Saturday, January 28, 2012

A weekend in San Diego

The Coronado Bridge
San Diego is a wonderful south Californian city with history, museums, white sand beaches, natural landscapes and lots of things to enjoy for a comfortable and enjoyable weekend gateaway.
We had 3 full days on our itinerary.Since, it is only 2.5 hours away from Seattle, we flew into San Diego International Airport on a Saturday early morning. as we were landing, I noticed the yellow buildings with the red slanted roofs and the palm trees, memories of Florida just came rushing back, and with the thought of Florida, came my craving for Cuban food, only my taste buds knows for real how much I miss the cuban pollo and frittas and their secret sauces... but then we were now on the other coast!
We had booked ahead @ Holiday Inn on the Bay for the 3 nights. The hotel shuttle picked us up from the airport shuttle pick up area. Since the check in time was @ 3pm, we were apprehensive of having to leave our luggage with the concierge and come back later; but the check-in desk had our room ready @ 10:30 am when we arrived, and our day already had a nice start. The room was clean, bed was comfy, and it had wall to wall doors opening onto a balcony overlooking the bay. We freshened up, and went out. Just outside the hotel was the Maritime Museums and ferry dock.

We had to get on the boat named Star of India, but the boats were right outside our hotel,we decided to visit them later.

We bought one way tickets on the ferry to the Coronado Island. Being late December, the ferry ride was a little chilly in-spite of the very bright midday sun above us. The Coronado islands are part of the Baja California, I had always wondered where that was.Well, the main attraction on the island was the the famous Coronado hotel.The hotel was grand, and to our amusement, the original from which the Disney World's Coronado resort had been copied from, the exact yellow buildings with red roofs and beautifully lined palm trees to the details of the boardwalks over the water which beckoned one to the laps of a luxurious feeling. This hotel was the where the Marilyn movie "Some like it Hot" was shot.The long sandy and clean Coronado beach on the Pacific, behind the hotel was the juxtaposition-ed compliment for the complete unforgettable scenery.

@Coronado beach with the SandCastleMan's castle

After a whole one year, it felt so so good to be back under the bright sun on the white sand with the ocean sound.There was an ice skating on the boardwalk of the beach! imagine skating under the hot sun!

Inside Coronado hotel

first electrically lighted christmas tree        

We took the bus back which took us over the Coronado bridge.

I should also mention the awesome cupcake shop we found among the shops in the Ferry Landing market and the nice full views of the city of San Diego, with whatever majestic skyline this small city can boast of.

We were back on the mainland around sunset time, and our next stop was the Gaslamp Quarters of the city. This part was one of the oldest part of the city filled with pubs and restaurants and very very old and restored office buildings and now hotels. The crisp warm air was filled with laughter and music and we enjoyed our dinner at one of the steakhouses on the D Street. We walked back to our hotel. It was a lovely 15 minutes walk, the roads were straight, there were still lots of people on the streets at 11pm, and the weather was so comfortable, and we were full of energy.

On the second day, we were going to see los Angeles. I had always known California is the only state in US which boasts of wonderful public transport connectivity and I had full proof plans of exploiting this opportunity of a drive free short vacation. But of course, if we had a rental car, we would have toured the Torrey Pines State park that day on our way north to the City of Angels. We took the Amtrak from San Diego station. We had a shuttle from our hotel to the stop! our next stop was Los Angeles.The train ride was a complete hassle free and comfortable experience. Towards the end, the rail tracks were almost touching the sealine. From Los Angeles Amtrak station, we took  the metro to Hollywood. Hollywood was not as impressive as I had always imagined, well probably because we went as tourists.Anyways, we looked for our stars on the Walk of fame, saw the famous Hollywood sign, ate @ California Pizza Kitchen, went inside the Chinese theater, walked up the "red carpeted" Kodak theater, toured the Santa Monica beach, went on a double decker bus to see houses of celebrities. I dont know why but I never really enjoyed looking at million dollar houses from outside (didnt enjoy the tour in Miami either).. as we realized later on.. "well if we had expected Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts walking by.. and the photographers chasing them... we were bound for the big boring surprise !"

Twilight prints

found my favorite star!!

after his favorite song : Sunset Boulevard

By the time we reached back our hotel, we were dead tired anyways.

San Diego skyline

Next morning, we had breakfast at the Little Italy, another "touristy" neighourhood in the San Diego city. This place was also within a walking distance from our hotel. Oh, I had to mention the awesome sight of the big, very big cruise ship which had magically sprung up infront of our window that morning.It was very foggy and the sight was even more magical. At arounf 11am, the hotel shuttle dropped us off at the San Diego zoo. Well, there were many other options, but we had already been to the Sea World, the Universal Studios and our favorite Disney World like 50 times already.. on the other coast... so we decided to tour the Zoo instead. It is supposed to be one of the biggest zoos in the USA.I wanted to see the Pandas.The zoo had quite a few attractions with African elephants, tall giraffes, rhinos , Koalas, Cheetas, so many colourful birds, and of course the Pandas. The highlight of the tour was the Kakatua who laughed like a high pitched lady at us,the baby Panda eating bamboos, and the adorable lazy chimpanzees who was sadly knocking on the glass wall at the
visitors. The zoo has skyway rails and topless buses for ease of access for the visitors. These were all included in our ticket cost.



But the animals seemed very caged in the zoo. Disney had spoiled us with their magical experiences. Sure there were no pandas in Disney's Animal Kingdom, but once one had been there, I felt every other zoo would ever fail to live up to that standard.

Outside the zoo were the famous Balboa gardens. This landscape was developed for public amusement by the old Spanish government, who was ruling there many years ago. There were botanical gardens, ornate Spanish castles, lily ponds, fountains, and numerous museums. Most of the
museums needed a ticket to enter, but we wanted to see what was inside the one named Museum of Man.Then as we sat down on the benches near the fountain, with lemonade and fries, and talked about fun times, I was taking in the wonderful ambiance around us. There were artists playing flutes, on another corner some people were gathered around a man showing card tricks, there was the long line in front of the lemonade stall, children were splashing in the fountain waters, and everyone around was so happy like us.I realized happiness comes easy when people can be out with friends and loved ones and there is bright sunshine and flowers blooming and birds hopping about.Amongst all the things bright and colorful, thoughts of going back to Seattle seemed so cloudy and dreary.

old Spanish castle

lily pond in the Botanical Garden

@the Rose Garden

Our last stop was the Maritime Museums. We had 7 ships including submarines to explore for the price of one ticket ! My husband loves ships and history, and these ships were old antique ships which have outrunned their days in the sea, and were now docked on the coast of San Diego for good, and converted to museums for the interest of enthusiasts like my husband. If we had more time, we would have seen the USS naval ship which was used to carry fighter planes out into the sea during wartime.

a Port Hole View

inside a submarine

Monday, December 26, 2011

Visiting Florida

Florida in One Week

Florida is a long state - north of Florida to the keys is a 10 hours drive. World class theme parks, stretches of white sand beaches,hep metropolitan city-experience, exotic bird watching and quaint pirate towns are some of the highlights of a Floridian vacation. The list is enough for a week's indulgence.
Lets assume you fly into the Orlando International Airport. Now, Orlando itself has enough things-to-do and places-to-see to fill up a week's time. But lets spend only 3 days here. The visitor has to choose between the 4 Disney parks, 2 Universal Studio parks, 2 Sea World parks, the Gatorland, a trip to the Kennedy space museum and Cocoa Beach, when he has limited time.

Dolphin feeding @ Sea World,Orlando

Some of the must places to hit are:
DAY 1:
Disney World's Magic kingdom - caters to the interests of both travellers with or with-out children.The Cinderella's castle, the Philharmonic 3D show, 'its a small world' ride are some of my recommendations. Children will definitely have plenty of more things to do like meeting the Mickey Mouse, but if you are adult traveler and waiting in line for a photo with the Mouse doesn't tickle your fantasy, I should recommend you getting a Park Hopper ticket. It allows you to see more than 1 Disney parks in a day.The second park recommended for an adult traveler is the E.P.C.O.T with the very slow but wonderful ride through the human progress in the big round dome, the GM-test-drive-ride, and the miniatures of different countries sprawling around the lake. One can get the taste of the different cultures and cuisines as he travels from Mexico to the UK around the globe.


The must must ride you should get on is the Soaring. It is an exhilarating and awesome experience of flying over the state of California. I recommend getting a fast pass for the ride as soon as you get into E.P.C.O.T, and then explore the rest of the park, to avoid long lines for the ride. The normal wait is often 2-3 hours, and if you don't collect the fast pass before 12pm, you are most likely to get a slot after 4 hours- so plan accordingly.Whichever park you are in the day time, you should come back to the Magic Kingdom at around 7pm to grab a spot in front of the Castle for the daily Spectromagic parade followed by the truly magical 'Wishes' fireworks around the castle.

Wishes Fireworks

DAY 2:
On the second day, lets venture to the Universal Studios to explore the world of Harry Potter.I had found it as a very magical adventurous theme park. You can find the Three Broomsticks Restaurant, Hogshead pub with a real hog's head, the butterbear stalls, the newspapers cuttings with moving characters and the very fascinating ride of Harry Potter and the Forbidden journey.

Simpson's 4D ride @ Universal Studio's Adventureland

The Hogwarts Park

Though, I think this is more worth a visit, you can instead want to visit the Sea World. This is also an wonderful experience with shows with killer sharks and pet animals, and opportunities to feed baby dolphins.
DAY 3:
On the second evening, drive east from Orlando to the Cocoa Beach, and stay the night there. Wake up to the sounds of the strong waves and a brilliant sunrise sight. In the daytime, get over to the NASA's Kennedy space center ( Now, who does not find space exploration fascinating? Now, if you are lucky, you can get a chance to witness a live shuttle launch while in the area. If you are not driving, there are daily package tours from Orlando to the Space centre.

Clearwater Beach

DAY 4:
On the fourth day, start west from Orlando or Cocoa towards Tampa. You may opt to make a small stop at the Seminole Hard Rock casino ( It is only about 15 minutes drive from the city. If you did not see the Disney World's Animal Kingdom, you can visit the Busch Gardens in Tampa today. Have a fun day with wild life safaris and dangerously fun roller coaster rides. 

Tiger Hole @ Disney's Animal Kingdom

In the evening, drive further west to the Clearwater Beach.

Sunset @ Clearwater

You can alternatively stay in the St Petersburg city. These are cities with award winning white sand gulf beaches. Stay the night on one of the gulf beaches.
DAY 5:
On the fifth day in the morning, venture south after crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the Pinnealas County. It is a magnificent sight of architectural achievements made by mankind.

Sunshine Skyway bridge

From there the Everglades National Park is a 3 hours drive. You can make a stop at Sarasota if it seems a very long stretch to drive. Sarasota's Siesta Key Beach is one Florida's best. Or Ft Meyers is also a good stop. Details of Everglades NP can be found here: Everlades NP blog entry
DAY 6:
Key West from Everglades is a 4 hours long drive. The two way narrow US 1 is not a safe road to drive in the night. Besides you will also miss out on the wonderful feeling of driving over the ocean.

US 1

So, spend the fifth night in any of the modest accommodations in the Everglades City, and start early next morning.
DAY 7: 
Key West is a pirate city. Besides sea activities, other suggested activities are the Ghost Tours (Tripadvisor review), sunset celebrations at Mallory Square and seafood and key-lime pie eat outs. Key West was actually our favorite weekend gateway when we were Orlando residents. Key West is the southernmost point of the Continental US. If you have an extra day, you can make a day trip to Tortugas National Park -

Sunset @ Mallory Square

Leave Key West for Miami on the 7th day. One of our favorite stop on the way from Key West to Miami is Bahaia Honda State Park. 

Bahaia Honda SP

Miami, like Orlando can again be a vacation spot on its own, depending on your tastes.
DAY 8:
There is the magnificent South Beach, the millionaire houses and plethora of sea activities to explore here. Miami has the Hollywood touch to its style and glitz. It is a perfect city for a luxurious gateaway. You can catch your flight home on the eighth evening from Miami International airport.
Also note that you can also use the Key West internal airport EWY, if you want to make it a keys-vacation. Or Ft Lauderdale airport is also an alternative. It is only 45 minutes from Miami.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

4 days in Rome

Rome, the eternal city was very welcoming with a cosmopolitan city feeling. The lady of our hotel/apt. did not speak English at all. After a rather difficult first encounter with her, the later meetings went quite smooth in English and Italian with an hand-gesture-interface. The hotel/apt was very nice considering the high walls, old windows, 2 minutes walking distance from the Colosseum, the punctual and meticulous room keeping services , delightful fresh Camay soap bars every day and the daily breakfast at a roadside cafe on the Cavour street, included in our hotel cost.
Stayed @ Cheap & Chic Hotel Roma, Rome, IT

Nero's racing grounds near Ludus Magnus
We spent the whole of our first day in Colosseum area. We had the Roma pass, and so we were allowed to skip the line, both at Colosseum, and the Palatine garden and Roman Forum opposite the Colosseum. For a classic Hollywood movie lover like me, traveling with a strong history buff as my husband, 4 days in Rome fell short to satisfy us, more so when one of those 4 days we had to visit the Vatican city. We wanted to explore every bit of the ancient(Colosseum,Forum,museums), medieval (the obelisks and cathedrals) and new world Rome. The ROMA pass was a great help, as we took the bus and underground trains everywhere, round and round over the city. We even stopped at the Ludus Magnus where now stands only two stones bearing evidence of an once very popular gladiator training school, we stood on the side of the road where once Reno drove his carriage like a madman, the Via Appia Antica -  the first road ever built, and put our hands in the Mouth of Truth which cuts your hand if you tell a lie.

Temple of Saturn
 And then, all the churches in Europe are famous, specially the ones in Rome. One had St Peter's chains, one had the saint's head, one had the stairs which Jesus Himself had strided on His way to crucification (we saw pilgrims crying there. Rudy is an atheist, but he joined the pilgrims who were climbing the steps on their knees, and he had found it too overbearing and did not finish his climb. I felt he was on the verge of conversion amongst believers that day.). We also went to the church which was the old home to the Pope before the St Paul's cathedral.

Abandoned/ancient St Paul's Cathedral


Roman Pantheon




Pope's old home

boy taking out thorn(Roman replica from the original Greek one)

Venus lost her clothes somewhere
..caught telling a lie
One of the Pontificus Maximus

Gift of Govt. of India to the Govt. of Rome

With all the history, relics, stories, architecture, and of course good food, Rome was surely a very overwhelming experience for us. So I remembered to throw a penny over my left shoulder in the Trevi Fountain so that some day we can go back to Rome.

Next time, I will not miss the trip to Pompei - the city frozen in time.