Friday, August 28, 2009

Trip to USA - October 2004 [ Grand Canyon, Universal Studios, San Antonio and Houston]

I visited USA in October 2004 to join my wife who was already with my daughter in Richmond (VA). My wife's niece Sandhya and her hubby Swapneel who were based in Irvine near Los Angeles requested both of us to spent some time with them before we returned to India. They had already chalked out a plan for a week-end visit to Grand Canyon along with one more faimly. Likewise, my wife's classmate Sanju and her hubby Prahlad had invited us to spend a couple of days with them in Houston during our stay in the US. So we made a plan to visit both of them. Luckily, we could get cheap tickets for Baltimore-Los Angeles-Houston-Baltimore on South West Airlines. Sudhir, my son-in-law, dropped us at my cousin Jyoti's house at Baltimore on the previous day of the schedule departure. It took us about 6 hours to reach Los Angles at around 12 noon (PST).

1. Grand Canyon, Arizona

As per plan, we were to be picked up by Swapneel from the airport from where our journey to Grand Canyon begins. Unfortunately, due to some problem with the hired SUV, Swapneel informed us that it may take about an hour to fix the problem or change the vehicle. Finally, We were picked up from the airport about 2 hours after landing at the airport. On the way, we had to take many rests as the two kids accompanying us ( I think, they were less than 1 year old) had to be frequently taken care of. The end result was that we reached Flagstaff at around 2.00 a.m, checked in the motel and immediately went into sleep.

Next day, we got up late, missing the sun rise view of the Grand Canyon. The morning was cold as we came out of the motel room to get into SUV. After 80 miles of drive from Flagataff, we reached Grand Canyon village in the south rim at around 11.00 a.m. After parking the SUV in the village parking lot, we were now on the trail which ran closure to the road. As it was getting warm and with kids around, the walking on the trail which was about 7 miles long was ruled out.
So we walked up to the open viewing gallery to look around the vast expanse of canyons which looked like mud hills, more or less, on the level at which we were standing on the gallery. Due to strong sun, the colour of the canyons looked ordinary like any other bald mountains. Colorado river flows through the Grand Canyons gorge some 1500m down. The river can be seen only from some places as a thin line. As we learnt later, many tourists stays in lodges near Grand Canyon village to reach the south rim by walk for both sunrise and sunset views during which the natural colours of canyons can be seen.

The next day, we got up early and proceeded to Grand Canyon for a sunrise view. The grassy patches on the either side of two-lane road to south rim was covered with frosts. It was cold and windy as we walked towards the viewing gallery for sunrise view. Contrary to our expectations, there very not many tourists in this early hours. The eastern horizon was covered with a thin layer of cloud. We were not sure whether we will get to see the sunrise view of Grand Canyons. As twilight cutting through the thin layer of cloud appeared, we were hopeful that sun will come out the cloud which really happened. The colour of Canyons looked amazingly far interesting than what we saw a day before at around noon. In the Himalaya, we were to look up to see the early morning sun rays lighting the snow peaks in orange and golden colours. But at Grand Canyons, we were looking, more or less, in straight line to see the same type of spectacles.

After finishing breakfast at the village market, we once again returned to the south rim and headed towards glass-covered observation tower. This was the best place to have a panoramic view of canyons on the south rim side. We found here some ancient names given to canyon rocks, among those were Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva apart from Buddha.

We started the return journey from Flagstaff in the afternoon and reached Swapneel's apartments at Irvine at dinner time.

Here are some of the pictures taken at Grand Canyon.

South rim of canyon nearest to Grand Canyon village.

Grand Canyon - South rim open viewing gallery seen from road side.

The multi-layer sediments of a canyon on the south rim side. North rim is in the background.

Way to South rim viewing gallery.

View of the north rim from the south rim side.

We are on the south rim side of the Grand Canyon.

A mountain of multi-layer sediment on the south rim side.

Twilight through the cloud from south rim.

On the south rim waiting for the sunrise view

Top layer of Grand Canyon lits with sun rays.

After finishing the sunrise view on Grand Canyon, we came here for the breakfast.

A panoramic view of north rim from the glass window gallery of the Observation Deck. River Colorado flows deep beneath the gap in the foreground. Some of the canyon rocks seen in the middle have been named after Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

North rim from a different angle.

Our motel at Flagstaff which is the nearest town for accessing south rim.

2. Universal Studios, Hollywood

Next day, we took a conducted tour bus for Hollywood and Universal Studios. The ticket price was inclusive of entry fees and select shows at Universal Studios. There was an hour's halt Hollywood boulevard which is called the Entertainment District of Hollywood. We took a sidewalk on the theater side where a number of bronze star shapes were embedded with name of famous stars were embossed inside the stars. The stars are chosen for Hollywood Walk of Fame by Hollywood Chambers of Commerce. On the sidewalks, there were few donning the famous characters from the Hollywood films such as spider man etc. Thereafter, we spent some time inside the Hollywood & Highland Complex located next to the famous Chinese theater. It was a big complex of retailers, restaurants, theaters, night clubs and indoor entertainment sports. From this complex, one can also see at a distance the most photographed Hollywood Sign on a hill. There were many things to see such as Hollywood Museum, Ripleys Believe It or Not but there was not enough time.

The bus left us at the gate of Universal Studios and we were to complete the Studio tours by 6.00p.m. when the bus will pick us at the gate. After getting inside the studio, we first took a round of the premises to decide, depending upon the queue and our interest, which tours and rides we would take. First, we took one hour studio tour on a tram. The tour gave us some glimpses of movie making ideas. The tram rode through some of the classic movie sets and passing through some stunts. The best stunt where most of the tourist got scared and at the same time felt that this was the best of some 3-4 stunts we got to see. As our tram goes through a sub-way, earth-quack hit the subway resulting in boulders falling, and in the process, we got a feeling that our tram rattled. The earth quack caused fire inside the subway and a huge flames of fire were rushing towards the tram but got extinguished before touching the tram. It was really a mind blogging stunt. We ended our tour with Jurassic Park ride. The ride ended with a near vertical plunge in to the water. The sudden appearance of some dinosaurs on ride path gave us some frights.

Some pictures of Hollywood Boulevard and Universal Studios are given below.

Hollywood walk of fame. My wife chose Hilton John for this picture.

On the Hollywood walk of fame. The famed Chinese Theater in the background.

Entrance to Hollywood and Highland Complex.

Hollywood sign on the hill seen from Hollywood and Highland Complex next to Chinese Theater.

After the entrance, the first view of Universal Studios.

At the entrance of the Universal Studios.

View of Hollywood from Universal Studio complex.

On to the Studio tours.

Our tramwent through this bridge and we saw the stunt of it being almost collapsed.

Artificial rains followed by......

....torrent of water suddenly coming from the street. For a moment, we thought that the toorent of water will come inside the tram but vanished as it came near the tram.

A set seems to be of an English county town.

Another set looks like that from some French town.

A studio set of a lake where a shark is about to pop up.

3. Houston and San Antonio

Swapneel dropped us at Los Angeles airport on way to his to office, for our early morning flight to Houston. Sanju and Prahlad came to the Houston airport and took us for a lunch at one of the Maxican restaurants on way to NASA Space Centre where we were to spend afternoon before going to their house.

We took only the museum part of the Space Centre as covering other tours such as control room, astronauts' training centre etc. would have been time consuming due to long queue. The museum has a lot of space related collections, especially the display of space vehicles from Armstrong's days to Apollo spacecrafts. For tourists with serious interest in space programme would certainly require full day to do the justice to the visit.

Next day, after a late breakfast, Prahlad and Sanju took us for a day trip to San Antonio located near the Mexico border. Naturally, the city appeared to be dominated by Mexican-Americans with deep influence of Hispanic culture. San Antonio river flows through the city and places around the river in downtown is the hub of the tourist activities. We first took a river walk passing through arch bridges, the colourful open restaurants, shopping places and starred hotels. There were many resting place under shades for the tired ones. The entire river walk ways lie below the road/street levels thus devoid of hustle and bustle of the city. And at the same time any and those who wish to exit to road side can use ramps or staircases. Some hotels have back entrance from the river side to enable their guests to have easy access to river walk and cruise.

We took lunch at one of the open restaurants ordering mainly Mexican menus and Margaritas to sip in between. We took a cruise for the remaining half distance of the river walk. We came across a theater along the river walk which had stepped seats on the one side and the stage on the other side of the river. After the end of the cruise, we climbed to a road entrance and proceeded towards Alamo Museum. It is located in a simple stone building surrounded by gardens. The museum depicts the history related to a war between Mexico and Texas republic in 1836. The day trip ended with a stroll in the Market Square. The whole area gave the Mexican atmosphere.

Next day, Sanju took us to her University of Texas-Downtown before dropping us at the airport for taking an afternoon flight to Baltimore. After spending night at Jyoti and Raghu's house, we joined them on our return journey to Richmond which they had planned earlier.

Here are some photos of Houston and San Antonio.

Outside NASA Space Centre.

Displays at NASA Space Museum.

Apollo space craft on display.

Outside Sanju and Prahlad's Bungalow in Houston.

San Antonio river side walk.

Colourful open restaurants on San Antonio river side.

Coffee break on the river side.

Lunch break at one of the river side restaurants.

San Antonio river cruise.

A theater on the river side.

....and the stage on other side of the river.

River cruise about to go under one of many such bridges.

On the boat cruise with a guide-commentator.

One of the desplays on the river side.

A chocolate maker in San Antonio.

Alamo museum in San Antonio.

Inside one of many colourful shops at Market Square.

University of Texas- Downtown entrance with a metro station on the right.

Outside University of Texas-downtown metro station.

A connecting alley inside University building.

Sanju's chamber in University of Texas-Downtown.

Houston skylines seen from Sanju's chamber.

One of many skycrapers in downtown Houston.

The famous cancer hospital in Houston.

Fall colours near Baltimore.

Fall colours somewhere on the way from Balimore to Richmond.


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