Tuesday, January 02, 2007

X'mas Trip

This is an account of my recent trip to California, Arizona & Nevada.

The flight journey was quite uneventful this time and tiring as well. We had to board the flight from Manchester, New Hampshire hence the journey started from the previous night itself since the last accessible 'free' shuttle from Boston was at that time. Tried some desperate and unsuccessful attempts of sleeping at the airport.

Day 1 - LAX
Spent the first day mostly driving between Thousand Oaks, LAX airport and Orange County meeting relatives and friends.

Had been for dinner in one of the Indian restaurants in Artesia. You definitely feel being in some part of India once you take a turn on Pioneer Blvd. since you come across everything from authentic Indian names like Sona Chandi Jewelers, State Bank of India (California) to the hordes of people moving around, plenty of crowded Indian restaurants, etc.

Notably, worthy to mention in this place would be Rajdhani rest. (Caution for the non veggies - I believe they only serve veggie food). They have sit down tables (similar to the prominent 'pangat' kind of system in Indian weddings, i.e. they come and serve you at the table) with excellent Gujarati style cuisine. I had tried the thali (combination platter) which was definitely worth it since it was like a 7 course meal of homely food ending with the hot-water lemon bowl to wash your hands.

I later came to know that this place is also called Little India or Little India Village (for obvious reasons). I guess it's about time we started giving competition to all the Chinatowns.

Day 2 - Universal Studio
Popularly, referred to as, the Entertainment Capital of L.A

Being a big time movie buff myself, I was already fascinated with the thought of coming to the Studios. I would recommend the place a must see and the first thing to do out here would be the studio tour. The tour takes you through all the different sets which they have preserved and gives you insights into how movies are made. Didn't get a chance to see anyone famous but was more than satisfied looking and experiencing the different effects along with hundreds of facades on Hollywood's most famous back lot.

Some of which I recollect are the following: (won't explain how they do it, cause it's quite thrilling to experience it which eventually you figure out)
Mummy Returns - the trolley/bus goes and stops in a cave and it seems as if our whole bus is turning 360 degrees.
King Kong - here you experience the monster's wrath as he shakes the whole platform/bridge on which your bus is traveling
Fast & the Furious (Tokyo Drift) - the car's spinning and been blasted in the air

You come across sets used in countless movies like the War of the Worlds, the 'Psycho' house and the 'Bates Motel', Austin Powers and the Courthouse Square, where many films and TV shows such as 'Bruce Almighty' 'Crossing Jordan' and 'Spider-Man 2' were shot.

You can also see the "Back to the Future's" famous clock
tower. Old Mexico has a few special-effects tricks under its sombrero, especially the flooding one. The earthquake and the shark effects also provide some delightful scenes and screams. :)



Overall, it was quite astonishing and personally gratifying to identify the sets and the movies in which they were used. Later on, we passed the houses rather the sets of the soap opera Desperate Housewives.

Hope to return in 2007 to make use of my yearly pass ! (yes, I was that impressed)

Day 3 - Disneyland

"Where Dreams Come True" is really what personifies the park. And, definitely you need more than a day (we were here for about 14 hours still could not finish it all) to cover the whole park or at least the must see attractions.
We went to the Disneyland Park(they have different ones out there like Disneyland Resort, Disneyland Park, Disney's California Adventure Park, etc.)

As soon as we entered the park, we came across this giant X'mas tree with all possible decorations which could go on it providing a nice site for some Patel-giri (wow!, I used that term after a long time)

They have the whole park sub divided into different sections devoted to certains themes like techno, mickey's toontown and others.

They also have the different Disney characters like the Mermaid, Goofy, Mickey, etc. all over the park along with whom you can click a snap.

One of the rides we went on was called Splash Mountain. It is like a hallowed out log which rides on a water, winding it's way through a mountain and then finally plummets 52 feet into a backwood bayou bash ! If you do happen to sit in this ride be ready for plenty of sunshine and an equal amount of water headed your way ! The pictures are simply hilarious with everyone's mouth wide open shouting for their lives during the drop !

Another attraction which we went too was the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Here, you blast off to "infinity and beyond" as you join Buzz Lightyear in an interactive and intergalactic battle against the Evil Emperor Zurg. :) The fate of the universe is in your hands as you pilot your Star Cruiser through the treacherous terrain while zapping enemy targets and racking up points.

There are many more attractions and exciting rides which we visited like the Indiana Jones adventure, Pirate of the Carribean, Haunted Mansion, California Screamin', Space Mountain besides some thrilling roller coaster rides as well. The exuberant atmosphere all around alongwith all the wonderful attractions eventually and perpetually brings out the kid in you totally. (alive and kicking) In the end, I totally agree with the saying:

"Disneyland: a people trap operated by a mouse"

There are couple of good shows like the "Shrek's 4-D adventure", "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience", etc. The show one should not miss at any cost is Fantasmic in the end and the fireworks display. The Fantasmic show basically is about Mickey who battles evil and conjures good in a musical pyrotechnic spectacular with magnificent floating scenes and effects that leave you breathless !! Amazing special effects including a film projected on water, fiber optics and lasers...


Day 4 - Malibu Beach

Life's a beach - Malibu Beach :)
This beach has a unique and serene temperament to it (probably, that explains why it has the max. number of the movie star homes, in fact, it is more than Beverly Hills) which makes you appreciate nature all the more.

The beach features wetlands, flower gardens and sandy beach. The lagoon is where Malibu Creek meets the sea. Malibu Surfrider Beach has a long standing as a premier surfing beach. The drive alongside the beach was also quite enjoyable.


Day 4,5,6,7 - Grand Canyon

Our complete driving part could be summed up as follows:

Good: We left early by about 7 pm, it was pleasant outside with no traffic
Better: everyone in the car was lively and talking continuously; we were driving at a min. speed of 80 mph
Best: I was in the passenger seat chewing away on my bag of chips and cookies

After midnight it was a different story altogether...

Bad: It was dark, cold and windy on Interstate 40
Worse: everyone in the car was asleep
Worst: I was driving

After a bit of mishap with our friend's car and a journey which traversed through the night, finally we reached and crashed in our hotel by about 10:00 am

We were staying in Tusayan and the hotel was about 5-10 minutes from the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. We headed to Mather Point that afternoon to get a glimpse of the massive structure. We were at the South Rim of the famous natural attraction of USA. Supposedly, most of the tourists see only the south rim, since it is easily accessible and the main road (AZ 64) parallels the canyon edge for some distance - here there is every conceivable facility(with lots of cheap good service hotels), many superb overlooks and a choice of hiking trails. The visitor center is located just next to this point. (closes at 5 pm) They have free shuttle buses from this place which are quite good. Some of the points here are only accessible by these buses like the ones on the Green line bus.

I would definitely recommend everyone to chalk out their own scheme of things and plan the whole trip accordingly if they are visiting Grand Canyon instead of going through some guided tour or package.


Got a first view of the colossal Grand Canyon. We are in awe and overwhelmed by the enormous size and the extent of Grand Canyon. From here, we could also see some tiny moving objects far away at a different point. Got some nice panoramic shots. No-one forgets their first sight of the Grand Canyon and it never fails to impress or offer something new. The desire to see more of it died down quickly since it got dark in a few flickers.

Got a chance to see the 3-D IMAX movie on Grand Canyon in the eve. This is just before the entrance to the rim and is called the National Geographic Visitor Center. It was a nice giant screen presentation (I guess everything here is in accordance with the Canyon) and got some overview of the spectacular vistas. This is a nice place to buy memorabilia stuff and some souvenirs for your folks.

The day ended with a bite of Pizza and a few card games.As others have said, sometimes the scale and extent of the Grand Canyon is disconcerting - to vast to take in at first sight. Got a better feel and taste of the striking lofty mountains the next day besides getting the answers to all those baffling questions like what unknown forces caused the Colorado River to carve this great chasm? Is it the work of God, or a symphony of nature?


We continued covering the numerous other points which always provided a different sight. Took the Green shuttle bus on the Kaibab Trail Route stopping at the following points:
Pipe Creek Vista
Sout Kaibab Trailhead
Yaki Point

On the other side of the road from the main visitor center is the main shopping plaza or the market plaza and the Grand Canyon Village. Also, a good place to shop some Grand stuff and grab something to eat.

Yavapai point
This looks down Bright Angel trail to the Grand Canyon. The green area is Indian Gardens and the trail continues to Phantom Rance at the river where a suspension bridge allows access to the North Rim. The observation station is an enclosed place with glass windows which provided some comfort from the chilly weather.

Hopi Point
Besides getting more of the prodigious mountain this is good place to catch great views of various temples and buttes in the canyon. (there is also a Vishnu temple)

Pima Point
This apparently gets us the closest to to the Colorado river and we could actually hear the roaring rapids.

Hermit's rest
We had got a view of the sunset the previous day but I guess some places are just better than others. A nice opportunity to capture some silhouettes.

Now, I realize that such was the impact of Grand Canyon in our minds that after transferring the pictures from my camera I have named the folder Grand Canyon. (I guess after working in science and especially cognitive neuroscience research I have started to sub consciously orient my thinking on such cognitive
aspects, rather it's the brain which after a certain times starts to look through a different perspective and when we retrospect we have a classical example of cognitive dissonance)
Anyways, after the Grand experience I firmly believe that the onset of winter is indeed a beautiful time to be here. (especially when there is some snow) The scenes are exquisitely sublime, there are no crowds and the weather is generally pleasant in the inner canyon.

Though, I am already making plans of returning next summer to get some backpacking experience. I believe hiking is quite exhilarating here since generally people tend to react to the experience in one of two ways: either they can't wait to get back, or they swear they'll never do it again. Besides, one also has the option of exploring and rafting through the Colorado river rapids.

Quite aptly said:

The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of earth.
~Donald Culross Peattie



Day 7,8 - Las Vegas

We had already gained a hour while crossing Hoover Dam ( going from Arizona time to Nevada time, which was pretty cool in a way). It is quite an engineering marvel considering that they had to divert the river's flow around the construction site to build the dam.

Las Vegas has it's own charm which is still bringing people to the city in droves. I guess due to Christmas day and New Year just round the corner most of the casinos were ready for the big drama and action sequels.

Advice: Go to Vegas. Get drunk, lose a few bucks, see a show or two.
I loved the slogan the commercials use to promote Las Vegas tourism: "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas"

We stayed in Stratosphere on the Las Vegas strip. The 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower is a true Las Vegas landmark and home to some of the world’s most original attractions.

The Stratosphere (amusement park) boasts the world's three highest thrill rides; (although I did not have the courage to sit in any of these goose pimply and discomfiting rides) the Big Shot, X Scream and Insanity the Ride. (quite aptly named as well)

Insanity-The Ride consists of an arm that extends out 64 feet over the edge of the Tower and will spin passengers at up to three 'G's.' As the ride spins faster and faster, the riders are propelled up to an angle of 70 degrees. It seems as if they are being flung over the edge of the Tower and finally land up literally facing(forced to see) downward at the City of Las Vegas below. According to the operating people or the crew, it(the ride) provides an unobstructed view of historic downtown Las Vegas rewarding the riders brave enough to experience
(the thrill of) three 'G's' at a height of more than 900 feet.

My sincere advice: the hair-raising rides are only best to photograph and watch...

We started going on the strip and the whole place was luminous with replicas of probably all the wonders of the world. We were simply walking in and out of the different casinos and hotels on the Las Vegas strip. Considering, that the average gambling budget per trip was approx. $480 per visitor in 2003 here, I can safely say I was better off. Could not grasp the funda of just pulling down a lever and being appeased by the same. Liked the casinos for all the vivid sparkling displays. The ones which we went to and I vaguely remember are the following:

Treasure Island: the ship outside this place instantly reminded me of Pirates of the Carribean

MGM Grand: A roaring MGM Lion mascots in front of the four emerald-green, fortress like towers of the MGM Grand, one of the largest hotels in the world. Apparently, they also have live lions every evening in the lobby or whatever.

Paris: This homage to the City of Lights reproduces all the charm of the French capital and draws obvious comparisons to the Las Vegas Strip's other Euro metropolis themed wonder. Outside are replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, an Around the World in Eighty Days balloon marquee, etc.

Caesars Palace: The opulent entrance, fountains, Roman statuary and roaming centurions all add up to the iconic Las Vegas hotel. Here you can get your picture taken with Caesar, Cleopatra, and the centurion guard; find the full-size reproduction of Michelangelo's David; amble along Roman streetscapes etc.

Excalibur, Sahara, Harrah's, Mirage(white tiger display) were some others which we passed on our way. The common thing I noticed was that you will find fountains and statues everywhere on the strip.

Luxor: The pyramid shaped casino hotel is pure Egyptian, Las Vegas Vegas style! This modern world wonder is topped with a xenon light beam that can be seen from anywhere in the night.

Bellagio: It is one of the city's premier luxury resorts. It's refreshingly free of the hyper theme park buzz that's become the Strip's trademark, impressive more for its refined elegance than for gimmicks. The best part about this place would be the fountain show (only in the eve for sometime): many fountains erupt in a choreographed water ballet across the man-made Bellagio lake. Walking into the lobby of Bellagio, you're confronted with lots of fantastic and colorful glass sculptures.

Aladdin: the casino is undergoing a name change to Planet Hollywood. However, as of now inside they consistent with the theme which aligns with the Aladdin picture we frame in our mind. Got some good deals in some of the shopping stores here.

Circus Circus: Circus like exteriors with lots of effulgence, did not get a chance to go inside.

It was like 20 Times Squares (though nothing can beat this bustling and brightest place in New York) spread across the city. My penchant for such radiant places left me more than satisfied with my Las Vegas trip.

En route to Vegas we stopped at Sedona for lunch. Sedona, Arizona is touted as one the 10 prettiest places in the United States and we found out why. If you are coming from Grand Canyon, I would strongly recommend taking the route 89A to reach Sedona. It is a very scenic 24 mile route winding through the canyons. Here, you will come across the red rock formation.

In case, you are interested in having Indian food there are some of restaurants in Flagstaff; namely: Cuisine of India, India Paradise & Delhi Palace.

Despite the land's myriad geological features tourists relate Sedona's exceptional charm to the fact that visitors conveniently can spend a day hiking, horseback riding, or bouncing in a Jeep on trails and dirt roads that crisscross this area, and then enjoy the comfort of deluxe hotels, country inns and prestigious resorts at night. They have excellent ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) packages tours at this place.

Indeed, this is the paradox and enchantment of Sedona: luxurious resorts and bed and breakfasts, unique shops, impressive art galleries and fine restaurants nestled in an unusually rugged canyon surrounded by an expansive national forest.


Day 9,10 - LAX

These were spent mostly visiting people, catching up with friends and getting back some due sleep.

December 29th, 2006
Came back to Providence, Rhode Island and took a bus back to Boston.
Back to the grind, working on a Friday catching up with past due things after a sleep deprived night was indeed exhausting.

The good thing was that I would be in Boston for the New Year's eve !

Happy New Year to everyone !
As far as I am concerned, I am already on the lookout for the long weekends in the year and the accompanying deals so that my future getaways would be equally exciting, interesting and adventurous ...

4 comments:

amit said...

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awesome !

Amit

Atul Vaidya said...

print karaicha mhantla tar majhi cartridge sampel...aarey kiti motha!!! :D
but nicely written with good camera skills ;)

Monsieur K said...

Ninad,

well written! u sure had gr8 fun - nice pics too! :)
hope 2007 brings many more such enjoyable trips for u.

~Ketan

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