Metromover railway track in downtown Miami

Perfection

All straight paths heading

unperturbed, ever boring

as life is a train

— — —

Miami has a free public transit system called the Metromover. Although a slow mode of transport, hundreds of locals take the Metromover across the city every day. Each car/coach can accommodate about 30 people and it has no seats. Almost all Metromovers I saw had only 2 cars, but there were a few single ones as well.

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Pasadena walks

Some of my most exceptional experiences in Los Angeles weren’t in the Santa Monica beach or the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Why even the eye-opening Griffith Observatory wasn’t the best of everything I did.

The one thing I treasure about every city I’ve ever visited is the time I spent walking around the city’s ordinary streets—not just the downtown areas, but also the residential parts of a town, the school district, the supermarket street—the places where locals feel most at home. These places are more than just an everyday thing for people. They’re their lifestyle, their comfort zone, places they prefer to spend time at. That’s what I love about a city—being a part of the locals’ lifestyle even only for a few hours.

Buildings in Pasadena

And so, not wanting to disturb my colleagues’ sightseeing plans, I stepped out onto the street early one morning just to see what’s what.

As I strode along the streets of Pasadena, I came upon architecture both old and new. Stores reaching for the sky barred at the early hours, mere hours away from playing host to the hundreds of folk who’d come in for bread and butter. Coffee shops buzzed with conversations, while vending machines whirred away, energised by the same Joe they poured out.

Political and social opinions drenched passers-by, with clever wordplay on signboards and uncanny shop names, their lights snuffed out, though not for long.

Summer sunlight streamed through the trees, touching buds with their golden rays, awakening birds, bees, and their birches too. The smell of warmth spread through the air as empty roads stretched before me, challenging me, mocking me, to go as far as I can go. I found myself following the light, towards familiar street names, reaching unfamiliar territories, halting for the traffic signs and crossing through broad walks, stepping on sidewalks with plants for aisles, and staring at a Tesla or a Mercedes, a Beetle or a BMW.

I had the whole town of Pasadena for myself.

And as the clock struck eight, like most people in the locality I entered Trader Joe’s. Unlike them, however, I was there for window shopping. On my way back to the hotel I stopped at the coffee shop I’d seen earlier, only now it was overflowing with breakfasters. Carrying my pumpkin pie about 20 minutes later, I walked back to where I stayed, ready to begin a day of work—just like any other person.

And that’s the difference between a tourist and a traveller. We experience far more than what’s on the brochures.

Up

Building in Miami

Miami

A step at a time

steps a walker so cautious

both eyes on the sky

Bonus

Chicago sightseeing

Chicago from above

Travel, a lifestyle

each place an experience

photos, good timing

Observing the skies

Once every while in life, we make a random decision that turns out to be one of the best we’ve ever made. Visiting the Griffith Observatory was one of those decisions for me.

I was with my colleagues in Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles when I realised I’d had enough. I’d already looked up the Observatory, and although I didn’t know what I’d see there, I knew I wanted to go.

Astronomers monument - Griffith Observatory

Astronomers monument

It was quite a long train ride (Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line) from Hollywood Blvd. However, the best thing about public transport is that you could to go the whole length of the city, and observe life without stopping or taking shortcuts. It’s not just about the destination but also about the journey itself.

Low-cost buses run every 15 minutes to and from the Observatory. I got on one—the Dash Observatory bus—and it took me along a winding path up a steep hill. As we drove I saw private vehicles struggling to find parking spaces all along the mountain—a common occurrence in most places in the United States, but a phenomenal one nonetheless.

As the bus stopped, and I got down, my jaw dropped. I’d let that happen plenty of times during the trip already, and I didn’t care that it’d happen many more times for the rest of the trip.

Before me stood a magnificent dome and square-shaped building. In front of it was a large lawn with a statue of six famous astronomers. Nodding hello to and taking a picture of Hipparchus, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and John Herschel, I walked towards the entrance of the building.

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Even as I passed the astronomers, I noticed how there was something to gawk at everywhere I turned. A bronze armillary sphere, a sundial, the Hollywood sign, and the magnificent views of the LA skyline kept me hooked longer than I’d anticipated.

As I entered, I came upon the solar system. Called the Wilder Hall of the Eye, there were exhibits with detailed explanations of the Milky Way, star clusters, ancient telescopes, animated displays of olden time-telling methods, models and artifacts that depict the beginning of sky watching in California, and the most notable of all—the Tesla Coil. Although I didn’t see the sparks of electricity, I felt a thrill run down my spine as I realised what it meant to be standing in the presence of some of the greatest scientific achievements humankind has ever made.

Stepping further within the building, I stopped in my tracks for a moment. A vast hallway had opened up in front of me, its painted ceiling arching high above. I craned my neck to see the Greek-style artwork—Hugo Ballin murals—all around the sky and upper walls. And in the middle, stood Foucault’s pendulum that demonstrates the Earth’s rotation.

Unable to tear my eyes away from the sheer glory of everything that surrounded me, I stood transfixed for a while before giving in to the mad desire of getting everything in one picture. I’d never taken so many photos or videos in one place, but I still couldn’t capture the euphoria of witnessing it live.

On the other side, there were exhibits I was more familiar with—videos displaying the phases of the moon, the earth’s rotation, paths of the sun and stars, seasons, eclipses, tides, and the elements of the periodic table. At the end of it was a live image of the sun along with sun-watching gadgets and NASA videos of the sun.

Skipping the planetarium show, I went back outside to get a glimpse of the looming telescope.

Walking away from what looked like a coffee shop, I strode along the corridor staring at the views, making my way to the viewing area. A small queue later, I faced the large telescope pointed right at the planet Venus. Every half hour, the guard on duty shifts the telescope a few inches to match its movement. As I watched the small, round Venus, half hidden by the clouds and the sun, I couldn’t help but wonder at how much we’ve managed to pierce the mysteries of the sky.

So many things in the universe that we wouldn’t have heard of or seen are now common textbook knowledge. It made me understand how tiny, how small our lives are, as compared to the expanse of matter out there.

With that shuddering thought, I made my way back.

And until a few hours ago, I didn’t realise that I’d missed an entire range of exhibits in the lower levels of the Observatory. The lower level begins from the Café at the End of the Universe, a restaurant operated by the renowned chef, Wolfgang Puck. My bad, I should’ve researched the place before going there. I’m disappointed. But if you’re ever in the vicinity, you shouldn’t miss this place—it’s a great way to make an afternoon enchanting.