Canadian Tulip Festival – Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

We are just back from one of the best Tulip Festivals in the World – in Ottawa, Canada. It took place from May 11-21 and showcased 1,000,000+ tulips in bloom across 4 locations. To add to the extravaganza, there were arts and cultural performances as well, along with activities to do and attractions to explore!

After doing research online and via the official website for the festival, we thought of spending the couple of hours we had the day we reached there in Lansdowne Park. It is a market area, so was bustling with activity at that time of the hour. We parked on the road (paid parking of $3/hour) and made our way to the grounds where the tulips were.

The first sight of tulips was quite exciting for me as we had not seen so many of them since long. There was a garden of yellows in the view!where to see tulips in canadatulip festival ottawaThe park is right alongside the Rideau Canal (202 kilometers long), another major attraction there. We started heading further up in the park with just a road separating us and the canal. There were people jogging and running by the canal, and we spotted kayakers too the next day.lansdowne park ottawanature walkOur presumption was we would see hordes of tulips as far as we could see them, but that was not the case here. There were tulips, but only at certain places in patches. Anyway, the walk was quite a good one to keep was occupied. In fact, there was spring beauty all around, which just made our day!the beauty of springbest nature photographWe had paid for the parking for only an hour, as there have been instances in the past when we paid for more than an hour just to come back within the hour. So, in about 40 minutes, we started walking back after seeing a bunch of other-colored tulips.ottawa parkThe market area is quite a good one to spend some time socializing. If you have to admire the canal or kayak through it, there is a much better place, one that also had the kind of display of tulips we were expecting to see. I will cover that in a dedicated post.

An early morning hike to the summit of Diamond Head

Imagine waking up at 4 am, getting ready and then driving half-hour only to be in the queue of vehicles for gates to open at 6 am, and then hiking to the edge of a 300,000-year old crater – all before Sunrise! Yeah, we did that on the second day of our stay in Oahu.

We wanted to have a different experience of Sunrise than the one from the previous day (Sandy Beach Park), and Diamond Head State Monument is a perfect place for that – it is famous for its breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu.

As soon as the gates opened up, we made our way to the parking lot. There is a fee of $5/car or $1/pedestrian. After that, you take the trail, which is not so long, but is steep at quite a few places (especially the 99 steps towards the end) – it takes about 20-25 minutes to cover the distance. hiking diamond headdoamond head crater oahubest views of honoluluBut the thrill of all you’ve gone through reaches another high once you reach the summit. You are looking at the entire rim of a volcanic crater (of extinct volcano Diamond Head)…actually, you are standing on it!diamond head volcano craterpacific ocean hawaiiDepending on which way you look, the summit provides you with majestic views. The city of Honolulu looks quite a spectacle. If you look closely, you can see a section of the world-famous Waikiki beach.honolulu photographyIt was so amazing being out there that I couldn’t control myself from taking a selfie 🙂best selphieThe views looking from the other sides were no less. I especially loved this one…best picture of hawaiiLooking at the Pacific ocean was mesmerizing in its own right. A bonus was this Diamond Head Lighthouse built in 1899 (not open to the public). It spreads light nearly 18 miles out into the ocean and its Fresnel lens burns at 60,000 candlepower.diamond head lighthouse oahulighthouse hawaiiI would rate it as one of the best attractions in entire Hawaii, one you should not miss if you are in Oahu. No wonder, I was not intent on leaving it even after spending more than a couple of hours up there!ocean views honolulu

The Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I had written about the Lower Antelope Canyon a few weeks back. I absolutely loved it!

The other one – called the Upper Antelope Canyon – is just a few kilometers away from it. It is the most visited of the two because of two reasons – first, its entrance and the entire length are at the ground level, thus requiring no climbing; second, the beams of sunlight filtering through the top are more common there.upper antelope canyonI suggest reading my earlier post first as I had given a lot of details there comparing it to its upper counterpart.

Even though the upper is preferred by tourists, I would give a better rating to the lower one, owing to its thrill quotient. Regardless, prefer the summer months to visit as the sunlight creates the effect that would keep you spellbound!antelope canyon page azphotograhpy in antelope canyonIf you love photography, these slot canyons will be a delight to capture at every step of the way. Many people go for dedicated photography tours, as those will give you inputs on prominent locations/settings.

We went with the general tours, as written earlier (you can only go with the tour companies, not on your own).

The Volcanic Landscapes of Oahu, Hawaii

We were mesmerized by the beauty in Hawaii – no wonder it is called the Tropical Paradise!

During our road trips across the four islands we visited, we witnessed numerous stunning landscapes. I must say the often changing weather conditions there plays a major role in keeping one asking for more.hawaii road tripJust imagine that all these views were created off of volcanic eruptions over millions of years. Even today, the Big Island (the one we covered last) is still adding more space to it because of active volcanic eruptions.
best weather in oahuThe land all through Hawaii is also amazingly fertile – the famous plantations of Coconuts, Pineapples, Lychee, Bananas, and many others are a testimony to that. We loved having smoothies, shave ice, and fresh juices almost every day!
volcanic landscapes of hawaiiI am a fan of stopping every few minutes, and I have never regretted spending time at the places I’ve admired. Why else would one take a road trip otherwise?
islands in hawaiiThe last one is my favorite, and it was not even an attraction we were chasing – we were on an afternoon drive further up along the highway from Sandy Beach park we covered the very first morning in Hawaii.
what to see in hawaiiMy two cents based on my experiences – don’t just go to famous places. You would be amazed to explore the beauty at offbeat sites. Most of my fabulous clicks are from places you would’ve never heard of, and they are not even mentioned anywhere on the Internet.

One of the Best Beaches in the World – Lanikai

Lanikai beach in Oahu is consistently rated as one of the best in the world owing to its pristine sands, turquoise water, calm waves, and lush tropical plants. It has extremely soft powdery clean white sand and that makes it a must-see there. Btw, the name Lanikai means ‘heavenly sea,’ and the place is aptly called.

We went there right on day 1 because of my love for beaches. I should emphasize that it was so bright with sun pounding down that it was becoming difficult to even keep the eyes open for long (the beach and water are super-clean).lanikai beach oahubest beaches in the worldThe water temperatures there are normally between 24-26 degree Celsius, perfect for any time of the year. What especially makes the beach popular among photographers is the two islands in the background, called Na Mokulua or “mokes.”
parasailing at lanikaiThe only issue there is the parking, as there is limited public parking space. If you are headed there on a weekend, be ready to wait for the parking slot (the violation is strictly enforced). Since we went there on a weekday, we were lucky to spend a relaxing couple of hours.

Nestled in the lap of Nature: Byodo-In Temple

Set against the backdrop of towering cliffs of Ko’olau mountains, Byodo-In temple is a Buddhist temple located on the Oahu island of Hawaii – in the Valley of the Temples memorial park. It was dedicated in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

The temple doesn’t figure in the top 10 attractions of Oahu, but I would say it should have been one of the top 3! What makes it all the more worth visiting is it is a replica of the over 950-year old Buddhist temple at Uji in Japan.

As soon as we parked our car next to the temple, I was astounded by the scenery that greeted us. There is a fee of $5 per adult (to be paid in cash).byodo-in temple oahubuddhish temple in oahujapanese temple in hawaiiThe grounds are (properly landscaped) lush green, with a large reflecting pond, which has hundreds of Japanese koi carp.

Just outside (on the left of the temple) is a seven-ton six-feet high brass peace bell. It was cast in Osaka, Japan, and is separated into four sections depicting the Buddhist concept of heaven. It is advisable to ring this sacred bell using the soft wooden log before entering the temple. The unique tones of this impressive bell is believed to clear the mind of negativity, impart deep peace, and bring happiness, blessings and a long life. Through its resonating sound, the bell reminds us that everything is transitory.buddhist peace bellbell at buddhist temple.jpgYou can walk around the temple and see small waterfalls, sparrows, and wild peacocks. One thing we especially loved in Hawaii was that we were woken up by the sounds of birds every single day!best of oahubuddha statueThe main temple has a two-ton nine-foot seated Amida statue (the Buddha of the Western Paradise). It is covered in gold and lacquer.

The Amida Buddha represents the infinite life and light surrounding all beings.

From my own experience I can say that you would not feel like leaving the temple – it was so blissful. There are a couple of benches in the temple and niche on the grounds where you can meditate for however long you want to – it is no wonder the visitors describe the place as beautiful, peaceful, and restful.

The temple grounds are often used for wedding ceremonies for Hawaiians or visitors from Japan.

Travel Planning for Summer Vacation on a Budget

Summer is when the attractions get the most crowd. No wonder, planning for a vacation becomes a tedious task. But if you do your homework well, it can turn out to be the most enjoyable outing you’ve ever had.Blog-Summer-ItineraryBased on my extensive travel in the last few years, here’s what needs the most attention before you hit the road:

– Destination and Itinerary

– Attractions

– Accommodation

– Pack light

– Be flexible with the plan

– Funding

You can read the entire post with details on each point on Money View blog.

First morning in Hawaii : Sunrise in Honolulu

You might know from my Introductory post in March that we took a 13-day vacation to Hawaii from March 21-April 2. We visited the four islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Kona (in that order), with about 2.5 days spent in each. There are two more islands visited by a few in Hawaii, but Lanai is largely privately owned and Molokai is prohibitively expensive.

We were living next to the world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (capital of Oahu), and not far from other major attractions. I wouldn’t say Manoa Valley Inn, where we were put up, was one of our best experiences in spite of the good reviews it has. The reasons are – they don’t clean the room every day and breakfast starts at 7.30. We had the worst experience with BnB at Maui – Haiku Plantation Inn – there you have to pay $75/per day for getting the room cleaned and breakfast starts at 8am. This was the 2nd time we went with BnBs in our travel history, so we are really skeptical to go with them ever again. Anyway, the spectacular attractions more than made up for these issues.

Since Honolulu is six hours behind EST (Canada time, and with daylight savings), we were wide awake around 4am for an initial couple of days. Guess what we did, which Saru never did earlier? She accompanied me on my morning ritual, watching Sunrise at the Beach 🙂

We had done a lot of research even before landing in Hawaii, and Sandy Beach (Park) around half-hour away from our accommodation was mentioned as one of the best to view Sunrises. Sure enough, we were there the first morning itself. Being right next to the Kalanianaole Hwy, it was easier to reach there with just the GPS location. It is a long park along the ocean with enough parking. There were a few folks around admiring its stunning beauty, and also what was about to add up.

Hawaii is known for beaches with pristine-sands, crystal-clear waters, stunning landscapes, active and dormant volcanoes, gorgeous coastlines, natural waterfalls, and we saw all of that, and much more.

Sandy beach was close to perfect (I will talk about and show a perfect beach in a later post), and we sure did marvel at its spectacular beauty. Here’s the same for you…sandy beach honolulu.jpgsunrise in hawaiibest of oahu hawaiiAround 7.30 or so we made our way back to the inn for breakfast. We had an interesting attraction coming up after that…something that is quite unique by any parameter.

The best from my travels so far – Lower Antelope Canyon

The best natural attraction I have been to yet is the Lower Antelope Canyon, situated on the Navajo land east of Page, Arizona in the United States. There is a separate Upper Antelope Canyon as well just a few miles from the Lower one, and it is touted to be more photogenic (thus is expensive), but I found the Lower to be more adventurous.

The Slot Canyons were formed by erosion of Sandstone, mainly due to flash flooding, but also due to sub-aerial processes. As the water picked up speed and sand in the narrow passageways, it made the canyon deeper and smoother along the edges, thus forming the ‘flowing’ shapes in the rocks. Even today, during the monsoon season, this phenomena occurs, and the tour companies close-down the visits.

We had decided to cover Lower and Upper on separate days and bought our tickets with separate tour companies (you can’t go on your own).

This post is just about the Lower Antelope Canyon. It is reachable with five flights of steps of varying width. It is also longer (1.1 miles), shallower, narrower at places (but wide at top), and sometimes even proper footing can be a challenge (compared to its Upper counterpart). The canyon itself is V-shaped.lower antelope canyon.jpgwhat to see in arizonaAs you make your way through the canyon, you can only marvel at all kinds of patterns formed by the natural processes. Add too it the numerous colors you are entertained to, and you are transported to another world! Just imagine how the force of water sculpted each section of the antelope canyonbest best wonderf of natureAs you walk through, you will have to climb stairs to make your way out of the canyon.

Notes (for the Lower Canyon):

  1. The sightseeing tour ticket fees for both Lower and Upper includes the Navajo National Permit and their Tax. The current total price for Lower is USD40 per person and USD78 for Upper (for 10.30 and 1:00 tours, $10 less for 8:30 and 3:00 tours). We went with Dixie Ellis tours for the Lower Canyon (there are just 2 companies for the Lower, the other one being Ken).
  2. Book your tours at least a couple of days in advance since the preferred slots fill up quickly and a group has limited number of reservations (approximately 15) allowed with a touring company. There is a tour every 30 minutes with either company.
  3. The time it takes to cover the canyon is 1.5-2 hours. It takes about 10 minutes from the company booth to the entrance of the canyon and the wait to enter the canyon could be up to 3 hours during the peak season.
  4. The lighting is better in the early hours or late morning. Being narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, the Lower Canyon feels brighter and warmer than the Upper one.
  5. There are no photography-only tours for the Lower canyon (but is available for the Upper one).
  6. You can take your own camera and tripod without any charges. Your guide most probably will help you shoot the famous spots.
  7. The canyon being deep, most likely you would feel cold inside. It’s advisable to take a jacket or sweater along.
  8. The Upper and Lower being the most visited, some people think the adventure part has just about vanished from them. Worry not, there are hundreds of other slot canyons near-by. They are free, except for the standard Navajo hiking permit.

We also have one of our favorite shots from the Lower canyon 🙂natural wonders in the world

13 days sightseeing and island-hopping in Hawaii

I’ve always wanted to visit the islands of Hawaii and Seychelles (technically, both of them are archipelagos). Ever since we got the US Tourist Visa last year, I was thinking of making a trip to Hawaii. The only problem – Hawaii is super-expensive!

Since we are still living close to the US and I saved-up enough by not taking too many vacations last year, we finally picked-up Hawaii as our next Travel destination, and started planning for it in January this year. We did some homework on which all islands to visit, and eventually zeroed-in on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island – in that order. In terms of timing, we didn’t want to visit during the peak summer months of Jun-Aug, and with my job restrictions, March-end sounded just about right (btw, any month is a good month to visit Hawaii – as experts say). I also got a fair deal with the Toronto to Honolulu and return flight (CAD545 per person), with a short halt in Los Angeles (both ways).

The hotel bookings have cost me a fortune, though – averaging a tad below USD200 per night (we are not budget travelers; not luxury, either)! Add to it the inter-island flights (the most effective way for island-hopping) and renting a car on each island (you would know I love road-trips?), we probably could have covered 2 countries in this budget. But then Hawaii is a different world altogether or so I have heard! We are about to find out as we have just landed in Honolulu.

In terms of the number of days we would spend across those islands, after the vacation to India in September and then to the US on New Year, I just had a few vacation days left. So, we could only cough-up 13 days in total (includes 2 weekends and a holiday on Good Friday). Based on what Saru and I wanted to see, we decided to split our time equally across the islands – 2.5 days, with half-a-day reserved for island hopping. I am fully aware those will not be sufficient, especially for the biggest of them all, the Big Island.

Details on what exactly we covered on each island would come after we are back. For now, let me soak in the Hawaiian bliss 🙂Napali Coast HawaiiFor my record, it was my 59th flight today.

Image sourced from Hawaii Tourism Authority website