Wild Wild West!

Snapshots from our week long trip out west in June 2015 with my parents.

Fantastic trip. Highlights included: horseback riding in Zion National Park (a first for my parents), hiking in Bryce Canyon, scrambling to get to Antelope Canyon (because I remembered it from a Britney Spears music video), early morning yoga in Sedona, airplane tour of the Grand Canyon not to mention over 1200 miles in our rental. Also, did I mention it was over 110F everyday.. of course, it was a dry heat! 😉

 

 

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Iceland: May 2015

We spent 5 days in Iceland in May 2015. We flew an Icelandic airline called Wow Air from Boston. It was significantly cheaper than flying Icelandic from JFK and we had the time. We met Aunt Holly (Bill’s Aunt) at the airport. It was a quick 5 hour flight to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland and spent the five days driving along the southern coast of the volcanic island. I have a number of friends and family who had visited the country just before us and told us how beautiful it was. But I didn’t really understand that until we got there. Iceland is one of the most stunning places we had been to. There are no barriers or railings between us and the majestic waterfalls, glacial lagoons and steep drops into the ocean… we drove around 1500 km in our short trip there. The days were long with only 2 hours of twilight and no complete darkness.

 

We can’t wait to go back and explore the rest of the island sometime in the future.

We are back!

Hi everyone,

We’re back. While this blog was initially started in 2013 to track our big trip, we’re continuing to have some pretty cool adventures; so we have decided to blog about our adventures over the last few years and continue to do so for our travels in the future. Most of the posts will be written by me with Bill agreeing to contribute around 20%-25% of our future blog posts. 🙂

There will be some catch-up posts over the next few days with highlights from our travels in 2014, 2015 and early 2016. Hope you enjoy our updates.

Sam & Bill.

Day 104 and 105: Liverpool, UK

Day 104 & 105: November 3rd and 4th

It always lovely to be with family. We have three full days in Liverpool with the Manohars and since we entered their home two days ago…Bill and I haven’t stepped out.

The family was at home on Sunday and we spent most of the time going through photos and our blog. Ram was the one who taught me how to use my camera..which I am so grateful for!:)

Yesterday, everyone was back at work and the kids at school… Bill and I spent the entire day on the couch reading and drinking chai. The only time we moved was for lunch. 🙂 The Manohars were all back home by 6pm and the evening was a riot..getting the kids to eat and off to bed. The last time we were here, the kids had summer holidays and my cousins had taken time off from work to be with us.

It’s great to be able to relax like this after months of constantly moving around. We also know that as soon as we get back to the US, we’re going to be rushing around again settling back in. For now, it’s a cold, sunny morning. The house is quiet and I’m comfortable on the couch where I will probably be all day. Perfect! 🙂

PS: I really haven’t taken any pictures for the last few days.

Day 103: To London, UK

Day 103: November 2nd

We had a real early start this morning. We had to drive around two hours to Lille from Reims to catch our Eurostar to London which was at 11:30am. We also had to drop of our Hertz rental before that and check in for our train. No big deal…we left Reims at around 7:15 am and we’re driving into Lille at 9:45 am. We had plenty of time to drop off the car.

Only, as we’ve come to realise…whenever Bill and I are leaving a country…there is always a complication! ( read my China and Mongolia posts:))

Turns out this Hertz rental place was really hard to find. We had it on the map, but just couldn’t find it. Finally we saw a store front for the Hertz. When we pulled up, we realized that this was an old storefront and they weren’t here anymore. After an hour of futile driving around these narrow one way streets, we decided to go to the train station anyway and see if there was a Hertz counter there. That worked! There was….but we were told, that the car drop off was somewhere else.

So we decided that I would stay with the bags while Bill would drive to a car park next door( seemed real easy on the map) and drop the car off. Apart from this, we also needed to print out our Eurostar tickets based on the booking we had. I couldn’t do it while Bill was away as he had the iPad with him( for the map). So all I could do was wait for Bill to return.

Bill on the other hand was driving around the train station based on the directions given to him by the lady at the Hertz desk…and he still wasn’t able to find it. There weren’t any signs at all. Meanwhile, there were announcements being made that the check-in counter was going to be closed soon and I began to panic a little and make alternate plans in my head as I was sure we were now not going to make it.

Bill finally finds the car park… We just chances it and enters one right next to the one where we were parked earlier…and when we does, he sees a sign for Hertz…one that couldn’t be seen until you enter the car park!!! Would it be so terrible to have a sign up front?

He makes it back to me with 15 minutes to spare. Meanwhile, the Eurostar staff are all familiar with me as I’m the only one waiting to check-in. I ask them to print off our tickets as we aren’t really sure what was involved in that process and how long it could potentially take. Phew! We make it onto the platform with a few minutes to spare as our Eurostar from Brussels pulls in for a few minutes on its way to London. We made it!:)

The only thing we couldn’t do was refill the fuel tank. We had filled it up earlier in the morning on our way to Lille closer to Reims but it was only three quarters full when we dropped it off. We are going to get charged an exorbitant amount for that…but better that than buying brand new Eurostar tickets which I have to say were ridiculously expensive even though we purchased them a month ago.

Finally the adrenaline wore off…90 minutes later we pulled into London’s St.Pancras station. Happy to be back in a city where we know our way around and after three months…no language barriers!:)

We made our way to our cousin Raghav and his wife, Aditi’s place. My aunt and uncle were also visiting them so it was a happy reunion. Bill and I are happy to have come full circle. We started our journey in the UK three and a half months ago and the last time we were here, we were a bundle of nerves… Nervous about what was to come! We’ve been very lucky that there have been no big mishaps… No stolen passports, missed trains or flights and most importantly, neither of us has fallen sick. That is indeed an accomplishment.

We spent the rest of the afternoon eating some home cooked food and watching tennis! Perfect!
Later in the evening we all headed to a pub where a close friend joined us as well. It was a triumphant return to the UK!:)

Tomorrow, we head to Liverpool to spend time with more family before we finally fly back to the US.

Day 102: Epernay and Reims, Champagne, France

Day 102: November 1st

Bill here – Sam has asked me to guest-write this blog post. Careful observers will note that I’ve only guest-written on here once before; to let the world know that a 5.9 earthquake back in early September hadn’t derailed our trip. I guess assigning me this work is Sam’s way to indicate the importance of our 102nd day. After all, our 102nd day was a day we’d long looked forward to…the day we finally visited the gothic cathedral at Reims!

Also, it was my 30th birthday 🙂

We woke up in the morning and made casual plans to drive out to a vineyard north of town that had a website which seemed to suggest, in French, that they welcomed guests to come and sample their grapes and bubbly. We had an address and a rough idea of where we were going, and that was enough for me.

Just as we were leaving our hotel however, our friendly hotel receptionist called out to us to make sure we knew that the day was a bank holiday and most places in the area were closed for the day.

It was news to both of us that the French would be celebrating my birthday as well.

At this point in the trip, we’ve come to understand two important, if unwritten, rules:
1. Always be flexible on plans.
2. If somebody recommends something, do it.

Laurie, our friendly receptionist made a few phone calls on the spot and discovered that our original destination was closed for the day, but that and came back with a suggestion on visiting a small little Champagne house in Epernay, just down the street from the massive Moet & Chandon, mentioned by Sam in yesterday’s post. She knew the owners and was a big fan of their product.

What a great decision that was. Not only did we have a private sampling of four different types of Champagne, the tasting was led by the husband/wife couple that owns the house (Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, see pictures below). It was also great because on the way out of Reims, we impulsively pulled off the highway and drove up the dirt roads leading into the vineyards. Sam was inspired to take pictures of the earthy, autumn colors of northeastern France, while I was inspired to grab a small handful of ripe purplish grapes off the nearest vine. I used to work in a winery and the whole experience, from the surreptitious consumption of grapes in the vineyard to the Champagne tasting room where proud owners shared their newest bottles and beamed about awards won in recent competitions, all reminded me of my old job.

After that, we drove back to Reims to park the car — with more wine and bubbly scheduled for the day, there would be no more driving for me.

After stowing the car and making a few quick calls home to say hi to our parents, we made our way to our next destination — the aforementioned gothic cathedral in the center of town.

We have seen a lot of gothic cathedrals on this trip. Sam, I’m proud to say, is now well versed in the history and terminology of European religious architecture and she can pretty much walk into a church/basilica/cathedral and estimate the year its various features were built. To be honest, having seen so many churches and having described so many here on the blog already there’s not much new to say about this one. The only thing I would say is that for anyone who hasn’t already seen 25 churches in Europe, this would a pretty good one to visit. It’s beautiful and has all of the thing you’d look for in a stunning gothic cathedral. Additionally, Reims hosted the coronation of all but two French kings so it has some solid history going for it as well.

…but that’s not what you’re here to read about, nor is it what brought us to Reims. Thus, we finished the cathedral, grabbed a quick bite to eat (Sam = pasta, Bill = burger) and made our way to Tattinger for another tasting.

I’m sorry, I’m afraid you mispronounced the name of the champagne house in your head just now. “It’s TAY-ton-JAY here in Frahhnce” as we ourselves were told multiple times.

The Tattinger tour meant well and some might say that the caves were even slightly more interesting than the ones at Moet the day before, but unlike the small group of 15 or so on the day prior, we had about 70 people on this cellar tour and there simply wasn’t enough space down there to accommodate everyone comfortably. The tour covered almost everything we’d heard the day before, in some cases nearly word for word, and I was beginning to worry that we’d wasted our money. Thankfully the tour wrapped up again in the tasting room and Sam found that she liked Tattinger better than Moet. If nothing else, I’m happy that we can now confidently order Champagne knowing what we like.

After the Tattinger tour, and finding other champagne houses closed for the holiday, we retired to the hotel room for a few hours to warm up on what was shaping up to be a dark, cold, and rainy evening. Finally, an hour or two later we summoned the courage to head out again into the elements and walked down the street to a nice looking French restaurant overlooking the main drag. I tend to not be too fussy about my birthdays but Sam wanted to take me someplace special and this restaurant really delivered. The food was amazing, the wine was great, and somehow Sam managed to sneak away and explain to our waiter, in French, that it was my birthday and please could they put a small candle in my desert?

The resulting pyrotechnic display surprised even Sam. Given that all activity stopped and all eyes in this upscale restaurant were on me, I was sufficiently embarrassed for her liking and it was a hilarious end to a wonderful day.

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Vineyards around Reims and Epernay

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Vineyards around Reims and Epernay

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Paul-Etienne Saint Germain Champagne House

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Paul-Etienne Saint Germain champagne tasting

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Bill with the owners

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More vineyards

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More vineyards

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All roads lead to more champagne

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Tattinger Caves

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Reims Cathedral

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Birthday firecracker just in time for Diwali

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Happy Birthday Bill

Day 101: Epernay and Reims, Champagne, France

Day 101: October 31st

We drove a long way to Champagne today….the land of the bubbly!:)

Our first stop was a town called Epernay. It is said that the entire town sits on a labyrinth of caves and cellars that house a total of over 200 million bottles that are just waiting to be opened at a future date. Typically a bottle will sit in the cellars fermenting for about three years….the vintage years, can be anywhere from10-12 years. Incredible!

I wasn’t so sure I believed all that I read, so we decided to tour the cellars of one of the biggest champagne makers.. The house of Moet et Chandon. It was founded in the 1700s in Epernay and today they are a part of LVMH, the largest luxury company in the world. We weren’t sure what to expect but we were certainly not disappointed by the sheer scale of their operations.

We were taken down into their cellars..which they call caves. Why? Because they really are more like caves. Moet et Chandon’s caves are 28km long and house almost 20 million bottles of champagne. That’s just crazy!:) It would not be fun to be lost down there! Our tour guide was excellent and gave us a great introduction into their history and how the champagne is actually made. Very interesting! She also gave us some background on Dom Perignon, one of their champagne brands…. Considered to be one of the best champagne and all vintage!

Finally after walking around the cellars for a while, we got to the best part. Some champagne tasting. 🙂 I’m not a huge champagne drinker but don’t mind a glass every now and then. Little do I know that over the next day and a half, I’d have more champagne than I’ve had in the last ten years combined!:)

After that we drove to the town of Reims, also famous for its champagne production and home to many other famous champagne brands like Tattinger and Mumm. May be we’ll sample some of them tomorrow?

For now, it was time to get dinner and stay warm!

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All set for the Moet et Chandon cave tour

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Moet et Chandon House

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Moet et Chandon Caves

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Moet et Chandon Caves

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Moet et Chandon Caves

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Moet et Chandon Caves

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That is a lot of champagne

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Finally, a sample of the good stuff!

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Champagne Tasting

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Moet et Chandon