Saturday, February 29, 2020

Day trek to Matheran with Senior Citizens & Kids

I cannot believe that being born in Mumbai and spending all my 30 years here, I had never been to Matheran till now! Had thought about it many times, visited hotel websites to check prices too - but there was so much confusion around how to go, till where are cars allowed, where does the toy train begin, how much is too much walking and so on. Finally my family made an impromptu plan on Saturday night to go to Matheran the next day!

Our original plan was to take a Karjat train from Bhandup station that would drop us at Neral. But then we decided to take our own car - and I am glad we did so! Because the toy train does not start from Neral, it starts from Aman Lodge/Dasturi Car Park and goes till Matheran station/market area. Which basically means - if you take a train - then you have to take a share cab from Neral station till Aman Lodge/Dasturi Naka. And the cab drivers - they drive like crazy people! The roads/ghats are quite steep and you definitely need a powerful car and good driver to manage that. If you are not confident of covering the ghat area on your own, interesting fact - there are drivers at the start of the ghat whom you can rent at Rs.200 for driving you up till the ghat. I am not sure how reliable or comfortable that is though.

So Mulund to Aman Lodge took us around 2 hours - good roads, no traffic. There was a lot of crowd - being a Sunday I guess. We parked the car (You have to pay Rs.30+Rs.50 tax=Rs.80) and then had to take entry tickets. Entry tickets is Rs.50 per adult and Rs.25 per kid (They take this to maintain the hill station). We soon started hiking (around 12 noon). There are horses at the starting point which you can take to go up as well. They charge around Rs.350 per horse (there is scope of negotiation). If you are in time for the toy train, you can take that as well. Even though it was 12noon and relatively hot - because the whole path is covered with trees and lush greenery, the hike was not tough and we managed to climb the 3-odd kilometers in an hour. 

4 senior citizens and one 5 year old kid with me. Both my mom and aunt could not walk all the way and took a cart-ride (2 men carrying people in a hand-cart) till the market. My father and uncle and kiddo managed well. There are places where you can stop to rest as well. One you reach the main market/station area you will see crowd, monkeys and joints/restaurants to eat. Food options were okay - not so great. My advise is to book a hotel/lodge incase you want to explore every nook and corner of the hill station - all the points etc. We were only here for a day, so had made peace with the fact that we may not get to see all of it - after all, there should be something to see when you come again, right?

There are 2 points nearby the market-area from where you can see good views of the Sahyadri range - Madhav Point (It's inside a kid's park) and Khandala Point. Beware of monkeys everywhere - they spot you with food or drinks in the open, they are going to come and grab it! They are not scared at all. I held kiddo's pack of chocolates and literally threw it away when the monkey came towards us - you should have seen my kiddo cry at this. ROFL.

Since kiddo is a train-enthusiast I absolutely did not want to leave without making him experience the Toy Train. So while the others headed for a late lunch, I headed to the station to book the tickets. You cannot pre-book tickets or book them online - you have to simply stand in a long queue. Unless you are booking first class tickets - so if the 6x cost does not bother you and you don't want to spend an hour waiting in the queue, then ask for 1st class tickets before they're gone.

The toy train is a narrow gauge train that slowly makes it way back to Aman Lodge/Dasturi Car Park. The scenery is nice, and it's a good experience - but not as great as the claims were online. Maybe it's enchanting in peak winters when there is fog. We wanted to be back to the car point before sunset as we did not want to drive the steep ghats in darkness, and we were back home by 7pm! I will definitely be back during a better season to visit the points we missed out - specially Echo point. And try the horses this time.

Friday, February 21, 2020

LEGO® Fire Helicopter Response 60248 - Review #JillOfAllTrades

I do not know why, but small boys are REALLY obsessed with fire-fighters, fire-station and so on. In-fact kiddo's school even recently took them to see the local fire-station. So, it's only natural that when a new Lego City set with a FLYING HELICOPTER (LEGO® Fire Helicopter Response) arrived, kiddo was thrilled. Forget kiddo, I was thrilled!

Building the parts was quick - 93 piece set with 3 mini-figures, a small construction part, fire fighter vehicle and helicopter. I really LOVE how Lego introduces women in roles that are dominated/stereotyped by males. We have fire chief Freya McCloud from the fire-fighting squad - go girl!

As always the details of each part continues to impress me and blow my mind - the worker with his flame-machine and helmet, intact the helmets for all three action figures are different!

Now coming to the main highlight of this product - the flying helicopter. The helicopter looks really cool with space for a mini-figure pilot to sit. To make it light-weight the tail is made of cardboard paper - which I feel can tear/wear-out over time. It comes with a rip-cord (think bey-blade) and a lego buildable device to fit the chopper in and pull. Rather genius I must say. Now if you are going to imagine that the helicopter will fly high and you can navigate or control it, no that's not how it is. But for a 5 year old (This set is for 5-8 year olds) the whole idea of pulling the rip cord to make the helicopter fly out and land a few feet away - that is what it does and as long as the kiddo is happy, I am happy!

We were a little unsure of how to fly the helicopter, and I am so happy that Lego has all the detailed instructions in text as well as video format on their website. After a take at their video, I understood clearly what is to be done.

Also, this set is compatible with any other Lego City set - so you can build and expand! Kiddo had received a fire-fighter truck earlier, you can read it's review too. Overall, I am loving how Lego keeps innovating and coming up with new toys! Maybe we will see a flying car (Think: Harry Potter) soon!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Amazon Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition - Product Review

I had earlier purchased an Echo Dot for my parents, and after being super-impressed by Alexa (as compared to Siri), when there was a deal on the new portable version, I placed an order. During the deal the Echo Input Portable edition was available for Rs.3399 instead of Rs.5999 which was almost 50% off.

Delivery was smooth, came in a couple of days, though the packaging was questionable. But everything was intact inside. Setting up the speaker is basically installing an app on your smartphone, connecting speaker to WiFi via your phone and that's about it. You can keep adding more routines and modifying settings on the go - with usage.

Here is what I liked -

1. Smart Assistant Alexa

Alexa is really smart, keeps learning on the go and understands your behaviour and routine and keeps making suggestions. Being an iPhone user, I feel Siri has a lot to  improve on. Plus Alexa can also speak in Hindi, that's a plus!

2. Portable

This speaker need not always be connected to a power socket, and can be kept anywhere or carried anywhere. Though I have not used this privilege, since I prefer keeping it in one place. But it's good to have the option - incase I want to carry it to the kitchen or balcony and so on.

3. Price 

When you buy during a deal, it is totally value for money and nothing to fret about. Not sure if it's value for money at Rs.5999 though, tbh.

Here is what could be better -

1. Battery Backup

It takes a couple of hours for the battery to get fully charged, but it drains in about 10 hours, whether you use it or not. Probably because it is always connected and always ready to listen. I found this a bit frustrating, when I put alarms for the morning and it never rang because the battery had drained. Basically for smooth functioning you keep it off charge all day but keep it on charge all night - which means you need a dedicated socket for it. It should have not drained if it was not in use as in not playing anything.

2. Dust catching and heat up

I am not sure if it's on all devices or only mine, but the top part of the speaker heats up while in use. Not extremely hot, but certainly warm. Also the device has a lot of dust settling on it on the top as well as bottom ( bottom is rubber like for good grip, so picks up more dust).

3. Volume

If you are in a noisy environment, or have windows open with outside sound or are in a large room, you will find the top volume also not high enough. Volume is okay in a smaller room with windows closed - so basically it's more of a smart assistant device and less of a speaker - don't judge it on it's bass quality etc.