Monday, March 30, 2015

Majestic Niagara Falls & Maryland

Early in the morning we headed to the Niagara Falls. I guess no words can truly do justice to the scenic beauty of the magnificent waterfall.  The sheer size and sound of the waterfall is amazing.The rainbow across the waterfall just added more beauty to our pictures.The word Niagara originates from the Indian word “Ongniaahra" meaning "Thunder of Waters". Unfortunately the Maid of Mist was not operational during that time so after clicking pictures from different view point we saw a documentary on Niagara and then left for the Corning Glass factory.

Although we had seen Morano Borano glass factory in Italy, it was nice to see the demonstration again especially for the kids. You can also make your own glass in a 40 min class however we couldn't do that due to time constraint. The museum has a beautiful modern as well as ancient display of art collection. After travelling the whole day we took refuge in Gaithersburg, Maryland where we rested for the night. This was the end of day 2 tour.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

1000 Islands & Buffalo

No, I am not talking about the 1000 Island dressing -yum ; nor am I going to give out any kind of information or experience about a buffalo... lol..

The first destination for our Bus tour was the Thousand Islands. And yes it did remind me of the Thousand Island dressing and presumably the dressing got it's name from 1000 Islands. Honestly, I have to admit I hadn't even heard about this place till the time I got to know that it was a part of our tour. I didn't know there was an archipelago of 1,864 islands that straddled the U.S and Canada border.  Some islands are spread across a 100 km and some are so small that either they are occupied by a single residence or have just a tree on it along with some shrubs. The only way for most of the people to commute is through boats or water Taxi. On our one hour cruise we also saw the smallest 2 islands on the Canadian and US water joined by a tiny bridge. There were few spectacular Castles on some islands as well as Alstar Tower which was constructed with uneven and slanting walls, ceilings and roofs. Although on this trip we could not have a chance to go to Canada but we did technically enter it through the international waters.  

After the cruise we travelled the whole day. The bus stopped for dinner at a Chinese restaurant which served an amazing Buffet with over 100 dishes. After dinner we took a 15 min detour to a supermarket to pick up some food/ drinks for breakfast for the next day as we were to leave early morning to see the majestic Niagara Falls. I think we stayed in the city Buffalo for the night which is very close to the Niagara Falls. This was the end of our Day 1 tour.

Monday, March 16, 2015

New York City BABY!

So here we were feeling the fresh breeze of New York on our face and ready to head to our hotel to dump our luggage. When we reached our hotel we got a heart attack when the bill of $180 was handed over to us. To be honest we weren't even paying that much for our hotel; the amount we had to shell out just to reach one way to our hotel was outrageous.

Finally after we checked in, we tried to find the best and economical ways to commute and found out about a great shuttle service that dropped us, just for $3, in the heart of Manhattan, right next to Times Square which is one of the world’s most visited tourist attraction. By the time we reached Times Square we were famished and what better place to have our first meal than The Hard Rock CafĂ©. We filled our belly with tantalizing food and were off to the Toys R Us store where not only were the kids freaking out but so were we J. Aananya was totally smitten by the princess section and so was I. We just wanted to stay there forever. We took a ride on the 60 feet Ferris wheel inside the toy store. This was one of the most humongous toy stores I have ever seen. Kids had a blast taking pics with Minnie, Mickey, Smurf and Smurfet and we totally lost track of time.

The next haunt was M&M New York’s largest candy store and all the 3 kids ahemm 3rd being Aakaash went crazy buying M&M. We definitely got some cute pics there. Later we visited the toy store for the big kid Aakaash – The Apple Store. Thereafter we strolled around the streets taking in the glittering and bustling nightlife of New York after which we retired to bed totally exhausted. The next day we were leaving for our first bus tour in US infact this was our first bus tour of our lives.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tour De Force

It seems like a holiday in US is a dream vacation for a lot of people. Although it was not a dream vacation for me but I use to always tease Aakaash that I have been to one more continent than him which was of course North America.  Now I know what people have to go through to get into one of the most powerful nations in the world. It is like conquering a war.

To begin with, the process starts of by applying for visa…... the length of the form is like writing a thesis and after submitting the form, to get a date for the interview – well there was 3 months waiting period. Finally when the day arrived of the interview I was nervous coz I had heard so many stories of the visa being declined without a reason. To make matters worse we saw a few people who were right in front of us get their Visa rejected within a matter of seconds. As we have been to a lot of countries so logically it shouldn't have been a problem still the worry about the Visa getting rejected for some frivolous reason weighed on my mind and the fact that a good amount of money would go waste was not a very comforting thought. I knew we were next and right at that moment nature decided to play Knock Knock with Aananya. Aakaash took her to the bathroom while I stared at the closed bathroom door willing it to open as quickly as possible; lo behold I was called. I started with the interview and finally after a while Aakaash also joined me. Everything went off well and within 3 days our 10 year multi entry visa was in our hands.

I personally feel that if you are planning a trip to USA, you should never plan a trip for anything less than 2 weeks. So we planned a trip for 21 days. This was for the first time that Aakaash was going to take such a long holiday; even for our honeymoon he hadn’t taken a holiday this long. Well with lots of persuasion, perseverance, fights, arguments etc. he agreed and I started working on the finer details of our holiday.

When I plan our holidays, I like to plan it perfectly and meticulously, nothing left to chance. The budget factor was also to be taken into account very seriously. I started planning with 5 and when it increased to 10, I promised Aakaash that we will not go for any holidays for a whole year and I kept my promise. However by the time we finished our trip and came back we had exceeded 15 for sure.

Discouraged by a lot of people we were told not to do east coast and west coast at one go. However we/I felt differently. I was not sure that we could cough up a huge amount so often and take so many holidays. Now that Aakaash’s leave was approved, we just decided to go ahead and do it all. We knew it would be hectic and tiring but what the heck. Sometimes it’s worth it.

So we booked our ticket almost a month before from Lagos to New York and back. Now the internal flights were to be done, so after deciding how much time to be spent where, I came up with tentative dates and the cheapest flight options, however later we had to rethink about the flights leaving the best deals and taking into account the time factor and convenience coz of the kids. I have to admit a lot of planning went in to execute this trip.

15 days prior to our trip we sat down to book our internal flight tickets. For some airlines we got to know that they accept credit cards only from US and not from any other country. This slowed down our booking process. One desperate call to Aakaash’s friend in US, Sundeep Dhaliwal, turned things around – he was extremely helpful and shared his Credit Card details and we proceeded with confirming our bookings.

So till now I was on my A game- month before international flight tickets done, 15 days before internal flight tickets done, 7 days before hotel bookings almost finalized. Just then we realized that there was some glitch happening in the west coast sector especially when we were trying to figure out our trip to Niagara Falls. When you Google Niagara Falls you would get that it is in NY. So we thought that we can cover that in a day since we were landing in New York City. Being our first time in NYC we didn't realize that Niagara Falls is located in the State of New York and is nowhere close to New York City. I can’t even begin to describe the last minute panic that I was struck with. However the years old adage came out to be true in this case – Whatever happens, happens for the best. While trying to figure how to get there with the cheapest and best way possible, considering the time constraint because we had already booked our internal flights, Aakaash stumbled upon a Bus tour company which was working out perfectly for us. We were able to cover so many more places because of it and it was a superb, comfortable and economical as well. We had to make a few changes but it turned out to be the best decision for us. After finalizing with the tour company, we finalized our hotels and booked our car for Florida. Now we were completely set and were just counting days to board our flight.

Well as I have mentioned in my previous blogs, nothing comes easy to me. There is always a twist or a tale somewhere in our trips. So all excited, bags packed, kids in place, all bookings done, printouts neatly kept, empty suitcases packed (lol for shopping of course; what do you expect), reached airport on time, it was a direct flight. I despise hopping flights and in 11 hours and 20 mins we would have been in U S of A.

So we were waiting in our lounge when we were told that our flight had been delayed indefinitely. That was of course the first blow. We waited for hours and the kids got impatient by the minute. Hours passed by and before we knew it the flight got delayed by 11 hours. Meanwhile, Aananya had managed to break the foot rest of her stroller so we tied her bib and made a make shift foot-board which was actually no good. Hence it was decided that we would have to go there and first thing buy a stroller coz it was not possible to carry a 3 year old everywhere.

While we were boarding, there was a cheer and relieve in the air. After exhausting 24 hours including reaching airport 3 hours before the time of the flight, delay, the check-in etc., we finally touched down at the JFK Airport. We were in a hurry to leave the airport and carry on with our plan since we had already lost out on 11 hours. But wait… could we leave that easy… Not just yet… Our bags were out thanks to the priority tags but we were waiting for the stroller. Waiting … waiting… waiting…. Wait a minute, the whole airport was almost empty and we were still waiting. Finally we had to go and ask for assistance since the special baggage belt was now empty and our stroller was still nowhere to be seen.

We finally got to know that our stroller had been lost in the transit – we had an option to either waste our next day to come back for it or the Airline was willing to replace it with an old stroller which was unclaimed. I was eyeing a beautiful princess stroller abandoned on the airport. The person in charge came to me and said “Let me see if I can find a more appropriate stroller”. I immediately asked him with a little hesitation about the abandoned princess stroller. He said, “Oh I thought you have a boy, if you want to take it, go ahead”. Aananya had really small hair then and was fully packed from head to toe with winter clothing to face the cold weather of New York, hence the confusion. I grabbed the almost new princess stroller with the price tag still on it and strolled out of the airport happily. Although we had spent more than an hour in the airport with the outcome that we had I didn't mind it at the end of it. Finally we stepped out of the Airport –exhausted and happy as we had finally got victory in a long unending combat. The fresh cold breeze of New York finally welcomed us.