Thursday, December 22, 2016

America

I was on a visit to US on a personal cum business trip with couple of friends in June 2016.

We were booked on Qatar Airways from Mumbai to New York with a stop over at Doha which we booked well in advance for its low price. We reached Doha early morning local time. Doha airport along with Qatar airlines is one of the hubs serving mostly international passengers from Asia to Europe and Americas. The airport appeared warm with some attractions like a giant teddy and small jurassic theme park with a roaring dinosaur! Had a cup of Qahwa Arabiya, a tea made of saffron served with a date. Also exchanged some Qatari currency as souvenir.
Jurrasic theme park at Doha airport

Qahwa Arabiya

The flight from Doha to New York was uneventful, watched couple of movies. This time we landed at JFK and after immigration we were out. We had booked ourselves in AirBnB lodgings for the trip. Our accommodation for first day was at Queens and it took 45 minutes to reach there by cab. The accommodation was decent and close to NY subway. From the time we reached, we slept all the way upto next morning. We just had one day in New York coming into US and were going to return while going back to India. We checked out from our accommodation and went to Times Square, Manhattan to meet a friend and from there we were going to go to Newark for our flight to Los Angeles.

We took subway and came to 42nd Street/Times Square. My friend works in a consulting firm in New York and stays in Allentown, PA. He rents a room for 3 days a week when he is in the city. So, we parked our luggage in his room at his hotel. I have been to New York before but for my friends this was the first time. It was so nostalgic to be back at Time square after several years. The place is so energetic with swarm of people walking around, traffic, shops spilling over, sky scrapers and touristy stuff to attract visitors.
Around Times Square

Times Square
We first went to AT&T store and purchased prepaid cards and then went to Chipotle to have lunch. Chipotle is old time favourite with familiar tasting food, burrito. At around 4PM we left hotel to catch our flight from Newark. We thought of taking Airport Express from Port Authority but after delay of upto an hour we got jittery and jumped into a cab and hoping that we don't miss our flight. Thankfully, we made it in the nick of time and after security we directly walked into the flight. Here I observed how flying is such common place and routine for folks here. Everyone was prepared for upcoming flight wearing shorts, loafers, neck pillow and music in ear. Not surprising as US has enormous number of airlines and flights. Our carrier was United Airlines with three of us having different seats. I was not looking forward to 5 hours of flight and kept on looking at watch. When we started to approach Los Angeles, its vast expanse was visible with lights. 

Los Angeles is know to be spread out in a large area. We took cab to our next accommodation in Los Angeles. It was at the center of Los Angeles in Baldwin Hills area. The street had independent houses with lawn in front and backyard. We hardly saw anyone hanging around their houses which was quite surprising to my friends. The house where we stayed belonged to an African-American mother-daughter in catering business. It was nice to interact with them. On the first day we quickly figured out the bus stop, train station and grocery, food outlets and bought some groceries for next 3-4 days worked on our assignment. 

3-June: Next day we went to visit Hollywood. While we walked into walk of fame a tourist guide approached us with an hour of round around Hollywood area which sounded reasonable, so we went ahead. The vehicle was open air and seemed to common around the place. The driver kept of telling different points mainly homes of actors or studios and other trivia stuff. We went to top of Hollywood bowl overlook from where scenes were breathtaking but little hazy. Hollywood sign was visible from distance.
View from Hollywood bowl viewpoint

Hollywood sign at distance
The driver took us through streets like Rodeo drive, Sunset boulevard which are made famous in movies like Pretty Woman.

Rodeo Drive

Some famous landmark in Hollywood

Street in Hollywood
After the tour we were dropped back at walk of fame where we were trying to spot stars of famous celebs and found some whom we knew. Hollywood like Times Square was teeming with tourists. There are many attractions like Theatres, Wax museum, Shopping, Souvenir shops all themed around Hollywood movies. Along with that there are lot of artists made up like famous characters from movies like Spiderman, Captain Jack Sparrow. These are all amateur artists who show mimic the stars and earn some money by donation. But they make street scene quite vibrant. Also some artists try to sell CDs of their performances for small amounts. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant and felt nice. We rode LA metro going upto North Hollywood. Did some souvenir shopping and hung around the Walk of fame.
Walk of fame

Star for Johnny Depp

Crows around Walk of Fame 
Marilyn Monroe outside wax museum



Walk of Fame

Alice in Wonderland Artist

Taking picture with Artists
4-June: We had come for a little promotion for which we had ordered some handouts to be printed. Today we went to collect them first and then came to Culver city. For the initial leg we traveled on light rail called Expo line. At Culver city there was a film festival going on and we were going to talk to few people there.
Expo Line

Our train

Film Festival at Culver City
After our little promotion was over, we decided to proceed to a meetup which was located on Santa Monica. We first went to Santa Monica beach which was all foggy and ocean was hardly visible and there was chill in the air. The Santa Monica pier is a long wooden flea market with shops, eateries, rides and artists showing their performances. There is also a giant wheel there. We did not go sandy beach as we didn't have much time, so we just hung around observing the going ons. We missed a bus which would have taken us to meetup by seconds so we dropped the plan and returned back to our lodging.
Santa Monica foggy

Santa Monic beach foggy

Santa Monica pier

Musician dressed like Jesus
Giant wheel on pier 
Foggy
Outside Santa Monica
5-June: Today was last day for us in LA. First we went to downtown by the Expo line and went around the blocks looking at the skyscrapers. We then came back to Hollywood for another round of promotion and tried talking to folks. Today was another street experience a little further from walk of fame with Captain America, Charlie Chaplin and even an ISCKON group promoting.
LA Downtown

Banks in LA Downtown
ISCKON group

Captain America
My friends had decided to travel from LA to San Jose by train which hugs the pacific coast. However, I thought I will skip that and take overnight bus to San Jose so that I get full day to meet few people in Bay Area. So, I started from our guest house at 8:30 pm. To get to the Greyhound bus station, I was to change two buses. At the exchange bus stop, I was the lone passenger waiting for bus late in the night a little spooky. However, the bus came and dropped me in front of the Greyhound bus station. The bus station was buzzing with lot of departures. I got my boarding pass and waited for the announcement. The bus half-full and I settled in one of the back seats. After I fell asleep I woke only on the announcement of arriving at San Jose.

6-June: My brother-in-law picked me up from bus stop. After breakfast, one of the friend picked me up and went to Santa Clara station to do some railfanning. After watching couple of Caltrains, we went to have lunch at a Pakistani Restaurant Shalimar in Fremont. After that we went to see Nile's Canyon Railway which is a private line and run tourist specials on Sundays. While we were approaching it, I saw a steam loco scurrying away. But before I could fish out my camera it was gone. While coming back we saw the tourist train.
Santa Clara station

Track crossing at Nile's Canyon

Caught the train on Nile's canyon from car

My friend dropped me back at Alum Rock station from where I caught the VTA to Santa Teresa, changed over at Tasman and caught another one to San Jose station.  In the evening again went to San Jose station to collect my friends coming from LA and then went to another friend of mine to stay for 2-3 days. This was in Cupertino.

6-June: San Francisco

We decided to go to San Francisco in the morning for sight-seeing. My friend dropped us at Sunnyvale station from there we caught Caltrain and got down at 4th & King's street, the last station of Caltrain. This was my third visit to San Francisco having been here in 2004, 2009 and now 2016! If I were alone, I would have walked down the Embarcadero hugging the coast in such a bright sunny day but my friends were not ready. So, had to take SF Muni to get down at Pier 33.
Caltrain station SFO

4th & King street

Oakland Bay Bridge

Embarcodero

SF Muni to Fisherman's Wharf
We thought of taking Alcatraz cruise but to our surprise, the cruise was all pre-booked and the latest booking they had of a month later. Sheepishly we came out and bought combo tickets to do simple Bay cruise and Aquarium. Pier 39 is hub of activities. There are number of attractions like Aquarium, eateries, shops selling souvenirs and lot of sail boats in the dock.


Bay cruise was good watching views of SFO from distance and the accompanied commentary. Near the Golden gate at the mouth of the bay, it was a bit chilly and windy so had to cover up. We circled the Alcatraz island and came back to Pier 39.
Alcatraz Island from distance

Onboard bay cruise

Under Golden Gate bridge

The pier has wooden platforms for Seals to come of water and rest in the sun. Seagull is a common bird around here and form good objects to shoot. We had lunch at Wipeout Bar & Grill which was full of activity and had wooden tables in the sunlight. After that we went to Aquarium which had really great exhibits and one of my favourite being yellow Jellyfish and shoals of sardines.
Lunch at Wipeout Grill & Bar

Jelly Fish at Bay Aquarium
I had a family friends son working in San Francisco and we fixed a meeting place at a cafe on Mason Street which is on the heritage cable car route. There are two lines - one is Powell & Mason and second one is California & Hyde. Cable cars on undulating clean streets and views of the Bay one catches from the narrow street openings is something which make San Francisco so beautiful. However when we reached at Powell & Mason St one, there was a queue and looked like its going to take a while, so we just walked all the way to Mason St.
Powell & Mason Sts

Cable car on undulating streets
California & Hyde
It was ok for me as riding one or taking pictures form outside was equal thrill. As Mason street while we waited for my contact to arrive, I figured that Cable Car museum is just on the opposite. I toured the museum and came to know about rich history. There was two cables which go around the entire route non-stop and cable car has to hook onto them and get carried away.
Cable car mechanism
After our meeting, we caught a bus to Caltrain station and returned back to our jaunt in Cupertino.

7-June: Next day we returned to San Francisco, this time to visit Golden gate bridge. There was some confusion about where to catch the bus but after having the right bus we came to Golden gate. From Golden gate park we walked on the Golden gate bridge and went half-way across and then returned.
Golden Gate bridge

Golden Gate
 After that we came by bus to Ghirardelli Square which houses the famous chocolate factory cum shopping center. We bought some souvenir chocolate and walked back to Fisherman's wharf. The place is full of sea-food joints with their fares in full display - crabs, shrimps in combos or stuffed in sandwich breads. I was thinking of having Clam Chowder for some time and thought of giving it a try. After looking at number of joints we decided on one and bought it. The broth was given in a round hollowed out bread. It was decent in taste but not that great either.
Fisherman's Wharf

Shops showcasing their fare

Clam chowder
After that we returned back to Mountain View to meet couple of friends from my organization who are on long term assignment in Bay area. We walked down the Mountain View downtown and settled on a restaurant and talked away in the evening.

8-June: Next day first went to meet a friend at Sunnyvale and then went for lunch with another family friend at Madras Cafe. After that went to visit Winchester Mystery house in San Jose. The mystery is that the house never got completed building. Later in the evening we went to San Jose downtown and visited Tesla showroom to checkout their vehicles. I sat in one of their cars and found that an entire monitor is fitted inside.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

Tesla showroom, San Jose
We had ordered a macbook which we also collected from one of the Apple stores where the device was is made available within a day for delivery. Later just strolled around San Jose downtown.

10-June: We started in the morning and went to Apple campus at 1, Infinite Loop, Cupertino.
1, Infinite Loop, Apple
 Its a legitimate tourist stopover. But we were going to get inside thanks to my relative. Idea was that we would have lunch at Apple's main campus which we did. It was all crowded but variety of dishes, ambience etc. were just like their products. We came out satisfied and went to Google campus which is located in Mountain View. While we were going there, we also spotted Google's driverless car.
Google driverless car on Google street

Google visitors
At Google we just went around the building from visitors entry. After Apple, Google the big one left was Facebook which is located in Menlo Park. Facebook has planted a hoarding outside for tourists to take pictures.

Facebook
Apple, Google and Facebook among the few companies which are so well-known across the world and located so close by along with few others like Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce etc. After this we went to Stanford University which produces people who work at such companies. There is a huge ground in front of the main building. The rest of the buildings are spread out in classic style with long hallways with arched pillars, sloping red tiled roofs. Everything looked all so artistically done. At one fountain inside, students were enjoying the waters in their bathing clothes! One wonders, why wouldn't the students excel in such an environment.
Stanford University

Inside campus
That ended our tour of Bay Area. Before we leave for airport for our flight to New York, we went to an Ethiopian restaurant called Zeni to have dinner. The Ethiopian food is served on a large bread called Injera with different entrees.

Later we came to SFO and boarded our Virgin America flight to New York. It was a night flight so could sleep for some time.

11-June: We again got down at JKF and took a cab to our lodging this time in Brooklyn. This apartment was a living room and a bedroom with kitchen though a little old style. First day we visited Times Square again in the evening.
Times Square

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park 
Central Park

From there we went to attend a movie screening in one of the parks and then back to our lodging. Next day I visited Central Park as I had not visited it my earlier trips. Central Park is known as lungs of the NY and it really is a contrast from the surroundings. The park was full with visitors. I called up my friend who lives in Allentown, PA and decided to visit him and family and stay overnight. From Central Park came to Port Authority on 42nd Street, caught the bus and was in Allentown by evening. My friend picked me up and we went to his home. He has a nice, big house in countryside a little away in Allentown but he was going to soon move out. The community looked so beautiful that I wonder why you he was moving out?
Community at Friend's place
But this being country side its hard when it comes to access and because of this the price of houses also hardly budge. Rest of the time at his place went in reminiscing old times. Next day I returned back by same bus and to Port Authority and then to 33rd street near Empire state building. I had to meet an old friend in New Jersey in the evening. I took PATH train to cross the Hudson and got down at Newport. The promenade around the station was nice to ogle at Manhattan skyline.
Manhattan from Newport

World Trade Center
The friend called up and said that he would be late so I thought of visiting World Trade Centre (WTC) which is built in same location as twin towers. This time instead of taking PATH, I took the ferry from Newport jetty to WTC over Hudson. Bought the $34 ticket to go to 82nd viewing gallery. The elevator was fast and caused ears to ring. The view from the top was really awesome. One could Manhattan, New Jersey skyline, boats in Hudson and East river and planes taking off from JFK and Newark and Staten Island in distance. After that I again came back to Newport mall where met my friend. After that I did some shopping at JC Penney and had food at Chipotle before heading back.

14-June: On our last day in US, we had flight from JFK late in the night but we had a checkout early. We kept our packed luggage at the lodging and headed out to have one last glimpse of the city. One friend went to our lodging where he had left his jacket to pick it up. The rest two of us went to Brooklyn bridge and walked all the way and crossed it.
Brooklyn Bridge
From there went to Wall Street just to have a walk around. Visited Trinity church which is a beautiful structure and also photograph with the big bull.

Big bull
One keeps on hearing of stories and movies like Wolf of Wall Street of how many people made fortunes on these streets and went bust too. Never mind for we being tourists it was not that intimidating. After that we returned back to our lodging, picked up our luggage and took a cab to JFK. That ended our whirlwind trip to USA criss-crossing it. Hopefully, next time I will be able to do a train journey across US as depicted here

1 comment:

Applykaroo said...

very nice post pretty much interesting. thanks!

train running status
pnr status