A Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

New York has so much to offer, we try to do something new with visitors each time. Sometimes it’s a new bar, sometimes it’s a new experience. This time, I fulfilled my long time wish of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

This bridge has featured films such as Annie HallGangs of New YorkKate & LeopoldIt Happened in BrooklynI Am LegendThe Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers and ….Kal Ho Na Ho. Just like Jack and Rose struck their famous flying  pose on the Titanic, who can forget SRK spreading his arms, in his trademark style, on the Brooklyn Bridge!

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Of the three bridges (B-M-W) that span New York City’s East River, the Brooklyn Bridge has iconic status. It is probably one of the most popular landmarks and one of the most instantly recognisable features of New York City’s skyline. The bridge was started in 1869 and completed fourteen (14) years later in 1883. It is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States and the first constructed using steel wire. Back in the day, it became a symbol of what could be achieved. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

The bridge was designed by an immigrant – German born civil engineer German immigrant John Augustus Roebling. Shortly before construction began John Roebling suffered a serious foot injury from which he contracted tetanus and died. The project was taken over by his son, Washington Roebling. Shortly after construction began, t he too suffered a paralysing injury and was unable to attend site himself. Undeterred, he relayed daily instructions to his engineers through his wife, Emily. At the time of its inauguration, people doubted its strength, so the city hired a circus promoter to lead a herd of 21 elephants across the bridge!

The Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to  to provide passage across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, back when Brooklyn was still an independent city. 125 years later, its granite towers and steel cables still loom majestically over New York City’s East River, linking the two boroughs.

 

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Seattle

February 2017

How apt that our first “family” vacation should be to San Diego! We are here to celebrate the niece’s third birthday. She is super excited and so are we!

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From here, we are headed to Seattle. Why? It’s our anniversary break, we are already on the west coast and we’ve never been to Seattle.

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Seattle is a literary city, a grunge city, a culinary city…a city often called the Emerald City; home to hipsters and the PNW life. Not much, yet so much has happened since, that this trip is almost a blur now. The only distinct part is meeting N, my school friend and picking up where we left off like it was just yesterday. Laughing under the Lenin statue and getting late night coffee.

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We wandered across the city, using mostly uber, which is surprisingly cheap in Seattle. Somewhere in the blur is a trip up the Space Needle, going crazy at the museum of pop culture, tasting strawberry-ghost pepper jam at Pike Place market and regretting not being able to get some back ever since, going all the way to the Locks but missing seeing them in action, a cruise around the shoreline, down the Elliott Bay and Seattle Harbor, not going to chewing gum alley, a visit to Uncle Ike’s and the crazy number of Prius around. It’s almost as though you are not allowed to own any other car here.

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I absolutely love the Chihuly Garden. Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases the imagination  of Seattle’s famous glass-blowing artist, Dale Chihuly. If there’s time to do just one thing in Seattle, visit the Chihuly glass garden. The glass, breathtaking shapes and gorgeous colors, the scale, variety, lighting…all come together to make the whole experience surreal. Walking from room to room, is like fluidly moving into dream after dream. Make sure you pause at the end, and look up through the glass for the best view ever of the Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.

 

 

 

London Again

July 9, 2017

Day 9

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The husband is semi-torn between the Tower of London and watching a match at the Lord’s. There are no tickets to the match, so the Tower it is. We’ll be meeting A at the Tower, where he has so kindly, arranged tickets for us. We have been told that the Kohinoor diamond and the Crown Jewels are a somewhat of a letdown. That does not deter us. I am determined to see the famous diamond and the infamous ravens.

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It takes us longer than anticipated to reach the Tower and poor A is kept waiting. An entire day on my feet in London and five days in Scotland didn’t tire me out as much as the trip from Stansted Airport to the Tower Bridge!  Once in, we see a Beefeater starting his tour and join it. He is entertaining and intriguing. We follow him, till we see the queue snaking across the courtyard to see the Crown Jewels and promptly join it. While in queue, we spot a couple of ravens hopping around looking for scraps. Did you know that the collective noun for a group of ravens is “unkindness”? Ravens are also known to be able to mimic human speech! A Royal Decree says that there must be six ravens in the Tower always. It is said, the decree was passed after a King was told that if the ravens left the Tower, the White Tower would fall and a great disaster befall the Kingdom.

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The Kohinoor is a large, colourless diamond possibly 5000 years old, but more likely from around the 13th century. Rumour has it that it first weighed 793 carats (158.6 g) uncut. The earliest well-attested weight is 186 carats (37.2 g). It was big, no doubt, but not uncommonly beautiful, so  Prince Albert decided to get it cut and polished. Thirty-eight days and 8000 pounds later the stone emerged 42 percent lighter. Today it weighs 105.6 carats (21.12 g). This is probably why people who go to see this supersized diamond are disappointed.  Within the royal family, the diamond has acquired a reputation for bringing bad luck to any man who wears it. Since arriving in the country, it has only ever been worn by female members of the family.

As we make our way through the building, we see not just the Kohinoor, but a number of other gorgeous jewels and household items as well. If you ask me, the time we spent admiring this dazzling display of wealth was completely worth every moment.

We make it to Gatwick airport well in time for our flight, only to find the flight delayed. After waiting impatiently post security and boarding pass check, we spend another four hours inside the plane, waiting to take off. The captain cooling passes the blame on to Engineering, saying they were investigating a scratch in the paint, in the hold. *Eye Roll* Thank heavens for adult coloring! The captain did try to make up time, but we still get home at two in the morning, and my legs are swollen like tree trunks. The nice part was, two people switched seats with us. We had two middle seats. A nice lady gave the husband her window in exchange for his middle, so we could sit together. Sometime after takeoff, the sleepy girl in the aisle seat changed places with me, so I could get out and walk around as much as I needed to.

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It’s been a wonderful trip. London has been marvelous and Edinburgh most charming. Every single time I got on the tube/underground in London people stood up to offer me a seat, instantly and without hesitation – men, women and children. The food was delicious. The weather has been most cooperative. Thank you everyone who took time out to meet us and show us around, got in touch with us, tried to meet us, and helped us with research. Here’s to friendship and more holidays!

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, 

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.”

Robert Burns

Last Day in Scotland

July 8, 2017

Day 8

Today is our last day in Scotland. We want it to be relaxed, while we still make the most of it. We lazily roll out of bed. On the cards is a trip to Urquhart castle, a boat ride back across the Loch Ness and Inverness. From Inverness we will drive down to Glasgow to experience the nightlife and catch our flight out tomorrow.

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Once upon a time, Urquhart Castle was one of Scotland’s largest castles. Excavations have provided evidence of settlements in this area going back to as early as 2000BC. The castle is strategically located on a rocky promontory with an open view up and down Loch Ness. More than once during its troubled history the castle held out because it could be resupplied by ship. There is a miniature model of the castle in the little gallery, next to the gift shop. It’s got little bulbs that light up when you press a room/area on the legend. A super fun way to explore the castle as it once stood. There is a short video on the history of the castle which I highly recommend everyone sees before venturing out into the castle itself. It helps gain perspective. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. The last of the government troops garrisoned here during the Jacobite Risings blew up the castle when they left. Today the castle stands in ruins, bits and pieces of solid wall and broken towers.  The husband correctly points out that Western Ghats of Maharashtra, India, have so much to offer in terms of both scenic beauty and history. If only we learnt the art of preservation and presentation.

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Our plan was to take the boat ride on the Loch Ness from the castle. We find this is not possible, as we need to buy tickets at another place a short distance away. Up and down the road we go, with our map insisting we go uphill to catch a ferry. Finally we identify the Visitor Centre, where we are told to buy tickets from across the road, right next to where the ferry boards. The next ferry is in ten minutes or so. The husband rushes off to park where instructed, while I make my way to the ticket booth. He manages to park and get to the jetty just as the ferry starts boarding. Loch is Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Scots for a lake or for a sea inlet. Loch Ness, immortalized by Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster is probably the most famous loch in the world. Loch Ness is a freshwater loch. It is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area, the first being Loch Lomond, but due to its great depth, it is the largest by volume in the British Isles. It is said to contain more freshwater than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. Nessie, the eponymous monster of the lake is described as an enormous green creature, with a long neck and snake like body with one or more slither humps protruding from the water. The ride around the lake is pleasant and offers a bonny view of the Urquhart castle.

IMG_0844We reach Inverness just in time for lunch. We walk around trying to decide what to eat, and shopping just a wee bit for you-know-who-is-coming-soon. I smell Chinese and it smells good. We haven’t eaten at a Chinese buffet for a couple of years now, and this seems like a good opportunity to find out what British Chinese tastes like.

IMG_0854It is raining, when we get to Glasgow. It takes us a while to locate our hotel and check-in. Having driven around the city while trying to get to our hotel, we decided to skip everything else in favor of a hot dinner and a good night’s rest. We pick an Indian restaurant, by virtue of it being open at this hour and because it’s called Usha. Both our mothers are coincidentally named Usha. Our next challenge was returning the car. The rental office is closed and won’t open until after our flight departs tomorrow. The hotel puts us in touch with the rental company’s on the road assistance team, who assure us, it would not be a problem at all. All we have to do is fill up gas and leave the keys in the drop box.

We tuck in for the night, filled with the loveliest of memories.

“Wherever I wander,

wherever I rove,

The hills of the Highlands

forever I love”

-Robert Burns

A Heartful of Skye

July 7, 2017

Day 7

At breakfast, the lady at the next table can’t stop staring at my belly. Clearly, she thinks the baby is coming tomorrow (eye roll). We exchange pleasantries and strike up a conversation. She casually mentions that we probably won’t be doing any of the hikes. We laugh and say we intend to try the easy trails.

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The hike at Old Man of Storr is easy enough, but the path is steep. I find myself stopping for breath every few turns. I stopped at point the husband says was around quarter mark, but in retrospect I think it must have been closer to three quarters. He made it all the way to the top and came down around thirty (30) to forty-five 45) minutes after I did. I was slow, but I don’t think he could do it that fast. The way down is trickier than going up. The slope is steep, ground gravelly and my protruding belly works against me. I make my way down slowly and cautiously picking my steps. I nap in the car while I wait. When the husband returns, we drive on the viewpoint Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. The weather is cooler now, and it is starting to rain. It is easy to see how Kilt Rock gets its name. The basalt columns resting on a sandstone base gives it an appearance strikingly similar to a pleated kilt. Against this eccentric backdrop, the Mealt waterfall plummets from the top of the sea cliffs straight into the ocean below, all of which gives  it that extra “wow”.

File_009(3).jpegA bizarre landscape of cone-shaped hills dotted with ponds and scattered waterfalls greets us at the Faerie Glen of Uig. There are no stories or fairy tales associated with the glen, but it is charming and otherworldly nonetheless. We drive up and down the bumpy path and settle on a delightful spot to make some memories. A small grassy   clearing surrounded by a low stone wall, ideal for a coven, a little waterfall with its own emerald green pool to the side and a knoll to scramble behind. I want to try going up, but the rains have made the ground slippery and the husband is wearing the worst footwear possible for this. We glance at the clock and find its time to move on.

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After much debate, we pick the lovely Café Arriba for lunch, where we find onion pakoras on the menu. Everybody knows rainy days = hot hot pakoras. The weather is simply calling for it.

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The Faerie Pools of Glen Brittle were on almost every must do list I found online, naturally they were on ours too. The hike to the lower pool is really an easy walk across grass and water. Conveniently arranged rocks allow you to hop across natural streams. The turquoise waters of the pool are so clear that we can see each moss covered stone at the bottom. We stop here, as a pregnant belly and poor choice of footwear make us ill-equipped to deal with the slippery path ahead. I had planned to go “wild swimming” but I luckily, I forgot to carry swimwear. The day is too cold and the place to crowded to swim. Had the pool been truly isolated, I might have even considered skinny dipping. What made the place magical for me was the distinct difference in the colour of the grass and the shrubbery on the sunward side and mountainside – neon bright on one side and a grimmer gruff grungy green on the other.

We knew we might be running late on our packed itinerary, so we had purposely held off on booking a stay for tonight. The husband quickly did a last-minute booking at a B&B at Loch Ness and we were on our way. Not wanting to repeat last night’s experience, we stop for supper at Portree and by the time we reach our B&B it’s close to nine in the night. The doors are shut and the lady there insists she only takes care of the dogs and knows nothing about our booking. She absolutely refuses to let us in, or put us in touch with the hosts, and even threatens to call the cops on us. We don’t have a choice. We make our way down the road and check into the only room available at Hotel Drumnadrochit. The hotel looks a little rundown from the outside, but it has the biggest room we’ve had so far, with an exception of the House on the Falls. The room is clean and comfortable too. It’s a twin room, so we have the luxury of individual beds. There is still light outside, but we happily sink into the inky blackness of sleep.

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July 6, 2017

Day 6

File_006(2).jpegIt’s closing time at the Eilean Donan Castle, so we can’t go in. We walk around and admire it from the outside. There’s a bagpiper playing for a wedding there. Oh to get married in a castle! We’ve informed our B&B host we’ll be checking in late. When we get there, she has everything set out for us. There are no falls around the House on the Falls, but it is the sweetest little house in the middle of nowhere with sheep all around and wool stuck in the barbed wire. I never knew sheep shed. Most natural, now that I think.

Isle of Skye.jpgWe quickly freshen up and head out o Neist Point.  Out good host has suggested a few places we can stop at for dinner on the way. We are not hungry and decide to have dinner on the way back. I insist on driving to Neist Point. It’s a short drive, on interior roads so I can go as slow as I like. There is very limited cell phone signal in these areas, so we’ve mapped our way in advance and are following it. It takes us on narrow paths, past sheep and lambs – I gently toot the out of my way, through gates and fences. These narrow roads are single lane and have traffic going both ways. There are designated pull over spots every now and then, to allow passing. An hour later, we are nowhere close to Neist Point, and I find myself tooting the same sheep out of way again (don’t ask how we know, they really were the same sheep). We try following the road signs instead of the map, but it doesn’t help. Only when we get some signal, is the map able to re-calibrate and put us back on the right track. By now I’m done driving.

The husband gets us to Neist Point. The beauty of the place and the never ending daylight make it easy to lose track of time. Before we know it, we are late for dinner. We try a all the options suggested by our B&B host, only to find the kitchens closed. Luckily we still have some fruits, energy bars, cookies and other snacks on us. My poor baby, but it was totally worth it. Plus, breakfast was only a good sleep away.

“Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”

July 6, 2017

Day 6

“Go back to sleep.” he mumbles. I oblige, knowing that this is going to cost us a few places on our itinerary. Afterall, I did promise myself this would be a paced out holiday and I would sacrifice a few items on my to-cover list if I needed to.  Finally the threat of missing breakfast got the husband out of bed and we hurriedly make our way to the dining area. The husband is amazed at the amount of bread and cheese on my plate – my second helping. He smiles incredulously and shakes his head. As we head out, he even grabs me some fruit for the way. I don’t really need it. Mornings are my hungry time.

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Today’s plan is to drive down to Oban. We’ll drive along the coast as suggested, instead of through Glen Etive as earlier planned. I wanted to try and make it to Oban by lunchtime, so we could take a ferry out to Staffa. That is clearly not happening. Plus, it’s cloudy and raining so we are not sure if the ferries will go.

Oban-Glasgow-etc.jpgWe take our time, stopping at serene Loch Lomond and along the way to make photographs and see cattle. We miss the turn to the standing stones, and never make it to Dunadd Fort, the Scottish seat of Kings, but the drive is its own reward – so beautiful, that it could break your heart. Lush green all around, and grey-blue skies. Occasional gentle drizzle marks the way.

 

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The Oban distillery is open, but the last tour is over. We walk around the tiny town for a bit and head over the Fish and Chips Shop for dinner. The port city of Oban is the fishing capital of Scotland. Gone are the days when shellfish were regarded as famine food and folk would gather mussels when there was no meat to eat. Today shellfish are a delicacy. The husband however, opts for fish and chips. He says it is like no other, the fish absolutely melts in your mouth (but the chef still needs to go to his local haunt back home in Bombay to learn how to make tasty fish fry). I go for the Madras curry, simply because it’s the last thing I expected to see on the menu.

As we get ready to kiss the day away, I find some of my flexibility has returned. All the walking and constant bending to pack and unpack must be helping. The next morning, we head back to Oban distillery. I’m not drinking, but there’s no reason I can’t do the tour. This historic whiskey distillery is one of the oldest and smallest in all of Scotland. Established in 1794, it pre-dates the town of Oban and has only two pot stills. Oban Single Malts are characterised as rich and fruity with a hint of peat smoke and sea salt. Where does the fruity/orange come from- they won’t tell. At the end of the tour and tastings, our guide very sweetly packs me dram, for when the baby comes. There’s no way the airlines will let me carry that – the husband is going have some extra sound sleep tonight. Surprisingly, that doesn’t get drunk until our last night in Scotland.

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Next on our route is the stunning landscape of Glen Coe. Dark grey clouds rolling across lofty hills, looming over the verdant valley – drama everywhere.

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We make a detour from here to Glenfinnan to see the now famous “Harry Potter Viaduct”. As we walk out of the parking towards the Visitor’s Centre, we see groups of people sitting halfway up a hill, and more hurrying along. We don’t understand till we hear the tooting of a horn – the original Hogwarts Express huffs and puffs past us.

“Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”