Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tampa, Clearwater & off to Orlando – These were the best days of my life…

My enthusiasm knew no bounds as we started our drive from Tampa to Clearwater. A decade is a long time and the whole landscape had changed; people I knew had moved on and the place I stayed in was renamed. Nevertheless thanks to Aakaash’s searching skills even without knowing the address he managed to find the place where I had stayed for a month. The drive from Tampa to Clearwater is breathtaking and the moment we entered the beautiful drive across the ocean it overwhelmed me with amazing memories, the innocence, the fun and a blast of a time that I and my friends/ colleagues had.

Finally we were able to locate the motel where we had stayed and asked the manager if I could take few pics. A decade ago it was called Comfort Inn and it used to be in an open space now the area was covered by flyovers and loads of buildings were constructed. It was surreal to be there a decade later - last when I was here I was a kid and now I was standing there with my kids.

The last night in Clearwater from a decade ago was a crystal clear memory – everyone packing, sitting on suitcases to close the gaping mouth; requesting each other if they had some extra space in their luggage. Once all that was done most of the girls were literally crying coz we all knew that we’d all had the time of our lives and that this time would never come back and the friends we had made were going to be left behind. At that time I had with full conviction said that I will definitely come back here. Alas, so much time had passed and we all had got consumed by our daily lives and the contacts were all lost. 

Our next stop was the Clearwater beach which is famous for its pristine white sand beaches. I remember this is the place for the first time ever I went jet skiing with my friends and I think Rajat, Monika and Namita – all were non swimmers and were driving in one jet ski and  they fell off in the water, they were completely panic ridden and were having a hard time getting back up on their jet ski; can never ever forget their fear stricken faces when we reached to rescue them… lol.. Some memories! It was really nostalgic and sent me back to memory lane where so many cherished moments just came gushing in. The way Namita and I use to shop together, always covering each and every isle. The time when officially we all were taken to a night club and each one of us freaked out dancing and partying all night.

I remember we were supposed to always inform our managers or team leaders if we were planning to go out and one night I and two of my friends decided to go out for a drive to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This was also the first time ever I drove a car in my life. Of course it was late and we had to sneak out and while we were out one of my colleagues found us missing and got worried sick as to where we were. She woke up our Team Leader to ask about my where about, but he was so tired and exhausted that he told her that we must be somewhere in the hotel.. That was a narrow escape for some of us but the amount I got to hear from Monika and Namita was enough for me to always keep them in loop all the time. I do recall how we all were completely hooked to Taco Bell and almost everyday for lunch we use to walk there from office with our FACS mugs for refills which I still have.

When I was shaken back to reality we made our next pit stop at the Bahama Breeze Restaurant where a decade ago we had our last dinner before returning back to India and that time I had told my friends, one day I will definitely come back here. When we reached there I was excited like a kid, as wonderful memories were rushing back in. Took pics in the same spots where we sat a decade back, it was just wonderful. I wish if we had more time I would have definitely taken Aakaash and the kids to the Bush Garden’s where I had first encountered the craziest rides of my life. Due to shortage of time and the fact that we had to reach Orlando, soon after lunch we took to the road. We were ready to rock and roll and hit Orlando to have the time of our lives and to re-live the kids in us.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


We took our flight from New York to Tampa, Florida. The only reason for us to land at Tampa was that I wanted to visit a small town called Clearwater which was a 45 minutes’ drive from Tampa.  I had specially planned a sojourn to Clearwater to reminisce the most memorable time of my life - when I had stayed in Clearwater for a month; a decade ago.

We touched down in Tampa at 10:30 pm and boarded the airport shuttle that took us to our hotel. The next morning while I made the kids ready while Aakaash went and picked up our rental car from the Airport. Aakaash was indeed nervous driving in the US and not because it was a left hand drive, since Nigeria and Cambodia were both left hand drives; but it was due to the strict traffic rules which we had only read as a precursor to the decision of driving in the US. I love to drive but with kids I sure as hell was not going to take the wheels till I was comfortable.
I was ready and filled with nostalgia to explore the place I had lived in a decade ago. Even though the stay had been just for a month, Clearwater holds a very special place in my heart.

Friday, April 24, 2015

New York – The City that never sleeps

We were totally excited to see the iconic places of USA - The Statue of Liberty and The Empire State Building. In the morning we headed to see the UNESCO World Heritage site – The Statue of Liberty. Did you know that Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and is a symbol of freedom and democracy! The queue for the ferry was long and we had to wait a while in the sun but the trip was worth it. The ferry took us around the Statue of liberty and docked at Elis Island which was the major immigration point for a lot of Nationalities who endured days and weeks journey to immigrate to America. The skyline of New York looked beautiful across the clear blue sky. After getting off the ferry we also crossed the ground zero where once 2 majestic buildings stood. It was sad that more than 3000 innocent lives were lost in the Twin Towers due to some sadistic people who had misplaced beliefs and in the name of religion did such heinous crimes. On our way to the Empire State Building we saw beautiful Cherry Blossom trees. 

If you are planning to go to Empire State Building I would definitely advise everyone to do an online booking else you have to stand in the queue for hours. Luckily we had done the booking before so there was no queue for us and we felt like VIPs cutting through the long lines leaving people behind who were standing for hours. Empire State Building is a major landmark of New York and was the World’s tallest building for 40 years. The observation Deck on the 86th floor has a 360 view of New York and is breathtaking. Today the Empire State Building is the tallest building in New York and has 102 stories.

From there we walked down to the oldest chain of toy store in United States - FAO Schwarz. We had to go there coz of the big piano mat on which we all had a blast. The store is definitely a paradise for kids. From the FAO Schwarz we headed back to Times Square where we got featured on the billboards along with other people which was fun. The kids also had a great time meeting up with Minnie and Mickey outside Toys R Us. Finally it was dark and after dinner we called it a night and were super-duper excited for the next leg of our trip to FLORIDAAAAAAAAAA.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Washington D.C, Philadelphia & back to NYC

Today was the final day of our tour. The best part I found about the tour was that it took us to so many places that we couldn't have probably covered on our own. However, the only challenge we faced everyday was getting up very early in the morning, packing, dragging sleeping kids, checking out and hitting the bus.

So here we were tired and groggy getting into our bus to Washington DC. First stop was The White House. Our itinerary had so many places to cover that we did not have the time to go in, hence we just clicked our pics and moved on. On the opposite side of The White House was the Washington Monument. The fascinating thing about Washington Monument is that the obelisk is the tallest stone structure in the world as well as the world’s tallest obelisk. From there we were hushed away to the Thomas Jefferson Monument. At the Thomas Jefferson Memorial the view of the tidal basin and the obelisk made our shots perfect. Later we were lucky to find one of the few remaining Cherry blossom trees that bloom during April. The whole view is spectacular as 1700 Cherry blossom trees surround the tidal basin with a beautiful display of floral fireworks.

Our next stop was the Korean War Veterans Memorial where on the Mural Wall the soldier’s photographs have been etched. We saw the 19 statues depicting Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force officers beautifully carved out of stainless steel marching in the battle ground of Korean paddy field. There were more memorials like the Vietnam War Memorial, World War II memorial but again due to time constraint and a little lack of interest and knowledge we headed towards The Abraham Lincoln Memorial. It is a magnificent 19 feet tall statue of Abraham Lincoln facing the reflecting pool. There is also an engraving of “I have a Dream”; the revolutionary speech delivered by Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

From there we headed to the National Air and Space Museum. It is the 5th most visited museum in the world and has a lot of original exhibits like the wright brother’s original plane, space suit worn in Apollo 13, the first aircraft to fly around the world and amazingly so, you can also touch a moon rock. Then we headed to the Capitol Hill which is the largest residential historic district in DC. On our way to Madam Tussauds we saw the National Archive Building where all the original documents like Declaration of Independence, Bill of rights and the Constitution of United States are stored.

We have been to Madam Tussauds in London and I personally preferred the one in London; we all still had a blast clicking pics with so many Presidents and celebrities. I sat with Abraham Lincoln, gave the “I have a dream” speech with Martin Luther King. Kennedy’s, Clinton’s, George Bush and the Obama’s got pics clicked with us. George Cloony wanted to hold my hand so I let him, Brangelina were there too, Tom Cruise was elated to see me and Oprah took my interview, I might have missed out a few more.  This was our last stop at DC and we headed towards Philadelphia.

Although our tour was supposed to take us back to New York, we decided to get off at Philadelphia since Aakaash’s nephew was staying there. The first place that we went to see was the Liberty Bell which weighs over 900 Kgs. Outside the Liberty Bell Pavilion was a beautiful garden of tulips. From there we took our luggage out of the bus and met up with Dhawal. We drove around and saw the Independence National Historic Park, Independence Hall which is also a World Heritage Site and the City Centre. He took us to the Irish Famine Memorial where they have put a 30 foot bronze statue with more than 2 dozen statues that represents the pain and suffering that Irish suffered due to Great Hunger in 1840 and suffered death and disease in their country as well as during migrating to America. We walked down to the Penn Landing area where the Delaware River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was our backdrop. Aan was super excited to meet his cousin brother. We have a huge extended family and Dhawal and Aan are the only Sehgal brothers who are around 20 years apart.

Later Dhawal took us to his university and showed us the oldest computer in the world ENIAC which is Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. We also clicked quite a few pics at the Penn University Love Sign. Did a little bit of shopping and then we went for Mexican food. That was the best Mexican food we have ever had till date. Later on, all around US we did try so many restaurants but nothing could beat El Vez’s delicious slurrptious food and I seriously don’t mind going back to Philly just to dig into that mouthwatering tantalizing food. The day had come to an end and Dhawal took all the trouble to drive us back to New York and went back to Philadelphia. This was the perfect ending to our east coast bus tour.