Monday, April 28, 2008

Another exciting trip to Yosemite

Being in the bay area puts us in close proximity to Yosemite National Park. We both absolutely love the place. Infact our trips to the place have always been special.

The very first time we went there, we hit the park during perfect weather and full waterfalls. And since we did venture on one of the less frequented hikes, we also had a not-so-desired bear encounter that left us a little bit unsettled.

Our second trip to the place was during fall and the fall colors had us going ga-ga over the place. Fall in Yosemite was definitely beautiful.

So it was no wonder that when we set off friday evening for another trip we were absolutely impatient with excitement and what the place had in store for us.

It was an uneventful drive for the first couple of hours except for a long stretch when there were loads of white and purple wildflowers along the road. Till we were closer to the park and suddenly S hit the brakes - there were 4 deer on the road. And when it comes to wildlife the rule here is you wait for it to pass and you don't disturb them, so no horns either. This first sighting had us invigorated suddenly, we sat up and started looking around for more wildlife.

But soon it was dark and we pretty much gave up on seeing anything else. S was tired, he had not eaten for a long time either. We switched and I took the driver's seat. Very soon we were in the park but our camp was still some distance away. It was already dark and a windy road, I was driving slowly. Suddenly the head lights fell on a big brown creature on the other side of the road - a big black bear (Yep, I wrote it right - the bears in Yosemite are called black bears but they are brown in color). I hit the brakes, we looked at it in wonder, we waited for it to cross. I was about to start again when lo behold! we see 2 cubs following the mama bear. They were tiny, very tiny. Definitely not more than a month old. The sow looked back to make sure her cubs made it safely across the road. And as soon as they did, the party disappeared in the woods, while we sat there gaping in awe. All this happened in just 30-40 seconds, we did not get a chance to capture the moment in our camera. We looked at each other though, and smiled - thats a nice start.

The rest of the weekend was spent hiking to lakes, waterfalls etc. and picnicing in meadows. But as I look back, that split second bear sighting the very first night was definitely the highlight of our trip.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A different kind of model

It happened at one of the vista points along Highway 1 recently.

A squirrel very graciously posed while we went click-click with our camera. Infact we clicked quite a few with the little one looking here and there and even straight into the camera lens. It was not scared at all...we were expecting it to scurry away but it was just not ready to leave.

The California Poppy

In the end though, it is always the California poppy that rules!
While driving back on Highway 1 we chanced upon a number of patches of these, but this one particular patch was especially bright orange.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fiscalini Ranch, Cambria

Coming back to the weekend trip to see wildflowers....

While travelling down from our place we drove on Highway 101. All along the highway, after every mile were these markers reminding us that 101 is the historic El Camino Real. Since we could not stop the car just anywhere, (and I was hell bent upon taking a picture of this marker,) it took some time and effort before I could take a shot of this marker from the moving car. I was very pleased myself.
Till yesterday, when I was walking to a nearby grocery store on El Camino Real near our home (its a slow driving street instead of a fast moving highway when it runs through any city) and what should I see but the same markers. So much for putting in all that extra effort.
In any case, I actually found the whole 101 route to be very scenic, especially this time of the year since it was all green and colorful with flowers.

On our way back we drove back on Highway 1 along the coast. We decided to stretch our legs at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria. It was along the coast and there were a number of flowers here and there. Our morning walk ended up being a very pleasant one!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Travel Tips for Rome

I have to intersperse my wildflower trip account with this post on Rome.

A lot of our friends are travelling to Rome this year (atleast 3 in the immediate friend circle) - and everytime they ask me for planning tips, I am reminded that I completely forgot to blog about our Italy travel. Actually we were so caught up in moving etc. that blogging about Italy took a back seat.

So here are some tips especially for Rome:

1. Buy yourself one of those Rick Steve's guide for Italy/Rome - it is very useful with very handy tips. A lot of the tips here are from that book that we used and found to be useful.

2. Pack light - If possible pack all your stuff into a big carry on, so your luggage does not get delayed or re-routed.

It happened to one of our friends - they reached Venice without their luggage and spent much of their trip shopping for clothes - Infact they got their luggage back only after they had returned to US.

Even when we tried to check-in our luggage at the train station at Zurich, the agent looked at us baffled - "you never check-in luggage (if possible) when travelling to Italy - you might not get it back"

3. If you pack light, pack some detergent packets to wash clothes in the sink. Dry them overnight in your room.

4. In Rome, Villa Borghese is a must see and it requires advance reservations - get those. People are allowed to enter every 2 hours. You will also have to check-in your camera and bags outside.

5. The only place I would recommend booking a tour is for your visit to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museum - we stood in line for more than 2 hours to get inside. Tour groups have a separate entrance.

6. It is a long journey from the entrance of the Vatican museum to Sistine Chapel. If you do not get an audio guide, take the tour group exit out of Sistine Chapel rather that walking back to the entrance.

7. St. Peter's Basilica feels heavenly early morning with the light streaming in from the windows, and the crowds are less too.

8. Get a Roma pass (from a participating site other than Colosseum) and use it for entrance into Colosseum. With the Roma Pass you get a free entrance to the first 2 participating sites but you do need to buy the ticket. Since the line at the Colosseum ticket window is long, all you need to do is first visit the Roman Forum next to the Colosseum. Inside the Roman Forum, there is a ticket office at the Palatine Hill entrance that sells tickets for Colosseum (the same ticket is valid at both the Palatine Hill and Colosseum). Buy your ticket here - there is hardly anyone here.

Then armed with your Roma Pass and ticket, you will skip the line and go straight to the security screening and then the turnstile.

9. Roma pass is useful if you are in Rome for atleast 3 days and plan to use the metro a lot.

10. Get yourself a comfortable place to stay - AC is a must in summer, its very hot.

11. Rome is hot and tires you down in summer - plan for afternoon siestas and sightsee during morning and late afternoons.

12. There is a lot of petty crime (read pickpocket) in Rome, especially at the sites popular with tourists. Be careful. We saw atleast 2 pieces of action ourselves and both times it was at the Spanish Steps. It is not a bad idea to carry a messenger bag instead of a purse, your camera in your neck, backpack in front etc. Be alert on the trains also.

13. Read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown if you have the time - the book is as good as a guide for Rome.

14. Eat Gelato at Giollitti (spelling might be wrong...)

15. If you plan to visit museums and you are not familiar so much with Christian stories/symbology, get a small booklet that can act as a gallery companion of sorts. Otherwise you will see a lot of wonderful pieces of art without understanding what they represent.

16. Piazza Navona has a lovely bazaar of sorts of paintings and prints by local artists every evening - check it out if you have time.

17. In one of the side-streets off Piazza Navona is a shop called Bortalucci which sells wonderful wooden toys for kids. A sister shop of the same is also at the airport. Even if you are not interested in buying anything, you need to visit this shop - Its fun to just look around.

18. We stayed at Hotel Sonya - it was not the typical high-end place, but we found it to be comfortable and adequate for ourselves and it was centrally located.

19. Spend some time walking around the piazzas. I loved Piazza Navona and the one near the Spanish Steps.

20. Trevi fountain is a must visit though it is pretty crowded at night.

Rome is wonderful with all it architecture, fountains, ruins, piazzas etc. Walk around and enjoy it at a relaxed pace. Even though you have to be a little careful, its worth the effort. You will surely have a time of your life there.

I was so full of it that I dreamt of it quite a few times after coming back !!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wildflowers along Cottonwood Canyon off Highway 166

While there was a lot of lavendar and blue wildflowers around this season, this is definitely the year of yellow. And the star attraction of our trip was a drive to Cottonwood Canyon Road off Highway 166. Since this was basically wide open space, we could park anywhere, climb the hills, walk among the flowers (of course on foot paths so as not to trample on the flowers).

Here are some pictures from the time spent there.

P.S. BTW the credit for alerting me to the wildflowers in Cottonwood Canyon goes to the author of the following blog. I came across his posts when looking for wildflower locations near our place and that is how we reached Cottonwood Canyon. Thanks kmw. It was a weekend well spent, all thanks to your tip.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wildflowers at Shell Creek Road off CA-58

The central California coast is looking magnificent this wildflower season. We went searching for them last weekend and once we were in the area, did not have to search much. They were pretty much everywhere. Lining the highways were yellow, lavendar and blue flowers (lupine) along with lots of california poppies. At times it was difficult to keep the eye on the road.

The following pictures were taken on Shell Creek Road, off CA-58, right before reaching the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Since it was not a freeway, there was plenty of time to walk around and observe the flowers at length.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Poppy fields in Lausanne

These days there are california poppies blooming all around this place. They reminded me of these poppy fields growing in the wild that we came across outside Lausanne in Switzerland last year. We were having a hard time figuring our way out of the city in the car, when we came across these.

Getting lost can be fun sometimes.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Blooms at the Golden Gate State Park

A picnic at Golden Gate State Park....
And the flowers were in full bloom after the long winter.
Spring is definitely here!

P.S. Mridula, this one is for you :-)