27 May, 2015

Bonding made easy, thanks to online travel portals and apps

The hills are a favourite place for newly-weds to get away from the crowds
The days immediately following your marriage are the most important ones to know and understand your soul-mate. This is a period that helps you cement your relationship for the rest of your lives. Traditionally, the ideal way of doing so has been to get away from the daily routine and spend time with your better half. Newly-weds usually pick and choose from the array of honeymoon destinations and themes based on their common interests. While some choose the hills for their pleasant weather or the backwaters for their idyllic settings, others choose the sea to let loose the adventurer in them. When one thinks of the hills, the snow-capped Himalayas and the lush Western Ghats strike an immediate chord. Speaking of the sea, the vast vistas of Andaman and Goa come to our minds. 

Gone are the days, when people had to undergo the travails of booking their holidays through a maze of paper work, walking up and down the reservation desks or chasing unknown people. In this age of internet and smartphones, people prefer to do things on their fingertips, in the comfort of their home or office. Reputed online portals and apps facilitate one to choose the best honeymoon package, either in India or in exotic foreign lands. You can browse through the different honeymoon packages and get some exciting and romantic deals at prices that can make your honeymoon experience a truly ‘memorable’ one.
Online portals and apps make it very easy to choose your dream holiday.
Travel portals and their apps also provide newly-weds with ideas and tips to plan their honeymoon in the best way possible. Such suggestions can help couples have a safe honeymoon tour. A young colleague of mine chose musafir.com to book her honeymoon package recently. The ease with which she could book the package and all the package’s promises being delivered, put a smile on her face when she got back to work. For those of you who are planning to start your life in a truly fairy tale style or want to suggest a dear one do so, check out the exciting honeymoon packages offered by Musafir. From shimmering islands to mesmerising mountains, picturesque hill stations to wildlife safaris, this amazing online portal will satiate the appetite for every kind of honeymooner!

12 May, 2015

Criss-crossing Quebec's Appalachians

Pristine lakes in dense, forested hills, occasional rolling farms along roads less traversed, clear skies and limitless supply of spotless clean air, what else does a nature lover need? Somewhere in the Appalachian mountain ranges, Route 232 passes near the 731 sq km Rimouski wildlife preserve, and joins the scenic Route 132, just after Mont Joli village. Driving down east and exiting south, one leaves Quebec province to reach what New Brunswick province proudly showcases as Appalachian range scenic route. 

The drive from Rivière-du-Loup to Interprovincial bridge criss-crossing the Appalachians
Day 3
At about 4:30 AM just as the sun was dawning, the early morning chill woke me up. Eager not to miss the sun rise and the opportunities to photograph it, I took off on Edmunston Road. At Cabano, I took a deviation north onto Route 232 as planned. Fortunately it was a deviation well taken as this was a picturesque drive. I stop along on numerous occasions to take pictures of the serene lakes, forests and of course the roads, particularly with the backdrop of Lac-des-Aigles lake to the south.

Looking south on Route 232 with the backdrop of Lac-des-Aigles lake. 
Looking south on Route 232 with the backdrop of Lac-des-Aigles lake. 
One of the many little lakes that dot the route 
The scenic beauty increased as the road wound higher into the Appalachian highlands. I never thought Quebec would be so beautiful. Along the way I stopped at a small hamlet/ agricultural farm to collect some water to drink. A boy who looked barely in his late teens eagerly gave me some water. The boy could hardly speak any English and the only thing he spoke was French. Eager to thank him, I asked him his name to which he said Enrique. I told him I was from India and he asked me a question in reply ‘India’? Was this community so remote that this boy had not been taught about India in his school? I was surprised.

Driving ahead I stopped just outside the hamlet and had a breakfast at a scenic outlook besides the road. The forest clothed Appalachians rose above the beautiful and well maintained agricultural fields. The air had a hardly any dust. I could hear sound of streams in the forests nearby. The birds though not many, still made their presence felt through their melodious calls. I enjoyed every moment of this.

I continued along, stopping as I wished with none to question what I was doing. I tried to do justice to the beauty of the landscape through my lens. The idyllic villages along Route 232, the rolling farm lands mixed with dense forests, cattle lazily mowing the grass which was in plenty, made the landscape unforgettable. I could n’t but resist taking pictures of a beautiful church at St. Gabriel (Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski), a small hamlet.

A beautiful church at St. Gabriel (Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski)
A few km down the road, I stopped at a place to ask which way I needed to drive to reach Mount Joli which was my next destination. A lady who could hardly speak any English pointed the direction. This was near Quebec’s provincial park of Rimouski. I asked the lady if there were any interesting places in the park to take pictures to which she replied something in French that I could not understand. I left for Mount Joli and on the way I took more pictures of the beautiful farmlands rolling down into lush green forests along with some beautiful flowers that dotted the landscape.

After reaching Route 132 at Sainte-Angele-de-Merici, I took a deviation east without touching Mount Joli. I travelled along the beautiful countryside and lakes of Quebec province stopping at traffic lights of the communities along. 

I travelled through the small towns of Amqui and Causapscal where the road wound through dense forests amidst the Appalachians. These were beautiful stretches of the road meandering their way through the Appalachians with tall forests, dense forests clothing the mountains. This scene to me was a mix of Himalayan temperate vegetation in an area having the altitude of Western Ghat foothills, inter spread with the amazing roads of north America. Travelling down the Appalachians I reached the Inter provincial Bridge that connects Quebec with New Brunswick, just a few kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean.

View of Route 132 from the car

A river besides the picturesque Route 132 in Quebec 
An Indian immigrant's solo driving adventure for a week from Toronto to Canada's Atlantic coast, in Aug. 2005 - Post 2 (of 10)

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11 May, 2015

The long drive to Toronto from Canada's Atlantic Coast

The drive from Port Hastings, Nova Scotia to Toronto City
I started off for my home in Toronto from Canso Causeway in Cape Breton Island of Nova Scotia province. On this road just before exit 30 between James River and Beaver Meadow Road, I could sight a bald eagle scavenging on an animal that was run over. It was about 6:35 PM Atlantic time.

Although my original plan was to drive along the Sunrise Trail on Highway 6, I missed the directions and instead drove to Amherst, beyond Truro. For the entire trip over the past few days since I left Toronto I was the sole driver and navigator. On most occasions I had to look at the map for directions as I drove. This made me miss my direction this time around. It didn't matter much as the Trans-Canada Highway 104 was very good and allowed me to drive at high speeds sometimes touching 150 kmph. 

After driving up to Moncton on the Hwy 2, Trans-Canada Highway, didn't want to drive to Fredericton again as I had already seen it earlier during this trip. I took Route 126 which leads to Miramachi. During the entire trip the sun was bright and since I didn't have my windows tinted, my skin got tanned, particularly the parts exposed to sun. And the heat meant it had to rain. As I approached Miramachi on this less traversed road, it began to rain heavily. Keen not to test my front tires which were reaching their end, I drove below well below the maximum allowed speed. After reaching Miramachi, I filled gas and shopped bread and milk to eat for the next morning. When I enquired a few fellow shoppers on which was the shortest route to reach Riviere du loup, I was unanimously advised to drive up to Hwy 8 to Bathurst and then to Campbelton. Then I enquired about the less traversed Route 108, each person gave me a different reason on why not to travel on that route. The reasons ranging from the road being isolated, full of moose, no help if required and the absence of street lights - all of which inspired me to actually drive on it!

According to the map, in the route that had chosen to drive take the 137 km drive from Renous to Plaster Rock had no human settlements. The sun was fast going down as I drove along the rain decreased and finally stopped, as I entered Route 108 near Quarryville. 

The occasional homesteads and farms began to fade giving way to dense forests on both sides. I drove steadily but below the maximum speed enjoying the serenity. About 30 minutes into this drive, I suddenly came across a long red fox just at the edge of the road. Stunned for a moment by my car headlight, it later composed itself. The silence I maintained helped me further observe it. To my pleasure out of the bushes came another of its kind, which looked like its mate, to play with it. The occasionally fog covered road, the isolated road, the adjoining dense forests and these rare animals playing fearlessly ahead, this was a road worth driving. I continued on the isolated road for a couple of hours more and during this entire evening drive I came across just about 7 vehicles on this road. Tired, I pulled the car off the road and slept inside it near the town of Plaster Rock. Early next morning, I drove up to Grand Falls via New Denmark town again. I drove along the US border of Maine state on the trans-Canada Highway 2.

Crossing Edmunston, I reached Riviere-du-loup again. I drove in the city for a few minutes and visited the same Tim Hortons coffee shop that I had been here a week ago during my drive towards the east coast.

Riviere-du-loup is a beautiful little city. Stopping at a park that overlooks the city I had a look at the beautiful white buildings of the city and the vast St. Lawrence river to the west and the beautiful mountains of Saguenay Park behind. Whales occasionally enter this river from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I continued my journey along the picturesque Route 132 enjoying the beautiful scenery around and stopped by a road side view point to have my breakfast.

As I still had about 12 hours drive to reach Toronto, I got off Hwy 132 onto Hwy 20 and started to drive back. Along the way I again stopped at the tourist info centre and also a few picturesque spots to take more pictures.

Driving back through Quebec City, Trois Rivieres I reached Montreal city. The heavy traffic in Montreal meant I was delayed by 45 minutes before I could enter Highway 401. Near Brockville as I exited Hwy 401 to enter the 1000 Islands Parkway, I packed some fish and pulled by at one of the view points overlooking the St. Lawrence River  near the 1000 Islands, to eat it.

Joining the Hyw 401 again, I was glad the traffic was smooth as I approached Toronto. I was back in the city well before midnight to have a peaceful sleep after a wonderful 8 day journey to some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Looking back on the trip, I was glad almost all the things I did went according to my plans, even if such plans were drawn up in a short time. The car drove perfect, it never troubled me helped by the fast that the roads were top class - even in the remotest of areas. Taking a decent digital camera apart from a film SLR was a good idea as I could take pictures without worry. The people I met in the journey were wonderful and most of them very helpful. I didn't miss home food much at least in the first 2-3 days as I had deep frozen the food and carried the same in a ice box with the ice being replaced a regular intervals. And those were the days when the data packs and wireless internet was not as cheap as it is today particularly to use the google maps. I had to mostly depend on the road atlas I carried with me and some times missed the exits. The dark car meant that the car got hotter than usual and I also had my skin tanned as the car's windows were not tinted. And for some strange reason I forget to carry a good search light instead depending mostly on my car's headlights in the wilderness.

An Indian immigrant's solo driving adventure for a week from Toronto to Canada's Atlantic coast, in Aug. 2005 - Post 10 (of 10).

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The spectacular landscapes & beaches along east Cape Breton

The drive from Pleasant Bay village to Port Hastings
It was my time to return home to Toronto. I left Pleasant Bay village along the Cabot Trail towards the village of Neil's Harbour taking the same route that I had taken to see the sunrise. After some distance, the trail turned south along the eastern part of the park. The trail was now traversing in and out of the park, along clean and beautiful beaches.

The view of the beach at Neil's Harbour just outside the national park area was beautiful. The Cabot Trail skirts the national park along its periphery along its north-eastern portions. 

This Atlantic coast is dotted with fine-sand beaches in the eastern part of the park, like the beach at Black Brook Cove, few metres off the trail along the edge of beautiful forests. It was a refreshing site to see the beach less crowded, unlike many North American beaches.

The road traverses below the highlands at sea level along its eastern part. The landscape altered between coves and headlands, creating many scenic outlooks. There are many scenic outlooks along here like MacKinnon's Cove and Lakies Head. Off the roads were hiking trails that lead to dense forests and also the beautiful Chute Mary Ann Falls.

The Black Brook Cove is a huge granite rocks gracefully lining the coast, turned pink due to constant beating of open ocean waves. At first sight, these rocks reminded me of the famed pink colour of Jaipur City.

More of Cape Breton Island's beauty - Beautiful sand beaches of Atlantic
The Keltic lodge is located just as you near the park's southern boundary. It offers nice views of the ocean. If you are a bird watcher, you can walk across to 'Tern Rock', a breeding site of Arctic Tern, which migrates the longest distance for any bird in the world.  The tourists began to increase as I drove towards Ingonish village. Due to lack of time I had to skip the Middle Head area and had to just pass by the Ingonish Beach another beautiful, fine-sand beach that is present just beyond the Keltic lodge.

I drove ahead up the 1200 feet tall Cape Smokey Provincial Park. True to its name, I found a white mist obscuring my view from watching the sceneries around. The road winds along fresh water lake before it begins to ascend up the hills again at South Inguinish Harbour. The area at Smokey Mountain is at a good elevation, high enough to allow unrestricted view of the surroundings. I stopped for a few minutes at the Cape Smokey Provincial Park but the large number of tourists and the hazy sky forced me to depart from the place early. The road did not offer many views once I descended down the Smokey Mountain area till I reached Indian Brook.

At the water edge on route 312, I realised that I had to cross the bay on a ferry and there was no bridge. I had the option of either driving around the St. Anne's bay and continue along the scenic Atlantic coast till it reaches Baddeck or taking the ferry at  St. Ann's Harbour. I opted to take the ferry to reach Englishtown directly. Awaiting my turn to take the ferry I interacted with the friendly locals waiting to board the ferry like me. I realised I forgot to withdraw cash from the ATM and one of the locals awaiting his turn to get his pick up ferried informed me that they don’t accept card. Turning back I asked him for the nearest ATM machine who said I had to drive back a good 18 km for the same. He then handed me a ferry ticket worth $5 with a smile on his face for which I thanked him. I seemed to be having more than my share of good Samaritans on this trip.  As usual this local was a good source of information to scout for nearby places of interest.

The ferry ride was short and took just about 3 minutes to reach the other shore. Around this route, there are several private tour companies that take visitors on boats to see beautiful birds like Atlantic puffins and razorbills.

From English town the drive again was very picturesque. On way to the City of Sydney, my next destination, I stopped by St. Ann's Provincial Park. It has panoramic views of the beautiful St. Ann's Bay, its harbour and the surrounding hill range. The views as one drives up the St. Ann's Bay are worth looking around. On one side the foothills of Appalachians reach up clothed with lush vegetation with the Atlantic waters flowing from south to north.

Half a kilometre after the road from English Town meets the Highway 105 towards North Sydney, there is a scenic outlook known as St. Anne's viewpoint. The scenic view point provides a spectacular view from atop 245 metres above MSL of the St. Ann's bay below. It's worth a stop.

A few km from here on the other side of the ridge, the view towards east of St. Partricks channel is equally beautiful - blue water, rising hills clothed with dense forests and also the long bridge that takes one above the waters. 

Descending to the bridge and crossing it, I drove down to Sydney. In 2005, when I visited here, Sydney town was still recovering from the impact of the industries that have been shut down in the region and I did not spend much time there. After driving in down town Sydney for half an hour, I took Highway 4.

The beautiful journey back to where I began in this Island
It was time for me to head back to Port Hastings, the start of my journey inside the Cape Breton island. I took the Bras d'Or lake scenic trail and drove along the scenically beautiful Bras d'Or lake, stopping on the way to eat my brunch of fish burger that I had purchased on the way. I stopped to have a breath taking view of the Bras d'Or lakes from a park besides road at Irish cove

The Bras d'Or is a unique inland salt-water lake system stretching for 80 kilometres and is famous with sailing enthusiasts. The lakes are a traditional home of Mi'kmaq, natives of Nova Scotia. They have been living here for thousands of years, much before the first Europeans set their foot in. Visitors can visit their Reserves and at one of them, the Wagmatcook Island, there is a cultural centre where native craft is available for purchase.

I continued my journey along the Lake Shores with expansive blue skies and clear water. The Alexendar Graham Bell National Historic site, housing items belonging to the famous inventor of telephone. Bell who settled along the shores of Bras d'Or lakes was once asked why he did so. He quipped, "I have travelled the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes and the Alps and the highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all." As I drove back towards Toronto, I was pretty sure why he meant that.

Continuing my journey on the beautiful road, I reached Marjoree Harbour at Canso Causeway. There are few places in North America to match the gracefully blend of enchanting views, untamed wilderness, interesting maritime culture and warm people that can be experienced in Cape Breton Island particularly along the Ceilidh train, Cabot trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park. A visit to this Jewel of Canada’s Atlantic will tell you why.

An Indian immigrant's solo driving adventure for a week from Toronto to Canada's Atlantic coast, in Aug. 2005 - Post 9 (of 10).

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