Friday, January 16, 2009

Its that time of the year!!!

Since all you lovely people lurve me so much :D, I have decided to treat you guys to a little puzzle.

The first four prime numbers add up to the day I was born. If you have figured the date out and are wondering about the month, I say it doesn't matter. Day of the year and calender date are all the same. If you have figured out, you know when to wear your party hats and sing the birthday song!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The weight of expectation (guest post, part 2)

I wasn't too impressed with the Grand Canyon.
There, I said it.

I had way more fun in Death Valley, and I put it down to the spontaneity of our trip there.

Expectation is a killer. Expectation is why a 30 by Harbhajan is thrilling but a 30 by Sachin empties the grounds. It’s why Surya’s Ghajini feels like a routine run-of-the-mill masala movie, but Aamir Khan’s Ghajini feels like a disaster, a terrible start to the year (if this were the script of a Ghajini-like movie, I’d give you about seventeen more examples like this, including, in no particular order, a crying baby, sunshine after rain and blooming flowers).

Anyway, to come back to the point of this post, when we started planning this trip, it centered on three focal points: LA, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon. And invariably, the places we enjoyed most were then ones we did not have concrete plans for. But let me try to be at least partially chronological here.

- Rancho La Brea is a little gem tucked away among the high-rises of Los Angeles. I wonder how many tourists in LA even know about this place?

- Las Vegas has been one of the epicenters of the housing market collapse, and boy, does it show! Vegas stretches out in all directions into the desert, with seemingly no reason for people to live there. There’s way too many housing complexes and accompanying strip malls than seem sustainable, they all look new (and quite good), and most of them look empty. Abandoned before being occupied? Maybe. I don't know, but it's bizarre.

- You don't hear much about downtown Las Vegas (no, it's not the same as the Strip), but it's fun. Downtown lacks the mega-resorts that you see on the Strip (MGM, Venetian, etc etc), but there's this enclosed area on Fremont St that reminded me of Bourbon street in New Orleans. It was cold, but free concerts, easily available drinks access to many hotel/casinos and the huge screen more than made up for it.

- Speaking of the Strip, did know how LONG it is? Looking on a map, Caesar's Palace is perhaps one block from the Bellagio, but it takes a good 7-8 minutes to walk the distance. It's fun to roam around on the Strip though. I didn't think I would like Vegas - thought it wouldn't be anything more than a pimped-out Times Square. And though it is indeed a pimped-out Times Square, there's lots of things to do, and varied "sceneries" and "skylines" to see, so it's all good. Felt a little bad for the Latino dudes standing at the street corners, advertising/offering hookers to passers-by, with most guys trying to glance from the corners of their eyes without looking too interested.

- I had noticed this in Atlantic City, and was convinced of it in Vegas. Chinese people, especially older folks, are mad about gambling! Vegas, with no history of immigration from Asia, has a Chinatown, and tour bus companies abound, ferrying people from Vegas for day trips. Sort of explains the rise of Macau, no?

- Red Rock Canyon is a short drive from Las Vegas, and it’s apt that it has that singular in its name. We only ever saw one red rock (okay, hill for you quibblers) there, and the rest of the 13-mile drive was “routine” mountains and desert. Nice place, but not the highlight of the trip. That, my friends, would be...

- ...Death Valley!!! Places like this remind one that humans may build the mightiest cities, but these are no match for the beauty of nature. Death Valley is a bleak place, the hottest, driest and lowest point in North America. That turned out very nicely for us, because the low elevation meant it was warmer (ok, less colder) than the other places we went to. Hiking in Death Valley was not so difficult, but it was amazing how few people there were on the trails (and almost no one away from the trails). It is such a pleasing experience when the only sound you can hear is the crunch of the long-dried-out river bed under your feet. The Sound of Silence, you say?

- Driving to and from Death Valley gave us a glimpse of the US that we aren't used to. There are no big green signs telling you 10 miles in advance to take an exit. You take a state route, watch for a nondescript turn, drive over potholed roads. Very much like rural India. Some of those towns have a real frontier feel to them. You wouldn’t want to venture past these towns at night and/or in the summer without stocking up on supplies and survival gear.

- Zion National Park was the most spur-of-the-moment we made, and it was only because we didn't think we had it in us to drive to Bryce Canyon and back in one day. But again, it was awesome. The red colored road along the Zion Canyon floor matches the red sandstone cliffs towering on both sides. Zion seemed like a summer destination with streams and much greenery, but I'm glad we went there in the winter. Some of the trails were closed due to icy conditions, but this is a spectacularly beautiful place. I’m amazed by how varied the geography of the American West is. All you East Coast folks, do yourself a favor and head west for a vacation.

- Which brings us to our final destination. We parked the car 50 feet from the South Rim, made our way to the edge through throngs of people, and peered into the great big hole for a few minutes, too embarrassed to admit to each other that what was supposed to be the grand finale of the trip was a bit underwhelming. To be fair, Grand Canyon is indeed stunning, but when you’ve been bracing yourself for the stun for so long, the stunt gets a bit, well, stunted. Yes, I know we should’ve hiked at least some distance into the canyon, but it was icy and time was a bit tight. Also, all sources said the park would be empty in the winter, but we found it to be a zoo, with a thousand cars and a dozen tour buses (incidentally, what’s with Chinese/Japanese/Korean people and tour groups/buses? Ever seen a desi tour bus in the US?) If this is the scene in winter, I shudder to think how it must be in the summer!

- If you’re a National Park aficionado (like me), it’s a great idea to get the annual pass. It saved us at least 30 minutes, getting into Grand Canyon past the long line of cars and buses.

- Finally, this trip takes both NM's and my (US) state-count to/past 25. Woo-hoo!

And that, boys and girls, ends this travelogue. I'm glad I wrote this up before my memory got erased. Regular programming will restart soon from Never Mind (I hope...).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Road Trippin' the South-west.....(Guest post, part 1)

Happy New Year and all that jazz, people. Never Mind has lost her mind, and is down with writer’s block (yes, again). I’m the one referred to in these pages as the “the husband”. Going by my origins, you can call me John Gult :) This is my first blog post of any kind, so I hope I don’t cost her too many readers…

NM and I took a road trip last week. 2563 miles in all, across four states, over seven days. We had planned to do a day-by-day posting on this blog, but two things happened. One, apparently Priceline does not check if your would-be hotel has free wi-fi, and two, we got a bit shamed sitting around in the parking lots of coffee shops, searching for wi-fi signals to steal. I’m still going to pretend we’re doing a day-to-day posting though, and give you more wisdom about our trip than you care for. Pliss to excuse.

Here are some of the points that stuck in my head about our trip:

-You would think a driving time of nine hours from the Bay Area to LA, with an average speed of 25 mph for half the time, would mean a sucky day. Well, not when you are driving through the Big Sur. This region, with surprisingly little traffic, is spectacular, and the road, sandwiched between mountains and the Pacific has to be one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever taken. Supposedly, you can see whales while driving the road too. Methinks someone must’ve forgotten to notify the fishies that we were coming…

- Some dudes on the California coast have a lot of money, I tell you. How else do you explain these zebras grazing in a ranch a hundred meters from the ocean?

- Los Osos and Cayucos must be among the prettiest towns in the US. Actually looked like tropical resort towns, with bright multicolored houses fronting beautiful beaches.

-San Bernardino county, and California in general, are HUGE. Driving out of LA towards Las Vegas brings you across an amazing array of environments. From a coastal city full of beaches to snow-capped mountains to arid desert, all within an hour’s drive (well okay, considering LA’s traffic, three hours).

- There’s quite a few solar power plants (thermal, PV) in the Mojave desert of CA/AZ/NV. If only we could get either the price of silicon down, or the efficiency of other technologies higher…

- I’m still trying to figure out what exactly made us spend 50 bucks in Hollywood to go gawk at the homes of celebrities and movie stars for two hours. It was a sobering day for the Santa-costumed driver too, with 90% of his jokes and celebrity gossip fizzling out, what with 15 desis (coincidence, I may add), 2 Chinese and no Americans in his van. On the same note, it must’ve been a pretty low-tip day for him too ☺

- For a famous landmark, the Hollywood sign is visible from very few places. Yeah it's cheesy, but, c'mon of course we had to take pics with it.

- Christmas morning, guy walking on water. Wonder if he was the Big J…? (NM’s joke originally. Just so I don’t get accused of plagiarism…)

- Turns out there is indeed such a thing as too much free non-stop porn on TV. Add in a rat hole of a hotel room, torn threadbare towels and a non-functioning heater, and you have a contender for the worst hotel stay ever. This was self-inflicted pain though. I know we should’ve waited longer in that coffee shop parking lot for a reply from priceline, instead of rushing to the nearest hole-in-the-wall.

Ok, I get a feeling that's enough gyaan for today. If I don't scare off too many readers from here, I will post more details tomorrow (or whenever). Take care, people.