Skywatch Friday… Windmills

As we pulled out of the pick up point towards the highway and onwards to Yosemite National Park, these mountains and windmills was what we saw. They were all so majestic and beautiful in the morning sun. 
[Sorry for the blurry shots, clicked them through the bus window]
For more beautiful skies, visit Skywatch Friday

The Niagara Falls

E: So, are you heading towards New york?
Me: Yes, towards end of the trip and I fly back home from there.
E: Ah cool.. Wanna do a trip to Niagara?
Me: Ooh yes, was hoping to do a bus tour from NY or DC… 
E: Will put a plan together and we shall go one Sunday.
Me: Soopa, thanks!! 

This conversation happened within days of my landing in USA. And then after a few weeks, there were changes, there were debates, there were times when the plan was scrapped. E felt it would be too cold and misty, might not be able to withstand the cold, or see anything at Niagara. While the initial plan was for his entire family to join us, it finally came down to “Ok, I shall fly out and take you there, wont drag family , esp if its gonna be biting cold etc…”. I said “Sure, makes sense” and got ready that Sunday morning for the flight to Buffalo. 

I land in Buffalo, get out of the airport and am hit by a blast of the coldest wind I have ever faced. I had a pair of woollen socks that became mittens of sorts and I huddled up in my jacket to deal with the chill. Hoped and prayed it settled down as time went by. Within minutes E calls to say they are pulling in, and asks me to come out. What do I see, a car full of people, yes his wife and twin boys had also made it.. Yay!! 

That was it, we had a blast the rest of the time. Drove down to Niagara [which is about an hour and a half from Buffalo], parked in the lot and made our way towards the falls. I was super excited. Well, I agree it is probably a very touristy thing to do, but then the falls are legendary and so a visit does go down in my list of “awesome places I visited”… 

In about half an hour, we were walking along the falls and it was cold… somehow it is always extra cold when you are near the water, ever noticed that? E kinda convinced us that doing the “Maid of the mist” boat tour might not be a good idea, considering how cold it was and that you would get drenched by the time you are done with the cruise.  We settled for spending time all along the way, up to the view point and getting as close to the falls as possible.. I was amazed at the sheer size of the falls.  Apparently the view from the Canadian side is better, you get to the see the entire Horse shoe falls and Bridal Veil falls, but this was no less.   

The Niagara is made up of three waterfalls -Horseshoe Falls [lies on the border of the United States and Canada], the American Falls[on the American side, separated by Goat Island] and the Bridal Veil Falls [also on the American side, separated from the other waterfalls by Luna Island].  The Niagara falls contains more than six million cubic feet (168,000 m3) of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost four million cubic feet (110,000 m3) on average [approx]… Also heard that during peak winter, for the briefest of times the falls freezes completely. Breath taking indeed… 

After spending a few hours, a few coins in the view master trying to spot different things and elements, we finally made our way out of the place back to the parking lot. E mentioned this was probably the shortest but most fun trip he had made here.. Invariably it was with larger groups of family,   who would spend little time at the falls and want to go find a place to eat/shop etc… 

As we walked out of the view point area, could feel the cold water spray from the falls hit us for quite a distance… 

Food options across the ocean.. Eight AM in San Francisco – 3

It was around 8 when I landed in San Francisco, picked up my suitcase and was waiting for my broinlaw and niece. Once they arrived, we piled in my bags and he announced we were gonna drive around the city, do some touristy things, grab breakfast and then head home around noon. I was happy, but my niece was not too kicked [ I guess it gets boring after a point when you get dragged around to the same places over and over again…]but she was a sport and came along 🙂 

We headed straight to Lombard Street [ or crooked street, drove down the zig zag roads- quite exciting, thrilling and scary at the same time], parked the car on the lane across from it and went up the steps along the Lombard Street. Up we went one by one, they are steep but not tiring. And then we came down.. By this time, hunger bells began hitting our tummies. My broinlaw suggested we head to 8am for a bite, since it was rated as #1 on yelp. Since it was literally just a few blocks away, he suggested we walk. 

Walking is no problem, but the streets in San Francisco are either going all the way upwards or downwards… So either ways, you have to make an effort to keep going.. This one was downhill, and so going towards it was gonna be easy but coming back up with full tummies ,now thats another thing… We walked,cracking random jokes, commenting on places along the way and the biggest joke was we reached Eight am at 9am, and left there around 10am.. 😀

Its a small cafe of sorts and looked like a popular one as the place was packed. They have few tables indoors and some outdoors as well. We had to wait a few minutes for a table, and got to sit outside. The weather was beautiful- chill and bright. The buildings around were either hotels or libraries, & museums. We spotted quite a few walk by with dogs, one such group took the table next to ours. 

Getting down to business, me & broinlaw ordered Frittatas – I chose Haight Ashbury [mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and swiss cheese], while he chose Castro [chicken apple sausage with Manchego cheese, only egg whites], and my niece went for the Crepe-called 9am [ fresh strawberries, cream cheese and chantily cream] 

Along with our breakfast, we also asked for coffee -black, decaf and strong is how it was. Milk here is optional as is everywhere else in the country and comes in little pockets referred to as “creamer”. 

Our Frittatas were served with a bowl of fruits and a side of baked sweet potato+potato as well. It makes it quite the filling meal. We enjoyed the view, the food and left there in about an hour back towards the car… Huff puff up the hill, me lugging my backpack [that had laptop, camera and few other valuables*]

* I was lugging my backpack cos the city is renowned for thefts and my browinlaw suggested I remove anything valuable from the car and carry it with me!! There are enough sign boards that scare you about the same… 

Skywatch Friday … Mountains meet the sky

What a feast on the eyes right? This was clicked as we headed out from Yosemite after the hike to see them giant red Sequoia  trees towards the village.. There was a view point from where you could get a glimpse of the entire vista including the beautiful waterfalls. The place was packed with tourists, standing, lying down and doing all kinds of poses, it took me quite a while and a short trek to find a spot to click the vista without any heads bobbing into the frame!! 😀 

The one thing that baffles me when I travel is the love people have for clicking pictures. I like to savour the place, enjoy the scene, take it all in before I pull out my camera and more often than not I forget to click a picture of me in the location.  Yes, we all want memories, but then dont you feel we lose the experience cos we are more focused on clicking the right picture, the right angle, the right color, making sure the sun is not around, etc etc…!! 

For more beautiful skies, visit Skywatch Friday

Battle with the body- X

Right from my childhood days, I have noticed that kids
were/are the cruelest. No, I am not saying kids are evil or any such unforgivable thing… Am referring to how they can really hurt someone with their words/actions… During my junior school days, I would walk on the road or be in school and have random
kids on the street and my classmates/schoolmates make fun of me…  They wouldn’t hesitate to call me names and
invariably it was associated with an animal or a vegetable.
Elephant [yanai]
Pumpkin [poosanikkai]
Big Brinjal [gundu kathirikai]
were the ones commonly used. Infact, I used to shy
away and walk fast when crossing a certain section of the road or when I see a
bully in the vicinity. I guess it also hit my self-confidence during those
growing years.  Above it all, I always
thought it was because of the small town we lived in that people behaved this
way and this wasn’t how it was in big cities.
Oh, how wrong was I. 
To my dismay I found kids in Chennai as bad if not worse than those in
smaller towns. Here not only would they smirk and make fun, but they also would
outlaw you. They would not include you in their gang or even let you sit with
them on the same table during lunch. It is exactly like what we see in Foreign
TV shows and movies.
Not only kids, but I found adults too had a way of
making you feel conscious. They would meet you at home/outside and the first
thing they would point out is your weight. “Oh, you look like you have piled on
some eh…. Been busy gorging on those sweets over the holidays is it?” – ha if only, then i would atleast have a reason for the extra pounds, am the kind whose body will add em just by looking at the word “food” printed on a magazine… or “The dress is tad tight no, wear
something else, something loose”- yea more like a pillow case… or “oho, still
not married ah, I guess if you lose a few kilos it would make a difference and
you would be married in no time”- ya right, the world is full of guys with stars in their eyes dreaming of a skimpy
sexy babe. And then there are those pesky family members who make sure to find
you, make a beeline towards you, and pass a comment about your weight. It is
almost like they have a special radar that goes “beep beep beep” the minute you
walk into the venue/home/function.
It is one of the reasons why I hated and avoided going
for family functions. Did I mention I am tall as well? Yes, am nearly 6ft tall,
so am quite hard to miss!! 😀
But one thing that has stuck with me is that I never ever poke[d] fun at anyone- be it someone big or small, tall or short, fair or dark, etc
etc… And I dint care, nor do I care now about a person’s appearance, what they
wear, where they live, how much money they make or what kind of skin they
have…. It seriously doesn’t matter. To me, all that matters is if I get along
with the person or not. If I do, super, I strike up a conversation and all that
jazz, else I smile and walk away.
Over the years when I grew up, learnt how to turn a
deaf ear to anyone who mocked/teased a big thing I have noticed with kids is
that they imitate what their parents/adults around them do. They follow them to
the T.. If you don’t believe me, try slipping in a swear word or something
stupid and see how fast they pick it up, not only that they will also remember
and use it as often as possible, much to your embarrassment….
Just as with everything else, this too begins at home.
Children do/imitate what they see around them. If someone older than them is
doing something, then it must be right, therefore it gets copied instantly. But
what kids don’t realise [well that is why they are kids] is that their actions have impact on others. Yes, till
the age of 5/6 they don’t really think or know what they are doing. But beyond
that, they continue doing what they did cos their
mom/dad/uncle/aunt/cousin/someone else around them did it and got away with it
or all it did was made them laugh.
When I walk on the road, I see school girls point,
smirk, giggle, pull their friends, share the joy and it becomes like a chain..
just doesn’t stop, not until you don’t see them anymore! In supermarkets ad
other places kids poke fun, shout out a comment or whisper something to their
mom and the duo look  at you and laugh. I
have actually gone up to the parent and asked them what was funny, if I had jam
on my face or had grown an extra pair of ears. They don’t know what to say or
do, they quickly walk away.
So, how about teaching your kids what is right and
wrong, teach them about correct touch and bad touch.. Do not imbibe in them the
concept of making fun of someone just cos they look different. Do not scare
them saying “if you keep eating ice cream, you will become fat like that aunty,
or if you don’t watch what you eat, you will become ugly like that uncle”… 
If you are to argue saying the parents whose kids mock
are likely to be uneducated, I just might slap you.  Most times, I find educated is a word we use
to hide behind. It is invariably parents/kids from “educated” background who
mock others. They seem to think they are King/queen of the world and others are
all weird or queer. 

Damn, did not realize I have written so much. All am
trying to say is “Parents, teach your kids to be strong, smart, learn how to
deal with the world and be nice to everyone [maybe you should also learn these
in the process and change]!!

Royal Marwar Festival, The Dining Room, Park Hyatt, Chennai

Milk flavoured with saffron& sugar

Khandvi, Dhokla, Samosa and Hara Kabab served with a medley of chutneys- Tomato and mango. There were also Khakras to nibble on

 Dal Bhati churma where the Bhati had masala stuffing inside.. 

Mango chutney and Lashun ki chutney [Garlic chutney]- sinful  

 The Mains- Paneer Sabzi, Palak Mattar, Gatte ki sabzi, Ker sangria, Dum aloo and Panchmel Sabzi [some of  these keep changing on a regular basis]

The different breads- Besan ka chilla, Moong daal Chilla, Bedmi roti and Palak puri. 

The desserts- Moong Daal Halwa and Kheer made with Rice – Simple and yumm

If there is one cuisine I love, and dont mind eating repeatedly it has to be Rajasthani food. From the very first time I had a Daal Bhati churma I was in love. And so am excited to tell you that The Dining Room, restaurant at Park Hyatt Chennai has converted itself into a Royal Palace from the princely state of Rajasthan for the Marwari food festival. 

Royal Marwar, the land of Maharajas in the princely state of Rajasthan is not only famous for its rich culture. But what makes the state distinctive and popular is its delectable cuisine. Rajasthani’s love food and it is evident in the preparations. Dal Bati Churma and Gatte Ki Subzi are the most famous dishes from the state.  
Even though they did have a few dishes from neighbouring states, we shall forgive them. Why? The fare from Rajasthan was simply divine and had me walking on the rugged roads of Jaipur biting into a Ghevar while looking for a place to sit to watch the Teej Festival. Every lane you walk into will have a stall selling hot samosas, kachori, or jalebis. It is a city that loves its food and shows it off proudly…  So, what are you waiting for? Make that reservation already….. 

The Royal Marwar Food Festival will run till 28th June, 2017
Dinner only  – 7 pm to 11 pm
Cost- INR 1600 per person (Excl of taxes). 
For more information or to make a reservation at The Dining Room, please call 044 4991 9965 
or 044 7177 1234.

The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  🙂 

Namaskara Tulu Nadu festival, Madras Pavilion, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai

This Festival is on till June 25. Dinner only @ Rs 2,200+ taxes per person. For details and reservations, dial 044 22200000

Have lost track of the number of times I have been to ITC Grand Chola, the one thing I do remember is that every visit is different… This time I was there to check out the “Namaskara Tulu Nadu festival” at Madras Pavilion… 

Tulu Nadu or Tulunad refers to the small community of  Tulu speaking folks who occupy the region in the Southern part of Karnataka and northern part of Kerala… Mangalore, Udupi and Kasaragod are its important cities. At Madras Pavilion, chef Sandeep tells us this is another feather from the Kitchens of India cap that features dishes made as they would be in the Tulu households, with influences from Coorg, Kerala and Mangalore dominating the flavours. . The one thing that stood out from what he shared was that the people believe in showcasing the main ingredient rather than drowning it in a world of spices, be it vegetarian or non vegetarian dishes. 

The evening began with the refreshing buttermilk- Alai, that was laced with curry leaves, asafoetida and ginger accompanied by the Bana Bairada Juice which was made with tender coconut water, flesh of the coconut blended with ripe bananas.  

As for the soup, we were served hot Bele Saaru, a sort of Daal shorba crossed with our rasam, packed with flavours it was delicious. The highlight of the evening was that we had the honour of eating on Banana leaves, as traditional as it can get.

While there were a few non veg starters, I got to try the mini adai of sorts- Sajji ke taarai da roti [coconut & semolina pancakes] that had a few familiar flavours but different from what I have had at home. Following this came the main courses- Two more kinds of dosa- one was the Neer dosa while other was a thick dosa of sorts, and we also had red rice. 

For the sides, we got Kadla belay kootu (Channa dal tempered with mustard, curry leaves and whole chilli), rich tart spicy Pineapple Gujju (Pineapple cooked over a gentle flame with select Karavali spices) and my favourite Spinach garlic daal that was just perfect, with subtle undertones of garlic. I also got to try some Veg Ghee pulao, all it had was sautéed onions on top and nothing but rich ghee flavour singing through every spoonful. There were quite a few non veg sides- fish, pork, prawns and chicken, and of course the Mamsam Biryani as well. From the reaction of my friends, these were a big hit with them~ 

To finish off the meal, we got two desserts, Bele payasam(Lentils and milk cooked together and flavoured with cardamom) and the divine Ragi manni (Ragi  and jaggery  fudge)- couldn’t have enough of the Ragi dessert, I would definitely recommend this for anyone with a sweet tooth.

While the flavours are familiar, there was something comforting about them all and I loved the dishes. 

For the non veg perspective, check out Chennaifoodie blog 

The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  🙂 

Packing your bags.. the art!

I had earlier done a post on Travel light, travel fun, travel safe… Today decided to do one to help people pack for a long haul… I know packing can get daunting and for some it drives them mad. They end up spending hours, if not days ahead of the trip doing nothing but packing an repacking.. I for one have always been chill about it, takes me about half an hour and I typically do it the day am travelling…  

I am
a minimalist to the core. I believe in owning very little and this extends to
everything else in my life as well, even travelling.  For my domestic trips,  I carry just about enough items that will
help me get through the trip and maybe one extra set of clothes [ just in case]
which will invariably come back unused. But now when I was planning my 1st
ever long vacation to USA, it kinda had me in a fix. Should I pack as I do for
my local trips or should I carry more? Having seen my uncle [who visits from
USA] over the years, I know it is enough to pack just enough, but then he has
quite a few sets of clothes to everything else here at home, so he does not
need to lug as much from there.
I was gonna be travelling within the country, staying with friends and others
for a day or so, therefore thought I would need more stuff than what I would
carry for a typical 3.5week trip. Boy oh boy, did I learn my lesson.  I brought back so many clothes and
undergarments untouched and regretted carrying so much. But then we wont know
till we do it once, right?

So here are a few tips on what to carry in your check-in baggage and what to pack in your hand baggage.. Let me know if you have any other add-ons to this.. 

 The cool checkin kiosks at all airports… 
This is by Jetblue, but almost all airlines have this facility 
Show your passport, then swipe your card to pay for the bag, choose your seat, print out your boarding pass and proceed to security check in area.. voila! Saves so much time and is quite easy to use… 

What I carried… a suitcase and a backpack 
 The Minion luggage tag

 A red gold ribbon along with the luggage tag for easy identification..I had the red gold ribbon on my backpack as well. 🙂 

 The TSA approved lock on the suitcase.. You can change number and set the lock..
The universal Charger that came in handy…

A bag that can be folded and tucked away into a small pouch, these are such space savers and are useful when you are going on short trips or shopping expeditions. These LOQI bags are so handy and can hold quite a bit [upto 20kgs]. I also carried another one similar to this with a zip for my 2day trip within USA 

The pouch with all the charging cables [except phone and laptop]

Check in bag
airlines allow about 20-25kgs check in baggage [per item], but do check our
airline rules for details on how much is allowed.   I flew Cathay Pacific and they allowed 2
bags of max 23kgs each. I had decided I was carrying one suitcase and a
backpack for the trip only.
I was travelling to the USA, friends had advised me to pick up a suitcase with
a TSA lock on it.  Otherwise, airport
authorities might end up breaking the lock if they want to inspect the
suitcase.  What I noticed was that my
suitcase had been inspected but the kind folks had left a paper that said the
suitcase had been inspected and they had repacked it to the best of their
abilities along with an apology for any mess-ups.

If you see a cool/funky luggage tag make sure to grab it, will be easy to identify your bag if you have one of these on it… Check out my cool Minion tag [gift from a friend and he travelled with me all over USA]

What and how to pack

  • All your clothes, undergarments, towels, socks, extra
    footwear, accessories, cosmetics, toiletries, medication, extra books to read,
    gifts and other eatables you were carrying for the people you were visiting go
    into your suitcase.
  • If you are carrying a perfume bottle, make sure to pack it
    inside socks or wrap it in a stole/tshirt so it stays protected for the journey
  • If you are carrying lotions or creams, again wrap it well so
    there are no leaks, you can also cellotape the mouth to keep it shut.
  • Pickles, sauces, jams and others need to be packed in thick
    plastic covers, sealed with cellotape and wrapped in a tshirt or towel [ that
    you are ok to discard in case of any spillage]
  • Carry all basic medicines along with any specific ones you
  • Keep a copy of your passport and local address in your
  • Roll up t-shirts, undergarments, and any other item that can
    be rolled. It helps in saving space and easy to identify and pull out as well.
  • Foldable bags [1-2] that you can carry for a short day trip
    or  stay over.
  • I always throw in 1-2 freshener sachets in the suitcase. It
    helps in fighting any kind of musty smell and feels nice every time I open the
  • Carry one hand towel and one bath towel – I always carry light
    thin ones that I know will dry fast. 

Hand baggage

Note: This can either be a backpack or a backpack plus a hand bag. But remember the flights have restriction on size and weight for this as well, so do not attempt to carry another ginormous stroller as a hand baggage. Also, in case you have a few hours transit, you will have to be lugging them around, so keep it light and small. 
  • Important documents- Have a pouch of sorts to store your passport, foreign currency and other important documents that you have to carry. Keep them all in one place so it is easy to pull out at the airport during check in and security checks.  Remember to keep your wallet also along with this so you can pull out your ID card whenever needed. 
  • Laptop – If you are carrying your laptop make sure to carry a
    backpack that has provision for the same. Best way to keep it from getting scratched
    or damaged. Remember to pack the charger as well.
  • Camera – I carried my DSLR in my backpack with just one lens.
    If you are the kind to carry all lenses, best would be to carry a camera
    bag.  Again remember to carry the charger
    and extra memory cards as well
  • Other chargers & cables  – if you
    carry an ipod/mp3 player, phone, other devices that require charging, remember
    to put them all in a pouch and have them in your backpack. This extends for
    power banks as well.
  • Hand sanitizer and wet wipes – carry a bottle/a packet.
    Flights are known to be the largest germ carriers, so best to use these.
  • Hand lotion – our skin
    tends to dry out in flight, as the air is quite dry, so use the lotion
  • Lip balm – For the 1st few days after landing in LA
    I had the toughest time as the area around my lips had dried up and was hurting
    like crazy. A Vaseline based lip balm was what came to my rescue and helped fade
    the pain an dryness away. I would advise you use this in flight as well.
  • Tissues – Use them to wipe your hands, face, or just about
    anything but always keep a packet handy. Infact this time I carried around a tissue  roll through the length of the journey [what if the public loo I visited had run out of tissues…egads..]
  • Eats – Carry oatmeal bars/granola bars, chocolates, biscuits,
    small bottle of juice and ofcourse water when you travel. It does not matter if
    it is for a flight or when exploring a new town. These are life savers!  Also remember to pack in some chewing gum or
  • A set of clothes & a hand towel–   Always carry a set of clothes in your back
    pack. You never know when it would come in handy. Just a T-shirt, pants, and a
    set of undergarments would do. Same holds true for a towel.
  • Medication – If you are
    on any special medication, remember to carry that in a pouch in your back
    pack.  It could be to help you with
    motion sickness or a pre existing condition, but don’t forget.
  • Address and phone number – Yes these days we all whip out our
    phones for details. It wouldn’t hurt to carry a notebook in your backpack with
    address and phone number of those you are visiting/staying with.
  • Book to read/write – If you are in the habit of reading, carry one book for
    the flight and similarly if you are into journals, do carry one along with a good pen.
  • Headphones – Oh yes, always carry good noise cancelling
    headphones. Most airlines will give you a pair of headphones, but having your
    own gives the freedom to listen to music while you are exploring a town as
  • Universal Charger – If you are travelling to a different
    country, best to carry one of these as it comes with provisions for different
    charging styles. Do some research and figure out what that country uses and
    make sure to carry an adaptor/charger that will work.
  • Disposable bag – in case you want to trash something or to carry a wet towel, it is best to pack it separately so it does not soil other items in the bag

was travelling for 3.5weeks and what I did was pack in about 10
tops/tshirts/shirts/blouses along with a pair of jeans and 3 other pants
[palazzos, printed pants and a black workout pant of sorts]. As for
undergarments I took enough to last me a year [cos I wasn’t sure if I would be
able to do laundry].
should have just gone with my intuition and packed as I would for a local trip.
Lesson learnt! NO more lugging more than I need, plus most homes had
washer-dryer I was able to wash clothes and I repeated them. J

Bottom line- If you have your passport, some money, local address details and a set of clothes, rest can be purchased [ incase your check in bag goes missing or takes longer to arrive]. So don’t panic or worry unnecessarily, all you need to focus on is the holiday and the experience… 😀