Monday, August 2, 2010

A Memorable Road Trip

If I may say so it was a picture perfect vacation. My main concern was about me having woman's monthly cycle but fortunately God's grace it got over before my vacation started.

Day 1:

Started early morning at 6:30 from home to Arkansas Hot Springs.

Borrowed some books from Library so kids were busy reading on our way to Arkansas. Within an hour my hubby got caught by a cop for speeding. He did not expect but I guess it was good to happen so early as it will restrain him from speeding after all we are doing a five states trip.

The scenic beauty of The Natural State is so appealing to eyes especially when you drive. You see greenery everywhere on wither side of the roads.

 Arkansas is bounded on the north by Missouri; on the east by the Mississippi River, which separates it from Mississippi and Tennessee; on the south by Louisiana; and on the west by the plains of Oklahoma and Texas.

On our way to Hot Springs,1931 Ford car:

Our cars reflection:

Hot Springs National Park is located in the middle of a series of mountains called the Zig-Zag Mountains. Few pics from Hot Springs National Park:

This 216-foot superstructure affords a breathtaking panorama-encompassing 140 miles- of beautiful Hot Springs, the Ouachita Mountains and the surrounding Diamond Lakes area. It's a great way to start off or end a day of sightseeing in beautiful Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

One funny thing happened with my daughter. We were on top of the tower and wind started blowing her dress and she was like Mommy...Now, what I can do. I did not expect that to happen. So lesson learned, not to wear frocks or dresses on open high towers.

Later, we took a beautiful guided horseback trailride Brady Mountain in Arkansas. On our trailrides we went through the National Forest and through a couple of creeks. You can see the most beautiful scenery by horseback. My daughter and I were on Highlander, the oldest and steadiest horse. It felt like when ever I said 'gallop-a-trot', it actually heard and started galloping. I don't know whether its really possible that they can listen to new people...anyway it was fun, a memorable one. My son and hubby were on Zip, the horse.

We headed to Clinton library, just to take look from outside. Few pics near Clinton Library:

Lot of truck traffic on our way to Memphis, TN.

So difficult to drive with truck traffic. Wish they could have their own lane and we don't need to over take them. What I observed is if you are driving at 70 miles, you actually don't feel the length of the truck, it goes by so fast. But continuous 3 or 4 trucks to overtake is kind of a challenge.

Memphis-Arkansas Memorial Bridge, I-55 Mississippi River Crossing At Memphis:

Tennessee Welcoming us on I-55:

Stayed at Radisson near Memphis. We got a good view of FedEx planes. Planes runway was right behind our hotel room. Even though there was a lot of plane noise as we were tired did not feel as disturbance at all. Had a good sound sleep and kids had fun too, taking pictures on iphone that too, parts of the plane as they couldn't they whole plane picture as you can imagine, it was too close to our window.

View of the Beale Street in Memphis, TN:

Yummy food and top it with blues music at B.B.Kings Restaurant & Blues Club in Memphis:

Day 2:

Heading to Civil Right Museum. Couldn't take video or camera as it is not allowed. Too bad...

Martin Luther king's last speech from Mountain Top in Memphis:

Watched an emotional picture about MLK, about how this nation changed after so much uncertainty and ill-treatment. Really surprises me to think that how this nation managed to change so much in such a shorter duration. Now a days it is so common to see inter-racial couple. It makes me wonder that how time to time a person will be born to change the world some for good like Gandhi, MLK and others like Hitler. They will become bigger than everybody and will have the great determination to get things done. Some are born just to kill the goodness or progress in humans like Ray who shot MLK.

Sneak peek at Elvis as we did not tour as we toured in 2000 and other reason my kids are too young to show interest on Elvis.

Next is heading to Chicago via Arkansas and Missouri....

On our way to entertain kids, I started a game called who can come up with interesting stuff in next 10 min on our way to Chicago. That's when we noticed a chicken drumstick and a puppy in the clouds. These is really a good game which makes kids notice the beauty and learn to observe and come with a creative idea so that they lead and win this game. My kids enjoyed so much. Along our way, my kids noticed Cairo, Madrid, Charleston, Holland, Springfield...and were able to link to foreign countries.

Until you see the next collage you won't believe it. A huge Cross right next to the Hwy one mile away from Fayette Ave in Effingham, IL.

Dusk is upon us....and a humongous cross!!!

Stayed on the way at Holiday Inn, Bradley, IL on points. By the time, we reached hotel, time was 12:30 A.M.

Day 3:

Chicago here we come..lot of traffic, letting us know that we are entering third largest city in U.S.A.

What can I say about Chicago? It was so beautiful bursting with life and energy and ahhh..the blue and bright sky with plenty of action in the parks and all the stranded boats in the shimmering unseen distant shores of Lake Michigan which inspires you to be free spirited and says loudly enjoy your life and the beauty, the city is offering. You’ll find magic in such sparkling Chicago attractions as Navy Pier and its boardwalk, 150-foot Ferris wheel, boat and segway tours, and countless dining or shopping options.

Chicago looks great from every angle. You will enjoy the birds-eye view from the 103rd floor of Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). The city’s 29 miles of lakefront paths are just one reason Chicago is one of the world’s most walkable and beautiful cities.Chicago gives you an image of friendly city with people walking, jogging, cycling, segwaying even on a busy weekday.

You will get a beautiful look of all around Navy Pier from Ferris wheel even though you will go for one rotation, which lasts about 7 minutes, or a little less than a dollar a minute. You get a decent view of the buildings north and south of Grand Avenue if you look out one side, and the lake if you look out the other side. You don't feel that you reached the top as it goes slow and on top if it stops every minute to load people.

Kids were interested in much hyped Funhouse Maze. We went by an elevator which gives us an illusion as if were going as high as Sears tower and then going back to forty floors underground. After that, you have to go through mirrored maze with darkness all around with in between minute colorful lights. Stumble your way through the Spinning Tunnel and stomp out the Great Chicago Fire. It lasts shorter time but if you want you can go again and again til you chose to exit.

Next, we went on a water taxi to our next destination Willis tower. Water taxi was cool, going in between the tall buildings and surrounded by turquoise colored water. It was a nice 7-mile ride from Navy pier. Sitting in shade was so much better than open boats especially when temperatures are in mid 90's.

Next destination Willis Tower, standing at 1,450 feet and 110 stories high, it is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. My husband bought a city pass which made our day better as we went through fast pass route and avoided the crowd and the waiting line. We had a great view of all around Chicago even though at one point we witnessed black clouds and lightning. Luckily, sky got cleared later. We got a chance to see the Ledge, which brings an exhilarating new experience to the Skydeck. At 1,353 feet up, The Ledge’s glass boxes extend out 4.3 feet from the skyscraper’s Skydeck on the 103rd floor, providing never-before-seen views of the city. The Ledge dares visitors to attempt a new Chicago experience: stand on The Ledge and feel the city from 103 floors.

We had our dinner at Giordano's, the world's most famous stuffed pizza restaurant. A trio of our Mozzarella Sticks, Breaded Zucchini Sticks, and Breaded Mushrooms. Served with ranch dressing and SUPER VEGGIE mushrooms, green peppers, onions, broccoli, black olives & tomatoes.

Mmmm...Yum! Yum!...but couldn't eat everything. It was too much especially the stuffed pizza, carried the left over to hotel as if it is possible to reheat and eat.

For next two nights, we decided to stay at Holiday Inn, Oak brook, IL. Surprised to see lot of airline employees stay at this hotel. On our way to hotel, pouring rain, just did not see that much rain for a long time. Driving was difficult but thanks to GPS, somehow able to find the hotel.

Day 4:

School Reunion Day!! I am going to meet my school buddies after twenty long years in a different country, different continent, miles away from home. Is it possible but actually it was, a little credit goes to Facebook for finding old pals. But Chicago has some other plans.

Officials in Chicago say more than 7 inches of rain fell early Saturday, inundating the sewer system and overwhelming waterways. Water covered portions of several Chicago interstates and the commuter train tracks that run along them, leading crews to divert traffic and call in bus shuttles. Portions of Interstate 290 west of downtown were closed for several hours.

My first poem ever written.....

Reunion reunion
Yes, we had one memorable union.

Not in Vegas, not in Orlando
But in windy city Chicago.

We were ready with scarves, custom t-shirts and evening dresses
To show each other how we have grown from a girl to misses.

We planned the day with a group portrait, frolicking at the beach, wandering on the streets, cruising on Lake Michigan and watching spectacular fireworks.
But oh the city had some other plans with it's record breaking floods has not taken away our smirks.

We came from east and west
Will not allow the city to test.

Oh, the weather cannot dampen our spirits
We were determined to test our limits.

So, we did not stop ourselves with plane
But traveled on a greyhound bus even on a train.

The hostess drawn out with this endless waiting game
But still deterred to take this pain.

Indulgently cooked from appetizer to dessert
And was on alert.

You name it,
we had it.

Finally, we met trying to figure out who is who
But thanks to facebook we know few.

Did hullabaloo
Without a clue.

Everybody had Idli, dosa, chutney til noon
Savored it up to the last spoon.

We had endless talk about our adventures trip
'cuz no one to zip our lip.

We played some naughty games.
Sorry, I cannot tell you as it will put us in shame.

We exchanged gifts. Some said oooh, some said aaahh..
But no one said nah!

We were ready to devour some yummy lunch
Without a hunch.

Lamb, chicken, fish fry, eggplant and some more vegetarian dishes too.
Had it til we said whew!

Put on our evening dresses to have a girls night out
But damn! the weather put our minds on doubt.

Decided to cut a cake
Commemorating this reunion and having this nice break.

Had a round of kulfi
In a jiffy!

Couldn't stop ourselves with heavy lunch
Got ready for some more to munch.

So, here we go again, made some gobi Manchurian and biryani
Being silly and funny.

We talked and talked til midnight
Going through pictures and untold stories with delight.

Next day woke up and got ready to say goodbye
Still with smiles, knowing that we will sure meet again so no need to cry.

Oh wait! One more person wanted to buzz
After driving miles and miles, couldn't stop herself without meeting us.

Thanks to our hostess and dear friend for making this a memorable one
As we cherish this reunion.


Day 5:

We started driving to Branson, Mo but on our way we decided to stop at Springfield to get a glimpse of the Illinois capital and then on towards U.S.A No. 3 mega structure St. Louis Gateway Arch. Little disappointed with Missouri, it doesn't have a nice welcome sign to the state.

The Beauty of St. Louis Gateway Arch from I-55:

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch is an arched gateway to the American West. I just love this structure so much. Alone in the sky, far above from us, kind of shows unity and sheer strength with its huge structure. Unbelievable thing about this structure is built with steel and its hollow. One more amazing is not a one person died in building this massive structure. Part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, no wonder it is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the world, and a national monument in the United States. At a height of 630 feet, it is the tallest monument in the United States and weighs 43000 tons.

Once you are in, you will take a tram ride, that is of only a four minutes way up to the top. There are eight tram cars that go up to the top of the Arch in the north and south legs. Each tram seats five people. Trams travel at an average speed of 4mph and are very quiet and completely safe. At this speed, most people do not experience discomfort in the short ride.

View from the top of the Gateway Arch:

Midnight is approaching to wish my daughter for her sixth birthday. I quickly made a customized card for my daughter with her being in her birthday dress and balloons and gifts all around her. I mentioned all her achievements and how proud we are about who she is becoming and wrote a poem to her which goes like this:

My Dear Brenda
you are like a Splenda
Show your sweet smile
Which makes our life worth while
You are our dream
but please don't scream
Love you honey
'cuz you are so funny
Oh! come on don't be shy
you're not wry
May your day be fabulous
'cuz you are gorgeous

I always made a point to make my own personalized card for my kids with a their picture according to the birthday theme and make a believe story to go along with the theme. This year because of vacation and being busy getting ready for reunion, couldn't make one.

Woke my daughter at midnight and gave her the card and wished her.

Next destination is Branson, MO. You can quickly figure it out that you are approaching Branson as you will be seeing current Branson show advertisements all over the highway on both sides of the road from Elvis to Diana, From Shanghai circus to Peter Pan, show for everyone and all age groups .

Branson Known as the "Live Music Show Capital of the World,". It is truly a one-of-a-kind family vacation destination with live performance theaters. The city officials trying to present the city as next to Las Vegas with huge Hollywood Stars statues on Hollywood planet to Ripley's believe it or not museum. One side of the road you will be seeing car racing and on the other side golf with huge dinosaur figures.

This is where we find kids popular destination Silver Dollar City and that is where we decided to celebrate my daughter's sixth birthday. On our way to Westgate Resorts in Branson, seven miles away from Silver Dollar City.

Day: 6

My daughter quickly got dressed wearing matching ear rings and as per her wish she had her breakfast  at Belgian Waffle and Pancake House. I had Cinnamon Sugar waffle and my kids had Pecan waffle. Tasty and fresh!!

Headed to Silver Dollar City to have fun-filled day. On our way for the whole time, kids started this song 'I think I am happy..' which is a stuffed cat, sings whenever you press its paw. A birthday gift from my friend.

I think I am happy Oooh...I am on my way
I think I am happy Oooh...Its a happy day
The sun is shining bright and everything is alright
And everyone I see starts singing along with me
I think I am happy Oooh...Its a happy dayyyyyyyyyyyyy

Silver Dollar City was celebrating 50th Anniversary so that park and especially all the rides are open up to 10pm and they named this event as 'Moonlight Madness'.

We went on all these thrilling rides:

Thunderation: Rumble through the treetops on a runaway mine train! Thunderation is an 80-foot tall, high-speed, smooth-riding coaster with a scenic view of the Ozarks! She started crying as she did not expect the thrill but after sometime she was like can we go again..please!

Mighty Galleon: Dare 6-story tall waves with the adventurous crew of this mighty ship

Magnificent Wave Carousel: Soar high above the Exposition Grounds 

 Grand Exposition Coaster: An electromechanical rail ride

Racing Regatta: Set sail for exotic ports of call

Elephant March: Parading pachyderms direct from Siam

Royal Tea Party: A dizzyfying spot of tea for twelve

Wings of Wonder: Parade of the butterflies.

The above rides pictures are curtsy of Silver Dollar City website. In between sporadic lightening caused the park authorities to stop the rides which gave us a chance to have Tater Twist. Look at the above collage, you will find a yummy potato chips picture. It's called 'Tater Twist'.Mmmm...yum!!

Our daughter got a special personalized gift for her birthday. One was Wax hands. Look in the collage, you will find my daughters wax hands.This is just so neat and cool, awesome for all ages, even though my son said 'no'. Other personalized gift was wood name plate which we decided to hand on her bedroom door.

We had a Stunt Dog experience by watching an amazing dog show. The dogs were unbelievable. This is the one thing you should not miss. Dogs showed acrobatic skills for Michael Jackson's song  Black or White. Skipping on hind legs. Jumping up to 58in high. Jumping and catching Frisbee left and right. Finally, a race between two dogs going in between the poles, going through a tunnel and finally jumping high and catching a Frisbee. These are the same dogs which came on Jay Leno show.

Due to continuing bad weather especially in the evening after 7pm, caused the authorities to close the park which gave us a rain check for one more whole day of fun. 

We sang "Happy Birthday" at 9:22 pm, that's the time she was born six years ago. We had our dinner of course as per her wish at Olive Garden in a hope that they will Happy Birthday in Italian language but to our disappointment, Olive garden has stopped that ritual after hearing complaints from other customers about how they are disturbing their quiet environment. VERY DISAPPOINTED!! but have to take life as it comes. She had
Bella Limonata drink, minestrone soup and ravioli. 

We came to our resort at 11pm after buying a small cake and candles to celebrate her birthday. She decided to buy a dog shaped cake. In her own words, this was the best and fun-filled day. Telling herself with great delight  gives us, unbeatable happiness as parents. PERIOD!

Day 7: 

 Anybody wants to go shopping? Yes, that's what we planned by going to Branson Landing. Branson Landing, located on the waterfront of beautiful lake Taneycome in downtown Branson. Here we got a chance to see the magnificent $7.5 million water fountain spectacular, synchronized to light, sound, music and fire. So many outdoor eating places. Good place to walk casually and have some yummy icecream watching the lake and to beat out the heat.

 We went to an amazing unique olive shop where they had at least fifty different variations of olive oil from Jalapeno to blue chess based olive oil. Yummy to taste but expensive to enjoy...

 Next, went to TheBigPopper, a popcorn shop. Tasty popcorns from Cheese to Caramel to Jalapeno to nut based. Couldn't stop ourselves, so bought two large bags of Ozark and Jalapeno to munch on our way to home.

All Aboard!! Yes, we boarded Branson Scenic Railway for a 40-mile roundtrip excursion through Ozark foothills and tunnels. The railroad is known as the White River Route. The route crosses the White River in Branson, now Lake Taneycomo, and then runs along side of it after taking a fifty-mile “short cut” over the Ozark Mountains. Couldn't get on dome cars which has panoramic views but were pretty happy with our seats. Had a relaxed tour, listening to kids stories and going through the tunnels.

Scenic views from the train:

Wandered for a while then had some yummy ice cream at Marble Slab to beat the heat. Next, went for a scenic drive to Table Rock lake and to check out the marina to rent a boat.

 Table Rock Lake, spanning more than 43 thousand acres and 800 miles of shoreline,  located in the beautiful Ozark Mountain Country of southwestern Missouri. Table Rock was created in August of 1958, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Table Rock Dam across the White River.

My favorite part of the day. Hmmm...Dinner at Cantina Laredo,  Gourmet Mexican restaurant, serves authentic Mexican dishes in a sophisticated atmosphere. The eatery, with a patio that overlooks Lake Taneycomo, was quite packed but still had a fabulous time having Mango Margarita and watching the spectacular water fountain show with elaborate music every thirty minutes. Our chips and mild and spicy salsas were always kept plentiful. We all were in complete agreement that this was one of the best dining experiences we each have had in a long time.

Day 8:

Woo hoo! Got free tickets for a Broadway retrospect need to attend the Westgate Resorts time sharing seminar.

Westgate time sharing was time consuming and worthless, went on for three hours. According to their program, this is not based on points but you have to buy a full furnished condo which you can lease or do whatever you want. My argument was why in Branson....where there are so many lodging facilities from cheap hotels to Luxury hotels. There is no scarcity. So, what's the use of buying when you are not using, you can't even lease/rent it, even if you advertise in Craig list (that's idea was from the sales guy). The sales guys put so much pressure, its a torture and in between they announce the owners who decided on the spot of which condo they decided to buy. I recommend to whoever reading my blog, not to fall for freebies and get stuck with this ridiculous stress. Other than our sales guy, his boss came with so many unbelievable options of reducing your monthly payment. It is so hard to adhere to your principle of not acting upon on their pressure but lot of woman become victim of sales guy pressure. I really feel sorry for them. I can guarantee that it is not best judgment to buy time sharing properties especially in Branson. I roughly calculated how much I pay for hotels in Florida with out time sharing property and to my utter surprise, the expenses were same minus the luxurious resort which they promise you will get if you have considered and planned your trip an year ago. Anyway, even though they said the program lasts for 90 minutes, it went beyond three hours. At the end, the sales guy attitude was so bad as we rejected his offer. The polite sales guy turned to show attitude and was finding reasons to stop us from getting free tickets. Decided never to attend one!!

Had a lunch at a Chinese Restaurant and from there headed to Marina to rent a boat. To our surprise, the guy asked us whether we have prior experience with boats. We honestly said 'no' and to our astonishment, the guy did not oblige to our wish of renting a boat. We were shocked because we never heard or seen an ad that you need to have prior experience to rent a boat. So my husband asked the guy whether there is any school to teach...and that guy was like wow! gave me a good idea..I am going to do that.

After a disappointing afternoon, headed to resort to relax and let kids have fun at the outdoor pool.  Got ready soon to watch Broadway show "DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'!" A new summer production- featuring the songs from the hit TV show GLEE. The Broadway singers and dancers took us on a gleeful musical journey featuring the songs you love- songs from the Golden Globe award winning TV Show. Songs included "Don't Stop Believin'", "You're the One That I Want", "Defying Gravity", "Maybe This Time", "Proud Mary" and many, many more.

Day 9:

Day's plan is to go to Eureka Springs, AR which is located in the Ozark region and from there go to Silver Dollar City and participate in Moonlight madness which we missed prior due to rain.

Fun driving on our way to Eureka Springs with its secluded and peaceful with winding mountainside streets. Eureka Springs, Arkansas has block after block of one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques, fine art galleries, craft emporiums, spas, museums and restaurants. Streets are lined with Victorian homes hugging cliff sides.Decided not to step back in time to an earlier age of locomotive transportations we already experienced train riding in Branson Landing.

The Ozark mountains provide gentle and rugged hiking terrain and the trails are often shared by hikers, bikers and horses. Many of the trails in the area lead to scenic lookout points. So, that made us to decide to do some hiking in Historic Van Winkle Trail, which is located approximately 10 miles east of Rogers, AR, U.S. Hwy. 12. Walkers and Hikers can access historic area via tunnel under Hwy. 12. Interpretive sign panels describe the historic home and mill sites of the Peter Van Winkle family during and after the Civil War. Also, there is a beautiful stream, spring and raised garden site. Only some rock foundation stones remain of buildings. This is where my family took jumping high photo pose which can be done  by jumping from the picnic tables and keeping the camera in timer based mode. My all time favorite pose. I just can't resist posing like that which is by the way is a hit among my friends on Facebook .

Headed to Silver Dollar City to ride roller coasters until dusk and declare Moonlight madness. We went on all the rides which we went before but there is a twist I videoed on my portable light-weight camera even though my whole family was against doing it. But they don't understand..if I don't feel secured, I wouldn't be doing it.

Major disappointment when I my hubby did not allow me to video our Thunderation experience. It would have been awesome to look and feel the thunder every time you watch it. Even though my daughter is younger than my son, she bravely went on backward motion too. That day we went thrice on the same ride. Got stuck on our way out because of the crowd waiting for the parking bus as parking lots are far from the entrance. Ordered Domino's pizza on our way to resort as the main road of Branson was jammed with cars coming out of shows. Couldn't even go to famous homemade ice cream parlor where it is always crowded with teens.

Day 10:

Packed and check out the room. On our way to home, sweet home...........

View Larger Map

Started at 10 A.M. and did some souvenir shopping before we did our long journey to Dallas. Checked on our GPS to see any attractions on the way but nothing much other than the flat land which is welcoming us to home. Had a satisfying yummy ice cream at Braums in Oklahoma on a blistering hot day after having  lunch at Firesubs in Arkansas. On our way, we discovered Lake Eufaula which is the largest lake in Oklahoma, and the 15th largest lake in the USA. You can feel it is largest as you keep on driving, it keep on coming on either side of the road. Pretty amazing!! Reached home at 9:00pm.

Route to our entire journey:

View Larger Map

Thanks to my kids who helped me in proof-reading this post. Finally finished it on August 11th 2010 at 1:18pm.


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