Vegas Baby

September 2013

this picture just doesn't do justice

this picture just doesn’t do justice

We celebrated the Husband’s birthday in Vegas this year.We both been to Vegas before, but this was our first trip together. Raga opted out, so that it Ashok (B-I-L), me and the Husband in Ashok’s awesome batman-type car. As we drove down from San-Diego to Vegas, we ran into a few showers. We could see great grey storm clouds rolling in the distance, and caught glimpses of what lies beyond as lighting ripped open the fabric of the skies. Best of all, we drove through the most amazing sunset ever, stopping just long enough to take pictures.

IMG_0482We checked into our hotel and headed out almost immediately. The plan was party all night long. We started with getting some glue for my broken heel and then the Mix. The Mix is a covered rooftop nightclub with a great view of the city. I entered a cubicle in the Ladies’ Room to fix my broken heel, and wooaahh.. the exterior was made of glass. You get a spy on the city as you..ahem.. go about your business, without worrying about the city getting a sneak peek at you. The elevation and angle ensures there’s no direct visibility unless someone’s flying by in a copter.

We started off with a really expensive dinner at the celebrity chef’s restaurant attached to the Mix. Delicately flavoured tiny portions with the ability to blow a crater in your pockets. After partying to our hearts content we moved to the tables. I had tried playing craps before at Atlantic City, but had no idea how it was played. This night, we figured it out. Kind of, atleast. I have long since forgotten, but that night we played. It was almost like in the movies. Once we exhausted our budget, we  decided to call it a night.

We started the next day with brunch at the Bellagio. What an awesome spread they had. Stuffed till we could eat no more, we practically rolled ourselves out. We headed out to Hoover Dam. At the time of its construction/completion, Hoover Dam was the tallest dam in the world. It used to be the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world until 1948. Today, it is no longer the tallest, the largest by volume or the largest hydroelectric power producer, but remains among the biggest and best-known dams in the world.

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We headed back to Vegas for our next big event – a Cirque du Soleil. After much debating on which show to catch –  the new Micheal Jackson show or the well known “O”, we had locked on “O”. We settled into our seats prepared to be amazed, but what happened in the next 90 minutes was waaaaaaaay beyond amazing. Our minds were well and truely blown.The jaw dropping acrobatic performances, the superb synchronization, the sheer  dare devilry, left us astounded. The costumes, sets, choreography and the way they are used to convey emotion and carry the wafer thin plot ahead was absolutely extraordinary. This performance gets a double thumbs up from me, it was 90 minutes of  pure spectacular.

IMG_0479Over dinner I introduced the Husband and the B-I-L to sake bombs. After a few initial minutes of disbelief, and some consultation with Google, they agreed to watch as I thumped the table to drop the sake into the beer. Post dinner we went back to the craps table, where I threw very lousily, or should I say crappily. Two double 6s in a row!! Damn!! where is this luck when I’m playing ludo??

Las Vegas Airport

Las Vegas Airport

The next day, after a rather average lunch at a small Indian buffet, we headed to the airport while Ashok drove back to SD.

Aside

Tomorrow, we can eat healthy, but today is for ICE-CREAM!!

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When we were kids, we spent almost every summer with our maternal grandparents in Chennai. Life in Chennai was distinctly different from life in Mumbai. People there followed the dictum of early to bed and up by sunrise. The weather was unbearably hot. Things was slow and dull. Time just wouldn’t pass. It was only the promise of ice-creams that kept  tempers and tantrums in check. Late in the afternoon, my aunt would take 3/4/6 of us cousins to the Aavin Ice-cream parlour as a treat for behaving well all day. Aavin, those days had just 3 flavours – Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry. We generally settled for chocolate in the little garden surrounding the shop.

U-Dairy Creamery is Delaware’s Aavin. This is where we go to celebrate, or when we are feeling low, or have had a fight.

This creamery is a part of the UD dairy farm, and the teaching and research programs in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware. It is a non-profit organization and all proceeds go back to the College. Undergraduate students are responsible for running the creamery and developing it as an independent and sustainable business.

But that is not why we go there. We go there for the absolutely divine ice-creams. They have a whole bunch of amazing flavours to choose from. My favourite is the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chocolate. Black Forest comes a close second. At $2.25 a scoop and an additional dollar for a waffle cone, these ice-creams are a steal. If the weather permits take your ice-cream to the benches at the Botanical Gardens and enjoy it there.

Foxed

DSC_0004-001One day we decided we need to explore our surroundings and set off for the Newark Reservoir. Car parking was at the base of a little hillock, at the top of which was the reservoir. Once you park your car, we have the choice of taking either the paved road to the top, of scrambling up the grassy hillock like I did. We were lucky with our timing and reached the top around sunset.

DSC_0035The paved area around the water seemed to be a popular with fitness enthusiasts. We saw several people walking or jogging along the waterfront. We decided to be a little different, and take a walk in the adjoining woods instead. Since we could see homes at the edge of the thicket we deemed it safe to walk through. Even though we were well into August, we saw a few fireflies twinkling among the trees. I am sure the place would be teeming with fireflies and look absolutely magical in June.
DSC_0054As we approached the other end of the trail, I heard something move behind me. I turned around just in time to see a fox like animal disappear into the shrubs. Frightened, I ran to catch up with the Husband. The trail was not a loop, so we had to take the same path back to get to our car. The sun had set, and we were loosing light. Bravely, we re-entered the groove armed with fallen branches. We didn’t meet Mr. Fox on our way back. At the reservoir, it was time for the birds to come home.

Taking a cue, we strolled down to the parking lot and drove back to our little nest.

Aside

Pizza!Pizza!!

It’s pizza week, and we were out of groceries. Guess what we had for lunch?

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Chow at Ciao’s

Ciao’s Pizza has been highly recommended online. One site going as far as to describe one of its pies as Delaware’s best.  The cherry on the cake was that the pizza recommended was  vegetarian. Now both of us are not really pizza people. The overload of melted cheese on most pizzas makes me positively sick. There was a time I would order everything with extra cheese. Now I request them to skip the cheese. The wait staff are mostly college students, so this request usually gets a very sympathetic nod.

The pizzas at Ciao’s were different. They were so delightfully light. Even the base was so tasty. I had the recommended-as-Delaware’s-best, Broccoli Bianco, while the Husband, I think, had Buffalo Chicken. Both of us were satisfied with our choices, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place.

The Giants of Mariposa

The Giants!!

The Giants!!

On day 2, the air had cleared up considerable. There were no ash deposits on the car or anywhere else. The burning smell had also gone. This prompted the boys to consider  doing the Yosemite Falls hike after all. I, on the other hand, wanted to go see the Giant Sequoia trees in the Mariposa grove. Giant Sequoias are native to the Sierra-Nevada region. I admit I did confuse them with the Redwoods, their North Californian cousins.  The difference between these closely related species can be understood here. Finally it was agreed that we were starting too late to complete the Yosemite Falls hike in time, so we should do the moderate 6 mile roundtrip hike in the Mariposa grove.

Once there, we were in for a surprise. We were astonished. We knew we would be seeing huge  towering trees, but we did not expect them to be this colossal! The tallest of us could go around a tree 10 times with his arms stretched out.  Some of these  mammoths are more than a 1000 years old, some close to 2000. The oldest known living Giant Sequoia is more than 3500 years old. It’s not in this grove though. Oh! the stories they would tell, if they could.  Some of these trees, like the  Faithful Couple seem like 2 trees growing next to each other that have fused together. I’m sure the view through the hollow Telescope tree on a starry night would be simply magical.  The Grizzly Giant would make a very good contender for Enid Blyton’s Faraway tree.

The walking paths are easy and quite straight forward.  The trees keep the paths shady and cool.  Signs, however are put up only at intersections. This means you just have to trust that you are on the right path, and keep walking till the next intersection to find out if you are right or not. The animal, possible bear, dropping on the way do nothing to boost your confidence. We managed to get on a trail we didn’t intend to take. We also managed to get lost for a short while.

Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish. The place gets its name from the thousands of Monarch butterflies that come to wait out the winter here. Imagine a multitude of delicate wings adding winter colour to the grove of giants! What a sight it would would be!

The end of the hike was no less surprising. We came across a man setting up glass cats in the roots of a fallen sequoia.

There’s magic everywhere and I’m a believer!!

Yosemite – Vernal and Nevada Falls

After bouncing a few vacation ideas around for the Labor Day long weekend, one day the Husband calls me up to ask if I would like to go to Yosemite. The next thing I know is our trip to Yosemite is all booked. Jumping into trip planner mode, I drew up plans and back-up plans for all the days. Sadly, just a few days before we were scheduled to visit,the forests at the rim of the park caught fire.  Our disaster management plan – check if the park is open. We checked if the park was open the night before we were to leave, and since it was we decided to stick it out.

Since I now have my learner’s permit, as decided I drove down to the airport. My first time on the freeway. At 4:00 am! A closed bridge and a mini adventure later I was tearing through Philly airport, with the Husband strolling behind. On the flight, the Husband was frankly stunned at my knowledge of the complimentary beverages. It suddenly hit him that I had been taking these flights a little too often in the short while that I had been here. We picked up the rental car  and a friend at San Jose airport and set out on the first leg of our vacation.

On reaching Yosemite, we found that the road indicated by the GPS was closed due to the fire. As we had already found out at the closed bridge, the stupid device does not suggest alternative routes. It just finds ways to get you back to the same road. A few circles later, we managed to get on to another road and made it to the lodge just in time to grab some dinner. Since we planned to do the strenuous Yosemite falls hike the next day, we decided to turn in and get some rest.

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Ash settled on the rear windshield and all over the car and everything else

The next morning we opened the door with our bags full of food and our hearts full of enthusiasm, only to be greeted by a smokey vista and slight burning smell.  The ranger at the visitors centre warned us against doing any strenuous hike as the air quality was very poor. With the Yosemite falls out, and most other falls either dry or down to a trickle. we settled on the Vernal falls and Nevada falls hike. These hikes had been classified as easy to moderate. Having read several people saying that the Yosemite falls hike is a killer, I was secretly happy that we wouldn’t be doing it. Easy to moderate was something I was sure I could manage.

Blessed Be!!

Blessed Be!!

The first leg of the hike was an easy walk to the footbridge across the Vernal falls. Then started the steps. Flights and flights of steep steps cut into rock. It reminded me of the steps to go to ancient temples. If I had climbed the steps like this instead of taking the motorable road to *Tirupati,  atleast the Lord would have been pleased. But the Lord in His greatness shows Himself in different ways.  In the pool at the base of the Vernal falls, we saw this beautiful rainbow, shimmering across on the water.

People snaking up the mountainside

People snaking up the mountainside

Countless steps later we reached the top of the falls. After resting here for a while, we continued our way up to the Nevada falls. Before that however, we lightened our backpacks, grabbing a small bite  and replenishing the water we had lost. Since there are no clear indicators here, we had to ask around a bit before we found ourselves on the right path. The only way to know that we were still on the right path was that there were others walking on the same path. That, and well that there is no other real path.  The hike is really quite moderate.  I got out of breath. More than once, I wondered why I was doing this, since the real beauty of any waterfall is best experienced at the foot and not at the top! At no point, however did I feel that I was going to collapse or my knees were going to give away.

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Once at the top, my sense of exhilaration was so great, that I found a nice shady spot under the bridge and settled down for a nap. The way down was far easier. Curiously, my hands and feet seemed to get swollen on the way down. No amount of raising them over my head and waggling them seemed to help. Since the boys were also experiencing this, I figured there was nothing to worry about.

The hike was a 5.4 mile round trip with a 610 m elevation gain. Finishing it with no damages spurred us on for the next day’s hike.

*Tirupati – abode of Lord Venkateswara, better and fondly known as Balaji