Our trip started with San Francisco. After checking into the Marker hotel, we walked around a bit in Union Square. We observed the classic Frisco trams which still do their trips. So well maintained! Chatted with homeless folks at a Burger King. Despite their situation they do not mess with your space.
DAY 2: On the second day we met our tour bus guide Kimberly of Extranomical Tours. We drove around town, Fisherman’s wharf, Palace of Fine Arts and Theatre, Golden Gates Bridge and other iconic spots. We went across to the Alcatraz on a boat. The AV tour of the prison is immersive enough to make you feel what it was like back then. Back in town we learn that San Fran is very expensive to live in. Rent can average at $4000 a month.
Day 3: Yosemite
we met Constantine of Extranomical tours who took us to Yosemite which took the whole day. Though it was raining it was a good trip anyway. Stopped at Turlock for a while where we got sandwiches packed for the way. The high quality of San Fran’s local produce creates awesome food- the air, water, meat, milk, strawberries and awesome people. The landscape here gives meaning to the phrase ‘rolling hills of California’.
we headed for LA via MegaBus. Our original plan was to do West to East coast of US by road. At LA, we were picked up by our French driver Philip who migrated from Paris in 1970 and felt very strongly about how much LA has changed since then. After checking into the Best Western plus Sunset Blvd. walked down Hollywood Boulevard down the walk of fame. Glanced around at souvenir shops. Marijuana is legal in the US so we could smell weed all over the streets. There were also large signs of free HIV checks at one pharmacy. We also spotted a Ferrari painted in weed graphics claiming to be the fastest marijuana delivery service. Did the Hollywood celebrity homes tour. Saw the homes of Silvester Stallone, Paris Hilton, Borat. Later we walked from our hotel to Hollywood Boulevard. Found a freestyle artist at the footlocker crossing. Damn he was good. Check him out-
If you have grown up on Hollywood films, do check out the Mecca. Universal has made an entertainment theme from films they made like Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Fast and Furious, Mummy returns and Transformers. We went for the roller coaster rides which were unforgettable. What is amazing is that the entire park is barely 4 blocks and they managed to make it so much fun. Here’s a collection of reactions from the Jurassic Park roller coaster ride.
Stopped at Barstow on our bus trip to Vegas (Street View). Incredible town this. There are things, businesses here you will not see anywhere in the world- not even in the rest of the US. Even the locals say there is no place in America like Vegas.
Ten things we did in Las Vegas apart from gambling, will you believe –
1) drop on and off bus tour,
2) high roller Ferris wheel,
3) ate at Heart Attack Grill. This restaurant has a hospital theme. To start with the nurses (servers) dresses you up with a patient’s gown. Burgers are called Bypass burger, double bypass, quadruple, sextuple and octuple. ‘Flatliner’ fries and wine is served in a IV drip. If you waste your food, you have the choice of being spanked with wooden plate.
4) shopped at Fashion Show,
5) 4 floors of M&Ms store – incredible fun zone. These folks know how to sell an experience.
6) walked the Vegas strip. Even if you are broke, you can be entertained just walking down the strip. Too much fun going on here.
7) gambled at Venetian (ok this happened)
8) ate at Shaky Shack
9) Bodies Exhibition at BALLY’s. This happens to be a permanent exhibition unlike the one in Fulton street in New York. Bally’s also allowed visitors to take photography and videos.
10) Circus de Soleil at Bellagio. Unbelievable show. An abstract dance performance where the stage changed from floor to swimming pool. The performers would jump from 20-30 feet into the water after their performance.
Dallas apparently has the least corporate tax so this is home and headquarters to many corporations. This place felt a bit like Gurgaon – a lot of glass buildings and eat-outs and food courts on the ground floor. A lot of old traditional heritage buildings still look good around Elm street where our hotel is. We stopped on the way to Houston.
We start our bus trip through the south. Took a bus via Tornado Bus Company to Houston. Though we reached at 1230 noon and the next bus to Lake Charles was at 8pm, we decided to wait at the station and not go galavanting into Houston. Returning to the station would be cutting it too fine. Read ‘Sapiens’ halfway.
We stayed the night at our hotel at Lake Charles. We took the morning bus to New Orleans from Greyhound station at 8am. We chatted up a bit with Rana Afzal from Pakistan at the greyhound counter. He has been here for 2 years and he says his heart ain’t here. This bus goes to Baton Rouge – a connecting station to New Orleans.
We arrive at New Orleans and driver Lamon is a retired school teacher from New Orleans. He showed us a few spots to visit. We check into our hotel at Canal Street. New Orleans is heaven for creative people. We walked down Fisherman’s Street down St Peters Street. Then the jazz cruise in the evening was on board a steamboat called Natchez. A band called ‘The Dukes of Dixieland’ played onboard. This was a high point of our trip here. Insanely talented folks came out of this town. We deliberately reduce and subjugate ourselves to a limiting culture. The same country be it US or India has varying cultures. How well you fare depends directly on the culture you are allowed (or not) to thrive in.
Day 15 – March 24
Today we woke up early and walked along the aquarium on the Mississippi River side. The weather is just right – sunny and pleasant wind along the river side. Later around noon went to Lafitte for the swamp ride. Spotted a few alligators, held a baby alligator in my hand on the boat. After a few hours we got back to New Orleans. Walked down the street in the French Quarters area till night and got back.
Spotted some unbelievable musical talent on the streets of New Orleans. This is the birthplace, the bedrock, incubator of upcoming talent.
Day 15 – March 25
Taking the bus from NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) back to Baton Rouge for our connecting bus to Memphis. There is a marathon going on in New Orleans so our driver had to drive around a bit to reach our bus station. We made it in time though.
Greyhound bus trips show what America is really about- the people and landscape changed drastically from green California, Vegas desserts and swamps of Louisiana. The people are real. We travelled with people of all ethnicity and they were still being themselves. Compared to this, all hotels, planes and airports are the same across the world now with people being their artificial covers. Bus trips are real. Chatted up with a couple who had worked for a Patel family and he figured I was from India. He felt Indians got too much into religious politics like Jews and kept the businesses to their own kinds!
Stopped at Jackson for our next bus to Memphis.
Stopped at Durant, Mississippi for passengers pickup
We are at the crowne plaza in Memphis. Walked down to Beale Street which celebrates B.B King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
our driver Larry took us to Memphis airport and gave us a short dose on the city. This is home to rock and Blues. The music from the movie Blues Brothers came from Memphis and the city is also breeding ground to a lot of other genres. Memphis is also FedEx’s headquarters so the airport has a small passenger terminal compared to the cargo terminal. We boarded a small American Airlines plane called American Eagle which was a tiny 50 seater. It has just three rows and the ceiling was only 6 feet.
When we reached Washington our driver Kocou from Benin said he had lived in New York earlier and liked Washington better. We walked around till the Capitol. The weather is bitter cold and windy. We should have worn more sweaters before stepping out in 3 degrees Celsius. We grabbed a quick meal and a gallon of water from Walgreens.
Woke up at 5am to make the most of our single day in Washington. There is something about high energy levels here despite so many cars. People were jogging around the Capitol in the noon and evening. We walked almost 12 km today. We had breakfast, walked down to Union station for our hop on and off bus. Saw quite a bit of Washington on the three tracks. Starting from the Capitol, Lincoln memorial, Georgetown and China town. At Macy’s we met an Indian at the luggage counter- Mr Bala Rao who migrated here from Chennai in the 60s. He was a vegetarian back then, then started eating meat since there was not much choice for vegetarians back then. He is 85, never married. Later at the end if the day we walked back to our hotel on New York avenue. Our phone batteries were down and I left the charger in the hotel, so when we lost our way in the night so we took a cab- our only cab through the entire trip. Paid $10 for 2 km!
We reached The Big Apple at 3pm via Peter Pan bus. Weather wasn’t looking good at 3 degrees Celsius but no one seems to care. All shops would be shut for Easter on the coming weekend so everyone was shopping in a hurry. We walked from our hotel to Apple store on 5th Avenue and back through Times Square.
The next day it was drizzling but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone in Manhattan. We walked to B&H Video – a landmark store for photography and gadgets. This store is a must visit for anybody interested in as much as a connecting wire.
There’s also Macy’s a few blocks away. All stores here are landmark icons in Manhattan – from the NBA, M&Ms, Apple, McDonalds, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch.
Took the hop on and off bus today and went sight seeing. We were at Freedom tower, Wall Street bull, across the bridge to Brooklyn. We chatted up with elderly ladies on the streets and restaurants. We met an elderly lady from Hyderabad on Wall street. She has been travelling alone all over Manhattan via GreyLine Hop on and off buses. When we walked into a restaurant, another old lady got chatting with us. She said we looked like Spanish folks. I said most people from equatorial countries like Egypt, India and Malaysia looked alike. Walked around to Crate and Barrel, Container store, M&M store in Time Square to pick up chocs for gifts.
We took the tour bus to uptown around Central park and saw some celebrity homes through Central Park West and Harlem. We got off at Guggenheim museum, looked in a bit and walked upto Museum of Modern Art. From there we walked up to Long Island Rail and went down to Hicksville to meet family. Dropped in at a gorgeous store called Micheals which is paradise city for creative tools, material and stationary.
Day 23 – still in NY
We walked to Bryant Park in the morning and walked into Whole Foods Market across the park. The range (and size) of American produce was exhausting- from strawberries, onions, cheese, meat, chocolates. There was also a sitting area where you could serve yourself and eat there. We had our last meal at Joe’s pizza in Times Square. Here we spotted the famous naked cowboy again. This guy is incredible – strolling around in 2 degrees playing his guitar.
Our trip through the US changed something in our heads; too much of fresh air maybe. But we saw the country differently – for better reasons. We understood people better (and partial reasons for why Trump won). But more importantly we also saw India better. There are good and bad things about every place. Thats what travel does I guess. About Greyhound buses – when we returned we Googled Greyhound buses and found that it was not rated highly and most people mentioned loss of luggage. Others we spoke with had a few things to say about the people on board. Our experience was different all the way. We interacted with so many people at the stations and got back with all our 6 bags we travelled with. Its upto you and how you see things so have a great time on your visit to to the US- by far the greatest country on the planet right now.
I carried my DSLR throughout the trip – a Canon 6D Mark 2. Though it is heavy, it did two things – I got high quality photographs and it opened up conversations with total strangers in shops and buses. One also tends to look more carefully and compose a picture while looking into a DSLR.
Our trip was organized by Dewberry Holidays LLP, Mumbai. A great team stayed online with us throughout the trip. Our friends wanted to know what difference really does an organizer bring to the trip. Well, somewhere you need the experience of others to optimize your trip. The organizer will at the most suggest the most popular, relevant, best or historic things to see. Its upto you if you want to go there or not. Either this or you do your own research and travel.