Sunday, June 25, 2006

So dark the con of man

In case you thought I had forgotten all about it, the answer is no :-P. Here is the next installment of my Canada visit story (click on the numbers to read parts [1], [2] and [3]). The next long weekend is looming ahead - I should wrap up this story fast :-)!
Anyways, after visiting Niagara Falls on Saturday, Sunday was a more relaxed day. We got up late without feeling guilty. Shilpa's uncle and aunty caught up with household chores. S, the kids and me entertained ourselves by talking, playing and watching TV. After brunch, we set off to Toronto downtown - we were planning to visit the famous CN (Canadian National) towers - apparently the tallest tower in the world (is a tower is different from a building? Hmm, most of these tall buildings seem to claim that they are the tallest in the world - wonder which is really the tallest). CN towers being the quintessential tourist attraction of Toronto, S and me had, of course, insisted on seeing it. I have already been to the top of a variety of other tall buildings (Sears Towers, Space Needle, Empire State, KOIT tower - okay, the last is a kutti one) - yet, I had to see the view from this one too.
Our plan was to visit the tower, then wave good bye to the rest of the family, who, we were sure, wouldn't be interested in simply roaming around downtown. S and me were to then spend some more time in the downtown and finally return home by bus. So far so good. We made it to downtown in good time. Toronto downtown, as I said earlier, has a variety of architecturally interesting buildings. The skyline looks very nice too - apparently Toronto skyline ranks at the top along with NYC and Chicago skylines. We parked our car and then proceeded to the tower.

Shilpa's uncle had already bought the tickets online and hence we were saved a small wait to buy the tickets. We had tickets both to the glass floor level (at 342 meters) as well as to the sky-pod. The sky-pod level (at 447 meters) is the highest public observation deck in the world. We joined the queue to the top as soon as we entered the building. After security check and all, the slowly crawling queue inched ahead. B was in a bad mood from the time we stepped into the building and kept up a constant pout. The rest of us were in a reasonably cheerful frame of mind. But after an hour of waiting in the queue, with nothing to do but stare at each other's faces, we were all getting kind of edgy. Finally, after another 15 minutes, we were at the Observation deck!

We had an awesome view the buildings in downtown. Apparently on a clear day, you can even see the mist from the Niagara Falls! But it was not a very clear day when we visited. Nevertheless, we could see the whole expanse of the city before us. I never realized Toronto was this big!
As luck would have it, just then, a game had gotten over at the Rogers centre. Rogers Centre is another famous tourist destination in Toronto - the speciality being its retractable dome roof. Even as we watched from the observation deck, the hitherto open stadium roof slowly closed. It was very cool!

So far, it was fun. Then we noticed a long queue snaking around the center of the observation deck. Huh, what was everyone waiting for? Then we realized, that was the queue to the Skypod level! We quickly joined the queue. By now the first pangs of hunger were beginning to hit us - our light brunch of upma was already digested. So we looked around for something to eat.

There was a small snack store selling starbucks coffee. However, most of its shelves were empty and even as we watched, the remaining few eatables were fast vanishing as ravenous visitors bought them. We bought some coffee for S's aunty (it was almost the last cup and the lady behind the counter unapologetically said that the coffee dispenser would not be refilled!) and a packet of chips.
The chips soon vanished as the line looked like it was never going to reach the elevator. We tried playing some games - but by now, a combination of hunger and tiredness (we had been standing for an hour and half in this line) pulled everybody's spirits down. Also, B was extremely hungry. She had refused to have anything other than a glass of milk for breakfast (hunger had been the reason for her sulky mood). But of course, the snack store had absolutely nothing left now. The only other place to eat was a proper dine-in restaurant (with limited choice for vegetarians). It was unbelievable - a popular tourist destination not having adequate food facilities!
Anyways, another hour later, we finally made it to the Skypod. At that point, the only thing which would have enchanted us was a food store of some kind. Of course, there was no such thing there. Instead, we had another spectacular view of buildings. We got lots of lovely pictures without any effort. However, they failed to have any positive effect on our mood. We were clicking away more to justify the wait rather than because we found it truly amazing.
We hardly spent anytime in the Skypod - our first aim being, get back downstairs as soon as possible and get our hands onto FOOD. When we took the elevator from the skypod level, we were brought back to the glass floor level. Apparently this level had a glass floor through which you could see all the way to the ground. This fact, even though we were hungry, piqued our curiosity.
Well, I think we have too high expectations. S and me were expecting the whole floor to be made of glass (yeah, right). Instead, there were two large glass panels on the otherwise solid ground. Both these panels afforded a view right to the ground through the floor. We were disappointed but even the panels were novel enough that we tried many pictures (with B mostly as the test subject) trying to bring out the fact that we were 113 stories above the ground. I don't think they worked too much though.

Finally we got done with taking pics. And then, torture of tortures, we figured there was a big queue to get the elevator back to the ground too :-(! So another 30 minutes was spent in that line. By this time, we were ready to faint due to hunger - of course, the glass floor level did not have any food either. But we did make it to the elevator finally.

When we touched ground level again, it was five hours since we had entered the building. I couldn't believe that we had spend four and a half hours simply standing. S and me made an immediate on-the-spot resolution. No more wating in queues to get to the top of any tower. The views are great but definitely not worth it when you spend more time in the queue than in viewing those great views! So, hence forth, even if it is the Eiffel tower, I refuse to wait in line to go to the top. Of course, I made such a resolution even after seeing the Empire State Building. Which, I obviously did not keep up :-D - but as of now, I am standing by my resolution.
Anyways, from there it was on to the Richtree market restaurant. This restaurant has an interesting concept - you shop for food. Food from a variety of cuisines in arranged in a bazaar like atmosphere. You are given a plastic food card, which you use for purchases. When you leave, you are billed for the balance on the food card. Pretty nice!

S and me picked out thai-spiced noodles and flavored breadsticks as main courses. For the first 10 minutes after getting our food, there was no sound from anyone. All of us were busy doing pet pooja (stomach worship) by feeding our poor tummies with food. Then, as the food got in, all of us perked up visibly and there was fun and laughter again!

As dessert, S and I decided to try Irish Creme Coffee. Even though we knew the guy at the counter was probably just kidding, it still felt good when he double-checked that we were more than eighteen before serving us the drinks (in case you did not know, Irish Creme coffee has some liquor content). Neither of us were able to finish it though.

By the time sumptuous dinner got over, all of us had revived like watered plants. We spent some more time simply wandering around the building and nearby streets before getting a cab back to our van (we had taken a cab from CN tower to the Richtree restaurant due to parking problems). Then it was time to go back home. Of course, Shilpa and I had, somewhere midway in the line to the Skypod level, dumped all plans of wandering around downtown after the CN tower visit was over! So all of us headed back together.

The journey home was subdued. All of us were thoroughly exhausted after our day in the queue. When we got home, the rest of the family went to sleep. While Shilpa and I, as usual chatted... Wait a minute - that should be, while Shilpa and I, unusually enough, went right to bed without any further ado! I guess that is indication enough as to how really, really tiring our day was!!

That was the end of day three. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I did not have to wait for so long in queues! On the brighter side, I do now get to say that I saw the view from the CN tower. Though, if you ask me, the whole thing is a big con. My sincere advice is: If you want to see what the view looks like from the top of the CN tower, just check out pictures online. It really isn't all that different. Besides saving yourself some money, you will also save yourself a whole lot of time and frustration!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Happiness is ...

...drinking a tall glass of ice-cold spiced buttermilk on a hot summer day! I drank a glassful last evening and just couldn't wipe the blissful grin off my face :-)!

p.s. Brought this forward from here. Do take it forward!
p.s.1 Will add a picture if I repeat the feat this evening too :-)!

Update: I did repeat the feat (ah, did you notice the poetry?) this evening and here is the buttermilk! Cheers :-D!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tips for daily living

What to not eat
The other day I realized I was down to my last bowlful of cereal. Being a "have-to-eat-breakfast-or-will-die-of-hunger" kind of person, I checked out replenishments the very same evening at the local grocery story. I picked out two boxes of cereal. One of them was this:

You might wonder why anyone would voluntarily pick out cereals which promises high fiber, high protein and other high blah, blah. Well, turns out that I have had Kashi cereals before and remember liking them quite a lot. I couldn't remember which exact cereal type it was. But I reasoned with myself - it was a Kashi brand cereal - how bad could it be?

As it turns out, pretty bad. When I opened the box and emptied the contents into a container, my heart sank. For, this was what I saw.

Bits of what looked like round pieces of cardboard, interspersed with what looked like sticks. I got a jolt when I realized I was supposed to eat this.

To make it prettier, I added some soymilk to the mix. Hmm, now it at least looked nice. Well, time to sit back and enjoy.

Right. The first mouthful tasted like cardboard. I haven't eaten cardboard before - but I am kinda sure this is how it would have tasted if I had. By the time I chomped my way through the entire bowlful, my jaws were aching and I was off my morning schedule by some 10 minutes.

Boy-o-boy! I don't like wasting food - so the rest of the cereal has to be eaten up by me. Sigh! Its going to be a long 10 days (I am hoping the cereals will get over by then).

So, tip for the day is: Do not buy Kashi High Fiber cereals unless you like torturing yourself.

Tip for myself: Dear Archu, Kashi is a brand name. They can have many varieties of cereals under the same brand name. You know, kinda like all Toyota cars are not Camrys?

What to not see
This past weekend, my friend and I went to watch the animated movie Cars. With the tickets, we also got a huge bag of popcorn and a huge container of Fanta (when I say huge, I mean HUGE - we could have easily watched four movies with that supply - its a different story that we almost finished the whole thing by ourselves by the end of the movie thanks to not eating lunch) - rewards for watching lots of movies!!

Anways, we settled back to enjoy the show. I love watching movie-trailers almost as much as watching a movie itself. So, there we sat, A and me, busy munching stuff when a trailer for a kids movie flashed on the screen. One of the scenes was a little kid challenging another kid to eat worms. Yeah, worms. Eeeeew - gross! Then the next scene flashed - the kids were throwing the worms into some batter, to fry it.

What the !@#$! A and I tried really hard to control our gag-reflexes as we looked at each other over the bag of popcorn. Scene after scene of how the kids come up with different recipes for cooking worms flashed! By then I had shut my eyes (my self preservation instinct told me that all my digested popcorn and soda could only take so much). Finally they flashed the name of the movie: How to eat fried worms.

You got to be kidding me! They are making a movie about eating worms? Who is going to come and watch it? Are they planning to screen it in a special theatre where simultaneous cleaning-up will also be done for repulsed patrons?

Anyways, the second tip for the day is: If you see worms in the first scene of any trailer in the theatre, keep your eyes shut for the rest of it. And, recommend this movie to people you don't like - heheheh ;-P!

And miscellaneous facts:
When people have digital cameras, they will even take pictures of a bowl of cereal.
When people have digital pictures of a bowl of cereal, they will write a blog post on it :-P!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Childhood Stories - #3

Exactly one year ago, I was extremely thrilled and happy today. My family, visiting me for the very first time in the USA, had landed from Chennai only that noon. My mom and sis, in spite of my best efforts at keeping them awake till a reasonable time, had lost the fight against jet-lag and had turned in to sleep around 6.00p. My dad, meanwhile, was all fresh and chirpy. Even when mom, dad and sis got out of immigration, I noticed that dad looked brighter and more fresh than even me and my friends V and A (whom I had brought along as luggage haulers, and who, like me, were looking rather jaded after a two-hour wait in the international terminal).

Turns out the secret behind this daisy-like freshness was that dad had happily managed to sleep for six hours straight on the flight - much to the envy of mom and sis. And his body clock was hovering closer to USA time than either of the others'. Anyways, all that happened a year ago and I wish I was at with my family today too - but I am not. So I will stop reminiscing about that and will reminiscence about something else instead :-P.

Anyways, apparently, before I was born, everyone simply assumed that I would be a boy. Why? For the simple reason that my elser sister was a girl and now it was the turn for a boy to be born in the house. So everyone was a bit taken aback when I turned out to be a female instead (my elder sister had to be corrected several times before she stopped calling me "kutti pambi", her version of "kutti thambi" meaning little brother in Tamil) .

In those days, birth of a baby boy was usually considered a bigger blessing than the birth of a baby girl (yeah, right). My mom was very happy but some of my more backward-thinking relatives were apprehensive about how my dad would react to this news. To their surprise, my dad very proudly announced that he was extremely blessed to have two lovely girls, and one of them would become a doctor and the other would become an IAS officer. Of course, today, neither of us are either a doctor or an IAS officer - but I think we have still made daddy dear proud!

We were always brought up to think of girls and boys as equals. To this day, I cannot tolerate people who take exceptional pride in their sons just because he is male - duh! Education always played an important role in our family. Any spending on education was never questioned.

Education did not just refer to our school books. At some point, to force us to read the newspaper everyday, dad came up with a competition. Every night, after dinner, he would ask us ten questions from that day's newspaper - it could be from any section, including the advertisements - the one who came up with the most number of correct answers was the winner (I don't remember if we had any prize). So sis and me would feverishly scan the newspapers just before dinner. Sometimes, when my memory failed me, I made up names of personalities (and dad would ask in jest, "Who is that? The next door tea-shop owner?"). Regardless, after several months of this game, newspaper reading became a part of our daily routine. My sister has become a complete newspaper addict now while I scan the headlines without fail before beginning any day.

When we were small, we used to play games at home. The most favorite one was blind man's buff. Daddy would tie a towel around his eyes and try to catch sis and me while we ran, giggling, round and round the teapoy in dizzy circles. I never tired of that game. As we grew older, we took to playing shuttle-badminton, cricket and sometimes football. The family-playing used to happen during vacations. At some point, all uncles, aunts and cousins were becoming pretty good shuttle-badminton players - one of my uncles stayed in an independent bungalow which had badminton courts. We used to split into teams and have tournaments every evening.

Cricket was a whole different ball-game when played with the family. There was a motley crowd of adults and kids of various sizes. I remember one of the matches when daddy enthusiastically lifted his bat for hitting a sixer. The next moment, everyone dissolved into laughter - dad was just holding the handle of the bat - the rest of it had broken apart and had gone hurtling off into space!!

I think my sis and I owe our decent vocabulary in part to the travel games. Ever since I was small, as a family, we travelled a lot - either visiting relatives or just simply sightseeing. This travelling schedule was not eased even during the so called life-changing years of the standard 10 and standard 12 board exams. So there was a lot of time spent on cars, trains, planes and buses.

One of the games daddy entertained us with was the jumble-game. He and mom would spell out letters of an English word in some random order and there was competition to see who would find out the actual word first. Those days I used to be pretty good at it - I got the title "Jumble-Queen" from dad and was thrilled to bits (however, that talent disappeared just like that along the way :-(). It is a fun game for kids and when I play with younger kids, I teach them those childhood games too!

Whenever my sis or I travel, we plan for it ages beforehand. Then make neat lists about the things to be done (the number of lists depends upon the number of days we would be away). This trait is directly handed over from dad. I remember being very irritated about it when I was younger - we seemed to spend as much time planning for our vacation as actually being on it. However, the result of the meticulous planning was that the vacation itself would be extremely relaxing. Even though my friends sometimes complain about me being Ms.Perfect-planning, I am still glad I inherited this trait.

My dad is great fun to be around with (as attested by many, many friends and family members). A cool sense of humor coupled with an inexhaustible supply of topics ensures that everyone around is entertained. My sister and I both inherit the sense of humor (hallelujah!). I think the funniest converstaions I have ever heard are the exchanges between my dad and his siblings when they start their funny takes on some random topic.

Then of course, punctuality! My dad is very well known in family circles as being extremely punctual. Once, when my sis and I were visiting our uncle by ourselves, my uncle (who is notorious for his impunctuality) was scheduled to drop us at the train station for the return journey back home. Much to our annoyance, we wound up on the train at4.30am when it was scheduled to leave at 6.00am. Uncle decided that he would miss out on a few hours of sleep rather than incur dad's wrath in case we missed the train!!!

As recently as two years ago, another incident happened. I was visiting another cousin (who is several years older than me and is directly related to my dad) in New Jersey. On the day of departure, my cousin was supposed to drop me off at the airport. I missed my flight due to horrible traffic on the way to the airport. The very first reaction he gave when I informed about this news was not sympathy for me. Instead it was, "Archu, please don't tell daddy that you missed your flight"!!! My dad is no longer on-the-dot punctual - however, my sis and I have inherited those traits and succeed in either paining (or when it works, intimidating ;-)) everyone else to be punctual or spending half of our lives waiting for the tardy ones to turn up!

As with most other fathers, my dad is obsessively fond of watching news. From 7.00p in the evening, dad watches all half-hour news-casts on different channels, right upto 9.00p. I don't know whether he makes comparisons among the channels to see if they are sayiing the same thing or not!! Anyways, since all news is right at his finger-tips, all my phone calls home results in me being updated with the latest news.

Recently, my friend V told me excitedly about the Indian sensex having the biggest crash ever. Even though I was hearing about this news for the first time, I calmly told him that this was no cause for worry. V was incredulous - "How can you be so sure?". "Because", I said simply, "I just called up home last night. If it was really serious, my dad would have definitely told me about it." Needless to say, the sensex recovered soon enough.

Oh well, I can go on and on about all that I have learnt from dad and about how important a role he has played and is still playing in shaping me into the person I am today. But I think I have already been indulgent enough with my reminiscences on this post. So I shall stop.

Though I love, respect and adore my dad every single day, since I inadvertently posted about mom on Mother's day, I thought I should write a post about dad on Father's day :-))! Happy Father's Day, daddy :-D!

p.s. Sindu, if you know when Sister's Day is, please to let me know. I shall do a post on you too ;-)!

Thursday, June 15, 2006


After getting rid of my SBC DSL (motto: we strive to retain our World's Worst Customer Service title) connection, and then mooching off my generous neighbor's wireless network, at long last, I have fixed up an appointment with Comcast cable today. Hopefully everything will work out and I will be all set to roll with my own internet connection soon! If I have complaints about Comcast too, you will read about it soon enough on your friendly neighborhood blog :-P.

To give my chance at becoming the next ARR my very best shot, I bought a keyboard to practise my lessons :-D. A cool Yamaha keyboard. It isn't very high-end - yet, it seems to have a lot of features. My heart sank when I realized that I did not even know the meaning of most of the terms on the keyboard and when I realized that reading the keyboard manual would be a separate task in itself. Nevertheless, I rallied around and am diligently practising. Glad to tell you that at long last my left hand now plays chords instead of automatically following my right hand (in case you are beginning to get impressed, let me inform you: I am talking about nursery rhymes and the like here).

Apparently my area had a mild earthquake today. I say apparently because I happily and peacefully slept right through it. I came to know about it only when a local friend sent a mail enquiring if I had felt the vibrations too. While I am totally thrilled that I slept so well that I was unaware of rattling beds and windows, I am kinda worried too. 'Coz, you see, in case it was the real thing, I would probably be waving to you all from heaven by now (yeah, I am super-confident that a noble, nice and wonderful person like me will go to heaven only ;-)).

And that brings us to the conclusion of this pointless post :-D.

Update: I just got cable internet connection. Am typing this from home. The speed is blazing :-D! Now, here's to hoping that this will last ...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Into the realm of the mist - Niagara Falls

After arrival in Canada and an adventurous first day, it was the weekend. S's uncle had planned out the weekend for us. Uncle, aunt, the kids C and B, Shilpa and me were to go to Niagara Falls on Saturday. Yippeee!

Saturday morning, we got up with a little less reluctance than usual because we were supposed to have breakfast at Saravana Bhavan. And wonder of wonders, the breakfast was a buffet! Where I come from, Saravana Bhavan serves food a la carte only and waiting for 30 minutes to get a table was not uncommon at all. You can imagine how excited S and I were.

The moment we entered the hotel (again, surprise, surprise, no waiting at all!), we made a bee-line for the buffet. Just looking at it made our mouths water. For the benefit of all of you who weren’t there, here is what the buffet had: halwa (yup the authentic red-orangey square one), som-paapdi, idli, sambhar, chutney, puri, vadai, ven pongal, upma, puliyogare, dosa, uthappam. I think I missed a couple of more dishes, but these were the main ones (I think). The food was yummmmy, slurp. Oh man, I feel hungry now :-(.

Anyways, after topping off the wonderful breakfast with filter coffee, it was: Niagara Falls, here we come! I have already seen Niagara Falls twice before this, once with my friends and once with my family. I had enjoyed both previous trips immensely. But both times, it was from the American side. I was wondering how much more different viewing the Falls from the Canadian side would be.

Niagara falls is just 100 kilometers away from Toronto. We reached in about an hour and a half. As we entered the city (is it called Niagara Falls?) and steered into the main road near the Falls, we could see a fine spray of mist from the background! It was the Falls :-)! We parked at a complex, took a restroom (or rather washroom as it is called here) break, dragged B away from all the video games there (which she wanted to play rather than see the Niagara Falls!!) and began our walk down the pathway beside the Falls.

The view was simply breath-taking. Standing on the American side, you can only see the side view of the American side of the falls. Admittedly, that view by itself is beautiful. But on the Canadian side you have the additional attraction of seeing the frontal view of both the American as the Canadian falls. Huge torrents of water, gushing down at the rate of some million gallons per second - it was simply awesome.

The first stop was for the Maid of the Mist boat-ride. Though the queue was quite long, the wait itself was not too long. When we reached the boat, we found a place on the top deck. Shilpa and I had decided to get drenched and so did not wear the ponchos we got before we set off on the ride. The ride was good fun - we got to view the Niagara falls from up close. We did not get very wet though as we were on the side of the deck away from the falls.

After the ride, it was already lunch time. So we all walked back to the city center. It was a long walk and a hot day. S and I had been under the impression that Toronto would be very cold, the city being further up north and and all. So we had brought along not-too-summery clothes for the trip (mercifully, S convinced me to not bring along my winter-jacket also - I am sure people in the airport would have pointed at me and laughed had I landed there lugging a thick jacket!). Sure enough, after some time, we were beginning to feel rather too warm. But the entire area around had a lively, carnival-like atmosphere. So we all had a good time looking at typical touristy attractions like horror-exhibitions, souvenir shops, palm-readers and so on.

We had lunch at an Indian restaurant. The food was so-so and the service was pathetic (if you folks want to avoid it when you go there, the name of the restaurant is The Guru). After lunch, it was souvenir-shopping time. B got a stuffed dog and C bought a t-shirt. Surprisingly S and I stopped with just buying "Niagara Falls" magnets (for quite sometime now, I have been buying magnets as souvenirs at any place I visit - lightweight, easily portable and not to forget, cheap too :-)). S's uncle got us some souvenirs too. After lunch, all of us were feeling very lethargic. But S and me really wanted to do the Journey Behind the Falls walk. The rest of the family though, was willing to skip it.

So we left them with a tarot-card/palm reader and walked back to the main falls. It was a long walk and a hot day. But, after sometime, the spray of mist from the main falls started showering us with refreshingly cool drops of water as we walked on the path near the falls. And, we spotted the rainbow! First, it was just a partial bit we could see. As we got closer to the falls, we could see the whole arch - at some point, we spotted two rainbows, side by side :-). We went berserk, clicking picture after picture. It was really beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk.

We finally got to the ticket counter for the Journey behind the falls attraction. We were told that there was a half-hour wait for the next available trip. We thankfully sank into some nearby seats and waited. Half an hour went off in a flash and we took the elevator down to the base of the falls. Once again, we decided to not wear the ponchos we had been given.

Once we reached the base, we followed the directions in the tunnel. The first stop was a view of the Canadian Falls from behind through a big window. We could hear the falls thundering down. The sheer force of the water as it came down in huge torrents was fascinating as well as frightening. We watched, mesmerized. After some time, we proceeded further down the tunnel and again watched the falls through another window.
It was very, very nice - but then, was this all to the attraction? Were these two views supposed to drench us with water - why were we given the ponchos? A trifle disappointed, S and I made our way back to the entrance, pausing to read all the pictures and descriptions they had in between (we were justifying the around 10 bucks-a-person entry fee, you see ;-)). Then, just as we had almost reached the entrance, we noticed another passage way which we had missed on the way in. We literally ran down that passage way and found ourselves standing on a deck next to the falls!

We were now looking up at the Falls from below! It looked as though the Falls was pouring out of nowhere from the sky. We gaped at it for quite sometime. Then looked at the side view of the Falls and saw how the force of the water had eroded the layer of shale at a faster rate (yeah, we did learn something from reading all those boards in the tunnel). We took lots and lots of pics.

I know I am being mean - but this story still makes me laugh. So here it is. As usual, after taking turns shooting lots of pics with either S or me in it (unfortunately, all of them turned out rather scary as our faces were too close to the camera) we wanted a pic with both of us in it. So we approached a lady, gave her the digital camera and then positioned ourselves on a ledge with the Falls thundering immediately behind us. The lady lifted the camera to her eyes and I noticed something very peculiar. The front of the camera, pointed towards us, had the close up of a huge eye on it - what on earth was happening!!

Then S and I simultaneously realized what had happened even as the lady plaintively exclaimed "Oh, I can't see you guys in the camera". This smart lady had turned the front side of the camera towards her face and was looking through the lens to shoot the pic! Which was why we were seeing a magnified version of her eye on the LCD screen of the camera!! Maybe she had never used a digital camera before - nevertheless S and I started shaking with silent laughter (we may be mean but we still are polite) as we tried to point out that she ought to turn the camera around. Finally her husband took the pic for us!

After all these stunts, it was time to descend to the lower deck. Everyone standing there was covered with the yellow ponchos. Except S and yours truly. As soon as we reached the lower deck, the spray from the Falls felt like a mild shower. Then we got to the side of the deck nearest to the Falls. It was as though someone was throwing buckets of water at us. It was simply heavenly. S and I stood there, arms streched out, giggling, tasting the water and generally feeling on top of the world. It was the single most enjoyable moment of the whole trip. Soon, we were completely drenched and the cool evening wind was causing us to shiver.

Finally, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the lower deck and proceeded back to the elevator. Dressed as we were now, in completely drenched clothes, we got plenty of "are you crazy" stares. Looked like we were the only two souls in the entire vicinity who had decided to brave the spray without ponchos. We may have looked crazy but I doubt if anyone else there had enjoyed the Falls at that moment as much as we had :-D!

When we got back to the top, we were still laughing about our appearance. But we were decidedly feeling cold now and made a stop at the washroom to dry off as best as we could. In Canada, a lot of environmental-friendly measures seem to have been taken. One of these measures seems to be discouraging the use of paper-towels. Most public washrooms we visited had only electric dryers and no paper towels. So we were left with nothing to dry off with. S though, hit upon the brilliant idea of using the dryer instead and could be spotted in various convoluted postions beside the dryer as she dried off her clothes. I follwed suit and soon, we both were dry enough to begin our walk back in the open air to the Skylon complex where our van was parked.

The rest of the family was waiting for us inside the complex. B had finally got her wish of playing video games and was happily occupied (she won a couple of "prizes" too). We had a light dinner of shared pizza, banana-split sundae and chai-lattes. Soon, it was time to head back home. It was dark by then and the Falls had been lit up. We wanted to stop and look as the Falls from up close as it got lit up in red, blue, green and yellow lights in turn. However, there were no nearby parking spots and after all our exertions earlier no one (other than, of course, energetic B) wanted to walk a long distance. So we just took in the beautiful sight as S's uncle slowly drove by. The colored mist had an ethereal look to it. Finally, we had one last glimpse of the Falls and we were off on the freeway to Tornonto.

I remember, when I was small, in order to entertain ourselves during long car journeys, we used to play games like spot the license-plate, spot-the-thing, word-building, antakshari, bus-game, memory-game etc. Nowadays, the need for coming up with such games seems to be slowly dying out. You see, our van had a DVD player in it. We had got a bunch of DVDs along. In the morning, watching The Incredibles brought us to the Falls before we had even realized the passage of time.

During our return journey, we played a DVD with a collection of Shah Rukh Khan songs. The first song was from the movie Kaal and had some really funny costumes and dance steps. S came up with the idea that we should all dance for the song. We had a total rip-roaring time as the four of us in the back (B, C, S and me), strapped to the seats with seat-belts, but nevertheless waving our arms and legs, followed the dancers on the screen. Thanks to B's insistence, we played the song (and danced) some five more times before we reached home!!

We were all extremely tired and exhausted when we landed at home. The rest of the family went to bed immediately. While S and me, ha, you guessed it, were awake: chatting, downloading pics, putting up some of them on S's blog, laughing at our exploits and doing other such activities late into the night.

Thus ended day two. As I am keeping with my tradition of narrating every single thing (other than actually counting out footsteps ;-)), I think this post can also compete for the longest post ever :-)! Cheerio, folks!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Need for Speed

A few days ago, I was driving to my fitness class from work. I usually take the ST expressway. Though it is crowded during rush hour, it still is the fastest route to my class from work. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour (mph) on ST. Usually though, even when the traffic is heavy, as long as it is free-flowing, most drivers do at least 55mph. So, that evening, I was cruising along at between 55-60 miles per hour behind equally charged cars when I noticed a black and white car on the lane to the right out of the corner of my eye. A quick glance over my right shoulder confirmed it - yup, it was a cop car!

Immediately, I slowed down. Within seconds, my speedometer was showing a staid 45mph. I tried to maintain an innocent look on my face as I continued my law-abiding act. Soon, though, my other instincts took charge and my speed climbed to 50mph. Still, not bad, I told myself. Then I noticed something strange. I was at the tail-end of a huge group of cars ahead of me. But behind me, except for one lone car, for at least 200 feet, there were no other cars. But after that, again, there was a huge bunch of cars! What the heck!@#$! I had been surrounded by cars just a few minutes ago.

Then it struck me. The drivers of the huge bunch of cars behind me were all maintaining 45mph, doing the innocent law-abiding citizens act after noticing the cop car! I started chuckling to myself as I glanced at the rear-view mirror again. And my heart shot into my mouth and my stomach dropped. The lone car behind mine was the cop car! Oh my gosh! Don't tell me doing 50mph in a 45mph zone merited a ticket.

Thankfully, before my over-active imagination could give me a full-fledged heart-attack, the cop car sped right by me. I watched, wondering which poor soul ahead of me the cop was going to catch. But to my surprise, the cop car just zoomed away, even faster than the cars ahead of me. I was just absorbing this drama when I realized that something had changed. All the law-abiding citizens who had hitherto been doing 45mph behind me had started zooming again the moment the cop car went past them. And the 200 ft behind me which had been empty only a few moments earlier was now once again chock-full of cars.

LOL! So much for following the law!

Ah, while I am at it, here is another story from the road. So the other morning, on my way to work from home, I was zooming along at the speed-limit when I saw the green light at an intersection. I crossed the intersection - only to realize that, due to some construction work, the right-most of the three lanes beyond the intersection had been blocked. The traffic lights at the next intersection was on red. Resultantly, the other two lanes were jam-packed, all the way upto the end of the lanes on that side. As I was already midway across the intersection I couldn't back up and so just went forward. I inched as close as possible to the car in front of me in the middle lane. Even so, the rear end of my car was sticking out just a little into the intersection. Immediately, I started panicking and started imagining all sorts of worst-case scenarios (all of which ended in me being rear-ended by some car) when the cross traffic started.

When I checked the rear-view mirror again, to my relief, I noticed that a SUV driven by a lady had pulled up behind my car. If my car was sticking a bit into the intersection, her SUV was practically blocking one of the lanes for the cross traffic. I began to feel sorry for that driver - if I had panicked so much, how much more nervous she would be feeling!

Then, even as I watched her in the rear-view mirror, the lady calmly reached across the seat, pulled out a mascara and started applying it to her lashes! She did not stop even when the cross traffic started and the vehicles in that direction swerved to miss hitting her SUV. Talk about cool! Talk about contrasts!

I tell you - drivers here never cease to amaze me.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Janitors in Toronto

The night that I landed in Toronto, Shilpa and I slept very late. Still, optimists that we are, we set the alarm for 7.00a the next morning so as to get an early start to our sight-seeing activities. Hahahahaha. What a joke! When the cell phone alarm rang, I hit the snooze button multiple times and finally turned off my alarm in disgust at 8.00a as we both still showed no signs of stirring from our beds. Finally, when we woke up, it was 10.00a in the morning!! Confirming to my rotten luck spree, it turned out that my cell phone clock was one hour behind Toronto time, so it was already 10.00a when Shilpa and I had been under the impression that it was only 9.00a. Sigh! Anyways, it wasn't like we were attending a time-bound conference or something.

S and I got ready reasonably fast. The plan that day was to see a bit of downtown, have lunch at a French creperie and then spend some time at the beaches. Basically, a plan as you go kind of plan. The younger kid B did not have school that day and was eyeing us as we got ready. The older kid C and her mom were supposed to go to the hospital that noon. B had the option to either accompany them or get dropped off by us at her dad's office. Neither option appealed to B and she whined till we agreed to take her sightseeing too (I tell you, when you are young, it is wonderful how much you can achieve by just nagging ;-) - as Shilpa said, these days, people mostly just walk away if we start to whine too much - LOL). S and me did not mind taking B along - it was just that we were worried that she would be tired out by all the walking we had planned.

We were planning to take public transportation. Like most big cities, Toronto is very, very, well connected by buses, trains and street cars (as trams are called there). So it was easy to get around even without renting a car. S's uncle had already given us directions to the bus station and how to get around. After a quick breakfast, S, B and me set off. That was our lucky day - all the buses/trains/street-cars came as soon as we reached the respective stations. First we had to take the Missisauga Transit local bus. S's uncle told us that it would take us all the way to the terminus from where we could get GO buses which would take us to downtown (I have no idea what GO stands for).

Other than some confusion with the local bus, we found our way alright. To our surprise though, we found that, unlike the US, most of the the trains/buses did not have printed timetables in them which we could pick up. So we had to simply wait at some bus-station hoping that a bus would turn up eventually if we had already not looked up the timings on the internet before heading out.

Once we reached the Toronto downtown, we spent quite sometime gaping at all the wonderful buildings around us. The architecture was very varied. Not cloned steel and glass structures. Some of the buildings had a downright old-world look to them - very nice! Our first stop though, after the long trip was to, what else - hog :-)! We had already decided upon the restaurant for lunch - Le Papillion which was apparently voted best crepe-place by some newspaper. We had picked up a local map from a nearby Budget car-rental office and were able to chart our course to restaurant easily enough.

Le Papillion had a nice decor with butterflies on the walls (le papillion means 'the butterfly'). The crepes we ordered for lunch were wonderful - the outer covering tasted like slightly sweetened dosa and the garlic/mushroom/becamel sauce stuffing that my crepe had was delicious :-). S ate a nice crepe too. B ordered the pasta bowl from the kids menu and finished it up neatly. Oh, here I should mention, B is an extremely well-behaved and adorable kid. Throughout the day, she was polite, courteous and did not kick up too big a fuss at any time (sample this: Waiter brings the check with three mint toffees. S and me are asking waiter for directions. B patiently waits till we are done and then asks the waiter "Can I have this please?" pointing at the mint. Phew! I was a good kid - at least I think so - but nothing compared to B!!).

Anyways, the waiter told us that "The Beaches" would be a good place to visit. The Beaches is a nice place by the Ontario lake which has a boardwalk for walking as well as a park with recreational facilities. We took the street-car upto the shops near the beaches. It was a long ride and when we got off, we walked along the variety of stores on the road and visited the local public library on the way (my idea, of course ;-)). Then, all that travelling and walking sapped our energy and we decided to pick up coffee. We spotted a Second Cup coffee store. S and me got lattes while B got orange juice.

We continued walking along the street when S spotted a bank. Ah, an ATM to withdraw Canadian money! We entered the bank and S wandered off while I operated the ATM machine. All of a sudden, I heard a loud plop sound and turned around even as something wet splashed on my feet. B was standing with her hands over her mouth and guilt all over her face. She had just dropped her bottle of orange juice and it caused quite a big orange juice puddle on the floor. I told her it was alright and that we should just tell someone in the bank about it.

Well, so there was this guy at the counter whom we informed about the mess and he said that someone would clean it up and we should not worry. We turned away from the counter when another bank employee, a lady, gave a hard stare at the empty bottle B was still holding in her hand and then said to us, "Oh, I will get you some paper towels to clean up the mess."

Boo hoo, that is how S and me could be found, on our hands and knees, mopping the floor with paper towels while the dragon-lady monitored us! Our fate in life that we should go to Canada and spend some time as janitors. While I agree it was our mistake to begin with, that dragon-lady's attitude sucked big time. Which is why, if any of you need to open a bank account, please do not consider Nova Scotia Bank.

Anyways, after a good laugh, we proceeded to the actual beaches. As I said earlier, it is located on the shores of the Ontario lake. The sand on the shore was covered with pretty pebbles. There were lots and lots of people walking their dogs. The park had lots of maple trees and the grass was covered with pretty white and yellow flowers. Idyllic spot! We spend quite sometime there. B ran around picking pebbles. Of course we took lots of pictures. The whole neighborhood in that area was very picturesque.

Finally around 5.30p in the evening we decided to set back home. With all the travelling, it would take us at least 2 hours to get back home. By this time, we were pros at figuring out the various bus and train routes. Once we reached downtown, we stopped at the famous Tim Horton's chain store for Timbits and donuts (for B). After that it was time to catch the train and then the local Missisuaga bus.

We reached home at around 8.15p. We had had a nice fun-filled day. S and me were exhausted while B, whom we thought would get tired with all the walking, was jumping up and down "Shilpa akka, Archana, let us dance now, let us dance now". Dance? Right! Instead, to keep her happy, we helped her bake a cake. B and C decorated the cake and all of us had it with yummy hazelnut ice cream.

As usual, while the rest of the family went to sleep, Shilpa and me were awake, yacking late into the night (yeah, even I wonder how we still have not run out of topics to talk about).

So ended day one. That is one LONG post. Sorry folks, I think I have been going into all minutiae - but that's just so you can all feel the whole experience. Hehehe!