Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tennessee and Virginia

After a lot of researching it was Atul who picked this package tour.

Day 1: Shenandoah Caverns (Virginia) - November 25 2010

The morning was great and we were very excited about our trip. We started early, by the way here we means me, Hitesh, Atul, Namita and Deepa. We took the Path from grove Station to WTC, from there we took a cab to Bowye Street at the heart of China Town in New York where our bus was waiting for us. Our Guides were Jason and Joanna. We were traveling with LnL Travels. Our tickets were booked through
Around 8:00 AM we started and took the Holland tunnel to reach Flushing to pick up one more vacationer. It was a pleasant ride, we crossed from New York to New Jersey, New Jersey to Maryland and then from Maryland to Virginia The state for Presidents. We came to know as many as 8 US Presidents hailed from Virginia. Virginia is also known as State for Lovers.
We reached the Shenandoah Caverns around 1:00 PM. Shenandoah is an American Indian word, the closest meaning in English as told by our guide is "Daughter of the skies". I was very excited as I have only read about Stalactites and Stalagmites in school but never had the opportunity to actually see one for myself. Stalactites and Stalagmites are rock like formation formed by deposition of calcium carbonate. Stalactites are the ones hanging from the roof of a cavern and Stalagmites are the one that rises from the floor of a cavern. It takes about 100 years for a Stalactite or Stalagmite to grow an inch. Well that's enough scientific facts, let me try to describe the artistry of nature that I got to witness here today. There were various formations, like bacon, like a dangling curtain, like a waterfall and much more. Our guide was funny and witty to enhance the experience that we were having. The lighting in the caverns were done strategically and professionally to wow you with the sights on each and every turn. As we ventured deep into the cavern the lights were turned on one at a time to mesmerizing us with the spectacular sights that lay before us. Before I forget to mention, at the end there was a narrow cavern with Stalactites and a floor of stagnant water that was beautifully illuminated and the reflection on the water was a sight to behold. Check the view I had in the picture below.
 I really need to get a proper DSLR Camera to capture these fantastic views. There is a saying, which goes like this, if a drop of water falls on you from the ceiling of the cavern which is called a "cave kiss"; it brings you good luck. I got a drop on my cheek accidentally. So I was cave kisssed. Not too sure if it did bring me luck.
Full Album of Shenandoah Caverns is here.
The entry to Shenandoah is $22 for Adults, $20 for Senior Citizens, $10 for children between 6-14 years , below 5 is free. The site to check is

If you are driving yourself, you might like to take the Shenandoah Skyline Drive, a toll road which gives you great views of the valley and you might meet some wildlife as well.

After effects:

After the exhilarating tour of the cavern we hit the road again. We took our  dinner at  Shoney's; An American buffet dinner. After dinner we reached our hotel, its was of Quality Inn chain. After freshening up we played some damsharats. This is also the time during which I came to know about the miming abilities of everyone in the our group. We hit the bed late on this day.

Day 2: Gatlinburg and Dixie Stampede (Tennessee) - November 26, 2010

The bus was to start by 7:30 AM so we woke up early and got ready. Breakfast was complimentary from the hotel. I had a big stuffing, eggs, cake, sausages, juices, fruits. 
Once the bus started we we got into the mood of the day. Atul, Namita, Hitesh and Deepa started to play damsharats on the bus itself. I decided to to take a quick nap. 
After two and a half hours we reached the Tennessee border. At the tourist information center where we took a small break. We also had some photo opportunities here. There was a striking Guitar shaped building.
About Tennessee, its the place where the Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll grew up. More recently Miley Cyrus is also from Tennessee. On the darker side KKK also originated at Pulaski, Tennessee. 


Further two hours of driving, took up to our next stop, Gatlinburg via Pegion Forge.  There was lot of traffic due to holidays which slowed our progress. Gatlinburg is like a Hill Resort. There is a lot of activity you can do at this town. The most popular is the the Cable Tram ride that you can take to the top of the mountain (this is the Appalachians Mountain Chain). Our guide had already bought the tickets for the whole group. Excited we boarded the cable car. The view from above was breath taking. Enjoying the surroundings we reach the top of the mountain in about 10 minutes. We had planned to do the sledge riding, but since it was drizzling the facility was closed. We settled for Ice skating instead. I had never done any Ice Skating. Before we entered the ring it was cleaned by Ice cleaning cart. Ice skating was fun, but I also had many a fall and also twisted my left keen during one of the many falls I had. Hitesh was the most experienced and had the best time. We had a time limit so we left the Ice Ring and headed down to the valley, again enjoying the great views the location had to offer. At the Gatlinburg town we thought we could have explored the town more instead of spending most of our time on the ring. All said and done the litle time we had we covered quite a lot of ground to see the town that is Gatlinburg. Along with the natural attraction there are many man made attractions around the town to enjoy and spend your time. We reached the Cable Car Departure area where our bus was waiting to take us to the next attraction, Dixie Stampede.
Gatlinburg Cable Car Ride: $9.5 for Adults and $6.5 for Children under 6.
To know more about Gatlinburg and its attractions go here
Dixie Stampede:
Dixie Stampede had been conceptualized by a Dolly Parton. Its a dinner in a large indore arena like facility where you get to witness incredible riding tricks and stunts, musical productions and more while haveing a sumputious dinner. Dixie Stampede is at Pigeon Forge.
Once our bus reached the Dixie Stampede we were welcomed by a friendly hostess. Our group photos were taken as well as individual photos. This was later packaged in a frame and offered for sale if you want. Before the main course there was light country music and food in a large eating area. Something I need to say something that happened here which I hope should never have happened. While taking a photo I fell down and in the process broke the only camera we had with two full days to go in our trip. Needless to say I was very disturbed.
After the curtain raiser we were escorted to the main arena and seated. We had great seats for the show. It was a competition as well as a musical of Christmas. Sorry no pictures are allowed in Dixie Stampede during the show as it has a copyright. This was one of the most interesting shows I have ever seen. The crowd was divided into two with one supporting the North Pole and one supporting the South Pole. It was a light hearted competition all in good fun. In between we saw musicals of toys came to life and the birth of Christ being played out in keeping with the upcoming Christmas spirit. The Dinner was great. It was a four course meal. Check the meal out here. For pictures of Gatlinburg and Dixie Stampede click here.
Dixie Stampede : $45 for Adults and $23 for Children (4-11)
For more information on Dixie Stampede check out their web site.
Around 10 we reached our hotel, and were told the next day we would leave by 6:30. We hit the bed early.

Day 3: Ruby Falls, Incline Railway, Rock City and The Lost Sea (Tennessee)

After breakfast we headed out to the Chattanooga area were three of the four attractions of Day 3 were located. It was nearly a 2 hour drive from the hotel.
Ruby Falls:
From the very beginning of the trip I had a feeling that the Ruby Falls would be the crown jewel of the whole trip, and am I glad to say that I was not disappointed.
Ruby Falls is located at the Lookout Mountain. In 1905 the due to the construction of a railroad which sealed the natural entrance to the Lookout Mountain. Around 1923 a local cave enthusiast, Leo Lambert wanted to reopen the cave to the public. We wanted an elevated to connect the surface to the caves in the Lookout Mountain. While excavating for this a void was located at about 260ft. The opening of the new cave was only 18 inches and Leo Lambert with his team crawled for 17 hours on a round trip to find the Jewel that is the Ruby Falls. Leo Lambert later took his wife to the falls and named it in her name Ruby. You can find more about Ruby Falls here.
Now no one has to crawl to the Ruby Falls after descending to the cave via the elevator. You can walk to the falls, albeit sometimes via very narrow passages.  In the passages you will see the art of nature. I am sorry that I didn't have a proper camera due to the mishap on Day 2 to show you about the thing I am saying. The trek to the Ruby Falls was worth it. You get to see the falls for 7 minutes after which the lights are switched off so that the next group can come in to enjoy the spectacle. I guess I don't have proper works to describe the sight, but as they say a picture can say a 1000 words so here is the best shot that I have of the falls. Enjoy. Below is a picture to appriciate Nature's sense of humour.
Enjoy the full album of Ruby Falls here.
Entry to Ruby Falls: Adults $16.95, Senior Citizen $15.95 and Children (3-12) $8.95

Incline Railway: 
Incline Railway is in the same Lookout Mountain Area of  Chattanooga National Military Park System. This is a mile long railroad that is takes you the top of the Mountain. This is railway is operated by ropes and not electric. The view when you either go up of come down is fabulous. The Lower Station is at St. Elmo. The view gets better at the top where you get a panoramic view of the full Chattanooga National Military Park Valley. Blow picture gives you an eye full.

For more information go on Incline Railway go here. For more pictures on Incline Railway click here.
Incline Railway fares: Adult $14 (round Trip), Senior Citizens and persons with disabilities $7 (round trip) & Children (6-12) $7 (round trip).

Rock City:
Rock City is a marvel of Rock Formation, Botanical Garden and also an Enchanted Garden of Lights. I shall try to explain here. Rock City is also in the same Chattanooga National Military Park System as Ruby Falls and Incline Railway. The Rock City was developed by Garnet Carter and the Fairy Land walk that exists in Rock City is a direct influence of his wife's interest in European Folklore. There is a very beautiful waterfall in Rock City and another view of the valley from the top (see the picture below). Rock City is also a place from where you can view 7 states. Overall its a great place to hang out and let you eyes soak in the view that lies in front of you. The Enchanted Garden of Lights trail is like you are being taken to a fairy land. There are models from almost every European Folklore.
For more information on Rock City go here. For Full album of Rock City click here.
Entry to Rock City: Adults $17.95 Children (3-12) $9.95. There is an option though to buy all the three Chattanooga area attraction in one ticket at a cheaper rate.

Lost Sea: Sweetwater
The Lost Sea is a vast underground lake that has been used from the days of the Cherokee Indians. This is where you also find Cave Flowers, a type of rock formation that grows a centimeter in every 1000 years. Though the cave has a tiny natural opening but it opens to large chambers underground. It was a natural refrigerator for early settlers in  Tennessee. The cave maintains a constant temperature of 58F. There has been markings on the cave, the earliest carbon tested one is 1863. It was lost after the civil war until accidentally discovered by a 13 year old boy named Ben Sands. His description of his findings can be found here. In current knowledge the Lost sea is 800 ft Long by 220 ft wide. You get to have boat ride on the Lost Sea. Trouts were released in the lake to see if the fishes finds a way out but that did not happen, so the cave management feeds the fishes and also have illuminated the Lake, otherwise the fish would go blind. The Cave also give you a perfect darkness when the lights are turned off.
Find details about Lost Sea here. Click here for Lost Sea album.
Entry for Lost Sea: Adults $16.95, Children (5-12) $7.95.
After Lost Sea we boarded the bus to go back to our Hotel in Virginia, the same one we stayed on the first night. It was a 4 hour ride. In between we had a Chinese dinner in an authentic Chinese Restaurant. We were too tired on this day to do any more activity so the bed was the best resort for us.

Day 4: Lurray Caverns (Virginia)
The last day was a late start by the standards we had on the previous two days. We started around 7:45 AM after breakfast.
After around 3 hours drive we reached the Lurray Caverns. Luray Caverns was discovered on August 13, 1878 by five local men, including Andrew J. Campbell an tinsmith, his 13-year-old nephew Quint, and local photographer Benton Stebbins. Lurray Caverns is much bigger than Shenandoah Caverns. There are far more bigger and spectacular formations here. The tour here is self guided one where you are provided with Headsets which explains the various formations in the caverns if you punchin the number that is shown near the specific formation. The headphones and the equipment is given to you during entry and its returnable. Lurray Caverns also has the biggest Natural Stalactite and Stalagmite symphony that is created in a large chamber in the cavern. Previously in this chamber there used to be elaborate music and dances there but now that has stopped. In Lurray Caverns you also find the world famous fried egg formation. See for yourself. There is a wishing well where you can throw a coin and make a wish. These coins goes for charity.
Information about Lurray Cavern is here. Check out my full album in Lurray Cavern. I had to take the pictures on a 1MP mobile camera with no flash, so they are not the best that you can get, but its all I have for now.
Outside the Cavern there is a museum of old cars and carriages. These are very well kept and definitely worth a see. There is also a maze which we missed due to shortage of time. All this is included in the Cavern Entry Fee.Check the Vintage Car Album here. More information here.
Lurray Cavern Entry: Adult $22, Children (6-12) $11.
All done, with a fulfillment in heart we started our journey back to New York at around 12:00 PM. In between we had lunch in a Chinese Buffet. It was almost a 60-70 course buffet and I took advantage to the fullest. All done we headed home when Great Colourful Memories of our tip. Around 9:00 PM we were dropped at Grove Street ending our vacation and ready to face the new week.
Lastly here are some miscellaneous photos of the trip.
Saturday, September 11, 2010

Greek Peak - Green abode in Finger Lakes Region

This was decided and arranged few days in advance by my friends Anamika (mostly) and Bulet.

Friday, 3 September 2010,

After office went to Queens side to Anamika & Bulet's home via the F Train and then Q36. Met with them after a long time and spent the evening in a Starbucks cafe chatting away. I also met Minm the darling daughter of my friends. Anamika works late and came home after midnight. After dinner we hit our beds very excited for the next three days ahead of us.

Saturday, 4 September 2010,

I am normally an early riser , thus was up by 7:00 AM and was complete with morning chores. The rest were late. Anamika  works in shifts and due to the late night shift she required the much needed rest as she was going to drive the whole way. We were 10 people (2 toddlers) in 2 SUVs. After a few false starts we were on our way at around 10:45 AM. We took the Gorge Washington Bridge and were immediately greeted with a big vacationers' traffic.  After being out of sync for around the first 25 miles both the cars were on track for Greek Peak.

Roads in US are great and the scenery that you may come across while driving are breath taking. We crossed quite a few such moments of breathlessness during our journey.

On the way we stopped for some snacks. We ordered pizza from a small local Italian restaurant, the cheese was melting and so was the pizza in out mouth, in one word heavenly. The rest of the journey was pretty event less except

After a long drive, of which that last 25 were on hilly roads we reached Greek Peak - Hope Lake Lodge around 5:30 PM. The area is called Courtland. Our lodge was a nice big wooden structure with cheerful and helpful attendants. The lobby area was packed with local wildlife in stuffed state along with a nice and cozy fire place. The temperature was around 23 to 27 C. We checked in to our rooms or shall I say room; it was  actually three rooms all joined with passage doors. On the sides were two bed rooms with three queen size beds. One of the bed rooms' and the dining room also had sofa-cum-beds. The middle room was the living, dining room with a kitchen. I should not forget to mention all three rooms had good bathrooms. A special  mention of the keys that were provided; all of us occupying the rooms were provided with a type of wristband cum identity card which was tripled as the key. This meant all of us had a key to the rooms. We were told not to take it off (the only way was to cut it, once you put it on), otherwise all the ten of us would have to change the identity-cum-key again.

After we  settled down, the food was unpacked which we brought with us. Sadly we forgot the rice grains, Raja-da (Anamika's cousin brother) had to drive around 20 miles back to get a rice pack.

In the mean time we made good use of our time and went to visit the indoor water park of the resort all dressed in swimming gear. The park was great, it  was  complete with artificial waves, rapids, jacuzzi, swimming pool, a kiddies pool, a basket ball pool and also a overhead tank that got emptied every 15 minutes for the patrons to get drenched. The best part of the pool is, the lowest point it was just 6 ft deep, which helps if you don't know how to swim and still want to enjoy the water park. Moreover there were several lifeguards posted at every point. The kids were supplied with a life jacket to help them float. There were ample tubes to lie and laze on while on water.

After enjoying the tank and the waves, me and Bulet went for the rapids, it was unadulterated fun. The jacuzzi was the last and the most refreshing. In between  I took time to capture the beautiful sunset that was happening behind the mountains. with the camera. In the meantime Raja-da was back and we all enjoyed with renewed vigour. At around 9:30 we called it a "night" and went back to our rooms where we had a nice dinner before hitting the bed.

Sunday, 5 September 2010,

I was up early as usual and decided to take a hike along the perimeter of Hope Lake. I took some small detours with paths leading to other trails around the area. The Lake has fishing, boating, swimming facilities. Also there is a beach to the lake. The area was very well maintained. Back at the lodge we had a great breakfast stuffed with great sandwich's that Mou-di made.

Around 11:00 AM we set out for the go carting arena. The temperature was around 20 C, so a lot of us decided to get a jacket before we go there. What better place to buy cheap, decent stuff than Walmart in US, so Walmart is were we went. to After jacket, people were in mood for exotic food, but I shall keep that part for later narration.

We reached the go-karting arena after numerous wrong turns. During one of these wrong turns we came across a small ice-cream shop which produces its ice cream in house.  All of us had this tasty ice cream to savor.  After getting numerous direction we managed to reach the go-kartingkarting. It was great fun with Raja-da & Babi (Anamika's brother) trying to outdo each other. Anamika did a lot of blocking. All in all it was great enjoyment.

We reached the hotel around 4:00 PM, a bit too late for lunch.  As I had mentioned before we bought Lobster and Shark after buying the jackets  was over , from Price Chopper. Babi made the lobster, great taste, also this was my first time. Rani (Anamika's cousin sister) prepared the shark, which was fantastic as well (my first time for this one as well). Add to this I also had two great dishes made by Mou-di, mutton and egg.

Lunch done, everyone hit the beds for an hour before the evening sojourn  to the water park. I decided to give the water park a miss and became the photographer. I took a lot of pictures and enjoyed the view of the surroundings in general.

Most called it a night at 9:00 PM but me and Bulet stayed on. The sportsman in Bulet took over, he went into the basketball pool and tried to do a Michael Jordan and I tried my had at sports photography.

Around 10:00 PM we went to our rooms, had dinner and hit the bed.

Monday, 6 September 2010

I was a bit late getting up today, but was ready by 8:30. Raja-da, Rani, Abhisa (Raja-da, Mou-di's darling daughter and Kaki (Anamika's mother)) went for fishing in Hope Lake. We - me, Bulet, Anamika and Nim were out a little later and walked to the Lake. On the way Bulet got very excited with apple trees.

Reaching the lake we took a paddle boat to enjoy the lake and were in the water for about 45 minutes. All done we trekked back to our hotel room and checkout out. After the final settlement we went to the a Chinese buffet and had a sumptuous lunch.

Horse Riding was next in the agenda, we reached Maybury Brook Stables for the same. Bulet got the biggest horse of all,a Persian-Belgian breed. Everyone except me and Nim went for the ride. We chatted with Bob the owner of the ranch. He explained that he had been here all along and met his wife here as well. He had an extended family and all works out fine. Almost every domestic animal was present in the ranch; cows, goats, sheeps, hens, ducks, dogs, cats, rabbits and ofcourse horses. I also learned that the family did some type of farming as well. Looked pretty self sufficient to me.

Once the goodbyes were done we started on our way to New York. Anamika was kind enough to drop me off at my hotel around 11:00 PM after a lot of searching for the same.

All in all it was a very enjoyable trip with a lot of activities.

You can check out the photos of the trip here.
Sunday, August 29, 2010

American Museum of Natural History - New York

Saturday, 21 August, 2010

It was a late start and we (me, Anisha & Neha - colleagues) reached the American Museum of Natural History around 13:00 PM. We took the C train from 42nd Street, (Times Square, Port Authority) subway station. We got down at the 81st street station which let us directly to the ticket counter at the museum. Our official id were good enough to get us in the museum.

We took the chart and went straight to the fourth floor to the Saurischian Dinosaurs displays and were greeted with the huge skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Allosaurus (both carnivorous) and a Apatosaurus a huge huge plant eating dinosaur. There were other smaller exhibits as well.

We moved in through the Ornithischian Dinosaurs hall to the Primitive Mammals hall then to the hall of Advanced Mammals. I was amazed with the displays and also how well kept they are.

On the third floor the Sanford Hall of North American Birds and the Akeley Hall of African Mammals were fantastic. We also saw the various exhibits of the American Indians, Asian Peoples and African Peoples.

On the second floor we took time to see the Big Bang Theater which was a history of time itself and beyond. The walk on the Helibrunn Cosmic Pathway was a walk through the history of time where each step equaled 45 million years of history. Human history is like less than a second in this space time equation. I felt less than microscopic to be in a small planet to a small start in a fringe of a mid sized galaxy. The Gas Pillars of the Trifid Nebula is scaled at one million light year in size. Hard to imagine that type of a distance and I rather leave that to your imagination.

Around 5:15 we were tired and decided to call it a day. There are lots in the museum still to explore and would return there soon.

Back home I was satisfied with my small outing.

Check the pictures I took here. Please note the pictures are nothing special as they were taken with a mobile phone. I shall update when i get a better camera.

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