Second Stop – Pittsburgh

You always tend to judge a place by the circumstances that brings you to that place. Or the kind of work you do in that place. Or maybe just the vibes. So, Pittsburgh.!  The first city that I travelled out of my home country. The first city that pinched me how much I love my friends and family. First city I had to be on my own and make my own good friends. Pittsburgh tested me in all my elements (I think).

Now that I think of the past, coming to the States from India was quite a huge decision for me. It’s been 5 years in the USA, but the first 2 years in Pittsburgh has carved some good memories in my heart. 6th August 2012  –  I landed in Pittsburgh to pursue Masters. Oh!  by the way, I still have the first international flight ticket in my wallet 🙂 I am definitely not preserving it, but somehow I never felt like trashing it off. The journey was smooth. My eyes were capturing much more than my brain could capture.

Clean roads, huge aircrafts, left-hand drives, the punching machines (Everywhere; home/ bus/ college), tall buildings, everything was so overwhelming. First few skype days, I could not tell my parents anything about the city. Because we were still stuck with basic questions like housing, food, cash flow etc.

This city slowly grew on me. And now, I totally, totally love Pittsburgh. It is historically known for American and civil war. Popularly known as steel city for largest steel business and also known as the city of Bridges (With around 450 bridges in this city). And trust me, If you visit Mt Washington you would yourself say, it is indeed a city of bridges. You get one of the most gorgeous views of the city from here and you clearly see the confluence of 3 rivers  – Allegheny, Monongahela River and Ohio River.

Mornings here were so pleasing. There was an acute crispness in the air, I had never experienced before. Colder mornings were even more stimulating. I was working part-time in the library which demanded odd working hours. But thanks to that, I could witness the sun rising behind the Cathedral of Learning (Tallest academic building here). And snow days were magical. There is nothing better than watching the snow with ‘Hot Chai’ in your hands.

The street that we lived on, Walnut street, was lively and charming. And known for a good neighbourhood – Shady Side (Don’t go by the Name. It is not shady at all :P). There were cute cafes by the street, happy drunkards (mostly students), nice options to eat and of course branded shops  (which we hardly went to :P; as students). The public transport was superb. Mind you, people owning cars generally don’t say that.

Everything had doubled, tripled in scale after coming here. The library was huge (as huge as 3-4 marriage halls combined in India). Grocery stores were like never seen before. I slowly got used to all this. But not sure if I liked all this. There was an emptiness within. The fact that I was 12000 km away from my family would suddenly someday scare me. But the best part was, my parents were awake even If I would call them in the middle of my night 🙂 Different time zones is a boon sometimes 😛

I have no clue how my 2 years passed by. But if I think of Pittsburgh right now, it gives me goosebumps. I am confused if I miss the place or those days. I made few close friends (I think its time to call them Family) for a lifetime and definitely earned a degree.

Cheers to some good old days!

P.S. Stay tuned for “The First stop” 😉

 

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One of my favourite photos of ‘THE’ city from Mt Washington captured by Aditya Jaltade. (Pittsburgh Family .! ) 
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A day of Baking!

So, well, I had read about this recipe in bits and pieces here and there. I came up with my own revised version of it 😉 The best part of baking desserts is the smell of melted butter and of course the dessert after immense efforts put into it. This post is primarily for experience with food photography but nonetheless, dessert turned out to be good too. So compiling the recipe and the photos together 🙂

Ingredients:

1/4 cup of Maple syrup
32 Oz of Ricotta cheese
6 beaten eggs
1 table spoon vanilla
Chocolate chips

 

Mix eggs and Ricotta cheese with a beater. Make sure there are no lumps in it.

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Add Maple syrup to it depending on the sweetness you want.

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Coat your baking bowl with butter and maple syrup at the bottom.

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Transfer the cheese mixture to this bowl and bake it for 45 -50 min at 370° F.

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You can cut into Pieces or scoop it. 😀 I topped it with chocolate chips.!

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Enjoy.!!

 

 

The English style!

Jetlagged? No. Tired? No. I had no idea what had spoiled my sleep at 5 in the morning. Maybe it was the overwhelming memories of our trip to the UK, or maybe the dream I was caught up in an old style pub in England, or maybe the people I left behind or the entire place itself. Sipping a cuppa of ‘Chai’ (Tea bought from there), with their cookies and the Bakewell cake, I cannot get off the memories of this place. Physically, I am back here in the USA but feels like I left behind something. Mind and soul are still trying to catch up with the body.

 The flight was just 6/7 hours long from east coast which is approximately the same time it takes to reach California from here. So apart from the fact that I was carrying my passport, I did not think in any way I was travelling internationally. And with the fact that, we will be staying at my sister-in-law’s place, I knew even if the weather was harsh upon us (which is quite common in the UK), we would not fail to have a good time with them at home. But we got lucky with the weather conditions. There was a cloud cover in London for some time but other than that it was nice bright days during our stay out there.

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St Paul’s Cathedral
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London in its elements

Just to make the picture clear, UK currently comprises of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. England, Wales and Scotland is together called Great Britain. So briefly, I can say we visited England only. There is a subtle difference between the Scottish and the English people belonging to Scotland and England respectively in various respects.

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 From the moment we planned our trip to England, I was all excited about London. But after getting there, I realised there is much more to England other than London. And surprisingly the English countryside was even more beautiful, historic and wealthy. Endless grasslands, herds of sheep, mountains, narrow roads and windmills and the same scenes in every other direction. It was eye pleasing. We hiked through the mountains and lush green farms in Lake District National park. This national park is towards the north of England just below Scotland.  I wondered, If this is their Winter how would their Summer be like? 🙂

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View after a small hike in Lake District National Park
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Lake District – Endless scenes around

There were some perks of visiting England in December. We got to see their Christmas lights, fun filled Christmas markets and happy faces drinking Mulled wine all around. London had a different charm in the Christmas season. (Or maybe it is always charming 😉 ) The Christmas lights over Regent and Oxford street in London were mind blowing. All bars and pubs were overcrowded. I adored the old pubs in London (Especially, Ye olde Cheshire cheese)  and was stumbled to know it was rebuilt in 1660. 😮  Yes, you read it right, Rebuilt.!!  We had planned to have English breakfast at a very old restaurant called the ‘The Breakfast club’ in Soho. But was shocked to see a long queue, worth 2 hours wait, for this place which hardly had 4/5 tables inside .! haha. (Maybe this is what London is.!) Oldies did not miss their 3 o’ clock and 5 o’clock tea’s, with some cakes and scones. I was overwhelmed with their bakery products, especially Almond croissants. I wish I could pack 20/30 and get them here. Besides, the London eye, Big Ben, Picadilly circus, it is the history and culture that holds this city together. The telephone booths are still preserved, the crown’s palace, their guards and the horses, the old castles and mansions.

 

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Tight Alleys ❤
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Christmas Decor

Benefits of staying at my sister -in-laws’ place were; they knew a hell a lot of English countrysides. We would not see these small towns as first timers in the UK if it was not them. We spent a day in Cotswold area in Southern- Central England. Cotswold is known for golden/ yellow stone houses. They have traditional thatched roofs and that’s the beauty of these old English cottages that marks them different. These roofs are traditionally crafted using dry vegetation and can last more than 50 years if thatched skillfully. I was in complete love with a town in Cotswold called Chipping Camden. It had old English style houses, narrow roads and pubs and cafes. People in the countryside still prefer to use paper maps and scenic routes. They are not concerned if it is cloudy or not. They look if the clouds are grey or white or black! haha.!

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Cafe/bar in Cotswold area near Broadway tower

Bath and Stonehenge were further on our list. Stonehenge, now owned by the crown, has countless theories (there are tonnes online) and is believed to be built in 2000 – 3000 BC. Bath which is an hour drive from Stonehenge is yet another touristy place primarily known for the natural hot water springs (spa) which are extremely rich in minerals. I recommend spending at least 1 night here to give proper justice to this place. There is a lot to see in Bath other than the Roman Baths.

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Roman baths- Hot water spa
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Stonehenge

I know (and maybe even you know 😛 ) I have not given justice to our Darling city – London in this write-up 🙂  But I think it clearly deserves its own piece and will be up soon. ! Meanwhile, you can see lots of photos from our trip on our Instagram Page.

Maine – The way life should be!

Couldn’t have agreed more with this state’s slogan  –  The way life should be. Maine, was never on our mind until we were left with no plans for the 4th of July weekend. And it surprisingly turned out to be a nice small vacation.

I had heard and read a lot about this state and its rugged coastline. There are many tourist places across Maine on its US1 coastal line. If you are planning to drive from Boston towards Bar Harbor; US 1 is quite a scenic drive and recommended, but the interstate highway I95 is also comparable. Throughout I95, we had glimpses of harbors, ponds, the Atlantic ocean and off-course pine trees all around.( Maine is nicknamed as  Pine Tree state)

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Rocky Shores of Maine

Our plan was to visit Acadia National Park and its neighborhood towns like Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, etc. Maine is full of docks. Any place you go, there has to be a port around the corner. Bar Harbor, near Acadia National Park, is quite a scenic town. It has some beautiful Bed and Breakfasts, Victorian homes and cute cottages. We wished to stay in such a BnB but due to our eleventh-hour plan, all were pretty much booked. We stayed at a charming inn called Elsa’s Inn overlooking the Prospect Harbor which is little farther away from the main campus of the National Park.

We reached our Inn at 10 pm in the night. As I just got out of the car, I saw up above, and I was in awe. Couldn’t believe my eyes! I could see the lightest star with naked eyes. I was never so happier (maybe) before. While my family was taking our belongings upstairs, I was still looking at the sky in pitch dark.  And maybe my best friend (some people prefer to call it better half 😉 ) realized how happy I was, and as soon as we got settled down in the room, he took out his camera, tripod, keys and said let’s go! I did not think for a split second, took my camera and drove little further on the outskirts. What a view!! Cannot put into words!  Imagine if the night itself is so crisp how would the day be!

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Long Exposure Experiments on the Milky way

Early morning we headed towards Acadia National Park. Emerald green pitch pines and sapphire blue oceans were soothing to the eyes. Besides a paper map, we pretty much did not need anything else. The park has a 27-mile loop with different spots laid out where you can stop by and admire the nature’s beauty. Every place we were seeing was better than the other. And the one I adored the most was Jordan’s pond house with exceptionally clear water. Acadia National Park is a result of geological rock formations on Mount Dessert Island about 500 million years ago.

Cadillac mountains were on the top list of many forums and is well known for the first sunrise in the USA. We ended our day with Cadillac mountains and assumed we had seen the most beautiful place in Acadia. But yet the next day, we got to see another beautiful spot- the Schoodic point which is secluded from the rest of the park (and hence not much crowded). Schoodic was by far the best point in Acadia, and we were glad we did not miss it.

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Jordan’s Pond House

 

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Park Loop Road

 

Maine is famous for lobstering and hosts lobster festivals in the months of August. The seafood was obviously fresh, and crab cakes were delicious. And a meal with a harbor view was icing on the cake. We got a chance to dine at ‘The chart room’  which is a good place for dinner and has a view of docked ships appearing in silhouette against the sunset.

On our way back to Boston, we had another pit stop at Ogunquit, Maine which has some beautiful trails along the beach. One such walkway is the ‘Marginal Way’ with breathtaking views of the rocky shores of Maine. It did not seem marginal at all 😉

 

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❤ these views.!

There are many other places like Portsmouth, York which are worth a visit in Maine. It’s a great place for people who love harbors and fishing. Would like to stay in a Victorian house on the next trip. Waiting for the Fall season to visit again 🙂

 

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On a busy Friday (which seemed like a Monday), amidst the work pressures, we somehow managed to leave early from work. The fact that it was Friday evening itself had relaxed my mind and soul. And to add to it, my thoughts were drenched with tropical temperatures, beaches, Pina colada’s, long drives and the Caribbeans. Initially, our plan was only for the long weekend. But as we read more about Puerto Rico, we realized three days would not do justice to this beautiful island.

Vlog of our journey! Do watch.

 

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Streets of Old San Juan

Since we landed San Juan pretty late, we spent that night in Old San Juan, which is the oldest Spanish settlement in Puerto Rico and also happens to be their capital. Our Airbnb was right in the heart of the city with a view of historical fort Castillo de San Cristobal overlooking the Caribbean sea. I could smell the fresh air and hear the gusty waves hitting the fort walls. The thick city walls seem to guard the city against the Pirates (of the Caribbeans :P). Old San Juan can be best toured walking around its narrow cobbled streets. And trust me it is a bliss to see colorful houses on the left and Atlantic ocean on the right. After a long time, I was using a paper map instead of Google maps. Old San Juan is even better at night…tight allies, small boutiques, vibrant surroundings and gracious people all around.

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Caribbean sea by the City walls
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Room with a View

Next we headed to a rainforest in Utuado – Central West of Puerto Rico. This place had a countryside feel with its narrow, curvy roads. We stayed in a treehouse, which by itself was an experience (And maybe deserves its separate blog :P). I was in love with a cute little Puerto Rican shack close to our treehouse serving some Mofongos and Wine with light music in the backdrop. Mofongo is an incredibly delicious Puerto Rican cuisine made up of Plantain. This place was in the city yet in the forests. Life seems so laid back when you wake up to the sound of birds chirping around. And welcome the sun sipping your morning coffee on a hammock on a deck that opens to a dense rainforest. I am so amazed at this island; it has dense rainforest on one end and beautiful rocky beaches just mins away from it. The Northwest and North has more rocky beaches than the East. La Cueva del Indio caves located in Arecibo had a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. You can see all shades of blue-green water here!

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Caves at Arecibo
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Hammock in the Treehouse!

I thought this was the perfect ‘date’ until we headed to Culebra – a land mass apart from the mainland to the east of Puerto Rico. We took a five seater flight (you can also take a ferry) operated by Air Flamenco named after one of the top 10 beaches in the world, Playa Flamenco located on Culebra. The aerial view of these land masses was worth the flight cost.  The Blue’s and the Green’s complemented each other.

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Culebra

It is pretty easy to tour around with a golf cart or a bicycle. Being a foodie, we didn’t miss a visit to Zacos- Tacos and Dingy Dock. We loved Dingy dock; it was right on the deck with a view of the ocean again. Wherever you go in Puerto Rico, you will end up seeing the Ocean 🙂

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If you are here, you ought to kayak the bioluminescent bay/ Mosquito Bay, known for its blue-green glow in the dark. There are so many things on the list you ought to do when you are here like snorkeling, ATV rides, watersport activities, etc. The list can just go on and on!

Photo credits@ Parag 🙂

Siendo yo Mismo – “Being Myself”

This is my first blog and I am pretty excited, startled and happy to share my experiences. I love visiting offbeat places, researching on the logistics until we get the ideal location, trying out traditional cuisines and yes, good food! So expect my posts on food, travel and life based on personal experiences.

Many of you who know me will be surprised to see that I can write too 😉 But I am trying to make an attempt at it. You may see more photos as and when they do better justice than words do:) I would love if you could make any kind of suggestions, comments and advice.

You can email me at: nehap1611@gmail.com and follow on: Instagram

neha