A weekend in a Boho house

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Tagging along with wifey for all her interviews is a perfectly valid reason to justify my travel! The season started with visiting the steel city, Pittsburgh. We had booked an AirBnb which happened to be a 100 year old Boho house.

Back in the eighteenth century, artists worked under the patronage system as servants to the noblemen, which plunged them into poverty. Many took up a nomadic lifestyle, lived cheaply, and wore worn out or used clothing. This gave rise to a new cult called the Boho, or the Bohemian lifestyle, which later became a fashion. Boho style consists of loose clothing made up of natural fabrics, restrictive garments, ethnic designs from Indian subcontinent, China and Turkey, colourful scarves, robes and kimonos etc.

So, our host was a Boho. I was not aware of this until I entered the room and saw silk sarees used as window drapes, and colorful handcrafted bed linens with bright red and orange colors and a headless mannequin covered with layers of ethnic Indian clothing. There were all sorts of hats and scarves hanging from the walls which made the room look beautiful. Most of the decor was from Nepal, where she had met her husband.

We met Nancy (name changed to protect identity) as she greeted us while giving us a room heater as the house was set at 68F, and she did not want us to feel uncomfortable. The house was dark, dimly lit and unlocked. Not even the bathroom had a door lock, forget about the main entrance. Upon asking, Nancy said it was a hundred year old house in a safe neighborhood and she never really felt the need of locking it. (Amhala amcha shani shingnapur athavla!!). The house was filled with stuff. It was cluttered with all sorts of stuff. You name it and it will be there; in all different colors and proportions, on the walls, floors and also hanging from the ceilings. Stuff like drums, pottery, musical instruments, archaic utensils, paper decor, food items, bowls filled with scents and perfumes, garments… the list would go on!! It almost looked like nothing was thrown out of that house for all the hundred years.

Nancy appeared to be a friendly woman. It looked like she lived there all alone with her eight year old son, a cat named Tod and a puppy named Tomu. She has made a little playground in the front yard for all the eight year olds in the neighborhood. The evening when we arrived, there were close to twenty kids playing around the house and it was very noisy and lively. But then for the rest two days, the house was deserted and eerily quiet. All I could see was a glimpse of her son one morning, standing near the window facing outside. We never saw Nancy and her son again. Tod was outside all night in freezing cold, whereas Tomu kept wondering in that dark, dimly lit house.

We were minding our own business in our room until the next morning when we checked out, leaving the house unlocked. Overall that deserted house, small puppy wandering inside and that glimpse of the child felt pretty spooky.. especially when Halloween was around the corner.

But.. that’s why may be Bohos are said to not follow the societal norms!! It was definitely a fun experience. Oh yeah.. and the interview also went well.

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The BaD Roadtrip

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The entire planning of our New Mexico trip started with me imagining growing a french beard and wearing a black hat while my wife clicked pictures of me scouting places to cook meth. Yeah.. you guess it right. It was going to be a BaD trip.

The adventure started off by trying to find the first cook site where Walter White and Jesse had parked their RV to start something which later became a six season long inning. The location in To’Hajiilee is not publicly known. There are some coordinates online which we could find, but that was all. It took us nearly couple hours roaming in To’Hajiilee like crazy to finally see a small orange flag indicating that it was indeed the filming site. The site is completely isolated and not recommended to visit at night.

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To’Hajiilee Desert

The next stop was the junkyard where Walter meets Tuco for the first time. Unfortunately that place has been demolished and we could not get a proper look at it. We moved ahead to visit Twisters, which is otherwise popularly known as Los Pollos Hermanos. I had to order a drink and wait for Mr. Fring to show up.

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Los Pollos Hermanos

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Yes, it does feel awkward to have a french beard, wear that hat and sunglasses and go to the counter to order a drink. I could read all their faces “There comes another fan! God.. these people! It’s non stop!!”  But the employees at Twisters were friendly and with a straight face served us whatever we wanted as if it was a normal day.

After finishing that lemonade, we drove to pay a visit to Wendy!! The crossroads motel was one place where my wife was extremely uncomfortable and not happy taking pictures. It actually looks like a shady area and we did see a couple homeless (probably meth heads) approaching us as we were posing for clicks! We got the hell out of there as soon as we can!

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The Crossroads Motel

Hooligan’s was next on the list. Saul Goodman’s office. It looks really different without that famous liberty balloon at that strip mall. May be a big cutout of Saul, pointing at you, and calling out his services, also could have done justice to the place.

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Saul’s Office

As it started raining and getting  dark, we were debating if we should continue. We had  to reach Santa Fe for dinner which is around couple hours from Abq. But, who would not visit that perfectly harmless car wash which turned into the seediest place in America!!

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Carwash

The final destination was the den of Heisenberg. As we rolled in front of the house, the owner came out instantly and started staring at us until we took off, upon which she started clapping. Yes, one could only imagine what the poor owner might have gotten herself into when she agreed to let her home become the fictional residence of the turbulent White family. It was worth a click.. (no, we did not dare to throw a pizza on roof :P)

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Walter White’s residence

Lowdown:

Walter White Residence – 3828 Piermont Dr, Albuquerque, NM, US

Saul Goodman’s office – 9800 Montgomery Blvd, Albuquerque, NM, US

Carwash – 9516 Snow Heights Cir Ne, Albuquerque, NM, US

Delta Linen Laundry – 1617 Candelaria street, Albuquerque, NM, US

Tuco’s headquarters – 906 Park Ave SW, Albuquerque, NM, US

Crossroads Motel – 1001 Central Ave, Albuquerque, NM, US

Junkyard – 5711 Broadway Boulevard Southeast, Albuquerque, NM, US

Los Pollos Hermanos – 4257 Isleta Boulevard Southwest, Albuquerque, NM, US

First cook site and where Hank was killed – To’Hajiilee Indian Reservation

Flavors of New Mexico

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The entire middle region of the country has always intrigued me. The coasts are something you regularly see in movies, but as you move inwards, US has variety of flavors to offer. The flavors of varying landscapes, high deserts, changing weather patterns and attractive wildlife.

This time we decided to explore New Mexico. The primary reason of even considering New Mexico was we being ardent fans of Breaking Bad, a TV Series based off Albuquerque. But after looking into what all New Mexico has to offer, we soon realized there is a lot more than just cooking meth!

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Gypsum Dunes

We flew into Albuquerque and and drove to the southern part of the state. White Sands national monument, situated around 250 miles from ABQ, is a place worth visiting. Situated in the Tularosa Basin, this is a 275 sq miles of desert which presents great wave like  gypsum dunes, creating world’s largest gypsum dunefield. The origin dates back 100 million years, when this place was a shallow sea. The water gradually evaporated due to the heat, leaving behind gypsum rocks, which eventually eroded to form sand as seen in the picture. Explorers have even found fossils of sea creatures in this area. Its white everywhere, to the extent that Hollywood has even used this location for shooting snow scenes where the actors do not have to wear winter clothing and freeze to death. 🙂

 

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Yucca – State Flower of New Mexico

The weather in the state is hard to predict. A sunny day, in matter of minutes, can turn into a day with thunderstorms and lightning. This area is flat and you can literally see lightning strikes touching the ground. It is not only scary, but dangerous to drive in such conditions. Jokingly I say — In new Mexico, it could pour over a zip code.

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The white desert in the southern part of the state is in contrast with the Swiss cheese like cave dwellings in the north. Driving north of Santa Fe, we visited Bandelier National Park, which preserves the homes and territories of ancestral puebloans from the southwest. It is a small park featuring few Kivas and cave dwellings of the publeons. The caves are made accessible for visitors and you can climb into the homes of the dwellers. Three to four hours were sufficient to visit Bandelier after which we continued to Chaco Culture – the home for the Chacoans and Aztecs.

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En route Bandelier, was White rock, an overlook at the Rio Grande river where one can observe the erosion by the river creating a deep ravine. As we continue on Rt4 east, we arrived at Rt126 intersection. Rt126 is a shortcut to Rt550 which leads into Chaco. This road should be traveled only in daylight as parts of Rt126 are really bad, unpaved and bumpy. The road cuts through the mountain and there are no gas stations in between until you reach Cuba, the town at the Rt550  junction. We had to drive slowly dodging cows and horses that came in our way. I am pretty sure we could have seen Elk’s if we would have driven during dusk time. We drove up to Chaco Canyon and camped there for the night. (A more detailed Chaco experience is noted HERE)

Bright and early next day, we decided to venture further into the unknown. Chaco canyon, although isolated, had a few campers along with us. As we started driving further east, the civilization dwindled. Bisti Badlands was where we were heading to. As you take a left off Rt550, just north of Chaco Culture junction, a placard greets you warning you that the roads could be impassable. Of course, we took the turn and kept going — that was the whole point!!

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As we ventured into the wilderness, the surroundings became eerie. Complete silence, scorching heat, unpaved roads, no signs of any human activity and of course no cell phone coverage – was not what we anticipated, but we definitely enjoyed. GPS led us to roads which were not only dirt, but also un-named. At a point, we were contemplating whether we should turn back, but continuing on the same road, we reached an open ground which apparently was the “parking lot” for the wilderness.

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There was no sign of any activity except a jeep with its hood open. We wandered around it in anticipation of the owner of the vehicle to show up. Surely a couple appeared from nowhere and we started talking. This couple was in search of a few rock formations which are famous in this area. But as this place has no trail markings, or rather no defined trail heads, the best way was the use of natural landmarks. They were going to keep track of their whereabouts using overhead electric lines and advised us to do the same.

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Venturing in the wilderness

As it was getting dark, we did not venture deep inside the wilderness. But Bisti definitely remains on the bucket list!

We drove back to ABQ and on our last day visited Old Town Albuquerque. It felt good to be back in civilization. Quintessential Mexican/ Spanish settlement, old town features variety of shopping options and cafes. Street music, vintage cars, roadside vendors make this small place lively. New Mexico is definitely an interesting place to visit. From deserts, to wilderness, to lively Spanish community, food and artwork, New Mexico has it all!

Lowdown:

  1. In summer, Bandelier encourages the use of shuttle to the park. The shuttle stop is in the town of White rock. Driving to the park is not permitted during peak season
  2. Searching “Bisti Bandlands” in the gps, you will be navigated to and area with extremely bad and narrow roads. So unless you have a 4WD pickup truck, I would not advise to drive in. Instead, navigate for “Bisti parking access”, which is couple miles off Rt371 and is relatively accessible.
  3. Leftmost lanes in New Mexico are for passing only. Keep driving in these, and you might get a ticket

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The Mysterious Chaco Civilization

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After deciding to camp in the high deserts of New Mexico, we finalized on the Chaco Culture. Situated literally in the middle of nowhere, in the north west corner of the state, Chaco is a completely isolated ruin where even the roads leading to it are unpaved, which could be impassable at times. It took us almost an hour to drive 15 miles on dirt roads and the exceptionally beautiful surroundings, especially with Elk sightings during sunset, made the drive remarkable. At the canyon, the ranger did a great job in shedding light on few of the mysteries —

Chacoan Architecture –

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Chaco Downtown

Chaco civilization thrived in between 800 – 1300 AD and then mysteriously disappeared. The picture above is today called as the “Chaco Downtown”. The reason being all the great houses were within couple miles from this place, thus making it a thriving center of exchange.

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Pueblo Bonito

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Pueblo Bonito houses

Pueblo Bonito was the biggest settlement in the canyon, which housed more than 600 rooms are was built four storeys tall. It is said that Bonito was built for its grandeur. The Chaco civilization was considered to be a superior settlement with technologies to build near perfect N-S and E-W walls. The houses included great Kivas. Kiva is a underground covered circular structure where variety of rituals were carried out. Kivas were designed for spiritual, political and other celebrations and it was assumed that the Chacoan ancestral spirits would visit and reside in the Kivas during the celebrations. Kivas were considered to be the gateways to the other world.

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Casa Rinconada (a grand Kiva)

Solstices:

Winter and summer solstices had special significance to the Chacoans. The story goes like this — As the sun moved northward, the days start getting longer and warmer – upto the summer solstice. Similarly the days get shorter until the winter solstice. Chacons assumed that without a solstice, the days would keep getting either warmer and longer or colder and shorter ultimately leading to unlivable conditions. Hence the arrival of solstices was considered special and the Chacoans celebrated them with a great zeal offering prayers to the almighty.

 

A sunkeeper used used to keep track of the solstice arrivals. A two week period was usually considered sufficient to announce the arrival, after which all the nearby settlements would come into the canyon to offer their prayers and be a part of the celebrations. The technological advances of the Chacoans reflect from the corner wall they built which casted a shadow of the sun on a pillar behind it. The location of the shadow indicated the arrivals of the solstices. Such architectural superiority made Chaco canyon one of the greatest settlements from that era.

Trade:

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Macau petroglyph

Researchers have found many items in the ruins which were exotic. The fossils of Macau, a bird usually found in South America thousands of miles away from Chaco, indicates it must be a very significant bird for the Chacoans. Macau usually resides with one master which means it might have been probably carried by someone to the canyon. As the Macau repeats the words spoken at it, this bird was used by priests to portray a sense of supernatural powers bestowed upon them. This might be one of the reasons for the civilization’s grandeur, as the visitors looked up to the priests, as a person with supernatural abilities, for imparting wisdom and give blessings for a good harvest. Macau being an luxury item, indicated Chacoans were from the elite class. In addition to the Macau, people have found evidence of chocolate. It is researched that this chocolate could have been consumed in jars (a typical mesoamerica tradition), which signifies a cultural exchange between far away settlements and Chaco. Several items like  turquoise, copper and shells, which are usually never found in the canyon were found here. It is assumed that there was not only business exchange but also sharing of ideas between settlements.

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Tent Camping at the ruin

The mysterious collapse of Chaco is still under investigations. Few groups believe that this might be a result of widespread droughts in the 1300s however some are still not convinced that drought alone could lead to such a abandonment. It is still unknown if the Chacoans were a settlement of peaceful farming villages, or a monumental capital of and empire

D-shaped Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, USA.

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Lowdown:

  1. Chaco is around 3 hrs from Albuquerque airport
  2. The road leading to Chaco is unpaved dirt road.
  3. Make sure you have a good vehicle with high clearance
  4. Typically rental car agreement fine print mentions you cannot drive off roads. So check prior to renting a vehicle
  5. Typically damages to rental car off roads are not covered
  6. There is no cell phone coverage in the canyon
  7. If you are travelling via Santa Fe – Rt4 and Rt126 – There is some part of Rt 126 which is really bad and off limits for night use. So make sure you travel during the day
  8. Take good camera, lenses with you to capture the night sky. It is pitch dark and the sky looks great!!

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The Spirit of America

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It was all for the quest of exploring the unknown. It began when sailors from England crossed the Atlantic and reached Plymouth, Massachusetts enroute Virginia. Mayflower docked at Plymouth in December 1620, a place which the pilgrims called their home away from home (I know.. it sounds familiar! …but they did not cross the Atlantic to do their Masters)

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Mayflower

Somehow, they survived winter (Macy’s was not yet built back in the day) and come spring, the natives of Plymouth welcomed them and made them feel at home. They helped the pilgrims with corn plantations. Later that year after a good harvest, the Englishmen expressed their gratitude towards the natives by inviting them for a feast — which later became the tradition of thanksgiving!

Soon the pilgrims settled here, colonized multiple locations on the east coast, multiplied in number and started local businesses to earn a living. (waiting for a green card or H4 EAD was not an issue back then). Ofcourse this additional income needed to be declared somewhere. They din’t have form 1040 – but that didn’t  mean that they were tax exempt — the King of England started imposing taxes on the colonies. The colonies did not like this “Taxation without Representation” (wait.. again sounds familiar.. H1B!! — looks like history is about to repeat itself). This was something they did not take lightly and the rebellion started — culminating in declaration of Independence on July 4th! The colonies were free from the English regulations.

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Year 2018! – What is wrong with this picture

On the occasion on 4th of July, we visited Plymouth, MA – a classic all white new england town just an hour south from Boston. The “natives” were looking at us as some aliens from far away land. We saw the parade and tried to be a part of their festivities. For us.. it was a great day to be out in one of the very first colonies on this land – engaging with the localites and understanding their history. Understanding how it all started on the land which later became the world’s leading economy!!

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First world hobbies..

I still fail to understand why it is “Happy 4th” and not “Happy Independence Day”

Well.. until I do… Have a great 4th!

 

A seaside village called Ogunquit

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New England coastline is famous for its seaside towns, great beaches, lobster shacks and ofcourse Clam Chowdah!

Folks were in town and we had a quiet weekend to ourselves. Discussing plans about visiting a new place we had shortlisted P-town, Boothbay garden and Mt Wachusset. After almost finalizing our plans, my colleague tells me about this quaint village on the coast of Maine – Ogunquit. I checked it out online and it became very obvious very fast that we were going there.

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Ogunquit coast

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Approximately 90 minutes drive from Boston, situated on the coast of Maine is this small quintessential New England seaside settlement. This village spans three may be four blocks and is spread around Rt1 N. going towards Portland, ME (which is one of the bigger cities nearby). As you exit off the freeway and enter the inner roads the smell of seafood greets you and people walking on sidewalks carrying their fishing poles is a common occurrence. To our surprise parking turned out to be a nightmare here. There is no street parking in this entire village and villagers have opened up their private properties for paid parking (great source of additional income). Nothing was cheaper than $10 except one odd lot which charged $5. A little skeptical but we decided to park there as it was closer to the main area with all the action. The land owner was super nice guy and told us must-visit places around Ogunquit.

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Entrance to the Marginal Way Trail

One such place is the “Marginal Way” trail. This is one/ one-n-half mile trail along the ocean with the vast blue expanse on one side and magnificent resorts and houses on the other. We embarked on this trail thinking we could finish it in an hour and then head for lunch. The exquisite views of the ocean, the kites flying up high in the sky, the sounds of seagulls and crabs on the beaches made the walk much longer than we thought. Everything was totally worth it.

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By the time we finished the trail it was already late. Super hungry we were searching for a good restaurant. No surprise, the restaurants around Ogunquit are expensive and with little veggie options. In defense of all my piscaterian friends, nobody should be even thinking of eating vegetarian food at this place. Not only because it would feature a great variety of ocean cuisine, but also neither should you trust a fisherman community with great veggie food! Another peculiar aspect of this quaint village was that most of the restaurants were closed for the afternoon (remember anything — #Pune :P). I fell in love with Ogunquit.

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Finally we found an Italian place serving some good seafood entrees and a couple veggie dishes (which would have been really hard to get wrong). The food was worth it with the crab avocado app being the icing on the cake. This dish was a layered cube of mango, avocado and crab, garnished with their homemade sauce. Delicious!

Near Ogunquit is the second most photographed lighthouse on the New England coastline – The Nubble Lighthouse. Ofcourse it was on our itinerary.  After lunch we left Ogunquit and headed to Nubble. Not quite as photogenic as it was told, Nubble is a rather old lighthouse under restoration. But, to my surprise, the picture came out much better than it actually looked (maybe this is the reason of it being the most photographed one!).

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The Nubble Lighthouse

It was a nice sunny day out. Lots of pictures, good food, quality time with folks made the day memorable. I should thank Bill for the great suggestion. It is always nice to get pointers from the locals.

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Everything is big in Texas

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When I hear about Texas, I hear about Cowboys, Hats, Guns and Mexicans! Well, depends on whom you talk to, but you can also hear about a big Indian community, oil and gas and Schlumberger. ..and now even about “a beautiful wall”. I always have been very curious about the peculiar Texan culture portrayed in movies and last week got a chance to experience it .. somewhat!

I visited San Antonio three days for work. Did not get enough time to checkout the city, but whichever evenings we got, I tried to mix up with the locals. The city is pretty small and it’s all about the River walk area (aka downtown) and “The Alamo”. And everything is big in Texas – big roads, multiple lanes, lots of heat, and nobody owns a vehicle smaller than a F150.  “Its an American thing”. And then there is Big Lou’s pizza. Have you ever seen a 20″ pizza? How about 42″? Yes — this place is crazy! They host eating competitions and and enough famous to be featured on Travel Channel’s Man v/s Food. Our host took us for lunch at Big Lou’s and a even a small plate of chicken parm was sufficient for all my meals for the day.

 

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One of the serving plates for Lou’s pizza

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pic from Big Lou’s webpage

Riverwalk area is cool. San Antonio river is in the heart of the city. It is a very small river but the Texans have made it a gem. This area is developed such that there are variety of restaurants alongside this river and all of this is a level below the streets. The best part of this area is the societal confluence one is able to experience here. As you stroll on the riverwalk, you see upscale restaurants, affluent people having dinner, couples hugging each other on the cross bridges, and also groups of homeless smoking weed on every bend or under-bridge. It is one of those places where you feel festive as well as sketchy.

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People from southern part of the US are known for being friendly. It is said that if a person does not smile at you he/she is probably not from the south (and if he shows you a finger – he/she is most likely from Boston 😛 ..just kidding! ). We were checking out restaurants at the riverwalk. While looking at the menu outside a particular restaurant, this guy approached us from within. He was the greeter of that restaurant. Typically someone like him would have told us the specialities they served and would have invited us inside. Instead, he started by asking what we were in the mood of having. Upon telling him about our craving for real texan burger – he actually recommended us a place outside Riverwalk area which, according to him, “served the best burger and fish-n-chips in the world”. We decided to give it a shot and the food at that place, which he recommended, was actually a level above our expectations. We had Escargot for appetizers, a seafood entree and the burger with home cooked sweet-n-spicy ketchup as main course. The ketchup was heavenly and I was simply surprised at the amount of effort this place had put into making their own ketchup given the little margins. And this was not even on their specialities list! There was no other way of thanking that person than actually walking back to the first restaurant and shaking his hand in person!

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The Escargot (aka Snails)

And finally the “Alamo“. Until now the only Alamo reference I knew was the rental car agency. But now after visiting the real “Alamo”, I know the history behind the place. Still wondering why the rental car agency is named after Alamo, if it is.

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The Alamo

Well, it is overhyped. Maybe it has a great historical significance for the texans. “The Alamo” is nothing but a old church in a fort turned into a museum with an payed audio tour. If the entry hadn’t been free, I would have been totally disappointed by visiting this place. If you are in the town, may be worth spending an hour.. but definitely not worth travelling to San Antonio to visit Alamo. The Alamo management could have told the story better if they had made it more engaging – battle reenactments, costumes for storytellers, draped sets from the 1800s etc. Just like Lexington, MA does during the Patriots day.

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San Antonio was my first foot in Texas. I would want to see more of Texas, may be visit some border towns or rural places to see more cowboys and carriages. Overall a good trip, always up for checking out more!

And I cannot end this post without posting a picture of a tshirt I saw a guy wearing. I was not able to capture him in a photo (well, I dared not to!), so pulled this pic off internet.

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Cheers!

 

The rare gems of Philly!

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Most of the people think about the Liberty Bell or the Independence Hall when it comes to touring Philadelphia. Although these places come under National Park Services and are highly advertised as “must go” locations when visiting the city, there are other rare places in Philly which are worth exploring.

We had a weekend to us in Philly after Ruj’s exam and decided to check out the America’s most historic prison – The Eastern State Penitentiary (or ESP). ESP as it stands today, is a ruin, but not until very long ago was most famous and expensive prison in the world holding America’s notorious criminals, including Al Capone.

 

The ideology behind starting such a prison was very unique. ESP was built in 1829 as part of a controversial movement to change the behavior of inmates through “confinement in solitude with labor”. The prison had a wagon wheel design with spokes where each spoke had a number of isolated cells. The spokes themselves were isolated from each other such that the inmates had no idea that there were more than one spokes to the prison. Each cell had an isolated yard (isolated – open to sky area)  where the inmate was allowed to spend two breaks of 30 min each day. Rest of the day the inmates were in the closed cells.

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The wagon wheel structure (form google)

 

It was such a depressing feeling just looking at the cells that I cannot imagine the psychological strength needed to thrive in such an atmosphere for multiple years, without talking a single word to anyone. The Penitentiary was intended not simply to punish, but to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. This hypothesis of transforming the inmate was actually never corroborated as there were no means to track the inmates after they were released from the prison. Slowly, due to the expensive nature of this type of prison system, this ideology fell apart.

 

The visitor center has a lot of statistics on prisons and how the number of inmates has exponentially grown over the last decade – It is concerning. The lobby also features a wall where the prison administration encourages visitors to write, anonymously, any unlawful activity that they might have carried out in the past. It’s fun to read some of the responses what people have done!! These are gamified by mixing with responses from convicted criminals and the readers are encouraged to guess if a particular confession is from a visitor or an inmate. [A visitor had written that he took advantage of an old lady and stole her social security, money, driving license etc….]

The other rarity of Philly is the Mutter museum. This museum of medical history displays preserved collections of anatomical specimens and medical instruments from the last century. The museum has brains, skull collections, tumour specimens and cancer exhibits. Yes.. you go to such places when you have a doctor in the family accompanying you! According to Ruj, the college of physicians in Philadelphia might have run out of space for preserving tumours and cancers and hence decided to rather open up a museum and make some money! 😛

 

(these pics are from google)

Overall, Philly is not just about cheesesteaks and liberty bell but also about these gems like the penitentiary, mutter museum and recreating the famous “Rocky” running scene at the Museum of Art staircase.

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World is a Canvas..

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Taking advantage of the MLK day long weekend, we flew Florida to escape the Boston winters. The main agenda was to explore the wet-prairie ecosystems of south Florida but we also checked out few parts of Miami as we happened to be in the neighborhood.

Apart from the regular beach attractions, one area worth mentioning is Wynwood Walls. Located in a fairly sketchy neighborhood of Miami, Wynwood features very intricate graffiti and art work on the walls of the buildings there. Tony Goldman is the man behind Wynwood with a simple idea of transforming Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, into giant canvases with a goal to create a center where people could gravitate to and bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.

This place has a very hip culture to it. Some pretty cool restaurants and cafes are around the corner which makes old abandoned warehouse district buzzing with people checking out art and having good food.

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A must go if you are in Miami and have some time after sun bathing.

 

The Wet Prairies of Florida

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We had a good start to 2018 after getting a chance to explore the Everglades and Cypress swamps of south Florida. Home to alligators, anacondas and hundreds of species of birds and insects, these wet-prairie ecosystems of Florida feature a great variety of wildlife.

We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and then drove to Homestead, which is a farmland couple hours from the airport and called “gateway to the keys”. Situated in the middle of nowhere, it features an alligator farm where controlled breeding and feeding of alligators is carried out. The farm has informational demos on alligator feeding, snake shows and also airboat rides. Airboats are something peculiar to swamp ecosystems. These are loud. The massive V8 engine gives the boat enough power to glide over the swamps. We went into the marsh land where we could see blue herons, Iguanas and lots of wild crocodiles. This is usually the easiest way to go deeper into the marshes unless you are up for a walking adventure.

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The airboat

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Anaconda

We sure were. The next day we signed up for a swamp hike at the Big Cypress national preserve. This hike went deep into the marshes were the water levels rose to our waists. The ranger, Rick, was super informative and gave us a rundown of the ecosystem as we explored it. The building blocks of this marshy ecosystem are the paraphytes which, being moist all year, hold all the nutrients and the eggs of the insects during the dry months. As it starts raining, these eggs hatch into insects, which then brings birds to the area, which in turn is food for alligators. Walking into the marshes is challenging. You are blind to what is beneath you. The ecosystem features limestone rocks which can get dissolved as you apply pressure by stepping on them – resulting in a big hole that you sink into. Walking sticks do help when this happens.

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The water levels in the marshes can vary, but usually is pretty high that camping is not an option. For spending the night hikers look for uplands. Its not easy to locate uplands, areas of higher elevation, just by looking around for higher grounds. The area is flat and here the definition of elevation differs from the traditional one. A few feet above is called an upland and here the water levels are low. This upland can be easily located by looking for palm trees. The vegetation in the localized uplands changes drastically – from Cypress, mangroves to coconut palms. As the water levels are low, this is considered a good place to camp at nights.. but one should be aware that these uplands are also home for alligators basking in the sun.

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Gator

During this walk, we saw lot of birds, orchids, paraphytes, epiphytes, located uplands and alligator caves, where gators come for breeding. Overall it was pretty adventurous but mesmerizing experience.

 

Following the hike we took the “loop road” back to our hotel. This is a 20 mile unpaved road off Rt 41 which goes deep into the everglades and Cyprus preserves. There is a lot of wildlife to see along this path and the most unforgettable experience was witnessing a snake hunt by red headed hawk. The hawk dived right in front of us, picked up a snake and went on a tree branch to have his lunch. All this happened in couple seconds.

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Hawk

This was nature at its best!