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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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Entries in family fun (17)


Happy New Year 2018

2017 is done and we are moving on.  The last 8 days saw us visit local places with the BIL's family. My two nieces made photography fun again for me! 

They would randomly come ask me to take pictures in the studio and make funny face poses!

Our plan was to go to the Golden Gate Bridge vista point. However we were not allowed to enter. It was buses only. So we decided to see the bridge from the other side. There also parking was impossible. So we ended up getting flagged to go further and further away from the bridge and next thing we know, we are at a visitor center and there is a beautiful lagoon and a beach with was within eye sight. It said 0.8 miles one way and a mild hike, so off we went. There was a distinct possibility that the little ones might ask to be "lifted" and carried on the way back, but that did not happen. They walked the entire trail and back.

We spent a good 2 hours there and took pictures!

I should have dressed better though. Caught some virus. The rest of 30th and 31st has been spent drinking cough syrup and sleeping. Finally managed to edit the pictures now.. 

We also had the studio set up in the house.. that meant pictures and pictures and more pictures anytime the kids wanted..

we even switched to a black background to test out some shots..

2018 is going to be a busy year for us. My hope is that we all be in better health next year. 

I had the best year health wise for 2017 but managed to mess it up in the last two days! While it is easy to bias an entire year based on the last few days, I did thoroughly enjoy 2017. 

Thankful to my BIL and family for visiting us over the break. When you have little kids running around the house, it lights up the place! 


Hakone Gardens

We have lived in the bay area for almost 20 years and have known of the existence of Hakone Gardens the entire time. Somehow the motivation to visit this place was not there before. Maybe it was folks telling us it is too small or the ticket price doesn't jusitfy it compared to Filoli etc.. Whatever it be, this is one of those places we simply forgot to visit. (Winchester Mystery house and Hearst castle are two other places we still have not visited).

Given this was a quiet thanksgiving weekend to be spent locally, we decided to visit. We actually had a great time. The weather was perfect and the fall colors made for great photos! 

We did not do a "tea ceremony" but spent 3 hours there and were smiling through and through cracking jokes with family. 

The place is small but amazingly beautiful. Every stone is placed perfectly. 

Here is a slideshow of the pictures in vertical format..

and one in horizontal format..

Strongly recommend this place for timepass if you are in the bay area and have only a few hours. Nice and quiet with some beautiful views of the entire bay area as you walk around the hill on the garden!


Peru Day4 - Machu Picchu

Peru Trip day 3 last stop post is here..

On day 4 we were asked again to get up at 4AM. We were to leave the hotel at 4:30AM on a 2 hour car ride to Ollantaytampo train station. Get a short restroom and breakfast break there and leave on a 7AM train to Aguas Caliente, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride was almost 2 hours. 

So off we went. It was a scenic drive early in the morning with snow covered mountains for backdrops.

A slide show of pictures from the taxi and train rides..



Once we got into the train after that long drive, we settled in to enjoy more scenery along the way.

It was a Mystic experience, alright! To add to the mysticism, they kept serving coca tea to help with the altitude sickness. 

The train winds its way along the banks of the Urubabma river and the Andes mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop..

Eventually we started seeing terraces and Inca housing and we knew we were close. 

Once at Agua Calientes we were in for a rude shock. Everyone on the train made a mad dash to the bus station. We knew we were to take a bus to the top and meet our tourguide at the entrance to Machupicchu. San and the little one decided to take a "restroom break" in the train station before going on the bus. By the time they came out of the restroom, we were standing in the bus line somewhere in the next town. I was not in a talking mood at that point. It took 5 minutes at a minimum between buses and we were going to be in bus number 15 or so.. Then all of a sudden more buses showed up and after waiting for only 45 minutes, we were on our way up. 

A funny thing happened while we were in line with Jr. debating the merits of taking a break on the train as opposed to on the ground. She suddenly said "there is a guy asking for your name". We all said "seriously, there is a guy saying sundararaman ?" and after a few minutes we had a face palm moment when a guy actually was reading out my name. Turns out jr. was right. The tour guide was also late and he had not made his way up and was trying to find us at the base! Always listen to your kids and take them seriously, especially when they tell you things that sound ridiculous!

We made our way up on an interesting bus ride into the clouds! You can see it in the video below..

Once up there, it was a steep hike from the entrance. I was completely drenched in sweat by the time I made it up on that trek with my camera bag. It was worth it though. The view of Machupicchu just makes you take a deep breath and go "how the hell did they do this up here?" It is truly a wonder of the world!

For a few minutes on the hike I was thinking 'there is a reason this place is on the bucket list for a lot of folks.. but it would be better to put it on the end of the list.. one might hit the bucket just going on this hike!"

Kept clicking photos from every vantage point. Here are some of my favorites..

The rest are in the slide shows below..

We did get two family portraits thanks to our tour guide.. 

After that sweat drenching episode, things took a good turn and my body finally adjusted to the altitude and the hiking. Eventually I put on my new Alpaca sweater that had been purchased the previous day at Chinchero.. 

It started raining after we had spent close to two hours up there. We stood in line for the return bus again for a good 45 minutes and made it down to Aguas Calientes. There were a lot of restaurants on the bus stand but we did not find anything Vegetarian with good quality. Had to settle for some fries and some Mexican food that was too oily. The kids were not happy, but we had cookies, chips and other snacks to fill up and got some Gatorade to go. 

I ran in the rain to get this picture just before heading back to the train station. This small base camp of sorts was beautiful. 

Finally at the train station, we met a lot of our previous tour buddies from before and sat together and chatted for a good hour. Then we said our byes and made it back to Cusco via train and car. When we first boarded the train we were wondering why our tour operator had booked us in the expensive Inca Rail train intead of the cheaper Peru Rail. We found out why on the return. Apparently the government owned Peru rail is cheaper but not reliable. They cancelled the previous train and the train station was packed with folks from two trains scrambling to make it into one! After a 30 minute delay we were on our way back..

That night was going to be our last night in Cusco. So we found a real nice Andean food place, but this time the owner was standing outside the restaurant trying to get customers. He saw me and asked "you are looking for good vegetarian food?" and I said "yes!" and he says "we will custom make whatever you want. just come inside". It was called Ama Lur Restaurante and they made us really good food that we picked from the menu. He even gave us rice and Yogurt! Finally the kids came back to the hotel all happy. 

When we reached the hotel, we got one more piece of good news. We had to get ready only by 5:45 AM the next day instead of 4 something! We were going on a 12 hour bus ride with 5 or 6 stops... that will be the next post!


Peru- Night 1 : Lima Plaza

Throughout 2016, I travelled for work. We closed out 2016 with a family vacation to Peru between Christmas and New Years. 

When you travel so much as part of work, you just want to stay home and relax and wake up late and maybe laze around on a long weekend. It would be a wrong thing to do as it is probably the best time to go spend with family and take in some sights, spend some good times. 

2016 had many defining moments. The most significant one I can think of was when San had an accident and was in the hospital for a few hours getting her head scanned after she hit her head on the pavement.. on my birthday!  Everything turned out okay and she is the same old San, thanks to all the gods I know and don't know. That moment made me realize yet again, how fragile our lives are and how one mistep can change things. 

After that happened I still had to go to Asia with her recovering. So I made a resolution on my return flight. We will go on this trip to Peru and I will try to be the bestest most obiedient hubby on this trip. I almost succeeded. 

We left on Chirstmas eve and came back on the afternoon of New Years day. It was an amazing trip, with great sights, challenges we had to overcome as a family, interesting twists and turns.

Given this is going to be the first in a series of posts, here are some takeaways from the entire trip.

1. We were glad that all four of us were in decent shape. If you are older, have heart issues, are not in the best of shape, have small kids, talk to other folks and travel agents.. if you choose to follow our itinerary. In spite of all the yoga, there were times when I thought my heart could not take the strain. Also given my pores open up so easily, it was very difficult to manage the abrupt changes in weather and what I was wearing. The little one was going through altitude sickness practically the entire time, but she managed to brave it!

2. There is no shame in packing enough food. I was tired of all the curd rice and idly packing to Asia. We were told that there are vegetarian options and food should not be an issue. Not true. Vegetarian food and finding the right food can be a big challenge. So take those Maggi noodles and MTR pongal mixes.. you can thank me later.

3. Use a travel agent. We used Peru Expeditions and a guy by the name of Andres, who we did not meet, but who did an excellent job of co-ordinating things from the phone. When you have a busy schedule with taxi, van, bus, boat and plane rides with tight connections, you don't want to take chances.

4. My family was amazed that I remembered Spanish from College days ( I had taught myself Spanish from Primsleur for two years just to understand lyrics of what I was dancing to.. ) and San actually said "some good came out of all that dancing! We are able to communicate with folks here thanks to your dad!". So brush up on some Spanish! Especially when you bargain for those Alpaca sweaters... comes in very handy. 

Now for the travelog!

We left Christmas eve on a red eye flight to Panama City, spent 4 hours in the Panama City airport which constantly reminded me of Kuala Lumpur's Air Asia area from the recent India trip. You are kind of trapped in an enclosure with minimal options for 5 hours. As usual, something intersting happened.

There was a Copa Airlines lounge. So I went there with my United card and lo and behold, they said they will let me in with one guest. So the little one tags along. She walks into the lounge and goes "so you get to stay in lounges like this on your way to Asia. I have no sympathy for you anymore. This is nice compared to how we wait at the gate!". Told her to hold her thoughts. After 30 minutes of sitting in that leather seat, she said "you are right. it is boring after 30 minutes. they have juice and crackers and stuff and the rest room is nice, but we are still waiting". Told her it gets worse when the plane is delayed and that is usual for China flights. So daddy Narayanan won back a point! 

After that break we flew into Lima. We went to our hotel which happened to be in a very nice area called Mira Flores. The family noticed that there were no english signs anywhere on the 50 minute ride from airport to hotel. I spoke to our driver in Spanish and all those words came rushing back. Suddenly I was mixing Hindi, Tamil, English and Spanish and the kids were like "what is going on in your head"?. then the translate module in my head kind of stabilized and we had a decent conversation.

We were given a little under 1 hour to get ready for a "Lima by Night" tour with a guide. There were lot of folks driven in multiple vans to a common location. Then we split. Practically eveyone went in a big bus that was the "spanish tour" and the four of us and another couple from Kentucky ended up in a small van that was the English tour. Our tour guide told us he has spanish, local Inca and Japanese ancestry and he wove an interesting story line on the history and culture of Peru in 3 hours.

We did a brief stop (didn't get out of van) at a place called Huaca Pucllana which was an archaeological dig site. Apparently Lima is built on one large burial ground and there are sites like this cropping up everywhere and the folks today prefer to have their city develop instead of become pockets of archeological digs.

Initially the van did not stop anywhere in downtown plaza area as there was no parking and it was Christmas day. Most main streets were deserted, but the Plaza was a different story. 

It had a street fair atmosphere that evening. 

Then we walked through 300-400 year old streets. Every building was amazing. Just look at this door knob on one of the buildings! 

Or the balconies. They were really ornate and had different roots w.r.t. where they originated. 

Then we visited two chuches that were very popular in that area. It was a good thing to visit Churches that were hundreds of years old and get to say a prayer and take some pictures. 

There is San walking in.. These Churches were amazing.. they were just the starting point. Over the next 5 days we would visit so many old Churches (mostly photography not allowed) which had so much gold and silver and amazing paintings in them it was breathtaking!

We continued to drive past the Plaza and things were winding down. This was shot from the moving van..

Then we walked through a few streets in the Plaza which were restricted only to pedestrian traffic. The narrow roads were full of shops, with really inexpensive goods, but we had to keep walking. We did stop at a bakery to have some paneton bread which is a must have delicay on Christmas (Peruvian tradition) but the bread has Italian origins in Peruvian culture. The bread was delicious!

and before you know it, you are in the Plaza. It was full of people. There was a large nativity scene on one of the buildings, a tall light tree and steet vendors selling things to kids. We had a great time wandering around and our guide was nice enough to click a family picture!

The gold plated water fountain in the middle of the Plaza was beautiful. We kept thinking, why dont we create these beautiful things today? Why did we stop 400 years ago or so? Even in India, you see the palaces in Jaipur and wonder why there are no new palaces which are being built that might last a few hundred years at least...

Remember, the default water you will get there contains gas. We learned that the hard way. So you have to explicitly say "Agua sin gas" before buying your water!

Once we were done walking around the plaza, it was time to head back to the hotel. We had a busy schedule for day 2 per tour guide. on the way out we saw four santas playing different instruments and folks getting portaits with the four santas.. Given Jr. is a saxophone player, captured this for her!

This was the last picture clicked on way back. There was a lot of traffic and our van was at a stand still. So I made a request to the guide and we both ran to the end of the street to get this pic and we ran back to the van just as the light turned green. 

It was an evening well spent and a unique evening at that, it being Christmas! 

The next morning we had to wake up at 3:45AM as there was a flight to catch from Lima to Cusco.

Day 2 post to follow! 

ps. There are also wide pano photos and videos that were taken on every day on the iPhone. Will be posting the collection of Pano Photos on a separate page.

pps. "people photos" goes to FB! 


The dancing gene

This blog is not new to my lament about how a Tamil Brahmin dude and ballroom dancing (or dancing) don't go well in the same sentence. 

I am not the only guy in the family tree to pick up dancing. Turns out my two nephews both picked up one form of dancing or another. 

This weekend we drove to Los Angeles and back to watch my nephew compete in a Bhangra dance competition. He is part of a team from Pittsburgh and they went up against 10 of the best teams in the world at the Orpheum theater in LA. 

Any reunion on the fathers side of the family is rare for me. My father is the last of 12 siblings. Of all those siblings and their spouses, only three are alive. My aunt, my dad and mom. Given the wide spread of ages among the next generation and the generation after that.. we meet in little clumps. 

The little one tells me "I thought most of grandpa's side of the family are dead. So all these people exist and you never told me?".. looks like I have my work cut out for me.. My MIL who joined us for this trip was also surprised as she has never seen any of my nephews or nieces or cousins for that matter!

The great unifier, aka my SIL got a lot of us to come to this event and cheer the nephews team. We even got matching T-shirts prior to the event!

The guy kneeling down who looks like a younger version of Virat Kohli was the star of the show for us.. 

We got treated to some amazing talent and group formation dancing.. Yet to edit the photos and videos from the event. Here are a few..

These guys were literally leaping off the stage a good 4-5 feet in synchronization. The energy and beats were so high that the audience was on their feet at times!

 Did not like the white cloth background obstructing my shots from the gallery seat. So I mirrored the flooring on that white background to generate this photograph.. 

Need more men in the family to pick up dancing.. any and all forms of dancing!

The star of the show did not disappoint! Had happy tears watching him dance with abandon!

A long weekend implies a short busy week. Will update this post later this week with a video link. .  .