Las Vegas Strip: You won’t get tired of exploring it!

The last leg of our 2016 year-end tour to the West Coast was 3 days in the gorgeous Las Vegas.

We were staying in Bally’s (right in the middle of the world-famous Strip), so most of the hotels and casinos were within walking distance. I was so attracted to the fountains of Bellagio, which were just across the street, that I visited them quite a few times during our stay – don’t miss them!best of las vegasbelloagio fountainsfuntains in the nightLV has many theme-based resort hotels and casinos, and you can cover almost all of them just by walking. Based on where you are put up on the strip (and I strongly suggest staying where most of the action is), some might feel a bit further away (the length of the strip is 6.8 kilometers or 4.2 miles), so you can take a bus to reach them. There are a few free trams also, but they cover only certain hotels on the west side. Our rental car allowed us to explore with ease…we just had to take our car out once and park at the New York Hotel and Casino, that allowed us access to the furthest end of the strip on the south (Mandalay Bay casino). The North end leads to the Fremont Street, which is a spectacle in itself (we visited it one evening – we parked at the roadside paid slots)!

The entire strip looks quite scenic in the night when the multitude of lights show-off their elegance. However, each hotel has its own charm and should be visited both during the day and night. Some are worth multiple visits too depending on your interests. We spent a lot of time in The Venetian (has Gondola rides in the hotel, much like in Venice), Bellagio’s (stunning year-end celebrations and fountains outside are a sheer delight), and Caesars Palace (based on Roman architecture, and even has life-sized Gods in there). There is no fees to explore any of these hotels from inside, you might have to pay for individual attractions though (e.g. Gondola ride).

The Venetian: Visit to enjoy shopping arcade, gondola rides, food, and stunning venice-themed architecture.what to see in las vegasgondola venetian las vegasbest of lvbest hotel in las vegasCaesars Palace: Visit to enjoy tryst with the roman architecture, fall of atlantis show, and luxury shopping.caesars las vegas.jpgnew year in las vegascaesars palaceroman architecture las vegasThough we were in LV for 3 days, I would suggest keeping a week if you want to explore each resort thoroughly and indulge in some serious shopping too – you can spend as much as you want to as all the luxury brands are present there! Even if you just like long walks, your eyes won’t get tired of admiring the hotels from the outside – day or night!new york hotel las vegasbest hotel in las vegas nevadaluxor hotel and casinomgm grand las vegasthe mirage hoteldisney las vegasOne last thing we did in Las Vegas was to take the High Roller ride, currently the world’s tallest ferris wheel. More on that in the next post…

Memorable Vacation in Goa with Hard Rock Hotel

After my impromptu escapade to the Sunset Beach in Cape May, I developed a strong connection with the Beaches. I witnessed a spectacular sunset on the first day of the year in 2015. I marveled at the color, paintbrush-like strokes in the sky, and the serenity it brings. For me, beaches are mesmerizing. The sheer beauty of it can never be explained in words. You have to travel to such fabulous places to experience it! As a beach lover, I have a long wishlist of places I intend to cover…it has the best beaches from all over the world. I’ve covered a few already – Bondi beach in Sydney, South beach in Miami, and the recently visited Sauble beach in Ontario, Canada.

Goa is one such destination that is on the top of my mind for over a decade. And why not? It’s the best beach destination in our country! I’ve talked to many foreigners who itch to travel to this beauty. In fact, in 2007, I made all the arrangements for a vacation to Goa for my entire family. Planes tickets were booked, hotel arrangements were made, but as luck would have it we had to cancel it at the last minute. Since, my resolve to travel to the top beach destination in India has gone up. 

Speaking of beaches, it takes a lot to find one and then do an extensive research on the same. I plan all the details to the T. Here is how it goes for me:

  • Scout for the best beach in a country. My idea of the best beach is one that is less crowded, has clear water, and an exquisite quality of sand.
  • Search online for the best places to capture sunrise and sunset. Wherever I travel, I always find the company of professional photographers…essentially telling me I am at the right spot! They bring their tripods and expensive lenses to shoot gorgeous dawn and dusk. There are hundreds of online communities where one can find all the relevant information related to sunset/sunrise photography. Just do your research.
  • Stay close to attractions and not far away from the beach. It comes at a price, but when you account for the time savings and travel cost to-and-fro from far-off hotels, on-beach properties make for a better deal. You get to experience the exuberance of the crowd, activities that are centered around the beach, and can head to your hotel when you want to. Other reasons on one side, the experience of living close to the center of all the action is amazing.
  • A trip to the beach is incomplete without an adventure sport. To make sure I don’t spend an outrageous amount that can dwindle my budget, I rely on two sources – online deals and coupons available at the hotel. Every hotel at a tourist destination has a corner in the lobby where one can find pamphlets of all the attractions and activities nearby. I make use of these and suggest you do too. I saved nearly $50 with such a pamphlet on Q1 tickets in Gold Coast, Australia…and I have many such examples!
  • Last but not the least, I stay at a hotel that provides meals. If not a full-fledged restaurant than at least breakfast buffet. I don’t like to spend an hour looking out for breakfast options. I like to get ready early morning, have breakfast, and head out to the attraction. By going early, one can easily avoid traffic and long queues at the attraction.

With these specifics in mind, I found that staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Goa would guarantee an unforgettable trip. Situated on Calangute beach, all the major Goa attractions are at a convenient distance to it. The hotel has all the necessities I want and all the luxuries my wife craves for – restaurant, coffee shop, gym, pool, lounge, and tastefully decorated rooms. It’s a 4-star hotel and is surprisingly well-priced. After reading stellar reviews of this property, I’ve already chosen it for my Goa trip. Here are a few pictures of the hotel.Hard Rock Goa 1Hard Rock Goa 2Hard Rock Goa 3Hard Rock Goa 4Hard Rock Goa 5If you are planning to head to Goa for holidays, Hard Rock Hotel is an option that you should definitely explore. In case you visit there before I do, don’t forget to share your experience.

The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto in Tobermory is the best attraction I have been to yet! The natural cove formed over thousands of years is a 4-hour drive north of Toronto and lies within the famous Bruce Peninsula National Park.

As we had already taken the permit for the 12-4 slot (mentioned in the last post), we drove into the park around 11.45am and parked in P1 lot about 5 kilometers further up from the entrance (it is beyond the Cyprus Lake – see map in the last post). The grotto is about a half-hour easy walk from there. There are a couple of trails you can take to reach it – the longer one is along the Horse Lake and shorter one along the Marr Lake, which is what we took.

Once you hit the water, the views are unbelievable! There were hordes of people there, but I took them off the shot to avoid the clutter. It was quite windy that day, so you can’t see anybody swimming out there, but this would make for a perfect spot for anybody wanted to either plunge in the water or just have some nice time alongside. I stood at the edge for a couple of shots and got fully drenched 🙂best beaches in the worldgrotto bruce peninsulaWe followed the Bruce Trail (which goes along the edge) and there is a Grotto Cave just a few meters away. I would imagine had it been a swimmable day, I wouldn’t even have found a suitable platform to snap it!the grottoJust a few meters further up is the Grotto, one which takes a lot of effort to reach as there is no defined pathway leading to it. The folks in the shot below had to find their way down through the rocks that you see in the view (same was on my side too).grotto near torontoThe park is too vast to enjoy fully in a 4-hour window but we did go further to explore a couple of more vistas. If you have time, do go to the Boulder Beach and the Overhanging Point. I wouldn’t say they are as magnificent as the Grotto but would give you some unique views nonetheless.

The boulder beach, as the name suggests, is quite rocky. It is a good spot for some sun-bathing though. You can bring your umbrella and maybe just read a book in the shade!boulder beach bpnpboulder beach bruce peninsulaThe next was to hike up to the Overhanging Point (all the way up in the thick blanket of green in the above shot), but it takes some strenuous hiking for about a kilometer to reach that point. Being the last attraction for us (before we were to head back to the parking), we didn’t want to leave it.views of nature bruce peninsulaoverhanging point bruce peninsulaAs is apparent, the rock has gone through erosion over centuries and now is a spectacular semic circle hanging off the edge.

We leisurely covered what one could do in the allotted time, but if you plan to swim or even go down in the Grotto, you might have to sacrifice on a few spots. Remember, you have to head back to the parking also, which would take at least 30 minutes…and you can’t risk the authorities towing away your vehicle! Btw, you don’t have to follow the same path in reverse to head back, there is a shortcut from the boulder beach which further merges into the Marr Lake trail.

P.S. As mentioned earlier, entry to any National Park in Canada is free this year owing to the country’s 150th anniversary.

The colors of fall at the Acadia National Park

After witnessing a spectacular Sunrise at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine, USA, it was time to experience the fall colors that Acadia is famous for. The best way to do so is by driving on the 27 mile Park Loop Road, which connects the park’s lakes, mountains, forests, and rocky shores, and provides easy access to many stunning views. The road is open from mid-April through November, but a small section is open year-round.

Since we had the yearly pass for all the National Parks in the US, we didn’t have to pay any entry fees (otherwise, a pass can be obtained for $25 per vehicle and is valid for a week). As soon as you enter the park, you can imagine why Acadia is a must-visit during autumn. The fall colors there were not at their peak yet, but were still fabulous to have anybody exclaiming ‘what more!’

There are many pull-off observation points and one should stop at them to see why they are famous for…a leisure trip definitely is a huge plus if you really want to enjoy the bliss of nature! If you are short of time, I would definitely recommend enjoying the following:

Sand Beach: Just walk along the spectacular azure water, or take a swim! The beach is flanked by mountains on 3 sides and we walked from end-to-end against this lovely backdrop. The clouds that were hovering around in the morning provided for a mystical experience!sand beach acadiasand beach acadia np mainephotography in acadiaThunder Hole: A small crack in the cave along the shoreline where waves crash into the hole. The ideal time to witness the road of air and water is when the tide is midway between high and low. Since you can’t time it perfectly, just enjoy whenever you are there!thunder hole mainethunder hole acadiaOtter Cliff: There are many cliffs in there…Otter cliff is a famous one! I went further up on a few ledges to enjoy the sound of waves and inhale in the pristine surroundings.viewpoints in acadia national parkEven if you keep driving along, there are many viewpoints where you could just park the car along the road and enjoy the beauty of nature. I especially liked the views of the Frenchman Bay in the distance!islands in acadia maineroad trip in acadia

P.S. During our trip, I found a fascination for smelling the colored leaves but, unfortunately, they don’t smell any different when they are undergoing the color change.

The hidden gems of Tobermory, Ontario

Further to my previous post on the Sauble Beach that we visited on a Friday evening a few weeks back, we had a lot of attractions lined up until Monday evening. They form a part of the Bruce Peninsula and the adjoining Fathom Five National Marine Park. On Saturday morning, we had to first get the permit for the famous Grotto (natural intricate cove) since the parking for it is through timed slots and is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis. The slots are from 7-11am, 12-4pm, 5-9pm. It is suggested to reach as early as possible if you even want to be safe for a slot (you can only get a permit for that day, not for future). On weekends (especially long ones), all the slots could get filled up in the morning itself…you can follow their twitter handle @BrucePNP or even use #grottoparking to see the current availability.

We reached the entrance (on the Cyprus Lake Rd) to the Bruce Peninsula National Park about 8.30am and were given the option to choose from any of the 2nd or 3rd slots. We went with the 12-4 one since photography is better during the day time and one could enjoy the reflections in crystal-clear waters too! In the meantime, we backed-up our car and headed further up about 10 kilometers to the Tobermory Visitor Center (map here: BP-FF_Map_en). As I’ve mentioned earlier also, the benefit of starting with the Visitor Center can’t be undermined…the folks there give you valuable information even though you might think you know it all!

We were advised to head to the tower right next to it and then go to the Dunks Bay just a short walk away. We did exactly that and were treated to spectacular views of the entire Georgian Bay from the summit of the tower. It was quite windy and cloudy that morning, but the views from up there are still fresh in my memory.tobermory tower near visitor centerbruce peninsula national parkviews from top tobermorygeorgian bayAfter that, we headed to the Dunks Bay and were in awe looking at the clarity of the water. I could even count stones deep into the turquoise waters…I felt the clarity to be even better than that of Lake Tahoe in California that we saw in April last year!nature traildunks bay tobermorywhat to see in tobermoryWe got so excited about the prospect of what is coming up next that the 3 hours at those 2 small sites seemed to pass by in a jiffy!

There are other attractions in Tobermory too, especially a cruise to explore the Flowerpot Island of Fathom Five NP (we covered that on Monday). Our priority was The Grotto for most of Saturday and The Blue Mountains on Sunday. More on these coming up next…

Another Day, Another Beach!

We have been to so many beaches in the last few years that it seems like just yesterday I was at (yet) another beach. It was a few weeks back when we started our long weekend by spending the Friday evening at the gorgeous Sauble Beach in Ontario. It’s a 2-hour drive from our place and we stayed close to the location to get a head-start for the activities we had planned for on Saturday.

At a length of 11 kilometers, Sauble Beach is the second longest freshwater beach in the world (after Wasaga beach, that I wrote about earlier). As the community of Sauble beach is located on the West, the pristine shores of Lake Huron provide for some spectacular Sunsets. Our experience was no less!

Being a working day for me on Friday, we reached the beach around 7.30pm. Since the Sunset was supposed to be around 9, we were there at the perfect time to witness the change of colors.sauble beach ontarioThe best part about this beach is that you can drive right up to the water (see the car on right in above shot). Moreover, that parking is free! If the parking is full, you can park on the road as well (that is paid, but reasonable). I must also add that the beach is quite clean and, luckily, there were very few people around when we visited.day trips from torontoI don’t swim, but that never deters me from just being in the water and listening to the sound of waves. There were a few kids and a surfer further into the lake, enjoying their heart out 😀best beaches in canadaWe spent a couple of hours (even had our dinner in the car while looking at the lake from a few feet). It must have been around 9pm when the waves increased, so we had to back-up the vehicle a bit.sunset phorography ontariosunset at a beachAfter a long time, I witnessed a perfect Sunset. Also, this is one place Saru didn’t want to leave…so she didn’t have to drag me off either 🙂

A ‘snowy’ journey to Zion National Park

Our next destination after covering Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons and Monument Valley in Arizona/Utah was Zion National Park (NP). We had an overnight stay in Kanab (just an hour drive to Zion) with the Hampton Inn…we always try to reach close to our next destination the evening before so we are fully relaxed for the ‘sometimes’ hectic day ahead.

It was expected to snow overnight and even the next day for the most part. However, Zion was on the tight part of our schedule, so there was no leeway for us to work around the weather fury!

As expected, it snowed a bit late into the night. In the morning, as soon as we hit the road, we were met with heavy snow. I had to drive with caution but, luckily, had the road to myself. It essentially meant we stopped as we pleased…the views were stunning, to say the least!zion national parkWe had always considered the states of Arizona and Utah deserts but both had enough snow to pleasantly surprise us. We wouldn’t want a bit of magic while on vacation?antelope canyon to zionThe weather was supposed to clear-up once we reached Zion, so the excitement was building up too!mountains in utahJust before we were about to enter another unique wonder of nature that Zion is, a picture-perfect setting caught my attention, and I was sure to catch it 🙂attractions in utahZion has a terrific scenery to keep you in awe, and we sure witnessed it! As if snow was not enough, it also rained a bit in Zion while we were there, adding another aspect to our experience – you have to wait for another post for that 😀

The first place to view Sunrise in the United States: Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine, is the place to see first rays of Sun in the whole of United States. We had reached there after covering fall in Vermont and New Hampshire, and Acadia is even better known for its colors over the many small islands.

At an elevation of 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. We were staying just a bit from the road to the Summit of the mountain, so it was easy to drive to its peak early morning, which was on the top of my list of things to do there.first sunrise in united statesThe road to the top meanders through the North and Eastern side of the mountain. If your want to see the Sunrise, it is better to rush to the top first, though you might be tempted to stop at the various vintage points along the 5.6-kilometer stretch. Sometimes, even the parking might be hard to find up there though they have ample spots!cadillac mountainAt the summit, I stood in the bitter cold of early-October and my fingers froze many times to capture these shots. I was in the company of many ‘wise’ men and women though 😛acadia national park.jpgThe scenery changed dramatically as I admired the views from about 5am till 7.30 or so. The clouds and islands in the distance added beauty to the extravanagza. There were fall colors too, but not at their peak yet.sunrise at cadillacThe sun made its first appearance in style, and many around clapped to welcome another day!best of acadia npThe following moments kept me hooked to the mesmerizing sights, as it was a perfect morning one can ask for!best sunrise shotsphotography at cadillacThe entire experience only made me strengthen my resolve to never miss a Sunrise while on vacation…it is a wonderful gift of nature that needs to be appreciated and be thankful for!

Day trip from Toronto: Lake Simcoe and Wasaga Beach

Last Saturday, we ventured out on yet another day-long trip (after Niagara falls). This time it was Lake Simcoe and the world-famous Wasaga Beach (the longest freshwater beach in the World!).

Saru had decided on the outing last week itself and I am always up for Travel anyway. So, it was about 10 on Saturday when we started towards the fourth-largest lake in the province of Ontario. The famous attractions of the lake are mostly in the city of Barrie, just an hour or so from our place. Due to lack of proper information available on the internet on what to do around the lake, we first stopped at the office of Tourism Barrie, which is just at the edge of the lake. The young chaps at the office advised us to spend a few hours strolling around the lake and enjoying its beauty amidst the mountains in the far distance, and then driving to Wasaga Beach (which we had planned for anyway). They suggested to go further to the Bluewater Beach for witnessing the Sunset at a quaint place as Wasaga beach is normally crowded (and it literally was too crowded).

There are many activities around the lake. We started by driving to the Minet’s Point Beach (just a kilometer or so before the Tourism’s Office). Though the beach is small but it is an absolutely wonderful place for the kids. We were quick to experience it and then drove towards and past the office and parked at the Centennial Park (not even a kilometer from the office).lake simcoe ontariocentennial park lake simcoeIf one has time, a stroll around the lake (starting from the office) is definitely recommended…but you can’t walk fully around the lake (it is too long).alok singhal lake simcoe wasaga beachWe saw a bunch of people Kayaking and Canoeing in the lake, and we couldn’t hold the excitement. So, we rented it too (for $45 per hour) 🙂 It was a first-time experience for us and we enjoyed it thoroughly. The HappyPaddling folks took our pictures too, but they were not of acceptable quality. I took some of my own shots while we were in the lake.kayaking and canoeing in lakeThe guide had suggested to explore Downtown Barrie too, but we are more of nature-oriented. So, we picked our car and drove further around the lake and parked at the Heritage Park.heritage park ontarioheritage park lake simcoeThere is a bay alongside, which provided for some unique shots of the place!lake simcoe phorographyWe must have spent about 3 hours before heading to the Wasaga Beach. Having been to numerous beaches across countries, I can say too much crowd is the last thing you want to see at a place where you want to just take off your clothes! Anyway, I went by the guide’s recommendation (to head further to the Bluewater Beach) but not before capturing this shot at Wasaga.sunset at wasaga beachBluewater Beach would have been difficult to find had it not been for the precise directions given by the guide (no wonder, it was his favorite beach). For those reading here, it is in the town of Tiny. A gem of a beach it is, I would say! Since it was cloudy that day, we couldn’t witness the sunset there, but I can imagine how magnificent it could have been. I strolled around on the secluded beach, while Saru did some playing-around with the Camera.bluewater beach tiny ontario.jpgFor those looking for a weekend outing from Toronto, it could easily have been so considering we returned back around midnight.

P.S. We didn’t have to buy magnet souvenir on this trip as the kayak vendor gave us a couple of them 🙂

The Valley of Rocks: Monument Valley

Just a couple of hours’ drive from Page, Arizona (the location of HorseShoe Bend and Antelope Canyons) lies the valley of rocks – the Monument Valley! It has a cluster of large Sandstone buttes (an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top).

Though the tour of the valley was not in our original plan for Arizona/Utah, we decided on a quick trip from Page as we had one afternoon open. The drive itself is through the vast barren landscapes, but as one approaches the Valley at the border of the 2 states, the tourists begin to be seen.road to the monument valley utahThere is a general admission fees of $20 per vehicle and then you can just drive on the 14-mile graded dirt road that takes you through the major monuments – The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Totem Pole, Yel-Bichel, Ear of the Wind.

Here’s the John Ford’s Point, followed by the Three Sisters:john ford's point utahthree sisters monument valleyThere are many monuments there, difficult to capture in just a few hours. One can stop at the designated points though and enjoy the stunning views.snow in desertwhat to see in arizona utahIt had snowed a bit there earlier (who can imagine that in the so-called desert!), but it made our outing all the more exciting. This one is my personal favorite from the day (the colors are all natural):beautiful photography monument valleyThe below shot has Yel-Bicehl on the left and Totem Pole on the right, which has gone through extensive erosion over time!best of usa travelIt was about time for dusk, and that’s when I get super-active. The reason – most of my best shots have come either at dawn or when the sun was about to bid good-bye for the day!snow in arizona utahThe last shot of the day was that of the Mittens (left and middle one) and of the Merrick Butte (right foreground) – looks magical, isn’t it?night shots at monument valleyAfter about 4 hours, we left another of nature’s wonder, but not before collecting a souvenir from a large shop at the entrance.