Antelope Canyons, AZ

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My extended family is a bunch of road trippers – we love the idea of travel, just as long as it is away from large cities and tall buildings.

On my parents’ first visit to the US, they landed at JFK- and we spent the first 2 days in NYC. In et days that followed, we drive around New Jersey to enjoy the pre-fall greenery, and also drove to Niagara Falls. 10 days into the trip, I asked them how they were liking it – and they were like – Everything is gorgeous – but next time- can we please skip NYC? That sums it up for most of us.

Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting beautiful cities around the world – but given a choice 2 days later – I would choose a beach, a mountain or cabin in the forest.

Later into the trip with my parents, my cousin and his kids joined us – and we did one amazing trip.

LA-Monterey – SF – Yosemite – Vegas (just to check the box, and a night halt) – Page – Grand Canyons – Phoenix  – LA. The trip will remain with me forever.

Today, I will just tell you about Page- this tiny town in Arizona that I am sure to visit again and again.

A few years back I saw pictures of the Antelope Canyons. Ignorant me thought “it’s part of the grand canyons” till I did more research. The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to visit. Here, I got a chance- and I was so happy that I could share it with my family.

We reached Page quite late at night. Our Airbnb hostess was fantastic. She had left complete details for us to get to the house without disturbing her. Since it was end November – Page was FREEZING! she had left the heat on. Because she knew that there were kids in the group (and that we are all kids at heart) she had even left us a s’mores kit! Can you beat that!

The house was very homey-  it was not fancy – but it was warm, clean and welcoming. I’d take that over fancy – any day.

The only thing that surprised us – not in a good way- is that the master bath had no doors. We can learn a lot of things from Europeans – no doors policy – not so much! Anyway – we were all quite tired so without much ado – we decided to call it a night.

A quick breakfast at home and we were all packed into the van – and off we were. We were headed to the office for Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours- not too far from us.

Before you go: there are two kinds of tours you can do at Antelope Canyons – upper canyons, and lower canyons. each lasts about 2-3 hours. The views, the angle of sunlight and the weather are all things to consider before you make your choice. We chose Upper canyons since we didn’t have much time, and to cater to the whole group. Also I read that the time of year was less than ideal for the lower canyons. The lower canyons also requires climbing some ladders – which would not be possible for my mom.

Most of the tour groups are located in the same region- you have to get to them and make a booking. You need to leave your cars there, and they will drive you to the canyons in jeeps.

Important to know- you are not allowed to carry bags – the only things you can take are- bottle of water, cameras and jackets, gloves etc. It gets very very cold in the jeep and the canyons – so you need to be well prepared. I think also sneaked in some energy bars.

Adventurous Antelope Canyons came well recommended. It was about 7-10 miles from our place – which was perfect. When we got there they told us that the earliest tour we could take was 12:30 – which was perfect since the sun would be right above  us- giving us great rays into the canyon.

We booked our spots and decided to come back. (note: if you pay cash, they give you a tiny discount- so come prepared). Lake Powell is not far – about 10 miles, 15 mins drive away. So we headed there.

We were literally the only people there – 20 mins into it one lone kayaker made his way to the lake. It was serene. The sun was high up, but the breeze was cold. The red canyon and the blue lake created a calming contrast.

 

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Without a word, we decided to spend our time at the lake by ourselves – walking around- sitting quietly. It was like mediating.

I love how, at times, tourist places become quiet and give us a chance to enjoy the views without selfie sticks. It’s serendipity. This is why I like to travel off season.

I know we really wanted to take a group photo at this spot, but I cant remember if that all worked out, after all. From here, we headed for the Antelope Canyons- finally.

The jeep ride was freezing cold – but fun. It was bumpy – so not expect a smooth ride. Once we got to the canyons, our guide (I feel terrible, as I forget her name) started telling us all about the canyons.

The anticipation- the imagination of what we were going to see – all of that excitement could hardly be contained.

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Before you enter, the guide will help you with your camera settings to get best photos. And do not think you know better than them- they know allllll the camera settings.

What I loved bout Adventurous Tours is that their guides are all local native Americans – who have grown up in the area. Our guide told us a lot about native American traditions, and how they are struggling to preserve them while adopting to the modern world’s needs. It is quite reminiscent of old Indian traditions.

As we started walking in, our guide told us one thing – to shut our minds, and let our imagination take charge. She said –  I may see a fish where you see a horse- but in the world of imagination, we are both right.

The play of lights, the layers of colors, the rays of the sun – these cannot be described- So I will leave some photos for you. You can stand in the same spot fro hours- and see completely different things –  it is like you are standing still, and the world around you is moving.

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I do hope you get a chance to visit – and experience this place – because the best of photos cannot capture the feeling that the centuries have left a mark on these rocks.

It is not a long walk- about three fourths of a mile, and back – but what you see on the way back is completely different, and the angles and lighting have all changed.

On the drive back to our cars, we discussed more native traditions. This was our guide’s last day – she was leaving to teach kids basket ball for the winter season. She clearly loved this job though, as she took her time in showing us how to take photos, we discussed the different figures we saw. She was the best!

That evening we decided to catch the sunset at Horse Show Bend.

Horse Show Bend is along hike- a very easy one- but well over a mile, and with a slight elevation. I was concerned about my mom, but she did it easily. The bend itself is really nice – but your expectations might disappoint you. Most of us have seen gorgeous photos with  blue water – but for that, you need to be there at the right time of day/ weather etc.  Luckily my friend had warned me- so I was prepared. It was still a very beautiful spot – with loads of people though.fullsizeoutput_293f

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We spent a good hour there, and walk al around. I did notice many tourists doing stupid things to get great photos. This place is not guarded in any way- no one is asking you to stay back. Because they expect you to use common sense – not so common though. So, if you go here- please stay safe. Photos have little value of they have bad memories attached to them.

We ended the day with a lazy dinner at a tiny Thai place- with nothing to write home about – but it did the trick- filled hungry tummies with quasi healthy quasi tasty, but hot food. A round of Phase10, and we were all ready for bed.

We had the whole of next day at Page, but decided to cut the trip short and spend extra time at Grand Canyons, and stay over at Phoenix.

 

Page, from what I saw, is a tiny town with a treasures such at Lake Powell and the Antelope Canyons. I will be back….

 

 

 

 

Andersonville… Chicago neighborhoods

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I find myself in Chicago very often, and the city has grown on me. Unlike most, I love cold weather- I would choose winter over summer any day! My husband things I am certifiable.

In Chicago, you can see the people making the most of every second in summer, but I think their summers are way too humid for me to handle. I prefer my cool ocean breeze in LA- and where I live – It downs really get as hot.

Anyway, back to my story, I try to visit a new neighborhood of Chicago when I am there. Andersonville came well recommended for a fall afternoon. so – I headed there. Andersonville is primarily homes, with a fun and eclectic market area. I got lazy and Ubered it. But it is an easy bus commute from downtown.

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The first store I got to, was a candy store – and that is when I knew- I was set for the afternoon. They had a billion colors of candy there – and my heart felt happy. However, I was good, and did not indulge in the sweet sweet sin.

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As I walked on, I passed by several interesting boutiques – way too pricy, and mostly not my style. However, for someone with better taste and a fatter wallet  it could turn into a successful shopping afternoon.

Next, I stopped at Olive City. In California- every quaint little town has this kind of a store- very well designed, well stocked with several oils, balsamic vinegars and oils. However, Olive City’s collection caught my attention with burnt range Balsamic vinegar. Since we we were heading towards winter – they had just received a fresh stock of Belgian Hot chocolate- with no added sugar.

Most of the time, I find hot cocoa mixes to be too sweet and too light. I decided to take my chances with this one- ad oh my – was I pleased. I had bought some for a friend as well, and the hostess was sweet enough to give me a tiny gift bag with festive tissue.

As I continues my walk, I came across an Italian restaurant my friends and brought me to – Calo.  The Italian community in Chicago is very authentic – and my – do they love their Italian food. Calo is fantastic food – and their portions are HUGE!!!!! and their desserts are not to be missed  – at all- it would be criminal.

Some other stores I spotted:

 

One of my most precious finds on this expedition was a Persian store – it was massive- and must carry at least a thousand things. It had hundreds of teas – and spices. Walking through the store, I felt as though I was transported to the world of Aladin. They have interesting looking lamps- and if you dusted them, I am certain, a genie would appear.  They had traditional coffee and tea making devices. they had spices I had never ever heard of. To add to the charm, the owner spoke few words – answered in mainly monosyllabic head nods. Let’s be clear- he was helpful – but not verbose.

That is, until I asked him about the use of Pomegranate molasses. I have seen it being used in a recipe I made once – since I couldn’t find pomegranate molasses, I used reduced juice. So, as soon as I found it here, I was curious where else it could be used – and then – the kind man opened up his heart, and shared stories and recipes with me. He almost described typical meals at his family gatherings. I must say – the way to anyone’s heart- is through their stomach. I walked out of the store with a feeling of coming back from a trip to the middle east, and a warm smile in my heart.

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The cool breeze brought me back right away.

 

The last store I went to way a garden store- beautifully decorated fro Christmas –  Gethsemane Garden Center. It had loads of gifts and souvenirs. Its a great place to buy someone a unique Christmas present.

 

I finished up my trip with lunch at Kopi – traveler’s cafe. They had me at India style Chai on the menu. The cafe is filled with stuff from around the world – displaying the pure love for travel. The menu was simple- I had a fresh salad and some. amazing coffee.

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I walked around a little more around the neighborhood- the side lanes are where the real stories lie. The homes were really pretty – not that big – but really pretty.  The trees along the streets were slowly changing hues and losing their leaves – giving a dreamy, wintery feel – well matched with the wind that was getting decidedly too cold for me.

Andersonville is like a young gypsy woman, trying to settle down in a city – Not quite sophisticated, not quite crazy – but just intriguing enough.

The world of color – NH in fall’16

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A quick breakfast at a neighboring coffee shop, and off we were – to get drenched in the world of color. We were cautiously optimistic about the weather rooting for us – the predictions were bleak – but the sky was clear 🙂 A brighter sun would have helped with better photos (which would have filled my dad’s heart with joy)- but in those breathtaking surroundings – you cannot complain.

Fall colors started displaying their magnitude almost immediately, and as we got closer to the forest area, I think we were almost forgetting to breathe –  for now- beauty was our oxygen.

Living in California, the definition of small towns is very different from towns in states right up north – fewer people, simpler life – a rhythm that my heart yearned for, and yet, in some ways, I was almost afraid I would get lost if I stayed on. As conversation flowed in the car, and we sang along to Bollywood songs, the road wound on through clouds of reds and auburn and oranges and yellows that I could have never imagined. One too many photos stops after, as we were crossing  Conway – we found a little coffee shop. It was cute, and crowded, and had very bad coffee and very stale pasties. Isn’t that the right of passage of any true roadtrip, though!

The drive through the forest is something that I cannot describe – It is not just the views – not just the company – not just that the promised rain did not show up (as yet at least) – not just that I was lucky enough to experience this with mom and dad – and yet – it was everything- in the right proportions. It is a feeling, locked in my heart, that I can go back and feel- any time I want. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

It takes about two hours to drive through the forest, to get to Lincoln – as there are several places you will want to stop, take a tiny hike to get closer to the water and away from the road. Lincoln was super crowded as many people had come to enjoy the gorgeous foliage. We had expected a regular pizza lunch, but were pleasantly surprised to get great Thai food – a huge favorite for the weather was decidedly getting too cold for people from sunny state.

By the time we finished lunch, the rain had started coming down hard – no complaints at all.  With the bright colorful background, the rain looked beautiful. Plus- fog started dancing around us – to prove that overcast skies had their own splendors. We did take the shorter, quicker route on the freeways. Our hearts were in a happy place of contentment.

Back in Portland, that night, we grabbed some food from Trader Joe’s (always make me feel like I’m not far from home) and decided to stay in – talk, and relive our day.

To sum up- here is what I have to say – if you can, take a weekend in October to visit the north east – it will refuel your soul, and add color to your life. It is as though, Nature wants to display all her colorful attitudes because she engulfs herself in a white winter.

 

 

 

Heidelberg

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fullsizeoutput_32b2Our journey from Basel to Heidelberg was less pleasant than I had hoped for – in an overcrowded bus full of people rushing home for New Year’s Eve. However, my excitement to see the beautiful german town kept me warm in the biting December cold.

Luckily, our Airbnb host was sweet enough to wait for us, and she had given us precise directions to walk to her place – a short 4 mins walk. Smart and hungry as we are, we quickly bought dinner at McDonald’s right outside the bus stop, and rushed to home.

The house was beautiful – full of old charm and yet well equipped with all the modern comforts. The typical german attention for detailed reflected in the tips our host had left for us- even for segregating the trash. I was impressed.

Our host was warm and friendly – as she showed us around the house, she told us how her father did some business with a gentleman from India- with the same last name is mine – quite surprising. More importantly, she told us that Johannes Gutenberg invented the famous Letterpress printing in the building right across the street from us. Our 2 secs of claim to fame 🙂

We woke up to a cold yet mildly sunny morning.  By now, I had gotten used to my morning shot of espresso. By the time all of us woke up, we were hungry – we decided to talk a longish walk towards the market, and grab a bite. Being New Year’s eve, many things were closed- but we were not here for museums and restaurants – we were here to absorb the beautiful small town charm of Heidelberg; and that was right here – veiled in its winter splendor.

A good breakfast with very nice coffee – and we were refueled. My brother decided to get back home – but we chose to take a walk by the river. We meandered our way from the river, all the way to the big bridge near the castle – we enjoyed the colors of winter, the frosted trees- a treat of us Angelos. The whole way, we must have seen about twenty people – some runners, and a few couples. As soon as we got closer to the bridge the selfy sticks and tourists managed to cross our paths.

The view of the river from the bridge was gorgeous – the reflections on the water, the mountains and castle playing hide and seek behind the clouds- the setting was ideal for a fairytale. As it was getting really cold, we made our way back to home- to rest, and reset for new Year’s Eve celebrations at the bridge.

As we left our warm apartment at night, the cold was biting – but we made our way to the bridge. The mood was completely different from earlier – the place was filled with a thousand people ready to have some fun, burst crackers- and ring in 2017! After a while, we decided that we had had enough of the crackers and the coldest winds ever – and found warm seats in a tiny bar.

The next morning was a lazy one – we found ourselves at the same breakfast place. From there, we decided to take a ride to the castle. At the castle – we skipped the tour and just walked around.

I love castles because i feel like every brick has a story to tell – these pillars have stood there for many a winters, and many a wars, and many a love stories – and yet, they never share an opinion. We took a long walk down from the castle, and waked around the market area – looked at the over priced souvenir shops, and gradually found our way back home.

Our little christmas trip was coming to an end, but still – I knew that the no museums trip to Europe had written a love story on my mind, that I will read again and again.