Backpacking Around USA For 2 Months From The East Coast To West Coast – Complete Itinerary!

I may have given away the plot with the title, but trust me, it gets a lot more exciting.

March 2019, I set off on 2 month long travel to the United State of America. I call this “travel” for a very specific reason. I wasn’t vacationing, I wasn’t on a trip, but I was traveling. I personally think there’s a huge difference between these words. Leaving that for another day, however. I was also working remotely during this period which gives me all the more reason to refrain from calling these two best months of my life a “vacation”.

Setting the expectations right from the beginning, traveling solo in the United States of America is a piece of cake. As long as you have a functional data plan on your mobile, you’re good to go. Google Maps was the most used app on my phone for obvious reasons and through the two months I never felt the need to reach out for my pepper spray. Quite the feat, I must say.

Why I chose to travel through USA and not backpack through Europe is a question I don’t have an answer for. But, I’m glad I did it and this trip will always remain special. Being a travel blogger professionally, writing outside of work requires a special kind of effort (I just can’t get myself to key away outside of 8 hours at work) However, these two months were too special to not be documented, so voila!

Some day, when I’m old and toothless with a bad memory, I’ll read this and reminiscence these two terrific months of my life.

USA 2 Month Itinerary – my route at a glance

  • New York City – New York ( 6 Days )
  • Niagara – New York ( 1 Day, 1 Night)
  • Boston – Massachusetts ( 6 Days)
  • Philadelphia – Pennsylvania ( 5 Days)
  • Chicago – Illinois ( 3 Days)
  • Estes Park – Colorado ( 3 Days)
  • Colorado Springs – Colorado ( 3 Days)
  • Denver – Colorado (1 Day Layover)
  • Glenwood Springs – Colorado ( 2 Days)
  • Las Vegas – Nevada ( 1 Day)
  • Grand Canyon National Park- Arizona ( 1 Day, 1 Night)
  • Los Angeles – California ( 6 Days)
  • Lake Tahoe – border of California and Nevada ( 4 Days)
  • Yosemite – California ( 2 Days)
  • San Francisco – California ( 3 Days)
  • Albuquerque – New Mexico ( 2 Days)
  • Santa Fe – New Mexico ( 2 Days)
  • Taos – New Mexico ( 1 Day)
  • San Antonio – Texas ( 2 Days)
  • Austin – Texas ( 1 Day)
  • New Orleans – Louisiana ( 4 Days)
  • Tampa – Florida ( 2 Days)
  • Miami – Florida ( 3 Days)

Once you chart your itinerary, you’ve won half the battle. I still remember the day like it was yesterday, when I detailed my itinerary on a spreadsheet. My father and I were lounging one sunny morning with our cuppas – a million tabs on my laptop – Pinterest to travel blogs to multiple maps of the USA ; I figured the cities I’d like to hit up without running my travel costs high. After 5 hours of incessant browsing, this is what we came up with (and what I stuck to pretty much).

A total of 63 Days of gallivanting around the USA!

Disclaimer : I’m quite the outdoorsy person who also happens to be a museum buff and a lover of bookshops and libraries. There was a day I walked 2 Km in the rain ( primarily because I was lost) to get myself to the famous Brattle Book Shop in Boston. What I am getting at is, what I like to do in every other city might not be your idea of fun. Hence, I’m not going to pen down my city-wise itinerary to the T, but I’ll definitely be skirting around the best parts of it.

New York

Bangalore – Delhi – New York | Flight ( 23 hours)

Day 1 in New York

  • Brooklyn Bridge & DUMBO

I landed around 3 PM at JFK and had an eventful 2 hours getting myself to Brooklyn from the airport. Thanks to jet lag, I was all pumped and ready to take on the world! So, my friend who I was staying with decided to take me out to see New York in it’s glittering glory. We walked from the Brooklyn side of the bridge towards Manhattan and back. Quite the walk after a 16 hour flight, but so worth it!

Day 2 in New York

I set off the next morning, armed with my weekly Subway pass and wrapped in 3 layers (it was FREEZING in March!). The Weekly Subway Pass was a wise buy since I planned on getting lost (a lot) and I needed unlimited Subway rides since that was my primary form of commute.

  • Statue of Liberty
  • Ellis Island
  • Battery Park
  • The Ride

I reached Battery Park, from where I got my tickets for the Statue Of Liberty and then stood in a long, amusing queue for about 30 minutes till it was my turn to hop on the ferry. At different points in the queue, there were artists playing some jazz, some mind-boggling aerobatics, some reggae requests – I didn’t realize 30 minutes were up! It was a windy day and my ferry was rocking away so much so it looked like it would topple! It seemed sturdy though, so I put faith in my luck and jumped aboard, all set to catch a close-up glimpse of Lady Liberty.

I sat at the open deck of the ferry for the first 10 minutes before I realized my limbs might freeze and fall off by the time I got off if I sat there any longer. I made my way down on a rocking boat and cozied up in the warm closed deck at a window seat. The view wasn’t as great as from the top, but my limbs were more important.

The Liberty Island, apart from splendid views of New York City is quite unamusing and so so crowded. I guess it’s fun if you climb up Lady Liberty and see the view from atop, but if not, you can get done with Liberty Island in less than 15 minutes. The free audio guide wasn’t that great either. Thankfully, I had written a detailed blog about visiting the Statue of Liberty, so I knew quite a bit about the statue from the research I had done for the article.

I walked around for a bit and then hopped back on the ferry which then dropped me at Ellis Island. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration was most definitely the highlight of my day. My parents who had been to NYC before had hyped the museum so much, I was more excited about the museum than the Statue of Liberty! Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint. I spent 4 hours in the museum and ambled through every floor, scrolled past every artifact and carefully read every bit of detail. It was truly an eye opener, the way people fled from different parts of the world and came to New York in the hope of finding opportunity and making a fresh start. The stories, the pictures, the videos – I wish I could have spent a few more hours there. I did however come back only on the last ferry out, so I believe I spent as much time as I could.

After getting back to New York mainland, I walked from Battery Park to Wall Street, bought myself a Bento Box of sushi and devoured it in a nearby park. I walked around aimlessly for a bit and landed in front of Trinity Church. At the time, I didn’t know it was Trinity Church though. As I walked in, a waft of sweet incense sticks tickled my nose and as I write this, I can still remember the aroma. I sat down and admired the church for a bit, mostly to consume the aroma for a while longer.

As I stepped out, I saw a cemetery, one amidst the concrete jungle. I’d always seen cemeteries in barren lands, stretching for miles and miles in the suburbs of cities. This was probably the first one bang in the thick of buildings, and yet so beautiful.

While I was eating my sushi bento box, I was figuring out what to do next and thanks to Headout, I knew about this really cool experience called The Ride which not too many people know about. The Ride NYC sits you in a well lit, futuristic bus, and takes you to all the major hotspots in the city. While you experience all that is New York, actors present you with an interactive experience like never before. So basically, The Ride NYC is the highlights reel that you watch if you have missed a game.

When I’d written about The Ride NYC for Headout (the company I work for), I remember thinking how fun this would be, and indeed it was! The crew was super interactive, the dancers were amazing and all in all, I would totally recommend this to everyone visiting New York.

Day 3 ( A Day Trip From NYC to Niagara)

I set off on a weekend trip to Niagara with Take Tours and I must say it was fabulous and worth every penny. This organised tour took me to the Secret Caverns, the Niagara Falls and Corning Museum of Glass over a span of 2 days.

I hadn’t checked the weather before heading to Niagara and assumed it would be the same as NYC, but boy I was wrong! It was snowing in Niagara and I landed there completely unprepared, and frozen. With just a jacket (no gloves, muffs or anything) my first glimpse of Niagara was blanketed in a fresh coat of snow. I was seeing snow for the first time, so I was too excited to worry about my almost purple limbs!

Like a 25 year old who was seeing snow for the first time, I made snow angels, hurled snow balls and the whole works till I couldn’t feel much of my body. I thawed myself at the hotel I was staying in and slept like a baby, oblivious to the snow. By this point, jet lag was catching up with me.

Niagara during winter is a very different experience. Most parts of it are frozen and for obvious reasons the Maid of the Mist boat ride is unavailable. But there’s a crisp magic in the air and the blue skies and blue waters against a frozen white is simply surreal.

Travel Tip : There’s a mall/complex next to the Niagara entrance where you’ll find a bunch of restaurants. Do not go there for a meal – the food is terrible and exorbitantly priced.

Day 4 in New York

After a late morning, I took a subway straight to downtown Manhattan. On today’s agenda was the

  • Museum of Modern Art
  • New York Public Library
  • Top of The Rock
  • Times Square

I may sound ignorant, but Modern art is definitely not my cup of tea. Friendly advice from the girl who was clueless and bored to an extent : If you don’t understand and appreciate Modern art; skip the MoMa.

Yes, that is me laughing at a haystack in the middle of a museum. Also why are there chairs on display in a museum? Ikea?

After a not so fun few hours at MoMa, I took a quick walk through the New York Public Library, the Schwartzman Building. This Beaux-Arts style building and its grand interiors has my heart and soul. I went to the public library in almost every city I visited in the US, but this was undoubtedly the most beautiful. If I was a New Yorker, I would be reading in the Rose Main Reading Room all day, every day and the Map Collection Room had me chalking up a new found respect for cartographers. Also, it houses the original print of the Gutenberg Bible, one of only 49 existing copies in the world and I got a glimpse of that. Yaas!!

After grabbing lunch at the Olive Garden Italian Restaurant I walked around the city and got myself to the Top of The Rock in time for the sunset. Well, we’re talking March in New York and the sun is playing a fun game of hide and seek through the day. There was no dramatic sunset but, I did see the city veiled in shades of pink and orange before it turned purple and the city turned lit!

It’s a common confusion whether to pick the Empire State Building, Top Of The Rock or One World Observatory. I had 3 reasons for choosing Top of The Rock for my aerial view of NYC.

  • It is included in the NYC Explorer Pass ( So is Empire State Building, but the One World Observatory is not)
  • From the Top of the Rock, you get to see the sun setting behind the Empire State Building. From the ESB, you can’t really see that. Views from the One World Observatory are entirely different, more of the bay.
  • Top of the Rock gives unperturbed views of the Central Park, something you don’t have from both the other view points. During spring, the view is terrific. Unfortunately, in March all I got to see was dry trees.

Times Square at night was overwhelming to say the least. I live in the second most crowded country in the world and I have been on Mumbai local trains. So, the energy was fairly normal for me. I waltzed past with learned precision.

Day 5 in New York

I may have stretched my limits today, but totally worth it (though my legs don’t necessarily agree). I started off with the two museums I was looking forward to the most in NYC – the American Museum Of Natural History & the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. They also happen to be on two opposite sides of Central Park, so I decided to hit them up together and tick off the quintessential “stroll around central park” in the process. So, today’s agenda was :

  • American Museum Of Natural History
  • Stroll around Central Park
  • Metropolitan Museum Of Art
  • The Vessel
  • Hudson Yard
  • Chelsea High line

Both the museums were an absolute dream. I was the first person to enter the American Museum of Natural History morning (was hoping for my version of Morning At The Museum) and spent 3 hours in complete awe of dinosaurs, fossils, a gazillion types of birds I have never heard of, ancient civilisations and the wonders of the milky way. If your interests revolve around human history, animals and space this museum is a definite must. I was here for the fossils and human history and enjoyed 3 hours of interacting and learning at my pace.

I then set out and to optimise time, I grabbed a gyro (what we call a shawarma in the rest of the world) and navigated my directionally challenged self across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I did get lost (duh!), but I asked my way around and got myself to the MET. I spent about 3 hours inside the MET, consuming all the history my Indian education system conveniently ignored. There’s so much one can learn about the Greek, Roman, Ancient civilisation; their lifestyle, the tools they used in the past, their inventions etc.

I absolutely loved the architecture, sculptures, murals and artifacts on display, but, I darted past the painting galleries. If you intend to go through them all, I suggest setting aside more than 3 hours for the MET. It is HUGE!

Pro Tip: Your MET tickets are valid for 2 consecutive days. I think they understand even a whole day here can’t possibly do justice, so if you have the time, patience and interest; split your visit over 2 days.

My legs were slowly giving up at this point, but I wasn’t going to leave home at 6:00 PM! I head off to Chelsea to checkout the newbie in town. The Vessel had opened a few weeks before and it was the current talk of the town. I reached Hudson Yard just around sunset, and because the view is quite the sight from the Vessel, half of New York happened to be there around the time. I didn’t climb the Vessel (no reservation + no energy), but I stood around there and watched the Hudson Yard turn pinkish red, peppered with ships, boats and New Yorkers.

I was too close to the Chelsea Highline to call it quits for the day. I walked up to the former New York Central Railroad  turned elevated linear park and launched off in the wrong direction for 5 minutes and then realized I was the only one walking in that direction. Walked back to the starting point and walked the entire 1.45-mile distance right up to the end. I honestly didn’t realize I walked till the end until there was no more to walk. Safe to say, my music, the views, gorgeous cherry blossoms and the evening sky kept me good company.

Day 6 in New York

  • SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Walking Tour
  • 9/11 Memorial Museum
  • The Oculus

Thanks to my New York Explorer Pass, I signed up for a few walking tours of the city for free! I have always loved walking tours. Strolling around a new city with a city expert, learning lesser known facts and meeting other travelers who like walking around is my kind of delight. I think this was my favorite walking tour because my guide was epic! Eric was hilarious, he knew a lot of quirky things about the city, threw recommendations for restaurants like confetti and kept our group of almost 20 in fits for 2 hours straight.

His recommendations ( tried and tested by yours truly) :

  • Sesame and taro ice-cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
  • Cookies from Levain Bakery
  • Cronuts from Dominique Ansal
  • Dimsums on Doyle Street
  • Doughnut Project

Also, DO NOT have the cannolis from Umberto – they are overpriced and don’t taste too great. Eric didn’t suggest them, but I walked in because of TripAdvisor reviews and was absolutely disappointed.

After my walking, more like food tour ; I made my way to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Until I walked into the 9/11 Museum, the MET was my favourite museum. However, as I walked out of the 9/11 in tears ( yes, I was weeping my way around the museum), I knew this museum will always hold a special place in my heart. I was in first grade when the 9/11 tragedy happened, too young to grasp the intensity of what happened then. Though we all still live in the aftermath of this disaster, this museum has captured and narrated the entirety of the incident impeccably. Listening to those voice calls, the stories of mothers who never saw their firefighter sons, the bravery that triumphed fear; it was heart-breathtakingly beautiful. I spent 5 hours inside the 9/11 museum. Yes, 5 hours going through each and every story. each exhibit. You simply cannot get yourself to skip anything.

To treat myself to something happy after the last few hours of remorse, I made my way back to China Town and had a flavorsome Korean meal at a restaurant named Tofu Tofu. A cheerful old lady saved me a warm meal on that cold night in New York and I could momentarily get my head out of the pain and pondering I was experiencing then.

Day 7 in New York

  • Ground Zero Museum Workshop
  • Greenwich Walking Tour
  • Grand Central Terminal

I hadn’t had my heart’s fill of knowing about the 9/11 after last night. I made my way to another lesser know, more intimate museum called the Ground Zero Museum Workshop. Founded by Marlon Suson, the Official Photographer at Ground Zero for the Uniformed Firefighters Association & Uniformed Fire Officers Association (FDNY). He spent six days per week and approximately 17 hours per day “living” at Ground Zero, where he documented every phase of the ‘Recovery’. This small apartment turned museum is brimming with rare photos, tidbits from the site, stories of the fire-fighters, their families; in short, an emotional overload. The best part being, it is an interactive, hands-on museum which means you can touch each and everything. The one piece that stuck with me was the clock retrieved from the site. Time frozen at 3 minutes past 10:00 AM, the time when the planes rammed through the buildings.

Next up on the agenda was a walking tour of an area I was yet to set foot in – Greenwich. I signed up for a walking tour with New York Tours 1 and it was as delightful as the first one. Though it was a cold and rainy day, we had an interesting stroll by the Washington Square Arch, the NYU, the very first gay bar in New York, the house in F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and many other gorgeous brick houses. Greenwich is where the bohemian movement by the radicals shaped, so every nook and corner has an interesting law-defying story of rebellion and revolution. Definitely where I see myself staying if my bank balance allowed me to!

Caught my millionth subway ride to the Grand Central Terminus. Now, you cannot call this the Grand Central Station because New Yorkers apparently take offense to it. Being the Bollywood crazy child I was, I enjoyed spotting the iconic filming locations around the terminus. I did itch for a filmy photo, but I wasn’t trusting enough to hand a stranger my phone in this bustling haven. Even if I could run fast, getting past the human flood was impossible. But I found a quite spot and people-watched for a bit while my legs were singing thankful carols in joy.

Boston

New York – Boston | Bus (4 hours)

Day 1 & 2 in Boston

  • Nashoba Valley Winery

I have family in Boston so my first two days were in the suburbs of Boston – Somerset. We checked out a really nice winery called Nashoba Valley Winery where we went on a wine tour and then got tipsy on a whole lot of wine in the name of tasting.

Day 3 in Boston

Back to museum-hopping and city sauntering!

  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Freedom Trail
  • Brattle Bookshop
  • Charles Street
  • Beacon Hill

Boston was wet and cold and rainy all through my time there, so I didn’t have a choice but to suit up and step out either way. I mean, the locals were jogging and practicing for the Regatta, so I could definitely walk about (thank god my limbs are still intact). I thought staying indoors for a bit could help, hence headed to one of the most beautiful museums I have ever laid eyes on – the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Now, I must say the museum by itself may not be the most interesting, however, the museum is visually pleasing and how! This art museum houses a significant collection of Isabella Gardner ‘s collection of paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and decorative arts. It’s pretty much like walking into someone’s house and going through all their things. Wardrobe inclusive.

The Freedom Trail is one of the top-rated things to do in Boston, but I’m not quite sure I did the whole thing. I used the Free Tours self-guided tour map and hit up quite a few of the landmarks on the Freedom Trail. Sometime during my unsuccessful ” self guided Freedom Trail” I realized I was close to the Brattle bookshop. I had seen a picture of this outdoor bookshop on Instagram and saved it to go there someday. Found it, but much to my disappointment and as expected, the outdoor bookshop was closed until summer. Obviously, we don’t want drenched books. I spent a good 30 minutes walking the length and breadth of the indoor counterpart of this bookshop, fussing over and clicking away at their color coordinated hard bounds.

I then made my way to the famous Beacon Hill for the lack of cardio so far! The climb was fun and I chanced upon what I’d like to call one of the most quaintest, beautiful florist shop’s in the world. The budding gardener in me was ecstatic seeing so many different types of flowers, pots and other garden accessories. I then walked to the harborwalk and saw sailing first hand. It is quite the sight for a first-timer, the coordinated moves, the way they shift their body weight while turning the boat; all of this while its pouring! I was blanketed under 2 layers of clothes and then a heavy raincoat, but they were in mere tees!

After all that walking, I walked to the famous Tatte Bakery & Café on Charles Street and ordered myself a warm cup of lavender coffee. Sat by the window and read my book while I sipped coffee after which I finally retired home!

Day 4 in Boston

  • Harvard Campus
  • MIT Campus
  • The New England Holocaust Memorial
  • Long Wharf Pier

I ATTENDED A CLASS AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL! I woke up early and actually made my way to HBS for a session, thanks to my wonderful friend Akshar who was kind enough to get prior permission from his professor. The campus is undoubtedly legendary and attending a class here was a dream come true! Having gone through many HBR case studies it was quite interesting sitting through an actual case study class! Also, I was shook by the classroom interaction ,the quality of teaching, and the varied kinds of perspective being put forth. A class to remember, for sure!

After the class, Akshar being an ex-MIT alumnus and current HBS student gave me a student’s tour of both the campuses. Got the insider gossip on the real story behind “halfway to hell”, why John Harvard statue’s shoe is a different color and a few other scandalous stories I could have known only from a student!

I had some of the best meals today – an insanely good beef arepa from Orinoco, the best hot chocolate in the world at L.A.Burdick’s and ended the day with a lobster pasta from Giacomo’s. My heart and tummy were happy and content to its fullest!

On our way to Giacomo’s for dinner, we stopped by the New England Holocaust Memorial, a tribute to the Jews who lost their lives during the holocaust. Each of the six towers represent a major Nazi death camp with the number forcibly tattooed on the 6 million Jews who were killed during the holocaust. As you walk from one tower to the other, you’ll see warm steam rising from coals that smolder at the bottom, an attempt to recreate the gas chambers. I read that if you looked carefully enough, you could see the flickering coal illuminate the name of the concentration camp. Unfortunately, I could however not figure that out. Nevertheless, it is a unique tribute and sorrowful remembrance of a horrid time in history.

After dinner, we went for a walk at the Long Wharf Pier, but cut it short because it started pouring! Got back home – drenched.

Day 5 in Boston

  • Marketplace District
  • Quincy Market
  • Boston Public Library
  • Trinity Church

I have a soft corner for local markets and absolutely love trying the local produce and delicacies from these marketplaces. The Marketplace district is a high-end market, interesting nevertheless. After a stroll about the marketplace, I made my way to yet another market in the city. The Quincy market is an outdoor+indoor market with eateries, souvenir shops and all sorts of brands. Window-shopped my way through here as well!

After covering market grounds, I headed to the Boston Public Library. Though it doesn’t match the NYPL standards, it is beautiful in its own way. I love how libraries are such an elaborate affair in the United States of America. My last stop for the day and in Boston was the Trinity Church. Though I didn’t pay to go inside the church, the exteriors are breathtakingly beautiful!

Today’s meals were all out seafood – freshly shucked oyster, buttered lobster roll from Neptune’s Oyster and an amazing bowl of Boston Clam Chowder. Didn’t do it the touristy way in a bread bowl, but from a local’s joint recommended by my brother. It’s a miracle I wasn’t in the hospital since I’m mildly allergic to crustacean food.

Philadelphia

Boston – Philadelphia | Bus (7 hour overnight journey)

Day 1 in Philadelphia

My $5 dollar bus ride from Boston to Philadelphia was as comfortable as a $5 journey could be worth. Zero leg space, but thank god for me being short.

I was staying with a friend in Philly and having spent the last 5 or so years in Philly, she was quite the city expert. I didn’t really have to chart an itinerary, because she had it planned to the T. I simply had to follow her around and gorge on amazing Philly cheese-steaks and fuzzy mugs of hot chocolate. Thank you, Achira! You’re the best.

We set off to treat our tummies first thing in the morning and headed for the Reading Terminal. Disclaimer to foodies going to Reading Terminal : Go on an empty stomach, build a massive appetite, go with a big group so you can sample multiple things. That place is a freaking food haven!!! Since we were just 2 of us, we could only stuff in the Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheese steaks and a plate of Dolmathakia – stuffed vine leaves. Oh how I wish I had a bigger appetite!

  • Reading Terminal
  • Macy’s
  • City Hall
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Rocky Statue

After Reading Terminal, we roamed around city and walked all the way to the Philadelphia Museum Of Art. The Macy’s eagle, the famous City Hall, the City of Love sign and many other iconic buildings along the way.

After the long walk, the steps to the Philadelphia Museum Of Art seemed like quite a stretch but we did anyway. You can see almost all of Philly from up there, so it’s worth the climb. Not to forget, the Rocky Statue which has now shifted to the footsteps of the museum.

Day 2 in Philadelphia

  • Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
  • Philadelphia Magic Gardens
  • Penn’s Landing

April’s the month when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, only for a couple of days. I happened to be in Philadelphia during their bloom so what better to see these Japanese beauty than the Japanese gardens itself! The Shofuso house is a beautiful recreation of a typical Japanese house with detailed descriptions on the influence of culture in the architecture and layout of houses in Japan. We spent a few hours in the gardens, peppered with fragile cherry blossoms.

We then made our way to the Philadelphia Magic Gardens, a truly magical place. Part outdoor sculpture garden, part indoor galleries – Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is an immersive, art installation made out of tiles, mirror, bottles, found objects, folk art – even a bike parts chandelier! The artist – Isaiah Zagar has been working on this masterpiece for about fifty years! The place is quirky, vibrant and you never know what you’ll spot there.

After this dose of idiosyncrasy we made our way to the Penn’s landing for a glimpse of the Delaware river and to unwind with a relaxing walk along the pier. A perfect end to the day!

Day 3 in Philadelphia

After grabbing my cuppa of wawa coffee ( it’s a Philly thing), I sat and chartered out a plan to pin point the museums I’d like to visit in this city where you have museums around every corner! Since I had established that I was not much of art museum person, this was the itinerary for the day.

  • National Museum Of American Jewish History
  • Museum of American Revolution
  • Elfreth’s Alley
  • Liberty Bell
  • Independence National Historical Park
  • The Franklin Fountain

I walked into the National Museum of American Jewish History ( NMAJH ) and as always made me my way to the top floor as I liked making my way down a museum, than vice versa. On the top floor was a temporary exhibition – Sara Berman’s Closet. I didn’t know who Sara Berman was, so I was in for a treat. A compelling story that had me in a whirlwind of emotions long after I left. Sara was an immigrant who traveled from Belarus to Palestine to New York and is all about how she lived in Greenwich , a story of her ingenuity and how she weaved a beautiful life for herself in NYC. It’s a traveling exhibition and I hope you catch it someplace, someday.

The Sara Berman’s exhibition was just the beginning of immigrant history in the museum. NMAJH has beautifully portrayed the lives of jews who fled the holocaust and settled in America, the way they dealt with the happenings to those of their kin in a part of the world that was not so far away and a lot more. They have free guided tours and I was lucky to have a well-learned lady who fed us with knick-knacks of captivating stories while painting the timeline of Jewish history in America. Definitely a museum I’d like to go back to someday.

For lunch I had a sushi burger from Bubblefish. Hunted the place down and enjoyed the biggest sushi of my life. SO SO GOOD!

Next up was the Museum of American Revolution. I was absolutely clueless about the American Revolution (would like to once again thank my wonderful education system!), so this seemed like a good place to start. I must admit, I wasn’t the most amused with this museum. There was way too much information, way too many interactive exhibits and no signage. I think I jumped a few years while going from one gallery to the other and messed up the historical timeline! However, the little I grasped did stay a long way with me. I had more context about the Alamo in Texas when I visited San Antonio; and Philadelphia having played such an important role in the American history, it was great knowing a little more about the city’s significance.

I had my day’s dose of museums and set out to explore other historic parts of the city. After all, it was the largest and most important city in America during the Revolution. Walked my way around the Liberty Bell, the Independence National Historical Park ( ridiculous queues!) and visited the quaint Elfreth’s Alley – a National Historic Landmark peppered with early American structures and happens to be a thriving residential community which is home to artists and artisans even today. Cobbled streets, lush trees and lots of tourists!

I ended my day with a salted caramel ice-cream from the famous Franklin’s Fountain. The ambiance is what you ought to go there for – an old-timey soda fountain parlor setting with the staff in bow-ties. The ice-cream was nothing to write home about, but touristy things rarely are!

Day 4 in Philadelphia

To save costs, I planned something elaborate which may or may not have been wise. Flight and train tickets from Philadelphia to Chicago were ridiculously expensive, however, they were dirt cheap from New York. So, I decided to go back to New York by bus and then travel from New York to Chicago, by bus again. Quite the travel, but I get the best sleep on a moving vehicle so caught up on all my pent up sleep over this eternal journey!

Chicago

Philadelphia – New York – Chicago | By Bus ( 17 hours)

Day 1 in Chicago

After my loongg journey, I was in for another bus journey from the Chicago Greyhound terminal to my hostel. Cherry on top being, the bus was late. Late by 30 minutes! Silver lining being, it dropped me a block away from my hostel. So, at 3 PM I was dragging my suitcase and lugging my backpack across a block to Hi Hostel, exhausted and excited all at once.

I chose Hi Hostel because of its location. It’s bang in the city center, well connected by metro and buses; and a block away from the Millennium Park. Thanks to my boarding school years, zero privacy was something I was used to. Bunk beds, common washrooms, common room facilities, repeated breakfast menus etc were things I was looking forward to relive! I was in an 8 sharing dorm (yes, the cheapest) and scored a corner lower bunk spot rather easily. After settling in and working for a bit, I set off to explore Chicago with a friend.

  • Nutella Cafe
  • Chicago Riverwalk at night

We started off from the Nutella Cafe Chicago, aka heaven for Nutella lovers like me. We ordered a Nutella crepe and a Nutella ice-cream scoop with something else (doesn’t matter what you order) and gobbled it all down in no time. The world needs more Nutella Cafes. #petitionformorenutellacafes

Downtown Chicago is a beauty at night. Chicago undoubtedly has the some of the best architectural feats in USA, but I personally, wasn’t too awed because I come from UAE – the king of the concrete jungle congregation. If I had to choose a favorite among all the sky scrapers in Chicago, the Trump Towers would top the list. We walked a good portion of the Chicago Riverwalk, and sipped wine by the river with dainty ducks give us company all the while. Tipsy-turvy I headed back to my hostel for a good long night’s sleep.

Day 2 in Chicago

  • Loop & Millennium Park Walking Tour
  • Bahá’í House of Worship
  • Chicago deep dish pizza from Pequod’s Pizza
  • Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen

It had just snowed in Chicago a few days before I arrived. Thanks to that, the weather was wet and bitterly cold. However, I ambitiously signed up for a Loop and Millennium Park Free Tour with Free Tours By Foot. It was cold, foggy and drizzling throughout the tour, so, I have to admit I didn’t enjoy the walking tour as much as I would have otherwise. The better part of my brain was concentrating on how not to let my limbs freeze and fall. I did however walk a good portion of the Chicago loop, the Millennium Park and saw the Cloud Gate ( the bean as we know it) and the Art Institute of Chicago. If only it wasn’t so cold!

The cold relented by afternoon so a friend and I set off to see the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette. This was a short train ride away from Chicago city, but completely worth it. When I was looking up things to do in Chicago, I came across this breathtaking white structure and knew I had to see it. I wasn’t aware of the Baha’i faith until then but I’m glad I learnt something new, something so refreshingly new. For those of you who are blissfully unaware about the Baha’i faith like me, here’s a crash course : At the heart of Bahá’í teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes. The Baha’i religion emphasizes on the unity of all people, openly rejecting notions of racism and nationalism. In short, they place humanity above religion. What a beautiful way of life, right?

With the excitement of being exposed to something new, we walked around the Wilmette a while more before heading back to downtown Chicago. I for one was quite intrigued by the Ukranian Village in Chicago. In fact, I loved how diverse each neighborhood in each city were. It’s so fascinating to think that millions migrated from their homelands and created a miniature version of their homelands in different parts of the United States of America. While most states have a Chinatown and Little Italy; I hadn’t noticed a Ukranian Village on any other city’s map.

We made our way to the Ukranian Village and walked the length of it ( we were lost). We finally found a restaurant that was open and cozied in for the warmth and food! Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen had a 4.6 rating on Google, and so well deserved! They’ve tried recreating a typical Ukranian household and though the food was a tad bland for us Indians, I thoroughly enjoyed sampling the cuisine. We had something that resembled a dumpling and salmon with orange cream cheese. The dessert was delicious though I have absolutely no idea how to describe it!

Day 3 in Chicago

  • Chicago Public Library
  • Chicago River Architectural Tour
  • Adler’s Planetarium (for the view)
  • Navy Pier

The Chicago Public Library was a minute’s walk from Hi Hostel, so there is no way I was skipping that! Like I said before, the libraries in USA have my heart, soul and everything! They are breathtaking structures and for a bibliophile like me, I have repeated “Alice in the Wonderland” moments here. There was quote I saw in the Chicago Public Library that I particularly loved

Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew each other. Books break the shackles of time.

Carl Sagan

After the library I headed to do the most touristy thing in Chicago – the River Architectural Tour. I would strongly suggest anyone who has lived in a city (aka concrete jungle) to skip this $30 tour because it is absolutely underwhelming. I understand Chicago has some of the best buildings in USA, however; for a girl who has lived in the land of Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa – Chicago was nothing to write home about. Also, it was bone-chilling cold and the winds were louder than my tour guide – all in all quite the fail. The only good part about this tour was that I got to see most of Chicago downtown without having to move about much.

Being a sucker for viewpoints, we headed to the Adler’s Planetarium next for a KILLER viewpoint of the city. I honestly think this viewpoint is a thousand times better than any of the viewpoints from the Chicago Architectural Tour. Plus, this viewpoint costs you nothing! We battled the strong winds and managed to stand near the edge of Adler’s Planetarium for all of 3 seconds before our eyes started watering and we were carried away by the winds ( quite literally).

We then hopped on a bus and got ourselves to the Navy Pier. With a splendid view of the lapis lazuli Lake Michigan, we walked till the tip of the pier. We honestly didn’t have to do much of the walking because the wind quite literally carried us there. Man! The Chicago winds are something. In all honesty, the Navy Pier wasn’t the most exciting because it is practically shut until summers. The beer gardens, the fair, the ferris wheel, restaurants – everything was cloaked and shut. There’s a children’s museum that was open, but we were not the least interested so we upped and left in no time.

I made my way back to the hostel, but I didn’t feel like stepping back in yet. I grabbed a coffee from the hostel and decided to walk to Grant Park to watch the sunset from there. I’m not sure which part of Grant Park I reached or whether it was Grant Park at all, but I reached a quite stretch where the water was gently seeping over the walkway. With 2 seagulls giving me company as the skies above turned shades of pink and purple, I watched one of the most tranquil sunsets ever. I took the long route back to my hostel ( searching for a souvenir store more like) and watched the skyscrapers of Chicago light up the night.

Estes Park

Chicago – Denver | By Flight ( 2.5 hours)

I had finally arrived in Colorado – the state I was looking forward to the most! I had decided to hit up 4 cities/towns in Colorado – Estes Park, Denver, Colorado Springs and Glenwood Springs. First up on my list was Estes Park in northern Colorado , the base for one of the top National Parks in USA- the Rocky Mountain National Park

Day 1 in Estes Park

Getting to Estes Park without your own vehicle is an expensive affair. I booked a round-trip coach trip from the Denver airport to Estes Park which cost me whooping $85! However, though it was a shared shuttle I enjoyed private transfers both times and had a sweetheart of a driver, both times. Totally worth the 85 bucks!

I had booked myself into the Estes Park Adventure Hostel , the only hostel in town. It’s a rock climbing school cum hostel and most of the people staying there were take courses on bouldering and rock-climbing. Checking myself into the hostel was an adventure in itself. They had sent a lock-code via email which had to be punched in, but there were 4 doors! I found my door with great difficulty, lugged my backpack up a narrow flight of stairs and found the bed that was assigned to me.

You can pretty much walk all of Estes Park, so I freshened up and set out to explore this quaint town. Estes Park during winters ( it snows through April in Colorado) is a ghost town – not too many tourists and hence not too many services. Information on the internet is a bit ambiguous and I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do. So, I decided to wing it and play it by the ear.

Wrapped myself in 3 layers and walked out to explore this town. Since I didn’t have my own vehicle, I needed a bus/shuttle to take me to the Rocky Mountains. Unfortunately, during winters these services are suspended. My only other alternative was an expensive Jeep Tour that would take me around the mountains – a bit of trekking and a bit of roaming around with a local. Though I’m not the biggest fan of “tours” and like doing things by myself, at my pace; this one seemed to tick all the boxes – small group tour and took me to the 5 out of the 7 places I had wanted to go. Plus, I didn’t really have any other choice.

Thankfully Green Jeep Tours was just around the corner from where I stayed, and I signed up for the next day’s tour right before they closed. PS: Things in Estes Park closed at 5:00 PM!!!! After shelling out heavy money ($80), I needed a coffee to make myself feel better.

There are so many cafes in Estes Park, I was spoilt for choice. I liked the sound of Kind Coffee, so I headed there and got myself a cup of Lavender and Honey Coffee (SO YUMM), and sat by the Estes River and enjoyed the chilly air with a warm cuppa in one hand and my book in the other (Yes, I spilled some coffee).

After the coffee, I did some more aimless wandering and decided to have dinner because I had a hunch about things closing down early in town. I headed to The Wapiti Pub, one of my driver’s favorites in town for Bison. I get extremely excited when there’s a chance to try local cuisine and though I felt a tad bit evil – I couldn’t wait to see what Bison tasted like.

I walked in and found my lone self a corner and flipped through the menu. As usual, I asked the waiter what he would recommend and got myself a plate of something that can be best described as a Bison Club Sandwich oozing with Cheddar cheese and really really tender pieces of Bison meat. Like every other pub, this one was dimly lit and I couldn’t pull my usual antic of reading a book during the meal. Hence, called up my mom and chatted away!

I walked out after my meal and my hunch was right. The whole town had shut down! I was the ONLY person walking on the streets. I am not kidding you. There were a few cars that whizzed by every 5 minutes and there was one ice-cream store open, apart from that – I was the only living being on the road. I rushed home and a wave of tiredness hit me the minute I saw my bed. I caved in and dropped dead.

Day 2 in Estes Park

  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Himalayan Curry & Kebob

Well rested and a whole lot excited, I made my way to another cafe I had being eyeing and got myself another exotic cuppa coffee and breakfast burrito. I sat down on a bench facing River Estes and journaled for bit with a couple of ducks giving me company, quacking for a bit of my tasty breakfast burrito.

I then made my way to the Green Jeep Tours office and hopped on a green jeep (I would have been really upset if the jeep was any other colour) and made my way to the Rocky Mountains range. The group had another female solo traveler, a German family of 5 and me! I called shotgun and sat with the driver upfront. Our first stop for the day was the Bear Lake – the real reason I was in Estes Park.

I had seen a picture of Bear Lake in a travel magazine a few years ago and I was completely blown! Though the lake was frozen entirely when I went, it was this breathtakingly beautiful. We walked a bit on the frozen lake, my guide warning us not to wake up the sleeping bear who lives below the lake.

Next, we hit the Trail Ridge road and made our way to different viewpoints and spotted a few Elks, Bisons and Mooses. These guys really know how to camouflage and spotting them is quite the task. I must admit I never found one with my naked eyes until they were pointed out hard and clear. I clearly have no future with hunting!

We also trekked to a waterfall and though I didn’t take a dip in the water – I was frozen enough; the trek was great. My guide was an all out outdoorsy person and knew so much about everything other thing we laid our eyes on. He was an endless stream of information and safe to say, Lakshmi walked out a learned person after her visit to the Rocky Mountains National Park!

After coming back to base, I went to another restaurant that was suggested by the German family and enjoyed another bite of bison. As I stepped out, the sky was turning grey, but I decided to walk back the 1.5 KM to my hostel either way.

Terrible decision. Terrible, terrible decision. I was stuck on a highway during a hailstorm! A really bad one that felt like I was being pelted with stones, right on my face. There was no place to run and take shade, so I had to make a sprint for it to the nearest store, a good 400m away. I ran the fastest I ever have and walked in dripping drenched.

The store owners were kind enough to let me stick around until the hail storm receded, but it didn’t seem like that was happening anytime soon. Now, this was around 7 PM and I was fairly certain the town was going to turn ghost in less than half an hour. I tried getting an Uber but wasn’t able to get a ride in over 10 minutes. I didn’t want to risk walking back through a deserted highway. I mean, isn’t that the perfect scenario for a serial killer to come around and do something horrific to me?!

There was one other family in the store, picking out equipment to go trekking the day after. I mustered all the courage I had in me and casually asked them if they could drop me back to town. They agreed without a second blink – bonus being, they knew the owners of the hostel I was staying at and knew the exact location. I couldn’t thank my luck enough for chancing upon these really sweet people. We got talking and I couldn’t stop gushing about how lucky they were to stay in such a picturesque town. Their teenage kids didn’t seem to agree with me, but nevertheless, we listened to some french radio and they dropped me right at my hostel door! Ah, we need more such kind people in this world.

These guys had told me about the Himalayan restaurant in town and on a cold day like that, dumplings were quite the comfort food. Himalayan Curry & Kebob was a short walk away and once the hailstorm had stopped, I made a run for it. When I walked in, I was the only one inside. I had a nice chat with the Assamese lady serving me (in hindi!) and had my plate of saag and roti. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t go for the dumplings.

Colorado Springs

Estes Park – Denver – Colorado Springs | By Bus (2.5 hours)

Next morning, I had an early morning trip back to Denver from where I was to catch a bus to Colorado Springs.

Fun incident, there was another pick-up in Estes Park but he couldn’t join us as his roof had caught on fire during last night’s hailstorm and thunder! And to think I was scurrying around like a chicken on the highway during that episode.

I, yet again enjoyed a private transfer back to Denver and caught a train from Denver Airport to Denver Union Station. I worked for a bit at the Union station and then hopped on my bus to Colorado Springs.

Day 1 in Colorado Springs

Colorado has a bus chain called Bustang that has routes all across the state and they are super cheap as well. I reached the Terminal at Colorado Springs and took a local bus down to my hostel. I think Colorado Springs had the cheapest bus pass compared to all other cities – 2.5$ for unlimited bus rides. I didn’t plan on using anything but the buses when I heard that!

I got to the ColoRADo Adventure Hostel and checked myself in. I was sharing the room with 3 boys and another girl and as soon as I walked in, we started chatting like we knew each other since years! Such friendly folks.

Marijuana being legal in Colorado, and I was obviously not letting go of a chance to try some American pot. Potent is the word I’d like to use. I had 2 drags and I spent the rest of my afternoon watching Rick & Morty, eventually falling asleep. It was Taco & Beer night at the hotel, so we all headed to a Taco truck and I grabbed myself some carnitas taco (Shoulder of pork taco), chilled with my new found friends and slept early.

Day 2 in Colorado Springs

  • Pikes Peak Summit
  • Manitou Springs

Since I didn’t have a drivers license or a car to get myself up the pikes peak and lacked the energy to hike it up, I found a Grayline bus tour that takes you up Pikes Peak with a couple of stops down the way and drops you back in the city. Sounded like the perfect plan to get me up Pikes Peak and have me 70$ short!

The Pikes Peak summit is at 14,115ft and on a clear day you can see almost all of Colorado Springs and sometimes even further. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy and cold day and I couldn’t see anything beyond the clouds! However, it did feel like I was among the clouds. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway was closed for repair (indefinitely) so I walked the railway track and got myself to quite a few vantage spots. Dangerous and silly, but who cares!

The ride up was gorgeous! We stopped at multiple view points from where we could see snow clad mountain tops with greenery creeping around it. Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and it was nothing short of exhilarating standing at that height and soaking in the (cloudy) views.

On our way back we drove by the Manitou Springs, a quaint town on a steep hill known for its mineral springs and mountain landscapes, dominated by soaring Pikes Peak in the backdrop. After being dropped back at the Grayline Tours office, I hopped on a local bus and got myself back to Manitou Springs. Seemed like a great place to spend the rest of the afternoon!

The quirky and colourful town of Manitou springs was just the place to spend my day people watching, journaling on a roadside bench and enter every other store in the town. I grabbed lunch from Sahara Cafe- a Mediterranean, Middle Eastern no frills joint which pulled me towards it with the word dolmas and gyros. Had been a while since I chomped on some Arabic fare.

I then spent my day walking into ceramic stores, apothecaries and stopping to sip mineral spring water from every other fountain in town. Though I didn’t like the fizz and strong metal taste in spring water, I tried a couple of fountains to see if it got any better. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Clearly can’t live on spring water!

My most fascinating buy from this town were the bizarrely scented incense sticks – chai tea, fizzy pop, sweet pea, rugged leather, china rain, peace of mind and what not! I may have gone a bit overboard, but so worth it! They are absolutely true to their flavor.

I stayed around till sunset and took a bus back to my hostel. My legs were slowly giving up on me so I showered and slept early. I had big plans for the next day!

Day 3 in Colorado Springs

  • Garden of the Gods
  • Seven Falls at Cheyenne Canyon

Today I was going to explore Garden of the Gods. I had seen images of Gardens of the Gods on Pinterest a while back and as I read up about these rock formations, I learned that the Garden of Gods had been a beach with an inland sea, a sand dune and even a swampy plain once upon a time! Heck it even had dinosaurs grazing its pastures and sea serpents swimming and mammoths trudged through deep snow in the past. To imagine the Garden of Gods being all of this once upon a time was simply mind-boggling.

As always, I lost my way even before getting to the visitor’s center for a map of the garden. Once I was armed with a map, I was all set to hike and explore the 1,334-acre park ( not all of it obviously) and a mental note to stay on trail.

I intended to take the Juniper Loop since it covered most of the interesting parts of the park, but midway I may have lost track and gone elsewhere. I would never know because I am positively rotten with maps. I did manage to get myself to really secluded places but managed to get out of them as well. I also met a lot of really fun people – a couple who had managed to get themselves lost, a solo hiker who was climbing into restricted zones ( I followed suit) and an old lady walking her adorable dogs. I also met a bunch of school kids who were asking the weirdest of questions – things that would never cross an adult’s mind. I was happily eavesdropping their teachers struggling to answer them. Here’s a question for you :

A couple of things for those visiting Garden of the Gods :

  • Carry a LOT of food and water. The restaurants are far flung and it’s hard to change your route to grab a bite. There are many picnic spots around, so pack your food and camp around with a view.
  • Try to stick to the trail map (unlike me) and make sure you see the Cathedral Rocks, Siamese Twins, Sentinel Rock, Keyhole Window and Kissing Camel ( I could not figure this one out).

I walked for about 5 hours straight and once I had seen enough of rock formations, I walked to the closest highway and intended to catch a bus home, but I headed elsewhere. At this point, I was truly amazed at my energy levels! On a typical day, after 5 hours of trekking I would have curled up on the road and fallen asleep.

I had read about the Trail of Seven Falls, part of the Cheyenne Canyon and it seemed like an exciting hike. Also, it was pretty much the only thing left to do on my “should-do” outdoorsy things in Colorado Springs. I wasn’t going to give up on the last one in my list! I hopped on a bus that took me to the Broadmoor Resort and though all the reviews online spoke about an entry fee, I waltzed in without anything.

A shuttle takes you from the resort to the beginning of the trail and you’re free to find your way in. I walked by a well-paved trail which had a stream trickling by to one side and massive rocks to the other. You can take the shuttle all the way in, but I chose to walk it. What’s the fun in swooshing by in a bus?!

Once I reached the Seven Falls, my heart may have skipped a beat. Not only because it was gorgeous, but, I wasn’t sure I could walk up 224 steep steps up. Not after ALL that walking. But I went ahead and started the climb anyway. I was huffing and panting like a 70 year old by the end of it, but oh so worth it!

Beyond the 7 falls, there is another 30 minute hike that takes you to the Midnight falls. I started on that trail, but my inability to read maps and nightfall combined was reason enough to come back halfway. Also, a dying phone and zero coverage. I’m glad I met a really interesting lady traveler on the way.

She was hosting a German family at her Airbnb and had brought them along on the 7 falls trek. As she saw me walking by alone, she chirpily asked me how I was doing! I replied back I was doing great and then we got talking and when she learned I was from India, she began to pipe up about her solo adventures in India. What amazed her was that she had never thought of an Indian girl solo traveling after what she had observed during her time in India! I was happy to be the one breaking that stereotype and glad to have educated someone from around the world that India had plenty of solo female travelers.

I saw the last bits of the sun setting behind Cheyenne Canyon before hopping back on my shuttle. The long bus journey back home was pretty uneventful – my favorite playlist in my ears and the etching beauty of Colorado playing on repeat in my head.

Glenwood Springs

Colorado Springs – Denver – Glenwood Springs ( By Bus 4 hours)

Buses in Colorado are a bit funny. There are no direct buses between different cities, so I have to keep going back to Denver to find my way to the next city in the State. No complains though. I collectively spent about 15 hours in Denver over 3 days, thanks to all the layovers. I stashed my luggage at Lugden, right outside Union Station and went back and forth up the Free Mall route a couple of times – had an out-of-the-world Poke Bowl for lunch, worked at the Denver Public Library for a bit, waltzed into the Colorado State Capital for a court session ( just a spectator) and walked through a good portion of Denver downtown. I also saw the Denver Art Museum from the outside – very interesting architecture and art installations. Didn’t bother going in because I already had a decade’s fill of art museums in New York.

I made it back just in time for my 5 PM bus to Glenwood Springs, grabbed my luggage and rushed into Union Station – a place I was now quite familiar with. I was scheduled to reach Glenwood Springs at around 10 PM. I had looked up the local bus route beforehand and saw that there was a last bus at around 10:20 which would leave me about 300 m from my hostel. Sorted!

Unfortunately, the local bus wasn’t too punctual and I was left stranded on a highway, all alone till 10:45 PM. I hopped onto the bus and saw a lady driver and nobody else in the bus, except for me. Thank god for the lady driver – I would have been really uncomfortable being the only passenger in a bus at almost 11 PM. Perfect setting for my nightmares to come true!

I reached my hostel, a cozy little house-converted-hostel called the Glenwood Springs Hostel. When you’re the only hostel in town, I guess you could call yourself that. I checked in and passed out quick. I had an early start the next day!

Day 1 in Glenwood Springs

  • Hanging Lakes
  • Iron Mountain Hot Springs

I had added Glenwood Springs to my itinerary for solely one reason – Hanging Lakes. Actually, the fact that Hanging Lakes didn’t require a permit until April-end was the real reason. So, here I was – no clue how to get to Hanging Lake, but all excited to hike all the way up.

I woke up early, walked to a coffee shop next door and grabbed myself a lavender latte ( because, why not!). I tried my luck with uber and got one in no time! Yay. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation from Glenwood Springs to Hanging Lakes, so most people use their private vehicle.

Towns like Glenwood Springs have very few uber cars, but I luckily got one. My Uber driver was a cheery man who was on his way back home from a night hike. A great conversation and 20 odd minutes later, my Uber driver dropped me off at the beginning of the trial. There were no more than 5 cars in the parking lot – I would have no company through the hike.

The Hanging Lake Trail is a 3 mile moderately difficult hike which I completed in about 3 hours ( up and back). The initial paths were easy, but as I caught altitude there was a lot of slippery sleet and I was happily falling bang on my butt, multiple times. Like at least 10 times. One time my phone fell deep into the snow and I had a fun time excavating it. Thankfully I had no audience, so I was making a fool of myself in private.

The only constant throughout the hike was the gorgeous gorgeous nature. Every turn had a different stream, a differently coloured tree – I must have taken a gazillion pictures that day. I reached atop and it started drizzling! I was hoping it doesn’t get worse as my journey back would have been a bigger disaster then. By this time, there were a couple of other folks on the trail who had caught up with me and gave me company atop. Being the solo traveler, I was the official photographer for a lot of people – who were kind enough to click a pic for me in return. No complains!

I soaked in the views of the emerald pristine waters. I’d never seen a more beautiful place on earth. Totally worth the ten falls and sorely numb butt!

There was a second waterfall, a short trek away from the main trail. I wasn’t leaving without seeing it all! I made my way up and played in the icy water for a bit. You could stand under these smaller falls, but I got only my hands wet because I had no change of clothes. After spending a good 45 minutes doing nothing in particular, I started my journey back.

Like I’d predicted, the journey back was harder – rain + no snow walking stick! I’d noticed that most people were clever enough to trek up with the trekking pole and snowboots. I, on the other hand was equipped with nothing but my good old walking shoes from Payless. Needless to say, I slipped and skidded a bunch of times, managed to drop my phone in the process and hurt my butt real bad. Thankfully no one was around to see me through these atrocities!

I reached the base and realized that I have no network coverage and no way to book myself an uber back! I admit I did freak out for a bit, but hey! I had a whole day to figure out how I was going to get back to the city. Just as I was bracing myself for the tough day ahead, a couple I’d taken pictures for at the Hanging Lakes walked into the parking lot. I took a chance and asked them if they could drop me into the city if they were heading there. They were kind enough to say yes and I got myself a free ride back to Glenwood Springs!

A chatty couple who has taking some time out for themselves a couple of months after their first born, I heard all about their baby girl, the anxieties of a new mother and the thrill of a new father. I have to say, my journey back and forth the Hanging Trail was as exciting as the trail in itself!

They were kind enough to drop me right to my hostel, after which I hopped to a nearby joint for some lunch. I’m not sure why I thought a lavender latte was all I needed before a 3 mile trek!

It was now time to soak in some minerals and give my legs a break. There are multiple natural hot springs in Glenwood and I chose Iron Mountain Hot Springs based on the reviews and views.

Changed up quickly, shoved everything into an insanely tiny locker, grabbed my copy of the Roots and headed straight into boiling hot water. Iron Mountain Hot Springs has 14 pools, each with a different mineral – baron, magnesium, zinc, calcium and the like. So I lay there, one pool to the other for 4 whole hours, watching the sun set, the mountains change colours, chatting up with a bunch of kids and sipping coffee with the hail storm struck for about 20 minutes.

It was a day well spent! I walked back to my hostel, the warmth and minerals soothing my skin. Though my bed was quite mediocre and not so comfy, I had a beautiful night’s sleep.

Day 2 in Glenwood Springs

I technically spent just 24 hours in Glenwood Springs. It’s a small town and what I had intended to do was over in a day’s time. I spent the second day walking around the town – looking for a tiny souvenir I could take home from this gorgeous little town. The postcard is now clipped above my bed sill and till date, I look at the mountains and milky way on it – something I caught a glimpse of while soaking in the mineral pool.

My bus to Vegas was from some god forsaken part of the town and I had quite an adventure figuring out where my bus was going to turn up. It thankfully did turn up right where I was and I was off to Vegas. Boy, had I known I’d hate Vegas so much, I may have just stayed back in Glenwood.

Las Vegas

Glenwood Springs – Las Vegas (By Bus – 13 hours)

After a long journey from 3 PM to 3 AM, I landed in Las Vegas at prime time. Casinos, the drunk, the bachelorette gangs and the ones on a different dimension were at their all time high! I had 4 hours to kill before my hostel opened doors for check-in. I walked past a streak of gamblers in the nearest casino and made my way to a food court that was (thankfully) open 24*7.

I got myself a secluded spot and got to working. By far the best remote work location ever! A casino to one side and a chain of fast food restaurants to the other and a whole lot of commotion everywhere. Not sure how I got work done, but I remember finishing up an article and editing a few more in the 4 eventful hours spent there.

As the sun rose, Las Vegas was stumbling back to sleep and I was the only sober person on Fairmont street. I walked a fair bit to catch my bus to the hostel and met a whole lot of high folks talking gibberish on the bus. I couldn’t wait to get out of the bus already!

I had booked a room in Cat’s Hostel which unsurprisingly was right behind a Stripper’s Club. Fun! I checked in, woke up all my bunk mates with the ungreased door and plonked on a bed after what seemed like eternity. I woke up in a few hours and struck a conversation with a girl from Haiti seconds after I woke up( Thanks for the candle Florie Anne!).

I changed up and got out to a sunny, blue sky – went back in and dabbed a lot of sunscreen that was finally coming to use after all these days of being bundled up under layers. I think my body was so used to the cold, I found the heat repulsive and was absolutely hating the skin-piercing heat in the city! I could barely get myself to the gate before I had half a mind to get back to my room. But, I was hungry and that precedes the heat. So, I made my way to Viva Las Arepas down 2 blocks and chomped on some Venezuelan arepas for lunch. SO good!

  • North Strip
  • Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
  • Downtown Las Vegas

Las Vegas is honestly pretty dead through the day, so I decided to save my energy for the night and retired back to the hostel until after sunset. I walked out at around 6:30 PM and hopped on the tourist bus that took me all the way down the North Strip. I got down at the very last casino and walked into every building that I recognized or fancied and then onto the next.

Each hotel has something or the other to offer – the fountains and Fine Art Gallery at Bellagio, The Shark Reef at Mandala Bay, Madame Tussauds at the Venetian and The Volcano at the Mirage to name a few. I looked through all my options and decided to head to the Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at Luxor. It intrigued me that real artifacts retrieved from the Titanic was on display here and the exhibition had great reviews online. So, I made my way to Luxor bought a ticket to Titanic! Quite literally. The ticket for this exhibition was modeled like the original ticket in the name of a passenger who was actually on Titanic with a little backstory about the person. At the end of the exhibition, you can find out whether the person on your ticket made it through the tragedy or not. Morbid, but my lady did!

After the Titanic exhibition, I walked the North Strip – did some aimless window shopping, bought a really fancy looking pop-sickle( the heat, good lord!), peeked into a casino, watched the Bellagio fountains dancing and prancing – and finally ended the night at North Strip with some ramen.

The night was still young and so was Las Vegas, so I took the bus to the Downtown Las Vegas and walked through the madness there. Live concerts, karaoke singers, street performers, people drunk out of their minds, and really really odd people flocking the streets – Las Vegas is one city you should never go alone to. And if you are, you need to be okay with getting sloshed by yourself. I don’t think I was up for that, so I was the sober person at the party and I really don’t know how people do that! However, I stuck around till 2 AM and got some midnight binge done right at a Mexican joint. Lotsa Guac!

Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon

Though I absolutely detest organized tours, I had no choice but to sign up for one if I had to see the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. I hate being herded in a group, sticking to time slots and the worst – a guide going on breathlessly about a million different things. After extensive research, I found a 2-Day Grand Canyon South Rim, Hoover Dam, Horseshoe Bend, Upper Antelope Canyon Tour from Las Vegas for $320. Though I wouldn’t really recommend this tour to others, it was my best bet and I’m really glad I got to see all that I had hoped to see without much hassle. The stay was comfortable and so was the coach, but the group had a whole bunch of old people who were not really interested in really exploring the place. They would just scurry back to the bus and it would appear the rest of us (me in particular) was keeping them waiting. Pfft! The guide was impatient as well, but I decided to shut him out and had a good time!

Hoover Dam

We started off with the Hoover Dam. I’d researched about the Hoover Dam for one of the blogs I’d written in the past and was super thrilled to see the place in person. It is HUGE! That’s all I can say. It’s bigger than anything I’d imagined and reading all about its history and construction was quite enlightening. I walked right till the end of the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and then back ( should have saved my energy for the rest of the day). We were now headed to the Horseshoe Bend.

Grand Canyon – South Rim

Before hitting up Route 66, we stopped at the Route 66 Museum ( quite lame) and reached the Grand Canyon in about 3 hours. It was a cold and cloudy day and we were pretty bummed to have arrived right when a dense cloud of fog had descended upon the entire South Rim. I decided to stick around and walk till the Grand Canyon Museum and see what the museum had in store. I would strongly recommend going there – for those who’d like to know more about how the Grand Canyon was formed and all that’s happening inside one of nature’s greatest phenomenons.

On my way back, I noticed the fog lifting and slowly I could see the mighty Grand Canyon peeking from behind. I can’t quite explain what it was like, but I shrieked a bit in my head! And so did the many tourists around me – out loud. We were all so thrilled to get a glimpse of the gorgeous canyon. It would have been quite upsetting not to have seen the Grand Canyon after coming all the way here.

Turns out, the rest of my group went back into the bus 15 minutes after arriving and had been waiting for me and another guy to come back.They lost hopes of seeing the Canyon and returned. Well, their loss!

Our new stop was at the Desert View of the Grand Canyon. I honestly liked this view a lot more than the South Rim. You could see the Colorado River trickling by, the watchtower gave a fantastic aerial view and generally it was a lot less crowded than the South Rim. However, the weirdest thing happened to me over here.

I was sitting on a rock and enjoying the views, and an Asian tourist comes up to me and shows her camera. By this point, I was quite used to tourists asking me to click their pictures when they see me alone. I took her camera and she signaled me to pose. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but she told me to sit and smile and she took a picture. Just as she was doing this, a whole bunch of other tourists came about and took my picture! I really didn’t know what to do, but smile. So yes, a lot of Asian tourists now have a picture of me on a rock. Being the champ I am at charades and in order to savour this rather awkward moment, I managed to convince one of them take the same photo for me on my camera.

They put us up at Select Super 8 by Wyndham in Page, Arizona . Since I was traveling solo, I got a whole room with twin beds to myself. Except for shitty wifi, everything was great here.

Horseshoe Bend

The first stop for the day was the Horseshoe Bend. I had seen so many pictures of the Horseshoe Bend on Instagram, I couldn’t wait to get to there! You have to walk a bit before getting to the Horseshoe Bend, so I sprinted till there so I could get more time at the viewpoint. When I finally reached there I saw a gazillion people trying to perfect their selfie angles, barely even looking at the wonder in front of them. Ah, we humans.

I didn’t want to be around the crowd, so I walked further and climbed up a few rocks – hoping for a better viewpoint, and guess what? I got just that. Solitude, calm and a higher viewpoint. I found myself a comfy rock, put on my earphones and consumed every element around me. I saw a tiny boat cruising the bend, two men dipping their feet in the waters and a really blue bird. I walked a little further away to catch another view – still better. I finally made my way back and took pictures for a lot of tourists – who in turn took these pictures for me. One lady even insisted I pose for her!

Antelope Canyon

You can choose to go to the Upper Antelope Canyon or the Lower Antelope Canyon. I had done some extensive research and the Lower Antelope Canyon seemed more exciting for multiple reasons. You have to descend down a flight of stairs and a lot of people with mobility issues and those who generally don’t like being underground opt for the Upper Antelope Canyon – hence, Lower Antelope Canyon tends to be less crowded. The Lower Antelope Canyon costed $55 ($30 cheaper than the Upper Antelope Canyon) due to the walking involved in contrast to the jeep that takes people to the Upper Antelope Canyon. The tour at the Lower Antelope Canyon was slightly longer as well. And finally, it was deemed prettier than the Upper Antelope by most people on the internet. The Lower Antelope Canyon was a clear winner!

Before we headed to the Canyon, they showcase a dance by Navajo tribe – pretty fascinating. The Antelope Canyon falls on Navajo land and is a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation. The entire facility is maintained and run by the Navajo tribe – tour guides, ticket-booth attendees and pretty much everyone working there.

Each guide handles a group of 5-6 and takes us through the Lower Canyon in about an hour and a half. Around 50 people are taken for one slot, so the walk is pretty slow. The picture halts, history halts etc etc. The guides also double as photographers as they know the angles and shadows of the place, inside out.

The Navajo name for is the Lower Antelope Canyon is Hazdistazí  or ‘spiral rock arches’. They say, the formations were formed by erosion and flash foods primarily. During monsoon, the water seeps up till the brim and rushes down the narrow passageways – hence deepening the corridors and smoothing hard edges to form “flowing” shapes. Apparently, the last major flood in 2006 was so bad, that it lasted 36 hours and they had to close the Lower Antelope Canyon for 5 months hence!

The formations are mind-boggling, and to think that it’s just water and rocks brushing against each other that forms them! Ah, nature is just fascinating on so many levels.

I was dropped back in Las Vegas where I checked back into my hostel. I had a bus at 8 AM the next day and I had had enough of Las Vegas, so I stayed back in my hostel and binged on This Is Us!

Los Angeles

Las Vegas – Los Angeles ( By Bus – 5.5 hours)

I was in LA baby! Finally on the West Coast – where the sunshine stays. Now that I was here, why would I bother staying anywhere but Hollywood? I made my way to Orange Drive – just 2 blocks away from the Hollywood metro station and bang in the middle of all the action.

  • Third & Fairfax
  • Hollywood Boulevard and Walk of Fame
  • Runyon Canyon
  • Koreatown

I dropped my bags, changed up and swiftly stepped out to explore LA. Now, I had no real agenda in LA as my friends were joining me the next day. So, I pretty much had just one day to myself to do whatever I wanted. I walked around Hollywood first and then went to Third and Fairfax – LA-speak for the Original Farmer’s Market and went bizzerk shopping some juicy berries and gorgeous avocados. I didn’t think I’d ever shop for fruits in LA, but here I was, falling in love with the deep shades of pink. While snacking on my berry bowl, I walked around and found a really interesting restaurant with extremely magnetic aromas pulling me towards it. I caved and had the most expensive lunch of my trip. Worth every penny!

After Fairfax, I decided to go for a hike. Not sure why I thought a hike after such a heavy meal on a blazing afternoon was a good idea, but I did it anyway. I figured since it was bright and sunny, I may not have too much company at the Runyon Canyon, but clearly not. LA-ites don’t have the perfectly toned body for nothing! People were doing yoga, runs, sprints, dog-walks and even weightlifting, bang under the scorching sun and didn’t seem to be disturbed by the heat, to say the least. I was sweating and swearing (at the sun and my decision) through most of time at Runyon Canyon. But when I finally got to the top, it was all good in the hood. From up there, you get panoramic vistas of Hollywood – I could even spot my hostel! There are many trails here, but I took one way up and the other down – no clue what either are called.

One thing I absolutely detest about LA are its hilly roads. It’s literally full-fledged cardio if you step out to get groceries! The hike after my hike was honestly more tiring. Thankfully the area I was staying in Hollywood wasn’t too hilly, so I strolled the glitzy Hollywood Boulevard and Walk Of Fame for a while, video calling my brother since I didn’t know a majority of the star names. I grabbed ramen from Koreatown, a 11 minute bus ride from Hollywood Boulevard and came home dead beat at 11 PM.

Day 2 in Los Angeles

  • Malibu
  • Drive on Pacific Coast Highway
  • Santa Monico Pier

My friends from Chicago and Seattle were joining on my LA trip, so good bye solo tripping (for a while). After we settled into our really cozy Airbnb in East Hollywood – a more residential area away from the Hollywood madness. After settling and bringing ourselves to speed on each others lives, we set off to explore the pacific coast highway. We drove all the till the Sycamore Cove and ended our day at the Santa Monica Pier. What a drive! Though we wanted to go till Santa Barbara, we canned the plan in order to enjoy the beaches we were at than cover more grounds. Something I had learnt from my solo tryst – enjoy where you are, than thinking about where all you could be.

We watched the sunset at the Santa Monica Pier – definitely one of the best sunsets I’ve seen. LA sunsets are definitely the MOST magical. Though we’d been eating all sorts of junk all day, after the sun set and the cold set in – ramen was calling. We found a place close to our Airbnb and cosied into this no-frills Asian karaoke bar for some ramen and pad ka pro. While my friends didn’t turn out to be huge fans, I thoroughly enjoyed my warm meal.

Day 3 in Los Angeles

  • Hollywood Sign
  • Rodeo Drive
  • Museum Mile
  • Venice Beach

We headed early for breakfast to Grub – a 1920s bungalow converted cafe that serves all american comfort food. What I loved the most about this place, was its airy patio and orange juice! I think I had 2 glasses of the orange juice. Nothing is more refreshing than a glass of orange juice to beat the LA heat! We then headed for a drive around Hollywood, the Rodeo Drive and Museum Mile. With many pit stops and photo stops amidst losing our way and being driven up the wall by lady google, we drove through almost all of Los Angeles. We also hiked a bit for a good view of the “Hollywood” sign. After all, there’s no leaving LA without the quintessential picture in front of the “Hollywood” board.

We then headed to Venice beach – tops my list of beaches in LA. It’s so lively and there’s so much happening here, I was in love with the bustle. From the graffiti, to the street performers and the mango-in-a-cup, this beach has my heart. We walked through the canals and bridges that lends Venice beach it’s name. The dream is to live in one of the many gorgeous houses on the banks of canal!

After another splendid sunset and a bucket of chicken wings, we headed back home after bidding good bye to a friend at the airport.

Day 4 in Los Angeles

  • Getty Museum
  • Kayaking at Marina Del Rey
  • Manhattan Beach

We grabbed breakfast from a really popular cuban joint called Gigis Café Cubano. Ah, the aroma of tamales and freshly baked bread had my tummy doing a happy dance even before I took my first bite. The line here was long with many regulars who just said “good morning” and had the attending get their usuals. I had a Cuban Omlette which had literally EVERYTHING I liked – avocados, berries, fried plantains everything. An omelette made in heaven!

We went to the Getty museum mainly for the view and Central Garden – not so much for the art. Entry was free, so zero guilt. A tram takes you to the museum and back – and once you reach there, you’re free to roam as long as you’d like. Since both of us were not really interested in the art, we just whisked in and out of a few galleries and spent the rest of our time at the garden. Such a beautifully manicured garden and so many flowers I’d never seen! The view from atop was great too, but nothing to write home about.

After our not-so-sumptuous dose of art in LA, we headed for something more fun. I’d seen a spot called Marina Del Rey on the maps near Venice Beach and read that kayaking there was quite fun. We headed there for some arm workout and fun coupled! It was hard, very very hard since we were paddling against the wind – but so much fun. We even saw a lighthouse and a few seals! I was doing a terrible job, but my friend seemed to have a hang of it so we successfully kayaked for about two hours without any casualties.

After kayaking we were dead beat tired and ravenously hungry. We gobbled some lunch and headed to the closest beach – which happened to be Manhattan beach for a quick stroll. I really envy all those houses by the beach – what a life! The Manhattan beach was much calmer and quieter than all the other beaches I’d been to, perfect for my third and last sunset in LA.

Day 5 in Los Angeles

  • Griffith Observatory
  • Working in cafes ( while gobbling whole plates of sushi single-handedly)

I shifted from the airbnb to another hostel for a day. I chose one in Koreatown because I hadn’t had enough of ramen, sushi and bibimbap. Libra hostel is tucked in between Little Bangladesh and Koreatown – a good chance to explore both these sides of town, though I couldn’t get myself to eat anything but sushi!!

A pretty uneventful day – but everything I did had my heart so full and happy. Be it the gorgeous sunset view from atop the Griffith Observatory or the many plates of sushi, rice bowls and ramen that I single-handedly polished! I really wanted to try some Bangladeshi food, but just couldn’t seem to leave Koreatown.

In retrospect, I understand how I may have put on so much weight after my USA trip. It was all about food ( and sunsets. and museums. and a few hikes).

I had a bus to Reno at 10 PM, so I spent a good hour figuring my way around the rather confusing LA bus terminal and thankfully got to the right spot on time. Fortunately , my bus was delayed. UGH!

Lake Tahoe

Reno to Lake Tahoe ( By Car – 45 minutes)

1.5 days in Lake Tahoe

I was joining my family friends at Reno and would be spending the next 5 days with them – Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and a day in San Francisco.

On today’s agenda was aimless walking in the woods, driving around Lake Tahoe and spending the night in a cozy hotel. We walked into a Ponderosa pine forest and wandered for almost an hour – the smell of fresh pine sap and a distant trickle keeping us company. Winter had not worn off completely, so we bumped into spots of snirt and thigh deep snow, but we walked around it because none of us were equipped to walk on snow.

  • Ponderosa Pine Forest
  • Drive around Lake Tahoe
  • Emerald Bay

We followed the sound of the trickle and found ourselves near a gushing river, but it was too cold to step in for a dip so we admired it from afar. Birds, squirrels and creepy-crawlies in plenty, we walked far into the woods and made our way back, thank god for Locus Maps.

After a few pit stops along the way, we finally made it to the Emerald Bay. It is most definitely one of the most beautiful viewpoints on earth. No words can do justice to the view from there. I think Mark Twain’s description of Lake Tahoe does some justice, but not entirely – “The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? — it is the same the angels breathe.”

It’s a blue I’d never seen. With snow capped mountains, verdant greenery around, crystal blue water around and a tiny tree island in the middle of it all, Emerald Bay is the example of “perfectly scenic”.

There was a waterfall gushing close to the Emerald Bay viewing point, so trekked down a bit and made ourselves cozy next to the waterfall for a while before heading to the closest town for some coffee gave us directions to this local’s spot, so grateful!

Yosemite National Park

Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park ( By Car – 2.5 Hours)

3 days in Yosemite National Park

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

John Muir, about Yosemite National Park

Oh yes! There are very few places on earth that are more beautiful that Yosemite. It’s natures at its absolute best and if there’s one place I’d recommend for everybody to go before they die, it would be Yosemite, without a blink.

If you have a car and you’re in good health, drive around the National Park and I urge you to get lost because that’s when you’ll find things you’d never expect! Over 3 days in Yosemite, we saw most of the National Park, barring the ones that required a steep trek.

A short hike to the foot of Bridalveil Falls, a stroll to the Mirror Lakes- a big pool in Tenaya Creek from where we got a terrific view of the Half Dome, sauntered all around Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, drove past the El Capitan multiple times and even spotted a few hikers camping on the rock, found an amazing view of the Cathedral Peak, figured why the Horsetail falls were called so and finally a hike to the Lower Yosemite Falls.

Saving my favorite for the last – sunset from the Tunnel View. Ah, it is the most mesmerizing sunset I’ve ever seen. The sky changing from pink to fiery red before turning a dark purple – it’s magical. And with the sun, the entire Yosemite Valley changes colors, mirroring the sky. It’s a sunset that poems are made of.

We had quite an adventure finding our stay in Yosemite. We were so carried away by the beauty of the valley, we didn’t realize that the route to our cabin in West Yosemite would be lonely and street-light void after sunset. Moreover, we’d downloaded the wrong ticket and there was nada range in the woods! We finally went to a nearby cottage, scammed a few minutes of free WiFi and drove our way around desolate lanes to our stay for the night.

I can safely say, my favorite 3 days in the USA was spent at the Yosemite National Park.

San Francisco

Yosemite – San Francisco ( By Car – 3.5 hours)

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Chinatown

After a nice long drive through the Golden State, we reached Oakland. And like every tourist in SF, first up on our agenda was the Fisherman’s Wharf. We grabbed some exorbitantly priced dinner ( didn’t even taste that great) here and took a long stroll around. We were feeling adventurous enough, so we decided to walk all the way from Fisherman’s Wharf to Chinatown – a good 1.2 miles. We took in the havoc and hustle at Chinatown going strong at 10 PM and finally hopped into a nearby restaurant for some drinks. After warming ourselves, we staggered back to our car and headed home.

Day 2 in San Francisco

  • Golden Gate
  • Lombard Street
  • The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square
  • Mission Dolores Park

On today’s agenda were all things touristy in San Francisco and a lot of walking. While the Golden Gate was worthy the hype, Lombard Street is just extremely crowded – with both humans and cars. It’s just not fun walking back and forth when you’re brushing shoulders with a gazillion people. I honestly pity the people staying on this street. The flowers and hairpin turns are different alright, but maybe visit early in the morning when there aren’t too many people.

After the crammed Lombard Street, we wanted some fresh air and open space, so we headed to the Mission Dolores Park. We walked around and found an apothecary from where we bought 2 strains of legal marijuana. I mean, we were in California where weed was legal. There was no leaving without trying some.

After smoking pot in the parking lot of Ghirardelli Square like amateur school kids, we headed to the Ghirardelli Square ice cream shop for some sinful chocolaty indulgences. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed chocolate so much, and neither have I ever confused a cashier as much! Being high takes fun to a different dimension. After our epic “high episode” I stumbled around SF and thankfully found my way to my hostel.

In retrospect, going back to my hostel that night was an irrational move. I was abnormally slow and my bunk mates definitely knew something was up. I also zoned out during my first conversation with them! Anyway, I was back to being solo for the rest of my trip. 

Day 3 in San Francisco

  • Oakland
  • Hagiwara Tea Garden
  • Lands End hike
  • Sutro Baths
  • The Palace Of Fine Arts

Thankfully I was not high when I woke up, though I expected myself to be a little in the clouds. For some reason I was super pumped for the day (suspect the marijuana). I was going to meet a friend in Oakland for breakfast so hopped on a train early and enjoyed my not so scenic ride to Oakland. After being in SF, Oakland felt like a ghost town. There were barely 10 people in town, including me and my friend!

She stays in Oakland, so we took a long walk around the city, had some delicious breakfast, tried a chocolate and bacon cookie and caught up for 5 year’s worth of gossip!

After I got back to San Francisco, I had no particular agenda so I browsed the internet while gulping copious amounts of black tar coffee back in the hostel. By this point, I was quite done with black coffee and wanted milk (not cream) in my coffee.

After an hour of internet scouring, the Lands end hike seemed like something I would love, and so did the San Francisco Botanical Garden. The weather was lovely and seemed perfect for a day outdoors. I took a bus to the Botanical Garden and got down to the stop closest to the Hagiwara Tea Garden.

I have an inexplicable fascination for Japanese gardens. There’s a calming aura and a certain serenity in there I enjoy. Also, the flora in there is nothing like I’ve seen in my part of the world. The Nihon kenchiku ( Japanese architecture) is simply fascinating and oh so beautiful! I can go on, but I think the real reason is the steaming cup of green tea you get at these tea gardens – the flavors are soothing and miles distinct from the green tea bags I dip and devour every morning back home.

Though there is an entry fee of $9 and a really long queue, it was well worth the wait and money! I ambled about the garden slowly, stopping every now and then to see a bird or butterfly, a lotus or fallen flower. After I’d taken a whole round and maybe even visited certain parts more than once, I settled with my copy of the Roots and a warm cup of green tea. I found a secluded spot facing one part of the Koi Pond. Though I really wanted to focus on my book, the chirping birds and swishing fishes were distracting enough for me to shut the book and simply stare at nature.

After I’d had my fill of the Hagiwara Tea Garden, I walked aimlessly around the Botanical Garden. I crossed a lake, a waterfall, many ducks and swans and a whole lot of really beautiful flowers. I had to repeated stop myself from clicking away and force myself to simply enjoy the moment, consume the fragrance and walk along.

After a while, I hopped on a bus that was going towards the Dutch Windmills and loitered around for my next bus, which was said to come in 20 minutes. However, 30 minutes later there was no sign of the bus. I walked to the Ocean Beach, found a quiet spot and chomped on my sandwich lunch. Now, it was time for the next bus and thankfully it did turn up.

I was off to the beginning of the Lands End Hike, near the Legion of Honor – a majestic building I had no clue about. It was the last stop and I seemed to be the only one who wanted to do the hike, so I got off my private bus ride and set off on a mucky path for the hike. I was really praying I wouldn’t lose myself because it was pretty secluded and I had zero reception on my phone. I had downloaded the maps offline, so using my non-existent navigation skills I managed to get on the path and finally bumped into human beings and signboards.

Arriving at Sutro Baths was a true serendipitous moment for me. It was not a part of my itinerary for the day, simply because I didn’t know it existed! I had planned the Lands End Hike and decided to just follow the path till the end, but as I took a water break during the hike and scrolled to see how much longer I had to go, I noticed something called the Sutro Baths. I couldn’t really look up what it was due to the terrible connectivity, but it sounded interesting so I decided to change my route and walk towards the Sutro Baths.

As I walked out of a bushy patch into a clearing and caught a glance of the ancient ruin baths, I gleamed to myself. So glad I took that water break!!! I walked down to the end of the Sutro Baths and walked the edge of it. I couldn’t wait for internet reception to read up about what exactly these ruins were. I walked into a nearby cave here and realised I was too close to water, not exactly my comfort zone. Walked back faster than ever and then crossed the Baths from the ocean edge, praying all the way and consciously looking away from the water slapping against the rocks.

The climb out of Sutro Baths was quite tedious. The soil was loose and rocks were sharp – so bruised myself away on my journey up. I walked into a nearby coffee cum souvenir shop and cleaned up, after which I realised I was a downhill walk from the ocean beach – the place I was at for lunch!

I walked back downhill because my bus to The Palace of Fine Arts was scheduled from a bus stop opposite the beach. Thankfully this one was on time. I witnessed the evening bustle from my long bus journey and finally reached the Palace of Fine Arts. Honestly, I was quite lost around here.

The Greek-style architecture was fabulous and so was the sunset from here, but I wasn’t sure if I was missing out on something here. I walked the whole perimeter ( I was the ONLY person there, so it was a bit creepy too), and reached back where I’d started. Turns out it’s just a pretty building and a picnic spot.

I’d exhausted myself entirely, so some ramen and then home it was. I also finally hopped onto the tram!

Day 4 in San Francisco

  • Alcatraz Island

I was not leaving SF without visiting the infamous Alcatraz island! I had a flight to Albuquerque at 3 PM, so I booked the first slot in the morning for my tour and spent about 3 hours at the island and back.

I expected a really run down jail, reeling in filth. But the Alcatraz was beautiful! The island was so well maintained, and the views are simply terrific. I had an audio guide and a book to guide me around. I learned all about that happened in here, the escapes, the life of officers and their families, the nefarious things that went down here and more.. a very enlightening experience. There were a few exhibitions and video visuals as well – I didn’t miss any.

The boat journey to and fro the island is a treat too – terrific views and seagulls keeping you company all the way.

I hurried back as I was late and to top it off , I had to refill my tap card and the train was delayed! I was sure this would be my first miss of the trip, but thankfully not. I made it out of SF and reached Albuquerque on time.

Albuquerque

San Francisco – Albuquerque (By Indirect flight – 5 hours)

Not many people include New Mexico in their itinerary, but I wasn’t too sure about making it to Mexico anytime soon, so New Mexico it was!

Though I was terrified about being alone in an Uber at 11 PM, especially since my flight had like 10 people and maybe 10 more people in the entire airport, I had a darling of an Uber driver and a very interesting conversation to keep me company. He had taken up driving an Uber to support his family of 5, since his eldest was due for college in 2 years. When I spoke about my upbringing in Dubai, he spoke about his happy years in Dubai when his company supplied steel (or some raw material) for the construction of the Burj Khalifa! Pretty cool stuff.

I checked into the Mother Road Hostel, tip-toed into my bunk dorm and cosied in for the night.

Day 1 Albuquerque

  • Albuquerque Museum
  • Old Town Albuquerque
  • Rio Grande Trail

I woke up ravenous and craving a bite of Mexican spices. I walked to Remixx by Sophia’s Place right across the road and ordered a Huevos Rancheros with Christmas chillies. I’d read a little about the food in New Mexico and learnt that Christmas chilles – a mix of green and red chillies are the best deal. While I did plan on tasting both the chillies individually, I thought I’ll inaugurate my first meal with a mix of both! SO GOOD, and SO SPICY!

After my insanely spicy meal, I headed to the Albuquerque Museum – time to learn something about New Mexico and its history. I’d also learned that there was free walking tour from the museum at 10 AM, so I timed my visit to join the tour.

I am fairly certain I was the person in the museum who was not 40 and above. Everyone around me was so old, I felt like I was the youngest person in all of Albuquerque! We walked around town (rather slowly, though I enjoyed that), learnt a bit about the Adobe buildings, about New Mexico’s history, a little about voodoo dolls and lots about the food and culture in the city. The tour ended at the museum after which I spent the afternoon going through the artefacts, art and installations in the museum. Everything was very different from the museums around USA – history involved different characters, the regions folk looked different and they spoke a different language – not English.

After the museum, I walked around the Old Town and into many different shops and boutiques. As I walked into a blue door shop, I met a lady with the warmest smile and a happy hug! She showed me around the many rooms of her store and even made me cup of Mexican coffee ( tasted the same as black coffee). She had me taste her homemade chocolates and even gave me a few chilli sauce sample packets as well. I was meaning to buy mexican chillies to take back home and she seemed like the perfect person to help me pick the right ones. She even detailed out an entire recipe to make the best use of my chillies, but thanks to my lack of culinary skills, all of that went right above my head. I was however thankful for the conversation and for having met such a lovely woman!

After having walked all of Old Town, I hopped on a bus and headed nowhere in particular. I was tired and wanted to simply roam around and sightsee on an A/C bus. I finally hopped down near the University Of New Mexico and walked into the campus. Nothing interesting there, but I was getting hungry and saw a restaurant opposite the University flooded with people. I made my way into the Frontier Restaurant, a down-to-earth restaurant with really quirky wall-hangings offering homely Southwestern fare since 1971.

I ordered myself a Green Chile Stew also known as Posole and devoured the spicy meal. The Indian parts of my taste buds were finally reinvigorated. I stuck around a little after I’d had my meal because it was so hot outside and after all that spice, my insides were hot too! I downed a chill cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and timed my exit from the restaurant right in time for the bus. Thank god for Google Maps ( for the hundredth time)!

The route we took on our way back was a different one, so I got to sight see some other parts of the city. I hopped off next to my hostel and worked for a bit, until the sun’s rays had calmed down. An hour later, I walked out again to nowhere in particular – happened to be in the opposite direction of where I’d ventured out in the morning.

While crossing the Rio Grande, I noticed a trail going parallel to the river and hopped off the bus for a walk. The sky was simply beautiful. I saw a lot of locals jogging and walking their dogs along this beautiful path. After a good 2KM walk and gorgeous sunset, I walked back and caught a bus home.

There’s actually not much to do in Albuquerque within the city limits, except for the Old Town. The zoo and other museums didn’t interest me as much, so I was pretty much done with Albuquerque in a day! I had really wanted to visit the Petroglyph National Monument, but there was no public transport that could get me back and forth, so I had to let go of those plans.

Santa Fe

Going from Albuquerque to Santa Fe is super easy. You get on the Rail Runner Express and a scenic 1.5 hour route later, you’re in Santa Fe! Also, the tickets cost you just $9.

  • Santa Fe Plaza
  • San Miguel Mission
  • Paseo de la Loma Hill

I caught the 9 AM train, got myself a desolate boogie and spent the next 1.5 hours looking at golden stretches of desert, red mountains and quaint Adobe villages. After getting to Santa Fe, I walked to my hostel – The Santa Fe International Hostel. This one’s by far the most interesting hostel experience, but keeping that for a little later.

I checked-in and stepped-out almost immediately to go explore the town and make the most of my time here. Everything in Santa Fe is in and around the Santa Fe Plaza – the museums, the cafes, the churches – everything.

There are even free buses that ply you back and forth the plaza and certain points in the city. I reached the Plaza right about noon, famished like never before. I’d looked up a couple of restaurants, and I instantly fell in love with a restaurant named the Shed. It had the cutest patio and great reviews, so why not.

Though I didn’t get to sit in the patio, I enjoyed my meal of Enchilada and Tacos with Christmas chilles, as recommended by my rather hot waiter. After my meal, I was ready to take on the length and breadth of Santa Fe.

Every other building in Santa Fe is built in the adobe style. In all honesty, Santa Fe is extremely commercial, especially the area around the Santa Fe Plaza. It’s brimming with galleries, museums, souvenir stores and ridiculously priced restaurants. Even the churches have an entry fee!

I was not particularly interested in art galleries and neither did I feel like soaking in history at museums, so I walked around town and walked into a few really really old buildings.

I first walked into one of the oldest houses in America – built in 1646! They had some really interesting artifacts on display, some of them so redundant in the modern world. After the oldest house, I walked into the oldest church in USA – the San Miguel Mission.

After a whole afternoon of walking under the scorching sun, I decided to do my favourite thing – hop on a bus and see the rest of the city. I got on a local bus and took a route that I’d never been to. I went up a hill and reached a few museums and dramatic art galleries. I had no clue where I was, but Google Maps comforted me that I was still in Santa Fe, so no worries.

Like all my sunset chases, I’d figured out the best place for a sunset in Santa Fe and decided to get there a little earlier than usual because there was a hike involved and knowing my stamina, I knew I’d take a while to get up there. From the city center, I walked to Paseo de la Loma Hill in Fort Marcy Park, where the Cross of the Martyrs stood tall. From up here, you could see all of Santa Fe, all the way up to the  Sangre de Cristo mountains surrounding the city.

I can’t quite put to words all that I experienced during my hour or so there. After the quick trek ( yay stamina), I realized I was one of the first few up there. There was an old couple sitting on a bench, holding hands and there were a bunch of teenagers experimenting with their drone. I found myself a secluded spot and settled to journal for a bit. Except for the melody of a thousand birds roosting, and the gentle breeze rustling dry green leaves, a certain calm awashed the ambiance.

After journaling and seeing the sky turn different shades of blue and purple, I decided to take a walk and read the many bronze boards fringing the hill. After I’d made my way around, I came back to my spot and saw that it was taken (ugh) and that there were a lot more people at the hilltop. So, I made my way one level higher which was quieter, less crowded and in fact had a better view (yay)!

After a dramatic sunset that ended with the sky turning a shade of poison ivy, I left before it turned dark, because I had to get my directionally challenged self to the closest bus stop and back to the hostel. Thankfully I managed that was with zero hassles, though I did have an awkward wait in the bus stop with a bunch of men, a couple of them drunk out of their wits. Ears phones plugged and ignore mode on, I made it to my hostel in no time.

Taos

  • Taos Pueblo

It was time for me to see some real life pueblos and Native Americans residing in them! There are daily shuttles from Santa Fe to Taos, so I got on the 7:30 AM one in the morning. The shuttle dropped me off at the Taos County Administration Building and from there, I had to take another bus to the Taos Pueblo. By the time I arrived, it was noon and the sun was scorching hot.

I paid an exorbitant entry fee ($16) and made my way into the Native American village. The first building you see upon entering the village is an Adobe styled church to one side and a cemetery with crooked crosses, an old bell tower and a single sunflower to the other.

As I walked in, I took a minute to stop and take the entire scenery in a glimpse – the Rio Pueblo de Taos trickling by, a range of craggy mountains being the perfect backdrop (I later learned that this was the Pueblo Peak and that it is a popular skiing range) and the many adobe houses with a brushstroke of cobalt blue- either a door or window sill , adding a pop of colour to the otherwise dry and brown scenery.

The pueblos I was so observing is among one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States, currently housing about 150 people. The houses are made of adobe – earth mixed with water and straw, then either poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks.

While I walking through this open air museum of sorts, I couldn’t help feel bad for those staying in these pueblos – their homes turned into a museum and random strangers peeking into it day in , day out. While tourism is their main source of income, what about those who like some privacy? I guess it was a part of their lives, for generations now. Most houses were selling something or the other, so I guess they had perfected the work-home balance.

I walked into a couple of houses selling art, musical instruments and jewelry. Most of them handmade with a humanly touch of imperfection. But I guess that’s the beauty of it. I walked into one of the houses and the aroma hit me like a truck! Okay, exaggerated a bit there, but oh! the cells in my nose still remember the aroma as I write about it. If only I could remember the exact name of the scents, but I do remember there was a water lilly, pumpkin latte, lotus something and my favorite of all – the pecan waffle. I also had the nicest conversation with the old couple in this house, who couldn’t stop gushing about their daughter who goes to college and picks the scents for these candles and makes them herself. I guess it was the conversation, the floral aroma and also because I am a candle hoarder, I ended up buying a jar of the pecan waffle candle! I handed a $50 bill for a $5 candle and was walking away, when the old man called me back and handed me the change. These small acts of humanity that I’ve witnessed through this trip are the memories I hold onto the most.

I walked out gleaming at the few good moments I had in there, only to be met by a few more memorable ones. I’d seen this middle-aged Navajo man in biker clothes smiling at everyone while I walked in, and on my way out I smiled at him and he called out to ask my name. We got chatting and when he learnt that I was Indian, we established that we may have a few common ancestors a few thousand years back. He seemed to be a popular guy, everyone in the community waving out to him as they crossed by. He was apparently dressed the way he was, as his band was playing a gig in Santa Fe that evening and he was the lead drummer. Coincidentally, I’d spoken to one of his band mates on my bus ride to the Pueblo. It was brief, but I’d gathered he was the singer and since he was dressed the same way, I’d gathered they were all a part of the same band. After a 15 min long conversation with this man, and every one that waved at him, I walked back to my bus stand. Apparently the bus was running late, so I had a good 20 minutes to stand around and do nothing.

I had avoided the Indian fried bread that was being sold in every other house, because I was not hungry and it honestly looked like puri (an Indian version of the same) and I wasn’t a fan. But there was a small stall outside, with simple seating and a chatty couple, so I thought why the heck not! Might as well see what the Navajo version of a puri was all about. So, I walked over and ordered a plate of “Indian Fried Bread” which was a mix of the Indian Batura and Puri. We atleast eat these greasy things with more greasy curries, but these guys eat this with powered sugar! Absolutely hated it, but ate it anyway because that was my lunch.

With all these feel-good experiences, a good one was impending. I was standing in the bus stop and this guy who lives in the Pueblo was waiting along with me for the bus. He struck a conversation and then went on and on about his long distance girlfriend and then some more about relationship and after a while I tuned out and just pretended to nod. I got on the bus and I was in a bus filled with 10 men, all of them not so pleasant.

I sat right next to the door, just in case I had to escape. This guy just wouldn’t shut up and went on and on until a few of his friends got on at some point. When they asked him if he had been to the county to sign something, I figured he was a convict of sorts! Good lord.

After a while, he understood I was least interested in his conversation and went and sat next to his friends. And then, the next creepy thing happened. A guy who I’d noticed had been staring at me since the time I got on come over and told me to stay away from the guy I was talking to. He said “Don’t chat up with that guy. He’s not safe”. By this point, I couldn’t wait to get out of that bloody bus. I put on my ear phones and started texting my mother to calm myself down and to look busy. Creepy guy 1 got down first and then Creepy guy 2 got down, so I was a bit more relaxed.

I got down and thankfully the bus stop was at the Taos County Administration Building, so I didn’t have to worry about my safety. I don’t think I’d felt this uneasy at any point in the trip. I sat put in the bus stop, though I had wanted to go around the Taos town. And much to my nightmare, creepy guy 1 & 2 came back to the bus stand. I maintained a safe distance and stood away from the bus stand, lest they try talking again. Thankfully they were not headed back to Santa Fe with me, but I had plans of reaching out for my pepper spray. I sat next to an old couple on the bus and the rest of the journey went about uneventfully.

I got back to the hostel safely (phew!) and worked for a bit. The Santa Fe International Hostel is unlike any other I’d been to. Every hosteler is given a task that they’re expected to complete over the course of that day. Mine was sweeping the room I was staying in on day 1 and today it was cleaning the bathroom (ugh). I reluctantly did my task, but I think it’s a great cost cutting practice, and helps keep the cost of stay nominal in exchange for chores around the place.

After my chores and a few cups of coffee later, I did some laundry and got chatting with a bunch of people who were sitting in the patio and enjoying the evening sun. I met a guy (stoned out of his brains) who had done the Foundations of Buddhism course from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and was now in New Mexico to find his next calling. I met another girl who had been on the road for the past 2 months and was going up the Pueblo Peak the next day. I shattered their misconceptions about Indians women ( if only I got a penny for the number of times I did that during this trip) and then we got chatting about every other thing under the sun for a few hours and even grabbed some tacos for dinner from the nearby diner. Good conversation, good fun!

Albuquerque

I woke up early, checked out and walked to the nearest cafe to get some work done. Counter Culture Cafe is a bustling artsy cafe with amazing food and unlimited refills of tar black coffee (just the way I liked it). I had an Asian plate, with some paper thin rolls and sesame noodles and sat in Santa Fe as I wrote about the Alhambra Palaces for work. After about 3 hours, it was time for my train, so I lugged my bag and walked to the station – only to realize that the train was awfully late! I sat in the heat (alone) for at least 25 minutes until the rest of them who got the memo about the late train trickled in right on time.

I made my way back to Albuquerque, stashed my luggage at the hostel I had stayed at ( didn’t want to pay for stay, since I was leaving that night) and went back to Old Town for a bit. I had dinner at a Thai restaurant in town and was mentally prepared myself for a 15 hour bus journey ahead to San Antonio.

San Antonio

Albuquerque – San Antonio ( By Bus – 15 hours)

This bus ride was super uncomfortable for many reasons. I don’t think I’d hated any bus journey more than this. The transfers and stops were at odd hours and I had weird co-passengers throughout. I was glad to have reached my super comfy Airbnb and finally stretch my legs!

A childhood friend was coming down from Austin to spend the day with me in San Antonio and I had planned to head back to Austin with her the next day to spend a day there as well. I was meeting her after a decade so we had lots of catching up to do and two days barely made the cut, but I’m glad we got a chance to meet after so long!

  • San Antonio River Walk

We first headed to the most touristy place in the city – the San Antonio River Walk and even took the river boat tour! It was fun – lots of photo opportunities and a capsule edit of the city’s most prominent buildings as well. Was it worth $13.50? Maybe not.

We went right around sunset, so we got to experience the lights come on in the restaurants and cafes lining the riverbed. After we hopped off the boat, we walked the stone pathways, peppered with mariachi bands and swarming restaurants. The highlight however was the play we saw, projected on a church! I’d never thought something like that was even possible, but here I was watching a play on a church! The light show was simply captivating and though I had no clue what the play plot was ( it was in French), our eyes were glued. After the show, we went to enjoy my first Tex Mex dinner.

After dinner we walked around a bit more, got lost in the maze and then headed home.

Austin

San Antonio – Austin (By Bus 1.5 hours)

We took the first bus out to Austin so I could spend a whole day there. I’d wanted to go paddle boarding in Austin, so we headed there first thing. Though I’ve never gone paddle boarding before and am terrified of water, it was quite peaceful. Though I did hold onto my life jacket for my life throughout, I did manage to go around 3-4 hours without falling off, drowning or ramming into someone else.

  • Paddle-boarding at Lady Bird Lake
  • Barton Springs
  • Downtown Austin
  • Amy’s Ice Cream
  • Mount Bonnell
  • Congress Bridge bats

Though it was hot and the sun was right above, this has to be one of the most fun things I did this trip. We rented from Texas Rowing Company and paddled in no particular direction. I saw a tiny creek going in and saw a bunch of people paddling in there, so we followed and found the nicest little spring!

The Barton Springs were my most serendipitous find of all times. The Lady Bird Lake where we were paddling initially was sparsely crowded, a lot of them with adorable dogs waddling alongside. But as we turned a corner and came to face the Barton Springs, it was an explosion of humans and energy. Swimming, chilling with a beer, enjoying the force of , water from tiny waterfalls, rope swinging from one side of the spring to another – it’s like we entered a different world all together! We parked our paddle boards and enjoyed the stones under our feet and swam for a bit. There was a lot more shade here, so it was a welcome respite from the heat we’d been under for the past 2 hours.

We paddled back with one fourth the energy we started with, changed up into dry clothes and quite literally sprinted for some lunch. All that paddling sure had us starving! I had some of the best artichokes for lunch at North Italia, after which we hopped on electric scooters and went around the city. My friend being from Austin knew the city in and out, so no better person to tour the city than her!

We rode through downtown Austin, then down the Congress Bridge and landed in South Congress Avenue. We grabbed ice cream from Amy’s Ice Cream ( it’s famous apparently), posed next to the I Love You So Much graffiti ( famous again) and then took an uber to Mount Bonnell to catch the sunset from the best spot in the city! A short hike later, we were sitting on a stone, envying the swanky, palatial houses with private yacht berths and the deep blue of Lake Austin that veined through. We got there around 15 minutes before sunset and got a few serene moments to admire the postcard perfect painting in front of us, before the crowds descended upon the spot and made it noisier than ever. It got so bad that we had to walk away from our previous “prime spot” to a different place for some quiet!

After the sunset, we made our way back to the Congress Bridge to see the bats flocking back home – a daily phenomenon that sees bats pouring out from under the bridge and cascade east over Lady Bird Lake. I guess I was not lucky enough to see this, because we waited for over 30 minutes and nothing happened! I had to catch a bus back to San Antonio, so I couldn’t afford to wait any longer, so I had to let go of this quintessentially Austin sight, halfheartedly.

I reached San Antonio at an ungodly hour, around 12 AM and groggily fed in the wrong location on Uber – went on a nice long ride until I realized it didn’t take me half the time from my place to the bus station. Thankfully my Uber guy was kind enough to go the extra mile and drop me home. #humanitystrikesagain!

San Antonio

  • La Panaderia Bakery Cafe
  • Alamo Church
  • Alamo Plaza Historic District
  • La Villita Historic Arts Village

I had a day more in San Antonio, and today was all about soaking in some good ol’ Southern history. I headed over to the Alamo Plaza and stopped at the La Panaderia Bakery Cafe for a wholesome Mexican Cubano bowl with freshly squeezed orange juice. Tops my USA breakfast list! After enjoying my meal alongside some work, I was all set to learn all about the “shrine to Texas freedom”.

The Alamo church is a a historic Spanish mission where the famous Battle of Alamo took place, back in 1836. Today it is a museum in the Alamo Plaza Historic District and a part of the San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site. I must admit, I had no idea about the Alamo Battle until I was researching about things to do in San Antonio. Also, having studied an India syllabus all my life, we obviously didn’t have anything about American history.

So here I was, at 24 years of age, learning about a 13-day siege and the battle of the Alamo in 1836, all of which played an important role in turning the tide of the Texas revolution. The Alamo in itself is nothing impressive, a very mediocre looking church and in all honesty, I expected much more from the interiors of the church. It’s dingy and the artifacts are loosely displayed. Having always been a fan of history, I enjoyed learning this tidbit that I’d never known existed.

After the Alamo Church, I walked around the Alamo plaza and found myself near the River Walk. I had wanted to pick up a postcard (I picked a postcard from every place I’d visited. Cheap and easy to pack souvenir!), so, I went astray hunting for that and found myself close to the La Villita Historic Arts Village after a while. I explored this quaint open air museum with boutiques and restaurants, till I found the perfect postcard. I’d had enough of walking, so I hopped on a bus and saw parts of San Antonio that I’d not explored – the San Antonio Museum of Art, Historic Market Square, the Spanish Governor’s Palace and so on.

I’d wanted to go to the Japanese Garden in San Antonio, but I was running out of time and had a bus to catch to New Orleans, so I had to ditch that plan.

New Orleans

San Antonio – New Orleans (By Bus – 12 hours)

I thought my journey from New Mexico to San Antonio was the worst, but this one topped the list. My bus was over 6 hours delayed! I was stuck at a hole in the wall bus stand in San Antonio for hours together. A bus that was supposed to leave at 7 PM, left at 12 PM and then many subsequent delays. To top it off, I had a bunch of really cranky kids in the bus who wouldn’t sleep. So yes, officially the worst bus journey – SA to NOLA.

I reached NOLA at around 10 AM, exhausted beyond comprehension and an growing sore throat. I brushed off the sore throat and blamed it on the lack of sleep ( clearly watching all that Grey’s Anatomy has not helped) and lugged my tired self on a streetcar that dropped me right next to my hostel – bang in French Quarter.

I was a little early for check-in at the City House Hostel, so I stashed my luggage, took a quick shower and headed out to eat what I was in New Orleans for – OYSTERS! I swear to god, I have had Oysters for every meal through my 3 days here. I also did try the Beignets, Po’boy Sandwich, Gumbo and Crawfish, so do the math – I’ve had more than 3 meals a day, just so I could have Oysters every few hours. No regrets here. Cajun-Creole food is so good, I’d shift down here just for this.

  • Jackson Square
  • French Quarter
  • Mississippi River
  • Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
  • Hansen’s Sno Bliz
  • Audubon
  • Magazine Street
  • Bourbon Street

After devouring a whole plate of freshly shucked Oysters and a nice conversation with the old man behind the Oyster bar, I walked the gorgeous streets of the French Quarter, intentionally taking odd turns and going off the map – and found myself at the Jackson Square in the end.

The all white church here looked tempting enough, so I walked in and spent a few minutes staring at the intricately designed ceiling. Once I walked out, I saw a park up ahead and as I walked towards it, I saw that I was really close to the Mississippi River! I was going to see the river that was the setting for my favorite childhood book – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

I walked over and saw the Mississippi in its entirety. I must admit, I didn’t think it would be this mucky. If I were to describe Mississippi, the adjectives blue, emerald and clear would most definitely not be used. The river was sprinkled with steamboats of different colours. I’d like to believe these were the exact ones that inspired Mark Twain when he described the Mississippi so effortlessly, that my 13 year old mind painted so vividly.

I found a gazebo in Woldenberg Park, right next to all the boarding action on Steamboat NATCHEZ which was getting ready for it’s afternoon cruise. I sat in my lonesome gazebo and stared at all the hustle around me – teenagers skateboarding, dressed up excited folks getting ready for their afternoon jazz brunch on the steamboat, a man patiently stroking brushes at his canvas and a general lot of commotion.

I waited till the steamboat set off, because I’d never seen a steamboat set off before. It’s an elaborate affair is all I can say. After an eventful afternoon of people watching and some journaling, I could really feel my fever set in, but who cares about health when you have a wealth to explore. Very ignorant of me to think that way, but I was simply not ready to go tend to my fever and take rest.

I was looking up what I could do next, and the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum caught my attention. Anyone who visits New Orleans knows about the tragic history of Hurricane Katrina that destroyed this beautiful city in 2005. Certain parts of the city were destroyed more than others and one such part was the Lower Ninth Ward.

Something about what I’d read about this living museum on the internet made me want to go all the way there. The bus ride there wasn’t so nice, but it was eye-opening. What they say about the French Quarter being the only bougie part of NOLA was so true! As I went further away from French Quarter, houses got shabbier, roads got rickety with so many homeless folks camped in dingy corners.

I had to get off on a bus stop in the middle of a bridge and then walk my way to the Lower 9th Ward. I could see the house-turned-museum’s distinct purple right from the corner of the lane. As soon as I walked in, I saw a bunch of happy kids talking to an elderly lady, who seemed to be a visitor there. A kind volunteer told me to start from the last room and then work my way out, so I walked right up to the end via a series of doors and soaked in everything that happened, horror struck. The way this country dealt with Hurricane Katrina was simply terrible, but I come from a country where every disaster was dealt with pretty much the same ignorance. So, while this was not news to me; reading about the lives lost, the pathetic living condition inside the superdome where people were taking shelter for days together, the cruelty in media coverage and the slow rehabilitation process was heart breaking. And, to think that these little kids who were volunteering here had actually witnessed something so horrific, so early on in life made my heart weep a little more.

As I slowly made my way from one room to the other with teary eyes, I entered a room where a movie was being projected. This film was about the first few days of rehabilitation – of people coming back to their houses and finding nothing but black moss in an empty house. I must say, after the 9/11 Memorial in NYC, this was the most heart wrenching experience I’d had. Though I wanted to tear myself away from the room, I couldn’t stop until I’d seen the film entirely. I spoke to a girl in her teens standing next to me and asked her where she was from. She replied that she lived two blocks away, and she could barely remember what had happened and that her house was destroyed and they had to start afresh.

I walked out of the museum, freshly scarred and sending a silent prayer to the universe that nothing like this ever happens to these good folks again.

I felt like ice cream after this sorrowing experience and I’d seen a place that was famed for its ice-cream – Hansen’s Sno Bliz. – a family-owned sno-ball stand mainstay since 1939 famous for soft shaved ice & homemade syrups. Sno-balls in Louisiana are similar to what the rest of the world calls snow cones, but they are made with more-finely-shaved ice and a large variety of homemade syrups. When I was staring at Mississippi in the afternoon, I’d read on the internet that this was a must-visit while in NOLA, so here I was.

A bus ride and brisk walk later, I was standing in front of a white house with broad candy pink lines at the bottom. The shop closes at 7 PM and I was here at 6:45 PM, standing in a queue with at least 10 people in front of me!

I waited patiently, reading and re-reading the menu , trying to figure out what I’d like. Obviously I couldn’t make up my mind, so I ended up asking the guy behind the counter and he suggested the “wedding cake”. It had condensed milk, blueberries, strawberries, whipped cream and cheesecake in the middle. Did I look like someone who absolutely loved berries that he said that without a second blink? Do I? I must admit this was my top choice (because of the berries), but I wasn’t too convinced about the condensed milk on a sno ball, but hey! best. decision. ever. It had my berries, it was creamy and it was just what I needed on a hot sticky evening!

It was also just what I needed to further my fever and worsen my throat. Yay! I walked with my sno-ball to Audubon Park and aimlessly wandered around the area – played hide and seek for 2 minutes with some kids, played with an adorable golden retriever for a while longer, walked around the Tree Of Life and watched the sunset perched on a tree. I had wanted to make my way to the Butterfly Pavilion for the sunset, but I was drained so I decided to stay put and enjoy where I was.

I was pretty close to Magazine Street at this point, so I took a bus over to this eclectic street of shops interspersed with charming homes, and a mix of renovated warehouses selling pottery, period furniture, clothing, books, china, organic soaps and jewelry. It’s the ideal spot for a leisurely walk-about, with plenty of coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.

I walked from one end to the other and got tired right in front of a bunch of Middle Eastern restaurants. I picked Shahrazad’s Cafe because it seemed like a home-turned-cafe and I was craving some gyros and falaffel, home-style. I video-called my mother and ate some wholesome homely food in a dimly lit family restaurant, where the mother was giving her son a dose for getting one of the takeaway orders wrong ! My mother on the other hand was giving me a earful for indulging in ice shavings when I had a looming fever and sore throat. Amidst all the motherly yelling, I ate my dinner and hopped on a bus that took me home.

The hostel I was staying at had one event or the other every night and today was pub-hopping on Bourbon Street. As soon as I walked in, a lot of people excitedly tried pulling me onboard (sweet), but I was too sick to go along, so I popped a pill and called it a night.

Day 2 in New Orleans

  • Louisiana Marshes
  • Algiers Point
  • Bourbon Street

I got up early and waited in queue for about 20 minutes just to get my hands on a French Beignet – a must try while in NOLA apparently. The cafe was uber cute and I didn’t mind one bit standing in queue and admiring the quirky art hung around and the general commotion around. I got my beignet to go and as I took the first bite, I must say I was a bit disappointed! It was yet again bread with powdered sugar on it! Ugh. I was honestly sick of having our Indian version of “puri” in different forms around America.

After a rather depressing dose of sugar in the morning, I was all pumped to see the Louisiana marshes and some crocodiles! I had signed up with GYG for their Louisiana Bayous 2-Hour Swamp Tour which arranged for round trip transport from my hotel + the whole tour. I had to see the Bayous in Louisiana and a boat ride through it sounded splendid.

We hopped on a green boat and inched our way through the Bayou, with a jolly old man’s live commentary about all that was going on around us. We saw a bunch of crocodiles, fed them even, saw different species of birds, learned a bit about the dark green flora around us and, the cherry on top was holding a baby crocodile!! I was the last one to hold it, so he handed it over and happily walked over to the other side, telling me I could keep it. I halfway died and had half a mind to throw it down, but that would be scarier – what if it bit me? I held on and smilingly plead him to take the damn thing off my hand, until he slowly walked over and casually took the crocodile off my hand. Phew! A slimy memory indeed.

After my epic crocodile episode, I headed back to French Quarter and walked through lanes I’d not explored the previous time. I had oysters at another place, this time 3 types of Oysters in one plate – char grilled, garlic and the usual. I must say, I really liked the garlic oysters.

After lunch, I walked over to catch a glimpse of Mississippi and saw that there’s a ferry that takes people over to the Algiers Point and back for $5 round trip. I’d always wanted to get onboard a steamboat, so I got myself a ticket and was all ready for my first steamboat ride.

The journey was rather short, but I got to see the evening sky turning shades of pink. After reaching Algiers Point, I walked over to a cafe for some coffee and walked around this tiny town for a bit. Very residential little town with lots of green parks. I found myself a spot overlooking the Mississippi and sat down to enjoy the evening scramble in NOLA. I could see a lot more skaters, a lot more steamboats and the city lights slowly coming on. I journaled for a bit with this serene view and the evening sounds giving me company and then hopped back on the steamboat to the French Quarter.

By the time I got back, Bourbon Street was breathing life and action as though a parade was ongoing. Everyone walking around with sippy cups and long island mason jars, wearing funky clothes for their night out, dancing their way through the streets and in general drunk out of their minds. It sucks being alone during such times, but I was enjoying seeing the commotion. I saw drunk people flopped on the footpath being coaxed to stand up, a couple of ladies giving each other a piggyback ride and many jazz musicians skillfully playing the saxophone and trombone that was floating mellifluously amidst the EDM and Pop blaring from the nearby clubs.

I swayed my way through all the mayhem – dodging the many invites into clubs ( apparently a marketing technique – the louder you call out to people, the more people inside your club) and sidestepping the drunk ones – I finally found a restaurant that gave me the view of all that’s going on, but quiet on the inside. I pranced my way in and ordered a hot bowl of crawfish gumbo and ate my meal peacefully , engrossed in my copy of Roots while stealing occasional glances at the uproar around me.

By around 12 PM, the streets seemed livelier than ever and the security on the streets had tightened further. I made my way back to my hostel and quietly snuck in, avoiding eye contact and invitations for the “event of the day”. In retrospect, I should have tagged along for “shots night”, but I was so dead beat I’d probably get drunk over one shot.

Day 3 in New Orleans

  • St. Louis Cemetery
  • Johnny’s Po-Boy
  • Palace Market Frenchmen

There was obviously no leaving New Orleans without visiting a cemetery. Free Tours By Foot offers tip-as-you-like tours of different cemeteries in NOLA and since St Louis was the closest for me, I thought I’d go there. I had a crawfish quiche and coffee from Backatown Coffee ( really nice place, very rude staff) after which I joined my group near the cemetery. The cemetery tour was fun, lots of queer tomb stories and even a little about the Illuminati and what not. My tour guide was an animated aged lady who’s humour kept us going through then torrid afternoon heat in a cemetery with zero shade.

After the cemetery tour, I walked over to the French Quarter and headed to Johnny’s Po-Boys for my first ever po-boy. Honestly, a huge let down. It’s just a freaking sub – a hard one that too. And the fillings aren’t too great either.

A mediocre sub washed down with a coke later, I shopped for souvenirs around town and a few gifts I had to take back home. By the time I was done shopping, the sun had set and French Quarter was back to being lively.

I had read about this place called the Palace Market Frenchmen a few minutes away from the French Quarter where jazz was better, a nice flea market came to life at night, fun graffiti adorned the walls and the pubs were a lot more happening. I headed there for the night flea market and the company of jazz during my graffiti walk. A short street car ride I arrived and immediately fell in love with the vibe. It was a lot less crowded, but there was soulful jazz playing around every street and the art hung all around was amazing. I walked back to my hostel and finally got talking to a bunch of people in the hostel. I’m really glad I did!

Day 4 in New Orleans

  • Cafe Du Monde
  • Congo Square
  • City Park – Singing Oaks

Thanks to all the chatting last night, I made a friend – Fab. We decided to go for breakfast together and eat some Au Lait and Beignets from the OG cafe – Cafe Du Monde French Market. Though I wasn’t too enthusiastic about a second beignet, I went along because this place was iconic and I wanted coffee. So we stood in queue ( what is with beignet joints and queues?) and finally got a hot cup of coffee on a hot afternoon and though I would have preferred an ice cold slushie, I went ahead and chugged my coffee and sinfully sugary beignet. We sat on the gazebo facing the Mississippi and spoke for hours together. Fab hails from Haiti and we had a good time enlightening each other about the way of life in our respective countries.

Spent the rest of my day, stuffing my face with all the oysters I could get and attending a concert on Congo Square. It was some contemporary jazz – lounged on the grass and enjoyed the music for a bit. After the concert I hopped on a bus and went to City Park for a long stroll and the Singing Oaks. I had noticed while I was scrolling through Google Maps and decided to go visit. So glad I did! The 20 minutes or so near the Singing Oaks were the most therapeutic few moments ever. I sat on the grass and enjoyed the sun shining bright, journaled for a bit and reluctantly walked away after a while, because I had to pack and catch a bus to the airport in a few hours.

Getting that bus was a nightmare, but a fellow airport-goer and I had a good run getting there on time and catching the bus. Bollywood moment in USA – check!

Tampa

I landed in Tampa around 10 PM and though I had booked a hostel for myself, my dear aunt and uncle who live in Tampa insisted that I stay with them. They came over to the airport to pick me up and off we went to their beautiful house in Palm Harbor.

Day 1 in Tampa

  • Ybor City
  • Heights Public Market
  • Palm Harbour drive

I must say, my experience in Tampa was hands down the most comfortable. My aunt and uncle pampered me a little too much – making me my favorite home cooked food, driving me around everywhere and dropping me off wherever I wanted.

We drove around Palm Harbour, stopped by a few beaches, drove to Tarpon Springs and saw the clear blue harbor and finally went over to Ybor City to explore the Cuban side of Tampa. My aunt made my favorite meal for lunch ( kerala style chicken curry, rice & curd) after which I slept for the first time in the afternoon during my trip – cherished it like an old lady!

At night, we drove over to Downtown Tampa and walked all the way up to the Heights Public Market. This gorgeous garage turned restaurant cluster has a grunge vibe and so many eateries, I couldn’t make up my mind! But, then Zukka Sushi came to sight and all my confusion ended there. I had devoured a whole plate of sushi all by myself and shared a poke bowl with my aunt. Sumptuous and how!

On our walk back to the parking lot, the sky burst into a display of fireworks which we stood and gazed at for a long while, before heading back home.

Day 2 in Tampa

  • Busch Gardens

Tampa , in fact Florida is known for its many theme parks and though I wasn’t heading to Orlando for Universal Studios, I decided to make do with something local – Busch Gardens. I had never been to a theme park alone my entire life and I don’t think too many people go to theme parks alone. Heck, they are not even designed to be enjoyed alone, but I didn’t want to put my aunt and uncle through the torture of babysitting a 25 year old me in a theme park, so I decided to fly solo!

They dropped me off at Busch Garden and off I went for a whole afternoon of some roller coaster fun. Though I’m not scared of roller coasters, the ones here seemed pretty scary – since they turned upside down and even went backwards. I was used to the Indian roller coasters that prided on speed alone. But I’m proud to say (patting myself), I went on all 9 roller coasters in the park! I also did a bunch of other water flumes and safari rides.

Busch Garden is a zoo cum theme park, so I saw many animals lounging in their make-shift habitat while screaming my lungs out atop roller coasters. I got chatting with a lady over lunch, who was amazed at the fact that I was at a theme park all by myself. The best perk about being alone in a theme park is that there’s always a single seat they’re looking to fill before taking off and since most people come in groups, they don’t want to go alone. Enter me. I would be at the rear end of the queue, but every time they asked for a single seat occupant, I would rush to the front and skip the entire queue. I am honestly considering going to theme parks alone for the rest of my life for this very reason!

After an entire afternoon of heart leaps and thrills, we headed to a Pakistani restaurant for lunch and then again drove around the countryside – exploring parts of the city we hadn’t seen the previous day.

We stopped near a rocky patch facing the waters for a gorgeous sunset and then made our way home, because, I had a bus to Miami. Not saying much about the sunset, because these pictures speak for themselves.

Miami

I reached Miami at 7 in the morning, playing ” Miami Bitches” on my mp3 for the feels (yes, I still use an mp3). I still remember my first glimpse of Miami – from a Bollywood movie called Dostana. I had asked my mother where the movie was shot and I vividly remember her telling that the beaches, sunsets and parties in the movie were shot in Miami. I had then hoped I would someday visit this terrific city, and here I was!

I hopped on a bus and reached SoBe Hostel. My check-in was not due until 12 PM, so I dropped my luggage off and walked over to a very cool looking Pura Vida for some breakfast. Google calls it a “Surf-themed joint whipping up elaborate juices & health-conscious sandwiches, soups & salads” and the elaborate juices and health conscious sandwiches sounded fun. Acai bowls are the new fad in the western world, so thought I’d start my day with some expensive Dragon Fruit acai bowl – a raw organic dragon fruit blended with banana topped with mango, vegan granola, almond slivers and coconut shavings. I must admit, it was freaking delicious and totally worth $13! The cafe was gorgeous and bustling, and though I didn’t get a seat outdoors, I sat by the window and saw the fitness enthusiasts trickling in after their day’s workout, pet parents going for a run with their adorable puppers and in general the morning hustle of Miami.

After my breakfast, I wandered about the streets and walked over a couple of blocks to the South Beach. By 10 am, it was scorching hot so I headed back to my hostel and caught up on some work till my check-in time.

Lunch was a yummilicious affair at Havana 1957 where I had true blue Cuban meal- rice, fried plantains and pork. Reminded me of home for some reason – the fried plantains. I took one Iced Cubano expresso to go and headed back to the beach.

Found me a quiet nook, sipped on my cold cubano, read my book and people watched for a couple of hours. I think I saw a couple of celebrities because a bunch of people were taking photos with them, but I had no clue who they were. I’ve been to many beaches around the world, but nothing beats the energy on the beaches in Miami. There’s so much happening, I dropped my book and decided to just watch all that was going on around me – some girls shooting a dance video, a bunch of friends grooving to songs I’d never heard, sunbathing, beach clean ups and what not! As the sun set behind me, the water turned a different shade of blue and the sand I was sitting in was more golden than ever. I sat for a while longer and took the long way home and indulged in some harmless window shopping along the way.

Day 2 in Miami

  • Wynwood Walls
  • Little Havana
  • Sanguich De Miami

I gulped some tar coffee early in the morning and took some to go and hopped on a bus that took me to Miami city. The ride’s quite scenic, with the Venetian Islands to either side. I had to change a bus at Miami downtown to get myself to Wynwood Walls and as usual, the buses were later than mentioned on Google and I had to kill a lot of time. I was one of the first few to get to Wynwood, so I had pretty much the whole space to myself. The art and installations around Wynwood are pretty darn awesome. Even the area around Wynwood has some great street art, so I’d recommend walking a few blocks to either side.

I also hopped into a few stores to pick up things for my family back home because I was nearing the end of my trip and I had barely any souvenirs to take back! The artsy shops around had me tempting to buy everything around, but I put on blinds and picked up just what I wanted and sprinted out.

From Wynwood Walls I got on a bus that dropped me to the beginning of Little Havana. I walked the length of Little Havana – a quirky stretch with the company of Cuban cigars wafting by your nose and my feet itching to tap to Cuban music from every other bar on the stretch. I think there were more tourists on this 3 mile stretch than all of Miami put together. I had to literally pave way for myself on the footpaths, but the hustle was fun. I even stopped by for a bit for a street performance and even got myself a Cuban cigar as souvenir. I was desperate for some lunch after all that walking, but the restaurants around had such long waiting, I decided to go to a restaurant 20 min away where you get the “best sandwich in Miami”.

I got down a block away from Sanguich De Miami and walked over to this cosy cafe with beautiful blue tiles. My hassle of coming all the way down to avoid the rush was defeated, but the sandwich was so worth it! After waiting in queue for 15 minutes, I got my pork sandwich in a freshly baked panini – so good! Devoured it on a tiny table and walked out with a happy tummy and hopped on a bus to Bayside Marketplace.

I got colossally lost on my way there, since there were multiple bus transfers and even a free train ride involved. I went in circles for a bit and finally gave up and walked over 2 miles to the market. I’d like to believe I reached at the perfect time, because a Latino musical performance was just about to start and I got a good seat facing the clear blue waters and many docked boats.

The music was peppy and lively, I had half a mind to get up and join the old man who was tapping away to the music. His wife soon joined and then some more people and it was a full fledged outdoor music cum dance party in the middle of the market! I sat back with my coffee and soaked in the vibe before I went and blew some money on jewelry I don’t use till date.

The sun was starting to set, so I decided to head back. But before that, I wanted to take a quick stroll at the South Pointe Park for no real reason. I’d heard the view was terrific from there, so I went over and enjoyed a splendid view of downtown Miami veiled under a deep purple sky. I walked till the end and landed on the beach without even realizing and since I was there, I found a recluse spot and listened to some music while people watching.

Day 3 in Miami

  • North Miami Beach
  • Lincoln Road Mall
  • Ocean Drive

Got up fresh and early next morning, and indulged in another acai bowl for breakfast from Simple Healthy Food ( they literally have just that). Whoever writes the Google venue descriptions for Miami ought to be given an award! They make everything sound so tempting, it’s criminal. Simple Healthy Food was described as “Cozy local spot offering smoothies, protein shakes, coffee & health-minded bowls, salads & panini“. I mean, how could I not go here?!

Got a nice window facing corner, caught up on some work and spoke to a a very good looking Miami local, fresh out off a run! Splurged a little and ordered a smoothie AND acai bowl – this time an organic Brazilian acai bowl with banana and strawberries topped with granola, chia seeds, banana, blueberries and strawberries. It was berry delicious!

After breakfast, I decided to take a bus all the way to North Beach Miami to spend a sunny morning in the beach and work an unnecessary tan right in time for my engagement! It was a long ride all the way from South Beach to North Beach, but got to enjoy the city from the comfort of my bus. North Beach is a lot less crowded than South Beach, in fact there were 3 people in the vicinity and no one for miles together. It was eerily quite and I could hear the squawking of seagulls and the giant waves crashing – crystal clear. I found a nice spot, lay my towel and sunbathed for an hour.

There was not much to do around North Beach, so I was headed back and waiting for my bus when I saw a Lincoln Road Mall on Google Maps that fell on the way and decided to drop by there for a bit. This was apparently Miami’s most famous pedestrian-friendly mall on South Beach — an 8 block mecca of shopping, dining and entertainment. The entire stretch is sprinkled with big chains like your Zara, Forever 21 and an equal number of local boutiques. I also saw a few street performers, a gazillion dogs and many people enjoying a meal in the outdoors patio of the many restaurants in the area. I grabbed some mediocre pasta as I got some work done while taking respite from the hot afternoon sun.

I walked all 8 blocks and was soon near Ocean Drive where I had started, so walked over to the beach again and this time relived Dostana memories ( a Bollywood movie shot here) as I walked this swanky happening stretch. I stopped for an Iced Cubano and resumed my walk armed with my solace from the heat.

In the evening, I decided to have my dinner outdoors, so I packed a salmon poke bowl from My Ceviche – a takeaway joint adjacent to my hostel and walked back to South Pointe Park. I watched the Miami skyline in the distance and ate the veggies alone of my poke bowl. The salmon was too raw. I thought a lot about how my last meal in the USA was a major disappointment, but a friend in the hostel to the rescue! Marco, my dorm mate was kind enough to buy me Insomnia Cookies that we devoured over a good chat while I was packing to head back home.

And just like that I spent the best 1512 hours of my life – learning, exploring, discovering and marveling.

Epilogue

I can’t end this without thanking a bunch of people who made these 2 months easy breezy. My parents for making this trip happen, my father in particular who suggested I travel solo and even helped me chart out an amazing itinerary. For giving me the complete freedom to do whatever I wanted and trusted me enough to bring his daughter back home safe. I also couldn’t have done without my mothers constant entertainment during lone meals, her warmth and words of caution echoing in my head a thousands miles away. My brother for well , just being his loving self and my constant 2 am buddy. To my then fiancé and now husband for staying awake late and working around his schedule so that we could keep in touch while I was gallivanting away 2 months before our engagement. To all the friends I met during my trip who made this all the more fun and the new friends I made – so so thankful to have met you all! And finally, my ever-so-awesome workplace Headout, for allowing me to fulfill my lifelong dream of traveling and working.


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