|Glorious fall colours under a golden maple tree, near the whirpool look out on our Niagra Falls Tour|
Haresh decided to treat me to a baby moon road trip and, we have just returned to Chicago after an exhilarating week - long adventure. We meandered to the east all the way to New York City with a detour in Niagra Falls. So, how did we come up with this plan? Well, all the credit goes to Haresh who planned the whole thing. He has in an earlier life driven from LA to NYC and back, has since then, fallen in love with the amazing highways, bridges and roads of this country. He was eager to show me, in his words, "what America and he were all about."
We hired a really comfortable vehicle - a Toyota - from Avis for $ 280 + taxes for a flat fee for 7 days the night before and then, set off on Saturday afternoon for our baby moon. The comfort of driving at one's own leisure and pace with lots of room to stretch my feet and take delicious naps made all the difference.
Some of you may ask what the heck is a baby moon? Is this some more modern nonsense that parents now do to self indulge themselves and, shove it in everyone's face? "Lookit, we are pregnant and are going to celebrate it by giving ourselves a holiday." Yes, I suppose that is really what it is. I don't know where I read it but I like the concept and, that Haresh and I can spend some time together before the baby arrives and takes over our lives. So, yes, a baby moon is a self-pampering holiday expectant parents take before the bundle of joy arrives.
So, what are America and Haresh all about? They are both opportunists. Just joking!
America's road network is impressive to say the least and, especially coming from a place like Liberia, which suffers from a severe lack of good roads, Haresh and I can more than appreciate how important good roads are for a country's development. Liberia has a total land mass of 111,369 km2, roughly the size of the US state of Ohio. Since the country has very few paved roads and the road networks really consists of dirt roads, it can take up to 10 hours to cover a distance of 300 km. For example, it takes 10 to 12 hours to journey from Monrovia to Zwedru, a distance of 297km, in the dry season. Let's not even talk about how much longer it can take in the rainy weather.
It has been fun driving on good roads - its like riding like the wind! It is so organised, too. There are signs everywhere. It would be virtually impossible to get lost. Then, there food and lodging exits practically every 20 minutes - it would be virtually impossible to go hungry or roof-less.
I had been actually looking forward to pigging out in the US - McDonald's, Starbucks, pizza, cupcakes, muffins, brownies, frosting, fried chicken, steaks, burgers, diner food, tubs of Ben and Jerry's while watching TV or the movies - to my heart's content. Wishes strangely come true...like a sick nightmare!
I was appalled by the bombardment of fast food on the inter-state. It was difficult to find something wholesome to eat. Even more bizarre was that the hotels did not have their own restaurants but were attached to fast food-chains. At one hotel, the Red Roof Inn, we actually got coupons for breakfast for McDonald's next door along with free coupons for slot machines at the next door casino. At another hotel - a $ 280/night one - we ate packaged, sugary, salty breakfast on styrofoam plates with plastic cutlery! All along our journey, it was virtually impossible to even buy fresh fruit!
|Styrofoam plates and plastic cutlery at a $ 280/night hotel!|
The one place where we got some good real food was an Indian Restaurant with the name of Ashoka in Canton, Michigan. The biryani was authentic and the gulab jaman were huge and served piping hot, as they should. All in all, though, the culinary experience on the interstate was very pathetic. By the end of it, I got sick and tired of seeing the mile-high signs of fast food chains, especially the yellow M. I would see overweight people struggling to get out of their cars and, clumsily staggering into the restaurants. One fellow could hardly walk but I guess he needed his burger and sugar milkshake fix.
Almost all the hotels we stayed at were quite decent and reasonably priced. Well, with the exception of a very seedy motel where we got a cigarette-smelling room with a mirrored jacuzzi smack in the middle of the room. We decided to flee from the place and drove around for another 2 hours to find another place.
What happened was that we didn't know about a major football (Michigan v. Michigan State) game in Detroit and, Haresh had somehow routed us to Niagra Falls via Detroit. So, not only could we not pass through Detroit because of a heavy traffic pile up but there weren't any hotels for miles around. We kept getting de-railed looking for a place to sleep, further and further away from our already funny route. So, there we were, driving late at night, listening to a hyperactive DJ on a radio station who was going on and on about the tracks she was playing for a "feel good Saturday" while our heads were swimming. That was the night we were confronted with the dodgy jacuzzi-in-the-middle motel room - sights and smells we will not forget for a long time to come!
Haresh got so annoyed at one point that he actually started asking philosophical questions about American football. We were at a hotel with no rooms available and, the kind lady was trying to find us a room elsewhere. Haresh told the lady something like: "Foot ball has messed up my life. It's the game where they hold the ball and run around with it, right? Why do they call it football if they don't use their feet? Why don't they call it hand ball?" The lady just started laughing. Thank God, she didn't take these slights too seriously.
What else was memorable about the trip? Well, the Falls were spectacular and we were lucky enough to ride the Maid of the Mist boat on the second to last day of the year. We were even more lucky in the way of weather since the sun was out and rain was forecasted for the next 2 days!
We booked ourselves on a 4-hour tour that took us on the Maid of the Mist boat ride to the falls, the power plant museum, the whirlpool, and the night lights. We were regaled with lots of miscellaneous facts, daredevils who either wanted to go down the falls in barrels or brave the rapids, history of the power plant, and the fascinating Edison and Tesla rivalry.
We were with a nice group that had come up from Texas. I was a little shocked when later in the evening, we asked where we could watch the Presidential Debate and no one seemed to have any idea about it. And why did they schedule it on the same time as Monday night football, was the big concern!
The town itself was nothing to write home about and in some respects quite tacky! There was a big casino, a few hotels, an explosion of Indian restaurants, and a really kitsch international food court. The Canadian side looked like it had way more hotels and casinos and so on, but I couldn't tell whether it was any less or more tacky. The tour guide told us that the American philosophy was to keep all the focus on the natural wonders of the Falls and hence, less development on the American side.
We hardly got to see New York City. In fact, we just saw a slice of Manhattan but I loved whatever I did get to soak up. The city was just as I had imagined it. I loved the buzz, I loved the look and feel of the buildings, and I loved the bombardment of all kinds of restaurants and cafe's. We mostly hung around Times Square, which by the way, makes Picadilly Circus look like a very poor cousin. I guess NYC is just "more" in every respect, if one has to compare it to London, the only other cultural and financial capital of the world. I got to meet some of my dear friends whom I had not seen in years, one including someone from high school in Athens, so almost 14 years ago was the last time I saw her. It made my time in NYC even sweeter. And, as we drove away at night, listening to a jazz station, I decided that it was the only way to experience NYC at night - listening to some classy jazz.
I am so glad I went on this road trip with Haresh and got to see a little bit of the roads and a little bit of NYC. I can't wait to come back and really visit NYC to my heart's content.
I am quite impressed with Haresh's driving and navigating skills. He would get frustrated with the GPS and often curse the Garmin lady for seemingly misdirecting him over and over again, but he took and brought us back safely!
This will be one of the most memorable holidays for us.