Monday, November 27, 2023

New Zealnd (North Island)

 


New Zealand's North island had been on our list for a while. We had visited South Island in 2016 and were so awestruck by the beauty of this country that we had ever since wanted to go to the North Island. We knew it would be more city-like and more touristy, and hence it fit the bill for us. We were travelling with our 3 year old and wanted a scenic, developed country with warmer climate during Thanksgiving break and easily accessible medical facilities. And this fit the bill perfectly, as we found direct flights to Auckland which weren't as pricey as we had imagined.

Our Itinerary:

Our driving route
Our driving route
  • Day 1: Arrive in the morning ->Auckland sightseeing and stay 
  • Day 2: Drive to Hamilton Gardens -> Waitomo Caves -> Rotorua
  • Day 3: Day in Rotorua/Taupo
  • Day 4: Day trip to Hobbiton.
  • Day 5: Drive to Paihia
  • Day 6: Day in Paihia/KeriKeri/Russell
  • Day 7: Paihia -> Auckland
  • Day 8: Day in Auckland
  • Day 9: Fly out

Where to fly?

There is pretty much only one option. You fly in to Auckland. This is the most well connected airport in the country. From SFO, we have Air New Zealand and United Airlines flying direct to Auckland. It is 12-13 hours flight, but quite convenient. I know that United is planning to start direct flights to Christchurch from SFO soon, so that would be an option if you want to visit South Island.

When to go?

We went in November this time as well. Weather was pleasant. We needed light jackets in the evening and it is did drizzle a little on most of the days. No heavy rains that would interrupt your plans though. And it wasn't hot summer either. So it worked pretty well for us.

Where to go?

When going to North Island, the top destinations are Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hobbiton movie set. That is the most advertised ones. Lake Taupo is a pretty lake and the town of Rotorua nearby is a small 'weekend getaway' type of town. We also wanted to go to a beach, so we went all the way to Paihia. We didn't Coromandel as there was some inaccessible areas that were under repair/construction. Other popular thing to-do is hikes, but we didn't look into it with a three year old in tow. We skipped hikes and the town of Wellington. Those are for next trip, along with Abel Tasman Park. More in the section towards the end, What's left?. This website has been the most useful in exploring what to do.

Auckland


At the Ferry Building
It is not the capital of the country and I have to remind myself again and again. It surely is the number one tourist entry/exit city though. It's a good city to just get your bearings after a long flight and do some 'standard' city- tourism. 

Where to stay:

Their main street is the 'Queen Street' and if you want to stay in middle of all the action, then that is where you'd like to stay. And closer to the pier, means closer to touristy-stuff. We stayed in a hotel on Queen Street first, but it was a bit far and we ended up driving and paying for parking, so we moved to a little farther accommodation for our second stay at the end of our trip. 

Where to eat: 

The best thing was the food. And we found an excellent Indian restaurant. Couldn't believe the food was so good at Jatt & Juliet. Rajma as good as home-made. And our daughter couldn't stop eating the noddle burger in spite of how spicy it was! 

What to do:

Our walking map
We spent an evening going to the sky tower, which is I think nth tallest tower in the world and the tallest in Southern Hemisphere or something. But having been to Burj Khaleefa and taking a elevator through the clouds and feeling dizzy looking down, this was quite meh! It is more like, you are there, might as well check it off your list. We took a stroll from Ferry Building to the Princes Wharf. Reminded me a bit of San Francisco Pier but smaller scale and less crowded. So, essentially strolling on Quay Street. You could also walk from Princes Wharf to Silo Park. Next stops would be going to Aotea Square and the Town Hall building. So we spent our evening walking around this route, approximately.

Walk Around this route. Place to see: Sky Tower, Silo Park, Princes Wharf, Ferry building, Aotea Square, Town Hall.

Sky Tower
And tonight was India-Australia cricket world cup final and we were so excited to be in a cricket loving nation where we could easily watch the match on our TV at the hotel. I had partly hoped that it would be India-NZ final and it would have been fun to be in NZ then as Kiwis are my second favorites, always. But nonetheless, we were here and it was India-Australia. So once we got done with all the sightseeing, we retired to our hotel, waited for the kiddo to fall asleep and turned on the match. But as the match progressed, and depression kicked in, we wanted to eat our emotions. And voila, DoorDash works awesome in New Zealand. We ordered some really good food from Curry-On. Spicy and satisfying. And then we figured we have almost lost the match, we just dozed off to avoid further depression! :D
There is also an Auckland Zoo for kids and we kept that for our last day of the trip. 

Hamilton


Charminar Gardens
Our second day entailed a long drive from Auckland to Rotorua via Waitomo. So, Hamilton was a natural stop for us. So we ended up at Hamilton Gardens. They are super cute small gardens based on various themes. I had picked the few gardens I really wanted to see so we had our work cut out for us. The gardens are free and you could get a map for $2. I really did like these gardens and would have preferred a relaxed stroll, but we were on a time budget as we had to make sure we reached Waitomo for our cave tour that we had pre-booked. It would take about and hour or two to see all of them. They are well maintained gardens and super cute. My favorites were, of course Charminar (India style), Alic in Wonderland and Egyptian gardens.
We then had lunch at a café located in Hamilton Gardens. It is next to a lake and the whole set up in very serene, right our of a storybook. Just that we were running out of time so just inhaled our food as quickly as we could. But this was a very quick and an easy stop. So glad we did it. 

Waitomo Glowworm Caves


At the cave exit
Now we were en-route to Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The drive get prettier and with overhead clouds, it was really beautiful. Once we reached, there was plenty of parking and everything is streamlined given that this is the most sought after tourist destination in all of north island. Glad we had bought tickets as there is quite a crowd. The tours are guided and well managed. No photography allowed, so I don't have pictures, but you do see very pretty glowworms. It isn't long and that is all there is to it. I am glad that my daughter remembers all of it and often mentions glowworms when she sees something shining in the dark, like, stars in the sky were glowworms according to her!
The tors starts with a walk into the caves. You get to see the limestone caves and take a walk through them with about 20 other people. And then once you get down inside the caves, there is a section where they turn off lights and you see glowworms, bright and shining and oh, so many! Its beautiful. THen you take a short boat ride to get out of the caves. This boat ride was pretty nice because it is all in the dark and there are glowworms above you in the cave's ceiling. Fun experience, overall. 

Rotorua


After the caves, we carried on to Rotorua. And the drive gets prettier closer to Rotorua. This is a touristy weekend-getaway kind of a town. Places to see, things to do and restaurants to eat at. 
We stayed at Quest Rotorua Central. It was a suite and they offered a mini kitchen, we we needed with the kiddo. So we made a quick stop at the grocery store and stocked up our kitchen fridge with milk, eggs, yogurt and other essentials.  

What we did:

Luge Ride
We spent one morning taking the Skyline Gondola ride up to the hill top and coming down on the Lugo Ride. this was so much fun. The wait gets a little tiring, but the ride is so much fun. We could have the kid sit in front of us on the Lugo and she enjoyed as well. We could have done this again and again, but given the wait, we just did it once. So you take the gondola to the top of the hill. Get in the queue for the Lugo ride, come down via the Lugo. Then take a chairlift back up. The queue for repeat riders is short, but we just skipped it. There are also other things you could do at the top, like various hikes, mountain biking, etc. We enjoyed the views of Lake Rotorua from the top and enjoyed our Lugo ride till we got down. 

We spent half a day at the pool at the Polynesian Spa. Rotorua is known for hot springs. There is this facility for families where you could just sit and swim in the hot springs water. They have various options you can pick from depending on water pH, views of the lake, etc. We picked the one that was most suitable for us as we wouldn't have done it for long hours and we know our daughter loves going to the pool. There was a cute little slide as well for the kids. The locker rooms were really neat and clean and well managed. 

Every evening, our routine was to hit the playground next to the lake. And boy, was this some playground. Every fixture is so unique and fun. It was a huge playground and could accommodate many kids. There were climbing structures, swings, see-saws, and oh, plenty of other funky looking things. It was like Disneyland of playgrounds. And all the three evening we were here, we spent good 30-40 minutes at this playground. Convincing my daughter to go back to the hotel or for dinner became a huge task. Must-do with kids. 

There is just so much to do in Rotorua. There are plenty of canopy tours, ziplining, mountain biking, etc. There is also Agrodome, which is an animal farm with some shows and tours. We skipped as we thought it was way too pricey and probably won't be much fun for our kid.

Where we dined:

Rotorua had really good food. Good restaurants and variety of cuisines. They have a dedicated Eat Street which has only restaurants and is close to many other good restaurants.


Lake Taupo


We took a day trip to Lake Taupo from Rotorua. Its about an hour drive. The lake is beautiful and pristine. We didn't do any activity on the lake, but I guess you could do boat rides or stuff. We got here around lunch time. Just next to the lake is small marketplace with plenty of restaurants and shops. We spent some time strolling around the lake and then headed to our next stop Huka Falls. Park your car and it is a five minute walk to the various view points. It is a voluminous waterfall, icy blue in color, but not too high. It didn't take much time and next we were off to 'Craters of the Moon' thermal walk. Since this is the area of geothermal activity, that is one of the things you'd like to do here. We picked the one which would be easy for the kiddo. Honestly, it wasn't that great given all the geothermal activity you see in Yellowstone. But there are other thermal walks in this area which could be better I assume. I just picked the one easy for the kids. It took us about an hour to walk around the well paved walk and view some activity. I think Waikea Thermal Walk is the highly rated one here, so perhaps try that. 
Fun fact - Lake Taupo hosts the second oldest Ironman triathlon. Perhaps next time Sumit could sign up for that! 


Hobbiton 


This was another day trip from Rotorua. The drive is about an hour and you must, absolutely must pre book your tour. This is definitely a must-do whether you are a Hobbit fan or not. The sets are located near the town of Matamata and it is definitely very very beautiful. The tours are well organized and run on time. There is a café, toilets, etc. The tours start with a short bus ride to the location of the movie set. And it is so cute! The whole scenery is beautiful and something you'll definitely remember. We couldn't stop taking pictures. The tour ends with a nice ginger beer at the Green Dragon Inn. The whole tour took about two hours. They have now expanded the tour to take you inside the Hobbit homes, when we visited that was still under construction. 


Bay Of Islands


After we wrapped up from Rotorua, we were headed to Paihia as we were staying in this town.. We chose to drove as it was more convenient compared to driving. It took us about 6 hours drive time, but more in total with stops, it was totally manageable.  We stopped at some scenic waterfalls and vista points on our way. Had lunch at Hamilton and dinner at this cute little town close to Paihia, Whangarei.

Paihia

Paihia
This is a cute little town, with one street. Our hotel was located on the road across the beach. The view was very nice to wake up to. The weather was however a little chilly. So we wouldn't go to the beach for sure. We walked in the evening to a restaurant located on their main Wharf, Charlotte's Kitchen. The town is cute and well lit. There is also a playground located at the other end of the Paihia beach which was again quite unique and fun. And our daughter absolutely loved it. The market close to the wharf is the main area in this town and has plenty of shops and restaurants to offer. The most sought after thing-to-do is however, a cruise to the 'Hole in the Rock'

Hole in the rock.

We booked a morning cruise to the 'Hole in the Rock'. This was thankfully pre-booked as well, because the boat was full. A very comfortable boat, but with 200 people on board. It was windy outside, so we preferred to sit inside. It took some time to get to the view point, but well it is a Hole in the Rock and I wonder how you find them everywhere, Cabos, Italy, wherever you go! We did see some dolphins swimming along our boat on our way and that got everyone way more excited than the destination itself. We didn't do it, but I hear on a good day with calmer waters, they take the boat through the hole in the rock as well. 
The more interesting part of this cruise was that on your way back, they drop you to this island, Urupukapuka, for about an hour or so. And this is a beautiful, almost untouched island with plenty of hikes. There is a restaurant onsite, but no one resides on the island. We did hike to view point to see the other side of the island and got beautiful views. Spotted sting rays in the clear blue water at the beaches. This was definitely the highlight for us. 

Russell

First church in Russell
It is a small coastal town across the bay from Paihia. There are regular ferries between Paihia and Russell from the main Wharf. We took a ferry to get to Rusell, took about twenty minutes. There are only a couple of streets to walk around and 'the oldest church' of New Zealand that you could visit. We spent about an hour strolling around and on the beach. There is an old hotel, which has beautiful interiors and transports you to old English charm. Usually people go to Russell, have tea or lunch here at 'Duke of Marlborough Hotel' and get back to Paihia or Kerikeri. We just walked in, looked around and decided to get back on the ferry to go back to Paihia. 

Kerikeri

Rainbow Falls
Kerikeri is the main town in Bay of Islands. If you were flying in, this is the town you will fly in to. It is about 20-30 minutes away from Paihia. We spent about half a day in Kerikeri. There is much more to do and see here. Our first stop was the Rainbow Falls. It is just a few meters from the parking lot and offers three view points from the top of the waterfall. But you could also do a short hike and go to the base lagoon of these waterfalls. I found these to be prettier than the Huka Falls which are much more hyped. These are too high or don't have much water, but the whole set up is quite pretty. There is a popular stone store and a Parrot Place as well to visit, but we chose to go have lunch/dinner as we were all  hungry after that easy-peasy hike! :D

Mis-adventure in Auckland!

We drove back from Paihia to Auckland to spend a couple of nights here before we flew out back to San Francisco. Our plan was to spend a day at Auckland Zoo and to see the Auckland cricket stadium.
As we were headed out for the day, we wanted to grab breakfast at this bagel place. We ordered a veggie bagel and sure enough it looked just fine. But when our daughter ate it, she started getting hives, we know that she is allergic to nuts, but didn't think that a veggie bagel would have nuts. But the pesto in it is what caught us off-guard. What followed was the whole drill, Benadryl, followed by epi-pen and a visit to urgent care, then to emergency. And then another dose of adrenaline, followed by a few more anti histamines. And an overnight hospital stay. We are very thankful to the Auckland Starship Children's hospital for such good care and. The doctors and staff were so nice, calm and reassuring. They even accommodated us when there was no bed in the regular overnight stay ward. So thankful to them. And a lesson learnt the hard way. We are super careful always, but one slip, and it got us.
Anyhow, the kiddo was upset because we were headed to the zoo and landed in the hospital. So next day we made sure that we went to the zoo for a couple of hours before heading out to the airport. To make sure we keep our promise to her. 

Other notes:

  • Visa: It is very easy to get Travel Authorization through their website. You have to upload your passport details and a photo. It took us only a couple of hours to get this once we took our photos. 
  • Bookings in advance: We made most of our bookings for popular destinations, like the Waitomo glowworm caves, Hobbiton set and cruise to the Hole in the Rock in advance it turned out to be a wise decision. 
  • Adventure Sports: New Zealand is the hub of adventure sports and you will find them in every famous tourist area. Be it Bungee Jumping, Mountain Biking, skydiving, zip lining, you name it and they got it. 
  • Driving around: We rented a car and drove around. Very convenient, especially with a kid. Driving it on the left, India style.
  • Play grounds: New Zealand has some great playgrounds. They have these unique structures to play on there has been enough thought put into designing these. 

When are we going next?

Ahaa, yes we need one more trip. Perhaps when our daughter is old enough to bungee jump!! We want to do a few more hikes, especially Abel Tasman Park, I also wanted to visit Dunedin and east coast of the southern island. Perhaps, after another 8 years! :)



Saturday, June 24, 2023

CANADA (VICTORIA, VANCOUVER)




We had a few days of PTO and we wanted to step outside of US but with caution, given it would be the first time traveling with our three year old. So what could be better than Canada! Vancouver has been one of our favorite go to places because of many factors, short flight from San Francisco, feels like US, so many activities to do, and offers a variety of landscapes. The city had a very relaxed laid back vibe. And on our previous visits, we had skipped Victoria, so we added that to our itinerary. Only this time, we were flying to Seattle and then driving to Vancouver.

Seattle
You can also scroll down to 'A day in Victoria' if that is what you are looking for.
Previous Vancouver itinerary is here.

Itinerary:

Day 0: Arrive in Seattle. Spend the day with our friends
Day 1: Drive from Seattle to Vancouver
Day 2: Spend the day in Vancouver
Day 3: Ferry to Victoria
Day 4: Day in Victoria
Day 5: Ferry to Port Angeles. Stay Overnight.
Day 6: Half a day in Olympic National Park. Drive to airport.

Seattle to Vancouver

Gastown, Vancouver
We arrived in Seattle with a lot of hullabaloo! We were in the middle of the potty training and decided to take this trip. How very brave of us. After exploring the noisy flushes of airports and crying at loud at the automated flushes, we made it to the airport and rented a car to drive to our friends' house in Issaquah. They have two and it was lovely to see kids play together and explore the creek behind the house and have fun. Even though the travel was tiring, it was very relaxing to just be out of our daily routine. 
The next day we drove from Seattle to Vancouver with a few stops. Drive was about 3 hours and the landscapes started getting prettier as we got close to Canada border. Immigration was quick, no waiting, not even getting out of car. So pretty smooth and we got to Vancouver with no hiccups. We were staying near the University of British Columbia, so it was a bit away from the city center, but was nice to see a few students around and a few coffee shops to explore.
We spent the evening walking around Vancouver downtown. The area near Gastown is always lively and has a plenty of restaurants to offer. Plus walk up to the convention center offers nice views.

Capilano Suspension Bridge
A Day In Vancouver

We had our to-do list for the day all planned! It also became a toilet-exploration trip due to potty training in progress. Piku wanted to see all the toilets, everywhere. If they had automatic flushes or manual. If there were paper wipes or air dryers, how many stalls were there, etc. etc. In the background, we checked off the three places on our list.

Capilano Suspension Bridge  

We arrived early, right after breakfast, to beat the crowds. Got our tickets and crossed the bridge! It was sunny and they do have quite a few activities for kids. We also did the treetop walk and learnt about the owls. This place will keep the kids busy especially with their booklet of puzzles and games. Then we of course had to get ice cream from the ice cream shop before we headed out to our next destination.

Grouse Mountain

Bird Show, Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain is very close to the Capilano Bridge. We found parking right next to the gondola ride. Piku got super excited for the gondola ride and once we reached atop the mountain, we just walked around. The views are great and you cans pend as much time as you'd like to, here. There were a few icy patches here and there. There are plenty of activities to do, like zip lining, hiking, etc. We were interested in the lumberjack show as it is quite entertaining (we remembered from our previous visit), but the show time wasn't until much later. However, we attended a bird show where they had owl, eagle and a hawk displaying their antics for you. Super entertaining. 

Stanley Park

After we grabbed lunch, we headed to Stanley Park. We parked our car and walked around a it towards the west side as we were looking for a play ground. It was full of kids and it kept Piku and us busy for sometime. There was a pool as well and we didn't realize that it would be accessible to public, else we would have gotten our bathing suits too!  We got some nice views and had beach access, but no swimsuits! We retired for the night after an excellent meal at Kesari in Vancouver downtown. Highly recommend this restaurant.

Vancouver to Victoria

Fisherman's Wharf
We were up bright and early to get on the car ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. It is highly recommended to pre-book the ferry. It is all very streamlined and comfortable. The cars are parked in the lower floors and you can sit indoors on the upper floor or just spend time outdoor on the deck. It takes about a couple of hours to get to Victoria. The ferry has a small café that sells snacks and drinks. The toilets are clean too. We spent some time on the deck taking pictures. And also spotted a few dolphins in the water. Once we reached Victoria, we drove out in our car and headed to Victoria downtown. Ferries from Vancouver leave and arrive on the port that is west of the island. Driving to the downtown takes about 45-60 minutes. 
Parking is hard to find! We found paid parking at a hotel. And we had to walk a bit to get to our lunch spot. After lunch and of course, ice cream, we checked in to our hotel. This is a very touristy place, with plenty of places to eat at a lot of things to see and do.
We stayed at the Chateau Victoria and after we checked in and freshened up, decided to go for a walk at the waterfront. This is really a very beautiful island and has a "Victorian" feel to it. We walked around the waterfront, to the fisherman's Wharf and then took pictures near the Fairmont Hotel and at the
Legislative Assembly. There was a horse carriage ride nearby with very royal horses, but we skipped it. Then we headed out for dinner and retired for the day, all charged up to spend a day on the island the next day.

A Day In Victoria

Butterfly Gardens
Bright and early, we headed to The Butterfly Garden in the morning. It isn't as big as I had imagined, but it was fun, especially for Piku. There weren't just butterflies, but a few other tropical birds and animals! Flamingo, parrots, etc. and it was a fun visit. We decided to skip the Butchart gardens, as it wasn't really spring and reviews said that we wouldn't be seeing many flowers. Instead, we headed to the Victoria Bug Zoo. Houses in a couple of rooms, it makes for an interesting stop especially with kids! We loved the creepy crawly creatures. 
We headed to Mexican restaurant for a quick lunch. It was located in the Commonwealth Center and here we saw the lovely swim activity center. Oh boy, how much we regretted not getting our bathing suits. It looked like a prefect place for a summery afternoon. Pool, slides, splash pads!
We sulked and got hungry and grabbed a burger at bin4burger. Really good burgers. Must try. And then we headed straight to the hotel pool. We figured that driving back to the commonwealth center would take a long time, so it made sense to just make do with our hotel pool, which btw, was good enough and did not disappoint at all!
Then for the evening, we stepped out to the Craigdarroch Castle. Strolled around, took a few pictures as it was closed for entry by then. And then headed to the QV Cafe near Victoria's Chinatown. As I had posted about Victoria on social media, a long lost classmate pinged me who had moved to Victoria a year ago! It was so good to meet him and his family! The true power of social media.
Craigdarroch Castle

Victoria (Things to do)

We skipped a few as they didn't make sense with a three year old. There were also bike rentals which would have been a good idea. They had bike buggies for kids, but they had to be booked in advance, so we missed out on that. Here is the list:

Victoria to Port Angeles

Feeding Alpacas
The next day we took the car ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles in USA. The immigration check is done in Victoria, Canada. And we made this reservation in advance as well as the number of ferries allowed on the vessel aren't much. The port for this ferry is right at the Waterfront, it is a different port compared to the one where the ferry for Vancouver departs.

Once in Port Angeles, we drove to Olympic National Park. We had a few hours, so we drove to Lake Crescent. And then took a short hike near the visitor center. We did a loop of Moments in Time Trail. The park is beautiful, but we were short on time, so did not explore more. We stayed at a hotel near Port Angeles.

Next day we could have driven to the park to another vista point, Hurricane Ridge, but we decided to skip it and instead drove to Olympic Game Farm close by. Here you drive through the farm/zoo and can feed the farm animals. The animals are expecting you to feed them and hence can get really aggressive and get their heads inside the car. It is silly and scary at the same time. There was moose, peacock, bear, tiger and a plenty of animals. It was quite entertaining. 

Then we headed straight to the airport with a stopover for lunch. And to our surprise, out neighbor was on the flight and was our seat neighbor! What are the odds! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Hawaii (Maui)


Maui - Again?

Maui is one of our favorite islands. Its beautiful, has enough resources and is not as crowded! So when we had to pick a destination to go to which wasn't too far by air, for our first air travel with our daughter, it was Maui. She loves beaches and this would be a perfect change of weather for us from the cold and rainy winters in the bay area.

First flight!

Yes, I was super anxious about our toddler's first flight but it turned out better than expected. We had booked an afternoon flight to time it well with the afternoon nap. It was about 5-6 hours one way. I had a separate cabin luggage for her. So she knew that this cabin bag had her stuff and dragging it was her responsibility at the airport. She was all excited, happy and looking forward to it. Once in the plane, it was a little tough to convince her to stay seated until the seat belt sign turned off. So we learnt that we should put the seat belt on as late as possible. To keep her busy, we had sticker books and color books with crayons. Good enough until she dozed off. And on our way back, we had a similar experience and this time around things being more familiar for her, she was more cooperative.

Flight, Hotel, Car

Aloha!
As always, while travelling to Hawaii, we prefer booking a package through Costco Travel as we get everything sorted in one reservation. We wanted direct flights, a good hotel and a car rental. And we got all of it here in one place. Interestingly enough, we got the same hotel we had booked for our honeymoon about 14 years ago. Our stay at Royal Lahaina was nothing short of memorable and so so comfortable with a toddler. Our room was right by the beach. We stepped out into our patio and there was the pool and the beach about 20 feet away. These cottages are so cute and comfortable. From the reception, you could go to your cottage using the golf cart which was my daughter's favorite activity. She loved going for a ride in this golf carts and the drivers were more than happy to oblige. 

Our routine for the next four days

Mornings:

We were up bright and early, thanks to the minor time difference. We would head over the the coffee shop located in the resort, Royal Scoop. Grab some croissants, bagels and coffee and head straight to the beach. Then spend a few hours at the beach. It was hard to convince our daughter to go back to our room as she just wanted to keep playing in the sand and warm waters. As we were right by the beach, it was so convenient to go get something we would invariably forget, like the beach toys, or the sunscreen, or the floaties for the pool. Then from the beach, we would head to the pool and eventually go to our room for a shower and then head out for lunch.

Afternoons:

Mornings by the beach
Now we were ready to head out for lunch. And we mostly explored the food trucks for lunch. Maui has so many food trucks to offer. They are all listed on yelp and depending on the cuisine you are interested in trying, you could pick one. Some of them take cash only and that could get tricky if you aren't carrying any. Here is a list of a few food trucks in Maui depending on where you are located. Some of the food truck we tried were:

  • Kamala's Pizza
  • Mexican - Ono Tacos


There are also fruit shops and juice bars roadside which were fun stop overs for us while driving down the coastal Hwy 30. We sometimes stopped at some beach or at vista points to watch for some whales. Then we headed back to the hotel for our much awaited afternoon nap. After beach time and a good lunch, we all had to take an afternoon nap everyday.


Evenings:

Evenings are the most beautiful in Hawaii. We spent our evening in different places. One day we spent roaming around the downtown Lahaina, which is all burnt now and makes us very sad, as we have very fond memories here from all our trips. The big banyan tree and walk along the coast are so relaxing and fun and a perfect evening activity. Then we picked a dinner place depending on what we wanted to eat. Most of the places here get full for dinner and there is waiting. So it may make sense to make a reservation beforehand. 

We spent some evenings walking in the Whalers Village. We would walk through the shops to hit the beach and then walk along the beach. We have always stayed in Lahaina in all our trips so this area is what we are familiar with and love to hang out at. Also, this is wear I get to drink my Belgian chocolate shake from Haagen Daz. 

Places where we had dinner:

It is just so sad to know that most of these have been burnt down by the fire. We can't wait for them to be back up on their feet and to revisit them.

What activities to do?

We will be back for more fun
We had a laid back trip planned and did not want to do any specific activities with our toddler other than beach time. Believe it or not, our third time here and we still have not gone to the Halekela Crater! But there is a bunch of stuff that one could do here. We have done a few of those in the past:

  • Snorkel at Molokini Crater - This is west of the island. There is the top of a crater emerging from the water making for calmer water sin the bay. It claims to have abundant sea life to make it a perfect snorkel spot
  • Go watch a Luau - As per reviews, our resort, Royal Lahaina has one of the best Luau shows offered in Lahaina, but just like Halekela Crater, we skipped it for the third time.
  • Halekela Crater - I hear sunrise is beautiful here. I am hoping on our fourth trip, we may finally wake up on time to go explore this mysterious sunrise!
  • Hana Highway - We drive down the Hwy back in 2009, and I hear it has better facilities and more sign along the way now. It used to end at a black sand beach back then.





Friday, January 1, 2021

Wishlist for the next decade. Hello 2021!

            Image credits: All over internet!

After a #throwback post on Facebook yesterday, it is time for a post #LookingForward in 2021. And this one deserves to be on the blog. I spent some time picking five destinations I would like to visit sometime in not-so-distant future. I did some research online and (finally!) read "World's Best Travel Experiences" by NatGeo. Then it was time to dig deep and think what would I really like to do/see/experience to arrive at this list. I am an easy traveler, just the thought of traveling and being in someplace new, surrounded by new culture, new language excites me. Now with a little one to travel with, all these places sound too adventurous! Let us see how many years till I check them off my bucket list.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

1. Botswana/Rwanda:

African Safari. This has been the most unique experience from all our previous trips. This time I'd pick a different national park for a different experience. the Okavango Delta in Botswana seems like a good choice, as we have been to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania already. But I also want to meet the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Now while I am here. why not go see Victoria waterfalls in Zimbabwe. I am getting greedy! 
Rwanda

2. Torres Del Paine:

Really want to trek the W circuit or the O circuit. It has to be all pre booked from what I understand. Luckily I have a few friends who have been here and their pictures were beautiful to say the least. Might make sense to combine this with a trip to Buenos Aires and take some Tango lessons.

3. Galapagos Islands:

Nature in its pristine glory. Definitely want to see the big turtles and the blue-footed boobies. The only way would be to book a tour and a cruise perhaps. I must learn how to tread before I go here. I can't be zipping in and out of wetsuits! 

4. Maldives/Zanzibar/Bora Bora:

A luxury beach vacation where I can switch off from the entire world. Get some classy beach pictures and stay in an overwater bungalow. I am really not particular where I get to do that. Is it Maldives or Zanzibar or Bora Bora. It just needs to be pure luxury. As Zanzibar is the least popular, I will share a link about this options.

5. South Georgia Islands:

I want to see penguins in their natural habitat. We did go to Prince Philip island in Australia, but I want to see bigger and more penguins. So this fifth choice is completely driven by this. Only way to get here is by a cruise. 



I wanted to mention close contenders, but they are mostly the places I want to go to. Not too exotic, but just some wishlist places. May be this list will carry over to the next decade, or may be I will have to create a new one! Who knows!

But here is wishing everyone who wishes to travel, lots of cheap flights, luxury hotel deals, and a lot of paid-time-off at work. May we all get to travel and meet our loved ones soon enough. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy and a very Happy New Year!

Cheers!

Friday, July 5, 2019

England (London, Stonehenge, Bath, Cotswold, Oxford, Lake District, York, Manchester)


Home of Sherlock Holmes
2015. It was in the year 2015, when I decided that I must watch the next cricket world cup, which happened every four years and interestingly, the next one was in UK and I hadn't traveled there yet. After passing through the London Heathrow airport a zillion times, I was finally determined to fly into London airport in 2019, which, alas, didn't really happen. Here is our brief itinerary before all the juicy details.
Day 1: Train from Edinburgh -> London
Day 2: London sightseeing
Day 3: Day trip to Cotswold, Oxford
Day 4: Day trip to Stonehenge, Bath
Day 5: London sightseeing
Day 6: Relaxed day in London with some sightseeing
Day 7: Match day in Birmingham
Day 8: Train + car to reach Lake District
Day 9: Lake district
Day 10: Lake district -> drive to York
Day 11: Match day in Leeds
Day 12: Day in York -> drive to Manchester
Day 13: Fly out of Manchester
I plan to log about this trip city-wise and not day wise. It makes more sense that way as our itinerary was also driven by car rentals and visiting families. Also, I am going to add just a section on match days to log our memories from the match days. This itinerary is a part of longer UK trip which included Scotland travel before England, which is also logged in the blog. Take a look if you'd like.

Where to fly in:

Anywhere you get good flight tickets to. Taking a train to the city you intend to visit isn't much troublesome. The distances aren't much, so it won't be time consuming as well. We flew in to Manchester as we got a good deal with the flights. Hence we visited Scotland first and then England. However, with non US/UK/EU passports, it does take a while to get through immigration.

When to go:

It is mostly cold and rainy in London even during summer months. I was afraid we are going to hit that weather going end of June. But luckily, weather got better and we were there during a heat wave, which is so much nicer than the heat waves we get in California. Weather was warm, bright and sunny. No rains, so no days were wasted sitting at our hotels. Hence, I would think July and may be August would be good times to visit. Unless, you want to go see snow clad Great Britain. I am sure that has its own charm.

London

London always always reminds me of the TV series FRIENDS that was shot in London for a few episodes. I just can't get that out of my head. So here we were. Six adults, ready to explore London!
We spent three days in London and I think we got to most of the touristy stuff we intended to, including Crystal maze! Here is how our days went.

  • Day Zero: 

Dishoom, King's Cross
We arrived late in the afternoon via train from Edinburgh, It was a decent 4 hour journey and once we got here, we decided to settle in our Airbnb, which was a three bhk apartment to accommodate us and our parents and our kitchen needs. Once we were settled, we met Roohi, my childhood friend and Rohit, Sumit's cousin was a sumptuous meal at Dishoom. You will soon realize we are huge Dishoom fans. We mostly strolled around the King's cross area and London being under heat wave, was just perfect for us. Balmy summer sun. In the evening, we got back and waited for our parents to get home from the airport. Today was the day to just settle in and start exploring the following day.  

  • Day One: 

Buckingham Palace
Westminster Abbey
Today was supposed to be a typical touristy day in London. Best thing we did was to buy the London explorer pass for ourselves and our parents. Parents had the 5 attraction pass and we had the 7 attractions pass. First we called an Uber to the Buckingham palace. We got dropped off a little farther away from the palace entrance. We walked all the way and took pictures. We were in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. It gets really crowded here, so find a good spot. Well, as good as you can with all the tourists blocking your view.  Up next was the walking tour of this area. We walked from Buckingham Palace, to James Palace to all the way to Trafalgar square. Here we took a break to take pictures and grab something to eat at a nearby cafe. Then we took a token picture outside 10 Downing Street before walking to the Westminster Abbey. We didn't plan on going inside. But took plenty of pictures outside. Then we walked all the way to the Big Ben. And in between stopped to take pictures with the statues of Gandhi and Churchill. Big Ben was sadly under scaffolding and undergoing major renovations. Next up was a ferry ride from the pier right outside the Big Ben to the Tower Bridge. Our explorer pass had this covered and having an app on the phone was super helpful to scan and get your tickets. The ferry ride was sunny and bright, but windy. The commentary was funny, and gave you a good overall idea about major attractions in the city. Once we got off the ferry ride, we walked all the way to the bridge, got our tickets to get in the towers and took pictures inside. We also witnessed the opening and closing of the bridge as a ship had to pass through. Pretty exciting. Next, we spent some time at a Starbucks drinking coffee and cooling down in the hot weather.
London Eye
Final segment was to Uber all the way to London Eye. Here we got our tickets through the pass and got in the long albeit fast moving queues to get on the London Eye. It was almost sunset. View were pretty, I wish we had come here after sunset, would have been nice to see well lit London from bird's eye view. Once we got off, we grabbed something to eat and headed straight home and called it a day. We were done with a lot of major attractions today, but were a bit tired with all the walking.

  • Day Two: 

The Famous '83 World Cup balcony
We started off our day with Lord's tour. I had booked this off six months ago, because I knew that due to World Cup, there would be limited openings for tours. I am glad I did. Our parents loved the tour, especially going to the balcony and seeing the cup Kapil Dev had lifted in 1983. If you are a die-hard cricket fan like us, must must do this tour.
Before Megxit
Next up, was Madam Tussaud's. It was covered under our Explorer Pass, but the queue for getting tickets is long plus there is waiting for the entry time too. We had found this out the previous day and gotten our tickets for this day, so luckily it worked out. This attraction is the busiest one in London and make sure you have tickets beforehand, so that you avoid those 2-3 hours of wait. So we had about an hour to kill before we were let in, so we went out to grab food and drinks with parents. Also, Sherlock Holmes' house, 321 Baker street is very close by, so it makes for a good quick trip. And don't forget to take a picture with his statue. Anyhow, once we got in the wax museum, our parents went crazy taking pictures with all the Bollywood stars. They even had Narendra Modi and Virat Kohli. I have never taken so many pictures in a single location before. It was so much fun to see our parents thoroughly enjoy this place.
It was already late afternoon by the time we got out, so our parents headed home and I headed to meet my friend Roohi. I took a brief stop at Bond street for some window shopping and then headed out her place. Sumit joined me later after dropping off the parents. It was so much fun and just like old times hanging out with her.

  • Day Three: 

Crystal maze
The activity I was most looking forward to was scheduled for this day. The Crystal Maze. I had grown up watching Crystal maze, and given how crazy I am about puzzles, I was so excited about it that I can't even express and yes, the experience lived up to its expectation. A crazy host leading us through four zones and playing different types of practical games. What else could I ask for. I was super duper amazed at the setup, execution and the overall experience. On my next trips to London, I plan on adding more such things to our itinerary. But if you are a Crystal Maze fan, this is a must do. Next up, we stopped at the St. Paul's Cathedral. And it is gorgeous. I absolutely loved it. One of my favorite cathedrals for sure. Beautiful and magnanimous. Then we headed home for some home made lunch and our parents rested and ready to step out. The first stop was the London Tower museum. Our parents were very keen on seeing the Kohinoor, so we just had to make a stop here. But this time we took the tube to get to the museum so that our parents can experience the public transport as well. Once we got to the museum, we headed straight to the section where kohinoor is kept as there is a long waiting queue to get in. Its actually overwhelming to see so many jewels and gold housed in one place.  Once we got out, we wanted to get on the Big Bus as our final to-do item in London and that is what we did. We took the big Bus tour which was also included in our explorer pass and got off the near King's cross. We had made a reservation for dinner for parents and my friend and a cousin this day. After a big sumptuous meal in at Dishoom, we called it a wrap for our London tour. I guess three days were plenty for relaxed and easy touristy sightseeing in London. 
St. Paul's Cathedral

Day trip to Cotswold and Oxford

Tea at Cotswold
We rented a car in the morning to drive to Cotswold and Oxford and get back to London the same night. We picked a Hertz rental closest to our location, which was Marble Arch. Pick up was quick and easy, but the trick was to get out on London central zone before you get charged for driving in the high traffic zone. So, we carefully navigated out of the city to make sure we aren't driving in the high traffic zone. Maps are readily available online for the zones.
Our goal for the day initially was to visit a village or two in Cotswold, then head out to Stratford Upon Avon followed by a walking tour in oxford. But, we realised that may be stretching ourselves with parents, so we dropped Stratford Upon avon from our plan for the day.
Oxford
Our first stop was Cotswold. Its is an AONB, Area of Natural Beauty. Some classification in UK, parallel to national parks I believe. The village we decided to visit was Burton-on-the-water, the most popular village to visit. Once you navigate to the village, there are some single roads to the village and you may be better off finding parking as soon as you see the little shops lining up the street. Else, you can drive up to the end of the long street that goes through the village and park at the end in designated parking complex. But you will need change for the parking meter. These small villages are a perfect weekend getaway if you want to spend peaceful couple of days away from a noisy city. There are some things to do in this little village, like a maze, a motor museum, a miniature village, etc, but nothing that would interest us, so we decided to just walk along the tiny streets. Beautiful little bridges and a walk along a narrow stream is what interested us. A perfect idyllic setting, straight out of a story book. We stopped for some tea and scones and then visited some shops. Its just a cute little place to visit.
Ratcliffe Camera
Next up, we headed straight to Oxford. One thing to note is that Oxford comprises of multiple college and you can't see it all in one day. There are few iconic libraries and halls you might want to pick and visit on your own, or with a tour. Best way to see Oxford for us was on foot on a walking tour. You can book different types of tours, paid and for free. We chose the tour that was offered by Oxford students for free and takes about a couple of hours. They take you to all the famous Harry Potter libraries, the dining room, the fame Christchurch college, Alice in Wonderland locations amongst many more. This is the best way to Oxford if you are budgeting your time. My favorites were the Christchurch College, the Ratcliffe camera and Einstein's handwritten equations on a blackboard in a tiny museum at Oxford.
Another thing about Oxford is parking. If you have driven here instead of taking a train(a better idea), finding parking will be the hardest thing you do. We went straight to a mall on Oxford campus and parked at the mall. (One of the best tips given by a family friend). After our two hour long walk, we stopped at a cafe, had lunch, had coffee, and rejuvenated ourselves to head out for another hour long drive to meet old family friends over dinner.


Day trip to Stonehenge and Bath

Since we already had a rented car, we had planned for another day trip outside of London. Mind you, since we were a family of 6 adults, it made sense for us to drive than to take the trains. But for a couple or 3 people, trains is definitely the way to go. Or plan was to go to Stonehenge, visit the city of Bath and then Windsor Castle if time permits. Clearly, we had to drop Windsor Castle from the plan as with parents along, things move a little slowly.
Stonehenge
Our first stop was going to be Stonehenge. This is a perfectly planned tourist spot. The visitor centre has tickets and then you get in a queue for the bus to take you to the Stonehenge. The actual circle is pretty big and located in middle of nowhere with rolling greens hills surrounding it. The whole location is pretty scenic. You get audio guides with your tickets, so take those and listen to the commentaries as you walk past various spots. We were with our extended family that day, so had planned on a picnic here. Out came the sheets and the burgers with some drinks. Was a brilliant idea by our cousins and a lot of fun. As such there is not much to see here, but you can get engaged in all the history of why and how this structure appeared and be fascinated. Later, you get in the queue to get back to visitor centre, where there is ample parking btw.
Bath in the city of Bath
Next up was drive to the city of Bath. Our plan was to rent a boat and just take boat on the canal, but unfortunately, wherever we enquired, all the boats were rented out, given it was a weekend and a sunny day. So we settled for walking on foot in the old town area. We found parking at a cricket club, which we later realized wasn't open to public and had to pay parking ticket. We walked past a county cricket ground, on to the old town center. The major attraction here in the "bath", as in the real Roman baths from which the city gets its name. The entry is a little steep and includes audio guide. Taken about 30-45 minutes to see the entire thing on your own and head out. Outside, there are cobbled streets with some musicians playing music and vendors all around you. We also went to the cathedral and wanted to climb up the stairs to get a view of the city, but the last entry had already closed. So, basically we were late today. You must plan things as per the closing times and head out early in the day if you want to check off things from your list.
Luckily, we found a very nice Boston tea shop, where we all settled in and got ourselves some refreshing teas and coffees. There was an Indian cafe nearby too, but the guy was hesitant to make chai/tea as he had run out of existing tea and didn't want to make any fresh tea. Oh well!
It was scorching hot today, given UK was under a heat wave! But nevertheless, we walked back to our cars through the streets lined with many local and branded stores and head back to Croydon, our dinner stop to meet our extended family that day.


Lake District

We wanted to spend a couple of days in a scenic place while our parents went to Scotland on a pre booked tour. After thinking and researching hard, we picked Lake District and kept Snowdonia for some other time. We had stayed over in Birmingham after our match the previous day, so booked a train to Manchester and a car rental from Manchester to drive to Lake District.
Outside Beatrix Potter's house
Lake District, like other AONBs, and national parks are a collection of smaller villages in a pristine natural setting. So, like any other place, pick a village which will be your base and drive to other places of interest. We had picked Windermere, as clearly this was the most popular tourist choice and had plenty of options to eat, sleep and shop. So, from Manchester railway station, we picked our rental car and drove straight to Windermere. We reached our Airbnb early evening. Parked our car, dumped our luggage and headed out.
Over the next couple of days, our goal was to visit a few location in Lake district and spend half a day biking in the area. Sumit had pre booked his bike rental and chose a few bike routes. He finally rode the Hawkhead hill and the Wrynose Pass, which turned out to be quite challenging. Cell phone network is patchy here, so downloading maps will be a great idea. He chose the following bike route and enjoyed the views so much, that we drove here in the evening.
Now if you are not planning to ride a bike, all the places are mostly accessible by car. Lake Windermere is a pretty huge lake and offers plenty of options to do and see. We drove all the way to Beatrix Potter's house and spent time in the tiny village most of which features in her story books. And then drove down the hill to take a car ferry across the lake. One could also take the cruise along the lake and get down at various spots and do a small hike, or visit various locations and come back on the ferry to get back to you starting location. There are plenty of options.
Somewhere in Lake District
Driving Route: We started with drive to Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass. beautiful views. Then we drove back to Ambleside, a beautiful village by the lake Grassmere. Here we grabbed something to eat and then hiked to the Stock Ghyll waterfall. Next we continued driving to Castlerigg Stone circle, which was like a mini Stonehenge, only much more scenic and a lot less crowded. Took plenty of pictures here. On the way we stopped at William Wordsworth House, which was under renovation, so couldn't go in. Roads are narrow, so it tends to get a bit scary, but just drive carefully and it will be all fine. We drove further to Ashness Bridge and Surprise view near Derwent Water and then drove all the way around the Derwent Water Lake to Honister Pass. Drive was scary but the views were beautiful. Then we drove to Buttermere lake and back to the town of Keswick, where we again got something to eat. This is a comparatively bigger town. So you could cho
se to stay here or Windermere. On our way back,we went to Aira Force waterfall, near the lake Ullswater, which was short hike from the parking lot. And then drove around Ullswater lake back to Windermere. The views were simply amazing. I especially loved our drive next to Ullswater.
Link to our route on the map.
Ullswater Lake
The last day, we had some time to ourselves, so we went on a boat cruise on the lake. Nothing too fascinating, but some sort of activity to do. Also, I loved the local shop sin the Windermere area for shopping. Really cute stuff here. If you want to shop, don't let go of this opportunity. Even for dining there are quite a few options. We had Italian one day and Thai the other day. The weekend dinners were crowded, so we were recommended to make reservations and glad we did.  Note, we spent 2-3 days here including the biking and the driving around. We were finally driving off to York, so spend some time here and meet our parents. Also on agenda was to go watch the cricket match in Leeds.


York

York Minster
This city has two parts, and old town surrounded by fort walls and the new town outside of those walls. Needless to say, most of the attractions are inside the walled city. We were driving from Lake District to York and had planned on keep the car rental in York and then drive to Manchester.  Car parking in a nightmare here especially in the old town. You can find parking for an hour or so, but overnight and long terms parking are very expensive. We reached the city in the evening and spent some time looking for parking! We temporarily parked in a short term parking to access our Airbnb. Locating our Airbnb was another task. The houses were numbered in a weird fashion and most of the residential buildings have shops at the ground level. It took us time, but we managed to get in. Once here, we unloaded our stuff and looked for long term parking. We found something a little farther out. After parking our car, we decided to just walk around and grab dinner before meeting our parents who were getting back from Scotland later in the night.
Tea Rooms @ York
There are some places from where you can access the fort walls and walk on foot on the top of the walls around the city perimeter. The few entrance to the walled city have cute guard towers, which aren't guarded anymore, but make for nice pictures. We walked along the fort walls for sometime, then grabbed dinner at Akbars, an Indian restaurant with decent enough food before  meeting our parents at the train station and walking back to our airbnb. It is a very cute town and a lot of young vibrant crowd keeps the streets busy on the weekends.
Next day we were our to Leeds to watch the cricket match and our parents enjoyed a rest day. But the day after we decided to explore the city. The old town is easily walkable and the cobbled streets lined with local and branded shops are very inviting too. We started from the York Minster, a huge gothic style church at the one end of the old town. Then we made our way to the other end of the town, Clifford's tower. In between we stopped at some shops, and also spent time getting tea and scones at a tea boutique. That's where my fascinator came out and we took pics I had been waiting for the entire trip. Before I forget, we had dinner at 29 States Indian restaurant and the food was very good. I recommend this place if you are looking for Indian food.
York is a perfect weekend getaway town with a very medieval feel to it. I am sure its popular with UK residents as a popular vacation place. We enjoyed our time here and I loved the city vibe. In the afternoon, we were headed out to Manchester by road. The train ride is also only an hour and I highly recommend not taking your car to York and using public transport.

Manchester

Manchester
The moment you drive in to the city, you realise this is an industrial town. A syou head towards the downtown, it is like any other big city, with lots of cars, one way streets and no place to park. Our hotel was very close to most of the attractions and we were luckily able to find an overnight parking. After we freshened up, we decided to take a walk near the old town area. We walked to the Manchester Cathedral and there was huge music festival going on near the Royal Exchange Theater. Entry was free but we skipped it and chose to go to Dishoom for dinner. Since we had been to Dishoom in London and Edinburgh, it only made sense to try the one in Manchester. As usual food was great and we ended up having a very pleasant conversation with our server, which resulted in dinner being complementary and getting invited to free breakfast the next day! How sweet was that. So, for next day, we got up up early to make sure we got our breakfast at Dishoom before heading out to the airport. Interestingly enough, at the airport, we got a free upgrade! It was 24 hours of freebies for us before our vacation ended. But well, there isn't much to do/see in Manchester, unless you are planning to watch a football match. We weren't as there were no matches on the days we were there.

Match Days

  • Edgabaston, Birmingham: 

Both the matches we attended were very well organised. From the moment we got off our train from London Marylebone station to Birmingham, there were directions and volunteers to help you get to the stadium. We had to first dump our bags at the hotel before we went to the stadium. And then we got an Uber to get to the stadium, but it was so crowded, that we decided to get off the car and walk to the stadium and it was definitely a good call. The security check in was super smooth and quick and finding our seats was easy enough.
And oh what seats! We got so lucky with our seats. The cricket fields are not as big, and hence the view is so good and so close to all the action, it is just a fantastic experience watching matches in UK. The crowd was fully charged up and watching the match in such an electrifying atmosphere is definitely worth the trip. There were food stalls outside and plenty of options to pick from. The queues got long during the innings break, so I highly recommend skipping a few overs and getting your food in early. Or carrying your snacks with you. Must carry your hydration with you. It got hot closer to noon and we were glad to be carrying our water bottles. All in all, Indian won against Sri Lanka, and got to see live action on the field, with Dhoni, Kohli and Sharma right in front of us.
Could not have asked for more.

  • Headingly, Leeds: 

Just like Birmingham, everything was super well organised. From parking to check in, it was all streamlined. Easy to get it and get out. Lots of food stalls, and again an electrifying atmosphere. We were carrying binoculars, so we spotted Anushka in the pavilion and also spotted Charulata, the oldest fan. Our seats were again very well located and we were seated in the first 4 fours for both the matches. We tried hard, but couldn't make it to the TV crowd. Sigh! But had a wonderful time waving our flag and wearing the Indian jerseys. Absolute fun.

Other Pointers:

Driving - 

Its left side driving, opposite of the US, but same as India. So you have to comfortable with that. Besides that, the roads aren't as wide a sin the US, I felt things were a bit cramped, parking is difficult and speeds are a little lesser.

Shout out to Dishoom

One super nice discovery in UK was Dishoom Indian restaurant. Its a UK based chain, but each and every venue is unique. We tried the one in Edinburgh, London's Kings Cross and Manchester. Some of them have a long wait, but its totally worth it. We tried quite a few options on the menu and they were all great. Also, their chai has unlimited refills and I could drink it all day. When our server in Manchester learnt that we were visiting all locations, he was so happy that our dinner was complimentary and we got invited back for free breakfast. They don't just focus on good food, but a good experience for the diners.

Big Bus London

London Explorer Pass - 

For sight seeing in London, we opted for London Explorer Pass, it gives you a cheaper price for combined ticket to a specific number of attractions. Turned out to be pretty economical for us. The app is available on phone. You can download your passes and scan the barcode at the ticket booths to get your tickets.

Rail travel - 

Super duper convenient. Highly recommended to book in advance and get seats. You can book later without seats, but then you don't want to be travelling in a crowded train without a seat. Also, look at the discount passes. They offer huge savings. We bought two together cards, which saved us a bunch of money. You need to have the passes on your phone and upload your picture, etc. Its a set up hassle, but savings are great especially you plan on using the rail transport. We use the trainline website for bookings.

Phones - 

We bought local numbers from a local grocery store and activated them. They worked just perfect for our phones and the unlimited calls and data was super convenient for navigation to stay in touch with our parents.

Other places to visit:



  • Stratford Upon Avon - A tiny Shakespeare village. We had initially planned to combine it with Oxford day trip, but we chose to go to Cotswold instead as it was closer that Stratford Upon Avon.
  • Windsor Castle - Outskirts of London. You need to buy a ticket to see the castle. It is one of the more popular and in-use castles by the royal family. But we dropped it from our day as we got pretty late driving back from Stonehenge and Bath.
  • Cambridge - It was a choice between Oxford and Cambridge for us. Both make for a good day trip from London. You could use public transport, but we were driving and as we just had to pick, we decide we will stick with Oxford as it was on our route to our family friend's house.
  • Snowdonia - It is located in Wales and we had planned to pick between Lake District and Snowdonia. After much research, we felt we should stick with lake District for this trip and then visit Snowdonia next time. It was just a matter of choice.
  • Wales - Another country a part of UK, Cardiff is a popular tourist town to visit and then Snowdonia is a national park that usually people visit. As we were skipping Snowdonia, we thought we would leave all of Wales sights for our next trip.