Saturday, 31 May 2014

Being a tourist in San Francisco for 8 hours

It was a bright and sunny day in Dublin, San Jose - it was what they call a typical Californian day with a clear blue sky. We were on our way to San Fracisco in the BART train.

On reaching SFO, we walked around union square for a bit checking out the big brands that have their stores around this place. SFO was unlike any city I had been until then, the population was very cosmopolitan yet it was not a very fast paced life .. And most important of all, it has a beautiful coastline, I instantly fell for the place. 

I totally believe, one gets to know a place best when explored on foot. So we decided to give the customary hop on hop off sightseeing bus a miss and decided to walk around union square, china town before heading to Amber for lunch.

Walking along union square

Few of the many items that were lined up in the stores in China town

The food was sumptuous and perfect adding to my already oh! so! perfect day. To me good food = happiness ! After the meal we walked to the union square and queued along with other travellers, excited to take a ride on the cable car. Until I reached this queue I was assuming to be taking a typical cable car ride (a cabin moving around in a cable much above ground level). These were much different in that sense, they were tram like vehicles moving along cabled rails in the road.

After getting to know the history behind the cable car, we waited eagerly for our chance to ride it. while we waited in the queue, I noticed other passengersin the cable car were more thrilled by taking a ride on the foot board, considering this was the only mode of transport in SFO were foot boarding was permitted unlike in India where we see this day in and day out in buses and sometimes in trains too ;) I rode the cable car on foot board too !

Waiting in the queue to ride the cable car

Clicked while foot boarding in the cable car ;)

After an almost 15 mins ride we got off and walked towards Lombard street - which supposedly is the world's crookedest street, and you need special skill to drive there. And walking down the street leads you to Ghirardelli square. The houses along this stretch is fabulous.

Lombard street - world's most crookedest street
Ghirardelli square is lively ! In addition to their famous chocolates, I would suggest each of you visiting the place to try out their ice creams. Their ice creams taste fresh and delicious and seem to be very popular with the locals. A walk inside Ghirardelli's facility give you a complete walk through of preparing a chocolate from bean to bar.

Walking along the coast line towards Fisherman's Wharf is beautiful, with famous bakeries and tiny stores selling quirky items. The sea lions at Pier 39 are fun to watch except for the not so pleasant smell.

Checking out the magician, hard rock cafe and the lefty's store at Pier 39 .. we settled in to munch on some crepes before we boarded out train back to Dublin for the night. Phew ! whatta fun filled happy day it was with the family :)

Sunday, 11 May 2014

CALIFORNIA ! - Day 1 - San Jose

We took an early morning flight out of Houston to San Jose, and reached the city just before noon. Oh ya, did I say we had a transit through the airport in LA. I was surprised to see slot machines right in the airport.. I will probably go to LA one day, more about the place then ..

The only reason I love early morning flights - Beautiful colours

After being received by my uncle and aunt at the San Jose Oak aiport, we headed to their home which was our place of stay for the next couple of days. After a sumptuous Indian meal and discussing on the places we plan to visit in the next few days. We took a drive around the neighbour hood.

We drove through the Apple's one infinite loop campus at Cupertino, Silicon valley - crossing Google, Linkedin, Stanford and numerous other campuses before heading to Madras cafe. The place in and around Madras cafe was quite literally like a scene out of a quaint grocery store and quick eat udipi food place in Chennai - right from the way the place looked, to its smell filled with spices, grains etall and of course the people running the place.

Evening snack at Madras cafe

As we drove through the Stanford campus

We treated ourself to a variety of chaat for dinner that night at an Indian eatery.

Soul food !!

In case you are wondering why I am sticking on to eating Indian food despite me liking to try out the local cuisine of the place I visit, it is because of the fact that I know I am not going to get any Indian food for the next week or so. However, alien the place is as long as one gets to eat their soul food every thing else falls in place.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

My memorable 8 hours in Trivandrum

I have visited this beach city along India's west coast numerous times on work and what surprised me most about Kerala's captial city is the laid back attitude of its people which during many occasions made me think Kochi was Kerala's capital as it seemed more buzzing with activity.

I think it is this laid backness and the city's proximity to many beach destinations that has made Trivandrum one of my favourite places in South India. This time over when I got an opportunity to explore the city during one of my work visits, I took the day on my stride and charted my own plan to visit places and booked the cab and took off..

My first trip all by myself .. exploring a city that I always enjoyed being in ..

I had booked an 8 hour cab package with my hotel 'Ginger', the cab had arrived at sharp 8:30 am while I was in still in my breakfast table.

8:45 am - started from the hotel and let my cab driver know of my itinerary for the day. The cab driver seemed very interested in showing his city to me and suggested few places as well..

9:20 am - I reached Padmanabhasamy temple and Kuthiramaliga palace, adjacent to the temple. I skipped visiting the temple and directly entered the palace. On walking few meters into the palace premise made me feel I was the only one at this time walking in .. as I continued walking in.. i could spot families and bunch of teenagers waiting to take the guided tour through the palace . I joined them, as I waited for the tour to start clicked few pics of the palace.

The entire palace seemed more homely than lavish. We were told music festival is conducted during 6th to 12th of January every year as the king of Travancore was a huge fan of art, culture and music.

10:45 am - I am fond of Kerala food, banana chips and jackfruit chips fried in coconut oil. So, was in the look out for the best place to buy these chips for the folks back at home and google suggested Maha chips in east fort road, about 10 mins drive away from Padmanabhasamy temple.

One side of the shop is lined with different varieties of halwas and the other side lined with baskets of freshly prepared chips of different kinds. Love the variety and quality of chips at Maha chips.
After purchasing few kgs to take back with me to Chennai and couple of packs for Saji, the cab driver who was heloing me out in the new city. I headed to Vivata by Taj, Kovalam for their Sunday brunch.

12:30 pm - Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam is chic, warm service and relaxing. I have always felt Taj group offered the best service in the country. Just before deciding to head to Taj, I visited Leela, Kovalam and I walked around the place to get the information I wanted for about 15 mins before deciding to head to Taj, the choice I made while planning my day.

I only remember walking in alone, during the 3 hours I spent there it felt so warm, right from the guy at the reception to the buggy driver everyone had a conversation and made me feel comfortable and at ease. They were extra special considering I was a solo woman visiting their hotel.

There was a french lady performing a live music gig, a magician entertain with a trick at the brunch table, an artist making a sketch of the visitors.. The beach is not accessible from the hotel, I think that is the way it is in Kovalam. It is blocked with rocks. So you can see the beach and feel the breeze but you cannot go drench your feet or take a swim at the beach.

View of the beach made me want to experience more of it.

3:45 pm - I wanted to head to Shangumugam beach to view the sunset. Driver Saji suggested I drop by Veli, a tourist village for a bit before heading to the beach as it may be quite hot considering the time of the day.  I took a stroll along Veli, it is more like a huge park with kids play area, few shops and boating along the back waters..

4:30pm - Reached Shangumugam beach and spent almost an hour people watching, enjoying the cool breeze from the Arabian sea and clicking pics. It happened to be a cloudy day and sunset was more hazy than usual, however beautiful !!!

After almost exceeding an hour of the pre booked cab package of 8 hours, I reached back Ginger at 5:45pm and an almost free one hour cab ride. Saji turned out to become more like a big brother of sorts advising me on not to venture out alone and denied to take any payment for the additional hour usage of the cab. Beautiful place, wonderful people, great food !!!

It is also a safe place for women travelling alone before dusk sets in. However be wary of your surroundings

If you need more details about the place, drop in a comment. Would be happy to help :)