Monthly Archives: June 2014

Memories of a Trip to New England

It is not that common for the July 4th holiday to fall on a Monday or Friday, presenting us a long weekend, like it does this year. The last time this happened, in 2011, we decided to do a road trip to New England, despite the threat of heavy traffic on the roads. And boy, what a fabulous trip it was!

Plymouth and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, Sebago Lake State Park, Bailey’s Island, Acadia National Park, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain, and Bar Harbor in Maine… that was our travel plan. We were four of us on the trip, all walking enthusiasts, of course some more so than others.

Plymouth town is named after Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, the first New England settlement by the immigrants from England who sailed on the ship Mayflower. Several prominent citizens of the 18th and 19th centuries are associated with this town.

At 6,288 ft Mount Washington is the highest peak in the north eastern United States. Can you believe, Giovanni da Verrazzano – of the Verrazzano Narrows fame – noticed the mountain from the Atlantic Ocean in 1524 and wrote about it?

Intending travellers are warned of the tricky climb up the mountain at the beginning of the road.


The views from the car windows are awesome to say the least. As the road goes up, layer upon layer of mountain ranges unfold beneath. And the vegetation grows scantier, ending in miniature plants and evergreens. As you reach the top, the only vegetation to be seen are the lichen clinging to the rocks.


For 76 years till 2010, Mt. Washington held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface, at 231 miles per hour, recorded by the weather observatory at the top, on April 12, 1934.


The Mount Washington Cog Railway, the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, is still in operation, though we did not have the time to ride on it! 🙁


Also, several hiking trails go up the mountain. These trails provide spectacular views of the surrounding ravines and mountains. Plans for another day!

The Lakes Region of Maine consists of more than 50 lakes, of which Sebago Lake is the largest. The lake has several beaches suitable for activities like boating and camping. Also, the Sebago Lake State Park has hiking and biking facilities as well.


As our plan was focused more on sightseeing than activities on this trip, we continued on to Bailey Island, which is located at the end of one of those finger like protrusions into the Casco Bay to the south of Maine.


The drive to Bailey Island, along the Harpswell Island Road, is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever been on… the two-lane road passes over beautiful bridges and presents a view of the water at all times, sometimes on both sides of the road.


The shores are rocky, with spreading green meadows and lawns going up the shore line. And houses like picture post cards!


No trip to Maine is complete without at least one encounter with the lobster! And the lobster did not disappoint… I do believe there is something really special about eating a lobster in Maine!


We drove till the end of Bailey Island, which spot offers a wide view of the waters and some of the surrounding islands.


Amazingly beautiful!


To be continued…



27 Jun 2014

High Park: Nature at its Best in Toronto

It was nice and sunny. The weather showed a maximum of 25 degree celsius for the day. The breeze floating about helped cool off the temperatures a bit. It was supposed to turn cloudy later in the day. With one eye open, I squinted towards the sky, still drowsy with sleep. Sprawled on the lush green grass, I was enjoying my afternoon siesta. The canopy of trees swaying gently above lulled my senses. At that point of time, the only thought that entered my mind was ‘Margarita! What would I not do for a margarita?!!’ 🙂



Sitting up, I viewed the large Grenadier Pond that had ducks and beautiful swans swimming by. It was truly a sight to behold! Behind me were people playing frisbee and badminton, walking, chatting, above all, relaxing in this serene atmosphere, far from the hustle and bustle of the city and yet so near. I was at High Park, a four hundred acres wooded area in downtown Toronto. The park gets its name from the previous owner, John George Howard, in 1873, who constructed his residence, the Colborne Lodge, there. Since the house was located on the highest point in that area, it came to be known as High Park along with the surrounding areas.


Developed as a natural park, it offers recreational facilities to Torontonians. Situated on a hilly terrain with steep inclines and valleys, there are also paved walking trails and tracks for those on a leisurely spree. For me, the walking tours are a major attraction of the park, organized on Sundays. The Colborne Lodge and the High Park Zoo are other things one could check out. So are the well-kept gardens that are embellishments to the raw wilderness around.



The High Park Zoo is a stretch of road with sections, enclosed by wired fences, providing habitats for many interesting animals like llamas, bisons, barbary sheeps, mouflon sheeps, reindeers, yaks, etc. The signboards hung outside the fences are humorously documented with information on the animals.


Ready for some nourishment, I glanced at my friends enquiringly. They were also up for a bite. We slowly started walking towards the parking lot. On the way, the High Park train, an open carriage for people wanting to tour the park on wheels, passed us. I mused over how much of the wonderment of the park they were able to take in as I felt that it was done best on foot. A break at the food trucks helped us hold our hunger for the time being and satisfied our childish cravings for popsicles, hotdogs, and cone ice creams.


I have heard that the blooming cherry blossoms in the spring are a spectacle worth seeing at High Park. In fact, the nature centre has a cherry blossom watch which tracks the date of peak bloom so people can plan their trip accordingly. Guess I need to get those pictures next!


24 Jun 2014

On the Kindness of Strangers…

At some time or other, we have all been touched by the kindness of strangers. I’m not talking about someone helping you with a heavy suitcase down the staircase at the train station or holding the door for you when you are loaded with shopping bags. Those are actions of the moment, without much thought behind them, more like reflexes of good manners. What I’m referring to are actions that are the results of conscious decisions to help others with no thought of personal gain.
The other day I was listening to ‘This American Life’ on NPR, and the story was about unusual acts of kindness by strangers. What was unusual about them was that some of the stories were not even intended as acts of kindness. Like, the guy who walked along the subway platform, telling each waiting passenger that were either in or out. The story goes on to narrate how inspiring it was to be told ‘you’re in’, though it meant nothing and was just a random muttering from a stranger. Was there an intention here to help people feel good? I would rather doubt it, but the end result was that it made others happy.
Listening to the stories, I was reminded of an incident, two summers ago, when I was subject to an act of kindness – actually, more like a present – from a stranger.
It was around 2 pm and I was waiting for a train to downtown, to meet a friend for a movie. As usual I had a book with me, and sat reading as I was a few minutes early. Suddenly I got this feeling that eyes were upon me and looking up saw this person watching me intently. I looked around; lots of people on the platform, so no need to worry. Ignoring the watching eyes I returned my attention to the book.
Time for the train and I got up and walked out. The person approached me smiling and started speaking. It was easy to say, ‘sorry, I don’t speak Spanish’. He extended a small card towards me and kept talking in a mix of English and Spanish. The only words I could get were… ‘for you… books… to read’. He pushed the card into my hand. I looked down and saw that it was a Barnes & Noble gift card. Like a true New Yorker I thought… Oh, the guy wants to sell me the card – probably blank. Yeah, right!
By this time, the train was approaching the platform. I tried to give the card back to him. But he wouldn’t take it and kept explaining. What I could grasp from his talk was this: he was a visitor to the city and was going back that day. Did not have time to use the card, and so wanted to give it to me.
The train doors were open, and it was easier to say ‘thank you’ and get in to the train than continue arguing with him. And I was careful to sit far away from where he sat. I pushed the card into the book I was reading.
I did not think of it further till I was passing in front of the Barnes & Noble store on Broadway (which has since closed). Went in and checked to see if the card was of any value. How much do you think was on that card? 78 dollars! I was amazed, to say the least. And truly felt ashamed at being so suspicious of the guy’s intentions!
Why did he pick me to make a present of the card? I cannot make a guess, except maybe it was because I was the only one reading a serious book on the station platform.
I still remember two of the books I bought with that card… ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri and ‘Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas’ by Tom Robbins, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed!

20 Jun 2014

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto

We all met at a postgraduate certificate program. We were a bunch of students from varied backgrounds, professions, and cultures. And among us was a marine biologist. Now, it was time for him to leave, at the end of the program. What would be the best farewell for him? We pondered. What would make it a memorable experience that he would remember us by?!! Of course, a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium. This suggestion from his closest friend was accepted by all.


OK wait, I had heard of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Those scary shows! But when did Ripley own an aquarium? And how come I didn’t know?!! I guiltily accept that that last point is not entirely true. I did hear all the fanfare when the place was under construction and when it finally opened last year to the public. Since it especially occupied prime property near CN Tower. After all, which Torontonian can stay untouched by media frenzy?!! But somehow I failed to pay attention.


I also found that Ripley had two other aquariums, one at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and the other at Gatlinburg, Tennessee that were identical to this one. Reportedly, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada features 5.7 million litres of aquatic life with 13,500 sea creatures. Considering all the hype, we decided this was the perfect place.


The aquarium was unusually crowded and people were bumping into each other. But then, these days that’s pretty much the scene on a holiday at most entertainment areas in Toronto. If you are taking the TTC, the skywalk from the Union subway station will get you there. If you are driving, you will have to hunt around for a parking space.

The aquarium is split into different sections displaying various kinds of sea animals. The Planet Jellies section was the most attractive as iridescent jelly fishes floated around in a luminescent bluish-lit enclosure. Interestingly, there were people sitting and watching this display like it was a show or a concert.


The ride along the moving walkway in the underwater tunnel showed us some fascinating creatures. Ironically described as the dangerous lagoon, we saw cute baby sharks, stingrays and zillions of multicolored fishes of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Our friend helped us identify each species.



A green sawfish was resting on the glass roof. Its face had an uncanny resemblance to one of our professors. I was almost talking to it.
One surprising thing was that they also included artificial plants to the aquatic exhibits to enhance the look of the fish tanks. I guess, everything had to be picture perfect, even the wildlife!


The open stingray tanks caused a bit of excitement among the children as each ventured to compete for the bravest spot by touching a stingray. However, the adults did not demonstrate the same amount of heroism. Wonder why?!! Need to ask self! 🙂


We concluded our visit by a stopover at the souvenir gift shop where stuff was overpriced as always. Yet there were long queues at the cash counter. All in all, the experience was a good one. I enjoyed going there with my friends, though I don’t think I will be in a hurry to come back to this aquarium for a second peek.


17 Jun 2014

The Magic of Bryant Park

Soon to be updated…

13 Jun 2014

A Street with an Identity

It was to Bloor-Yorkville, the so-called swanky neighborhood that I took my friend to show her the fashionable areas in Toronto. “Well, this looks pretty usual!” was her response; my friend didn’t seem very impressed.


I agreed with her as, unfortunately, that day, even the streets were crowded, with the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) plying shuttle buses from Bloor further south to downtown Toronto. So, the extra load of subway people on the streets along with the construction work obstructing the roads (related to the condos and the sidewalks) added to the chaos.

The high-end shopping malls and the big branded stores located in Bloor-Yorkville makes it known as ‘the shopping district of Toronto.’ According to the Fortune Magazine, it is ‘the seventh most expensive shopping street in the world.’


Bloor Street spans 25 kms and is an important arterial road in Toronto, the other being Yonge Street. Beginning at Prince Edward Viaduct in the east of Toronto, the road extends till Mississauga in the west. I could not find the exact year when Bloor Street was built but it was in the nineteenth century that the street got its name from Joseph Bloor, an industrialist, who established the Village of Yorkville in 1830, courtesy Wikipedia.

Gradually, the region grew into a major residential and commercial hub. 2008 data reveal that the shops in Yorkville earn a rent of 300$ per square foot and the condos are priced from 1mn$ upwards.


A section of Yorkville Avenue enclosed by Cumberland Street and Bellair Street looks hip and resembles a European town, with cobblestoned roads lined with cafes, pubs, sushi bars, posh restaurants, salons, and designer boutiques. Facing the opposite side of the street is an artistic park strewn with stone and metal sculptures and branded shops. For a change, my friend was charmed by the elegant surroundings there.


Cumberland Street is that part of Bloor Street where people love to be seen drinking, eating, and shopping.


Hemingway’s is a popular pub there and Trattoria Nervosa serves awesome-tasting Italian food, moderately priced. Definitely worthy of multiple visits!


Bloor Street has a unique historical appeal as it houses many old buildings embodying European style architecture and design. The intersection of Yonge and Bloor divides Bloor into east and west zones. Yorkville is situated on the west side while the east side mostly has tall corporate buildings and is more recently developed. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) with the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, world-renowned as an architectural splendor, and the Bata Shoe Museum are two significant places to visit.



The ROM is a wonderful treat for art lovers with five floors of beautiful art and sculpture from cultures around the world, depicted through the ages. The natural history sections are also very informative whilst no kid can ever forget the huge dinosaur exhibits that they were delighted to see and which still remain as their fond childhood memories.


I have made a custom of visiting the ROM once every six months. Or so it happens! With each visit, it seems like there is more and more to see and I come away regretfully with the feeling of not having spent adequate time.


My friend was more interested in the Bata Shoe Museum that showcased the evolution of footwear for different societies along with shoes worn by prominent celebrities. I loved the intricately designed and beaded moccasins of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada the best.


10 Jun 2014

The Park in the Sky

How often does one get a chance to be part of history? That too, the history of such magnificent city as New York? Such was the good fortune of the people around when the Highline opened on June 9, 2009.

What is Highline? It is a beautiful, beautiful park that was built and nurtured on the abandoned old tracks of the 6th Avenue El!


A bit of flashback… the Els, or elevated railroads, in New York were built to avoid the frequent accidents that used to happen with the freight trains running on the ground in the city. It was sooo bad that horse-riding men were employed to gallop ahead of running trains, waving red flags, to keep pedestrians off the tracks! Hence was conceived the idea of train tracks off the ground and running above the city streets.

On June 5, 1878, the 6th Ave El started operations. It covered a distance of 13 miles with stations at Rector St, Cortlandt St, and Park Place on Church Street; Chambers St, Franklin St, Grand St, Bleecker St on West Broadway; 8th, 14th, 23rd, 28th, 33rd, 42nd, 50th and 58th Streets on Sixth Avenue. The line also connected directly to factories and warehouses, enabling freight trains to deliver meat and produce – raw as well as processed – inside the buildings. And what is great, is that the traffic on the El did not affect the ground traffic at all!

However, by the 1930s, the decline of the El had started. The entire structure had weakened beyond hope of repairs. After being operational for 60 years, it was decided that the 6th Avenue El will be torn down. And on Dec 4, 1938, the operations on the line came to an end. And parts of the line were dismantled.

Fast forward to 1980s… plans are being made for the demolition of the remaining parts of the El. Local residents headed by environmentalists and activists challenge the plans in court. In 1999, a neighbourhood group, ‘Friends of the High line’ is formed to find alternate usage for the space offered by the now defunct railroad tracks.
Gradually support for the group increases and in 2002 a City Council resolution is passed advocating the reuse of the tracks.

In 2004, funding from the city is acquired for the development of the tracks. A design is selected through competition and the Highline Park comes into being, with the first section extending from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street open to the public on June 9, 2009!


‘Enchanting’ is an apt word to describe the Highline. The rail tracks are kept intact and flowers, shrubs and trees of all kinds are planted along the sides and between the tracks. And they change according to the seasons, adding variety to the overall sense of greenness that the park has.


The rail tracks that used to go into the meat packing factories and other manufacturing facilities can still be seen, though the entrances to the buildings are blocked up.


You can enjoy coffee, snacks and ice cream in one of these red brick factories, converted to a small marketplace. Also, you will find commemorative t-shirts, pens and very interesting books in the marketplace.


And the Highline has become a venue for art shows and exhibitions. The other day when we visited, a sculpture show was going on, attracting quite a few fans.


In fact, the whole area surrounding the Highline has developed an aura of artiness as evident from the street paintings and art objects.


Looks like even the neighbouring buildings are inspired to contribute to the effort!


And the views! Boy oh boy! It’s wonderful to look along the streets from the height of the Highline Park.


And some of the best views of the Hudson are from the Highline.


Looking for an exotic venue for your next event or occasion? Come to the Highline! And if you are in a mood to help out with the park, you can always volunteer. All in all, the Highline Park is making history in the neighbourhood!



06 Jun 2014

Toronto’s Summer Destination

In case you want to know what Torontonians do on a hot and humid weekend, just take a look at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal near Queen’s Quay, Harbourfront. You definitely would not miss the long lines of people and the bustling activity. This is the Toronto ferry docks from where you catch a ride to the Toronto Islands.


Toronto Islands is a group of eight islands on Lake Ontario near downtown Toronto. Historically, it is said to have been formed in the nineteenth century when a storm caused a sandspit to separate from the mainland, creating small islands. As part of Toronto, it was supposed to have been occupied by the First Nations communities that gave it its earlier names as the Island of Hiawatha or Menecing.


Like true Torontonians, we too were there at the Ferry Terminal among the island-going crowd. So was batman. Not joking! He, of course, was just getting his pics clicked with young’uns. Did my best to not stare at this huge guy wearing a tight batman suit!


The journey on the ferry boat was enjoyable as we caught glimpses of the posh buildings up close as well as from a far-off distance. The Toronto Harbourfront is home to the most beautiful buildings in Toronto. The weather was breezy and warm. The sky a perfect blue. Within ten minutes, we reached Centre Island, the largest of all the islands and the one that has all the activities and the maximum commotion! 🙂



After a quick lunch from Pizza Pizza, we started our trek to see the main attractions. We passed an amusement park and lovely greenery and small ponds on the way. Reached a beach where we had time to chill and hang out though it was not all that clean. Rented a quadricycle, a four-wheel carriage so that we could quickly cover all the interesting areas of the island. This soon turned out to be sheer drudgery as it was a struggle for us to move it along. We gave up on the way and decided to return it rightaway.


This was the first time I came across a clothing optional beach. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster enough courage to drop in. Guess I need to do some more growing up! But I certainly visited the clothing mandatory beach at Hanlan’s point. It was a gorgeous and neat and clean beach even though my legs froze in the water.
Four yacht clubs dock their boats at the islands. We saw many stunning beauties passing by and also docked at bay. Or shall I say, we were enjoying ‘yacht porn’!



Hanlan’s point gives you that view of Toronto that most people have seen…on picture postcards, advertisements, web sites and all other literature that is distinctive of Toronto. The Toronto skyline of CN Tower and Rogers Center along with the multitudinous tall and glassy office buildings and condominiums are really impressive. This, particularly seen at night is the most memorable view of Toronto one would remember. It made our day! It was almost like watching a live show. Observing this sight at twilight against the rippling waters of Lake Ontario is one of the many wondrous moments that Toronto can offer you!

03 Jun 2014