When my husband and I got our tourist visas approved at the Mumbai consulate, after the long wait and application process, all I could think of was not that I was going to visit the US, but that I was finally going to get to hang out with two of my favorite people in the world- my little sister and my best friend 🙂
So bags packed, out of offices set, we left for our super long onward air journey to Atlanta, where my sister stays. Since I’m the traveler in question here, a travel journey cannot be complete unless its met with unnecessary hurdles on the way- so this time, it was separate middle seats for my husband and me, a grueling and scary stop over and pre immigration check at Abu Dhabi airport, and a flight glitch on the last leg at Dallas, delaying our arrival at Atlanta by a night..sigh. The silver lining was, we got a free hotel stay for the night at the Mariott at Dallas from the airline folks, and free breakfast coupons at the airport, which we promptly redeemed..hehheeh
We finally reached Atlanta around 11 am Saturday morning on 3rd May ’15, where my sister came to pick us up- that was our first Uber ride there. Now here’s the thing I really liked about the Uber concept in America, its quite different than how it is in India, coz although the people driving us are drivers, they treat you more like friends or strangers they’d like to know a little better, than passengers, who just need to pay them. And it’s not creepy 🙂 I think I learnt more about the different people I met along all our Uber rides, about the American way of life, than I would have, by just sight seeing. There were so many stories with different angles of lives- mothers, students, expats who have migrated to America, that I’ll probably put up another blog just about the stories I learnt from them, maybe in my Diary blog 🙂 But I did enjoy all the Uber rides throughout my trip there and totally recommend it to other single travelers who like to talk to strangers 🙂
So, once home, we didn’t do much, other than catch up and head off to catch the latest Fast n Furious movie (which was really lame), but the theatre experience, with those beer holders and reclining chairs was pretty cool, I thought. We had an early dinner, or supper if you want to call it that, at this cute Mexican place called ‘Noche’, with amazing food- here’s a glimpse of what we ate 😉
That done, the three of us (my sister, husband and I) went pub hopping at the Buckhead area in Atlanta to get a feel of the night life there. We went to a couple of places, danced like no one was watching, drank a few, ate a little and head banged to a local band playing and basically had a swell time! Finally, we went for a late night waffle treat to waffle house and wrapped up the night 🙂
Day 2, we went out for a late brunch to place called ‘Nook’, which is near Piedmont park, hogged on food again, and then worked off our heavy lunch with a long walk at Piedmont park in the sun. I wished that I had more time there, so I could’ve experienced how it was to run in that park too, but maybe another time. This was the day, I also became the proud owner of a brand new apple Mac air, that I funded myself! woo hoo!
We recharged with some yummy cold coffee at this cute little popular coffee joint called ‘Caribou coffee’, where I had a hazelnut iced latte, walked back home, packed and left for the airport again for the next destination- Vegas!! woo hoo! We had quite a comfortable flight journey with Delta to Vegas, and reached late at night, an checked in at this amazing hotel & Casino- Monte Carlo. So, to be frank, I wasn’t personally excited about Vegas (I know, most of you would think, what?!!! who isn’t excited about Vegas?!)- but well, I don’t enjoy gambling since I have a pretty shitty luck, I’m not single or having a bachelorette party, and I can’t drink too much- but boy, when we entered ‘the Strip’- as they call it, the lights just took my breath away! There was so much energy everywhere, even that late in the night, that I realized, no wonder people never sleep here! Lol! So I changed my mind and decided that I did like Vegas after all 🙂
Day 3 – We woke up pretty early in the morning, since my sister had booked us all into a day trip to Grand Canyon! I was so excited! The bus reached bang on time, and we set off with this funny tour guide informing us about Vegas’s history and stuff on the way. The bus stopped first at Hoover dam, where we got off and took some pictures, and more importantly- breakfast, and made another stop at the Chevron petrol pump where I went to the loo and we all got ourselves the much needed coffee! So before I tell you about my adventure at the Canyons, I have to mention how cool the loo situation here is! So everyone I’ve traveled with knows of my bladder situation, but here, that wasn’t such a major problem, since they have really good and clean toilets almost every half an hour or hour away! So pee away to glory, my friends! hehe..
Funny thing though, instead of the sunshine we were expecting, it got completely overcast and started pouring when we reached the Canyons! And we just weren’t prepared for the cold there! We had to wait a long time for the rains to subside, so we could go on our helicopter ride of the Canyons, but I must say, the wait was totally worth it! Firstly, it was my first ever helicopter ride, and secondly, the view was just magnificent from up there! And my sister and I got front seats too!
We spent some time on a boat ride on the river the canyon sorrounded and had quite a lot of laughs with this African couple who were with us, while we were trying to take care of a Spanish lady who could’t speak English and wanted to take a lot of selfies! hehe We had the most delicious lunch of pulled pork and mashed potatoes and veggies at Guano point cafe, which gave us the spectacular view of the canyon (but it was really freezing, so we actually didn’t linger)
We reached back at the hotel, changed and freshened up and headed off to party Vegas style! Well, we walked through Bellagio and Ceasar’s Palace, took the train from Monte Carlo, saw the famous fountains in front of Bellagio, and settled for the evening at a Mexican restaurant. We didn’t last long though, I realized Im too old to party Vegas style, and I didn’t see the point of gambling, so I retired early , while my sister kept going at those blackjack tables 🙂
Day 4 – We had the biggest brunch ever, at our hotel- I think it must have lasted for 3 hours, and it was a complete example of gluttony, but what the heck, Vegas isn’t called the sin city for nothing! hehe..we freshened up and walked around a bit for shopping, and had a few beers and food at a cafe at the MGM Grand. My sister booked us all into this Cirque Du Soleil show called ‘Ka’ for the evening, and I have to tell you, I had never seen something like this before in my life!! the show was mesmerising and so were the costumes, the music, the stage and the theatre! I loved it and would recommend it to anyone who is visiting Vegas 🙂 We hopped on to a sports bar at the MGM after the show, and drank and ate some more and then danced away in our room back at the hotel, until the security had to tell us ‘to keep it down ma’am’..hehehe
Day 5- Was our time to say good bye to Vegas, and collect the car onwards for our road trip from Vegas to San Francisco, with a stop over at Santa Barbara. So, it was a hassle free collection of our Ford from the rental store, we settled in with my husband behind the wheels and started off our GPS to head out of the city. The view was mostly arid and desert like, with a lot of shrubs and Joshua trees, but with the music, it was really exciting! We stopped over a while later for lunch at a casino, and had another filling brunch buffet! I can’t imagine how much I have eaten so far on this trip!LOL
I do have to mention in short about our driving adventure on the way to our stopover to the night, where my little sister took the wheels, and this is where I mention, she just got her license and this was her first time driving on the highway! We got a lot of stares and thought maybe the Americans look at people in other cars like Indians do as well, when I was told they don’t do that normally, unless they want to give stink eye to the shitty driver in the car! Lol..she also managed to take the car onto the wrong lane and swerve back into the right lane, giving the guy behind us a near heart attack..oops! But luckily God was on our side that day and we reached our stop over for the night- Santa Barbara without any major hassles.
We checked into this really cute motel called -Orange Inn (yeah it did have an orange tree, hence the name, a no brainer that one;)), changed and headed out to have dinner.
My sister booked another Uber, and I just love the Uber concept in America. You get to ride in different cars, with decent people and mostly locals who can give you the best suggestions on places to eat, drink, dance, see at the place and are so nice, friendly and chatty! So our Uber driver for that night was a middle aged lady who had lived in Santa Barbara all her life, and she suggested us to go to this seafood place called Brosby brothers, by the wharf. The food, service and ambience of the place was just amazing! I would recommend this place for dinner to anyone who is visiting Santa Barbara 🙂
Day 6 – We woke up bright and walked around in the town and stopped by this amazing breakfast place called Tupelo Junction. We ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly brewed pots of coffee, sandwiches, eggs to order, waffles and what not! Yes, US has been my gateway to gluttony, and I’m just half way through my trip yet! loved this place, and again recommended. After breakfast we walked around this beautiful town and did a lot of shopping as well!
Finally, we wrapped up from our motel and started the drive onwards to San Francisco, which was our next destination. The drive from Santa Barabara to SFO is beautiful in its own way, since here the landscape changes from the previous sandy dessert and beach side, to lofty green hills, and plains laced with vineyards. The air gets chilly too and we had to go through an entire stretch of road where it suddenly started pouring and there was a hailstorm, and all this while my sister was driving!! Talk about stress driving! It was scary and funny at the same time, but totally worth it, since it was our own little adventure 😀
However, I must say, entering SFO was a nightmare, since the highway had crazy traffic, quite similar to how it is in India, just more managed. I guess it might be since it was a weekday and evening, but from the highway to our hotel, it took us almost an hour. We had our hotel booked near the airport, and after checking in, we headed off to look for a good place to have dinner and drinks at, since we had heard so much about the food and drink scene at SFO. So, a friend of my sister’s recommended us to check this place out called- Alembic. So with great expectations, three hungry souls went to this place, it was bustling with people and we were quickly ushered to a table. Now, although we love to eat, we’re not the sort of experimental food people as such, and when we saw their menu, we were stumped! Everything on their menu was exotic! We weren’t sure what to order that we could really eat and fill our tummies, but since we were so hungry, we settled on some of the safer sounding options- the squid ink pasta, bone marrow spread with bread, cheese platter and a pork dish. Well, I’m not sure my review or feedback here would do justice to the place really, so let’s just say, we weren’t too much into the food, and will probably not go back there just for dinner:) The cocktails however, were amazing and quite innovative!:)
Day 7- After a really disappointing breakfast spread at the SFO hotel, we got ready and booked an uber to take us to the Golden Gate bridge. It was quite huge and interesting, but we literally spent just about 15 minutes clicking pictures at this place, since, you got it- we were hungry again for lunch! So we hailed another Uber and went to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch and spending our afternoon:)
We went to lunch at Pier 39, at Fog Harbor Fish House. The restaurant was amazing, and we had a direct view of the ocean, and Alcatraz prison, but who wanted to look at that when the most delicious seafood was in front of us to be devoured! So amidst the three of us, we finished a whole lot of fish and prawns and mashed potato..lol!
Lunch done, we walked around the pier and stop by at a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor for dessert. The place was so sunny and colorful and bright, that eating my amazing ice cream seemed like the best treat in the world!
Our ice creams done, we booked a boat ride that would take us under the golden gate bridge and around the famous Alcatraz prison. It was nice and sunny initially, so we wanted to stay on the deck to get a good view, but as soon as the boat started, it was clear, us Indians from the tropical weather would not be able to brave the cold SFO winds! so we decided to put on our hoodies and alternate between the deck and the cabin inside..hehe
After the amazing boat ride, we went on to stroll about at the wharf and check out the many shops and farmers markets there. I just loved the colors and buzz of this place! It was so lively and the shops – I think I must have bought something from every little shop we visited there! Yeah, touristy me..hehe, from little sea themed trinkets, to funky socks, to magnets, to fruits, coffee and tiny sugar and cinnamon coated donuts, to posters and hoodies, I don’t think I left anything out! I think I really loved this place in whatever we saw of SFO in those two days 🙂
After an afternoon well spent, what else was there to do, but head out to mission district and check out the pubs again! So we started with a small german bar, had a few german beers each and something to eat, then went on to two other bars, and tried different sorts of wine and beers. We were quite full quite early, but from the looks of it, SFO night life seemed really happening. We were too full and too tired from our day’s adventure, so we couldn’t extend the night, but it was a good evening nevertheless 🙂
Day 8- So this was the day when the three of us were to head out in our separate directions. I was to head off to Seattle to meet my best friend, my husband head off to Belgium for some business and my sister had her holidays over, so it was back to Atlanta and work for her, until I was back from Seattle. I had an early morning flight with Delta (I like their flights for domestic travel in US I think), and the flight was quite uneventful. The view while our plane was descending was so beautiful- mountains and green trees surrounded by water. I was really excited to see Seattle:) Once I landed, my best friend Bunny and her husband picked me up, and we dropped my bags at their place (they live at downtown, which made it awesome for a tourist like me!), and went off to have brunch at a cafe called Bronte. Good coffee (Seattle is really famous for its depressing weather, grunge rock, legal weed and awesome coffee by the way) and good breakfast with lots of conversation and catching up. My perfect beginning to the day:)
Brunch done, they took me on a drive to a place called ‘Deception Pass’ and all along the drive was so beautiful! The roads were lined with Pine trees all along and it felt like christmas all the time. And Seattle was sunny and really green when I reached there. After reaching Deception Pass, we walked down towards under the bridge, where there was an opening like a rocky beach with logs, near the water body where you could sit and basically chill and admire the beautiful sights around you:) I loved the place.
We drove around a bit further after deception pass and stopped over for loo breaks and coffee and a bite at a sleepy local town probably near Seattle and Canadian border. Amazing coffee, cheese fondeau and chocolate mousse, we drove back to the ferry point, while listening to Beatles and took the ferry back. The ferry ride was so exciting, you had to drive your car into the ferry and park it there and could go and sit upstairs, buy refreshments and enjoy the view. Bunny told me, this is where they had shot that horse suicide scene from the Ring! Eerie! heheh Dinner was at a joint nearby, with some drinks to wrap up the night and a few drags of that very legal hindukush strain, that just made my day or night, or whatever- I was zoned out 😀
Day 9- This was a sunday and originally, my best friend Bunny had done a lot of research and we were supposed to have brunch at a seafood place at Pike place market, which is walking distance from their place and then head out to mount rainier or another pretty place. But obviously, when you have greedy, lazy and buzzed people as tourists, its tough to do much jam packed sight seeing, so somehow, between fish tacos and a yummy special margherita, her husband and I managed to convince our guide- Bunny to chuck the sight seeing plan and just spend the entire day pub hopping and talking! Which, according to me sounded like a really good plan! So, out first or should I say second stop was at an Irish bar, followed by JM cafe, where we pretty much stayed until the end of the night! We were joined in by other friends, and got chatting with fellow drunks and the guys serving us, who eventually had their shifts end, and joined us for drinks as well! I had a swell time, on those lemon drops! JM cafe is supposed to be one of the oldest bars that survived the Seattle fire in the 1800s, I was told..so I did visit a heritage place after all..lol
Day 10- Woke up in leisure, since my friends had to go to work on Monday morning, but gave me the keys, so I could explore Pike place market and just the downtown area in general at my own pace. I love doing that- getting to explore a place, even if its just a street, alone, at my own pace. Noticing people, the buildings, cafes, talking to strangers who might be willing to talk to me, basically doing whatever I want. So that morning, I stepped out to Pike place market, visited the famous Gum Wall (this I think is one of the grossest piece of wall art I have seen, by the way, since it involves actual chewing gum, which has been chewed and then stuck on the walls! weird art these people have), had mac and cheese at the oldest mac and cheese shop (which was heavenly by the way), spoke to some other fellow tourists, had chocolate at a chocolate shop, sipped on coffee, and bought some souvenirs and gifts. My highlight of this exploration however, was this old and used book store that I found, where I must have spent an hour just browsing through all the comments the readers had made on their recommendations and the variety of books and authors available there are dirt cheap rates, that I wasn’t even aware existed! I think I could live there and I wish they have more book shops like these in India, instead of the crosswords and the borders, where the helpers have to look up on their computers to tell you if a book is available or not. Sigh..I bought around 7 books from this shop and then spent another hour at a souvenir shop, not buying anything, but talking to the shopkeeper! He was really friendly and since there was no one else in the shop, we spent the entire hour talking about our countries, cultures, art, politics, philosophies and god knows what! It was super fun!:)
So, I met u with my friends for dinner again, and that was the end of my short and amazing Seattle trip. We went to a mexican place that night for dinner and I just loved Seattle! I would definitely like to visit here again and plan a trip further to Canada or Alaska. That would be heavenly! Another destination added to the never ending list of places to travel! sigh!
Day 11, 12 and 13 – Day 10 went away in just traveling back from Seattle to Atlanta and the last two days I just wanted to relax at home and hang out with my sister, so I wouldn’t be too tired on my long flight back to Mumbai. I loved US, and I get the appeal now. Other than the fact that two of my closest people live there (they can make any place worthwhile for me actually), the people we met- from the uber drivers, to restaurant owners or people serving us, or just in general, were mostly warm and welcoming and really talkative! It wouldn’t be difficult to do a trip alone here, if you have your trip and stay planned I think. So anyway, I have a visa that’s valid for 10 years, and I intend to use it to its fullest, since there is much more to see and many more hangouts with my friends and family to be planned:)
Total trip cost- 12K INR for the visas, 85K INR for the return flight tickets and approx 45K INR on food, drinks and shopping. We didn’t need to spend any money on stay or travel in US, courtesy friends and family 🙂
Stay- If you have friends or family, do plan to crash at their place, if its not an inconvenience to them:) Else, there are plenty budget motels and bed and breakfast places to choose from too. It helps to plan and book in advance
Places to visit- really depends on time and what’s on your list, but if you’re visiting any of the places above, worth checking out the places I’ve mentioned in my blog, at least for food and drinks too. You wouldn’t be dissappointed 🙂
Tip- Book Ubers- they’re safe. Talk to the locals and don’t buy souvenirs from the airports, they’re more expensive 🙂
Drink coffee!! I know the Australians and Europeans will say the American coffee sucks, but for the Indian who has mostly milky filter coffees as options, the make your own drip coffee there available at all petrol stations or rest stops, were a welcome change and addiction 😉