Lone Star Musings

The urban sprawl is apparent as we drive along I-10, in the western part of Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city. Texans love to drive, and given that the state still has one of the lowest gas prices in the country, that girth is inevitable. So it’s not surprising to know that Rudy’s started off as a gas station, in a little known town in Texas, with a tiny shack selling Ribs. Although that business model has changed little since, more people visit Rudy’s today for its mouth-watering BBQ offerings than they do for inexpensive gas.

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Biking through the South Bronx, one green patch at a time!

Chances are, you’ve passed right over it, in your car or in a bus, whizzing along the Bruckner or the Major Deegan, as you make your way into or out of the city. Or if you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably ridden the #4 train to watch a game at Yankee Stadium. But there’s a lot more to the South Bronx than the Yankees, or views of industrial blight afforded by the many expressways that criss cross it. Just east of the Bruckner, in fact, a little known resurgence is taking place along the Bronx River. I set out one morning to investigate for myself.

The Hunts Point section of the South Bronx lies approximately 5 miles north of Astoria, a 25-minute bike ride for me via the Triborough / RFK bridge. At the southern end of Tiffany St., about a mile off the gritty Bruckner Blvd, past old warehouses and truck repair shops, sits an 11-acre patch of green by the name of Barretto Point Park.


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The Heights of Manhattan

The name Manhattan is a Native American word that translates to ‘island of many hills’. To most visitors though, and to those few residents who’ve never had opportunity to use the GW bridge, the island of Manhattan is perceived as flat! No fault of theirs really – the city’s urban development in the early 19th-century ensured that much of the island’s topographical variations were evened out.

Washington Heights and Inwood, the northernmost neighbourhoods on the island, are remnants of that undulation, and little known ones at that. A stroll or bike ride through them reveals not only what the island would have looked like pre-development, but also many a hidden treasure. Towards the end of summer this year, I set out to find out just that!

11 miles after leaving my house on a warm Sunday morning, I made my first stop at 156th & Broadway. There, occupying a full city block sits Audobon Terrace, a complex of eight early 20th-century Beaux Arts buildings, named after John James Audobon, a French-American ornithologist, on who’s land the structures stand.


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Where aviators soared high

The New York metro area is served by no less than 3 major airports, together contributing a staggering 3300 flights to its airspace, each day! While Newark is in neighbouring New Jersey, both LaGuardia and JFK are located in the city’s largest borough, Queens. But little known to the hundreds of thousands of daily fliers, and to a majority of New Yorkers, is the fact that the city’s first airport was in fact in Brooklyn!

In the days when flights were few and far between, when passengers walked freely onto the tarmac to board their planes, and when security procedures –  as we know them today – were non existent, ‘Building 1’ was sufficient enough to house the passenger terminal, airline offices and air traffic control for Floyd Bennett Field!


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Dam Essentials

Despite being Europe’s 5th largest airport, Schiphol is surprisingly compact. You can get from your gate to the arrivals area in about a third of the time it takes to do so, say at Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle. A testament to its smart design, no doubt. Throw in a very conveniently located train station, with frequent departures to the city centre, and 15 minutes later your staring down Damrak in downtown Amsterdam! Not surprisingly, the city mirrors just that – a highly efficient design and extreme compactness!

The Warmoesstraat (straat = street) is a 5 minute walk along the Damrak from Amsterdam Centraal and a good place in which to get your bearings. Touristy, yes, but a great introduction to all that you’ve come to know as the Dam’s clichés – Canals, the Red Light District, Coffee shops, and of course, its quaint little alleyways.


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Bogotá Diaries

“Be Safe!”, “Watch out for the Militia!”, “Stay clear of the Cartels!”, “Go easy on the Cocaine!”, “Better not get kidnapped!!” Just some of the reactions I got when I told people I was headed to Colombia!

It’s interesting – and sort of funny – the kind of pre-conceived notions people have about places. Going by all that it was built up to be, I have to say I was a little disappointed – all I got was a single instance of a totally lame peddler trying half heartedly to palm off some hashish to me!

The first thing that hits you – and quite literally at that – is the rare and cool mountain air! Bogotá sits 8661 ft (2640 mtrs) above sea level, making it the 3rd highest capital city in the world (the top 2 also happen to be in S.America)! So my gallant stride up several flights of stairs was quickly reduced to a slow crawl by the time I reached my friend’s 4th floor apartment!

Within 12 hours of having arrived there, my nasal passage was clear again and the cold symptoms I had – a distant New York memory! It’s not that the city is completely devoid of pollution – far from it in fact – just that being in the mountains definitely helps! Not only does the city enjoy the benefits of elevation but also a beautiful natural setting – surrounded as it is by the Andean Mountains, some of them over 10000 ft in height.

The weather is perfect to – never too cold or too hot – and it remains so throughout the year! You’re unlikely to find a heater, air conditioner or even a fan in anyone’s house! Great savings right there!! Being high up in the mountains also means constantly changing light conditions – plenty of variety for a day and always a photographer’s delight 😉


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Canada, Part Deux

So my much anticipated train journey on the ‘Adirondack‘ never quite materialised. Reason – track work! Catch them getting away with that excuse in India!

Instead I had to resort to my least favoured mode of long distance transport – Greyhound! It’s a different story altogether on how I literally and figuratively almost missed the bus!

Montréal – 1

Despite everything I had heard about Montréal, it still managed to throw me off a bit and was all very confusing to begin with. French speakers, street signs in French, hoardings in French, subway announcements in French (only!) – more French, visually and aurally, than your likely to encounter on a first visit to Paris!

Even thoroughbred North American brands aren’t spared..


The reasons are plenty – historical, political and possibly even geographical! Whatever they may be, it definitely distinguishes the city (and the Province of Quebec) as the most culturally unique part of North America. Not a bad thing at all, as I was to discover during the course of my visit 😉

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The Iron Horse in Dutch Country, and then some pedaling..

Q. How do you fit 2 bicycles, 2 adults and their luggage into a tiny rental sedan?

A. Make sure one of them is a folding bike; hope and pray there’s a bike shop close on hand that can help detach the front wheel from the other bike; fold down the rear seats and begin workout! Repeat process four times over and you’ve successfully completed a two day road trip from the city!

Less than a 3 hr drive from NYC is Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country. The term ‘Dutch’ has almost nothing to do with Amsterdam – instead, it refers to 17th and 18th century immigrants to the area, who were German (Deutsch) speaking by origin. The language spoken by inhabitants of Dutch Country today is known as Deitsch, a dialect of West Central German, spoken only in North America!

Pennsylvania Dutch Country is, no doubt, a unique part of the United States – not just different in name or language spoken – but different in every possible way – and as soon as you enter it, there are signs to prove it!


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