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FLORENCE     Florence –  the capital of the Tuscany region and the cradle of Renaissance   We opted for Flix Bus while traveling from Venice to Florence. The road journey takes about three and a half-hour. In Florence, it terminates at the rear end of Santa Maria Novella (SMN) train station. One of Italy’s busiest stations, it got its name from Santa Maria Novella Church just across the plaza from the main entrance. We debarked at the station and refreshed ourselves at McDonald's before hiring a cab for our hotel. Florence, popularly known as ‘Firenze’ by the Italians, is located in central Italy. This dreamy city with a romantic name is the regional capital of the lovely Tuscany region.   Columbus Hotel, where we stayed, is located in Lugarno District. We always prefer to book our hotels through Booking.com as we always land up getting good hotels at good locations. Despite being a little away from the heart of the city and Santa Maria Novella station


A Journey to one of the fearsomely grandest ravines on earth --- The Grand Canyon

As our flight started its descent over Las Vegas I was dazzled by the lights below. Lights glittered all over like a huge, sprawling net. Appeared to be laid for the aircraft to land on it like a trapeze artist. I frankly admit that I have never seen such myriads of lights before. Not even when our plane hovered over glittering Manhattan while on its descent at New York JFK. Our son Arjun had already fixed up a car with rent a car center. We were transported there in shuttle service available from terminal 1 of McCarran International Airport. Arjun completed the formalities with the car company and then we drove towards the city center with Arjun at the wheel. After a short drive, we were at the famous Las Vegas Strip. I must admit that the Strip looks vibrant and fascinating in the night, more than any other place I have seen on our planet. Like a fairy tale world. Mandalay Bay, Luxor, MGM, Excalibur, New York New York, David Copperfield. The illuminated Statue of Liberty in front of New York New York and the medieval English castle type architecture of Excalibur exteriors stand out in a maze of glittering hotels and casinos on Las Vegas Strip. We stayed two nights at Excalibur, named after the legendary sword of King Arthur, and tried our hands at the casino. Started our journey for Grand Canyon in the morning. Via Boulder City in Nevada, our first halt was at the famous Hoover Dam. Built in the early twentieth century during the Great Depression to tame the river Colorado in the Black Canyon bordering Nevada and Arizona, it is a showpiece of an engineering marvel. The reservoir which came up during the construction of the dam and hydroelectric project is known as Lake Mead, considered to be the largest reservoir of America. After going around Hoover Dam and almost gobbling down a hearty American breakfast, we embarked on the final lap of our journey. Soon we found ourselves whizzing through the great Arizona Desert. Dotted with cactus trees, some as large as fully grown banyan trees, replicated images I tried hard remembering in cowboy movies of yesteryear I had seen as a youngster. These cactus trees took up various sizes and complex shapes when we turned left from the highway and took a shorter route through the desert to reach Kingman for fuelling and refreshment. The route happens to be the historic route 66, the mother road of America which came up in the early twentieth century and has remained unspoiled over the years. A very fascinating route as it retains the character of America during early 1900. It leads straight to the Black Mountain. On our way, we saw a very interesting small town, with horses, cars, bikes and a pub looking like a ranch. To me, it was a captivating sight as it appeared to emerge out of a classic cowboy story. For Kingman, we had to turn right after about an hour’s drive. If we had driven straight we would have reached the nearest point of Grand Canyon i.e. the West Rim. A brief stopover at Kingman for fuelling and delectable bites on American Ice Cream at the gas station was delightfully refreshing. We then drove down to Williams where we had booked our hotel. A quaint little town, cuteness radiated from every nook and cranny. Right from Highlander Motel where we stayed, attractive cafes, warm restaurants with live music, gas stations, departmental stores, the pleasant chill of a hill station all seem to gel so wondrously.

After settling down at Williams we decided to catch the much-hyped sunset at Sedona. As our car climbed up and down the hilly terrain to get to Sedona, it brought us unique vistas of Oak Creek Canyon at the beginning and Red Rock Canyon / Secret Mountain while nearing Sedona. The ride and the views were spectacular and at parts formidable! Particularly while negotiating close to the steep canyon walls. Sedona is again a lovely little town beautifully decorated with artistic statues, and watching the sun go down the mountainous silhouette from sunset point was an exhilarating experience. Next morning we were overtly excited while gearing up for visit to the Grand Canyon about 55 miles from Williams. Las Vegas is about 2000 ft above sea level; Williams is about 6000 ft above sea level and Grand Canyon is about 7000 ft above sea level. The road distance from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon is about 290 miles. So when we reached the Grand Canyon National Park we never had an inkling that we have climbed over 5000 ft on our journey from Las Vegas. It was as if driving on plains throughout. The mystery deepened when we took the park and ride a shuttle bus from the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. I was still desperately trying to figure out how our bus would be negotiating such giant gorges I have seen only in movies and photographs till then when our driver announced that the first viewpoint has arrived. And there it was. As if from nowhere a spectacular sight opened up and greeted our eyes. It was only then that I realized that we were at an elevation of about 7000 ft above sea level. The immense buttes, some steep jagged rocky walls running down straight and deep down at the bottom the Colorado River winding its way – a real treat for the senses. The formidable vastness of the ravine is breathtaking. Created by Colorado River this earth’s wonder evolved a billion years ago and the current Grand Canyon is said to be six million years old. The South Rim is regarded as the heart of the Grand Canyon. The viewpoints covered by the shuttle are Trail View Overlook Point, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, the Abyss, Monument Creek Point, and Pima Point and terminates at Hermit Rest. On the return path, it stops at Mohave Point and Powell Point. Adventure lovers can take the trail paths to Hermit Rest. A new vista opens up as one moves from one point to another. Views those are vertiginously stunning and beautiful. Shades of red, copper and yellow, deep chasms at places, rocks jutting out in the form of table tops, nature’s architectural wonders like formation of temples aptly named Vishnu Temple, Isis Temple and edifices looking like the walls of fortress all cut out and carved from the rocks by the hand of nature millions of years ago. Major John Wesley Powell, a soldier, and a naturalist was the first man who set out with a team of nine men and four boats to explore the hitherto unknown Colorado River and Grand Canyon in 1869. Six of them dropped off within three months of the expedition after travelling 1500 miles and losing boats and essentials in dangerous rapids they encountered on the river. At the fag end of the journey, the three remaining men deserted Powell to get back to the mainland. They are believed to have lost their way in the fearsome labyrinthine ravine and never to be found again. Previously Grand Canyon was known as Big Canyon. After the expedition, Powell was so impressed by its grandeur that in 1871 he termed it as Grand Canyon.  

Hotel Excalibur, in the night, Las Vegas Strip
Casino and eatery inside a hotel at Las Vegas Strip
New York New York, Las Vegas Strip
Night Club, Las Vegas
Las Vegas Strip

Hoover Dam
The Dog who owned a Dam
Arizona Desert
Sedona is decorated with such statues
Sedona town
Another view of Sedona
The first car to reach Grand Canyon South Rim by Historic Route 66
Cute little Williams
Road to Sedona
Grand Canyon Visitor Centre
Early Explorer of Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon with a view of Colorado River
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon - Effects in black and white
Grand Canyon. Far below River Colorado can be seen
Grand Canyon
Williams and Route 66
Train to Grand Canyon. Runs from Williams
A view of snow-capped California Peak on way to Grand Canyon
(Photographs - Courtesy Arundhati Sengupta)

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Madhumita Chakola said…
Very detailed description. You have aroused the wander lust....
Latika Dhar said…
So very interesting!
Bratati Hore said…
Very informative-pictures are simply great. 👌
Rajat Sarkar, Hamburg said…
Vivid description of nature's beauty. Nature, when left untouched, is always fascinating.

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