed to enjoy every ride. The famous Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Transformers: The Ride, Jurassic Park: The Ride – all were amazing. It was great to see my parents light up with smiles after, what is essentially, a roller coaster ride. Even the seemingly “humble” studio tour – where you just sit on a bus with a hundred people and drive through various movie sets – was awesome (includes the famous King Kong 360 3D, the world’s largest 3D set, designed by Peter Jackson himself). A must-visit for all if passing by Los Angeles. Remember to keep a full day aside for this, as the waiting times for rides can be long, especially if you go in the summer like we did.


On the 7th day of our trip, I started to get a bit annoyed. This was Los Angeles after all, one of my dream cities, and I just wanted to have a day to myself. Luckily, my family understood. So, on Friday, my sister hired a car and took my parents to see some beaches she wanted to visit, and try out some of the local celebrity ice cream – Ghiradelli (delicious).

My day alone turned out to be one of the happiest days of the trip, and of this year – unforgettable! I’ve been longing to write this bit down since I returned. I started off by heading into the lobby to see what kind of activity was planned for the day. Another good reason to stay in a (good) hostel – they always have weekly activities. I had been planning to hike up to the Hollywood, and luckily, the activity that morning was a hike to the sign. The lobby was filled with young people travelling in small groups or individually. Everyone was quite friendly. I met a small group of people who were ready to hike to the top of the sign – the guide was only going to lead us to the first viewing platform, which is BELOW the sign. It is a flat area quite close to the sign, which is on Mount Lee (not Mount Hollywood, as people imagine). He told us that once we reached there, he will give us directions to those who are willing to go up to the sign itself. Excited, we all set out.

A 20-minute walk from the hostel brought us to the bus stop which takes you to the starting point of the hike. The time spent walking, and on the bus ride, was a good way of getting to know your fellow hikers. Once we set off, the view along the entire way amazed me. The hills were packed with beautiful houses and mansions, which, by the look of it, could only belong to ultra-rich individuals. The guide told me that the average price of a house here was well over $10 million. But the view of the valley and downtown LA is to die for.




We reached the first point in about 35-40 minutes, including two 5-minute breaks. The hike was a moderate climb, although first timers would find some parts a bit tricky. Once we all finished taking pictures here, I again floated the idea of us going to the sign itself. Almost everyone backed out, either due to tiredness or other arrangements. Luckily, the group of 5 I met at the hostel agreed. Another tricky part here is getting on the right track. Before visiting, I had read that the main trail was closed in July 2017, as the residents complained about “too many” tourists. They took it a step further (and this is the part that appalled me a bit) by asking (paying?) Google to give FALSE DIRECTIONS on the Google Maps App. Initially, I had a hard time believing this myself, but as I talked to people from there, they confirmed that this was true indeed. What losers!




Luckily, our guide gave us the right directions. They did come in handy as this next part of the trail is quite a climb, the path is dusty with the occasional rattlesnakes, and the scorching LA heat is unbearable for a long hike. If you plan to attempt this, make sure you bring at least 2-3 bottles of water with you. People to keep you company are a great advantage as well.

When people ask me how was the trip, was it everything that you imagined it would be, I say LA was good. But this hike was the best (yet)! Once you reach the top, sweating and dehydrated, the killer view is worth the arduous journey. This picture below captures it all. That is a genuine smile on my face, not one that we fake for pictures. Do you see the sheer amount of happiness on my face, with the Hollywood sign and Los Angeles behind me? 😊


Welcome to Hollywood, baby!

The day ended quite well. We met some more people on our way down, on the bus and back at the hostel. The evening was spent playing pool and grabbing the local brews. We were longing for a beer after that hike. We even made a short trip back up to the Griffith Observatory, which doubles up as a cool science museum. Don’t miss their Tesla Coil, and go outside and wander around for the best night time views of the city lit up.




We checked out the next day and headed towards Las Vegas. We decided to spend only the weekend, as the city doesn’t have many “tourist” spots (unless you have a gambling problem). On our way, we stopped for an hour at the Hoover Dam. Again, made famous by featuring in many Hollywood films, the dam itself is an engineering marvel. Just walking along the bridge, with the huge installations towering above you, is a sight to behold. The dam, originally built to hold the “wild” Colorado river, is somehow, also beautiful enough to attract millions of tourists every year.




We reached Las Vegas around 3 PM. It is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles (traffic and halts included) through completely barren but beautiful landscape, including deserted valleys and small towns. We booked the Shalimar Hotel, another great choice. I would highly recommend this hotel if you are looking for a good price-comfort-privacy-staff friendliness package. Admittedly, even though there isn’t much to see and do in Las Vegas, keep the evening aside to just casually stroll through their world famous “strip.” The strip, a few kilometres long, is buzzing with activity till late night. It was also the most lit up street I’ve ever seen. Tall buildings, housing expensive hotels and casinos, lit up brilliantly with a myriad of colours and animations. Yes, they have their own Eiffel Tower, Disneyland, Manhattan and the like.



For those wanting to catch the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign, head to the other end of the strip towards the Mandalay Bay hotel, and you’ll arrive into an enclosed area. I was surprised by the planning that went into this area around the sign – it has its own parking lot, and by lanes to drive in and out for photo stops. If you plan on renting a car, you can easily slide into the lot, park for as long as you want, take pictures with the sign, and drive out just as easily as you drove in.



The next day, we decided to just “touch” the edge of the Grand Canyon. Our holidays were limited, owing to my sister’s PhD schedule, which she had to return to soon, and my work schedule back in Paris. While we wanted to spend more time at the Canyon, we could only squeeze in one day. However, we decided to go for it, as it is not very likely that all of us would be visiting the Eastern US coast again anytime soon.



The West Rim of the Canyon (the West and the South are the most accessible from Las Vegas) has a new attraction – the great Skywalk. I had read about its opening, and the accolades that came with it – highest in the Northern Hemisphere, can hold the weight of 72 jets etc. While it’s all good advertising, do not plan to go there thinking you’ll find it empty like the pictures you see on the Internet. For spending more time, the visitor centre has other attractions as well, including a helicopter ride of the Canyon (which my parents experienced and said was great), a visit to the tribal habitations of the area (the land belongs to the Native Americans) and other, heritage related locations.


The only thing that was a bit disappointing was that you are not allowed to take anything with you on the bridge – not even your phone or camera. If you want your picture taken, you must wait in a slow-moving line, and pay the company’s representatives to take pictures for you. A bit of on-the-nose capitalism, I thought. Driving all this way just for a short walk on the bridge, without any pictures to capture the moment.


We drove back the same night to Las Vegas and hopped on a bus to San Francisco. We spent another day in SF. Our initial plan was to visit Yosemite if it had reopened. Unfortunately, the fire was more difficult to control than was previously estimated.


All in all, a great trip. California had always been on my radar, and now I can happily cross it off my list.

Hope your summer went great as well.

Until next time,


2017, a good year for travel

Cities Visited: Stuttgart, Brussels, Zurich, Lauterbrunnen, Lyon

Timeframe: September to December 2017

This was originally supposed to be an end of the year post, but no matter. Here’s wishing everyone who is reading this a very happy new year, filled with success and good health.

I usually write about a country in every post, but the second half of 2017 went by in a whirlwind. I didn’t have time to explore a new place, so I tried to fulfill long time visit commitments made to my friends. The year started pretty good, especially with Ireland in April. September saw me embark on my first trip for work to Stuttgart, where I decided to extend the one-day client visit into a weekend opportunity.

When I asked around about the things to do/see/eat, everyone gave me a mellow response. “Stuttgart? Why?”, “It’s just an old manufacturing city” and the like. When I arrived, the first thing that struck me was how it was (relatively) difficult to ask for directions in English. Being a German city, I assumed everybody, more or less, would speak a bit of English, but I was slightly frustrated at the train and metro stations. I even tried to find a French speaker, which is improving daily, but to no avail. After finally figuring out which platform and train to take, I reached my destination. I stayed near the main university campus, on the outskirts of town. The area was really peaceful and had an unmatched view (behind the student residences). My AirBnB host was kind enough to wait for me even though I reached late.





I had already marked all the sights to visit on my map. However, upon reaching the city centre, a pleasant surprise awaited me. That weekend was the first of the Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart’s answer to Munich’s beer festival, and the second largest. I had been planning to visit Munich during Oktoberfest, but something or the other always kept coming up, so this was quite the lucky stroke. The area was not as crowded as you’d expect, and had plenty of options to do, eat and drink, alcohol or otherwise. It was originally meant to be for families. However, with the popularity of Oktoberfest, they installed beer tents to attract part of that crowd. The atmosphere was vibrant, with people singing and dancing all around. There are, of course, no empty places or tables to sit at, unless reserved in advance.







Being a car enthusiast, and being in the cradle of the automobile industry, and being in the city to meet an automotive client, my next stop was surely the car museums: Porsche and Mercedes Benz. Both would satisfy any car fan’s ultimate dream. Exclusive models, vintage cars, and new age technologies were merged into perfect symphony. The Mercedes Benz museum was quite well designed. The lobby had an elevator which takes people to the top floor to start the tour. The elevator looked like something straight out of a futuristic spaceship, and made zero noise, even with tons of people inside.





After Stuttgart, I decided to hop off to Brussels for a weekend. I had been to city previously, but had always been with family and on a strict itinerary. So when my friend from Lyon asked me to come over, I took the bus from Paris after work and reached on Friday night. We spent the next two days just casually walking around with no plan. Brussels is as walkable as Paris, but being smaller, it is highly convenient as well. We ran into a shop that sells holiday and party-themed trinkets, where we all bought fake hair for Halloween parties. We discovered a great Irish pub, where we kept coming back. We, evidently, ran into a museum-cum-gift shop dedicated entirely to Tin Tin. To top it all, my AirBnB was one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. The host was a chef and an artist. The entire house reminded me of those quirky but deceptively intriguing and fascinating apartments artists own in movies based in Europe.

In November, my best friend from school, who now lives in Switzerland, reminded me of my commitment to him as well. And so I was off again. Since the place where he lives, a nice, tiny village called Lauterbrunnen, was not directly accessible (from anywhere), I had to arrive in Zurich first. I again took this opportunity and kept one day extra at hand to explore the city. Keeping aside the fact that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world, the place is wonderful. The people are wonderful. The atmosphere is great. And the best part was, I could check out the entire city within 2-3 hours, on foot!


On my second day, I checked out of my hostel early in the morning and took the guided tour to Jungfrau(joch). This has, arguably, been the highlight of my 2017. I remember studying about Europe and Jungfrau in our geography lessons in school, back in the late 90s. Ever since then, Jungfrau has been on my bucket list. The price of the tour (around 200 Euros) was a bit steep, but I can assure you, as have many others in their reviews on their website, that the tour is definitely worth it. It is a comfortably paced tour with ample time at each destination, and is a must visit if you are visiting Eastern Switzerland. It also helped that our group was very open, friendly, chatty, and our guide, Valerie, was great. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to so many people in a month in France, as I did on that day in Zurich.


The tour passes via Sachlen Tunnel, one of the longest in Switzerland and Lungern, the geographical centre of Europe. It was November so the weather was not exactly kind, but I’ve always found such settings more alluring. One of the stretches on the road was particularly memorable. Imagine a route packed with fog and laden with snow from the previous night. Then, all of a sudden, the sun comes out and pierces through the fog, while reflecting on the half melted snow. It was truly magical, and yes, I know I did not do a very good job of describing it. It was one of those “you had to be there to see it” moments.


On our way down, I got off at Lauterbrunnen and did not head back to Zurich with the others. My friend and his wife picked me up from the station. My first impression was of a cosy, ski village nestled in a valley. The nearest main station is Interlaken, where most of the jobs are located as well. This brings all the dwellers from above down the valley to work, and back up in the evening. A deal filled with stunning scenery I wouldn’t mind having someday.



On our first day, we went tobogganing down from Wengen. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on snow (I don’t ski). While it took some time to get a hang of the steering and the braking, I emerged out as quite the professional! The path starts from the top where you have the entire North Face, including Eiger and Jungfrau, in your background.


As with every ski station, there are always a few local bars where everyone from the community meets in the evening. The bar was right next to my friend’s place, AND it had a waterfall in the backyard. I mean, can you imagine a more perfect setting than having a waterfall right in your backyard?


This just makes me want to pack up everything and head over there!

Finally, in December, I headed back to my second-home, Lyon, for a weekend. While in Brussels, my friend and I had decided to organise a small networking session amongst different MBA cohorts. We were expecting a small turnout, but received an overwhelming response. This involved a lot of planning from a distance, as neither of us stays in Lyon anymore. All in all, the event went without hiccups, and gave me another chance to drop by in Lyon before saying goodbye to 2017.


I hope this year brings the same spirit of adventure, opportunities and ambience for me, and I wish you all the same as well.

Thank you for stopping by.



Country Counter: 22        

Cities Visited: Sydney, Melbourne

Timeframe: June 2007

a5 - Copy

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to pick up my writing. I realise the longer I wait, the more I tend to forget details about trips taken a decade ago. At that time, we could not afford a digital camera and carried our bulky old Canon everywhere, with a few film rolls. Each roll could capture around 36 photos, so we did not have the liberty to click wildly and then sort out the good ones. Each photo had to be ‘planned’, and we had developed this habit of checking the ‘remaining counter’ after every snap. With the advancement of camera technology coupled with its exponential reduction of cost, it is hard to imagine how life was just ten years ago.

a1 - Copy

The last time I went home, I tried to dig up as many of these (expensive) printed photos. I couldn’t wait much longer as most of them were either shedding colour or form in some way, and the rest were lost somewhere along the way. It made me really sad (and feel careless), and this tremendous loss is why I won’t be able to write a full post on Nepal (2005) and Thailand (2007, on our way to Australia). I still managed to salvage a few from our Australia and USA trip in time, but they weren’t enough to complete the picture. Among a lot of discussion and reminiscing, I was able to piece the memory blocks and recall most of our journey through this amazing country.


Our first stop was Sydney, where we spent around 3 days. We were on foot mostly, exploring public squares like The Rocks and The Domain, visiting iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and exploring wildlife in the zoo. Visit the Sydney Tower for excellent views of the city and Bondi Beach for the chilled-out life (but you knew that already).


Sydney Tower


St. Mary’s Cathedral from the tower

a10 - Copy (2)

View from the Sydney Tower

We took the one-day tour to the Blue Mountains, carefully arranged to include small groups for a better experience. We travelled in a small van with our guide, who was quite the fellow indeed. This is something I want to mention here. I’ve been around different groups of people around the world, and everyone has their unique sense of humour. I found that apart from being generally relaxed, which Australians are known for, everyone almost invariably has a great sense of humour. And the good type, mind you, much like the Irish.

a4 - Copy

With our guide


a4 - Copy (2)

The Blue Mountains

During the entire trip, the guide kept us entertained with quips like ‘did you know, that the Blue Mountains are neither blue nor mountains?’ and ‘I advise you not to get too close to the edge, but if you do fall over, make sure to enjoy the view.’ The Blue Mountains were fascinating to say the least, and no one died. We checked out the famed ‘Three Sisters’ rock formation, who were turned into stone in order to protect them, according to an old legend. There are hiking trails which bring you close to the rocks but were not part of this tour. Another highlight was the Scenic World railway tour, which is a MUST do, just for the thrill. It is the steepest incline railway in the world, and the ‘open’ cars have only seat-belts. My mother and sister were in the first cabin, and as the coach starts descending, you can almost feel that you’ll fall off your seat and plunge into the valley (that does not happen, of course). Absolutely thrilling!


Scenic World railway with the Three Sisters in the background

a5 - Copy (2)

The Three Sisters

We headed out to Melbourne next, via Canberra. My dad has this enviable gift of finding contacts wherever we fly to. As soon as we reached, a man came to pick us up and invited us to his home. We later found out that he is one of the most successful businessmen in the city, having arrived in Melbourne with his father years ago and gradually rising to where he is right now. His success, however, had not changed his demeanour one bit, and he remained as humble as one could possibly be. He provided us with a great accommodation and an unforgettable gastronomic tour around the city, and our families became good friends. He passed away a few years ago, much to our shock and surprise (he was younger than my father), and we will never forget his hospitality and our friendship.

a9 - Copy

One of the first things that struck me was how clean the city was – not a speck anywhere. It was an unbelievable sight to our sore eyes – coming from India and this being only our second international destination. Don’t get me wrong, things have improved back home now, but at that time we were just glad to see a nation collectively deciding not to litter and preserve their cities, something which many nations are still struggling to achieve.

a11 - Copy


Tons of things to do and see. From the hustle bustle of Queen Victoria market, to St. Kilda’s beach, the Shrine of Remembrance – a war memorial for WWI, a walk along the Yarra river at the Yarra Bend Park and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the 1853 birthplace of Test cricket (I’m from India, remember). A drive along the Great Ocean Road is recommended for all visitors, and so is the Melbourne Museum for its fascinating displays (I couldn’t find our pictures of the exhibits, unfortunately).


The Shrine of Remembrance

a13 - Copy

Ceremonial Avenue, looking towards the city of Melbourne from the shrine

There were two main highlights of our stay in Melbourne. The first was the century-old Puffing Billy steam train ride through the Dandenong Ranges. The windows were large enough to allow people to sit through them with their legs dangling outside and enjoy the view. The tour also includes a stop at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with over 200 species of animals, including everyone’s favourite – Koala Bears.

a14 - Copy

Puffing Billy

The second was a day trip to Phillip Island to watch penguins. Honestly, when was the last time you witnessed penguins in their natural habitat? The tour begins with a stop at Warrook’s Cattle Farm (now called Warrook Station Farm, according to their website). This family owned farm has a wide variety of animals on the estate and you can go ahead and feed them if you like – other options include milking cows and watching a sheep-shearing operation. I distinctively remember I took a magnificent picture (according to my camera capabilities) of a lonely tree standing in a vast open stretch, and a broken cart beside it. The entire scene setup was something straight out of an epic romance novel. Unfortunately, after searching for hours, I could not find it. It is ironic how, when I captured the scene a decade ago, I wanted to show it to the world, and now, when I have started documenting, that is the picture I couldn’t recover.


Warrook’s Cattle Farm

After having lunch at the farm, we head on to the Koala Conservation Center, where you can see Koalas (again) in their natural habitat. Keep in mind though – they might look cute and cuddly, but do not ‘over-disturb’ them, or they will attack. Next, we headed out, in time, to Phillip Island. It is imperative for tour groups to be on time, as a lot of operators run parallel, and the entry to the island is closed after 6 pm. Apparently, some of the tours got delayed during the week because people just couldn’t get enough of the Koalas – oh, the obsession!

a7 - Copy


At the island, you pass through an information center and enter into a special viewing platform, where crowds gather from all the tours. As the light dims, penguins can be seen walking along the beach to their nests. Hordes and hordes of small penguins, all marching happily, much to the joy of the humans. It is one sight which you cannot find in the middle latitudes. Thanks to Australia, we don’t need to cross the Arctic circle to view these gentle creatures in their natural habitat.


Phillip Island


We stayed in Melbourne for almost two weeks, mostly hanging out with our generous hosts. On our way back, we had to endure one of the most testing experiences we have ever faced in an airport. More on that later.


With our hosts and their friends

A lot has changed since that summer of ’07. A recent web search displayed a lot more places to see and things to do. Let’s hope I get that chance of visiting again, and this time, I’ll make sure not to skip the Ayer’s Rock!