Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Happy Birthday" to My Blog

It was this time of last year when I was feeling pretty depressed for a lot of reasons. The work was not going so well, summer in Gainesville was extremely boring and a few of my good friends were leaving Gainesville for different reasons, not all very pleasant. I did have a blogger account before and wrote a couple of meaningless posts months back, but was too lazy to update it on a regular basis and felt it lacked focus. I was content with reading other people's blogs and admiring their writings and wondering how they have became so popular! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I revived my blog exactly a year back in the present form, partly to let the steam out initially, and so far managed to update it reasonably often, with all the the work pressure and travelling around. I would have loved to talk about more serious issues and my often radical perspectives on them but with the people kind enough to read my blog mostly showing an extreme reluctance to comment, I think it would be kind of meaningless. So it has drifted more towards a travel/photo blog with occasional personal posts and might stay that way in near future.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Along the Mississippi and Beyond

Getting absolutely bored of Batavia, I decided to do some travelling around. If I was in Florida, it is not a problem - you can always grab some people and land up in a nearby beach, I remember doing that in the middle of the night too. However it is a completely different story here - miles and miles of cornfields with nothing remotely exciting to do. I like Chicago as a city - but after a while you run of ideas to do things in downtown. So I started the trip by driving north-eastward to Indiana border. In the blinding rain I crossed over to Indiana and soon I was near the Indiana Dunes. However looking for the largest dune there, Mt.Baldy I ended up going too far east and crossed over to Michigan border (one more state for me!I would be in Detroit in a couple of weeks though). After retracing my way back, finally found the way to it and climbed up the hundred something feet up to get a majestic view of the lake Michigan.

Photos: Looking up Mt.Baldy on an rainy day and view from the other side.

It was an overcast day - but could not resist the temptation of driving by the lake for a nice little stretch, making little stops on the way trying to take photos - eventually all of them came up almost similar.

Photos: Driving towards and by the lake!

It was down to West Lafayette from there - meeting an old friend and making a few new ones at Purdue. Stayed there for a couple of days - generally being lazy and trying out restaurants. By now I am sure all the campus towns look unfailingly similar - mostly red brick buildings, a tall tower commemorating something and a small downtown with coffee shops and pubs.

Photos: River Wabash beside Purdue and the tower and the fountain in the campus.

On the way to Urbana-Champaign, I passed through Indianapolis, did not feel a huge urge to head to downtown, rather went to the Indianapolis Speedway. Its funny how rest of the world
follows Formula One while that is relegated to the background here. Nascar and Indy 500 grab all the headlines and that was pretty evident in the Hall of Fame Museum. I did a track tour in the bus and was told that the Formula One race race actually goes in the opposite direction with respect to all other. But going down the empty race track in a slow bus is not really fun ...

Photo: The Speedway and the track.

Next morning we started out on our grand Mississippi road trip. We did not plan much, rather wanted to explore the small town USA a bit. Almost running out of gas, heading westward to Iowa border, we stopped at a small town called Knoxville. Without any expectation whatsoever, ordered friedrice in a little roadside restaurant claiming to serve American-Chinese Food. And ended up probably having the best friedrice in USA. It was just like our own Chinese food, where fried rices are tasty enough to be eaten by itself. So after the unexpectedly satisfying lunch, we crossed over to Iowa and found ourselves in a little town called Burlington just by the Mississippi. It claimed to have the world's crookedest street, but to find that we realized this can almost be called poor man's San Francisco! The streets go up and down pretty steeply without any warning and then that little stretch of alley connecting two bigger streets is really winding.

Photo: The little streetside restaurant and the crookedest street.

Just outside Burlington, travelling up north we passed by Toolseboro Indian Mounds. Sounds kind of historical, may be they are, but they look just like, well - just mounds!

Photo: Indian Mounds.

We were trying to follow the "Great River Road", which is an official scenic byway after that point - and we had to wade through a stretch of unpaved road leaving a trail of white dust behind. It was a while we could actually see the river, but the view was indeed gorgeous at some points.

Photo: Grand view of Mississippi.

We stopped at at place called Davenport, which seemed to be popular for casinos on the river and then at a much smaller but cuter city named LeClaire, which apparently was the hometown of "Buffalo Bill". While all these small towns are critically dependent upon the river for everything and have the streets lined up with antique shops, they are not too touristy. The coffee shops still don't accept credit cards and the people around would still be pleasantly surprised to see people from India.

Then we passed through another of those towns named Clinton and which literally stank. And then we were immensely surprised to find that Iowa (unlike the neighboring Illinois) is not just flat land. To reach Dubuque, which was supposed to be our final stop for the night, we had to drive by narrow winding roads through jungles on either side, going up and down the hills. Finally we reached Dubuque, which is apparently the number one tourist destination in Iowa! It looked confusing and appeared a big city at first, but getting hopelessly lost and coming back to the same major intersection every time without any help made us realize its just not that big, just the roads are uselessly confusing and complicated. The major attraction was the Fenelon place elevator, which is basically a cable car going up a hill. It looks very primitive, and unstable. Long back it was actually used by people for their daily commute, now its more of a tourist attraction. After riding that next morning, we went to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. It was fun seeing all the turtles and fishes and the giant size lazy alligator. Upstairs they had a special "Catfish Planet",which has led me to believe that any fish, no matter how it looks can be eventually classified as a catfish! Looking for places to eat, some local people hanging out in the streets directed us to the "Brickyard". It was a restaurant cum a brewery and we were tempted enough to taste their beer sampler. I am a generally strong beer hater - but even I loved the way how they served it in miniature mugs and actually liked some of them. A variety called the "Laughing Ass" was pretty good and my friends ended up getting half a gallon for their home. And did I mention the food was good too?

Photo: The elevator!

We planned to travel straight up to Mcgregor after that, but ended up crossing over to Wisconsin and losing our way. Finally found the scenic route on that side, but instead of the river, it passed through green valleys and more small towns. Stopping for gas in one of those nondescript towns, we learned we can cross the Mississippi with with our car in a ferry. We were so excited about the novel experience we can have, but sadly realized that we are short of cash. So kept driving, till we passed this in Mcgregor.

Photo: The pink elephant!

The last attraction we wanted to visit was the Spook Cave there. It is an underground half an hour boat ride in this cave. The formations are nothing spectacular compared to the other caves I have seen, but the ride is a lot of fun. At some points you have to duck really hard to avoid getting hit in the head by low ceiling or push the boat off from hitting narrow walls in the dark cave.

Photo: Inside the dark cave.

And then it was time to get back. Before getting on to the highways, we passed through local Wisconsin highway, stopping to buy some fresh local cheese at one time and to pass slow moving horse drawn carriages carrying weirdly dressed Amish county people a few other times. And once we hit the freeway in Illinois border - it was just one long drive back home in late night.

A great trip through small towns and local attractions - a refreshing change from the big cities which we visit all too often. My next trip would be just like that.

P.S - This is the first time I am trying to post some photos inside the travelogue, rather than linking it to webshots. I am not sure if I like the idea though, primarily because I can only upload a small number of them.

Birthday wishes for Saswati (17th July), Sayantani (19th July) and of course for my mother (2nd July).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

An Untimely Obituary

He was not my classmate at any stage. Not at school. Not at undergraduate days. He was merely a student from across the campus in the same year. We did not travel together anywhere, if I disregard the coincidental bumping into each other in Las Vegas last winter. There were no reason for me to know Subhankar Nag. And then he would have remained the faceless software engineer who died suddenly in his sleep of a cardiac arrest in an alien land.

However, I did know him reasonably well. In that dingy room over the A.C.Canteen in J.U Campus, every week we used to meet for informal quizzing sessions, which laid the foundation for the revival of JU Quiz club (later named Enquiry) and the now established yearly JU-Open quiz. And I can almost certainly say - without his effort and enthusiasm - the quiz club would not have seen the light of the day. Right from fighting for a room to coaxing juniors to come - he was everywhere. And he was an integral part of the J.U team which left its mark on college and open quizzes for over a year.

Unfortunately we all graduated from JU - but I hear even after that - he was active to make sure the quizzing tradition of J.U continued. After he came here in Columbus,Ohio working for TCS - he kept in touch, even though a lot of times I was too lazy to call back. Any other people would be offended, but not Subho. He would call at regular intervals, often to tell me that his cellphone number has changed and often without any apparent reason. We would talk about the places we have been to (he was especially proud about being at the Indianapolis GP last year - he deserved to see this years full race) and he would suggest I come to Columbus one of these weekends. I asked him once what his plans about settling down (read: marriage) and in his typical voice he said, "arey boss tara kiser, ei toh masti korar somoy". (roughly translated, whats the hurry - this is the time to enjoy life). I guess thats the last time I spoke to him. Irony? You bet.

This was no way to die.

P.S - A humble suggestion - can we name the J.U.Open quiz in his name?

Here are two old dusty pictures - the first reminding me of those fun evenings and the second one is the Science Sanskriti quiz which Arpita and me conducted.