Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tulip Fields of Skagit Valley

Rows and rows of colours, swaying to the winds of pacific north west, setting the ground ablaze in a rainbow coloured flame. The closer you get, the bigger they get – individually enticing you to a flowered land that kind of captures your attention so much that you forget the hordes of people chattering around you. Only two things might break your trance – a view that seems more beautiful or a splash of the puddle you just stepped into because you were focusing on the flowers. But trust me – the view of tulip gardens and just roaming around in the bulb farms surrounded by hills and windmills is totally worth it!

I don’t know about people abroad, but every Indian is surely in love with tulip farms thanks to the elaborate dreamy sequences in Bollywood movies. Of course they were Dutch fields or Kashmiri fields but tulip farms are same everywhere, right? This Saturday, I witnessed the beauty of tulip fields at Skagit Valley, Mt Vernon in the state of Washington, United States and I am still in a spell cast by that place. Acres and acres of blossoms dancing on that priced sunny day. It totally was a sight I would love to go back to any day.

Nestled in a pristine valley surrounded by the Cascadia range, Mt. Vernon has several tulip fields that make it one of the best getaways from Seattle specially during spring. Two very famous tulip fields of the area are – Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde, and I made my way toward RoozenGarde for my flowery day out of Seattle. 

RoozenGaarde was established in 1985 by the Roozen family and Washington Bulb Company. Every spring for about 3 to 4 weeks, the garden is adorned with about 20-30 different variety of tulips (from what I could see), daffodils, iris and lilies. During late April and early may, RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town host the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and this is the best time to visit Mount Vernon to bask in spring’s warmth and walk around the arrays of the flowers.

While RoozenGaarde is a vast area with more flowers, Tulip Town flaunts more variety and ensures more colours in a single picture frame. Sure, for people staying in the North West of the US, sighting a random bunch of tulips at road side is not that uncommon, but the tulip fields of Mt. Vernon give you an experience that is close to the one that one might have if in Netherlands or in Turkey. For once I could say too much of something wasn’t bad at all!

By the way - Trivia! - Even though tulip fields are now a well-known tourist attraction of Netherlands, the flowers and the idea of the fields is native to Turkey, Iran and Lebanon. Anyhow, people who cannot fly to the countries that are famous for the fields, and for people visiting Seattle till the first week of May, look of for sunny days and be sure to pay Mt. Vernon a visit!

How to Get There:
Skagit Valley is about 70 miles north of Seattle (Downtown) and it takes almost 2 hours to get there by road. This is the best way to reach Skagit valley since the buses from Seattle take about 3-4 hours and after a decent number of bus hops.

Where to Eat:
Do not eat at the gardens because it is crazy expensive! Instead make may to Mt Vernon city restaurants. There are plenty of options. 

About Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde:

Both the venues are just 2 miles away and you would require minimum 2 hours at atleast one of the places if you love photography or nature or both. Both places have a 7 USD entry fee which also covers your parking cost. Best time to visit the fields is either early morning or after 4:00 PM. This way you would avoid major traffic. Also the grounds are muddy so you would want to wear water resistant boots and keep your eye out for sunny days.
This week the farms are in full bloom and Friday is sunny – just letting you guys know.

P.S. – Keep a look out for Llamas and horses! I went excited like a child when I saw Llamas for the first time ever.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring is here in Seattle!

Nestled between the snow-clad Cascade Mountains and the Olympic range and small but seemingly vast Puget Sound, is this beautiful city of Seattle. A city that has affirmed my belief that one can fall in love with a place more and more with every passing day. 

Back in October, when this place was painted in hundred shades of autumn, I thought this is the prettiest a “city” can look if it is kind to nature and if it is loved back by nature in equal measures. Then came the constant overcast and some prized white washed days of winter and I found new reasons to appreciate how blessed Seattle was by nature. Now it is spring here and I feel there is no better time to explore Seattle!

If you guys agree with me and if you are planning to see the blooming flowers, butterflies and blast of colours around in Seattle – I would suggest you start it with a University of Washington Tour! It is a pink-white affair at University of Washington these days and I am sure it will warm your hearts with pure joy.

People always say appreciate the small things in life because they have the potential to keep you happy – well, at least for me it is turning out to be true. The tiny cherry blossoms clustered everywhere these days have become the reason for smiles on every visitors face who just can't get enough of the flower shots (think photoshoots!).

I always saw these dreamy pictures of Japan and yearned to be there during ‘Hanami’ season which is such a cute traditional affair under the canopy of Sakura aka cherry blossoms. Some people also know of the Sakura Festival at Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. But very few know of Seattle and University of Washington Cherry Blossom weeks. 

So here I am promoting my University for the first time ever on my blog – because this season of pink bliss is just one of the many reasons to visit Seattle now and explore nature at its best in the Pacific North West.

In the coming days, I will tell you more of this beautiful corner of the USA but for now let us welcome spring with a touch of pink, a dash of green, some sparkling white and just Words.

Not gloomy and frozen for winter's gone
And canopy of love is no more forlorn
Sing, dance, gallop and prance
The day is warm and new hope is born...

Bursting with happiness and warmth
Swaying to the breezy chords of nature
Unfreezing the benumbed hard wood core
You breath life in so many more...

Walk a path that is adorned with life
Sakura is here and Nature is fluttering again...

Thawed in the winter sun, spring is riding on
On a land all glee and lanes colored again...

For those wondering why I got poetic to convince you guys to travel and explore Seattle – didn’t the photos render you speechless at first and then a tad bit poetic? I rest my case! 
O, and I said spring and not sakura season - so don't worry there are more colorful flowers in the vicinity to pleasantly surprise you

Visit Details: When and Where?

University of Washington from 29th March to 9th April to witness 100% blooming cherry blossom trees. The flowers would still be there for another 2 weeks after that but not in full glory. Early morning would be the best time to visit to avoid major crowd.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Women Travel Bloggers who have NOT Quit Their Jobs to Travel

Women, Empowerment, girl-power, feminism were some of the few words that were trending on social medial channels recently. Reason -  International Women’s Day! 
I wanted to add my two cents on women empowerment in a way that literally wows me. So here it is!

How many times have we heard of people who quit their job to be a “full-time travel blogger”. That takes courage and hats off to those amazing souls! But think about people who love their job but love travelling and sharing their travel stories at the same time!  How many times we have heard of successful ‘travel-bloggers’ who have some other full-time job? And then think about such women in India (think family). I hadn’t of many to be frank. But since I have been trying to achieve that for the last 3 years now I thought of making this Women’s Day about women who not only get work-life balance in some sense but also achieve work-life-travel balance!
Though my hunt for this list started almost a month back, I only found three dare devils who dared to pursue their dreams and passion, and have achieved success in every domain to some extent. Initially I thought of scarping this whole post but then I felt, maybe this might turn out to be that little ray of hope that some people might need to not give up on some dream they have! So, I asked these people what inspired them to do both and how they managed it all and here is what they had to say…

1.   Raksha Prasad -
I am an IT professional who craves travel. I love exploring new places and meeting new people. I mostly travel alone or with any of my travel buddies. I am at ease in being a tourist or a traveller or even both, whatever the place requires me to be! My travel blog "Solopassport" aims at showcasing my experiences and photographs taken along my travel journey. I have not quit my job to follow my passion which is travel. On one side is "my profession" that feeds me with bread and butter and on the other side is my first and only love "travel" - both demands equal amount of time and effort. It is difficult but with a bit of planning in advance I give enough importance to both. I utilize all (well most) of my weekends (long weekends are a bliss) and my annual leaves travelling - it could be near or far - as long as it is travel and exploring new places.

2.  Edwina D'souza -
I've been travel blogging for 3 years now and successfully balance my travels with my full time corporate job – previously with a hospitality firm in Mumbai and now with a Multinational Consultancy and Accounting firm. I love travelling and exploring new places. I simultaneously maintain a travel blog – “Wannabemaven”- to keep my passion for travel alive. My blog talks about all things related to travel – from food to cities, history, art, culture and occasionally films. I also blog extensively about Mumbai as a city – things to do, places to see, etc. I’m currently concentrating on creating a wider base for my travel blog. This needs me to write interesting travel stories about cities and cultures that are not quite heard of. Indirectly, this means more travel and I’m thrilled by the very thought of it. Also, I’ve realized it is important to set goals. Daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals maybe, but do it! If I must take a break, I try to travel someplace new at least once a month. I ensure, I write at least once a week on my blog. It all depends on how badly you want something. Travel is very important to me. I don’t see it as a luxury but a necessity. So, I try to find a way to keep travelling.

3.  Suman Doogar –
I believe in balance in life, I think because too much or too little of anything can leave you feeling deprived. I am a full-time Psychology teacher in a private school, I tutor in part time, I organize treks to Himachal Pradesh under a small venture called “Nomadic Shoes” and I am married. So, add another whole spectrum of work of cooking, cleaning, dusting and washing utensils. And I travel. I never felt the need to leave my job or ignore my family for the sake of travelling. A little bit of this and a little bit of that keeps me grounded and offers variety at the same time. Teaching and travelling are my two passions, one gives me security and the later breaks the monotony of routine life. Each aspect of my life compliments the other. I am a better teacher because I am a traveller.

May not be enough evidence, but if you want to travel and are not sure of letting go of your jobs – maybe there is a way of doing both, right? Let me know of your thoughts in the comment section below.

P.S. - All the photos have been used after prior consent by the interviewees.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tour de Vegas

The North Strip - Las Vegas
Lights, camera and long walks – Welcome to Las Vegas people!
I know I was on a considerably long hiatus from blogging since grad-life has started getting to me, but I am back with some party vibes and fun, I guess. I usually write about history, nature or some really pretty but not widely known place of the world – but today I break the trend with a city that literally never sleeps! The desert city of Las Vegas is undoubtedly one of the most famous tourist destinations of the United States and I got to see why during my winter break in December. Though the place invoked some mixed feelings in me.

Vegas is engineered to lure tourists and mint money in whatever way possible – from world class chefs’ restaurants, to multiple bars in every hotel; from casinos that keep running almost 24x7 to open invite parties at night; from strip clubs to artsy shows; from limousines lined everywhere to tour busses; and of course, the glory of every hotel in making itself as amazing and aligned with its own theme. Sounds fun? Maybe it does, but it didn’t to me so I focused on what I loved the most of the list stated above – architecture, and enjoyed my trip to Vegas to some extent no doubt!    

From the very first glance, one can tell that this place was all about the pomp and the show. We reached Las Vegas at about 7:30, and were all ready to explore the city – at least the North Strip in an hour! Just getting out of our hotel Circus Circus took us about half an hour! The lobbies of the hotels of Vegas are huge and are like a trap for people for all kinds of interests – gambling, parties, food, shopping, and music – and Circus Circus was no different. In our case we also saw a small scale circus during our venture of finding the exit. Carryout food, inexpensive Uber ride and there we were at the start of the strip – Mandalay Bay.

I have to admit; I was in awe of all the structures aka hotels of Vegas. The hotels of Vegas make you a fan of architecture for sure if nothing else and this experience starts with the gates and gargoyles of Mandalay Bay, the luminous pyramid keystone and Egyptian statues of Luxor and the Scottish Kingdom themed hotel Excalibur. 

It feels like you move from an era to another, but unfortunately do not feel the touch of history in any.

Soon you get to New York and Paris – both take you to the cities on some funky rides and party nights. New York New York sticks to an image of party and shopping center while Paris gives you the first “real” feel of casino and culinary art in Vegas. But this is all a warm up!

New York New York
While the center area of North Strip gets modern in architectural sense with New York New York, Monte Carlo, MGM, Paris etc., the best of Vegas follows this section and takes you back to some old school architecture treat flavoured with royal essence. Surprisingly this section is the Casino hub of Vegas too but all I could think about was the beautiful interiors and the classic amalgamation of modern and ancient elements of architecture!

Bellagio and the Fountains
Bellagio fountains and the street performers there made the slowly turning dull evening beautiful and vibrant again. 15 mins, different songs and the fountains dance to them. In those 15 minutes, street performers keep you company with dance, music and mime. But if you are not a fan of that either and are there with your partner – well, you will love this place!

Lobby of Caesar's Palace
While Bellagio starts with a touch of Roman Era – Caesar’s Palace just takes you back completely to Caesar’s time in a way. This Greco-Roman hotel is probably the second largest of Vegas and is considered to be one of the most known Casino Hotels of the world! 

Caesar's Palace is like this throughout! 
Caesar Palace’s grandeur is not limited to its casino glory image or external architecture with the King Towers, Roman baths and sculpted fountains – the interiors of this place is a must see! 

Forum Mall
Imagine a hotel that has life size statues of Roman Gods and Kings – sculpted and imported from Italy and has frescos and spiral escalators (not just staircase) – do you want to miss this place? I was in a spell of wonder, but only till the time I reached Venetian though.

The Venetian - the largest hotel of Vegas, second largest in the world – is literally Venice in Vegas and the prettiest hotel on the strip! The gondolas of Great Canal and ornate frescos on the ceiling of the lobby and game area left me speechless. 

Not Venice, it The Venetian
The minute I entered the Grand Canal Shoppes I actually felt like I was in Venice – just prettier and cleaner! Oh and I forgot it was night 1 o clock – thanks to the false 3d sky. (Think Hogwarts Great Hall ceiling) 

It is just 1 o clock at night
Anyways to get a ride of the canal and check out beautiful windows, small but classy shops, cafes and restaurants – there is no way one can hate that right? If you have just an hour to spend in Vegas, you know which hotel to hit.
This is no Roman Palace or Church or Museum
There are more hotels to consider like Mirage – known for its volcano fountain show, Stratosphere which has the second highest thrill ride of the world, Treasure Island and Tropicana etc… but given the contented feeling The Venetian left me with, I decided to retire for the night and end my Tour de Vegas!

Some Tips for First Timers in Vegas!
-        Carry Water with you!
-        Do not take the bus if you are a group of four or more. Ubers in Vegas turn out to be a lot cheaper.
-        The Fountains of Bellagio have fixed timings: - Monday – Friday there is a show every half hour from 3 p.m. - 8 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. while on Saturdays and holidays the show runs every half hour from 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. – 12 p.m.
-        Volcano Shows at Mirage are at 8 and 9 on weekdays and an additional show at 10 happens during weekends and holidays.
-        The Gondola Rides at The Venetian and The Forum Mall at Caesar palace both shut down at 11 p.m. and while you can still walk the gondola ride area at any hour of the day, entry to Forum after hours is not possible.

Accommodation cost in Vegas ranges from 45-250 per night during Decembers at least. Yup it is relatively cheap! I stayed at Circus Circus in a Two Queens Room that costed 44 USD/night. 

Hope this post does give you some reason to visit Vegas even if casinos and parties are not your thing. Because Las Vegas, no matter how quirky and fancy, gives everyone a reason to visit at least once if not more! 

And yes, I am leaving you guys with "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" performance!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lower Antelope Canyon - A Marvel

First Look
Narrow shafts, no visible way to enter, a sea of red soil making you wonder where you are to go next, and there you see it – A narrow opening in the side of the seemingly flat land. The opening shaft more like a slit in the mountain - like someone cracked the mountain open is the first sight that makes you wonder about the force of nature but the real deal is yet to come. At least for me the “wonder” phase for Antelope Canyon began with that glance at the entry crack.
The entrance
Long ride, a day’s delay, extremely crowded area and the only horrible “loo” experience in US so far had kind of made me question if Lower Antelope Canyon was actually going to be the bucket list place I always imagined it to be and twenty minutes later I was standing gaping at a marvel that erased all the doubts in my head.

The Magic Begins
Crowd, cold, rushed entry to exit tour nothing can actually stop you from praising Antelope Canyons which are actually Nature’s might and art sketched on ancient rock, etched and leveled by winds and water over centuries.

See the shapes?
Antelope Canyons are slot canyons located in the Navajo Nation of Arizona that are a part of the Grand Canyon. So you can imagine how old this place must be and ever curve and cut of Antelope Canyon tells you about the time gone by. My friends – the ones with whom I did the recent Grand Canyon road trip and I – joked at the entrance level that maybe people chiseled the slot to make it more appealing, but as we moved ahead in Lower Antelope, the area kept getting narrower and the formations more elaborate and stunning.  That tiny slot that started out with towering colourful rocks on two sides of a path barely enough for 15 people to stand – had arches and hollow ringed rock formations.

A friend of mine posed for me near an arch!
By the time you are done with your tour you would be speechless, cold but forgotten all about that long tiring drive, the crowded narrow path and well the loo too. I usually am very verbose when it comes to describing what I felt in a place but Lower Antelope Canyon actually rendered me speechless. That’s why I will let the photos do all the talking but will surely leave you with what to do for Antelope Canyon tips!

The changes

The Must Dos!

1.   Tours and Tickets - Buy your guided tour ticket in advance and preferably keep the tour timing between 10 AM to 1 PM. Antelope Canyons are a part of Navajo Nation and thus are private properties of the natives. Due to this there is no way you can enter the canyons without a guide. The ticket prices are quite high considering it will be at most a thirty minutes walking tour so consider that and also keep tab on if your tour is getting cancelled due to rain or heavy snowfall. I didn’t feel a photography tour was required to see Lower Antelope Canyon, but Upper Antelope is a whole different case. You get enough time to click but be aware of time and people always because the place is extremely crowded and your guides will rush you throughout the tour.

Let it shine
2.  Keep Buffer – Antelope tours during monsoons and winters have high probability of getting cancelled due to flash flood alerts. If you are travelling during this time, keep a day’s buffer for Antelope, i.e. plan your trip in a way that you are close to Antelope (South Rim Grand Canyon or Page itself) for at least a day.


3.  Necessities – Do not! I can’t stress enough on this but do not rely on the tour area cafes and loos for anything! Page Downtown is just 20 mins away from Antelope – that is the place you would want to go for all your food, coffee, water, washroom necessities.
That was it. That gap is what we crossed
4.  The right clothes – During summers it is extremely hot in the Canyons and winters are freezing. Be sure to dress right else the thirty minutes long walk would seem like eternity.

I got my pic!!!
5.  And most important one – Enjoy! This touristy place will not disappoint you, at least not for the most part.

How to get there from Las Vegas

How to get there?
Closest Airport - Page. 
Next closest and the most convenient one would be Las Vegas.
You could take guided bus tours from Page or Vegas but we did a Road Trip from Vegas and I would say it is the best way to cover the place.

Where to Eat?
Page Downtown. Many options in the area like MacD, TacoBell, Subway, Starbucks and some local restaurants. My saviour was Subway!

Where to Stay?
Hotels in Page would be a good options but most of them are 2 star places and expensive for the services they provide. I stayed in Red Feather Lodge at Grand Canyon Village South Rim, but there are plenty of options close by.  Courtyard Page or Best Western plus in Page would be the most convenient options to stay in close proximity of Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, Glenn Canyon Dam and Antelope Canyon.