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Travelogue: California

Time for annual trip and this time it was Cali aka California. A home for Hollywood.

calif1Source: WWW

California, KA-LI-FOUR-NI-YA, with a postal code abbreviation of CA, is one of the largest States in the USA.

I live in East Coast i.e., East side of USA. It takes 8 – 10 hours, just the flying time, from CT / Boston / NY to reach CA. This is my second visit to CA. First time, I covered Los Angeles in 2007.

Back2Basics:  The USA has various time zones. East Coast is 3 hours ahead of West Coast. Going to West Coast had saved us some time but while coming back it evened out.

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This time, it was a trip of 7 days where in first and last days were kept aside for flying. Total 5 full days on hand. One thing I did differently this time is planning on the go. The adventure was pick the places to see and then find accommodation close by, on the go. No more cookie-cutter package deal. What’s the benefit? Your almost get localite’s knowledge about the place by the end of the trip.

As soon as I have decided CA trip, I called few friends who lives or had lived in CA to understand accommodation challenges. Then started planning rest of the trip from there.

Pre-requisites:

  • Where you want to land? CA is a big State, remember!!!
  • What you want to see?
  • What is your budget?
  • Understand CA map and Counties

My vacation theme:

    • Nature
    • Famous tourist spots

My requirements:

    • Fly to SFO
    • Rent a car
    • Find accommodation at the places of visit
    • I don’t swim, so I always look for something adventurous or moving than sitting at one place whole day

Trip planner:

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Reservations:

  • As I mentioned before, you can either go with a complete package tour so that you can cover whatever Travel Agents are offer. Or you can Plan on the go so that you have a freedom of what you want to see
  • PriceLine-dot-com was the go-to site for flight booking and hotel booking in SFO. As usual, last minute booking. 🙂
    • Always look for return flights from international / big airport(s) ; for example, there’s a difference flying from BDL to SFO VS Boston / NY to SFO
    • It is important to learn local safety to zero-in the hotel locations especially in SFO city
      • I have asked friends and read hotel reviews from TripAdvisor before finalizing the location to book the hotel
      • If I understand correctly, some hotels don’t provide complimentary breakfast. While booking do check what hotel is offering

Handy Websites:

  • Hotels-dot-com provides consolidated view of all hotels with ratings and prices
  • Expedia-dot-com is for package deals. Try Flight + Hotel + Car, you will get amazing package deals. In addition do look their “things to do” section
  • PriceLine-dot-com –> Express Deals, is another good option in case of last minute bookings
  • For parking, try SpotHero app. I would say, it’s a mandatory app for all of us to look for various parking locations along with prices. Great collection of parking spots across the nation
  • Rentalcars-dot-com is another great site for car rentals
    1. Your Visa card offers Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) on rental cars
    2. In addition, if you have auto insurance with Comprehensive and Collision coverages, your insurance company extends it to rental cars too
    3. This way, you don’t have to take CDW from rental car agency
    4. NOTE: Do confirm with your credit card and insurance agencies about rental car coverage. Don’t just go by what I say as your case may be different

Paper or Plastic:

  • Always carry some cash on hand. In case your bank’s ATM is not close by, then partner ATM’s charge $4 service charge per transaction

Food – Local or Global:

  • You get global food (all kinds of cuisines around)
  • Don’t forget to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf

Dressing:

  • SFO city was little colder, light warm wear would be perfect
  • Lake Tahoe was hot / humid; comfortable wear would save you from sweating
  • Sneakers, flip flops and sun screen are a must pack

Words of caution:

  • Heard and saw that some blocks in SFO are not safe; pick your location wisely
  • Start your day early and get back to the room early, if possible. Be safe

Hi-lights of the trip:

  • Donner Lake, Truckee, CA
    1. Still waters make your senses calm. Donner Lake is small and beautiful in a very friendly Village
    2. You find old-fashioned restaurants and worth taking a walk along the lake
    3. Why I chose Truckee?
      1. If you want to visit Lake Tahoe, the closest places you can rent hotels are Tahoe City, Incline Village, South Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Carson City
      2. After doing some research, I zeroed-in Truckee as it is a perfect place to get to other locations easily. And I am glad I did it.
      3. Kings Beach, Squaw Valley, and  Incline Village are near. In addition, Reno (Nevada) is within the driving distance
        1. Squaw Valley – this is where Winter Olympics happened in 1960
      4. Incline village shops reminds you of 1960s look
  • Kings Beach, CA
    1. A sneak peak of Lake Tahoe
    2. You are not there yet, but yet you are J
    3. And boat-watching is a pleasure. You have various boats, canoes, kayaks, and standing kayaks. Oh my my, even the most talkative people get quieter here
  • Mount Rose, NV
    1. The drive from Truckee to Virginia City thru Mount Rose was the best thing happened on that particular day. You can see some splendid scenic views
    2. Lake Tahoe’s aerial view (I mean, view from Vista Points) is something you want to capture in your cell phones or cameras. You become a kid, as you get close to Vista points (Vista Point – designated scenic view spot)
    3. Mountains, deserted roads, narrow roads, steep roads, and beautiful sceneries, are all yours throughout the drive
  • Virginia City, Reno, NV
    1. Antiques are our past lives. Period!
    2. If you are going to Tahoe, don’t miss this place
    3. This is a dramatic place where entire village set up is historical. Park your car, and start walking. Every shop has “flashback” look and every piece they sell is an antique
    4. You can visit oldest churches and museums. Remember, Cow-boy’s era, yeah, you feel that heat in here. You can almost spend an entire day
    5. This was not in my original plan. I have added it in the last minute per Hotel Rep’s suggestion
  • Lake Tahoe, CA
    1. Before I talk about the beauty of Lake Tahoe, let me talk about the steep roads. Honestly, I was very nervous while driving the steep road where either side has no railings. Don’t even think of getting distracted here. Quite a scary drive. I wonder, how bad the drive will be in peak Winters especially with snow around
    2. Lake Tahoe is shared by California and Nevada states. If you are CA side, you hit Tahoe City while driving to Lake Tahoe. It’s a good place to look around, and eat
    3. After the stressful drive, you hit Vista Point. The favorite place for shutterbugs to capture great nature. Parking is limited here, so good luck
    4. The next place is Vikingholm Castle. Again limited ticketed parking. If not, feel free to park on the side of the road properly. Little carelessness or leaving the car in no-parking zones will result in towing in seconds. Vikingholm Castle will take you close to the beach area. I was told, Vikings use to go to the mini-island in the center of Tahoe to drink tea daily. Weird are the way of rich people!vikingholm
      1. To get to the beach area, you have to walk approx. 2 miles one way. On a hot day, mind you, it’s exhausting. Have water bottles handy
      2. Near the beach, you have some benches around to sit and watch waters, people and boats. If you wish to go to mini-island, you can either rent a kayak or go on cruise trips
      3. Like humans, even waters have different colors. Some are welcoming. Trust me, you will lose yourself by immersing in the nature
      4. Hard part is, walking back up to the car. Well, you don’t have to hit the gym for that day
      5. Highlight: I took helicopter ride to view Lake Tahoe from mid-air. Lovely landscapes, water and nature. Worth trying.
      6. All beaches have plenty of water sports and other adventures to do. Choose based on your needs

HeliRide pics above.

Tahoe from my eyes, below.

  • SFO City, CA
    1. Although I stayed right in the city, honestly, I didn’t get the kick of NYC. Believe me, New York City can fill life even in zombies.
    2. Took 2 day hop on hop off bus ticket. Perfect for tourism spots. You can always change your mind, and do whatever you want to. These buses offer all possible tourist spots that you can visit
      1. http://eng.bigbustours.com/sanfrancisco/top-landmarks.html
    3. The benefit of taking Big Bus is you will get to know SFO city by end of the day
    4. Understand SFO city map, figure out what you want to see, and start your day
    5. There’s lot of walking, it’s better to have Sneakers or comfortable walking shoes
    6. Do check out the weather in SFO in advance. In August, it was in mid 50s and chilly. With high winds, weather became even cold. Packing warm wear as a backup would be a good idea
  • SFO City – Alcatraz Trip
    1. Much awaited boat trip to Alcatraz jail
    2. After watching the movie “Alcatraz”, I always wished to know more about this infamous jail
    3. Checked out of TO-DO list

Alcatraz.JPG

  • Final day
    1. I was so desperate to go back to East Coast; desperate to go back to Connecticut ; desperate to be back home, my sweet home
    2. Hasta la vista, CA
    3. Hola, CT

Entire trip was very tiring but worth the spend.

Hope you too visit Cali soon. Happy Vacationing!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2016 in Travelogue

 

Travelogue: The Bahamas

The Bahamas – an escapade to God’s beautiful creation

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PC: World Wide Web

Bahamas  – Ba-Ha-Ma (locals address) or Ba-Ha-Mas (rest of the world address)

Nassau – NaW-Sa (locals address) or NA-SauW (rest of the world address)

It took almost 10 years to realize my wish to go to Bahamas. Exactly do not know what got into more priority that I kept on ignoring my small of visiting this place for a decade. It all started when I first saw their promotions (video and media) on SubWay in NY. I was more impressed by ads, may be!!, that I have decided that I should go to Bahamas.

Surprisingly, and oddly, my Bahamas trip was much unplanned. I am comfortable with planned schedules over haphazard activities. Yet, I survived. Thought I better pen my experiences in Bahamas to freeze memories forever.

Where on earth the Bahamas are?

It’s another Country on the globe.

The name “Bahamas” comes from the Spanish “baja mar” meaning “shallow sea”, and is an archipelago of over 700 islands stretching over 258,998 square km in the western Atlantic Ocean. More on Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bahamas

On a quick note, it is ruled by England’s Queen. However, business is done in US dollars. Bahamian Dollars are of equal value to US Dollars.

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PC: World Wide Web

People in Bahamas are called Bahamians (BA-HEY-MIANS).

The Bahamas is 1 hour away by flight and 4 hours by cruise, from Florida (Miami). May be hours differ by +/- based on the location you pick in Florida.

Reservations:

  • Bookit-dot-com has been very nice to me, not once but twice. I did a great 5 day Orlando trip before. Knowing its competitive package plans, I resorted to this site again.
    • Honestly, before looking into this site, I did research packages on other websites like Bookvip.com (only accommodation, no airfare), Kayak.com, Priceline.com etc.
  • My vacation theme:
    • Nature
    • Water, Water and Water
    • Adventures
  • My requirements:
    • Flying into Bahamas for 3 or 5 days
    • Be in Nassau over Paradise Island or Atlantis
    • Package should include Air fare, Accommodation and All Inclusive Food
      • I got all inclusive Drinks too; could do well only on Fruit Punch though 😉
    • I said, NO to cruise:
      • Cruise durations range anywhere from min of 5 days to more
      • Yeah, intentionally avoided cruise as you don’t get time to roam locally. Cruise will take you to each island at 8am and asks you to return by 4.30pm (pretty standard timings for most of the cruises)
      • By the time you complete your breakfast and come out, it’ll be 11 or so. Remember, this is not office work where you get up early. I am sure, you will be laid back to get out of the bed. More you are in bed, the less you have time to explore around
    • Bingo!
      • com didn’t disappointed me this time
      • I got Airfare (from BDL, not even from major airports like JFK), Accommodation, and All Inclusive package for a decent 3 figure for 5 days. Couldn’t ask for more than this exciting rate. My sense of accomplishment started off with a broad smile
      • I got this good deal in the peak season; approx.7-8 days before my trip
    • Going in large groups?
      • Do check out airbnb-dot-com if you are going in large groups
      • This site boasts of vacation rentals and homes. They have private rooms to entire homes on rentals. Do research about the location (where you will be staying) before booking the place. If you hit a jackpot, you will have your own place for your entire stay. What else one can ask for??!!
      • This may be suitable for people who love to cook even when they are traveling

Visa Requirements:

  • Port of entry – fill out the required forms and stand in the relevant queues
  • US Citizens and Greencard holders have different lines vs other Visa holders when you enter into the Bahamas
  • While coming back, the Bahamas airport has self-service machines to enter info before flying out

The Airport:

  • The airport is very small compared to other commercial, big airports
  • FREE Internet for everyone, yayyy
  • If you have a long wait for the flight, best place to hang out. What else one wants, other than a colorful airport with speed internet J
  • Food, shopping and other facilities are easily available

Paper or Plastic:

  • Short answer – have Cash on Hand, as much as possible
  • Mostof the places doesn’t accept Credit Cards. So, plan to take cash to pay entry fees, adventures, small restaurants, bus fare or beach side souvenir shopping / buying
  • Fun part is road side fruit stalls. Obviously no CCs but please do try Coco Water and Mangoes
    1. It’s been almost 2 decades since I ate custard apple. The Bahamas surprised me with those fruits on a road side stall. #EmotionalEating 😛
  • In case you ran out of cash, then there are ATMs in the Nassau Downtown but they charge around $6 as surcharge

Food – Local or Global:

  • I would say, Go Local
  • The Bahamas do have McD and Wendy’s. Like me, I am guessing you will skip those restaurants for a while
  • Breakfast: You can go to “Fish Fry” or Downtown, if you want to try local tastes. I saw many ordering spicy turkey in a wrap as breakfast. Not sure, if that’s what most of them eat
  • Lunch / Dinners:“Fish Fry” is like a food court where you will find authentic Bahamian food. For Carnivores, try Fish, Conch (they call it as “Kunk” ; rest of the world as “Konch”), Shrimp etc. For Herbivores, all leaves are available. This place is on the way to Nassau Downtown. In Downtown, you will find other good, expensive, restaurants like “Lukka Kairi” where you can experience seafood
  • Nassau Downtown has a takeaway restaurant. If I remember, it’s called Imperial, it’s near McD. Do try “Bahamian Chicken Curry” there. It comes with white rice and corn
  • You can find Chinese, Thai, Philippinos, falafel and gyros, etc.

Key Locations to visit:

  • Technically, the Bahamas is not a big location. It depends on where you are staying too
  • If you are in Nassau, that’s like NY in USA. Most happening place. It appeared to me that rest of the islands are bit slow
  • You can get familiar with Nassau in 2 days. All you need is stamina to walk a lot in scorching Sun and ability to take local transportation to visit places
  • In Nassau, I covered:
    1. Ardastra Zoo – Flamingo show was amazing
    2. Queens Staircase
    3. Christ Church Cathedral – this is the first time, I visited or entered into a Church. All these years, I watched churches in the movies
    4. Pirates – I am in love with Pirates, I swear!
    5. Beaches – Cable, Junkanoo (Junk-A-Noe (like Canoe), Saunders. Each beach is unique with beautiful shorelines. If you are good at swimming, that makes a difference too. For the first time, I appreciated God’s creation explicitly. Transparent waters with light blue and dark blue colors within your eye reach and serenity as you gaze far off places from where you sit takes you to different world. All you have to do is – wake up early and sit in the beach. Watch people, waters, and feel the calmness inside you
  • In Paradise Island, I covered:
    1. Versailles Gardens and French Cloister
  • Adventures I did:
    1. Snorkeling with Shark encounters – Surface water. Go with Stuart Cove’s. Looks like they are in business for a long time and have various water adventures
    2. Jet Ski – it was with locals. Had to pay cash and there was no receipt business
    3. Unlimited walking on different beaches

** There are many Tour packages or individual adventures available. Choose based on your needs **

Taxi or Buses:

  • Local bus ticket is $1.25 to max of $2.75. It runs from one end of Nassau to other end. I would recommend to take buses for local experience. Most of the buses have a stop near the major Resorts. This reduces any extra walking
  • Taxis are a call away. Totally on you to use this service. I used both, as needed
  • Water Taxis (aka Boats) – $4 from Nassau to Paradise Island. Best part why I picked Water Taxi or a Bus is, I wanted boat experience. It takes less than ½ hour to go from Nassau downtown to Paradise Island. Only downside of Water Taxi is, it’s like 7-seater auto in India. He will not start unless specific number of people are on the boat. So, too much wait time. If you have time crunch, go in a taxi or a bus. They charge little more but saves time

Shopping:

  • Straw Market – best place for all handmade crafts. This is like small business shops on a big single floor. Vendors are very eager to sell their stuff. Bargaining may work well on items where you feel prices are high. Go with your instincts
  • Souvenir stores – there are lots of souvenir stores in and around downtown apart from souvenir shops near each attraction. Do NOT purchase souvenirs near corners of the downtown. They have very high prices. If you walk a little into the streets, there are so many souvenir shops where prices are nominal and have more goods to choose
  • Divers sell real conchs near their boats. They have various shapes and sizes with affordable prices. If you are a fan of conchs, try them
  • The Bahamas airport is one of the best priced airports I have ever seen. If you forgot to buy anything, then don’t worry, Airport has almost all souvenirs that typically you get in the town; even prices are unbeatable. There are some shops that are not worth visiting though
  • Do try “Rum Cake” – the Bahamian cake. They have samples to try too. You can either buy for yourself or to gift friends

Dressing:

  • It’s very humid. People who are not comfortable with skimpy clothes, do try light T-shirts
  • Most of the times it’s very hot. Suddenly, it pours with heavy lightening. So, do check the weather before coming out of the room
  • Capris, and Skirts may be a best bet for people who don’t want to go with dresses (for women)
  • In case you want to get into waters but can’t swim, that’s okay too. Try appropriate dressing that’s comfortable for you

Word of Caution:

  • I was told to roam always in groups, as much as possible
  • It’s okay to heed an advise by a localite
  • Btw, all shops close max by 6.30PM. Get back to your nest before its dark
  • Start your day early

5 day trip went in a jiffy. I was hallucinating the Bahamas for couple days. I would be lying, if I said, I wanted to stay there for some more time. I am more of a main land girl. The trip was not long or short, perfectly suited for me.

If asked, one suggestion that I would like to give you prospective visitors: Try to be local meaning use local bus transportation, walk a lot to learn the roads and enjoy the vacation like a Bahamian.

Hope you too visit The Bahamas soon. Happy Vacationing!

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2015 in Travelogue