A Travellerspoint blog

Day 43 Key West


Key West part of 1,700 islands of the Florida keys located amidst Atlantic Ocean & Gulf of Mexico, is the southernmost island. We were staying at 'La Conch' on the Duval Street and it was perfect sunny day to explore this island! It was mid-Novemember and coming from Raleigh, where the average temperatures were 8-10 degrees Celsius, and here to have such wonderful sunshine, was a amazing in itself.
We walked around the street and found many boutique stores of talented artists with their paintings/ handicrafts/photographs on sale. Places like Key West islands, I think inspires people to become painters, photographers perhaps even writers.

The streets were also lined up with Spanish architecture influenced large houses. These were converted into bars and lounges with festive music playing night and day, which spread through little island streets. It added to the island setting as we were shaking our heads in rhythm as we walked by.

We then went to the southernmost point of the island which is also the southernmost point of Continental USA. We took touristy photos next to the iconic point (there is a long line for a photo at this point!) There is this feeling of accomplishment every time you reach a place described as 'the most', be it peaks, depths or points. That was the feeling I had. :)

The island is 90 miles away from Cuba, I found a store with this sign board - 'closet shop to Cuba & JFK Slept here', making it so unique! One of the many ways to lure tourists ;)

We then went looking for a store with famous 'Key Lime pie'. The store not only had pie, but more than a dozen variety of eatables with Key Lime - pickles, oils, savories, chips and so many more. Key lime is an island speciality. I could barely eat the pie, I think, it is an acquired taste.
We walked around one stretch of island covering the south beach, market place and then found this dream like setting for lunch, overlooking the prefect blue sea. I couldn't have asked for more beautiful setting.

After a lazy long lunch we decided to explore some more of the island. We went to market center - Mallory Square, which is a tiny little market place with criss-crossing streets. It was fun just to wander around these streets, walk into ten different stores, haggle on prices and shop.
Later in the evening we went on a Sunset Cruise, which is one of the must do things on the island. The cruise liner had a glass bottom and as we went deep into sea we could see underwater life – fishes/ fossils/ flora. Without scuba diving or snorkeling just sitting on your cruise to be able to see underwater life so close was a one-of-kind experience.
As we were returning to island, the sun was setting and we had some amazing views of the ocean & sky turning pink. I almost felt like floating away with the sunset.

When we reached the island, at the Mallory square the sunset celebrations began - dance, stunts, live performances! With the sun set, the whole island transformed into a carnival. We enjoyed the shows and did some more shopping at the stalls, then headed back for dinner on Duval Street. But before calling it a day I picked a souvenir which reads as 'it's 5'O Clock somewhere' always reminding me of the happy sunset feeling. :)


Posted by deeptisubraya 22:08 Archived in USA Tagged florida Comments (0)

Day 42 Miami - Key West


We spent the next morning enjoying the beach by the Hotel in Miami. It was beautiful sunny day and when you see the views you know you are in one of the world's best beach places!

Afternoon we drove down to island 'Key'. Florida Keys is amazing place with over 1,700 islands, called as Keys (derived from Spanish meaning small island). The various islands of Florida are connected through a seven mile long bridge. It was an awesome experience to drive through the bridge. There are resorts, little restaurants / cafes, water sports, beach access or little huts (to enjoy the beach or read a book) in different islands and you can plan to stop for whatever you might want to do. We made a stop at two islands Key Largo - there was nothing else but beautiful, pristine views of ocean and Islamrado - a little fishing community.

We were staying on one of the most popular island - Key West, which is the southernmost tip of the continental USA and is 90 miles away from Cuba. It is a tiny island and has a great atmosphere with lots of action happening in the Mallory Square and Duval Street.
Every evening there is sunset celebration at the Mallory Square. One may say what’s so special about sunsets they happen every day. But Florida is in east coast so watching the sun go down the sea is a special treat. There was dance, music, street performers, food stalls etc. All in all it’s a mini carnival.

As the sunsets, Duval street lights up to announce the beginning of party. It’s frenzy on the street. There are many shops/stalls selling jewelry, souvenirs, paintings, beach clothes, shirts, slippers, bags, sand, shells - anything that can entice tourist to open their wallets.

Typical Spanish architecture influenced large houses were converted into bars and lounges along the Duval Street. Almost all them had large doors and also huge windows in front with no grills opening into the street, letting the festive music of the live band from inside fill the streets. Even as you walk in and out of the shops or just walk down the street you are pulled into a carnival mood as loud live music fills the street from every bar, lounge that lines up the street.


We were in a Mexican restaurant, at one end of the hall there were large TV screen with live NFL matches, the other end opened up to the streets from where loud music from the adjacent pubs/bars poured in and in between the music one could hear winds swaying the coconut trees. The layout of the restaurants / bars gave a very open feeling even though we were sitting indoors. The food & drinks that followed completed the unique island experience.

Posted by deeptisubraya 21:05 Archived in USA Tagged florida Comments (0)

Day 41 Miami


We drove from Jacksonville previous evening to reach Miami. The plush hotels, zooming fancy cars and beach cafes welcomed us in Miami. Before exploring the city and beaches, in the morning we visited the Everglades National Park. This is rare tropical eco system in the northern hemisphere and is protected wildlife. We went on one-of-kind airboat ride to experience and see the water habitats of the sanctuary. There were many different kinds of birds, reptiles and plants (tall thin blade like grass). The airboat ride was breezy fast ride over shallow waters and in some places we saw a few alligators and snakes.

Afternoon we had a quick bite for lunch and we took Miami city bus tour - Ocean Drive, Coco Walk, Venetian pool, Biltmore hotel, Little Havana. The city has many beautiful causeways, avenues, beach fronts, café corners, lush gardens, mix of architecture to marvel at.

After the sightseeing, we head towards the beach in the evening. It was well timed as we just caught the sunset. The beach was white sand and blue waters! We went on for a long-long walk on the beach.

Later that evening, we walked down the Marina Boardwalk from our hotel to Lincoln Road. It was an interesting place, to start with there was no traffic allowed, it was huge pedestrian street. There were shops / restaurants on the sides but on the street itself there were huge tents with seating arrangement. We enjoyed the street atmosphere. There were street performers with song and dance while street vendors with flowers - roses for the ladies! We had some good Italian food. It was lovely dinner experience.

Posted by deeptisubraya 21:05 Archived in USA Tagged florida Comments (0)

Day 40 NASA Kennedy Space Centre


I am huge space buff and was excited and eager to visit NASA Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex in Jacksonville. I enjoyed every bit of it! There are many attractions, movies and interactive experiences about the space exploration that kept us engaged. We started with a bus tour, which took us to two shuttle launch sites.

Then we followed the map of the visitor complex. First, we visited the, Early Space Exploration. This facility had artifacts from the first manned space flight and had details of the Mercury and Gemini space programs. Next Exploration Space, this facility had live theatres and many interactive experiences. There were images of the space, Earth and other planets which I have never seen and it made me go 'wow'! Next we went to Space Shuttle Atlantis, this facility demonstrated the Apollo 11 landing with state-of-the-art multimedia and high-tech simulators that made it look like a live landing. This was thrilling to watch and experience the landing on the moon.
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After lunch in the cafeteria, where we had pizza & fries we went to see movies on IMAX Theater(3-D Films). There were two movies one showed breathtaking images from the Hubble Telescope and other showed life of astronaut on the International Space Station. The ticket says ‘You’ll leave earth without ever leaving your seat’ and its true.:) These movies are not to be missed if you are visiting the space centre. Next on our way out we saw this huge one-of-a-kind nine ton granite sphere, which is called the Constellation Sphere. We tried pushing, overturning it etc, it is solid heavy but floats on water!

At the Exhibit Centre displayed were rockets which were used in previous missions. They were massive and huge. Lunar samples such as rocks from Moon displayed too.

The best was saved for the last. We went for the Shuttle Launch Experience. We were strapped to our seats tilted vertical and one can experience all sights, sounds and sensation of real launch as space shuttle leaves the earth’s orbit. I could actually feel my teeth and spine shaking while there were commands and instructions being aired in the background. The countdown to the launch and then the clock showing 8 mins to leave the earth’s orbit made it feel as real as it can get. 3... 2... 1... Launch!


The trip to Kennedy Space Centre is not only exciting, it is educational and a humbling experience. The way I looked at Earth, as in my perspective changed, from a planet in the space to the whole earth being my home. The value of our home 'Earth' was sort of strongly reinforced in me after the visit. Seeing how difficult life out in space is, makes you take moment on how much we take life and its elements - air, water, gravity, food - for granted. I went on to do some more reading on this and have been doing little presentation/speeches about my insights since then.

Posted by deeptisubraya 20:37 Archived in USA Tagged attractions florida review Comments (0)

Day 39 Drive to Florida

all seasons in one day

It was long fun filled drive as I had two boys - 14yrs & 8 yrs giving me company in the back seat of the car. We set out on the road early morning. We drove from North Carolina to Florida. I learnt - how to plays games on the mobile, how to download free games and almost all the names of states & cities of US, among other things.

The road was beautiful as we crossed three states. The landscape changed from tall trees (with the leaves changing colours from green to yellow to red/orange) in North Carolina to low lying tree in Georgia to coconut trees/ palm trees in Florida. Same with the weather it was chilly and cold with slight showers in North Carolina, slightly cold in Georgia and warm & comfortable in Florida, so it was 'all seasons in one day' kind of feeling. :)
It took us around 7-8 hours including stops for food, coffee and photos. We stayed at Jacksonville overnight.


Posted by deeptisubraya 20:34 Archived in USA Tagged florida Comments (0)

Day 34-38 Raleigh, North Carolina


Day 34
I had a morning flight from Dallas to Raleigh. I flew through American Airlines; it was three-hour flight with time difference of one hour. As we were descending towards Raleigh, our flight was sandwiched between clouds and I saw this line of blue (sky)!
I was pleasantly surprised with the airport, it looked new compared to older airports that I had seen JFK, EWR, DFW and SJC. Driving from Airport to (cousin's) home I found the city to be lovely. The landscape had all the colors red, yellow, fresh green, dark green because it was fall season.
Later I caught up with my cousin’s family and it was delight to meet them. As it was Diwali we all got ready for some prayer and then celebration! I was on the go for more than a month that’s the longest I have been away from home and routine (meditation & prayer) so I was glad I to be part of the festivities.

Day 35-38
Next couple of days I had the similar routine. Due to jet lag I would sleep only late in the night and so get up late in the morning. After breakfast, I would head out for a morning run which was around 11, by then the Sun would come out and I still needed jacket, it was chilly outside. The neighborhood was beautiful and pristine. The backyards were huge almost a size of playground some even had small lakes. I saw deers running around in the neighborhood! I could not help but take pictures of the beautiful homes.
In the evenings we had ‘chai’ (tea) sessions, which I eagerly looked forward to. Most evenings we went out, as it was festive (Diwali) season we visited friends or went shopping (Indian boutique store/ Walmart / Best Buy). We also went to a program organized by the 'Kanada Sangha of Ralgieh' for Diwali. After the festivities we prepared for a road trip - this time south, to Florida!

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Day 32-33 Dallas, Texas


Day 32
We headed out for some more shopping. This time to a bigger outlet mall – more bags, clothes, electronics and gifts! Later that evening caught up with some friends for dinner.

Day 33
After two full days of shopping I decided not to venture out to a mall! I caught up with some more friends for lunch and later that evening. Dallas trip was about meeting people I knew in my childhood days and early working life. There is wonderful feeling about catching up with people after along time. Special thanks to my host, who is childhood friend of mine and made me feel warm and welcome throughout my stay.

Reunion with friends!

Quick review of the trip:
• I used American Airlines to fly. There is additional charge of USD 25 (for first bag and so on) to carry your main baggage. Only Cabin bags are allowed in the ticket. With three weeks of travel ahead I could not manage with just a cabin bag, so ended up paying.
• I found Dallas to be better priced compared to New York and California for shopping.

Posted by deeptisubraya 21:39 Archived in USA Tagged west_coast Comments (0)

Day 30-31 Dallas, Texas


Day 30
Flying from coast to coast or to mid points like Texas made me realize the expanse of the country. I had a flight to Dallas, Texas at around 12 noon. By the time the flight touched down at Dallas it was around 6 in the evening and it was dark & chilly November evening. I had started from (home) San Jose at 10, so I left my day was over with a three hour flight + 2 hour time difference.

Dallas city view from plane

I went to visit my friend. We had lots of catching up to do and we started with some chai & pakodas (tea & Indian snack) from a joint nearby (I must add the feeling took me back to my days in Hyderabad, India). Then I was told that Dallas has most Indian restaurants and Indian diaspora compared to the other cities in US.

Day 31
We went around to see Dallas. Most of the day we were checking out shops and buying everything from accessories, clothes, bags and gifts.
Towards the evening we went to Gaylord Texan. It is a resort cum shopping mall. As Thanksgiving was approaching the place was decorated.This property is a beautiful family place with so many attractions and places to play for kids! We went to see ‘Madagascar in Ice’ – Ice carvings. The cravings were very beautiful and artistically done. Then we walked around the Riverside and Lone Star Atrium. Later that night we drove around the city and downtown.
Entrance at Gaylord Texan

Decorations for Thanksgiving & Christmas

Ice Carvings

Riverside in Gaylord Teaxan

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Day 26-29 Blossom Hill, San jose


In the coming days it was a break from sight seeing, photography & maps! But I explored the neighborhood I was staying in – Blossom Hill. I went to the Oak Ridge Mall to catch up on shopping. Some days I went walking around or to a nearby park. It was just beautiful outside. The leaves on the trees turned from green to yellow. The lane right outside the house was picture perfect. I call it the Autumn Lane!


Posted by deeptisubraya 21:35 Archived in USA Tagged california Comments (0)

Day 25 Santa Cruz


It is a beautiful drive to Santa Cruz. First we went to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which is an oceanfront amusement park. We were a bit early so there was not much crowd. It had fun rides, eating joints, shopping stalls and the beach access. We walked along the boardwalk then stepped down at the beach. The water was extremely cold but I saw kids playing in the cold water!


As we were driving around we stopped at a pumpkin patch. It was Halloween time!

Then we went to bay of Santa Cruz and along the way we stopped at various view points where there are natural beaches. Some of most beautiful spots were - Natural Bridges State Beach, this beach park is famous for the Natural bridge across the beach and Davenport beach which had elevated (259 feet) viewpoint of the Pacific Coast.
Natural Bridge Beach

Davenport Beach

Posted by deeptisubraya 21:06 Archived in USA Tagged california Comments (0)

Day 24 Gilroy Hot Springs


We went to Gilroy hot springs. The drive to the place was nice. Once we reached there we saw people come on their horses and found out that it is a good place for horse riding. I have never seen that before!
We decided to take a short hike. The park itself is in an undisturbed, natural state, so even the hike trails are not entirely paved or marked. We found some beautiful Mule Deers running around. They were in their natural habitat. It took some effort on our to keep completely quite, so as to not disturb the deer, to get this picture.



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Day 21 Las Vegas Day 22 & 23 San Jose


Day 21
We were to leave Vegas that afternoon. We lazed in the morning, then headed off to airport for lunch & after long flight reached San Jose in the evening by 7. Then in San Jose we did some shopping in Oak Ridge Mall.

Some day light pics of the Vegas strip!



Day 22 - 23
My husband was heading back to Dubai. The next day I took a break.

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Day 20 Grand Canyon, Nevada - Las Vegas

Exploring one of the seven natural wonders


6:15 AM in the morning, we were running across - slot machines & poker tables - the hotel lobby. Even at that time I saw people/tourists playing on the poker tables and slot machines. I was amazed to see that.

We were running late but made it just in time to catch the bus. We were pushing ourselves physically - less sleep, change in food and place - still we went to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World - The Grand Canyon and it was worth all the effort!!

The drive from Vegas (Neveda State) to Canyon (Arizona State) is dry land, vast plains with nothing much to see. We slept off for most bit, woke up (around 11:30 am) to have early brunch. At about 12:30 we reached the Mather point, the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park and we decided to take a short hike - two and half miles along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

The feeling when you see Canyon is just out of this world, curiosity, splendor, surprise! I could not help but feel the urge to jump into the canyon to explore! And too many questions racing in the mind - what happened here? Almost wanting to believe that probably the aliens did something to the earth here.. so on.. but definitively one of kind experience.

As we trailed off, we were just by edge of the rim (there is no barricade) and could see north and west rim of the canyon. The hike was filled with beautiful views, photo stops and many sign boards explaining about the canyon. We were back in our bus by about 3-3:15.

From the flyer that the guide gave us:
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet or 1,800 meters). Nearly two billion years of the Earth's geological history is exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layers of rock.


We came back to Vegas by 8-8:30 in the evening, quick shower & change and headed off to see what Vegas had to offer. We managed to get tickets to a show, which was one of (Vegas) kind experience!

Quick review on the bus trip:
• It is whole day program and starts very early 6-6:15 am, so plan and be prepared for it.
• The brunch arrangement was very good including veg food and was covered in the cost of the trip.
• Guides, maps, walking routes of Canyon was provided.
• There are other alternatives available via flight.
• The bus route is economical and comfortable.
• The short hike around canyon was one of the best experiences. But the guide does not accompany and you need to finish the walk and reach the bus point within the time allocated. For children and older people walking around may not be suitable.

Posted by deeptisubraya 20:34 Archived in USA Tagged west_coast Comments (0)

Day 19 Los Angeles - Las Vegas


We had half day at Los Angeles before we left. We checked out of the hotel in the morning and decided to explore Venice beach. It is full of street stuff from freaky paintings, junk jewelry, tattoos, cycles on rent, clothes, electronics to restaurants. We walked the street about 1-2 mile while lugging luggage behind us. Well, I am tourist on the go! And the beach itself was beautiful.


Then we headed to the airport to go to Las Vegas. The excitement fever starts right at Vegas airport - there are slot machines at the airport! We reached our hotel, which was on the Vegas Strip. The lobby was huge and it had a lot of recreation i.e slot machines, poker tables, restaurants, shops etc.
Later in the evening we decided to venture into the Vegas strip. We walked through the huge, opulent hotels - Luxor, Excalibur, New York New York, MGM, Paris Eiffel, Aria and Bellagio. There was so much to see - the plush interiors, the hotel lobbies were so bright and each had their own way of luring visitors!
Then we went down to see the famous Bellagio fountains. We went to the celebrity chef Jean Philippe's Pastry shop – had delicious crepe and ice cream, before heading off to explore a night club!


Posted by deeptisubraya 20:23 Archived in USA Tagged west_coast Comments (0)

Day 18 Universal Studios Los Angeles


We were on time and on the go… awesome experience .. enjoyed most of the Universal Studios experiences!!
We started with the studio tour of the Universal studio. The King Kong experience was mind blowing! The rocking of the train, the thumping of the King Kong and spitting by King Kong, all felt real but it was virtual. Then we saw the sets of Manhattan street, cars flying, storm blowing, sharks jumping out of lakes, air crash site and so many sets/ elements that go into making a film.
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Next we went on Jurassic Park ride. Close encounter with Dinosaurs and diving into a scary dinosaur’s mouth, which was sudden drastic fall, was terrific! But I closed my eyes most of the time. We went on Jurassic park ride again, to take photos this time!!

Then was Transformers ride, which I think was exceptional ride and highlight of Universal studio. The twists, turns and falling off from high towers, firing of bullets, it had superb 3D effects!!

Then we went on Mummy Returns ride… I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It had too many skeletons, leeches and was dark inside, which is not my type.
We had a quick lunch by around noon to avoid crowds, there were many options to choose from and we had pizza which was reasonably priced. Next half we saw shows – the Sp. Effects show, Shrek Show, The Animal Show, the Water Show, The Simpsons.
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In the evening we freshened up and enjoyed the frenzy at Universal City Walk.

Quick review:
- I am not a big movie buff or a fan of crazy rides but I enjoyed most experiences!
- We planned our day well and started quite early (around 8:00 am, just when the park opens), so didn't have to wait in lines for long. Most of rides we did in the morning we didn't have to wait for more 15-20 minutes. Later in the afternoon it started getting crowded and had to wait for 30-40 minutes.
- It was Halloween weekend when we visited Universal Studio, so there was lot of crowd towards afternoon & evening.

Posted by deeptisubraya 20:12 Archived in USA Tagged west_coast Comments (0)

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