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What is the national dish of Columbia?

What is Rassolnik?

This traditional Russian soup is known to have existed as far back as the 15th century, when it was called ‘kalya’. Today, famous with the name Rassolnik, the authentic Russian dish is prepared mainly with veal and lamb kidneys (or pork and beef kidneys), pearl barley, sorrel leaves and some pickled cucumbers! Yes, you heard it right. A ‘pickle soup’ it is!

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No matter how bizarre it may sound, but this bribing Slavic blend is definitely a bowl of happiness.  Rassolnik or rassoljnik, as it is known, varies from family to family and region to region. Some include barley and potatoes and is so thick, a spoon can stand up in it. Others make it with prime cuts of meat instead of offal.

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Despite of all the variations, the belief behind the recipe stays common, i.e. it is the one of the easiest and surest way of curing hangovers!  This is due to the fact that this savory soup helps the body to hold water and counteract the dehydration produced by over-imbibing, which causes hangovers.

Which is the most expensive cheese in the World?

Originated from Serbia, Pule cheese is made exclusively from the milk of Balkan donkeys. A characteristic feature of Serbian cuisine, Pule is not only extremely rare but also the most expensive cheese in the world. This exotic delicacy would cost you a whopping $576 for a pound!

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It takes 25 liters of donkey milk to produce just one kilogram of this white & crumbly smoked cheese. These donkeys are given the very best grass to eat and live as free rein as they can, living in the wilds of Serbia, they are farmed, milked and that results in this Serbian food-treasure!

A woman milks a donkey at a farm in Zasavica Resort, west of Belgrade

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Hand Me Some Useful Street Photography Tips

Take these tips from ace street photographer Arindam Mukherjee, and shoot!

If you stand at a broad way crossing from morning to evening you will find how the emotional landscape changes. Every city has its own character at different times of the day. So shoot both during day and night.

A woman working at Grover Vineyard in Bangalore
A woman working at Grover Vineyard in Bangalore

While travelling, carry light equipment. High speed lenses are important for low light situations. Set your camera according to the light of the day before you start walking—you don’t want to miss great moments.

Indian people celebrating Holi at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours. Every year at the begining of spring this festival takes place throughout India.The biggest celebration takes place in Banke Bihari temple Vrindavan.
Indian people celebrating Holi at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours. Every year at the begining of spring this festival takes place throughout India.The biggest celebration takes place in Banke Bihari temple Vrindavan.

 

Walk slowly, rather wander, it allows you to observe.

Strap all your stuff with your backpack so you don’t lose anything.

Experience new things, meet new people. Try to trigger a conversation with the locals that will give you knowledge, it adds context in your picture. I listen to them; try to understand their point of view which helps me bring layers in my picture stories.

A Bhutanese man in western outfit surfs his mobile at Ura valley, Bumthang. Effect of globalisation is now getting strong hold in rural Bhutan as well.  Arindam Mukherjee
A Bhutanese man in western outfit surfs his mobile at Ura valley, Bumthang. Effect of globalisation is now getting strong hold in rural Bhutan as well. Arindam Mukherjee

Monochromatic pictures focus on the emotive part of photography. I feel comfortable with black and white as too much of colour surrounding the main subject may distract the viewer.

It is very important that a photographer should know what he/she wants to make their viewer “FEEL”. Monochrome and colour photography need different ways of looking at the same subject. Practice seeing things in black and white when you shoot.

A sadhu (Indian Holy Man) changes his clothes at a ghat in Varanasi.
A sadhu (Indian Holy Man) changes his clothes at a ghat in Varanasi.

A tip I always share is to be safe when it comes to copyrights and illegal photography. Do not shoot private places without prior permission. You can shoot anything and everything in public place without hurting anybody’s sentiment. Don’t forget to look for “Photography Prohibited” boards around you. And do not under estimate common people’s knowledge.

A kashmiri lady prays at Jama Mosque in Srinagar.
A kashmiri lady prays at Jama Mosque in Srinagar.

Go with the flow and enjoy clicking pictures rather than making it an assignment.

ARINDAM MUKHERJEE

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Based in Kolkata, this renowned freelance photojournalist started his career as an advertising photographer where he worked with advertising agencies, fashion designers, graphic designers and NGOs. But he always loved street photography and photojournalism. Apart from hosting several exhibitions, he has written and photographed a book called ‘The Wave that Shook the World’, produced by Hope Foundation.

All pix in this post courtesy Arindam Mukherjee.

Input: Travel Secrets Intern Aarohi Roy

What’s the most scenic train trip in Canada?

We speak from personal experience here: Take VIA Rail’s Jasper-Prince Rupert train (formerly known as the ‘Skeena’).

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The journey was among the most beautiful and memorable we ever took. From the gorgeous views all through to the comfortable seating, it was the stuff a traveller’s fondest dreams are made of.

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This train connects with the Toronto-Vancouver train (the Canadian) at Jasper. The route takes you northwestward, first across the Interior Plateau to Prince George, and then along the Skeena River to the pacific coast and Prince Rupert. You get to see the most picturesque bits of northwestern British Columbia, with historical reminders of the lives led by ancient aboriginal people.

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From the final 3000 kms into Prince Rupert, the train follows the mystic Skeena River, famed for the thick mist that often shrouds it- “Skeena” means “river of mists”. The train winds its way along the forested canyons of the river, with the water below gushing over rapids before widening to a peaceful flow, mirroring the surrounding environment.

It is worth booking “Touring Class” where the dome car provides a perfect perch from which you can view the breathtaking scenery. This is available June to mid September. Economy class travelers get an excellent view from their own seats, too.

The Jasper-Prince Rupert trains depart three times a week year around from Jasper. The journey time is approximate 20 hrs. The schedule allows for daylight viewing of the spectacular scenery, and a chance to view wildlife in their natural surroundings.

With inputs from http://www.buzzviarail.in

 

I’m longing to watch whales: on land. Where to go?

Travel Secrets writer Vikalp Dubey has only one recommendation; book your tickets to South Africa for this one.

Every year, end of September, southern right whales wash ashore, and the sleepy little town of Hermanus celebrates this with a festival.

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“Southern right” is a variety of stocky, black-bodied baleen whales with no dorsal fins.

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Image: http://www.dehoopcollection.com/

The whales are always the star performers at the Festival, but key roles are also played by musicians, crafters, sports celebrities and thousands of people celebrating Spring.

Cool fact: In 2005 Zakes Mda wrote the novel The Whale Caller in which the Whale Crier of Hermanus is the main character, a man who gets enthralled by a Southern right whale he names Sharisha. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

What’s on offer for Vegetarians in Vancouver, Canada?

When it comes to food, Vancouver has always had a healthy west-coast vibe to it. Now on the cutting edge of the latest trend – part-time vegetarianism – the bustling seaport in British Columbia is dishing out a sumptuous vegetarian spread larger than ever.  

Vancouver has long been a great city for a tofu fix, but now the chefs are branching out into sophisticated vegetarian dining fit to lure even the hard-core carnivores.

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At The Acron, Chef Rob Clarke’s award winning menu features beautiful vegetarian, raw as well as vegan plates. No tofu turkey or fake sausages here, but you’ll never miss meat while dishes like crispy beer-battered halloumi on a zucchine rosti with pureed peas, cauliflower mac and cheese, delicate raw beet, and macadamia nut cheese ravioli are around.

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Exile Bistro‘s plates are always filled with the west-coast’s seasonal wild bounty – wild mushrooms on barley bread toast with cashew cheese and dandelion salad is just one of them that gives you a fair idea of what’s served here.

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Burdock & Co.‘s, Chef Andrea Carlson keeps it simple but high on flavour with small plates of local vegetables – braised and charred leeks with hazelnut Romesco sause or whole roasted Walla Walla onion with pine mushroom and cheese fonduta. We are already drooling here!

For more plant forward food far from crunch granola of yore, you can try these two too –

The Parker for late-night cocktails and noshes and

Heirloom or Graze for good old vegetarian comfort food.

Restaurants play their part well, but the hotels are soon catching up with the Vegetarian fever in town –

At The Four Seasons, Chef Ned Bell loves his vegetables and makes a d=generous display of it with his “Farm-to-table”menu brimming with “nutrient dense and plant based” delicacies.

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The Sushi bar at The Fairmont Pacific Rim serves up pressed and salted watermelon nigiri to mimic rare tuna for vegan diners.

Whether it is for health, environment or local “root-to-shoot” eating, Semi -Vegetarianism is on the path to soon becoming Vancouver’s new signature cooking style. 

For more on Vegetarian Vancouver, check out these restaurants.

10 Great Reasons to Visit Thailand in 2015

If your still planning a summer getaway, Thailand could be the easiest way out. A calender brimming with festive cheer and all-year long beach availability should be enough to get your bags packed. But we’ll give you more:

Family, shopping, adventure, food or Honeymoon – Thailand’s got a memorable trip planned for all.

  1. Gorgeous Beaches
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    With countless little islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, this is a beach paradise! The perfect beach weather keeps Thailand  a popular party destination all year long. Patong Beach, Phuket is the largest and the most popular  with white sands, warm waters, scores of restaurants, and happening night-life. Haad Rin Beach hosts the “Full Moon Party” once every month. Be sure to attend this all night party if you’re here on the right day. For a quiet time, Koh Mun Nork is the place to be. This desert island has just one resort and is a 45 minute ferry ride away from the mainland.

  2. Shopping
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    With swanky malls to lively night markets, the best place to shop in Thailand is in its capital city. While the Siam Square is home to some of the biggest malls and chic boutiques, the Chatuchak weekend market houses over 15000 retailers selling everything from latest fashion in clothing to vintage home décor items, books and Thai handicrafts. For some bulk shopping visit Pratunam for a variety of apparels at wholesale rates.

  3. Adventure
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    Jet skiing in Pattaya, Wind surfing in Koh Samui, Kitesurfing and wakeboarding in Jomtien. Go deep sea diving and snorkeling on the shores of Koh Larn. Apart from the colourful corals, be on the lookout for sharks as well. Don’t be surprised if you come across a shipwreck or two! At Railey Beach the main attraction is rock climbing on the limestone karsts.

  4. Buddhist Temples 
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    There are a number of Temples in Thailand and each one as beautiful as the other. These temples make for some very serene and spiritual locations as well as architectural gems! The most sacred temple of Thailand is located in the Grand Palace which houses the Emerald Buddha. Some of the other popular ones are the temple of the Reclining Buddha, Temple of Dawn, Temple of the Buddha’s Footprint, and Wat Mahathat.

  5. Food
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    From the fine dining restaurants in Bangkok to local produce in the remote villages and sea food of the coastal regions, prepare to be amazed by Thai flavours. Dine at the award winning Baan Khanitha & Gallery in Bangkok for a memorable experience and authentic cuisine. In Chiang Mai, Ban Rim Num is a restaurant with a view! Enjoy the view of the scenery as you enjoy your meal. Some of the signature dishes of Thai cuisine are Phat Thai (Thai style fried noodles) and Tom Yam Kung (Spicy shrimp soup). The street food in the busy market streets of Bangkok is as yummy as it is visually appealing. Ratchawat Market, Sriyan Market and Chinatown serve some of the best street food too. Be sure to try out Catfish Salad and Shrimp tom yum noodles at these joints.

  6. Vibrant Culture
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    Thailand is a colourful country and the rich culture is reflected in their art forms and festivals. One of the most famous indigenous sports is the brutal Thai boxing called “Muay Thai” and watching at least one fight is a must on the “to-do in Thailand” list. The traditional Thai dance and music performances can be enjoyed while strolling through the walking street market in Chiang Mai. The Thai New Year starts on 13th of April. It is called “Songkran” and celebrated with a water fight as a mark of cleansing, similar to the Indian festival Holi.

  7. History
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    The kingdom of Thailand has a rich history of different rulers who have left behind some exquisite heritage sites. The Grand Palace and the ancient temples of Buddha are only a few among them. Ayutthaya used to be the capital city of ancient Thailand and is a favourite among History buffs and art lovers. Some other historical sites like the Khmer temples and ruins of other ancient cities give interesting insights into Thailand’s past and the cultural impact on its people.

  8. Dense forests
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    With a large part of Thailand covered in lush green rainforests, how can we not think of Trekking? Places like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai offer a lot of options for jungle treks — be it a day trip or a multi-day trek. Excursions to Khao Yai National Park and Khao Sok National Park will help you spot wild elephants and explore limestone karsts, caves, rivers and jungles and make for a great overnight camping site. Needless to say, the jungles house a variety of wild flowers as well. Get that camera ready!

  9. The Friendly Elephants
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    Thailand is home to a large number of elephants. Spot these friendly animals in the jungles or go elephant back riding through wooded areas, crossing rivers, past rice paddies and pineapple plantations to get a glimpse of rural life. The elephant Conservation Centre near Chiang Mai invites volunteers to help these magnificent animals against abuse. Do more than just being a tourist and volunteer at this centre .

  10. The Road less travelled
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    Looking for some off-beat options? Head straight to North-Eastern Thailand – Isaan! The least frequented region hardly ever sees any tourists but will give you a perfect insight into the life of rural Thailand. With a lot of festivals taking place here and the ancient Khmer ruins and temples, travelling all the way to Isaan is totally worth it! Isolated from the tourist traffic, life in Isaan has barely changed and is very different from that in cities. It is a beautiful place to lose yourself in natural beauty!

Inputs from TS intern Shruti Mahajan

Ever driven 1.5 Km away from Udaipur?

Boban Paul did. And discovered untouched Jhadol.

Udaipur: the ‘City of Lakes’. Apt label. But then, a label has its limitations. Tourists in Udaipur city get limited to the banks of the beautiful lakes and the large corridors of the lake palaces. Very few loosen the reins of the Adventure Horse, venturing into territories beyond the city. On a recent trip, my work took me to a block called Jhadol, about 1.5 hours from Udaipur city by car. udaipur Green shrubs, palm trees and flat open fields stretched for miles. Jet-black strips of tarred road alternated with potholed dusty brown patches. Then we began our ascent up a winding tarred path, and gaped at what we saw in front of us. There were multiple ranges of green mountains, standing naked to the open black and blue sky. They were arranged one behind the other and it seemed as though in front of us was a sea of green, with waves building up one behind the other. As we drove further up, a meandering stream of water ran by our side, playing hide and seek through the trees on the roadside. The sound of the water rumbling over pebbles was clear and beautiful. The fusion of the cool air around the stream and the precipitation from trees on the roadside cooled the air to the point of making it chilly, especially in the shade of the trees. The rain was like icing on cake – it cleared out the dusty haze. This short ride was like a massage for my senses – my body was lightened by the cool, feather touch of the air and my soul was soaked in the mesmerising sights and sounds. www.jhadol.com

7 Exotic Foods to buy at Sawers of Belfast, Ireland?

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If exotic dishes titillate your taste buds, walk into Sawers, a wildly popular gourmet store in the heart of Belfast.

On the menu:

  • Rattlesnake
  • Zebra
  • Camel
  • Bison
  • Kangaroo burgers
  • Crocodile Steak
  • Fresh Rope Mussels

and much more!

Adventurous diners have savoured this stuff at Sawers for over 116 years now.

Not into exotica? There’s caviar and foie gras on the go. Try the tapenades, sample some cheese—the award-winning Sawers makes them in-house, too. For about Rs 2500, you can get a foiehamper for the folks back home!

www.sawersbelfast.com 

I’ve heard there’s a floating village in Peru. True?

On the bosom of the mighty Amazon river, our correspondent Kristen Cashman stumbled upon a peculiar Peru secret – a village where banks and churches float.

At the end of a three-month trip through Latin America, I found myself with an afternoon to spend in Iquitos, Peru. Perched on the banks of the Amazon River, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and the largest city in the world not accessible by road but only by plane and boat, Iquitos is the country’s jumping-off point for trips upriver to remote jungle lodges.

After weeks of solo travel, I was feeling a bit lonely, so I sought out an American Cafe for lunch: The Yellow Rose of Texas. Gerald, the boisterous Texan who ran the place, introduced himself as soon as I sat down and was happy to oblige when I asked him for advice on how to spend the afternoon. “Walk down to the riverfront,” he said, “and hire a boatman to take you on a tour of the floating village of Belen.”

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Following the map that Gerald had sketched for me on a napkin, I passed through the Belen Marketplace, a sprawling bazaar where vendors sold fruit and veg, fish, meat, and eggs, as well as sundry supplies and trinkets.

Beyond the market I emerged onto the banks of the river, where my eyes drank in a crowded riverscape of thatched huts floating on the water. Several young men sat by their boats, eager to take visitors on a tour of their village. I negotiated a price with a pair of teenagers who approached me — one lanky and gaunt-faced, in a faded black T-shirt that said “Kool,” and the other compact and muscled, with the deep-set eyes and wide, prominent cheekbones common among the locals. Soon I was seated in their skinny wooden boat gliding along the river.

Churches, petrol stations, restaurants, and hundreds of family homes — all were essentially large rafts, tethered to pilings, accessible only by boat. I was surprised to see utility poles with streetlights and electrical wires punctuating the primary thoroughfares.

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A lovely young woman sat on a dock, shampooing her hair in the river. An old man stood waist-high in the water, brushing his teeth. Groups of children jumped off a dock and wrestled in the opaque brown water. A woman in fetal position napped on a front porch. A group of men in a pub waved and called to me through a window as we passed. Boats zipped by in all directions, some loaded down with passengers, others piloted by only a child or two.

The still water reflected the bright blue sky and puffy clouds above, except where thickets of emerald green aquatic plants pierced the surface from below. My guides pointed out notable buildings to me but otherwise were quiet, our communication limited by my rudimentary Spanish. Every so often, to cool himself off, the lanky one dipped his hat in the river and then placed it back on his head, rivulets streaming down his face. For about an hour they navigated the dug-out canoe through crowded central canals, then skirted the edge of the settlement, then returned me to the launch where they had picked me up.

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Until that day, when I had imagined Amazonian culture, I pictured shamans and tribes people in remote jungles, untouched by modern culture. The people of Belen, on the other hand, lived and breathed the river, without solid ground beneath their feet, yet they were part of a greater, twenty first-century urban culture. They straddled two worlds — the traditional and the contemporary, the aquatic and the terrestrial — in a way I hadn’t known was possible.

Stepping from the boat back onto the cement, I effusively thanked my guides, and said a silent thank you to Gerald for tipping me off to this other face of Iquitos.

The Story was first published in Travel Secrets Magazine's March-April 2014 issue.

5 Unusual Easter Celebrations

Bring out the chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs – because the world is celebrating Easter today!

The most popular Easter tradition is to get together with family and friends, hunt for some eggs and have a sumptuous meal to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Though the significance of Easter remains the same around the world, many cultures and countries have their unique ways to celebrate the holiday. Here are few ‘out-of-the-basket’ traditions:

In Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands

Image: www.germany.info
Image: http://www.germany.info

In some parts of these countries, huge Easter bonfires are built, usually on Good Friday night or the night before Easter Sunday. These fires were originally built to keep the cold away. But now, it is a way to bring the community together.

In Czech Republic and Slovakia

Image: www.bankerinthesun.com
Image: http://www.bankerinthesun.com

Young men in traditional costumes beat girls and women with decorated handmade willow whips. The whipping is not meant to be painful and is believed to make women healthier and prettier. The women are also doused with water or thrown into rivers – for fun, of course!

In Bermuda

Image: www.toptenz.net
Image: http://www.toptenz.net

Flying home-made kites is a good way to spend Good Friday in Bermuda, especially at the Horseshoe Bay Beach. So, what’s the origin of this Easter tradition? “The legend says that a local teacher was trying to explain to his students during his Sunday school how Jesus elevated himself to Heaven by self power, i.e. about Christ’s Ascension. Since he could not convince the students, he launched a kite that looked like Jesus Christ to explain the matter.” (Source: www.bermuda-attractions.com)

In Finland

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It is believed that witches become more powerful during the festival of Easter and bonfires are lit to scare them off. Easter celebrations look like Halloween here, as children dress up as witches  and wander the streets searching for treats.

In Germany and Austria

Image: valentinexday.com
Image: valentinexday.com

They get to decorate trees twice a year – for Christmas, of course and Easter too! Instead of the twinkling lights and ornaments, pastel Easter eggs are used during this time of the year. The decoration typically begins a week before Easter Sunday. ABC News website says that a German family in the town of Saalfeld have decorated their apple tree with as many as 10,000 hand-painted eggs.

How are you celebrating Easter this year? Tell us if you are lucky to be a part of any unusual Easter celebrations around the world.

Happy Easter!

For more offbeat Easter celebrations and traditions, check this out.

 

What is “shoulder season” and why is it good for travel?

Shoulder Season falls between peak season and off season. So, you get many advantages. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. The crowds have thinned out but are not absent. Airfares and hotel tariffs tend to dip slightly, so you have more money for shopping! The local tourist industry is now free from the pressure of catering to throngs, and you can expect better service.

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According to Rick Steves, “Shoulder season varies by destination. Because fall and spring bring cooler temperatures in Mediterranean Europe, shoulder season in much of Italy, southern France, Spain, Croatia, and Greece can actually come with near peak-season crowds and prices. For example, except for beach resorts, Italy’s peak season is May, June, September, and October, rather than July and August. Paris is surprisingly quiet in July and August.”

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We at Travel Secrets try and stay away from even the best destinations during peak season, because the crowds can be simply too overwhelming. Last year in Florence and Venice, we found ourselves jostling and gasping for the most part. Taking photos ended up being a Click-and-Move affair in places, with the next person breathing down your neck.

A shoulder season trip to Switzerland, on the other hand, was pure relaxation. Under the mild September sun, it was blissful to walk down the quiet streets of Basel, taking in the crisp cool air and lazing by the Rhine. We could feel our lungs turn pink again:)

Basel by the Rhine River (1)Posted by Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

Pix: TS Photo Editor Nitin Gopal Srivastava

 

I’m in Madrid, Spain. Lead me into an offbeat tavern.

maderid old quarter tavernFollow us into Meson del Champignon, an enchanting taverna in the Old Quarter of Madrid.

Located beside the grand Plaza Mayor, this cobbled medieval stretch of lanes and bylanes houses some of Spain’s oldest taverns and restaurants. The tradition is to go tapas hopping here, washing them down with wine and beer. By the end of the trail you are sure to be loosening up your belt.

At the Meson del Champignon, it’s everything mushroom, down to the art on the walls. The place is shaped like a cave.

To us, the de-stemmed mushrooms were presented as caves, too, into which went extra virgin olive oil, garlic, herbs and a little pepper. That’s it. The simplicity was what blew us away.

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Grilled or filled: every mushroom tapas here is an absolute treat.

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An elderly gentleman provided song and music to deepen the Spanish effect.

Website: http://www.mesondelchampinon.com

What’s the drive from Cyprus airport to Nicosia like?

You arrive at the Larnaca airport, so named because it lies just four kilometres from the city of Larnaca.

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It’s a one-hour drive to Nicosia. Expect to see mostly open road and blue skies. The ride is very smooth and virtually bump free.

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Notice that the board says “Lefkosia.” That’s the Turkish name for the capital city of Nicosia.

Close to the airport is the Larnaca Salt Lake, next to which stands a mosque. It’s a place of great religious significance:

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According to legend, Muhammad’s paternal aunt, accompanying her husband on an Arab raid on Cyprus in 649, was attacked by Byzantine forces here. Unfortunately, she fell from her mule and broke her neck. She was buried on the spot, and the Hala Sultan Tekke was built around her grave.

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That is why, the mosque is the fourth most important holy place in the world for Muslims.

The mosque complex itself was built in a series of stages in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A shrine was built by Sheikh Hassan in A.D 1760. Later, the mosque was constructed in its present form around A.D 1816/17.

The Salt Lake itself is a special protected area, where 85 species of birds congregate and migrate. When we went, there were no flamingoes around, but on a bird-rich day, the Lake is sure to be worth a longer stopover.

That’s the only stopover worth making on the short trip, but it is indeed a serene experience after your long flight. Once you are on your way again, the landscape opens up, with whirring windmills cheering you along the way!

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(Pix: TS Photo Editor Nitin Gopal Srivastava)

How Not to Eat in Florence, Italy

Posted By Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

As someone who believes in stumbling upon great places, I decided to ditch the guide books/blogs/local advice, and plunged straight into Florence.

Big mistake.

Stepping out of the magnificent Santa Maria Novella Railway Station…

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I wended my way through the crowded streets of the city…

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asking for directions to  The Gallery Hotel Art

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Along the way, hunger pangs hit. Hard. And since I was in Italy, the fragrance of herbs and the aroma of baked bread was everywhere. Honestly, I could hardly wait to drop my bags at the hotel and get back on the streets for a bite.

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Strung along a pipe-thin lane, I spotted a string of eateries that promised big meals at incredible deals. Smiling restaurant staff stood outside their outlets, handing out colourful pamphlets that promised a free drink with pizza and seemingly endless menus.

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Photo: thepodanys.blogspot.com Used here for representational purposes only

 

I succumbed.

And regretted it minutes later. The pizza was cold and leathery, with about 3 olives that tasted as if they had been glued atop the bread a month ago. Sure, it cost me “just 4 euros” for pizza and coke, but I would rather have spent a few bucks more to get a better bite.

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I am sure the giant plastic chef standing outside the restaurant, holding that huge menu card, giggled a little when I walked in.

Moral of the story: do your research when you are going to Florence. Read helpful advice such as this. And this.

Bon Appetit!

 

Take me into Mount Stewart Gardens, Northern Ireland. I’ve heard they are stunning.

You heard right. Listen to TS Editor Shubhra Krishan gush about the gardens…

Ireland Mount Stewart Garden

What shall I call it? A garden within a mansion or a mansion within a garden? The structure does not matter, now that I am looking back and letting the memories jot themselves down here. I remember the flowers. Their scent is suddenly around me, sweet and delicate perfume in the cool spring air. And I remember the wide open lawns, the profusion of trees, herbs, shrubs, flowers and ponds…

The Mount Stewart gardens are no hidden beauty. All of Ireland loves and reveres them. When I visited in September 2014, the mansion was under restoration. And it was inspiring and amazing to see how dedicatedly the staff there were going about their painstaking job.

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Mount Stewart has an elaborate website, where you will learn that the property belongs to the 7th Marchioness Edith, Lady Londonderry and her family in the early 20th century.

But details aside, what really matters is that the Gardens, very thoughtfully, house a second-hand bookshop and plenty of trees under which you can read those books. There is a restaurant, too, which sources its ingredients locally.

If you go in April 2015 or after, the mansion and gardens will have been restored to their full glory, and you will experience pleasure and peace of the kind one rarely gets to enjoy.

Ireland Mount Stewart Garden 2

You have to believe me when I tell you this: my jetlag and sleep vanished—vazoom!—within seconds of entering Mount Stewart. A deep sense of serenity and joy took their place and stayed with me for the rest of my trip. In fact, each time I think back to that afternoon among the golden, orange leaves and the happy flowers, I feel the same joy bubble up in my heart.

Ireland Mount Stewart Garden 5

Some great places to eat in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India?

TS Intern Aanchal Ahuja calls Shimla her second home. Who better than her to pick the hill-station’s best local eats:

“Forget places like KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos. When in Shimla, let your taste buds go local.

shimla, chole bature, street food
Photo: http://www.shimlaonline.in

 

Sita Ram & Sons is a small shack in Lakkar Bazaar. You get the city’s best chholey bhaturey here. Not too heavy, not too spicy. At Rs 70 a plate, it makes an affordable, filling and yummy meal.

Photo: www.tripadvisor.com
Photo: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Intrigued by the name “Wake & Bake,” I walked into this blue-panelled, yellow-windowed restaurant in the heart of the Mall Road. It turned out to be a good decision! Besides the pretty ambience, this restaurant has some seriously delicious food. The service is quick, too. What else do you need? Don’t miss their Lebanese platter and freshly ground coffee.

Shimla-6
Photo: blog.ixigo.com

Located bang on Scandal Point is one of Shimla’s oldest restaurants—The Alpha. It’s nothing much to look at, but the food is good. Chicken Cutlets and Chicken Rolls, washed down with hot chai…bliss!”

I am in Shimla and it’s too crowded. Point me to a quiet spot.

Words and Photographs : Aanchal Ahuja

Over a million people visit Shimla every year. Very few know about Annandale. It’s a golf course that sits just five kilometres from the bustling Ridge. And it is a slice of paradise.

Army heritage museum shimla

Located by the tiny village of Kaithu, Annandale stretches over 30 luxurious acres. A British officer Capt. Charles Pratt Kennedy named it after a beautiful young girl called Anna. Combined with “dale,” which means “valley,” the place came to be called Annadale. (The extra ‘n’ is a local corruption!)

Set aside about three hours to visit Annandale, including travel time. You can take a direct cab or catch a local bus from the Vidhan Sabha building, which drops you right at the gates of the Course. If you have the time and stamina, hike up–the walk is beautiful but you’ll need a couple of extra hours.

At the gate, irony hits you when a rifle-toting soldier ushers you into a haven of peace. Step in, and your eyes will widen as they take in the flowers flanking the footpath. So many of them, in such vivid colours!

annandale

 

The flower-laden path leads you to the Army Heritage Museum, which houses mementos and memories of the soldierly life. The uniforms they wear, the arms that they use and the music that they make–it’s a quick and fascinating glimpse into military history; no classroom required!

Wait, there’s more. A quick flight of stairs beside the Museum takes you to the award winning Glass House. Be careful in there: this is a prickly affair! Dozens of cactii bloom here, and some have quirky names. Click “Mother-in-law’s-Cushion,” and show it to your mother- in-law.

shimla army museum

The Museum is open from 10 am till 5pm and closed on Mondays.

Read more about Annandale –

Annadale, in the early days of its discovery, was a popular haunt for the British...

Annandale Shimla : Heavenly Beauty of Shimla

An Enriching Experience at Annandale Shimla

The Army Heritage Museum, Annandale, Shimla

The DUBLIN PARK(ING) DAY sounds like a cool green idea. Tell me more!

Once a year in the month of September, Dublin’s car parking spaces turn into public parks, games or art installations. Park(ing) Day is “intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.”

Team TS happened to be there last September, and we couldn’t stop marvelling at some of the creative ideas on show at the parking lots.

Parking-Day-Dublin-1-468x349

Parking-Day-Sydney-1-468x351

(Image source: weburbanist.com)

Get all the details on this fun concept here.

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