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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.

Buy This Whiskey, Own A Land In Scotland!

Planning to get a land in Scotland? Why not buy a bottle of whiskey instead! Yes, you read it right. Scotland’s one of the finest single-malt whiskeys, Laphroaig, offers a lease on a square foot of land with the purchase of each bottle. When you buy one, you lawfully become a ‘Friend of Laphroaig’. And, as a ‘Friend’ you will be given a numbered plot (one square foot) of the distillery land, represented by your own little flag!

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Currently owned by Beam Suntory (American subsidiary of Japan’s Suntory Holdings), Laphroaig was founded in Scotland in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnson. It is the only Islay Scotch whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales.

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Talking about the rates, a ten year old Laphroaig can cost you around US$50 (approx. ₹3344), an eighteen year old bottle can cost you around double of that (around ₹ 6688) and the 25 year old one will lighten your wallet by approximately US$ 400. (approx. ₹26755). So, once you get your hands on any of these three, just register the bar code placed on the bottle to the Laphroaig website. And that’s it! You will, then, be a proud owner of a piece of land in Islay, Scotland.

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Ever heard of an eatable Margarita?

No, this isn’t your traditional glass of tequila and fruit juice cocktail that you sip casually on a usual Friday evening. Doug Laming’s Margarita is definitely much more interesting than that! As suggested by the name, this cocktail was introduced by Molecular Mixologist, Doug Laming at his experimental lab i.e. Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining, Sydney.

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Laming uses ‘Cointreau Caviar Spherification’ to create spheres of Tequila, Cointreau and syrup, which results in little ‘pearls’ of alcohol that burst in the mouth!  While the glass is only there for decoration, to actually consume this margarita, one has to lift up the salt rimmed lime and eat the pink finger lime and the two types of the caviar pearls. One contains a Souza Gold tequila and sugar syrup and the other contains Cointreau. Basically, you eat these and lick the salted lime. It’s a margarita unlike any other kind that you may have had.

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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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111 days, 11 countries, 1 family: This Family Took An Incredible 111-Day Road Trip From India To France

My Travel Secret – Aditya Verma

Tell Me More About China’s Panda Park

China’s 600-acre Panda Base is located just about 20 km from the north suburb of Chengdu city. ‘Cute’ and ‘cuddly’ Pandas frolic here, in their lovingly simulated natural habitat. Our correspondents Rakhi Agarwal and Supriya Kantak take you there:

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Here, they swim, climb trees, munch on bamboo and roll in the dirt; just like they would in deep wilderness. Bamboo trees form a welcoming canopy overhead. Birds tweet in the bushes: your chance to spot some endangered species, and some well-loved ones. Think black-necked cranes, thrushes, cuckoos, Kingfisher. Stop by to share a snack with friendly peacocks and pheasants strutting freely about.

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Pandas are peace-loving, happy with their bamboo diet. But if provoked, their powerful jaw muscles and 150-kg weight can give you the shudders.

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Pandas get their name from the Chinese words ‘Pan and Da’ meaning ‘fat and big.’ In anticipation of a big bear hug, Supriya and Rakhi entered the protected area; a maze of winding paths with bamboo shoots forming an arch overhead. There are other trees, of course- mostly tall and big. Willows, Gingkos, Chinars, Yulans…the names aren’t all familiar, but the fresh air cools your face and warms your heart.

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The 60 acre Panda Base also houses a charming lake, teeming with cranes and Mallard ducks and well swans. But more than that it showcases nature’s genius at thinking up shapes and sizes and colour schemes! So while gazing at the Aquarians swimming together in happy harmony how can you miss the beautifully mismatched yellow, red and orange set against the blue water? Once you have had your fill of the lake’s beauty, enjoy a scoop of ice-cream. On your way out, you must stop at the souvenir shop; take a sneak, though you should know that the shops inside offer lower prices.

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This article first appeared in our July-August, 2012 edition.

Ever done a Snowmobile Ride with Dog Sleds?

For most of us, riding through the snow on a dog sled would be a new kind of thrill. For residents of Grey County, Canada, it is a routine mode of transport.

Grey County is bordered in the north by the impressive Georgian Bay, 220km by 100km, making it almost as large as Lake Ontario, one of Canada’s five Great Lakes. It is just 150 km away from Toronto, west of the Blue Mountains area of Collingwood, where skiers take on snowy slopes.

Mike Keenan took a thrilling ride across Grey County. The idea of Corporate Honchos going to work in Snowmobile excited him.

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Driving on a snowmobile is a lot like cross-country skiing: an opportunity to observe nature’s pristine fields bordered by naked deciduous trees shrouded in hoar frost, providing a mystical dimension. The trees glow along the carpet of snow; their crystals beam in jewel like fashion, a sparkling dance in strong sunlight, glistening and forcing to stop to revel in magnificence of it all.

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Snowmobiles are machines that transport you deep into the woods, offering vistas of partly-frozen creeks and snow-clad pine and spruce, uneven land, large rocks and limbs providing a unique gestalt. They are responsive and easy to drive, right hand controlling gas and left hand, the brake. As promised, the machine virtually stops on its own with the release of gas.

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There are 3,000km of groomed trails in the Grey-Bruce area, with no dangerous lake or water crossings. Trails are signposted and easy to follow. Mike witnessed myriad tracks, a large hare, perhaps a wolf but no actual wildlife, and although the trails he travelled were graded ‘Limited,’ they are fine with deer, white owls and the sheer beauty of nature in Grey County’s winter wonderland. Gloves, pants, helmet and boots kept them warm. There are two kinds of snowmobile enthusiasts: hard core, racking up as many kilometers as possible and the recreational, out of pure enjoyment. Many people even show up in business suits, the office goers.

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Next it was ‘Hike!’ that they repetitively shouted as teams of dogsled raced along a circular route at Doug Nixon’s Rob Roy Dog Sledding Adventures. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies, harnessed in two teams of two dogs per sled make you wonder how four dogs are able to carry each sled and the large musher. Mushers stand on two thin runners with a brake pedal in the middle. After a few sprints you get the feel of it, leaning into the turns, the sled easily maneuvers on the terrain.
It was minus 2 C, but the owner, Doug, said that these snow dogs liked it colder at minus 10-15 C. They are born outside and live outside.

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This experience was shared in the November-December 2012 issue of Travel Secrets magazine.

Chef’s Secret: An offbeat potato recipe!

In the first edition of  our Chef’s Secret series, Tanveer Kwatra, Executive Chef, Le Meridien Gurgaon, takes us beyond French Fries.

Watch his interpretation of comfort food with this easy-to-make potato dish, in 90-seconds flat!

Bon Appétit!

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!)

Help me plan a trip to Ghana

Excellent choice! If you ever happen to be in the western part of Africa, do not pass up on the opportunity to travel for a week in Ghana. Terrains change from thick rainforests to vast savannas within a day’s travel. Elephants forage a few meters away, as you watch in awe. Get to know the slave culture of yester years first hand or watch true ancient African culture surround you.

TS Correspondent Nirav Shah was lucky to explore this land a couple of years ago. He swung on rope bridges high up the rainforest canopy and climbed the highest peak in Ghana. Here are a few tips from him to make the best of your trip.

 Where to go and What to do

Cape_Coast_Castle_GhanaCape Coast: An idyllic ex-colonial coastal town frequented by foreigners, famous for its sea food, slave castles and night life. Relax by white surf beaches and do canopy walking at the Kakum National Park, a rain forest that is a short taxi ride away. Thin rope bridges connect huge trees hundreds of feet above the ground. Visit the imposing Cape Coast and Elmina castles for a lesson on the infamous days of the slave trade. On a lighter note – don’t miss hilarious shop names of shops here.

Image: Anthony Pappone on flickr
Image: Anthony Pappone on flickr

Kumasi: Alternatively known as the ‘Garden City’ for its beautiful flowers and plants, this town is the seat of the Ashanti King – a powerful ruler of a tribe that once lorded over most of West Africa. Kumasi is steeped in cultural heritage, and has attractions such as Fort Kumasi, the Hat Museum and the Kumasi National Cultural Center. It also has a decently maintained zoo that boasts of a diverse variety of birds and animals.

Independence_Square,_Accra,_GhanaAccra: The capital of Ghana, this city is a typical urban centre with traffic snarls, pollution and busy markets. While Accra does not boast of many tourist attractions, it is a good base from which to explore different regions of Ghana. Photography enthusiasts should not miss out on photo walks through the bustling markets here!

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Mole National Park and Larabanga Mosque: Located in the northern part of the country, this is where you can experience a savanna environment. Standing 20 meters away from a herd of male elephants with no vehicle to run back to, or watching antelope jump around as you walk in the park can definitely be your trip highlights. However, sighting the lion is a rarity that requires persistent exploration over more than one day. The Larabanga mosque – the oldest mosque in West Africa built in the 15th century is a few miles from the park, and is a must-visit.

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Wli Waterfalls: The Volta region in East Ghana is inarguably the most beautiful; and the existence of stupendous waterfalls such as the Wli waterfalls, the highest waterfalls in Ghana at 60M bear testimony to this. Bathing under the cascade is refreshing, especially when you have thousands of bats resting on the cliff walls. A challenging 3 hour hike can take you to the upper reaches of the wall where the the waterfall takes on a vivid beauty.

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Mount Afadjato: When in a country, why not climb its highest peak! Especially when it is like Mount Afadjato, Ghana’s highest sole-standing mountain located in the Volta region that takes an hour to summit with the help of a guide. The view from up the mountain is incomparable, and a hike around it is a the perfect way to explore the rain forest.

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Tafi Atome Monkey Village: A visit to this village demonstrates a locale where humans and monkeys cohabit and live together. Definitely a must-visit if you want to overcome your fear of our closest animal brothers.

Know before you go

Transport: Accra is the ideal airport to look for a flight to. While taxis are available for inter and intra-city travel; using state buses and tro-tros (shared taxi vans) are a cheap option for the budget traveler. Ghana has good quality roads and hence travelling long distances usually does not take much time.

Telephone: SIM cards of multiple service providers e.g. MTN are easily available.

Currency: The Ghanian currency is the Cedi, with current rates at 1 Cedi = 30 INR

Visa: Visa applications have to be made to your nearest Ghanian embassy, and require ~1 week for processing.

Some useful websites and blogs:

Ghana Tourism Authority

Ghana Tourism official website

Ghana in Living Colour – Intrepid Travel

Two years in Ghana

Easy Track Ghana

Ghana Guide and Blog

 

Point me to the world’s most beautiful flower fields.

“Earth laughs in flowers” said Ralph Waldo Emerson and there couldn’t be a better compliment. This summer you could share in the joy and spend your holidays surrounded by nature’s bounty. And where would you find it? Try these:

THE DAZZLING DAFFODILS OF THE COTSWOLDS, ENGLAND

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Softening the harshness of British winters, “a host of golden daffodils” greet you in the Cotswolds. It is as if their trumpet-shaped flowers are literally announcing the onset of spring! Picture yourself, Wordsworth-like, wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’, until you chance upon these brilliant beauties. So what if the cold winds are piercing your bones; the budding blossoms are sure to warm your heart. Standing amid the golden yellows and clear whites, you can picture yourself in your favourite summer dress and flip flops. So rent a cottage by a daffodil garden and let English countryside bless you with scented serenity.

THE ROMANTIC RANUNCULUS OF CALIFORNIA, USA

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Quick, blink; or the exploding colours might just blind you! Every year, spring brings to California, their most vibrant possession—Ranunculus. Over 50 acres of land stretches out like a colour palette in The Flower Fields of Carlsbad, California. Overlooking the blue Pacific, the field invites you to spend an entire day with picnic baskets, bicycles and cameras. If you are lucky, you might land up on a day when local entertainers are performing here, adding more colour to the proceedings! Spend a day here and dreams of the Ranunculus will stay with you all year, only to pull you back next spring.

THE LOVELY LAVENDER FIELDS OF FRANCE

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The Lavender Fields of Provence are like potions or tonics of serenity. A whiff of the scent, a glimpse of the colour and a stroke of the texture is all you need to relax for a month! Sometimes, the lavender fields are surrounded by wheat fields which harvest at the same time. Ah! The sight of lavenders with golden wheat bands and sunlight in the background is no less than royal. The essence of the flowers yields healing homemade oils, handmade soaps and natural scents created in neighbouring farms and cottages.

CHINA’S GOLDEN CANOLA

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A sea of sunshine on the bosom of the earth…that’s east Yunnan for you. It is as if a whimsical painter spilled a giant can of molten gold here. Neither sunshine nor gold, this is a cheery array of canola flowers, clustered together to create a visual spectacle. Set against the green-brown monotony of the hills, this floral farmland will have your camera as hungry as the bees here are for honey. Located just about 15 kilometres from Luoping town, the farmlands are easily accessible by bus. Trek your way to the 100-year-old Lingyin Temple at the top of one of the hills, to get the best view. Carry a bottle of rapeseed cooking oil back home, along with dozens of golden-yellow memories. But go now; the show is over by June.

Where are you headed to first?

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 are some of the best Monsoon getaways in India?

We took your question to Aloke Bajpai, Founder Partner of The Explorers India, a travel organisation that specialises in experiential tourism and adventure.

Over to him:

Come monsoon and most people begin to dread endless traffic and having to wade to office through water logged roads. But you only have to travel a short distance from the cities to soak in a light drizzle, the sound of a gushing waterfall, the sight of abundant greenery, and the monsoons don’t seem so bad at all.

Monsoon getaways 1 - by Aloke Bajpai

Pack a light lunch, put on a trench coat and head on a monsoon hike – it’s the best way to welcome the rains. To begin with, those in Mumbai could trek from Vasai to the waterfall in Tungareshwar. The flattish path lies between thick woods and is a great way of being close to nature without being too far from the city.  The adventurous can either consider Chanderi for a difficult but worthwhile two-day hike or embark on the gradual climb to Kalsubai, Sahyadri’s highest peak. If you’re considering a trip to the hill station Matheran this season, skip the toy train or road and trek through the Garbett Plateau instead. You’ll be rewarded with great views as soon as you begin.

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As most national parks close entry to visitors come rains, you could drive to the small town of Ramnagar in Uttarakhand from Delhi and hike through the buffer zone of Corbett National Park. It’s highly recommended for wildlife enthusiasts who can learn about the flora, spot birds and animals from a close distance, and enjoy the trek all the way till Nainital. Rishikesh and Kasauli are great bases for some short monsoon treks as well and so is B.R. Hills in Karnataka.

Monsoon getaways 2 - by Aloke Bajpai

Another activity that is best enjoyed in the monsoons, especially in Mahrashtra, is Waterfall Rappelling. Kune waterfall near Lonavla can be accessed after a two-hour long trek and once there, through a certified agency and guide, one can start rappelling at a height of 75-80 feet. Kondana caves near Karjat are a good spot too. For those interested, rain-fed rivers like Kundalika and Pej offer opportunities of rafting.

Cycling through the countryside also makes for an extremely pleasant activity during monsoon. Karnataka provides plenty of traffic-free, scenic routes to cyclists. The Bangalore-Mysore Highway is a great way to start and you can cycle onwards to Ramnagara, a small town about 50 km from the city known for its 400 year old Big Banyan Tree, and Manchinbele Dam. Those in Mumbai can consider cycling towards Vasai to the beachfront of Arnala or you could take the route from Alibaug to Murud Janjira that goes through Korlai fort and small hospitable villages.

Monsoon getaways 5

If you can, however, manage to take a few days off work, skip all the above options and escape to Wayanad in Kerala instead. Whether it be a trek in the drizzle from Kalpetta to Soochipara falls, gliding through the backwaters or cycling across stretches of tea gardens and forests – you’ll have plenty to do and thank the rain gods for.

 Aloke Bajpai spoke to TS Correspondent Sarita Santoshini.

Photos courtesy The Explorers India

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.”

Venice (43)

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

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.

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(Image source: weburbanist.com)

Get all the details on this fun concept here.

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