Sunday, August 12, 2007

End of the road

Four weeks on the road. Meeting and exceeding all my expectations from the trip. Awesome!!

Visited many wonderful places; met many of my college friends; brushed with a few interesting people for a short while at various locations; came back with a load of memories to last a life time; probably was able to get out of myself for the most part and bask in the beauty or history or attractions of the place I was in at the moment, or enjoy the company I had at any point in time.

Heading back to the East Coast from Houston Intercontinental Airport today.

The rental car receipt - at around $2500 - didn't send any shivers down the spine :-) With expenses for accommodation, food, gas, memorabilia, etc. running to around $2000 (I guess) shared between the two of us, I think the trip was entirely worth it!

Ain't it a wonderful world!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Postcards from the road

Favourite activity on the road : Sending postcards to my family and friends. An attempt to share the pleasures of the trip with everyone I know. The variety of content in the postcards was amazing; got to send postcards with different themes and messages to different people. Included a few of the favorites below:

World War II Posters from the D-Day Museum in New Orleans
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting 'Two Sisters On the Terrace' from The Art Institute of Chicago
Painting titled 'The Lone Greenhorn' from The Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody

Images of America's Shrine to Democracy at
Mount Rushmore
Images of This Is The Place Monument in Salt Lake City, Utah

And many more....

Space : The Final Frontier

Spent a large part of the day today at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Feel inspired to start looking into becoming an Astronaut soon :-)

NASA is aiming to get Humans back to the moon by 2020, and to Mars by 2030 - so they were indicating to the 5-10 years old kids that they could be the first humans to walk on Mars! The story of space exploration always fascinates me. I remember enjoying the visit to Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 1998. While this visit seemed to be similar, I guess I could appreciate it much better now probably because I am more aware about space exploration now than in 1998.

During one of the shows, the hostess explained to us what was currently happening on the Endeavour Space Shuttle (STS - 118) which was launched a few days back, and showed us live feeds from the Space Shuttle; fascinating to see Astronauts go about an operation to work on something outside the shuttle; the technical term being Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA).

No surprise in which post-card appealed to me most in the gift shop : the one with the crew of the Columbia Space Shuttle STS-107 which exploded in early 2003 and killed all seven astronauts including India-born Kalpana Chawla.

Of course, Houston visit was not all about Space Center; the main reason Houston got onto my itenerary was beacuse KP was visiting on official purpose for a few months. Stayed at his place and went around visiting places nearby. In addition to the Space Center, we got to see Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, TX and swim in the muddy and dirty waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston Island. Was considering to take the free Galveston Island - Port Bolivar ferry, but had to avoid it as there was a minimum 45 minutes wait to get onto the ferry on either side. It would have been a nice experience to drive onto the ferry and cross the 2.7 mile long waterway by ferry and continue on road afterwards.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lone Star State. Finally!

Arrived in Texas on Wednesday 8th Aug.

JH and I parted ways in Dallas; JH heading to the Dallas Fort Worth Airport and back to California, and I heading to VJ's place. I wanted to visit Texas as I wanted to meet up with my friends, while JH wasn't really keen on spending time in Texas. The only attraction he wanted to see in Texas was the Alamo in San Antonio, which we could not include in the schedule.

It was really nice to have had JH's company during the four weeks' drive around the country. In fact, I couldn't get myself to go sight-seeing on my own in his absence in Dallas! No fun in walking around alone even if the place is as wonderful as Yellowstone or Yosemite, leave alone a much less important and hardly a beautiful place like Dallas, TX.

The best thing about Dallas and Texas is that I have friends there; and that is the only reason Texas got onto my travel plan. Staying at JH's place for two nights, having dinner with NP and RM at Nicola's in Plano, TX and a short stop at ASK's place on the way out of Dallas made it for a memorable visit in spite of the heat and the lonely wanderings in and around the City.

The visit to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at the Dallas Love Airfield was worth it; quite informative and inspiring. As with many of the museums I visited on this trip, this one too was well organized; starting with the early dreamers and moving on in time with the various successful and not so successful but very important experimentations and the experimenters who made Air Flight possible. It is just 103+ years since the Wright brothers became the first men to fly a powered aircraft; the progress in Aeronautics ever since has been phenomenal.

Got to know quite a bit of historical tidbits about the Zeppelins over here in the Museum. Found it interesting these huge 'balloons' were actually passenger airships, and that they were used for Trans-Atlantic travel till the Hindenburg disaster, which curiously happend in Lakehurst, NJ - close to where I live!

Another interesting tidbit was that the material used to hold hydrogen in the Zeppelins - called Goldbeaters' skin - was made of cows' intestines. And a airship like Hinderburg required the intestines from a few thousand cows. No wonder the Zeppelin was neither invented nor built in the country of the holy cow - India, but in the we-eat-everything-that-moves country of Germany!

The prime tourist attraction in Dallas, TX of course is The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza , a memorial to the slain President John F. Kennedy at the place from where his alleged assasin - Lee Harvey Oswald - fired the fatal shot. The various display items in the Museum details the events leading up to Kennedy being on a Motorcade through the streets of Dallas, the route of the motorcade being well-publicised beforehand to ensure huge public turnout along the way (which did happen) and sadly also gave enough opportunity for a determined Oswald to follow through with his crazy plan to kill the President. The motorcade was passing right next to the School Textbook Depository Building on Dealey Plaza in which Oswald was employed. It was also expected to stop at the signal - right in front of Oswald who was ready with his gun on the sixth floor of the building - and then proceed slowly away after taking a sharp hair-pin turn. What more could Oswald ask for? He shot three times, hitting the President twice.

Knowing more details about the assassination - that one shot JFK took in the head was almost similar to the shot that killed Abraham Lincoln, that Oswald killed a Police Officer before being apprehended just 80 minutes after the assassination, that Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby two days later on National TV, that JFK's assassination affected people all over the world and that there is still heated debates going on about who actually killed JFK - does not lessen the sadness that comes over for any visitor to this place. The John F Kennedy Memorial Plaza - a few blocks from the Museum - is a very simple monument to remember JFK.

India and US have had their share of heart-breaking assassinations : Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi... Hope these kind of cowardly acts will become a rarity in the future. While these assassinations have hardly achieved what the perpetrators of the crime intended to achieve, it has elevated the slain to an even higher status of Martyrs and have made them heroes for future generations.

Between the visit to the Flight Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum, I stopped at Roti Grill for lunch - nice Indian restaurant with the feel of an upscale Diner, with decent food.

On the way from Dallas to Houston, stopped at The Sam Houston Statue in Huntsville, TX, which is conveniently located across the highway. The 67 foot tall statue is visible for miles from the south, and is supposed to be the tallest statue of any American leaders.

Though I knew Houston was named after some person, never really knew about Sam Houston; got to know a bit of his biography during the visit. Quite an impressive man with some notable achievements:
  • The only man to ever be Governor of two states in US (Tennessee and Texas),
  • A champion of Native Americans' way of living, formally anointed by the Cherokee tribe as one of their own.
  • A soldier of excellent record, with a decisive victory over the Mexican army to attain Freedom for Texas.
  • A silent supporter of the Union while being a Governor of Texas, a state filled with Southern Confederates and hell bent on secession from the Union.
Sam Houston's advice to the folks in the Government : "Govern Wisely, and as little as possible"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A major Civil War Site

Visited the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi today.

Vicksburg was the site of an important confrontation in the Civil War. Because of its strategic location on the Mississippi river, it assumed great importance in the Union's war plans. President Abraham Lincoln declared Vicksburg to be 'The Key..... and the War can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket'. The Union army - led by a future President, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant - laid siege to a heavily fortified Vicksburg for a month and a half and forced the Confederate army to surrender, thereby claiming the complete Mississippi river for the Union and weakening the Confederate campaign significantly.

The Military Park has maintained the siege area around a 16 mile round trip loop. There are memorials set up at this site by different States whose people fought in either side during the siege.

The park also has the salvaged remains of the USS Cairo gunboat which was sunk by the Confederates - without any loss of life among the Union navy personnel manning the ship - during 1862 on the Yazoo river close to Vicksburg. Found it interesting that there were no casualties during the 8 minute sinking. Even more interesting was the fact that the US Navy Leadership did not spend any time on investigating the incident, and promptly assigned the captain of the ship to another ship. Given the lack of capable men to man ships during the Civil War, this decision is not really surprising.

The place is a must visit for Civil War enthusiasts.

Mesmerizing & haunting New Orleans

Three days in The Big Easy

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Elvis, Martin Luther King Jr., B.B.King & Beale Street Blues

Spent a very enjoyable day in Memphis, Tennessee yesterday.