Thursday, January 6, 2005

My Journey through 3 States and 14 cities of the USA

December 24th, 2004, Syracuse to Irvine

 Let me start from the beginning. Syracuse Airport in retrospect, seemed like a very small town railway station where hardly one or two trains stop in a day. When I reached the airport, there was total chaos at the NorthWest counter. Only one attendant was present to issue boarding passes to what seemed like a mile long passengers, all in a hurry to get home to their loved ones for Christmas. People were worried that they would miss their flights at this rate. Luckily I had taken an electronic boarding pass so did not need to go through the ordeal of standing in the endless queue.

I had the time to explore the Detroit Airport, unlike the first time I was there on my way from India to Syracuse. Detroit Airport is huge and well maintained. I will not say very good or exceptionally good as I have seen the Changi Airport (Singapore) and also the John F. Kennedy Airport (New York). Nevertheless, Detroit Airport can boast of some good shopping and Eating places. Some good book stores too!

The flight to Irvine was boring. Too long. Longer than it takes to go from Singapore to India. Tried to sleep. Could not. Tried to read. Could not. Tried to look out. Dark. Tried to look right. Neighbors
kissing. Tried to look in front. All heads. No flight entertainment. Can't get up and go out. Sitting at the window seat and how could I disturb the love birds. Overall, very boring.

Once in a while, when the plane is probably going over some city, the surface below looks like a huge chip with criss-cross of orange and green. I had noticed the same thing on my flight from Newark to Syracuse in August this year. The cities in US are well planned with parallel and perpendicular roads and arrays of houses and buildings. Giving it the look of a chip when viewed from top.
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December 25th, Irvine
Got a mini round of the University of California, Irvine, on foot. The campus is beautiful. Very green. And the weather today was so sunny and pleasant. Its a treat to be walking around in such a weather after the snowy and dark days of Syracuse.

Lunch was at a Korean restaurant called Kaya. Micky recommended the only vegetarian dish that was available...Bibimbab...sounds like some African dance! Anyways, it was just a bowl full of raw salad vegetables like lettuce, onions, carrots, cabbage, etc....and plain rice to be eaten with it. Managed to eat the whole thing as was very hungry after the long walk around the campus and also there were some pretty neat side dishes like Kimchi salad, tofu fried and spiced (for the first time I liked something made of tofu), and the best was cucumber pieces, again spiced with some sauces. There were many more side dishes but I don't know or remember the names. Overall, the lunch was okay.

Evening was spent looking for some Hindi movies, couldn't find any that I had not already seen. So we ended up watching Monsters Ball....starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. Liked the movie.
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December 26th, Irvine
Got up early in the morning and went to a Swap Meet. It is just like the Sanichar Bazaar I know of in Ramgarh. Lot of vendors selling things real cheap. A lot things seem to be either from the chor bazaar or second hand. The only difference is that this being America, the vendors have a fundu way of putting up the stalls and the market looks much cleaner.

Had breakfast at IKEA. The only vegetarian thing available was a pancake- just like atta ka chilla!

Went to a Gurudwara for lunch. Free lunch. Langar. The food was very homely and tasty. Dal Makhani, Chole, Aloo Paneer, Rice, Roti and Kheer.

Went shopping for groceries and then to a huge mall called South Coast plaza. Window shopping. No money. I am fascinated by something called a Papasan chair. Its a round cane huge chair with a comforter on top. It looks very funky and cool. I would like something like it in my home one day!

Ate Persimmon. Its an orange fruit, really good. I am hooked on to it now and can eat 7-8 pieces in a day.

Went for a Christmas Party at Micky's friends place. The couple Roop and Srilaja are good and interesting people. The small gathering was also interesting with a Japanese couple, a guy from Palestine, and a few other Indians. The best thing I liked about the house was the huge collection of artifacts that Roop and Srilaja had, all from their various treks and hikes across the globe. They also had a good collection of CD's, DVD's and books and good taste too.

Barbecue was an experience. We had corns, capsicums, brinjals, pita breads....and some non-veg. Most of the people were drunk after about two-three hours. After everyone left, Micky, Srilaja
and I started watching a Hindi movie...Diksha. But left soon as we were all sleepy by then. Borrowed the DVD.
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December 27th, Irvine
I am going to sleep, eat, watch TV, and movies today. No going out till the evening. Micky has gone to attend a wedding. Watched three movies. One is Dharavi. Its based on the life of a taxi driver in
Dharavi. His aspirations and struggle. I especially like the end. He loses everything in the end but continues to aspire and hope for a better life. Great performances by Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.

Next, completed Diksha. Its actually a very old movie by Doordarshan. Its about untouchability, life of a widow, the life of a young boy taking diksha from a famous pandit. Nana Patekar and a small boy (who is taking Diksha) have give superb performances. And the movie is very well made.

The last one is the one I like the most. Salim Langde Par Mat Ro. I was a bit skeptical about the movie after reading the title. But its a very good movie. And Pawan Malhotra has done a great job. It has a sad but very realistic ending. Its about the life of this guy on the streets of Bombay who wants to make it big. His journey through his aspirations, his search for his identity...I like the movie a lot.

Asha, Mukund and Juggi came at around 11 in the night. Chatted with them for sometime and slept with the program of going to Universal Studios the next day early in the morning.
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December 28th, Los Angeles, Santa Monica
When I got up in the morning, it was pouring. Mukund got up at around the same time and after some soch vichar, we decided to drop the idea of going to Universal Studios. We played Carrom for sometime. With weather getting a bit better, decided to leave for Los Angeles by noon.

Griffith Park, the Hollywood Observatory was closed. However, we were lucky to see the Hollywood sign from a location at Hollywood Boulevard. Then we went around the Hollywood Boulevard, checking out the various houses. Beautiful houses. Great cars. Rich People. However, we were not fortunate enough to see any movie stars!

Then we went to the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are held every year. Next to it was the Chinese theatre. Walked on the Hollywood's Walk of Fame. It is the world's most famous sidewalk. Then drove through the Sunset boulevard (where Richard Gere picks up Julia Roberts in the movie Pretty Woman) and Rodeo Drive (where Julia Roberts walks her famous walk in the song Pretty Woman Walking ...). Rodeo Drive seems familiar! Is Orchard Road in Singapore a replica or inspired by the Rodeo Drive?

Our drive continues through Bel Air and Beverly Hills areas. These are basically the very rich LA localities again, with residences of the rich and famous. Very posh. Very beautiful. Then went to the
University of California, LA (UCLA) hangout places. Had ice cream at a place called Diddy Reise. It was actually an Ice cream Sandwich. A dollop of ice cream between two cookies. The best cookies I have ever had. And all for just One Dollar!

Wait....the day is not over yet! Now we go to Santa Monica. Third Street. Its just an upscale shopping area. Very well decorated as its the New year's time. However, I always feel that nothing can beat the
Mall decorations during Christmas and New years in Singapore. They used to be just amazing! Had dinner at third street at a place called Thai Brothers. Very good food. After dinner, just walked over to the Laguna beach. Its in Santa Monica. Its night so didn't see much.

Then we head to the Balboa Island. Where we go on an auto ferry. The whole car goes on top of a ferry and the ferry then gives a ride in the ocean cool wind on tired bodies. Chilling in fact. But good. Liked it.

Long Day!
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December 29th, Universal Studios, LA
Now what do I say about the Universal Studios? Its a theme park. Have seen numerous theme parks before. But must admit that this is the original! Ramoji Film City does have many similarities but Universal Studios is a class apart in terms of quality and its shows. The Shrek Experience is worth mentioning with its 4D effects. Other shows like the Mummy returns and the journey to the future were very good too. But I am scared of rides and my eyes were mostly closed.
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December 30th, Pacific Coast Highway (Santa Barbara, Solvang, San Jose, San Francisco)
Very scenic drive. Beaches, Mountains, vineyards, orchards (strawberry and oranges mainly), and rain!

Breakfast at a French Bistro in Santa Barbara. The best french toasts I have eaten till date, with cinnamon syrup. Danish cookies and chocolates for lunch at a Danish village called Solvang. The whole village has Danish architecture, with wood paneling across the whole house.

We kept stopping at various vista points to take in the great view and also pictures. Came across lakes, seals on the beaches, hidden bridges, waterfalls. The view was breathtaking in a few places.

Crossed through San Jose, where we had to stay for the next couple of days, to go to San Francisco. Dinner at an Indo-Pak place called Chutney, in San Francisco. Good, spicy and cheap food. What else does one want in life?
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December 31st, Stanford, San Francisco
We go to Stanford University at Stanford early morning. Huge campus. Drive ways lined with Palm trees. Very good bookstore. Bought a t-shirt from there which I wear a lot of times now just to show off!

Lunch at the House of NanKing in China town, San Francisco. Best Chinese food I have ever had. So far the food has been the best that I have ever had, throughout the trip.

Now starts our journey through San Francisco. Its a very hilly city. We went on the crookedest street. As the name suggests....the street is very crooked. See the photos to know what I mean! Golden Gate
Bridge....the famous Golden Gate bridge....didn't look too impressive. And it was raining too much to spend time standing and trying to figure out what's so special about it. No body was interested in going and seeing the Alcatraz. So just saw it from far instead of taking a ferry and going all the way to the island.

Then we went to Muir Woods. Its a Red Wood forest. It was raining but I loved the very short hike through the forest. The trees are hundreds of years old, with very-very thick branches, very tall. Difficult to see the peak of most of them. It was my first visit to a red wood forest. And the trees looked imposing and grand.

Next stop was the Fishermen's Wharf. Again a lot of shops. And again it was raining so we could not go around much but all of us decided to have coffee in a coffee shop. Much needed after the long day and all that rain and wind chill.

At night we went to an Indian place called clay oven. And for the first time in the entire trip, that too on the New years eve, the food was really bad! At midnight, saw fireworks at the Fishermen's Wharf.
Beautiful fireworks.

Went home and watched the movie DON, while all the others slept.
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Jan 1st, 2005, San Francisco, Mountain View

Asha, Mukund, Juggi, Micky....they all opened a bottle of Champagne in the morning to welcome the new year. I obviously did not drink. Watched Kill Bill part 2. Went for Italian Lunch at Stanford. Watched Sholay. Asha and Mukund left for New York. Ritu came to pick me up. Went to her place in Mountainview.

Chef Motilal was ready with special dinner for me. Italian again. But ghar ka khana is always special. And I must say that he did a very good job, while Ritu pretended to help him! Yapped yapped and yapped. Although Ritu enjoyed all that I was saying, but pretended to get bored....Ritu hope you are reading this! They have a nice house and Ritu has done a good job of decorating it.

Watched Swades at night. I am sick of watching downloaded movies on the laptop. When will I get to watch hindi movies in the theatre? Guess six more months....seems like ages away!
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Jan 2nd, Mountainview, San Jose
Ritu took me to Shoreline lake and park in Mountainview. It was good but as has been the case throughout the trip, it was raining. So we did not get out of the car. The lake had a lot of ducks. Good view.

Saw the Google headoffice which is located in Mountainview too.

Ritu made superb uttapams. Haven't had such good uttapams earlier.

She dropped me back at Micky's friend's place at around two. We left for Irvine at around 3.30p.m. Long drive, seven hours!
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Jan 3rd, 4th, 5th, Irvine
Rest days. Decided to do nothing. Just watch movies, eat, sleep and relax before beginning the next round of my tour. Watched Teen Deviyaan-Dev Anand, Simi Garewal, Kalpana and Nanda. Nice movie. Good songs. Watched Hulchul and Kaante. Both were just okay okay. Watched Jerry Macguire (Tom Cruise).

5th was a day for beaches, as the sun was bright after a long time. Laguna Beach, Dana Point Beach and Corona Del Mar beach. All beautiful, all clean. And then time for movies again. The End of the
 Affair was the first one. Starring Ralph Fiennes. The next one in line was a Shelock Holmes thriller.
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