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

I spent a Thousand Dollars primarily for this!

My entire vacation across Canada and United States in December last year was centered around this one spot – Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. I was not as excited about the other places we visited as this one!

Capturing Sunset over the summit of Mount Washington covered in snow had been my dream ever since we had a fabulous time at the very same spot in the fall of 2016. The entire stretch of mountains on the right side of the resort was lit-up in various hues.best sunset shotSo, this time, we made sure to spend the afternoon there after we took the aerial tramway up the Cannon Mountain earlier in the day. The resort is just about a half-hour drive from the Hillwinds Lodge where we were put up in Franconia.

There is no defined parking at the entrance to the resort (no gate to cross), but one can park along the road – that’s what I have seen others doing, too. You might get enough space in the summers, but during winters, you have to make one yourself. With not many people around in the chilly temperatures, it is not that difficult! We must have spent about 2 hours, and only a couple of tourists came by, stopped, clicked shots, and went away – most of the traffic on the road to the resort was of people going or coming from there. I was the only one walking around with my camera (Saru was in the car) trying to make the best of changing views.best snow covered mountain shotbest nature picturesBeing the peak of winters this time, the sun was setting down just behind the resort. The white and red colors of the resort added another layer of beauty to the colors in the sky. Since the mountains are quite far away from the spot and there is no point in showing a large blanket of snow, you would have to use the zoom.best natural beautybest landscape photos.jpgThough the sunset was not as dramatic as we witnessed earlier, I was still feeling quite ecstatic all the time – not many get to go (back) to their dream location in spite of all the money they might have.

If you ask me now, I wouldn’t leave a chance to visit the place again!

The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

A must-visit attraction in New Hampshire is the summit of Cannon Mountain at 4,180 feet, the highest ski area summit in the state! The views on a clear day can stretch as far as Canada.

Though this tramway came into existence in 1980, its earlier version which was discontinued because of high running costs (due to non-availability of replacement parts) was the first tramway in America, opening in 1938! Today, the red and yellow cabins (referred to as ketchup and mustard, respectively – because of their color) can carry 80 passengers (70 during winters). Covering a distance of just over 2 miles one way, the journey takes about 10 minutes.

We had taken the ride a few years back also (in the fall), but this time it was to witness the snow from up above. The tickets cost us $19 per person for a round-trip ride. If you are skiing, you can buy a half or full day pass.

If you have been following my trip since last few posts, you would know the temperatures were touching – 27-degree Celsius the time we were there. That had actually inspired me in the first place to take a trip to the peak. I picked up Saru from the hotel (after my morning ritual covered in the last post), and we were on our way to the top around 11 AM. The views during the ride can’t be put down in words! As we were the only spectators going up that time of the hour (rest were all skiers), the tram operator asked me to stand at the back in the cabin as the window was half-open and I could get some great shots. And I sure did exactly that 🙂cannon mountain tramwayThough the views all around were covered in snow, the sun appeared to lit-up some sections of the frames. I must say I did enjoy the 180-degree views, including the fun of some skiers going down the slope underneath the tramway path. I don’t just go crazy with clicking shots, I have formed a habit of enjoying myself first.sightseeing in usabest pictures of natureWhen we reached the top, Saru had to immediately rush into the covered area (houses a warm and cozy ski lodge offering a variety of food, and has restrooms), just because it was too much of a cold to bear. I, on the other hand, warmed myself up and ventured out to explore a bit. Though there are a plenty of trails one could take at the top, it was not the day to even look out for them! I just had to be content with seeing some adults and kids enjoying what they were there for.best pictures of mountains

All the shots are from my erstwhile iPhone 7 Plus

Sunrise over the snow-capped Mountains

I wanted to make the most of the only full day we had in Franconia, New Hampshire. Add to it the craze of watching at least one of Sunrise or Sunset, though I had planned for both.

We were staying quite close to the ski area of famous Cannon Mountain and its Aerial Tramway. The only concern was the chilly temperatures owing to the cyclone blasting most of the states we were covering (stretching from Canada to the United States). However, I consider it an opportunity to witness some gorgeous views that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise!

I got up early (no surprise for guessing), got ready, and made my way to our car parked right behind the Hillwinds Lodge we were put up in. The temperature on the dashboard showed -27 degree Celsius, which only meant for me that I had to keep the car running for about 15 minutes. It was still dark when I drove to the base of the aerial tramway. They open up at 8.30AM, so I was early even by their standards. Also, I couldn’t see anybody skiing either, which is what I love – just the place to myself! When we left the place next day morning, we could see many people skiing the same slopes just around 8.30.

Since the parking lot was empty (maintenance was cleaning up snow, though), I took my time to admire the beauty of snow-capped mountains. Being surrounded by mountains with they showing me the best they have to offer is quite overwhelming for me. I take it with both hands!ealry morning franconiaI couldn’t spend a lot of time there – the temperatures are hard to imagine even for me now. I had read about a couple of small lakes around, one of them being Echo Lake just a couple of kilometers away (another one being Profile Lake), and I quickly made my way to it. If you’ve read me for long, you would know I don’t miss lakes, for they provide stunning reflections of subjects around – here they were the mountains. By that time, the activity of people arriving for their work had started. I asked for the Echo Lake and was told it just a walkable distance but that it is all frozen, so no point of going there. I have heard such arguments earlier also, they don’t matter for me now – I like to take my own call!sunrise echo lake new hampshireWell, I was standing by the Echo Lake (the entire frozen section in above shot) in no time. And guess what, I have no regrets! It might not look to be a setting that would keep in you awe, but you can’t ask for the best every time. I am still thankful to have been there and done that because I was the only one around fighting the tough conditions. On my walk back from the Echo Lake, I did see a few skiers just starting off their day.skiing franconia new hampshireI love going the extra mile to find views that make for killer shots. On my drive back to the hotel, I saw a long patch of icicles along the road, and I was quick enough to take turn and park in a safe spot. As you can make out, some seemed to have brought down quite a lot of dirt!icicles heavy snowbest snow picturesBeing early morning, the traffic was calm, and I went to a bridge close by that provided for an unobstructed view of the skiing runways. I now consider the below frame to be one of the best that I would ever see!photography new hampshireLater that day, we took the tramway up the Cannon mountain and then watched the sunset at Omni resort, where we had a gem of a time in the fall of 2016 (you should not miss both those posts).

What’s a journey without some fun?

Life shouldn’t be just about getting to the destination! Rather, it should be more about enjoying the journey…which would make reaching the destination all the more exciting.

After spending 3 days in Montreal, Canada, we made our way to the United States. The closest border crossing was about 2.5 hours away. We had never crossed any border by road before that, so we were quite excited to see the entry gates. Apparently, it was a small crossing, so had only 3 lanes!
The immigration was smooth and easy. Since I spent quite a lot of time working in the US, the questions were primarily on what I did back then and why I left the US. We were asked to collect our I94 cards from the building next to the gates (there is a small parking area there). It must have taken about 15 minutes overall before we were again on the road…our hotel in Franconia, New Hampshire was still about 1.5 hours away.Just after we hit the road, a bit of snow had started falling…but that’s why we were in New Hampshire (NH) in the first place! We’ve always liked NH, so much so that this was our third time there. We had kept aside 1.5 days in Franconia to visit the famous Omni Resort in Bretton Woods where we had a fantastic time in the fall of 2016.
The weather was so much to my liking that I stopped and got off the car at multiple places (we just had to make sure to switch on the parking lights). The traffic was quite calm and we had enough time to enjoy the views alongside. The entire way was flanked by Mountains and the climate added its own charm to the mesmerizing beauty.One thing I especially loved was the icicles, they were at quite many places and I had never seen them earlier. In fact, I spent a long time admiring them next morning during my quest for Sunrise captures.We had chosen to stay with the Hillwinds Lodge in Franconia because of their good ratings. Another reason was their close proximity to the resort where we had planned to go the next day afternoon, and you must see that post of mine in a few weeks 🙂We reached hotel quite late in the evening, but the journey was every bit enjoyable. I would still classify it as a day when we did a lot of sightseeing!

*I would have loved to add more about our stay in Montreal but tough weather conditions didn’t allow us to explore much there apart from what I have covered already.

Sunrise over downtown Montreal

Keeping up with the tradition, I woke up early the second morning we were in Montreal. My plan was to head out to the location we had visited the first day – Mount Royal. It had been snowing on and off since the day we had arrived there – such issues never bother me, though! I got ready (which is what I always do), said my prayers, and about 6am was on my way out to get my car into action – it needed quite a bit of cleaning! I was able to hit the road about 6.20 and had to drive half-hour to reach the parking lot of the destination (the lookout requires a walk of about 10 minutes from there, as mentioned in the earlier post).

Even though I was quite early at the spot, I could see a streak of light in the distance. Being a clear sky, it must have 100’s of kilometers out! sunrise over downtown montrealI am always excited to see the first rays of sun from an elevation, and that day was no different. This in spite of the temperature being much below normal and the wind hitting my face because of the open area all around. No wonder, I was all alone thinking who else could be crazy to join me in such frigid conditions! But, as the sun was about to make its majestic appearance, few more folks joined me. The area is know for hiking, and I also saw a lady doing what looked like her morning run.capture sunrise sunset in montrealplaces to see sunrise in montrealI have been to locations where some people clapped in the anticipation of another blissful day. Here, a couple of couples got cozy…I would never have such a luxury (Saru is not a morning person). Anyway, I was glad I added one more place to my list of places I have explored that time of the day. Somehow, I have started to enjoy extreme temperatures – it makes me feel I am really vacationing 🙂

I was in the hotel by around 8.15 and we looked forward to exploring downtown on the only clear day we got lucky with during our time in Montreal.

*Mount Royal is one of the best (and highly rated) places I could find to view Sunrise over Montreal….don’t miss it even otherwise!

A day of unexpected Adventure

We had plans to see Sunset over Montreal the day we drove to the city from home. However, it being a working day and due to excessive snowfall all along, we reached quite late in the night. Since we had 3 full days to spend in the city, we didn’t worry about it at all.

We checked into our favorite Hampton Inn & Suites in Laval (just a 20-25 minute drive from downtown) and enjoyed the night. The next morning, our first stop was Mount Royal – a large-volcanic related hill and a place known for its fantastic views of downtown Montreal. We parked in the designated parking area, and as soon as we got out the car, we were blasted with strong winds (and it was still snowing). It made no sense to walk for 8-10 minutes to reach the Chalet for views. However, I saw some skiers making their way over to the vast open area. No way I was about to return back when I had company, so Saru stayed in the car while I geared up to join them 🙂snow in montrealbest views of montreal winterI asked a guy around as to where the lookout (just opposite to the chalet) is. He advised me to head further up and that it is just about 500 meters. However, I kept going ahead without realizing there is a small road to the right, which takes you to the lookout in just about 5 minutes. I realized this only after I completed my adventure and was heading back to the car. However, I did enjoy the long trail I had inadvertently taken!skiiing in montrealI breathed a sigh of relief when I finally saw the chalet (structure below) after walking for about half-an-hour. I quickly went inside to explore it – it has restrooms, souvenir shop, food outlet, and a set of chairs to enjoy the outside view. Not many people were inside, but I can imagine it being a hot-spot in summers.mount royal chaletchalet in montrealI didn’t spend much time exploring the inside (remember, Saru was still in the car). The outside was all covered in snow, even the views of downtown!mount royal lookoutbest views of montrealshots of montreal quebecIt was not quite the sights I had expected, but quite unique nonetheless. Since I had to return there for Sunrise/Sunset, I soon returned to the car and saw Saru enjoying reading one of the books she had downloaded onto her iPad with the car heating on. Owing to frigid conditions, we soon decided to call it a day in the morning itself. Well, we still had 2 more days 🙂

Our first cross-border road-trip!

We are just back from a 12-day trip across multiple states in Canada and United States. Though I would cover each place (with some jaw-dropping sights) we visited in detail, this post contains a brief of what we did!

Last year, we spent the Christmas in Las Vegas. This year, we spent the same in French-dominated Montreal, which has some amazing architectural marvels. The city is just about a 5-hour drive from our home, but it was snowing heavily the day we started (22nd Dec) and considering the upcoming long weekend that Canada had, the drive was anything but easy. But, as I mentioned earlier also, I love long drives, in any form 😛

It also snowed for a couple of days while we were there, but that couldn’t deter me from venturing out (it did frighten Saru, though – it was about -25 degree Celsius on all of those days!). I have already written a post on the magnificent 200-year-old Notre Dame Basilica that I visited on Christmas day. I drafted, edited, and published the post same night (as last year). Yay!

On 26th, we left Montreal and entered the US as a tourist in the state of New Hampshire (NH). The immigration was smooth and we felt quite nostalgic as we spent quite a long time in the US until mid last year. This was our 3rd time in NH and we absolutely love the place! We specifically wanted to visit the area of Bretton Woods where I captured this shot last year during fall.sunset-at-bretton-woodsEven though our stay in Franconia city was for only a day, I did make the most of my outing even though it was colder there as compared to Montreal. While Saru was fast asleep, I captured a pretty sunrise in the mountains covered with snow – NH is mostly about mountains, lakes, and picturesque landscapes! Later that day, we were lucky to witness another aspect of White Mountains and capture Sunset next to the Omni Mount Washington Resort (seen in the above shot).

On 28th, we started towards New Jersey, but not before buying my crazy love – iPhone X – from the tax-free state of NH. I am loving it! It took us about 7 hours to reach Jersey City (JC) and meet us my brother-in-law and his wife. We have some fond memories of that place as we used to visit them quite often when we lived close by.

Next few days were reserved for eating at our favorite joints – primarily, California Pizza Kitchen and Dosa Hut. We spent New Year’s Eve checking-out decorations in New York (NY). I was impressed with lighting at the Macy’s flagship store and the light-show at Saks Fifth Avenue. We also had dinner at the highly-rated Korean restaurant named Hangawi. Even though I do not like much of non-Indian stuff, I was thoroughly impressed with the restaurant ambiance and food.

You might know I worked next to Times Square (TS) for a couple of years when I was there, but I never saw the ball-drop on 31st midnight. Keeping up with the tradition, we couldn’t see it this time also (though the intent was there) 😀 There were long queues to get to TS and NY was super chilly! In fact, the entire stretch we covered is under a cyclone, and hence the snow, wind, and the resulting frigid temperatures!

We came back home in Canada on 2nd Jan after driving for about 11.5 hours from JC – we enjoy the journey also, with some quick stops and clicks. With over 2700 kilometers on the odometer (I just drove long on 3 days out of 12), it is the longest road-trip we’ve had. But it was all worth it!alok singhal canada united states

Merry Christmas from Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

You might remember that I wrote and published a post on Christmas decorations in Bellagio in Las Vegas exactly a year back. It was as if I was covering the event live, much like a reporter. Today, I happened to be at the Notre-Dane Basilica in Montreal, and I was so excited to attend the Mass while admiring the intricate Gothic Revival style architecture that is about 200 years old!The official language of Montréal is French and it was but obvious that even the hour-long prayer was in the language that half of its population speaks (largest-speaking for any city after Paris). Even though I couldn’t get much of it, I paid my respects the best I could. Just so you know, I have deep admiration for the Christian community as my schooling was from the St Paul’s and St Joseph’s.The church is highly decorated in multi-colored settings. The wooden carvings are intricate and there are many religious statues. In spite of being amply spacious and harsh weather outside, the church was jam-packed today. As the melodious voices did their job with finesse, the sounds from Casavant Frères pipe organ dating back to 1891 only added further to the thrilling experience (you can see the instrument in below shot).There is no fee for offering prayer or attending the mass. However, visitors have to pay an entry fees of $6 for adults ($4 for 7-17 years of age; free for below 7) for touring the sanctuary (with or without guide). The access was free today from 1-4pm on account of Christmas Eve.You can also light candles through token donations starting at $1. The collection goes in maintaining the structure.I must say I had a great time enjoying the blessings of God, and I am closing off my 2017 on a high 🙂

*All pictures are from my iPhone 7Plus

Year-End Special: Niagara Falls and Winter Festival of Lights

As we were planning to relocate to Canada in May this year, my only wish was to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, from where the Horseshoe Bend and the American falls are clearly visible in all their glory! And we did take a trip on the very first weekend.

I had read about how the falls can look like frozen during the winter time (they don’t freeze completely, just that the flow-rate gets reduced), so I had that on my mind as well. Also, with the year-end Festival of Lights (FOL) going on these days, there couldn’t have been a better time than to visit now. So, last Saturday, we made an excitement-filled trip to the attraction known to spellbound anybody. After reaching around 2.30pm, we parked at the paid parking (charge is flat at $20 for a day) right across the street opposite to the Horseshoe falls. Having seen the falls at the peak of Summer, I couldn’t help admire the contrast now. Though it is not yet the peak of winter here, snow has fallen a few times already. And the effect was clearly visible around – apart from the falls, pretty much everything else was frozen.frozen niagara fallswinter in canadahorseshoe falls usaamerican falls canadaIt was so cold even with the layers of clothes we were wearing that Saru had to head indoors (just adjacent to the falls – there are a few shops to grab souvenirs and eat as well). However, if you are adventurous and more inclined towards spending your time outside (like me), you can take a walk along the falls from Horseshoe to American and even further till the Rainbow Bridge (connecting Canada and United States). The route map is here.niagara in winterOnce it was dark (around 5pm), we picked up our car and started driving towards the Dufferin islands, home to Festival’s Canadian Wildlife Displays, including some three-dimensional ones also. Considering that a lot of people are visiting just to see the lights, be ready to encounter traffic, but it is also an opportunity to admire the displays along the road. Since there are 2 lanes each way most of the time, you can stop at non-crowded places (be sure to switch on the parking lights) and click a few shots. Once in dufferin islands, there are designated parking slots for you to get down and go close to the illuminations. wildlife in canadacanada wildlife photographyfestival of lightsdufferin islandsWe spent a couple of hours in the islands before heading back towards the falls. I stopped at a few places on the other side of the road now to take some shots (my favorite is that of the flag – it alternated between Canadian and American one).niagara falls folcanadian american flagNotes:

  1.  The illuminations are on a stretch of 8 kilometers as in map above – it is up to you to make the most of them. One can easily spend a few hours just marveling at the beauty of the falls themselves!
  2. If you are looking to park your car for just a couple of hours to view the falls, check short-term parking slots around – there are many along the main road (they would be cheap). We should have gone with them this time!
  3. This year the FOL is from Nov 18 to Jan 31. There is no fees to view the lights. However, donations are welcome at the exit of the Dufferin Islands.
  4. We didn’t see the fireworks over falls this time, but here is the schedule if you are interested.
  5. Do check the weather conditions if you want to head over. Canada is known for its extreme weather! Consequently, it would be wise to carry all of your winter essentials, even an extra pair of clothes, and an umbrella (the mist off the falls creates showers sometimes).