Sunday, July 29, 2012

Berkeley Kite Festival

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  • Festival to see all kinds of flamboyant and artistic kites
  • Free kite flying and kite making lessons
  • Entertainment for kids – Jumpers, Trains, Pony Rides, Farm Animals 

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  • Free admission
  • $10/day parking with free shuttles from the parking lot to the festival
  • Festival booths selling kites, candies, food, etc 

This was our first time visiting the Annual Kite Festival in Berkeley. Although I knew about the Kite Festival long ago, I was not motivated to attend the event until I saw pictures of the magnificent kites that are flown here. I am so glad that we made it this time because we had a blast.

As we were on the freeway and driving close to the Cesar Chavez Park, we saw numerous, vibrant kites flying high against the clear blue sky. That was enough to get us excited! There are two parking lots, one at Marina and another at Golden Gate Fields. We parked the car at Marina and took the free shuttle to the festival grounds. The good thing is that the $10 parking fee goes to buying dictionaries for Berkeley school kids.

Puppy Kite

We saw all kinds of assorted shaped kites, such as fish, octopus, prism, roto-box, lizard, dragon and many more that my memory does not recollect. Some of the highlights were the humongous puppy shaped kite, giant octopus kite, Nemo fish kite and Panda shaped kite.

Giant Octopus Kite

It was fun watching little kids trying to fly their cute little kites. There is a ton of entertainment for the kids, in addition to flying kites. There were jumpers, pony rides and a kids train to take them around the park. There was also a small space for farm animals such as goat, chicken, duck, rabbits and kids were inside this little space petting the farm animals. I took the opportunity to pet a tiny rabbit, which has been and still is my personal favorite since I was a kid. It reminded me of those days when my parents took me to a shopping complex in my native town every Sunday evening only to see two little rabbits playing in the grass.


There were kite flying shows among novice kite flyers and it was amazing to see how they flew their kites in a procession. In addition, there are several festival booths, where one can amble and spend time. Some of the vendors were even giving away free ice-cream samples to all and sundry.

A kite enthusiast

We spent a good two hours here before taking the shuttle back to the parking lot. When we attend the kite festival next year, we are sure to best utilize the free kite flying and kite making classes offered at the festival. Several folks had even brought their tents to camp there the entire day. I fancy that idea!

Here is a video of a kite show that I captured:

  • Check out the timings for free kite flying and kite making classes if you are interested
  • Bring your tents if you plan to stay here for the entire day because there is no shade at all
  • Bring towels to spread on the grounds 

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Monday, July 2, 2012

In and around Times Square

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  • Apple Store
  • FAO Shwartz
  • Trump Tower
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  • M&M Store in Times Square
  • Disney Store
  • Toys R Us
  • Times Square

Apple Store
We got off from the subway near Times Square and went inside the popular Apple store. Al though I am not a fan of Apple for a multitude of reasons that are outside the scope of this blog, I did admire the fact the store is so innovatively designed. There is a small artificial pond just outside the Apple store where a surfeit of chairs is strewn around for visitor use. We relaxed for a bit, admiring the busy streets of New York and the Pulitzer Fountain on the other side of the street.

Apple Store

FAO Shwartz
For those who think FAO Shwartz is only for kids, I beg to differ. This awesome store has all kinds of soft toys that one could possibly think of. Chocolate brands are made into soft toys of some nature. One can see human sized lego toys of Statue of Liberty, Batman, etc. There is also a giant piano in the second floor, where kids take turns and jump on them. A small café is located towards the end of the store.

FAO Shwartz

As we walked towards Times Square, we stopped at several places such as the Trump Tower and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
On our way to Times Square, we visited the marvelous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral church. The beautiful architecture, paintings on the windows, nave of the church were very impressive. Photography is permitted inside most part of the church, except inside the chapel at one end of the church. As I recalled those days when I went to the church every week with my grandmother, I lighted a couple of candles, uttered a small prayer and left the church.
Nave of St. Patrick's Cathedral

M&M Store, Times Square
After walking across 10 blocks, we reached the M&M store in Times Square. Despite the fact that I don’t relish M&M chocolates, we enjoyed the contemporary souvenirs, the flamboyant décor and the happy vibe inside the store.

M&M Store

Hersheys Store, Times Square
Even though the Hersheys store is not as vibrant and big as the M&M store, we did enjoy the few minutes that we spent inside.
Hersheys Store

Disney Store, Times Square
I believe the Disney Store was opened recently because I don’t recall seeing it when I visited New York four years ago. I somehow had high expectations of the Disney store, but it disappointed me. In my opinion, the store was not impressive.
Disney Store

Toys R Us, Times Square
It is surprising that Toys R Us, which is located in the prime New York location would close so early. We hardly stepped inside when we were told that the store was closing in 5minutes. Such a downer!

Toys R Us

Times Square
Needless to say, Times Square is crammed and is one of the most electrifying places that I have ever seen. No wonder New York is known to be the city that never sleeps. With all the flashy billboard lights around, it is so easy to lose track of the time.
Times Square

After a very long and exhausting day we returned to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep.

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Brooklyn Bridge

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  • Brooklyn Bridge (One of the oldest suspension bridges in the US and one of the longest in the world)
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • View of Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governor’s Island
  • View of Manhattan Bridge
  • View of Downtown Manhattan 

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  • Free admission
  • Biking and Pedestrian paths along the bridge
One of the Brooklyn Bridge Towers

An unrelenting persistence went into constructing this iconic bridge and opening it in May 1883. A German immigrant who first started with designing the bridge died soon after surviving a fatal crush injury and developing an infection. His son, who took over the construction of this bridge suffered from decompression sickness and was paralyzed, along with other construction workers. His wife jumped in to work with the engineers, did her higher education to learn about bridge construction and managed the project for 11 years. A very inspiring story of the brains behind this glorious bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge

Similar to the Golden Gate Bridge, there is a walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists along the bridge. We walked up to one tower of the bridge to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governor’s Island to one side of the bridge. To the other side is the Manhattan Bridge. As we walked on the bridge, the sight of the Manhattan skyline on the opposite side threw us in amazement.

View of Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park

After spending some time in the bridge and clicking pictures, we returned via the same route and walked to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, just below the Brooklyn Bridge. The Park, which is along the East River has several benches facing the waters and walkways along the river. There are also several restaurants and ice-cream parlors by the Pier. It is certainly a wonderful place to take it easy while enjoying the beauty of New York.

By the way, if it one of those days you are craving for pizzas, definitely check out Grimaldi’s, just a block away from the Brooklyn Bridge Park. One cannot miss the pizza place because you will always see long lines waiting outside no matter what time of the day you are there.

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Grand Central Terminal

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  • Grand Central Terminal (Train terminal in Midtown Manhattan)
  • Largest train station in the world, by the number of platforms 

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  • Free admission
  • Restaurants, cafes and restrooms inside the Grand Central
  • $7/adult audio tour 

Attracting over 21 million visitors every year, the Grand Central is the world’s sixth most visited tourist attraction according to a Travel Magazine. 10 years of laborious work and 80 million dollars were put into constructing the Grand Central and opening it in 1913.

When I entered the Grand Central for the first time, the architectural luster of this place made it so hard for me to believe that it is actually a railway station. The Terminal is huge with European style architectural structures and beautiful paintings on the wall and ceiling. Our jaws dropped looking at the minutiae of the décor.

Inside the Grand Central

Some of the highlights of the Grand Central are:
  • The four-sided Central Clock with a brass pagoda at the Information Booth in the middle of the Main Concourse
  • The astronomical mural in the lofty ceiling, painted by a French painter
  • Opulent chandeliers in the Main Concourse and Vanderbilt Hall
  • Exquisite art work on the walls
  • Statue of Mercury (the god of commerce) supported by Minerva (goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, arts) and Hercules (representing mental and moral strength) outside the Grand Central

Statue of Mercury, Minerva and Hercules outside Grand Central

There are several cafes, restaurants and retail shops inside and outside the Grand Central. We even noticed an Apple customer service center inside the Grand Central. The shiny Macs, iPads and other Apple devices seemed to be a striking contrast against the architecturally plush Grand Central and I did not really like that. It disgraces the beauty of the Grand Central.

Beautiful chandelier inside Grand Central

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Top of the Rock

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  • 360 degree view of Manhattan

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  • $25/adult admission fee
  • Restrooms and café inside the Rockefeller Center
  • No food allowed inside
  • There is a security check before taking the elevator to the top of the rock

Although we made advance online reservations, I am not sure how much that helped. The reason is, with your online reservation confirmation print-out, you would still need to exchange them for tickets at the Rockefeller Center and there was a long line for the same. Of course there were two separate lines, one for with reservation and another for without reservation, but waiting in line to exchange them for tickets defies the whole purpose of making advance reservations. Weird!
Top of the Rock

We arrived at 8.30ish in the evening and after waiting in the line we got the tickets for 9.45pm to 10.00pm entrance. We simply ambled inside the Rockefeller Center for an hour or so until 9.45pm. The Rockefeller Center interior décor looked awesome with a flashy, long chandelier hanging in the middle of the hall from the fourth floor. When we reached the fourth floor, we went through a security check before taking the elevator to the top.

Inside the Rockefeller Center

The glass top elevator that took us to the mezzanine floor was very innovatively designed with projectors and flamboyant lights. The view from the Top of the Rock was simply mind blowing! It offers a 360 degree breathtaking view of Manhattan.

Although the Empire State Building has an observatory deck that offers a similar view, the tickets to the Top of the Rock are cheaper than the Empire State Building and one can see the Empire State Building itself from here. The only downside is that a part of the Chrysler building is hidden, but we were so immersed in the beauty of the entire Manhattan that we were hardly concerned about the partial visibility of the Chrysler Building.

View of Manhattan from Top of the Rock

There are two other floors that take you further to the top. We spent more than 45minutes here taking pictures and enjoying the well-lit, jazzy downtown.

  • Make advance online reservations here and bring your ticket confirmation print-out
  • Plan to reserve at least 2.5 hours

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Battery Park and Bowling Green Park

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  • View of Liberty Island, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island, Statue of Liberty
  • The Sphere
  • Bosque Fountain
  • World War II Memorial (Statue of Eagle)
  • Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House
  • Wall Street Bull  

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  • Free admission to both Bowling Green Park and Battery Park
  • Restrooms in Battery Park
  • Several food vendors in the Parks

View of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from Battery Park

The 25-acre Battery Park, which is located at the southern tip of Manhattan faces the New York Harbor. It is from here that ferries run to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Take a walk in the beautiful gardens facing the Hudson River on one side and the busy New York streets on the other side. The Bosque Fountain adds to the beauty of the already beautiful park. During summers, free shows are organized in the park.

The Sphere

The Sphere, which once proudly stood in the middle of the World Trade Center and survived the grief-stricken 9/11 attack is temporarily placed here with an eternity flame to honor the memory of the victims. The Eagle statue, which is the East Coast memorial of the World War II is also hosted in the Battery Park.

Just look across the street to see the magnificent Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.

Alexander Hamilton U.S Custom House

A short walk from the Battery Park took us to the Bowling Green neighborhood of New York. The iconic Wall Street Bull or Charging Bull stands here. When I visited New York four years ago, there was no fence around the Bull and everyone was gushing around the Bull to take pictures. Now there is a fence and people stand in a line to wait for their turn to take a picture near the Bull.  

Wall Street Bull

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Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

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  • Statue of Liberty
  • Liberty Island, formally called Bedloe's Island
  • Ellis Island (Immigration Center that was active from 1892 to 1954)
  • View of Governor’s Island
  • View of New York and New Jersey downtown from the Liberty and Ellis islands
  • View of Liberty State Park
  • Battery Park

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  • Ticket price is $17/adult
  • No food and water allowed
  • There is security scan before boarding the boat
  • 10 min boat ride to Liberty Island
  • Cafe, Gift shop, Water fountains and Restrooms in Liberty and Ellis Islands

I am so glad we made advance online reservations to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry because we saw long lines at the ticket counter and we could have easily wasted away an hour in the 95 F weather (no fun!).

There are two lines, one for people who get the tickets at the Battery Park and other for people who have already made reservations online, the line for the latter is usually short. Before boarding, one needs to go through an airport like security check but much quicker. We then hopped on to the Ferry and went to the top most deck. It usually gets crowded around with people taking pictures of themselves against the Manhattan downtown or State of Liberty backdrop. Do not feel shy to ask someone to take a picture of you, people are usually friendly and do return the favor if need be.

Statue of Liberty

After we reached the Liberty Island, we picked up our audio tour headsets and explored the island. The history of the Liberty statue was interesting; France presented the statue to the US to commemorate their long alliance. During late 1800s and early 1900s, when millions of Europeans migrated to the US, the majestic statue emanating from a distance was the sign that they were nearing the land of freedom. The statue actually faces France and not New York.
Statue of Gustave Eiffel

The Liberty Island also offers amazing views of the New York harbor and hosts statues of the brains behind this glorious statue.

There is only one café (Crown Café) in the island and one has to survive the insanely long lines to buy the food. As anticipated, the food was pricey, options are limited and the taste was horrendous. 

Ellis Island

We spent over 3 hours in the island and took the next ferry to Ellis Island. During peak hours, almost all the ferries return to New York via Ellis Island. There are ferries that go to New Jersey as well. We hopped off on the Ellis Island, popularly known as the Island of Tears or Island of Hope by the immigrants who landed in the US back then. The audio tour took us past into the past and helped us understand everything that the 12 million immigrants went through before they stepped in the US soil; everything from the stringent immigration processes, creepy examination rooms to the treatment that the “third-class” passengers underwent.

A huge hall inside Ellis Island where all the immigrants waited until their names were called

After spending over 3 hours in the Ellis Island, we hopped on the Ferry back to the New York City after a long and exhausting day.

  • Make advance online reservations at and bring your print outs
  • Definitely take the audio tour that is included along with the regular ticket price; it is highly informative
  • Take the ferry first to the Liberty Island and then to the Ellis Island
  • Similar souvenirs are available for a much cheaper price elsewhere; you do not necessarily have to buy them at the gift shop.

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