Category Archives: Vacation

Walking Amidst the Giants

'Advice from a Redwood tree :)'Early one Thursday morning in the middle of February I rose early to pack up for our big road trip. It was still dark outside and probably cold, but the prospect of going to some place warm and sunny perked me up. I woke up the kids, gulped down some coffee, had a hot shower and loaded up the car with food to feed an army. Something about road trips, always made us hungry. Even after a hearty breakfast, kids would be clamoring for something to munch hardly a mile into our trip!

We set the destination on our GPS for Salem, the capital of Oregon. As we hit the highway the sun was shining merrily without a single cloud to blot its radiance. We ate breakfast in the car as we sped south to the border of Oregon which was interestingly on a bridge. My daughter drew from her social studies lessons and told us how the Columbia River ran along the border of Washington and Oregon for miles together before it reached the Pacific Ocean. A couple of hours later we reached the historic city of Salem. We toured the Oregon State Capitol, a beautiful building with Grecian columns and murals of Lewis and Clark. Most of the building is made of marble with a gold statue of an Oregon pioneer at the top. The older capitol buildings were destroyed by fire but some of the columns were saved and can be seen on the grounds. The Capitol has some fine ceiling art, tall glass doors and wide stairways on either side, leading to the State Senate Chamber and the House of Representatives Chamber. Both chambers were deserted as they were not in session.

Lunch in the car was next, with egg and potato salad, broccoli and tofu stir fry and home-made cookies. Deepwood Estate was a short drive away from the Capitol. The 18th century Victorian home and gardens were open to the public. A silver-haired, pleasant lady greeted us and took us on a guided tour of the home. The home had stained glass windows, some furniture from that era and a solarium. Parts of the house had been renovated over the years, like the kitchen and the Porte Cochere or carriage port. Ornately carved door knobs and hinges and birds eye wood added a touch of style to the rooms upstairs. A player piano stood in the informal dining room and our tour guide played a merry song on it for us. Upstairs she wound up a rare music box called a euphonia, which sounded so melodious and could be heard all the way down in the living room.

Pictures of the families that lived in the house were sprinkled around the house. The guide showed us a copy of a book that was a favorite of two kids that lived in the house. One of them returned to the house years later and signed the book. The house had servants quarters, a dumb waiter, attic and basement. A door lead from the dining room to the outside, allowing guests to exit the house and board their carriages. A carriage house for the horses and a carriage port used to exist. The original owner had put many secret doors and openings all over the house but nobody knows where they are located. We strolled the gardens which held the promise of blossoms and beauty in the summer. The landscape artists for the gardens happened to be two ladies, something unusual in those days.

These days the Deepwood Estate hosts tea parties and outdoor weddings in its gorgeous gardens. It was time for us to see something more ancient that an old Victorian house. Southward we drove, towards Klamath, California. Along the way we watched in wonder as the shadows of the night revealed giant trees towering over us on either side of the road. We were in the land of ancient Redwoods. Some of these trees stood right here while dinosaurs roamed the earth. We craned our necks to see the top of the trees through the car windows but it was too dark. At 250 t0 300 feet, these trees are jaw-dropping amazing! We reached our hotel exhausted. But the kids planned to jump into the pool with their dad in tow. I decided to stay in the room, take a warm bath and heat up some dinner.

At the Prairie Creek State Park we took short hikes in the Redwood forests. We passed by trees whose trunks were so huge that when the four of us stood around the tree with our arms stretched out and barely touching, we couldn’t even cover half the trunk. We came across trickling streams, bridges and ferns. Some of the trees had fallen and lay on the forest floor. They were big enough to crush a car or truck. These trees loved to clump together and intertwine their roots like humans holding hands.

At one of the trail heads we found a hollowed out tree that was still standing upright. I named it “tree cave” and we all went inside and felt like we were being embraced by the tree. We stood in silent awe in front of “Big Tree” which was 1,500 years old, 68 feet in circumference and 304 feet tall. In another area of the park we drove through a tree. For some reason we could  not rent a mini-van for the trip and ended up getting a compact car. Guess what? If we had gotten the mini-van it wouldn’t have been able to go through the tree!

At the visitor center located further south the kids got their junior ranger badges and we were pleasantly surprised to see the beach right outside. The dancing waves beckoned to us. We rushed outside and walked on the sandy shore dotted with tree stumps. Rocks jutted out of the ocean and added to the drama of the waves. In the distance I could see a cloud of white basking on the beach. Harbor seals! My son and I trudged against the wind to get a closer look. We were disappointed to find a flock of sea gulls. But something else caught my eye and there right by the edge of a tide pool was a bunch of harbor seals huddling together. We kept our distance to avoid startling them. Some shimmied along and plunged into the water. One cute fella kept emerging from the water and playing peek-a-boo with us.

I really wanted to see elk, so we thought the elk meadow would be a good spot to see them in their natural habitat. On that day we found plenty of deer grazing in the meadow but not one elk. It was time to head back north to Crescent City to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse closed at dusk but the rocky beach and tide pool was the perfect setting for a gorgeous sunset. A narrow bridge made of pebbles connected the lighthouse on top of a hill to the beach. As the tide came in the bridge started slowly submerging. I was on the beach and my husband and kids were near the lighthouse. I waved frantically asking them to hurry lest they get stranded. We stood there in the cold windy beach, watching the waves crash on the rocks, push around them and between them, finding some way to go forward. The skies were a startling orange, with the pale pink mountains yonder and the lights flashing from the lighthouse intermittently. There is something about the salty air and rhythmic waves that washes away a year’s worth of fatigue from the soul. Soothing like the very womb of mother earth. Beautiful, mysterious and ever so temperamental. Full of wonder, all-engulfing and oh-so powerful.

In reverent silence we drove to Portland, Oregon, grateful that we had witnessed another grand spectacle of nature. As we neared the city, a thick fog enveloped us and remained well into the next day. It slowly lifted as we made our way to the Columbia River Gorge area. The very same place that Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea had traversed nearly 200 years ago to explore the west. Between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River is the 2nd largest falls in the U.S. – the Multnomah Falls at a staggering height of 611 feet. It was a Saturday and Valentines Day, so the crowds were thick and the parking situation was grim. It was hard to capture the entire falls, consisting of the upper falls and the smaller falls that tumbled into the river, in one shot. A little bridge somewhere below the upper falls offered a breathtaking view of the falls. We hiked up to the bridge and felt the cool spray from the water fall on our skin. The trek to the top of the falls seemed long and arduous. Considering the long drive ahead of us, we opted out. We picked up some Chinese-take out and headed back home. I was reluctant to go back to the city bustling with activity, an uninviting urban jungle.

My son warned us – we are going to find the evergreen trees around our home really small. And he was right. We laughed at how tiny they were!

Fall in Paradise

MtRainierPic (3) Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees – John Muir

A long weekend in the middle of October is a great time to do all things fall. Like a trip to the pumpkin patch and a drive up to the Cascade mountains to catch some fall colors. We headed to the pumpkin patch on a cloudy day interspersed with rain. The pumpkin patch had pumpkins in all shapes and sizes. The kids picked three pumpkins – a large, a medium and a small (for N’s pumpkinology school project). We loaded them up in a wheel barrow which N had a swell time pushing around. The farm also offered hay rides in a wagon pulled by an old tractor. We took a bumpy ride around the farm with its apple trees, pumpkin patches and dried up sunflowers from the summer. The farm also had lavender plants from which they bottled lavender oil, available for purchase at the store. There were some old-fashioned water pumps in the farm that were set up for rubber duck races. N enjoyed pumping water at the pump, with the water gushing down little horizontal chutes. Goes without saying that my kids felt they were too old for rubber duck races! Too old to stick their heads through wooden pumpkins for pictures. We were all cold and wet and hungry after our trip to the farm. So we headed off to Bamboo Garden for some Hot and Sour soup, fried rice, Mongolian chicken, Szechuan veggies and Manchurian. The warm meal lulled us into a torpor and we all dozed off when we got home. The next day was our big trip to Mount Rainier. P was to buy some snacks and veggie burgers for the trip but I was in an unusually good mood and wanted to make everything – including the snacks. I made veggie cutlets, crispy murukku, apple pie and mixed nuts for the trip. MtRainierPic (1) The next day we rose early and headed out by 7.00 a.m. The roads were free and we made it in good time. We saw a rainbow as we were driving through perfectly straight rows of evergreens that fringed the roads. The Cascade mountains showed up in the horizon – black and austere. As we neared the park entrance, Mount Rainier appeared – aloof, majestic and snowcapped. Our first stop was at Christine falls, right by the side of the road. We then drove to the Jackson visitor center in Paradise, which offered a really stunning view of Mount Rainier. The summit was seldom free of cloud cover but we did manage to get some pictures of the cloud-free peak. Armed with trail maps, we headed off to see Myrtle falls, which was a short hike through the meadows  in Paradise. The wildflowers were long gone but the meadows were dressed in different hues of red and yellow. MtRainierPic (4) Near the 72-foot Myrtle falls, is a little bridge over the Paradise River and we went under the bridge to touch the ice-cold water. The last waterfall we saw in the park was the spectacular Narada falls, named after the Hindu sage Narada. The early settlers thought the falls had a spiritual connection. It connected the earth and the heavens much like sage Narada did. MtRainierPic (8) We drove to the Reflections Lake and hiked around its perimeter with Mount Rainier in the background. The lake was surrounded by trees that were changing color. Parts of the lake were still and reflected the trees and the clouds above. Some of the pictures we took here look like picture postcards. All that walking got us hungry and we went to the Paradise Picnic area to eat veggie burgers and chips with juice and coffee – with a perfect view of the ever changing Mount Rainier. Later while watching the film on Mount Rainier at the visitor center, we realized that the engineers had built the roads and the buildings to offer the best views of the mountain. MtRainierPic (10) After lunch we headed off to see Nisqually Glacier which was a short 1.2 mile hike (or so we thought). We ended up on the wrong trail and kept going for more than an hour until my legs burned. But the trail kept going on and on. We reached the Deadhorse (believe me I felt like one!) Creek trail before we realized we were not on the right trail. It was too late to turn back so we kept going until we reached Glacier Vista (elevation 6340 feet) which offered an amazing view of the glacier, falls and the valley below. At this point I was freezing – hat, gloves, double jacket and all! N and P wanted to continue up the trail to see Mount Rainier up and close. I was dreading the walk back downhill so I stayed put with A. There was some snow off to the side of the road so A played with it. She found a tiny snowman that fell apart when she touched it. She put it back together as best she could. Meanwhile, N and P reached a snow-covered road and took some great pictures with the magnificent Mount Rainier in the background. The hike back down was steep and painful and I doubted I’d make it before my legs collapsed under me. But I made it and we enjoyed some apple pie before catching the 20-minute film at the visitor center. Boy was I surprised to hear that Mount Rainier was an active volcano with steam vents at the summit. I had told my kids it was dormant, given its snow-white and innocent demeanor. The park boasted numerous glaciers and I was glad we were able to see one of these ice rivers. There was obviously more to the park than we explored (235,625 acres to be precise). The Great Patriarch Forest with its huge ancient trees was worth exploring but considering the plight of my muscles hip-down, we put off all further exploration for later. The kids got their first-ever junior ranger badges from the park ranger. It was a big deal, with oaths and all. Almost like being knighted! Almost. We picked up some souvenirs from the gift shop and headed home. The drive home was quiet, with the kids sleeping, but the traffic we missed in the morning came back to bite us. All in all, it was a day well-spent, in the mountains, breathing in the fresh air, drinking glacial water and away from it all. When we got lost while hiking, or it started raining and we had no where to go, I knew we had to give up all control and just submit to Nature. Because up here in the mountains She was in charge. If I had collapsed during the hike downhill we didn’t even have cellphone coverage to call for help. I had to simply trust and go down one step at a time.

Where will you go this fall? Make a trip away from it all and witness the magic of wilderness.

The Sparkling City of Seattle

On Friday the 4th of July we packed a picnic lunch and headed to the nearest park and ride. The Sound Transit Express bus took us to Downtown Seattle in 30 minutes. From there we headed to the famous Pike Place Market to see fish being tossed across the P P Fish Market. We wandered through shops filled with fragrant fresh flowers, local berries (including Boysenberries) and fresh produce for a while before we realized that the fish market was closed for the holiday. I had to stop and take pictures of some exotic mushrooms that are hard to find in regular supermarkets or grocery stores. We also stopped by the first Starbucks that opened its doors in 1971. Today the state of Washington alone has 559 stores.

We then boarded a bus to the Seattle Center to see the Space Needle. All that walking made us so hungry that we sat down on some concrete steps in front of the EMP museum and ate vegetable masala burgers and cherries (both from Trader Joes). The monorail zoomed over our heads every few minutes. After lunch we took a bus to the waterfront and a short 3o minute ferry ride to Bainbridge island. The sea breeze was chilly and I abandoned the deck and my search for otters and sea lions, for the heated lounge. When we got to the island we heard drum beats in the distance. As we turned a corner we discovered an entire collection of drums arranged in a clearing. Children and adults alike were playing bongos and other kinds of drums (please excuse my limited ‘drum’ vocabulary). Tambourines and other jingly instruments (apologies again) lay in a basket on the floor. My kids and I went for it. We drummed to our hearts content for a long time. It was fun and exhilarating. Others joined us and then left. This was community drumming at its best and left everyone smiling in the end. We thanked the man who had so generously offered us this fun opportunity and left.

We then headed to the art museum with paper sculptures, old coins, antique dolls and playing cards. All that walking and drumming made us ravenous. We headed to the nearby café for hot chocolate, cinnamon buns and coffee. It was getting late so we headed back to the mainland. P wanted to eat fish and chips (something he fancied after a short stay in England). So we got off our boat and headed to Ivar’s fish and chips. It was the kids first time eating fish and chips (or French Fries as they call it in the U.S.). The pacific cod that they use must be really good and really fresh because the sea gulls were surrounding the modest shop that sits right on the pier. The kids and husband loved it and had it been warmer we might have eaten at the waterfront and fed some sea gulls Ivar style. There is a statue of Ivar feeding gulls in front of the fish shop. He also came up with the motto “Keep Clam”. We’ll be sure to order some of that Clam Chowder on our next visit.

We took the bus back home and ate a quick dinner so we could watch the fireworks in Bellevue, supposedly the best show in the area. We had seen the 4th of July fireworks at the Boston Esplanade and at the Cocoa Beach pier in Florida. Now we were seeing it for the first time in the Pacific North West. My daughter remembers the one in Boston because that year they had a firecracker that made a smiley face. Guess who all went to sleep with smiley faces that night? All of us! A fun day trip with the family in a sparkling city doesn’t get better than this!

How did you celebrate this 4th of July? I’d love to hear it all…

The Great American Road Trip

From Atlanta we headed North West through the hills of Tennessee. I was ecstatic. Remember our trip to Gatlinburg to see the fall colors? I wrote about this wondrous place so I won’t dwell on it now. We reached St. Louis, Missouri very late at night after a whole day of driving. All the exhaustion of packing, moving and driving across states caught up with us and we decided to spend another day in Missouri.DSC04464The next day we went on a riverboat ride near the Gateway Arch. The Mississippi river is anything but pretty. The water is brown and murky. The buildings on the banks are old and dilapidated. We could barely hear our tour guide’s voice over the speakers – given that we were with an unruly and loud bunch of school kids. After the boat ride we walked past the towering Arch to a verdant stretch of trees lining either side of a walkway, generously sprinkled with benches. We sat down and enjoyed the twittering of birds and watched the squirrels scurrying by.

Earlier that day I had called J to let her know I was in Missouri and asked if we could meet. I had very slim hopes of meeting her given that it was a week day and she worked and had two young children to take care of. But she swung by later and I got to see my school friend after like 20 years. Back then we both wore pigtails and canvas shoes and the most stressful thing in our lives was Calculus! Now we were both moms – managing jobs, kids and a home. Her kids are adorable and played happily with mine. We chatted happily for an hour or so before we had to call it a day and hit the sack (or in our case the plush hotel beds).

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We drove out of St. Louis and across the state of Missouri just as the sun’s first rays lit up the ‘amber waves of grain’. The rest of Missouri was not quite like St. Louis. It had barns, vast open spaces and endless fields. We drove through Iowa and a bit of Nebraska before we passed the South Dakota border. The landscape changed. We were no longer in the plains. Hills and valleys appeared in the horizon. The road itself went up and down meandering around the hilly terrain. Very soon the black hills of South Dakota were visible. We drove across the state of SD to get to Hill city. Our hotel was nestled in the Black Hills State Forest area in an idyllic little town with quaint shops and restaurants. We ate a hearty meal of pasta with marinara, fettuccini alfredo, grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and chicken burger. After eating at fast food joints and pizzerias along the route this was food paradise. The dessert menu was on display at the front of the restaurant. It would have been sinful to leave without sampling their cheesecake. So after tucking into a generous slice we headed to the Black Hills Forest proper to see the Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony. The faces of four great Presidents were carved on granite rocks by 400 workmen over a period of 14 years. The planning and execution of such a grandiose project had to be the work of a genius – Gutzon Borglum. Even today so much work goes into preserving this monument. Sensors and monitors catch changes in the rock faces. Cracks due to weathering have to be painstakingly repaired.

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We stood in front of the dark giant rock face and watched a documentary about George Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson. Far away bolts of lightning split the sky and a cold drizzle made us huddle under our jackets. As they played the star spangled banner, the faces on the rocks lit up and a sense of patriotism rose from every soul present there. The ceremony ended with honoring veterans and U.S. military service men and women that were present.

The next morning we headed back to see the monument in daylight. I could see Roosevelt’s glasses as we walked down a trail to vantage points that offered a closer view of each of the faces. After that we headed to Custer State Park to view wildlife. One didn’t really have to go to  a forest to see wildlife in this part of the world! Just driving down the road we saw white tail deer, bob cats and mule deer. We drove for what seemed like hours without spotting a single animal in the State Park. And then it started raining down on us. Our hopes of seeing any wildlife were gone. I almost cried. We didn’t come so far to go back without seeing even a single bison.

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The rain finally relented and we drove a few feet to see a line of motorists parked on the road and on the grassy plains were bison! Plenty of them, munching on the wet grass with little calves in tow that were romping around gleefully. It was such a wondrous sight. We parked and stared and took pictures of these hairy natives of the land. Up ahead we saw pronghorn antelope and some burros walking on the side of the road. After lunch we started towards the neighboring state. This part of the country is so beautiful that one day did not suffice to see everything it had to offer. SD deserved a whole week of exploration. The Black Hills, the Native American Culture, wildlife and so much more to see. But we had miles to go and a schedule to stick to.

The air got cooler as we reached Wyoming. The Great Plains of South Dakota with its ‘spacious skies’, hills and valleys and crosswinds were behind us. Wyoming’s ‘purple mountain majesties’ rose up in the twilight. We drove by acres and acres of land with cattle ranches and barns. We wondered how anyone could live here without cellphone coverage, neighbors that were so far away that they were invisible and a neighboring town that had a population of maybe 80 residents. As we drove past the local pub everyone stopped talking and watched our ‘strange’ car pass by.

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We saw patches of snow and ice along the way and snow-capped mountains in the distance. My snow-starved Floridian children were super excited. We reached our little inn in Cody and crashed for the night. Next day we saw a deer on our way to breakfast. We had cereal, toast and coffee in a tiny room with very few chairs. The walls were full of pictures of the owner with various species of wildlife that he had shot during his hunting expeditions. Was enough to make me run as far as my legs could carry me! We then drove to the Yellow Stone National Park. There was snow all along the park roads. We had to stop and let the kids jump in the snow and touch it. Which they did with big fat grins on their faces. We drove around the park, stopping at geysers and snatching glimpses of wildlife. We had seen so many bison that we started groaning when we saw an animal and it turned out to be just another bison!

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We stopped at Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts every 45 minutes to an hour spurting steam and water up to 105 feet high. Yellow Stone is another place that needs a week of exploring with its snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, boiling rivers, geysers and of course wildlife.

Our last stop was Missoula, Montana, not originally part of the plan but we decided against another 14-our trip and split it into two trips. The hotel we stayed at had a water park and the kids jumped into the water at 9.00 p.m. for an hour of splash and slide fun. We didn’t really explore Missoula which was very close to the Glacier National Park ( it is now on my road trip list). Hope to go there sometime soon after I recover from road trip fatigue.

Next morning we headed to our new home, past the states of Montana and Idaho and into Washington- the evergreen state. It was Sunday. A week since we started from Florida. I couldn’t believe that we had driven some 3000 miles across the country, seen sights we never imagined in our wildest dreams. Now it all seems so surreal and it all went by so fast. But something tells me it is a trip we will all remember for a long time to come. It was the trip of a lifetime. A trip from one shining sea to the other.

I’ll leave you with the words of this beautiful song written by Katherine Bates. I suspect she drew inspiration for this song from her road trip across the States.

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

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The Hills are Alive…

In the last week of October we drove up to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. It was a 11-hour drive, mostly on I-95 North. A straight highway with regular cars making their way up North somewhere. Towards the end of day I dozed off for what must have been thirty minutes. I woke up suddenly and found myself in the colorful mountains. The winding road had bursts of color popping up at every bend, the evening sun throwing spotlights on the mountain slopes. Breathtaking, enchanting are merely feeble words to describe what I saw. Whoever included “great” when naming these mountains knew exactly what they were doing.

I was ecstatic and I broke into a song –  The Hills are Alive. For four years I hadn’t set foot on the mountains. For four years I hadn’t filled my lungs with the crisp and fragrant autumn air. For four years I hadn’t witnessed the awe-inspiring season that is fall. Unquestionably, my most favorite season of all. We stopped by a river right by the road, walked over the pebbled and rocky banks and touched the freezing water. My son picked up some rocks to add to our river rock collection. It reminded us of summers spent by the Deerfield river in Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts.

That evening, we reached our hotel, nestled in the mountains. The next day we headed off to the Great Smoky Mountains known for their permanently cloud-capped peaks. God bless the visionaries who fought hard to preserve these scenic places as National Parks for future generations. We drove all the way to Clingman’s Dome which is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at about 6,600 feet.  Shrouded in fog and freezing cold (at least for us Floridians), we skipped the 30 minute hike to the observatory/dome for the warm and toasty gift shop. After warming up by the fire we headed off to the Cherokee Indian Reservation on the North Carolina side of the park. It boasted the biggest waterfall in the area and it was a short hike to reach it. Doable by our family of kids, elderly parents and us – middle-aged adults. The Mingo falls could be reached after climbing 170 steps and a small stretch of rocky mountain path. It was well worth the hike to see it.

On the way back my husband was compelled to stop at an Indian gift shop to buy a dream catcher. The one we got from Mohawk Trail years ago was falling apart and he wanted to replace it. Dream catcher in hand we headed off for lunch and some more tree ogling, oohing and aahing, and trying to take pictures of tunnels and trickling rivers. On the way we were forced to stop on a narrow road as cars in front of us slowed down and came to a stop. People were jumping out of the cars and heading to the edge of the road overlooking the forest. We were wondering what all the fuss was about and found a big group of people gazing up at the treetops, cameras and phones clicking away furiously. We too looked up in the trees and saw a black bear climbing up a tree.

Now in all my years in the U.S. I had never seen a black bear in the wild. I had always wanted to see one (hop across the road while we were driving or take a drink in the river while we watched from yonder!) My husband (the ever practical one) warned me of the dangers of encountering a bear in the wild. So this was just perfect. We were far enough to be safe but not too far to miss all the action. We simply had to get off and take pictures. One excited person yelled – there’s four of them. But we only spotted three and they looked like cubs. My husband joked that we should be on our way before “Mama Bear” made a grisly appearance.

Next day we packed up and checked out of our beautiful hotel and made our way to Ober, Gatlinburg to board the aerial tramway for a view from way above. It was like seeing the mountains for the first time ever. We took the tramway up and down four times and each time the mountains and the colors looked different because of the light and the position of the sun. We then took a chair lift to a ride called the Alpine slide where you squat in a little car with a hand pedal to go forward or slow down. Our little cars took us down a winding concrete track. The kids loved it and wanted to do it again and again but we had to leave. I wished we could have spent another day in the mountains but we had to say goodbye and reach Atlanta, Georgia by 4.30 p.m.

P’s Dad loves elephants. When he was a young boy growing up in Kerala, many families owned elephants and some used to turn up in his backyard for a treat of bananas by the bunches. He loves telling my kids about elephants and stories from when he was a child. But in his 80 years he had never seen an African Elephant. So P and I were determined to show him one on this trip. Zoo Atlanta boasted not one but two such elephants. But we had to get there in time for the last admission which was at 4.30.

We drove for 3 hours without a break. Not stopping for food or drink. We made it in time to see these magnificent elephants. One was swaying away happily and the other was moving around. We also saw a very restless lion that was growling and pacing around and two hungry pandas munching on bamboo shoots. In an hour the zoo closed and we headed off to our hotel for much needed R & R.

The next day we left early to see Martin Luther King’s house and the Freedom Walkway. We then stopped by the Georgia Aquarium and spent the morning there before heading back to Florida. The sights of the city and aquarium held no magic for me for my heart was still in the mountains. I simply had to close my eyes and I was there in the midst of the trees in their glorious hues, feeling alive, feeling surprisingly healthy and happy, the melody in my heart rising to my lips until I could hold it in no more and I burst into song…The Hills are Alive.