Travel Tidbits from 2010

Speedwell wolves. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

I have covered quite a few places in 2010 – starting with Lititz in Pennsylvania and finishing it off with a trip to Montana! In between, we have been to Providence, Philadelphia, Lakes Region of New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, Portsmouth, Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Princeton, Albany and Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. We have also explored the casinos and castles of our own state and been to the nearest cities for a spot of entertainment now and then.

Apart from travel, we bought a new car. When you take as many road trips as we do, you need a good set of wheels. Few things I want to share from my trips (they are in no particular order and has no particular purpose):

1. It’s not nice or safe to keep wolves as pets. They may look like big dogs but that’s where the similarity ends.

2. Vermont is a haven for extreme biking. Not just maple syrup.

3. Food destination of the year – Providence (Rhode Island) and Portsmouth (New Hampshire). It’s a tie.

4. The week long trip to Montana gave me a glimpse into America’s wild west, something I have always wanted to do.

5. Pittsburgh is bike-friendly and pocket-friendly. You just have to ignore the angry motorists cursing each other at the top of their voices.

6. Boston Ballet ROCKS! The location of the theater – not so much.

7. If I was Napa Valley, I would watch out for New York’s Finger Lakes region. They produce great wines at affordable prices.

8. I would have visited Princeton again, just to hang out on Nassau street if it wasn’t for the crazy traffic at the New Jersey Turnpike.

9. It was fun to run up the “Rocky steps” of Philadelphia Museum on a balmy summer morning.

10. Amtrak’s Empire Builder is never on time. But the views from the observation deck are stunning enough to make you forget the hassles once you are onboard.

Let it Snow

The customary snowflake hung above the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The wind is howling outside, the DOT plows are rumbling as they try to clear the roads and nearby the coffee brewer growls softly. Through the glass doors of our deck, I see the white fluff from last night’s snowstorm. Comfortable and warm, I browse through the news most of it dedicated to last night’s blizzard, the inconvenience (if you are outdoors) and beauty (if you are indoors) of it all.

Regular contributor to The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes about snowflakes in a piece titled All Alike. Even before reading the article, I was aghast. I have always looked at snowflakes as something magical. No two are alike or so we were told. I tried catching a few on my tongue last night making my throat tingle in the process. Now I find this article.

As it turns out, I have been jumping to conclusions. Here’s an excerpt:

“As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments,” an Australian science writer named Karl Kruszelnicki explains. “So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way.” Snowflakes start off all alike; their different shapes are owed to their different lives.

Whew! If you read the entire article you will see how Gopnik digs deeper and reaches a far profound thought. As for me, I was just worried about the uniqueness of something as exquisite as a snowflake.

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly

Santa Claus at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Did you know that the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on Coca-Cola advertising?

Before the profiling by Coca-Cola, Santa’s appearances ranged from big, small, tall, fat, elf-like, bishop-like, gaunt, strict, spooky…and he wore everything from animal skin to a tan suit. Except for the color of his suit, the jolly old man owes much of his persona to the beverage giant. The traditional red coat has more to do with the imagination of Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast than with any brand color.

Back in the 1920s many people thought of Coca-Cola as a drink meant for warm weather. The 1922 slogan “Thirst Knows No Season” was followed by a campaign connecting Santa Claus with the beverage. The company tried to remind people that Coca-Cola was a great choice in any season and thus began the association of Claus and Coke.

An Excerpt From the Coca-Cola Website:

“Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus – showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa. For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa —an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.”

From redefining an icon to getting on board the latest trend, the Coca-Cola Company is all about branding. Given the composition and benefit of the product, that’s the way to go!

The above is an excerpt from an old entry that previously appeared on my advertising blog

Pure Magic

Boston Opera House

Yesterday afternoon, we attended Boston Ballet’s production of the ‘The Nutcracker’  and my feet has not touched the ground since. Set to Tchaikovsky’s august score, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s popular tale of ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ came to life within the walls of the lavish grandeur of the Boston Opera House. Pure Magic.

As the Christmas tree grew to an enormous height, I followed Clara’s adventures through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, transported into a world of make-believe by Mikko Nissinen’s brilliant choreography and Boston Ballet’s powerful orchestra (led by Jonathan McPhee).

During Act I, whilst the Snow Queen swayed enchantingly to the classical tune, specks of snow showered on the set and believe it or not, I felt a chill. So intense was the drama of that scene, it took me far, far away from the plush comfort of the theater.

Apart from the main characters of Clara, the Nutcracker and the slightly eccentric Drosselmeier, we have the Snow Queen and her dancing Snowflakes, frisky lambs, an army of mice, a gingerbread man, toy soldiers, the Sugar Plum Fairy in her pink tutu and glittering tiara (a little girl behind me announced that she was the Sugar Plum Fairy right before the show), a series of themed dances and of course, the adorable Bear. The Bear made quite an entrance during the party scene at the Silberhaus’s…I have no idea how he manages to leap so high and spin so fast in that furry suit. He made his exit amidst deafening applause, waving as he went. As the drama unfurled, I was enthralled by the dancers, adult and child alike, and wondered how talented they were and how hard they must have worked to achieve such levels of perfection.

Boston Ballet’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’ is nothing new to most of us in New England so I will not go into how opulent the set was or how the costumes sparkled, and how the dancers swirled on tiptoe with the utmost grace. All I want to say is that no matter how many times you have seen it, there’s always room for a little more magic in your life.

Pic(k) of the Week – Pittsburgh Zoo

Western Lowland Gorilla. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

We met this big fella at the Pittsburgh Zoo during our biking trip in the city. As I settle down to write about our trip I look at all the pics we took of the cityscape, the stadium, the museums, the sculptures but none of them can match the mood of this one. I wonder, what’s this gorilla thinking? Does he like the broccolis? What’s his favorite snack? What would he have eaten left to himself in the African jungle?  I don’t know and I sometimes wish animals could talk and not just in movies and cartoons.

The gorillas are an endangered species so in a way I am glad that this big guy is being taken care of. According to the zoo website, “Man is the main predator of the gorilla. Poaching for bushmeat is dwindling the numbers left in the wild. As all of the African rainforest is harvested for lumber, humans encroach on the gorillas.

I do not want to sound pessimistic but these are hard facts and pretty soon many of our fellow creatures will become extinct unless we come down harder on poachers and their enablers.

A Diner with a Sense of Humor

Wolfer's Diner. Havre, Montana. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The above picture is from a diner off  US Highway 2 in northern Montana. I loved its classic look and feel, very fifties. To make matters more interesting there was this poster of  a glaring Yosemite Sam riddled with fake bullet holes which dared you to complain. If you look closely, it says ‘Complaint Department – Whine at Your Own Risk’. Part of the Looney Tunes family, Yosemite Sam is a gun-toting cowboy who hates rabbits. He prides himself on being “the meanest, toughest and rip-roarin’-est”! His words, not mine.

The diners along US highways are open round-the-clock. Although they may look the same, each one has a unique character and usually the food is just what you need after driving for hours at a stretch. Right from the checkered decor to the mandatory ketchup to the occasional juke box, everything says road food with dollops of Americana.  When on a road trip, I look forward to these wayside diners as much as the drive and the destination.

Long Island in Bloom

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park is one of Long Island’s premier arboretums. I was going through some old pics, when I found this from our Planting Fields collection. Kicking off the week with some color and cheer!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Thought of the Week

Gingerbread Village from the Bake Shop at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

Every time I see a gingerbread house I think of Hansel and Gretel. Yup, suddenly the drawings and even the staid fonts of my big fat Grimm’s Fairy Tales appear out of nowhere and am drawn into a world of adventure and magic.

I sometimes wonder about the future of books. With the advent of technology, plenty of things are becoming obsolete and that’s good. That’s progress. I love smartphones and geeky gadgets as much as the next person.

But I feel sorry for a child who will only read stories from an iPad or a Kindle. Going by recent reports, very soon we won’t even need a gadget to view stuff. Remember Tom Cruise in ‘Minority Report’? That’s the future and it’s not too far off. Here’s a link to a very interesting video if you don’t believe me.

Can you imagine never picking up a brand new book and sniffing it for a whiff of the crisp pages? Or never having the chance to smile indulgently at the chocolate stains on a tattered childhood favorite? Books are personal and although they cannot hold 500 titles at a time, they can make memories. Happy childhood memories.

African Penguins Join the List

Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration is located in Mystic just off Exit 90 on Interstate 95 and is one of those places in Connecticut which makes for a perfect day trip any time of the year. We visited the Aquarium on a cold November morning just in time to see 20 or more African Penguins being fed fresh fish. They opened their beaks wide and swallowed them whole with ease, no bites required. In the midst of all the feeding and flapping, a seagull swooped down from nowhere, snatched a fish and flew away! Talk about fending for yourself!

If you are wondering about the colorful bands on the penguins’ arms, those are for identification purposes. These birds  are well-fed and looked after; they get proper medical care and a temperature controlled environment.

Feeding fish one at a time! Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

But the bad news is that the number of African Penguins have decreased so much that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have changed their status from “vulnerable species” to an “endangered species.” Makes we wonder what we are doing wrong. Why are so many creatures becoming extinct? It was fun to watch these little fellas waddle, jostle, dive and swim but maybe we should just let them be in their natural habitat. Just saying.

Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino – A Grand Getaway

Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand Tower. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Foxwoods Resort and Casino is the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere. No, America’s biggest casino is not on the Las Vegas Strip or Atlantic City Boardwalk, it’s in Mashantucket, Connecticut on Indian reservation. 

According to Tribal Nation websiteThe Mashantucket Pequots are an Eastern Woodland people with its traditional homelands in Southeastern Connecticut having endured centuries of conflict, survival and continuity on and around one of America’s oldest Indian reservations, established in 1666. The fox stands as a vigilant reminder of the turbulent times when the Pequot adopted the name, which remains today, The Fox People.” 

Light and sound exhibit at Foxwoods - The Rainmaker. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Their extraordinary story is exhibited in detail at the tribe’s Museum and Research Center. Watch this space for more on that.

As for Foxwoods itself, its halls have a quaint New England look and feel (although a major renovation is on the cards) and kids are allowed in the halls, hotels, shops and restaurants – just not inside the gaming parlors. If you are not into gaming, there are plenty of other ways you can spend your money. Hip lounges, nightclubs, designer brands and top-notch restaurants along with a championship golf course, a skating rink, a spa and four hotels are some of the combined recreation on offer by Foxwoods and their newly acquired partner MGM Grand. Keeping true to the MGM brand of entertainment, there’s a 4,000-seat theater for concerts, performances, sporting events and off-Broadway shows. The gaming area is restricted to 50,000 square feet, add to it Foxwoods’ impressive 340,000 square feet and you have an evening of excess laid out for you.

We were there on a night when Jerry Seinfeld was performing but obviously, we had no luck with tickets so late in the day. Apart from that, we had a pretty good time.

If you are in the mood for casino-hopping on a wintry weekend, you could also check out Mohegan Sun, which is located in Uncasville, about 20 minutes drive from Foxwoods.