Coming to America- Washington, D.C

**** Long long long post! Please bear with me ***

Sometimes I wish I could give real time updates while travelling. So many thoughts stream through my mind while I am on the go, but which never see the light of day when I get down to jotting them down in here days later. I’m in awe of those travel bloggers who can share their experiences so engagingly through their pictures and words with their frequent updates while they travel. I must learn from them how to balance enjoying a moment and sharing the experience as well all at the same timeūüôā

Anyway,now that I am back from my holiday and it’s too late for real time updates, let me do the next best thing. Something that I enjoy doing just as much…

open my picture-folder, browse through the album that has moments of our holiday captured, take my mind back to those 13 days and relive and recount them here. For keepsake.

Washington Monument

This is one trip which I have spent a lot of time planning and organizing for ever since it started to take shape. And those who know me well know how much I love doing that. The kick it gives me! It’s not because I have too much time on hand or I’m “jobless”. It’s simply because I find spending my time on it every bit worthwhile.
On that note let me take you to the first city that welcomed us on the American land. The capital city, Washington, D.C.

Oops! Let me correct myself. Washington, as I learned only recently is neither a city nor a state. Its a federal district, bordered by two states Maryland and Virginia. It’s commonly known as Washington, the District or simply D.C which stands for District of Columbia. It¬†was founded in 1791 as the national capital of United States.

Now even though our flight was 13 hour long, we didn’t feel the strain of a jet lag as we got¬†out of the airport. Maybe it was because we had a good few hours of sleep in the flight or maybe it was pure excitement of a holiday!

A bit of a setback, however, was that when we reached our hotel we were told that our room wouldn’t be ready for another 3 hours! ¬†We could have at least left our luggage and freshened up before kick-starting our vacation. But that was not to be. The usual check-in time in hotels there was 4 pm! Too late isnt it? So¬†we decided to keep¬†our luggage in the storage room and venture out to grab something to eat and get wandering.

Probably ¬†the American weather thought that since we were coming from an extremely hot region, we would feel more at home if were welcomed with the same kind of weather. Else why it would greet us with the hottest temperature on the very day we land is beyond meūüėĮ ! Anyway, consoling ourselves that¬†it was still not as bad as the Gulf weather, we surged forward.

After a light lunch, we made a quick hop over to this place which had been on top of my must-see list ever since I started planning for this trip! The Smithsonian Institution Building. This beauty had me just stand there and gape at it speechless for sometime right at the gate.

The Castle, as it's aptly nicknamed, is a visitor information center for the Smithsonian Institution. It was built in stages from 1849 to 1855 and classified as a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Image courtesy: Namnam :)
The Castle, as it’s aptly nicknamed, is a visitor information center for the Smithsonian Institution. It was built in stages from 1849 to 1855 and classified as a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Image courtesy: Namnamūüôā

As we strolled around the Castle wondering where to go next, we got a call from the hotel informing us of our room being ready. We headed back to unwind ourselves and postpone the exploring for a bit later in the evening.

And how did we unwind? We had two interesting options- either Keep up with the Kardashians or *Hillary*-iously catch up with *Trump*ing elections. We chose to amuse ourselves with both alternatively!ūüėČ

Once we were fairly amused, we set out to take a stroll on the ellipse and see¬†the most popular address in the world… and take some pictures in front of it!

Yup! The White House
Yup! The White House

Then we proceeded¬†to the National Mall, a national park¬†that protects all the iconic monuments and memorials that tell heartbreaking yet inspiring stories of toil and grit that went¬†in making this nation. It was at this point as we were strolling towards it that I fell in love with D.C.¬†for the sheer way it took pride in safeguarding the nation’s enriching history.

When the¬†mounting Washington Monument emerged¬†in view as we walked on, to say that we were overwhelmed would be an understatement…

The Washington Monument made of marble standing at 555 feet is world's tallest stone structure and tallest obelisk. As the name suggests, the monument was built to honour the founding father and 1st president of United States, George Washington
The Washington Monument made of marble standing at 555feet is world’s tallest stone structure and tallest obelisk. As the name suggests, the monument was built to honour the founding father and 1st president of United Stated, George Washington

And while we were there our girl saw a huge spread of grass and wished to take a break from walking to stretch a bit….backwards!

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After that little break, it was time to visit another memorial. Here though, I have to mention that at the time of planning for this holiday I had asked Namnam to do a little research of her own and make a list of places that she wished to see. And she made a note of this particular memorial that we walked to next and the one after that…

The World War 2 Memorial- an awe-inspiring symbol of service, sacrifice, unity and victory.

This memorial has been built to pay tribute to all those Americans who served and sacrificed their lives for their nation during the war, and recognize the victory they brought about.
This memorial has been built to pay tribute to all those Americans who served and sacrificed their lives for their nation during the war, and recognize the victory they brought about.
There are 56 granite pillars like these with bronze panels surrounding the memorial with two archways on either side.
There are 56 granite pillars like these with bronze panels surrounding the memorial with two archways on either side.
Each pillar bears the name of a U.S State and territory that represented the country at the time of the war.
Each pillar bears the name of a U.S State and territory that represented the country at the time of the war.
A beautiful plaza and a fountain adorn the space buzzing with people, with an ever so inviting Lincoln Memorial watching over from a distance.
A beautiful plaza and a fountain adorn this space buzzing with people, with an ever so inviting Lincoln Memorial watching over from a distance.

As the day was about to call it a night, we walked over to our last stop for the day…

The magnificent Lincoln Memorial by the Reflecting Pool
The magnificent Lincoln Memorial by the Reflecting Pool

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Inside this building sat the most majestic statue I had ever seen in my life!

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With this image tucked safely in our hearts, we wrapped up our first day like a dream.

Our second day here took us to that part of the district which held the crux of this nation’s judiciary and polity.

The Supreme Court, another architectural marvel

Being a Saturday the Court was closed for visitors. But we could liberally click pictures and yes selfies too from the outside!
Being a Saturday the Court was closed for visitors. But we could liberally click pictures and yes selfies too from the outside!

And the US Capitol, the official seat of the nation’s legislature

 It was built in 1800 sans the dome at first. Subsequently the dome was added as a part of its expansion. Unfortunately I couldn't get a better shot of the building from the outside because of a scaffolding that was erected around the dome for restoration.
It was built in 1800 sans the dome at first. Subsequently the dome was added as a part of its expansion. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a better shot of the building from the outside because of a scaffolding that was erected around the dome for restoration.

We took a brief tour of the monument which started off with an enriching orientation about how the nation came together despite the strife and struggle of many states to form one government. We were then taken to the Rotunda, the tallest section of the Capitol, that housed an impressive collection of historical paintings, some even bearing considerable significance to the American Revolution. We were one of the lucky few to have been allowed access to the hall that day as it was the last day of public access to this part of the Capitol before the Rotunda was to be closed for restoration till next year.

Although the insides were a bit of an eye-sour what with all the scaffolding blocking the paintings and sculptures, I couldn't help feeling elated to have got a chance to see all those creations and hear so many amazing stories of independence and interpretations of them. We couldn't have got luckier!
Although the insides were a bit of an eye-sour what with all the scaffolding blocking the paintings and sculptures, I couldn’t help feeling elated to have got a chance to see all those creations and hear so many amazing stories and interpretations of them. We couldn’t have got luckier!

However, there were some of us who got utterly bored by the lecture of the tour-guide and endless walking at times. So this is how we kept ourselves engaged..

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Moving on, we headed to The Statuary National Hall, a chamber dedicated to sculptures of prominent Americans. This gallery took shape when each state of this country was invited to contribute two statues of prominent citizens. One could find sculptures of people from different walks of life, not necessarily politicians or leaders.

This ceiling, originally wooden was replaced by a double-sunk coffered ceiling to contain the echoes emanating from the chamber
This ceiling, originally wooden was replaced by a double-sunk coffered ceiling to contain the echoes emanating from the chamber

After that immensely enlightening tour it was time to head to our next halt, The Library of Congress.

The library is the second largest in the world, with the largest being the British Library.
The library is the second largest in the world, with the largest being the British Library.

Namnam, who couldn’t stop jumping around at the prospect of going inside the reading room because of some 160 million books believed to be residing there, was literally in tears when she got to know that she had to be 16years or above to be allowed access to the room!

Seeing her sullen face, R suggested she leave a note to the Library telling them of her disappointment. So there she is doing just that, urging them to do away with the age restriction and let young readers like her have access to the treasure trove too just as well :D
Seeing her sullen face, R suggested she leave a note to the Library telling them of her disappointment. So there she is doing just that, urging them to do away with the age restriction and let young readers like her have access to the treasure trove too just as wellūüėÄ

From here we went on to check out the National Air and Space Museum, which boasts of the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It looked so unassuming from the outside but turned out to be a revelation when we stepped inside. We came out of the museum with R’s¬†jaws dropped and Namnam’s eyes bulging out of wonderment. The NASM is one of the most popular of the 19 museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution.

What fascinated me about the¬†Smithsonian Institution was this little trivia about how it came to be¬†named after James Smithson an English scientist who left $508,318 in his will in 1829, to the people of United States to create an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Isn’t that a wonderful vision of a gift to give to the people of a country!

And guess what’s more awesome. There’s no entrance fee to get inside these museums. You can stroll in and around absolutely free!! How incredible is that!

The only place where we paid to get entry to was inside the Air & Space Museum to get a flight simulator experience which as per Namnam was amazing!

Our next halt was the International Spy Museum, not a part of Smithsonian Institution. The entry tickets were a bit too steep to my liking though. It was fun nonetheless to get around it like a spy with fake names and missions to carry out!

We closed in on our second day with a visit to Madame Tussaud’s where we got to say hello to a lot of celebrities some of whom looked much frailer than their real self and some,¬†much healthier and some, like¬†our stammer k..k..k..king of Bollywood and our desi “Bradley Cooper” looked just meh! Namnam was mighty pleased with the place when she got to pose with Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift among a few others, even though she went looking for Justin Beiber!

While my day was wax-made when I got to meet my eternal crush over a tiny cup of tea and…and…and..hold hands too!!

:P
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Oh and yes, since it was the election season, this place too had a poll running inside the museum for their visitors and it was neither Hillary or Trump who was tipped to run the country…but Beyonce Knowles!!

And just like that our stay in Washington was about to end.

The first half of the day was spent in a very forgettable neighborhood town of Georgetown. I say forgettable because there wasn’t much to do there. We could have taken a cruise along the Potomac River which flows right alongside this town, but opted against it since we had covered most of the monuments we had intended to and the cruise wouldn’t have offered anything new anyway.

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I included a visit to this part of the town in our itinerary because of all the good reviews it had garnered on Tripadvisor and other travel websites. So I thought it would give us an idea about how locals live there. While it did give us a little peek into how the locals laze around on a weekend there, when we had breakfast in one of the much recommended restaurants Baked&Wired, it didn’t quite enthrall us the way we had hoped to. On top of that, a fuming 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature didn’t help us one bit!

But we still found a way to cool ourselves down, rather Namnam did…

Wish such fountains would find a spot for public in hot cities like Dubai too!
Wish such fountains would find a spot for public in hot cities like Dubai too!

While the first half was nondescript, the second half more than made up for it. We visited the massive National Museum of Natural History where we were greeted by Henry the elephant…

This is the largest mounted specimen of an elephant.
This is the largest mounted specimen of an elephant.

This museum, where again the admission is free, is the most visited natural history museum and we could get a fair idea as to why it was so with an amazing amount of exhibits of all kinds of natural creatures and specimens that were on display here. I was astonished to see the Gems Hall filled with diamonds and stones owned and worn by many Indian royals from bygone eras.

There was a Butterfly Pavilion that one could access at an entry price of $6. It was a beautiful little enclosure with variety of butterflies dancing around us, even latching on to us at times! Namnam got a chance to hold a butterfly and bring home some beautiful memories too..

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As we exited the building, I realized even more so that we could have easily given a miss to Georgetown and utilized the time to explore this museum to our heart’s content. Better luck next time I guess. Oh yes, there IS going to be a next time. Don’t ask when though!

The day and eventually our stay in D.C was almost coming to a close. But not before I had a chance to meet a dear dear friend from school. Nims and her husband were super sweet to have come all the way from Virginia to meet us. It was a wonderful evening spent over drinks, yummy food and loads and loads of yapping that my friend and I both couldn’t/wouldn’t put a stop toūüėČ.

A fitting end to the first leg of our holidayūüôā

#100DaysofWalking

Because I have just come back from a holiday so obviously a few kilos heavier and a few notches lazier and more so because, between Monika and RM, the spirited ladies have explained the fun activity planned up ahead, much better than I could, re-blogging the post here.

So let’s get walking and have fun, shall we!

R's Mom

Remember when I wrote how I went from 0 to 10 to… again!

I realised that I have been putting on way too much weight..and I do not want to spend money on any clothes any more! I have enough and more…So the point being..we were talking about something yesterday on this Whatsapp group and the lovely Monika spoke about #100DaysofWalking…who wants to join me?

RM: Kya hai woh Monika..tell me, I want to join in..what is it?

Monika: hehehhe! I just made it up

RM: !!!!!

But Monika being the super lovely one, agreed to actually take up this challenge of #100DaysofWalking for me, with me. She said, lets do it..I was like okay yayayay! and then the super Deeps and awesome Pixie agreed to be a part of it as well..

When Monika tweeted about it…folks showed interest and so we decided we are doing #100DaysofWalking starting August 17th…

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Dear Philipteacher,

The last we met was two years ago, as you know, when Amma & I visited you at your house. I remember when we walked in, you were lying down, clearly tired and drained after a grueling session for the umpteenth time at the hospital where you were undergoing treatment at the time. But as soon as you saw us, your face lit up. You sat upright and welcomed us with your signature smile. The wide toothy smile that defined you always. Your beautiful even teeth always stood out in my memory along with the immensely heartwarming smile that could cheer anyone in school. How glad was I to see that you still had that smile perfectly intact. Despite the strife, despite the struggles life kept throwing at you, you had the perfect weapon to face them head on. Your smile. Your positive outlook towards life. Nothing could run you down.

You know teacher, my love for Chemistry is all thanks to you. It used to be my favourite science subject in school. And even now, after 26 years since I passed out of your class, some of the formulae you taught are on my fingertips. Trust me, if I didnt have to pick Physics and Biology I would have certainly opted for a science stream!ūüėÄ. Jokes apart, I loved loved loved the subject because you made me fall in love with it with your terrific style of teaching. It was sheer fun to be in your class and learn those formulae and get cracking those chemical equations.

Not just that, you were one of those teachers who never condescended to her students. You always treated us as equals, gave us the space and freedom we deserved so we could grow and learn in the most favourable manner.

But the connect I feel with you is much above all this, teacher. It is through music. You and I both know that. Which is why you will always always hold a special place in my heart. Your vast knowledge in music is something that I have always looked up to. I used to look forward to those annual day celebrations in school whenever they revolved around music and you would be bursting with ideas to share. Or those events where I would be asked to sing and I would look out for your approval of my choice of songs because I knew you’d appreciate whatever I sing.

When we met two years ago, remember you had asked me to sing a song for you? When I had finished singing, you gave me yet another approving, reassuring, incredibly moving smile. I have that image safely tucked in my heart, teacher. And I treasure it that way. Always.

Rest in peace, Teacher.

Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images

Jebel Hafeet- A Weekend Getaway

So yet another trip that was not planned in advance but took shape on a whim. The last one was when we had headed off for the Himalayas some two years back. This time around too a mountain only beckoned us.

Jebel Hafeet or Mountain Hafeet which literally means Empty Mountain.

Jebel Hafeet

This rocky mountain which stands high and mighty at 1250m borders the city of Al Ain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. A small part of the mountain also borders Oman.

We didn’t really know much about this mountain except for the fact that it boasted of one of the greatest¬†driving roads on the planet! So needless to say, when I stumbled upon an attractive Groupon deal online, about a week ago, that offered a stay in one of the hotels there, I lapped it up. I shared the idea with R, Namnam & my father-in-law and together we braced ourselves for the road trip. With the limited time that we had, to prepare for the drive, ¬†I had done some fair bit of reading up on the routes that would lead us up to the mountain top.¬†And as the day inched closer¬†I learned that R had done some research on the routes as well, which boosted me into realizing that he was just as anxious and excited at the same time as I was. Even though most of what was said and written online was promising and extremely encouraging, we still couldn’t be sure what to expect from the mountain. We had never really driven along such a long stretch at a stretch!

We took off on Thursday late afternoon with a bit of trepidation and a lot of enthusiasm.¬†The only worry I had was about losing our way. If you have driven on roads in this region, you would know what I mean. The roads here are beautiful, wide, a pleasure to drive on no doubt..but try getting lost in the magic of driving only to realize that you’ve missed an exit! But fortunately our GPS was in a good mood. So we entered the city of Al Ain without missing any turns or exits in a little less than 2 hours as we had hoped ..

Soon enough the mountain emerged in sight to embrace us into its winding fold up ahead..

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As we began our ascent to the top, we were completely taken in by not just the stunning views unfolding in front of us, but also by the amazingly well tarred strip taking us up.

Let me share a video which my father-in-law took, just to give an idea about the delightful ride we experienced. I must thank Namnam here who edited this video by inserting some music and saved you all from the original background score of my non stop nonsense chattering !

 

 

Interestingly along the¬†entire track, there were designated spots every few meters¬†where one could park their vehicles and take a break. One of the bends even had a play area with a slide and a swing to engage the young adventure¬†tots! So after a few miles ahead, we decided to take a break too. We parked our car in one of the parking spots¬†and paused to take in the views…

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This was the long winding strip that we drove on to reach all the way up

 

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City of Al Ain and probaby a bit of Oman too( don’t ask me to point out where thoughūüėČ ) from atop

Once the views had sunk in, we set out on the last stretch of our drive to the summit.

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At about 915m height stood Hotel Mercure Grand which was to be our point of stay till the next day. This hotel further gave out a smooth and friendly vibe as we geared up to take care of the check in formalities. We were in our room in a jiffy, and soon after Namnam and R ran out for a dip in the pool to refresh themselves while my FIL and I stayed back to take in the beautiful views and give our cameras some worthy opportunities to freeze them.

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View from our room

 

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View from another part of the room

 

Even though¬†we could have ventured out and explored a bit of the¬†city, ¬†we chose to stay put in the comfortable confines of the hotel because firstly the weather wasn’t too favourable. It was still scorching hot during the day. And secondly we were already in a very laid back state of mind, with the focus solely on lazing around and relaxing. And relax we did to the hilt. The height of relaxation was when all of us sat glued to the tv watching a movie like Tashan and laughed at the dumbest of scenes!

There were no phone calls from office, no constant pull to run to your phones to check mails, no worry whatsoever over what to prepare for lunch.

It’s funny that¬†sometimes even 24 hours in a day don’t seem enough to organize your life and think straight, and sometimes all you need is that one day where you can keep your mind from fluttering restlessly and just relax.

We got back home after a wonderfully refreshing stay only to find out that our AC wasn’t cooling, the water filter had broken. But I couldn’t care any less. I was zen. Anything could be tackled now.

Weekend is almost on its way out. Yet another week with its grinding routine is about to begin.

Bring it on I say, let me see what you’ve got, dear Sunday!