Monday, December 13, 2010

Nicaragua

So after quite a big break from traveling since my last trip to Sydney, well about 3 months. I went on a trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica for my thanksgiving vacation + 3 days of leave making 9 days of vacation time.


As usual people asked why Nicaragua or Costa Rica well, the answer was simple we looked at tickets to places where we don't need visa and which are nearby Nicaragua and Costa rica came out to be good candidates. Other option could have been Mexico + Havana(Cuba) or Puerto Rico but Cuba was dropped because of legal issues involved and Puerto Rico was too costly and kinda far.

Managua Night.
So we arrived in Managua the capital of Nicaragua on Saturday evening around 9 PM. We already asked Holiday Inn to arrange for a pickup which they agreed to at cost of 5$ (initially quoting 6$, yeah bargaining in developing countries :)). Later we realized we didn't have to pay, don't know why.

The cab played a mix of reggeaton and other latin music but the best part was the remix of "Kabhi to Najar Milao" with a Bachata song, which immediately put a big smile on my face. I sure was in Latin America and would have great music for next few days.

We were recommended the "Moods" club by the cab guy and I did a basic search but didn't find enough and we decided to give Moods a shot and may be return  to Chaman or XS (excess) if it didn't work fine. 

Moods is kinda far (costed 7$ in cab), the entry was 10$ per head. As soon as we entered I was sure I was in right place. They had good Reggeaton music good is understatement :). Over time they played pretty much all genre of Latin music Reggeaton, Salsa, Merengue and then Rock music and even some Pop songs. The pattern was to play 5-10 songs of each category in a row so everyone can have great time as long as they like some music :).

The drinks were about 4$ or 81 Cordobas each. The bartender made a Mojito with some thing additional (IIRC called bueno something) and it was super good.

As we had to travel to Granada next day we left by about 2:30 AM, the party is meant to go all night but by this time there were only about a forth of the people as were when we entered.



 Day 2: Granada
Managua to Granada is about 45 KM and has bus about every 15-20 minutes, the bus takes about 1:20.
The fare was 14 Cordobas. The taxi would have costed about 40$.

The guy who dropped us to the bus terminal have told us that the Granada was a more tranquila city. And it was indeed so. Granada feels much more calm and laid back from the minute you enter the city. Small streets, not too many cars, quiet a few bicycles everywhere.




We stayed at Casa Vivaldi which is about 5 minutes walk from the Parque Central, the original citycenter. The city itself is not too big therefore the downtown is pretty small too. You can walk across the same in about 10-15 minutes. 

The afternoon we ate the "Nuestra mundo" place after looking around a bit for something smaller but failing to find anything. The place is a multicuisine restaurant just the kind that a food explorer should avoid :) Anyway for me that kinda good. I found Fajitas con tortilas, that was not enough so I also got another Veg fried rice which tasted exactly like Indian fried rice.






After food we walked to some of the recommended locations, the San Francisco Monastery mueseum (12$ entry). The Monastary is nothing special and we were done very soon. We visited Iglesias la merced which gives a panoramic view of the city for just 2$ which was totally worth it. They play the bell at about every 1/2 hr in case that interests you, its not any chorus though.

The churches I visited didn't look as rich in art as I was expecting. I mentioned on my visit to Roma (Rome) how beautiful the there churches were and how magnificent art was demonstrated on the walls and ceiling, these Spanish churces were very different, very very plain.








We also took a free Cigar making tour at Mumbacho Cigar factory right on the downtown street.



In the evening I wanted to go to El Club but we figured it was nothing special on Monday-Thursday so didn't we bother, instead deciding that we will go to Cesar the next evening.

Next day we went to Masaya, Volcano masaya, which has a  live volcano called volcan Nindiri. The volcano is surrounded by a national park called Parque National Volcan Masaya, The distance from the main road to the mountain is about 5 KM, being short of time we took the jeep ride which costed just 50 Cordobas each way per person.




Next to live volcano Nandiri is the volcano masaya which is a dead volcano, of course nothing much interesting after watching a live one :)


We then headed to laguna de Apoyo which is among the clearest lake in the world you can also take a dip in the same, we did. We went to Mercado Nuevo (new market) which is a pretty big market to buy any kind of souvenirs you can imagine, we bought Hamocks, magnets, hats and some other stuff. Note that you can bargain quite a bit here.



The night the hotel ownered graciously offered us ride to Cesar's, which was closing so he took us to El Club which was closed and the caffe opposite was dead in activity as per the gatekeeper. Finally we ended up going to "High Bar" which was close to the Parque central and had some music beats audible on the road. I ended up dancing a few songs there. The place even though had good music was pretty dead with only 4 rich old guys with 4 young girls (for obvious reasons) making a pretty dull dancing scene overall.

Fortunately after few minutes of wait couple of girls showed up and we ended up dancing a few songs, Bachata, Merengue and Salsa. Impressed by our dancing I and the girl got a complimentary drink each from one of the guys :)

Next day we headed to Costa Rica by the Transitica bus.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Scuba Diving in Sydney

I undertook the PADI Open Water Scuba diving course at Absyss Sydney, Australia. The course worked out great because it was a 2 day in-water training which could be completed on a weekend. I booked it rt after figuring out that I was in Sydney for one more weekend and I was very excited about the same.

The anxiety started right after I got the email from Abyss about the preparation for the in water training:
1) Dive Medical
2) E-Learning Module




I learned later that the signup etc did mention about both of them, but of course I didn't read the terms and conditions properly. Anyway Dive medical is a very Australian only thing, so you may not have to worry about it elsewhere.



The e-Learning course was kinda long and time consuming specially when I only had one week to finish it. It took about 8-10 hours as suggested. The course was quite interesting as I revised lot of usual stuff about Buoyancy, pressure/density relationship etc. that was taught in science classes at school.

The actual training takes 2 days, which I choose to be weekend. The first day was testing of basic swimming skills, learning basic scuba diving apparatus handling and a dive at the end. The dive was at Bare Island and the water was kinda rough but it still turned out to be quite fun, must have seen about 8-10 different fishes and we went about 7 Mts down at max depth.

The next day was more or less all diving day, they had 3 dives each about 40-50 minutes duration leaving aside the initial preparation and instructions time.

Overall it was a lot of fun and I plan to do it again ASAP. I got my certificate/diving license from PADI within 3 weeks of completing of course. Somehow diving isn't so big here in San Francisco so I will have to wait.
All our dives were at Bear Island which is a beautiful place to visit even otherwise, its the place where the Mission Impossible 1 bike clash scene was done at.

Bare Island


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sydney trip part 2



The second week in Sydney was as much fun as the first one. I figured some interesting stuff to do on the weekdays after work while weekend was full of activities.


The Monday night I went to the Salsa Party at Pump House near the Paddy's Market, which turned out to be a majorly LA Style salsa place. I didn't enjoy it as much as I am more in to the Cuban style and hardly know enough about LA style. Its mentioned to be one of the best LA style salsa dance parties in the town and did look so to me but the number of people present.

Then I came to know about La Cita which had Cuban salsa stuff on both Wednesday and Thursdays. I dropped by on Thursday and was excited to hear some cuban tunes as I went to first floor after being confused abused the place from Pop music on the ground floor.
One other out of town Rueda folk from Brisbane.
The Cuban dancing scene at La Cena


The floor has a Advanced class going on and they won't let us try :( Anyway I figured we would wait for the class to end and then enjoy some Rueda. Guess what, the group only does Rueda in class or for performance practice and even that they don't want others to try. Boooooh. I would expect any group dancing cuban salsa in a lot of place to try Rueda and have others from outside the group join them in casual runs but not this one. They should come down to Bay Area see how much more fun and social Rueda groups can be!
The crib with the group notwithstanding the music was great. I noticed though social dancing is not so common here and people will dance with just one partner song after song.

The party got much more fun later with the pretty awesome live band and DJ on the ground floor, and though we were about to leave around 10:30 or so, we stayed dancing Rueda and Reggaeton for good 2-2.5 hours. So definitely a party to go to.


Saturday night the CS group organized a Pub Hopping and we went to couple of pubs of which I remember only Cargo Bar's name, as it was a great place. The music was electronica/House and ambiance and setup was all great. No doubt its one of the highest rated ones. Of course drinks were costly mostly ~ 7 - 8 AUD. Oh In one of the bars I gave first try to Caipiroska and it loved it.


Sunday I went to the famous Torango Zoo, the best (only?) way to reach is by a ferry from Circular Quay terminal. Interestingly the ferry is part of the MyMulti pass for unlimited weekly travel. The Zoo is vast and pretty well organized. Besides the local animal from Australia they have a big presence of animals from other countries. They also have good shows I attended the birds shows but only got a glimpse of the Seals show which looked interesting too.














The zoo is worth spending a full day specially they close by 5 PM so earlier you go better it is.

I also visited the Sydney Aquarium the same evening as its open pretty late (8 PM) and I had to agree with what others told me about that place, its one of the best things to see in Sydney. The colorful fishes and other aquatic life like corals was as beautiful as it gets, I decided on the spot that I was going to try Scuba diving, something which didn't interest me enough earlier. BTW, they have a separate exhibits for Sharks too.




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Friday, July 09, 2010

Sydney Trip part 1

Unlike usual travel posts I am trying to live-blog my Sydney trip so that I don't make a super big post at the end.

I have been in Sydney for 5 days now, my experience and liking for the city has increased drastically since when I arrived here. I guess the first day was dull because of the long haul flight from United which was a terrible idea (departed 1.5 hrs late, flying time 13.5 hrs and No internet/Personal entertainment system) and the second day the Jet Lag was showing its effect.





I arrived on Friday and fortunately the evening had a CouchSurfing meetup at a nearby hotel, Pyrmont Bridge Hotel for watching FIFA match of Brazil vs Netherlands (sad story Brazil had lost). Amid the match I went out to check the international Fifa Fan Fest stage nearby which was nice. Multiple projected displays along with one FIFA cup shaped one.

Saturday started late partly because of the late night Fifa match watching and may be because of fatigue. I decided to take a walk along the Darling Harbour which is pretty beautiful and a very popular hangout spot for all ages. The evening I walked on the Harbour bridge and realize you can't really get any good shot of the bridge from anywhere nearby unlike Golden Gate bridge. You would get the best shot from Circular Quay area.






On Sunday I started exploring city with the "MyMulti3" pass that I bought for 57$ allowing me unlimited travel in 60 KM radius around city center. I figured I was to head to Bondi Junction and turned out it was too close and I didn't have enough of train journey so I head towards Cronulla beach. Almost near Cronulla but not sure where I was, I figured I was better off going to Bondi Beach again for its famousness and so I did.




Bondi beach is pretty. There were lot of people on the beach but the weather didn't encourage so many of them to try the waters. There were few brave surfers in wet suits though. The waves seems pretty good for surfing but I better not comment on what I haven't tried. :)










I spent the evening going to Circular Quay area. Which definitely has some of the most beautiful views of the city specially in the night.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

New York Trip

I went to New York on the Memorial day weekend, where I was joined by Priyam on our 2-3 day exploration of the Big Apple. I had a great time and the delay in composing this post shouldn't give any wrong idea about the same.





I absolutely loved few things about the city which include the Public transport and the busy well lit streets of the downtown and all major tourist attractions. Besides the weather was pretty good at that time much more pleasant than San Francisco city (its pretty hot by now though.).



We took the New York city pass for 79$ as we liked everything in the pass and wanted to try doing as many things as possible.

The city has some amazing Museums. We spend one full day covering just about half of the Metropolitan museum of arts (MeT), which is definitely the biggest Museum in U.S. Turns out that Loovre in Paris is the among the biggest in the world but I spend a much shorter time most likely because I didn't understand much of Art etc. and didn't have company of someone who did, which in this case was Priyam.








My observation at the MeT was that for up to 19th century the complexity and intricacy (details) etc. in the paintings were increasing as time progressed and then came Modern Art.


In the evening we went to the Empire State building, the line for which took about 2 hours after getting in the building at sunset time. Definitely missed the sunset view and wondered if coming may be around 10-11 pm would have made it easier. The view was definitely great though view we had next day from "Top of the Rocks" tower was far better.



The next day was for American Museum of Natural History which had a Planetarium show. The show was okay but the Museum is again impressive. You can definitely spend as much time as you want seeing all the exhibits which include life size imitation of many biological species, Meteor rocks and lot of chemical compounds. They have pretty interesting coverage on evolution and movement of ppl around the world in early days.


After the museum we went to Wall Street and took a tour of the Island by ferry

In the evening we went to Top of the Rocks tower for the Panormic view which I felt was better than that from the Empire State Building probably because you can see the Empire state building itself from this view :). After we took a stroll on the famous Broadway street and the times Square area which makes you feel like you are in Vegas with its similar lighting and billboards along with big displays and tickers.

Next day Priyam went to see MoMa but I had already had enough of art Museums and I decided to visit whatever beach was possible by public transport, that turned out to be RockPort beach. The easy connectivity by the Metro train makes it a popular destination as was seen by the big number of people on the beach.

The water was pretty cold but unlike California there were people in the water. So I decided to try it out, a little girl who was swimming with her father told me how it would be easy after few minutes and it was indeed so. I would have spent next 1-2 hours in the water, when I was initially fearing to soak my knees.


What happened next was interesting. Suddenly at about 5 PM or so everybody started leaving the beach at once. I could figure it was something to do with safety on the beach in the evening so I followed everyone. We all walked to the station and were to figure out that the station was closed and there was "Police, do not cross" ribbon everywhere. Anxiety! Fortunately people and cops spoke English and I learnt that we were better off walking to next station which was about 10 or so blocks away as this station was closed under the fear of overcrowding and it was not easy to determine when it would re-open.


After about an hour or so of uncertainty we were finally on way back to the city. The train was as busy as the busies subways I have seen in multiple cities (though not close to Rio's new year rush at all) and this was a Sunday evening.

Once I was back in the city I rushed to the Brooklyn bridge a photo on/of which was required to complete the trip to New York. Thankfully the Sunset was at late as about 8:30 pm giving me enough time to take photos of the bridge before and after it.