Saturday, November 27, 2010


My wife gave me three options for breakfast this morning.

Toast the bread leftover from last night’s dinner and eat.

Eat the dosas made from the dough left over from yesterday’s breakfast.

Boil a cup of tasteless oats and eat.

I stood in the balcony contemplating the options when my eyes caught a flash of colour on the compound. The coucal had caught a plump, fresh and juicy caterpillar and was preparing to enjoy its breakfast.

Lucky coucal. No leftovers. Always fresh food.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pittsburgh and Back home

There were no plans for the morning of 27th June except for driving around Washington DC for an hour, looking at things ( from inside the car) which we could not visit - like the Washington monument , Lincoln memorial , Arlington war memorial and so on before proceeding to Pittsburgh.
We drove in front of the Washington Monument, Lincoln memorial and another building which I do not recognize now and then we were supposed to cross the Potomac river and go over to Arlington.

At that point Vishwa took one wrong turn somewhere and his GPS, which had grudgingly borne his abuses (he repeatedly shouted at it to shut up – when he knew his route) and was waiting for a chance for revenge, took the opportunity to confuse him further. It guided him into a dead end and instructed him to turn left and drive into the river. Luckily for us, he decided to dump it and switch over to his map and two hours later we emerged from the maze of unknown streets and were on the freeway (I 68, if I remember right) leaving Washington DC about thirty miles behind us and heading towards Pittsburgh.
We had lost quite a lot of time and patience and almost all of us were hungry and irritable. Luckily we had packed rice, yoghurt and pickles and had picked up some sandwiches from a Subway outlet sometime during the aimless drive, out of which we lunched at the next rest area and it helped in reducing the hunger and irritability in the group. By evening we reached Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh had been included in the tour for two reasons. Practical and Spiritual. It is almost midpoint between Washington DC and Canton MI and has a good Indian restaurant called Udipi café and so, is convenient for a stopover. It has the famous Balaji temple which is expected to attend to the Spiritual needs, but because of its even more famous canteen, it ends up serving the gastronomical needs (better than the Udipi Café) rather than spiritual. The Pongal, Puliyogare and Curds rice, served and sold as ‘Prasadam’ have a greater pull than Lord Balaji.

We checked into the Comfort Suites, Pittsburg , went over to Udupi café for dinner and then called it a day.

I went out for a walk as usual the next morning. I walked along the road in front of the hotel for about two kilometers. There were some intersections on the way and I had to use the button for "walk signal" to cross the road. It felt nice to press the button and see the zooming flow of cars stop respectfully at a distance, providing me a clear passage to cross over.

I got carried away with the power to stop traffic and crossed the road whenever I found a pole with the button, even if there was no need. I returned after walking for an hour (and probably the Pittsburgh motorists heaved a sigh of relief) and just as I reached the hotel, was tempted to stop the traffic one last time to go to the other side of the road, and come back. It was right in front of the hotel. I crossed the road and when I wanted to get back, found that the pole on the other side had no button but only a large hole in its place. I was stuck on the other side of the road with no chance of crossing back. I had to walk more than a kilometer on that side of the road to find a pole with the button and cross back. Served me right for being a nuisance to Pittsburg traffic.

Since it was the last day of the trip and there was nothing to do except visiting the temple (and collecting enough Pongal and Puliyogare to last for two days) and so, the rest of the party took it easy. We reached the temple around eleven in the morning,

We obtained the blessings of Lord Balaji, filled our stomachs and all other available containers with ‘Prasadam’ and were on our way home by one in the afternoon. We drove back leisurely stopping here and there on the way and reached Canton Mi in the evening, bringing to end a much anticipated trip.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bombay Club and White house

The meeting in the hotel room, which began as soon as we returned from the museum, had a one point agenda. Planning for the dinner. After a good lunch and a refreshing nap, people in the hotel room were in much better moods, and participated wholeheartedly in the process of selection of an Indian restaurant for dinner.
Bhanu knew some place which she had visited during her previous visit to Washington, but they had shifted. She was trying to find the new location and Vishwa was searching the net. Children, who are usually lukewarm about Indian food, also participated eagerly. I was casually leafing through one of the information booklets that were in the suite and found the ‘Bombay Club Restaurant’ in the restaurants section. Vishwa took it up for further research and gave his approval. Some more discussion took place and the hammer fell for Bombay Club for dinner.

We had a little time before setting out for dinner and decided to take a stroll around the Capitol Hill and see the National botanical garden, which was not far from the hotel. I was expecting a fabulous garden with lots of trees, shade, fountains and flowers. But the garden that we entered was nowhere near my expectations. It was neither large nor had any trees or shade. It is not easy for a garden to impress a person who has spent half his child hood in Lalbagh, Bangalore, but this place was not even trying. Still, having entered in, we spent some time there and headed for the Bombay club restaurant.

Capitol south and Farragut west were on the same metro line and we reached the Farragut west station in less than half an hour. It took some time to find the Connecticut Avenue, on which the Bombay club was located. After arriving at the spot we learnt that prior reservations were required and a table would be available for us in an hour. So, to spend time, we decided to stroll down the street and just as we took a turn at the end, found that we were in Lafayette square, right opposite the White House.

A visit to the white house was not on our agenda for the evening but the hunger for Indian food took us to the abode of the American president. I was expecting a huge crowd and visibly tight security in front of White house and was surprised to see not more than a dozen tourists. Also, there was only one secret service vehicle in front of the building and two or three officers keeping watch. I could walk right up to the fence and take a picture of the white house. It looked very unassuming and simple.

We were back at the restaurant in an hour, but it took another half an hour by the time a table was free.

Luckily, once the order was placed, the food arrived in reasonable time and it did taste very good. For once we had ordered sensibly and we were all pleasantly full when we walked out. It was dark and cool and we languidly walked back to the station and arrived at the hotel half asleep.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Smithsonian Museums (little bit about)

Washington DC was hot on that summer afternoon, 26th of June 2010 and after a heavy lunch no one was prepared to think of anything beyond the walls of the comfortable suite of the Hotel Capitol Hill Suites. However, I was keen to go and see a bit more of Washington DC and particularly the Smithsonian museums and Vishwa was willing to accompany me. But we had to rush through and be back by evening. The metro guide showed that we had to take just one train – blue line- from the Capitol South station which was about five minutes walk from the hotel and that it should not take more than ten minutes to reach the Smithsonian station, very close to the natural history museum.

I enjoyed travelling by the Metro service in Washington DC. The stations were not crowded, the directions and instructions were very clear, trains were frequent and comfortable. Vishwa actually had parked the car in one of the stations soon after our arrival in Washington DC and we had decided to move around by train.

The Natural History museum, as expected was very interesting and enlightening but I had to see what would require a full day, in one hour.

We rushed through the NH museum and hurried towards the Museum of Aerospace. We had to change trains at LE plaza, travel fifteen minutes by another train and then walk a considerable distance to reach the Aerospace museum but it was worth every bit of the effort. I was very happy to see the plane built by the Wright brothers, the vintage planes and the world war machines. Again, it would require a full day to do justice to the exhibition.

Had I got enough time I really would have spent a full day there but we were already delayed. Still, I managed to go through all the sections before coming out reluctantly and catching the train back to the hotel.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The US Capitol

To enter the Capitol, You stand in a line for security check and get in to the visitor center if you are not considered a security threat. Upon entering the center, you are given a hand band which should be on your body till you leave the Capitol,and a time slot at which you may see a documentary about the Capitol in the attached theater if you so wish.

Later you stand in another line to be made part of a group of about twenty and assigned to an official for a conducted tour of the capitol. They give you a pair of ear phones which you stick into your ears and follow the leader looking at things which he points out and hearing what he says. I have difficulty comprehending the American accent. Fortunately our leader was speaking slowly and had an accent which I could understand and he did give a good commentary. He talked about the senate, the congress, the house of representatives etc etc, (which is not very clear to me even now) showed us the doors leading to both the houses, explained the tradition, history and architecture of the Capitol building, mentioned the importance/ significance of the various paintings, statues etc etc (all of which I heard keenly but have almost forgotten) finished the tour and collected the earphones back.

Next on the agenda was the Library of congress which was across the street but approachable through an underground passage from the Capitol. On the way to the Library was the cafeteria. Apart from a good spread of the usual American stuff it provides preparations from one other country every day. On the day we visited the capitol, it was Indian food. I had made a note of the menu but have misplaced it somewhere. Palak paneer was one of the items, if I remember right. I did not taste anything as It was not meal time and even if it were, I would not have been hungry after seeing the prices.

The library of the congress is supposed to be the largest library in the world in terms of shelf space and number of books. It is open to anyone who can prove his/her credentials and necessity. The ornamental part of it is open to visitors and we spent about an hour there. I remember seeing the original copy of the American constitution and sitting on a bench to rest while others went around looking at whatever interested them.

We spent about an hour there and were out by lunch time. One of the fellow visitors offered to take a picture of the group with the Capitol building in the back ground and then we walked back to the hotel.

During the time we spent in the Capitol, they must have moved our hotel closer to the building. With Vishwa now leading the group,it took exactly ten minutes to reach the hotel against forty when i lead the party in the morning during the onward journey. My wife decided to cook up something for lunch using the ingredients that we had been lugging around but had never used till then, while self and Bhanu went in search of yoghurt.(plain, gelatin free - substituting for curd). After enquiring in half a dozen stores and restaurants around the hotel, we did locate it in a grocery shop and by the time we returned with the trophy, my wife had performed a miracle using the hotel microwave and we sat down for a lunch of chapattis, curry, salad, rice and yoghurt.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Capitol Hill Historic District

I made an early morning reconnaissance sortie around Hotel Capitol Hill Suites after taking note of the fact that it was right opposite the church and making sure that I did not stray far from the location.

It was a very quiet area with quaint houses lining both sides of the street. They were built on a raised platform with a few steps going up from the small garden, which was separated from the pavement by metal grills. The whole neighbourhood looked cosy and comfortable.

I moved a few blocks up and down in all directions looking at these houses. There were news paper bundles on the steps and some houses had grocery bags in front of the doors. Parked cars occupied both sides of the street. So, people were living there but I did not see a soul during my forty five minutes of wandering except for two or three joggers and their dogs.

After sometime I noticed that every house had an identical metal plaque in front and on close inspection found that the area was the Capitol Hill Historic District and the houses were more than hundred and fifty years old! They were probably protected and being preserved for posterity.

Vishwa had said that the Capitol is within walking distance from the hotel and I saw that one of the streets ended in a barricade and guessed that it should be leading to the Capitol.

The day did not start before ten in the morning for the rest of our party and so, Vishwa left early to get the entry passes to the Capitol, instructing others to get ready fast and be in front of the Capitol latest by ten. He tried to give me directions to the place but since I had already seen the area I nodded my head without actually hearing what he said. I managed to get the rest of the group out by half past nine and lead them towards the barricaded road. On reaching the barricade we made enquiries and found that it was not the entry point and we should have gone in the opposite direction. I pretended that I did not hear what my wife was saying and was relieved when we had the first glimpse of the Capitol building after fifteen minutes.

Another ten minutes walk on that summer morning and we were in front of the Capitol, though not as fresh and enthusiastic as we were, when we started.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Statue Of Liberty And Ellis Island.

I had not expected such a big crowd waiting to board the ferry and was surprised to see long lines in front of all the ticket counters. Somehow I had felt that you just bought a ticket, walked into a waiting ferry and went to the statue of liberty. While Vishwa stood in the queue and others rested on the bench, I just moved around taking in all the activity.

The bulk, some of the US citizens acquire, intrigue me a lot and I find that my eyes keep wandering in their direction again and again. Not that we do not have praiseworthy sizes back home. But they cannot match the size and numbers. And I really stare at them with awe when I find them in front of a huge tub of ice cream or a large pizza. Here was a good one. It was not decent to focus on this gentleman (and definitely not safe if he did not like it) and hence, I focused on our group, sitting on the bench and waited for him to walk into the frame.

We joined the end of the queue to board the ferry and I felt that we will be there for at least two hours. I don’t like long queues and personally feel that it is not worth standing in a line for hours for anything, unless it is something that you can’t do without. But the tickets had been bought and there was no choice. Fortunately the ferry was a large one and accommodated a lot of people and so we did not have to wait in the queue for long.

We boarded the ferry and just as it left the jetty, it provided a panoramic view of the southern tip of Manhattan.

In about ten minutes, we were near the statue of liberty.

We were satisfied with whatever we saw from the ferry and decided not to disembark for a closer look but to proceed to the next stop, the Ellis Island. Ellis Island on New York harbour was where millions of immigrants stepped out of their ships and sought entry into the US and a better future.

The immigration center on the island was in operation from 1892 to 1954. The buildings were abandoned after that and were restored and converted into a museum in 1990.

The immigration museum has various sections which house historic records, photographs and artifacts related to the immigrants as well as statistics and other information about them like their geographical distribution, ethnic distribution, present situation etc etc.

It takes a full day or two to see all the sections in detail and they are really interesting and worth spending the time there. But we had just an hour or two and we rushed through the exhibition and were out before five in the evening. We caught a ferry back and walked to the world trade center station licking the ice cream cones that we bought from the ice cream van,

pausing now and then to look at the evening life around broad way

We reached Plainsboro by half past six, had an early dinner, and were ready to leave. It took some time for Vishwa to coax his camera to auto click and take a picture of the full group but he managed it after a few unsuccessful attempts.

We were on the freeway by seven in the evening and after passing through Philadelphia and Baltimore, were in front of Hotel Capitol Hill Suites, Washington DC by midnight of 25th June 2010.

We checked into the room and I could keep my eyes open just long enough to see the makeshift arrangements being made for Bhanu’s birthday celebrations and witness her cutting a pear placed in front of a bowl of chocolates, instead of a cake.