Detroit in 2 days

Detroit used to symbolize the prowess of the Amercian manufacturing. Foreign delegates would drive or fly to Detroit just to see this iconic city. San Francisco Bay area (Silicon valley) was once called the Detroit of the west and at that time, it meant admiration. The city has a tumultuous racial history. It’s the only city in the US to be taken over by the Federal army thrice to control riots. Before my visit, I had read the book “Detroit: An American Autopsy“, it’s a bit long but gives a thorough understanding of this once iconic city.

The city neighborhood definitely looks in the state of somewhat despair, even though the suburbs like Dearborn, where Henry Ford was born, are in a much better shape.The motor city is spread out, so, don’t leave the airport without renting a car. Another thing which stands out is the sheer number of Arabs and the Arabic language as the second or the third language on the signboards.

Day 1

I started my trip with a visit to Grande Ballroom, as of Oct 2016, contrary to what Atlas Obscura says there is no way to enter inside.

Grande Ballroom

Grande Ballroom

From there I continued to Motown museum Hitsville, during the era of racial segregation, this museum used to provide an upward mobility opportunity to black artists. The tour is impressive, show up early in the morning or buy the ticket in advance. Without a prior reservation, I barely made it in.

Motown museum

Motown museum

From there, I headed to the Detroit museum.  That’s where I learned that the original name was “Ville De Troie” during French occupation and Britishers tranformed it to Detroit. In retrospect, that was a bad idea. The museum is good but some other museums like Ford museum are far better. I headed to the Camp Martius Park afterward. That in itself isn’t great but my plan was to do a Walking tour, which provided the missing narrative around the downtown buildings. And one does get access to some private buildings as a part of the tour. And while you are in this area, do check out the Giant Boxing arm of Joe Louis, it is controversial some think it symbolizes black violence.

Detroit from a high rise building

Detroit from a high rise building

I headed to Greektown for dinner which had the nightlife was atypical of an American city. I decided to take an early sleep for the next day instead.

Day 2

I started the day with The Heidelberg Project which is an artistic work from scrap. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are staying nearby and even in that case, don’t spend more than 15 mins here.

Heidelberg Project

Heidelberg Project

I headed to Michigan Central Station next which again is a no-entry zone and I couldn’t figure out any way to get in. Even then it is still worth a visit, except, since this is located on the outskirts, I would recommend going to the Ford Piquette Plant first.

Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station

I next headed to the Ford Piquette Plant, which was the highlight of the trip. It was Ford’s first plant and has now been converted into a museum. The legendary Model T was first produced here.  I would highly recommend doing a guided tour here.

Ford Piquette Plant

Ford Piquette Plant

The room where Henry Ford designed Model T

The room where Henry Ford designed Model T

I spent about three hours here and headed immediately to the Ford Museum in Dearborn. That museum is much bigger and provides a general history of the automobile industry along with its impact on American culture in the form of drive-ins and motels. It also talks about the fall of large American cars to consumer preference for smaller and efficient Japanese ones. It has factory tours on the weekdays.

Ford Museum

Ford Museum

I finished the trip with a  Broadway show at Detroit Opera house.

Death Valley in 3 days

We did this trip over three days in the month of December, even then Death Valley National Park was warm during the day and cold at night. Therefore, I would warn against going there in summer where it could be unbearably hot.

Day 1

We entered from the west side and started our trip with Darwin Falls. The falls are not huge but given that they are surrounded by the desert, it is a site worth visiting. We only did the first falls, those will 4 wheel drive can drive 2 miles to the second falls.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls

From there, we headed to Mosaic Canyons and hiked there.

Mosaic Canyons

Mosaic Canyons

We camped at the Furnace Creek campground. Away from the light pollution, the night was starry and serene.

Starry night at Death Valley

Starry night at Death Valley

Day 2

On the second day, we started early morning and headed to Corkscrew Peak. It’s a strenuous 9.5 miles but views from the top make it worth it. And since it’s mostly gravel, the chance of losing the trail is pretty high. Never lose tracks of grottos (man-made stone piles of stones on top of each other).

 

Corkscrew Peak

Corkscrew Peak

A view from the top of Corkscrew Peak

A view from the top of Corkscrew Peak

We were done with Corkscrew Peak by the middle of the day and post-lunch, we first headed to Dante’s View followed by the Badwater Basin which for a long while was the lowest point on the planet.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin

Day 3

We started the day with sunrise at Zabriskie Point, highly recommended.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Nature Bridge road is nearby and if you are into casual rock climbing, then carry gloves. The hike otherwise is relatively uneventful.

Nature's Bridge

Nature’s Bridge

Nature's Bridge

Nature’s Bridge

Next, we headed to the Devil’s Golf Course which wasn’t that good and I would recommend skipping it if you are running short on time.

Devil's Golf course

Devil’s Golf course – so called because of the rock formations which look like golf balls

Afterward, we drove through the artist’s drive, it was a bit late in the evening. If you are in Death Valley you might as well do it but nothing outstanding about it.

Artist's Drive

Artist’s Drive

Overall, it’s a highly recommended experience for the nature lovers.

Note:

  1. Do carry a lot of water, sometimes you would be hours away from water and even in the month of December getting a heat stroke is not impossible in Death Valley.
  2. There were few things which we couldn’t do, Harmony Borax Works, Borax Museum, and The racetrack due to the lack of four-wheel drive and being short on time.

Oahu (Hawaii) in 5 days

The island of Oahu which contains the capital city of Honolulu is an amazing combination of urban amenities, nature hikes, and beautiful beaches. If you are doing only one island out of the four major islands Of Hawai’i then this is the one I would recommend. I did it during Thanksgiving which is the last week of November. While this island is not as big as the “big island”, public infrastructure outside of the city of Honolulu is not great. Therefore, I would recommend taking a moped rental(30-40$ a day) for a solo trip. Roads are narrow and the moped turns out to be a better choice than a car, both for driving and parking. The only time a moped gave me trouble was when it rained. Outside of the city of Honolulu, there is nothing much to do after the sunset, so, plan your trip accordingly. Do check out local food items, like Shave Ice cream and Banana bread from local markets. But don’t carry any of it for the return journey.

Hawai'i

Hawai’i

 Day 1

I reached in the afternoon and started my journey with an easy but picturesque hike to the Diamond Head crater which overlooks the city of Honolulu.

IMG_20131128_154210

The city of Honolulu in the background from the top of diamond head crater

 

I checked out the Waikiki beach afterward. Since its next to the city of Honolulu, you are not going to miss it.

Day 2

My plan for the second day was to spend a few hours at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. But I underestimated the number of things to see there. I spent the whole day till the evening checking out the various warships. There are always guided tours going on, so definitely check them out.

IMG_20131129_113312

Day 3

The rainfall slowed me down a bit. I started with Buddhist Temple and then spent my time connecting with a few locals to plan my “Stairway to Heaven” trip. After that, I headed to Kuhio beach for a traditional Hawaiian dance “Hula” ceremony. It’s a free, open to the public event every Saturday. Don’t pay anyone for Hula shows till you have watched this public ceremony.

Buddhist Temple

Buddhist Temple

One dance during the ceremony

One dance during the ceremony

Day 4

“Stairway to Heaven” or “Haiku stairs” is closed to the public. A guard comes at about 4 AM at the entrance. And therefore, you have to enter before he reaches there. I, along with, a few locals started at 2:30 AM at night. The entrance goes through private property and a cut fence. It is very hard to find it out without the help of the locals. And don’t try it unless you are an experienced hiker. Once you cross all that hurdles, you will be rewarded with a strenuous hike on metal stairs which of course will hurt your shins every time you slip on them. There isn’t much to see during the journey but views are beautiful from the top. It takes about 4 hours to reach the top.

Keep climbing

Keep climbing

I continued my journey to Hanauma Bay which got destroyed by heavy rains. I did Makapuu Lighthouse trail while it was drizzling, it wasn’t a great hike. I would actually recommend Maunawii Trail which I had to skip since rains slowed me down heavily.

Day 5

I started the day with a straight hike up the Koko crater trail. Amazing views from the top. Carry lunch there and have it while you are watching natural slopes on one side and urban Honolulu on the other.

Koko crater trail

Koko crater trail

Top of the Koko head crater

I headed to Chinaman’s hat from there. It was a bit late and being solo, I decided to skip swimming to it. It was already evening and I was close to Polynesian Cultural Center, so, I decided to watch a two-hour musical show of “Ha” there. It’s a bit expensive. I made a mistake of reaching almost on time for the show, arrive at least an hour in advance to check out the center there. I found the show to be OK but not great.

Day 6

I started the day with Shark Cage diving but the amount of time and money one ends up spending on it is a total rip-off. I found the tour in Belize to be much more worthwhile. I continued my anti-clockwise tour of the island with Shark Cove, followed by World’s largest maze.

The best shaved ice I had in Hawai'i

The best shave ice I had in Hawai’i

Belize in 4 days

The country is roughly divided into inland which had historic Mayan sites and Cayes (pronounced “keys”) which have water sports.

Day 1 – San Ignacio

After landing at the Belize airport, I took a $25 USD taxi to Belize city since there is no public transport to Belize city. From there I took a 2.5-hour bus costing $4.5 USD heading west to San Ignacio. There I check out the Cahal Pech ruins. Established in 1200 BC, this is the oldest Mayan site in Belize. Entry fee is $5 USD. Do me a favor and get a guide for another $10 -15 USD. Guide’s explanation adds a real value in terms of understanding how the site was actually used. I spent rest of the day checking San Ignacio city. Nothing much interesting in it.

Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech

Altun Ha (near Belize city) and Xunantunich (30 minutes further west of San Ignacio) are newer but more famous Mayan sites. If you have time, it would be good to check them out as well.

Day 2 – ATM caves

I started the day with the world-famous ATM (actun tunichil muknal) caves. Belize used to be submerged in water millions of years ago. That’s why 65% of rocks are still limestone rocks. Many caves were created by following water dissolving these rocks. Mayans believed that the caves are an entry to the underworld. And that the rain god came from there. The tour takes you into the ATM cave, partially submerged in the flowing water, where Mayans used to make sacrifices of animals and later humans, to please the Rain God during droughts. Skeletons of the sacrificed men and a few young kids are still present in the cave. The tour is mildly strenuous, requires occasional swimming, and no photography is allowed inside. I took the tour with MayaWalk and it was an amazing experience worth recommendation. They start early in the morning to avoid the crowd and have one guide per 6-7 visitors. If you have dietary restrictions, let them know in advance for the lunch. At 85$ USD, the tour is expensive but given the equipment (headlamps, water shoes), the two-hour transportation from San Ignacio to the caves, and the lunch, I think it is justified for this unique experience.

After the tour, I headed for Green Iguana conservation project. It’s a 45 minute $9 USD tour focused on Green Iguanas. The guide, though extremely knowledgeable, is an introvert. So, keep asking him and he will tell you everything about Iguanas. This is highly recommended if you have any interest in wildlife, biology, and like holding Iguanas.

Green Iguana

Green Iguana

Since my next day was in Caye (remember it is pronounced “key”) caulker. I took a bus back to the Belize city. The last water taxi to Caye caulker was at 5:30 and I knew I won’t reach in time for that. I stayed in Belize city for the night.

Day 3 – Caye caulker

I took a 45-minute water taxi ($25 USD round trip price) to Caye caulker.

Water Taxi has some beautiful views

Water Taxi has some beautiful views

My main activity for this day was a snorkeling cruise. We went to three different places – Shark and ray Alley, Hol Chan Marine reserve and Coral Gardens. In shark and ray Alley, the guide throws sardines to attract sharks and manta rays. These sharks are habituated to humans and don’t attack. The water is calm here which is really helpful for an amateur snorkeler. I did this tour with Ragamuffin Tours. Their guide was extremely proactive in terms of snorkeling along with us, showing various fishes, turtles, corals, manta rays, lobsters, and sharks. The tour ended up with a small party on the north side across the split. All in all, it was about 10-hour long tour. At $70 USD, this is an amazing value for money. If you are booking this tour, do check that the guide will go along with you on all three occasions (the law mandates it only for the Marine reserve) and is enthusiastic enough to spot the sea life.

Sharks at the Shark Ray Allay

Sharks at the Shark Ray Allay

I spent the late evening checking the Caye. There isn’t something special at it. I stayed here overnight since the last water taxi to the mainland is at 5 PM.

A crab roaming on the street in Caye Caulkar

A crab roaming on the street in Caye Caulker

Day 4 – Blue Hole national park

I took the water taxi back to Belize city and then took a bus to Dangriga. All the buses going south from Belize city will first go west to Belmopan. The bus dropped me at the entrance of the Blue Hole National Park.

I was too late for the cave tubing tour I booked. But the tour company (Belize Inland) rebooked me for the afternoon tour. I did a 30-minute one-way hike to the inland blue hole and swam there.

Inland Blue Hole

Inland Blue Hole

Then I returned for the cave tubing tour. It is a nice relaxing tour focused on the geography and life inside the cave. Going through the pitch black darkness is eye-opening (pun intended) experience. The guide provided a lot of information about the geography and the flora and the fauna inside the cave.

Entrace to the cave tubing tours

Entrance to the cave tubing tours

After the tour, I decided to stop in Belmopan. Checked out the local market. There is nothing special here. So, you won’t miss anything if you decide not to stop.

Belmopan

Belmopan

Notes:

  1. 1 USD = 2 BZE. USD is readily accepted everywhere.
  2. Cities are a waste of time. Caye caulker was OK. Others are a complete waste of time. The cities are filled with local people passing comments on the tourists. Catcalling is the norm.
  3. Public transport is reliable but limited. First water taxi from Belize city to Caye caulker is at 8 AM. The last one to return is at 5 PM. If you are doing any good tour, you can’t do it in a single day.
  4. Cut mango sold for $1 USD is delicious.
  5. All food except fruits felt really expensive and over-priced.
  6. Cars are expensive to rent and mopeds are hard to come by.
  7. Belize has a thriving Indian population (Gujarati and Sindhi) as well as Chinese population. One of the richest person in Belize is an Indian.
  8. There are many contrary reports on whether Indian citizens need a visa for Belize or not. I confirmed with Belize embassy that holders of a multi-entry US visa, do not need a visa for Belize. My experience was the same, US visa was sufficient.

A day at Point Roberts

Point Roberts is a weird place. A 5 sq. miles (12 sq. km) U.S. exclave connected to British Columbia, Canada. As a part of the Treaty of Oregon, 1846, the territory jointly controlled by the British and the U.S. was handed over to the U.S. It later became the Washington state. The area should have been part of the British Columbia but the dividing line was chosen incorrectly due to a geographical mistake.

Point Roberts

Point Roberts

Now,coming back to the trip. I drove from mainland Washington to Point Roberts via Canada.

The first thing I immediately noticed after crossing the immigration checkpoint is that the gas prices are listed in both USD and Canadian dollars.

Gas prices in US and CAD dollars

Gas prices in US and CAD dollars

I did a nice one-hour hike at Lily Point Marine Reserve. It had some nice scenic views. Nothing outstanding. But worth the time.

A nice hike at Pt. Roberts

A nice hike at Lily Point Marine Reserve

The visit to grocery store was another fun. I wanted to buy some mangoes and raspberries to test how good is custom officer is at detecting which fruits are allowed to cross the border and which don’t but gave up on the plan fearing deportation back to Point Roberts.

Mangos can cross the border, Raspberries cannot

Mangos can cross the border, Raspberries cannot

And now the border. Behold, there is no wall, grass lands on the left are in the U.S. and apartments on the right are in Canada.

U.S. - Canada border

US – Canada border

If you are heading to Vancouver or British Columbia, Point Roberts is a detour worth taking.Note: One definitely needs a multi-entry U.S. as well as multi-entry Canadian visa to enter, exit and re-enter Canada and the U.S.

 

Note: One definitely needs a multi-entry U.S. as well as multi-entry Canadian visa to enter, exit, and re-enter Canada and the U.S.

Chicago in 2 Days

Day 1

We started our trips with Willis (Sears) Tower at 9AM, the 40$ on the spot ticket was worth it, the tower provides some really beautiful views of Chicago. We spent about two hours there.

Willis Tower

Willis Tower

From there, we continued our journey onto Art Institute of Chicago. At 23$ the price felt slightly steep but if you are into arts, I would recommend 1-2 hours here as well.

The only pic I took there :(

The only pic I took there 🙁

Post-lunch, we headed to the famous Blue Man (comedy) show, it is contemporary but still whacky. A must do.

Blue ManWe decided to check out the Millenium Park which has the Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate (“The Bean”).

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain

Cloud Gate (The Bean)

Cloud Gate (The Bean)

The last item of our day was Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It is on a Navy Pier, worth taking a stroll. We watched a Shakespearean show. If you are planning to attend, I would highly recommend reading the full story in advance. The language, the actions, and the speed are too difficult to follow if you don’t know the story. Mudit realized that I didn’t.

Day 2

We started the day with Museum of Science & Industry. It’s huge and impressive. Do check out the live demos if you are there. We dissected a cow’s eye as a part of a medical experiment. We ended up spending about four hours there and had to cancel the next visit to Oriental Institute Musem.

Dielectric breakdown

Dielectric breakdown

Afterward, we headed to Magnificant mile, took another stroll around Millennium park and it was time for our respective flights by then.

Magnificent mile

Magnificent mile

Note:

  1. The city is extremely public transport friendly. Don’t worry about getting a rental car.
  2. Try out the Chicago deep-crust pizza.

Boston in 2 Days

We traveled there in the month of October and the weather was really nice and cool at that time.

Day 1

At 10AM, we started with a 30-minute guided tour called Decisive day, it’s a nice introduction to the struggle of American colonies against the British rulers. More so for the foreigners like us. From there we continued onto another hour long tour called Freedom Trail: Meetings, Mobs & Martyrs which talks about how individuals took sides in the revolution. We were running out of time, so, we had to skip the other Freedom Trail tour but I would highly recommend doing both. All these tours are limited in capacity, therefore, show up well in advance to collect the free entry tickets.

Paul Revere statue - Freedom Trail

Paul Revere statue – Freedom Trail

Bunker Hill monument - do run upstairs here

Bunker Hill monument – do run upstairs here

Post-lunch, our tour continued with Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was a two-hour long show, we attended it primarily because it is highly rated on TripAdvisor but I would refrain from attending a similar show again.

At 4PM, it was raining when we headed to take a tour of MIT. A friend of ours who is doing a Ph.D. there provided a guided tour. Without an insider, I don’t think touring the campus would be as enjoyable.

A bizzare MIT building

A bizarre MIT building

We had some time to kill before the Improv show at 10PM and we spent that by walking around North End and New England Holocaust Memorial. Nothing special but if you are around the area, you might as well walk in this historic district.

Mudit at Holocaust Memorial

Mudit at Holocaust Memorial

At 10PM, The last thing for the day was an Improv show at Improv Asylum. Overall, it was a good show and I would recommend attending it.

Day 2

At 10AM, we started our second day with USS Constitution. Highly recommended for history enthusiasts. Including a guided tour, we spent the next three hours there.

USS Constitution

USS Constitution

Post-lunch, we headed to Harvard and took a tour of the campus with a friend from HBS. Nothing spectacular, except John’s Harvard’s statue on which students urinate on and the visitors, gladly touch ಠ_ಠ

See that right shoe, don't touch it

See that shiny shoe on the right, don’t touch it

We were running short on time and had to skip the Black Heritage Trail. At 7PM, the last thing in our trip was a two-hour Shear Madness show. It was amazingly hilarious and I would strongly recommend it. It was the highlight of the trip.

Ecuador in 4 days

Day 1

I landed in Quito and started the journey with Mitad Del Mundo which apart from being a monument near the equator line has some nice short scientific demonstrations. Expect to spend about 2-3 hours there.

Mitad Del Mundo

View from the top of Mitad Del Mundo monument

Then I headed to Telefrico (“aerial lift”). The ride is nice and gives a beautiful view of the Quito city. Highly recommended.

A view of Quito from Teleferico

A view of Quito from Teleferico

Lastly, I headed to Quito Old Town. Overhyped. There is nothing special about it. In fact, I would recommend the readers to start early in the morning and go to Mindo Cloud Forest first. I had an overnight bus journey from Quito to Lago Agrio afterwards.

Day 2

I wanted to make a single day visit to Amazon. Therefore, Yasuni, being too deep inside the forest, was out of the question. Cuyabeno was a good choice. Since it is deep enough and at the same time accessible enough for a one day trip. I reached Lago Agrio early morning where the manager of Cuyabeno River Lodge (not Cuyabeno Lodge) picked me up. This lodge is deep inside Amazon but not close to Laguna Grande. Therefore, the lodge management can adjust for your pickup-dropoff time, most other lodges which are close to Laguna Grande would charge a lot extra for that. I would highly recommend this if you want a custom itinerary.

Caiman Lodge

Caiman Lodge

I reached the lodge at about 6AM and after having a nice vegetarian breakfast, I joined a few other travelers and went for a boat tour of the Laguna grande (“grand lagoon”) starting at 8AM.

Boat tour

Laguna Grande

We saw a lot of native animals like  serpiente (“snake”), tortuga (turtles), and pajaros(birds) during the journey. After Laguna Grande, we headed to a native Amazon community, where we learnt the process of making Yuca bread by extracting Yuca roots, followed by peeling, grating, drying and baking them.

Yuca roots

Yuca roots

Grated Yuca

Grated Yuca

Drying of Yuca

Drying of Yuca

Baking Yuca

Baking Yuca

Yuca bread

Yuca bread

While returning, we encountered a baby caiman (“alligator”).

Customary selfie with a baby caiman

Customary selfie with a baby caiman

At night, we headed out for a night hike. If you are planning to do this, then I would recommend carrying an insect repellent. Amazon rainforest is full of small crawling creatures.

Day 3

The third day started with a Pirana fishing session. The goal was to just catch, take pics and return them to the water. They are really fast at eating the food before the hook is pulled in. While I failed to fully get hold of any, another guy on the boat succeeded.

Pirana

Pirana

From there, I headed for another long bus journey from Lago Agrio to Baños De Agua Santa with a transfer via Coca. I later came to know that there is a direct overnight bus from Lago Agrio to Baños. In the hindsight, I would say that leaving at night would have been a better option then wasting the third day traveling.

Day 4

The day started with a visit to Thermal hot springs Therma de La virgen (“The virgin hot springs”). They are good but don’t spend too much time here since there is a lot to do later.

Thermal hot springs

Thermal hot springs

Then I headed for a Bungee jumping session. 20$ for the jump and 5$ for the photos. Wow. Compare this to 150$ jump offered in the San Francisco bay area.

Sugarcane candies

Sugarcane candies are a must try. Canna in Spanish. Ganna in Hindi, who copied whom?

Conical pizza

Conical pizza

Post-lunch, I headed for a paragliding session. At 55$, it’s a no-brainer.

I had to skip Le Casa Del Arbol due to the lack of time. Baños is an amazing backpacker heaven. While I only spent a day there, I would strongly recommend, at least two days to fully enjoy it.

 

Here is the overall map.

Note:

  1. Public transport is pretty good for both short and the long distance travel. So one can skip taxis.
  2. US Dollar is the accepted currency. Carry cash, credit/debit cards might not be accepted everywhere.
  3. Cuenca is a nice French town but I could not check that out due to the shortage of time.
  4. Always carry papel de higienico (“toilet paper”). A lot of places simply don’t have it. And they don’t have water either ¯  \_(ツ)_/¯

Seattle in 2 Days

Day 1

We started our journey with Chihuly Garden and Glass, it consists of amazing glass sculptures of various sizes. Worth every penny. Highly recommended for everyone.

Yes, this is all glass

Yes, this is all glass

 

From there we continued to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center,  half of it feels like a publicity stunt but the other half is insightful and worthy of a visit.

Anti-bacterial business cards

Anti-bacterial business cards

We skipped the Space Needle and did the Space Wheel, instead. Grab to-go boxes and eat them while having a nice view of the city’s skyline.

Space Needle

Space Needle

A view from the Space Wheel

A view from the Space Wheel

The Gum Wall is weird but worth a quick visit.

The gum wall

The gum wall

We headed to Chittenden Locks  next. While I have read about how locks are used for moving ships from one water body with lower water level to another with higher water level, this was the real life demo of the same. Recommended but don’t spend too much time here.

Chittenden Locks

Chittenden Locks

We headed to Fremont Troll afterward. I think it’s overhyped and if you don’t have time, skip it.

The Fremont Troll

The Fremont Troll

Gas Works Park is nearby and worth an evening walk.

Gas Works Park

Gas Works Park

Underground tour was the highlight of the day. We went for the late night 21+ only show. The guide was hilarious and we got a chance to learn about Seattle’s history in the context of cultural norms of the Victorian era, relations with native Americans and US-Canada border demarcation.

Seattle Underground

Seattle Underground

Day 2

We started the day with Bruce Lee’s grave. Overhyped, don’t spend more than 15 minutes there.

Bruce Lee's grave

Bruce Lee’s grave

From there we headed to the Museum of History & Industry which gave us a nice overview of  Seattle’s role in the World Wars. Recommended if you are into history. Expect to spend a few hours if you are planning to do it in the full. At 14$ per person, it’s inexpensive.

IMG_20140518_121646

We followed it with Frye Art Museum, it’s a nice museum if you have any interest in arts. We missed Last Resort Fire Department since it was closed. We continued the trip with Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park which is actually a museum. It provides a window into the Klondike gold rush era which started in 1896. Must do for history lovers. Being short on time, we skipped the Public Library and Alki Beach.

Seattle was the final stop for the gold diggers

Seattle was the final stop for the gold diggers

We took Washington State Ferries which was OK but not great. I would recommend Denny Creek Trail instead.

Seattle seen from the ferry

Seattle seen from the ferry

Choosing a Travel Backpack

Choosing a travel backpack is a topic of several online debates. Here are some of my learnings. The final decision depends on your preferences.

Size

First, start with the size, usual sizes are around 25L, 45L, 65L. The 25L is OK for a day or two and you can stretch it for a few days. It is almost what a good office backpack looks like. 45L can last for a few week-long urban trips. Of course, it cannot contain things like sleeping bag etc. Both of these are good choices for urban travel or travel not involving sleeping outdoors. For travel involving carrying sleeping bags or tents, a 65L backpack is unavoidable. But here is the flip-side. Not only, it is bulky but also, you cannot carry it in most airlines. You have to do a check-in which even if free, can be time-consuming. Here are some images from Google illustrating the sizes.

Weight distribution

The second most important aspect is the weight distribution. Some bags don’t provide hip or chest support straps. I would highly recommend choosing one which provides both.

A photo illustrating chest and hip straps

A photo illustrating chest and hip straps

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The third important aspect of choosing a backpack is whether it is top-loading or front-loading. A top-loading backpack can only be loaded from the top while front-loading one opens up like a suitcase. Moving from top-loading to front-loading made my life much easier.

Front loading backpack

Front loading backpack

Some others concerns

  1. Don’t choose a bag with rollers. They are useful only at airports and hotel lobbies. Everywhere else, you are just carrying extra weight on your shoulders.
  2. If you travel with a laptop then ensure that the bag has a well-protected laptop sleeve.

What I decided on

I narrowed down my choices to following five 35L-45L backpacks since that is within the carry-on limits and can easily last for weeks.

  1. Tortuga Travel backpack  – 200$ for 44L
  2. Osprey Farpoint – 140$ for 40L. This seems to be the most popular backpack among the traveling community
  3. Minaal Carry-on bag  – 300$ for 35L
  4. Soot Electropack  – 280$ for 24+10L, a daypack can be pulled out of the bag – website dead as of Nov 2018
  5. Chrome Excursion  – 160$
  6. Venturesafe anti-theft backpack – 200$ for 45L. This bag definitely seems to have some good anti-theft and security features.

Eventually, I decided to go with Tortuga.

A secret which professional bloggers won’t tell you

I read several blogs while choosing a backpack and no one recommended a really simple trick for getting an inexpensive high-quality backpack. And that’s probably because this trick does not make money for the bloggers or the sellers. The trick is CraigsList. As of this writing, there are about 900 backpacks available to buy in my area. Most of them for about 50$.

Further reading

  1. Nomadic Matt
  2. Eastern Mountain Sport’s Guide
  3. Women’s backpack guide