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How do I Get a Better Hotel Room Without Paying Extra?

Superior Seafacing Room

Scout for soft openings: New hotels are generally keener to please, so check out hot new properties on hotelchatter.com, and pick up the phone!
Time your trip right: big city hotels have lower occupancy on the weekend, so that’s when your chances of getting an upgrade are higher. In leisure properties, weekends are packed, so try and travel mid-week.
Do some research and call the hotel in advance: Check out the property on-line, and identify the rooms and suites you like. Then write an email or make a phone call to request one of those rooms, even if they show non-available on-line. Remember, cancellations happen all the time.
Spell out exactly what you’re looking for: Don’t vaguely say, ‘May I have a better room.’ Much better to ask for a room with a view, or a bigger suite, or whatever it is that you’re looking for.
delux room 101 kailash

Don’t book the cheapest room: go for a mid-range suite, so that you can be bumped up to a really nice one.
Check in between 3 to 5 pm: Most rooms are given out during this period, so the front office is surer of cancellations and availability.
Dress to impress: No need to turn up in a tuxedo, of course. Just be well-groomed—it will earn you more points than a sloppy, bedraggled appearance.
Be Nice: Hotel staff get to deal with some really pesky and nasty sorts. Strike a difference with your politeness. If the manager does award you an upgrade, let him/her know you’ll be happy to commend them in the Feedback Form.
pillow menu

Play the emotional card: tell them you’re visiting on a special occasion. Tell them you love the hotel, and that it’s your third visit here (they’re not going to pull out records). It works like a charm. (Just don’t tell them you read it here).
Turn a glitch to your advantage: Baggage reached your room late? Faucet leaking? Request management to upgrade your room, in exchange for a No Complaints.

What exactly is a champagne breakfast?

Image Source
Image Source

It is, well, exactly as luxurious as it sounds: Breakfast served with champagne or sparkling wine and fruit juice, usually orange and/or peach.

This special treat is generally reserved for special occasions such as an Anniversary, Mother’s Day or a holiday. High-end hotels and vacation resorts often serve champagne breakfasts served in three elegant courses: bread, cake and fruit, followed by the main course, and finally, coffee, cheese and biscuits.

champagne

To give you a clearer idea, here’s the romantic champagne breakfast menu at the Governor’s Suite in Hartness House, an Inn in Vermont, USA.

Ice-chilled Champagne in a bucket with two crystal flutes;

Freshly-squeezed Orange or Carrot-Apple Juice;

Freshly baked Crumb-topped Blueberry muffins
and Orange marmalade;

Strawberries with Framboise Creme Parfait;

food-fruits-eat-dessert

Your choice of:
Smoked Salmon and Green Onion Omelet, or
Almond and Graham Crusted French Toast; or
Governor’s Eggs Benedict

French Press Columbian Coffee with Cream

Decorated with a beautiful silk Rosebud in Vase and newspaper

This indulgence for two can be yours for an extra $75 USD!

How do I Take Great Wildlife Photos?

Noted photographer Archna Singh gave Travel Secrets writer Nirav Shah a quick tutorial in wildlife photography.

 

 

Be extremely patient. I have had to wait for 4-5 hours while a leopard slept on the tree just to catch different expressions on its face.

ORAH5528a

Maintain distance. This is important to catch the animal in their natural behaviour, to respect them and their privacy and most importantly, for your own safety.

Early morning and late evenings before dusk are the best times to shoot. Most of the animals are out at this time, when the heat is low. The light is also softer.

ORAH8313 2a

Never use your camera flash. It scares the animal away and is disrespectful.

Always keep the camera ready, even a 1-minute break can make you lose a wonderful shot. The animals always catch you off guard!

IMG_0194 copy

Do not just take pretty pictures: try and bring out the emotions that the animals express

A tip for tourists: Guides/drivers at national parks in India will often park their cars in one place and claim that the animal will come here (based on sightings or pug marks). Do not listen to them, but make them take rounds since more often than not, this is a tactic to only save fuel, and you will never end up spotting any animal.

About Archna Singh

IMG_3677

Trained at: NIFT, and under acclaimed photographer Akhil Bakshi

In love with: Africa! She’s also a regular at Ranthambhore and Ladakh.

Showcases her work at: http://www.orahwildlife.com.

Her Kit (in 2012, when we published the story):

1. Canon camera – 1Ds Mark III (serial no. DS 126161/617957)

2. Canon camera – 1D MARK IV (serial no. DS 126221/1431300181)

3. Canon camera – G11 Power Shot (serial no. 0245200409)

4. Canon Zoom Lens – (EF 800MM 1:5.6) – Serial No. 14634

5. Canon Zoom Lens (100-400MM) – ET-83C (serial no. 462100)

6. Canon lens – (EF 200MM 1:2L) – Serial No. 11216

7. Canon Wide Angle Lens 16-35MM – EW-88 – Serial No. 1063057

8. Canon Lens (24-70MM) – EW-83F – Serial No. 1907442

9. Canon Fisheye lens -15mm – Serial No. 54259

10. Canon Extender 2xIII – Serial No. 8420002650

11. Canon Extender 2xII – Serial No. 132951

All images are with courtesy  Archana Singh

Input: Travel Secrets Correspondent Nirav Shah

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.

Image Source
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.

Point Me to 5 Offbeat Bookstores Across the World

“In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”
― Anna Quindlen

Travel and books go together, just like “Fish n Chips” or “Gin n Tonic”.

TS intern Siddharth Birla, a bibliophile himself,  lists out 5 exotic and unique bookstores which  deserve top spot on every travel and book lover’s bucket list:

1. Libreria Alta Acqua, Venice, Italy

Sure, Venice pairs perfectly with the word “romance.” But don’t come away without checking out the city’s charming boat bookstore.

Libreria Alta Acqua which literally translates to “Library of High Water” is nothing like your everyday bookstore or library. You are greeted by a sign outside saying “Welcome to the Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World.” Upon entering, you’ll be amazed to find a full size gondola in the middle of the bookstore overflowing with ancient books on art, history, dictionaries and biographies. To complete the furnishings, there are also poles, oars and mannequins. Whenever the channels of Venice get flooded during Acqua alta, the gondola simply floats on water, keeping the books dry and safe.

Libreria Alta Acqua is actually a mix between a bookstore and a flea market. If you are lucky, you might stumble upon some antique books or one of the four domesticated cats.

Source: https://justinekibler.files.wordpress.com

Source: https://justinekibler.wordpress.com/

2. Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal

Legend has it that JK Rowling conceived the idea of Harry Potter after being inspired by the beauty of Liveraria Lello, which she visited regularly while living in Porto in the early 1990’s.

The neo-Gothic façade of this former library barely hints at the opulence inside: carved wood, gilded pillars, ornamented ceilings, and a gorgeous red staircase lit by a stained-glass atrium. It’s not hard to see how JK Rowling might have been inspired to incorporate a Grand Staircase in Hogwarts Castle after visiting the Lello bookstore. Established in 1881, the bookstore features more than 100,000 titles in several languages and was named by Lonely Planet as the “Third Best Bookshop in the World”

Source: http://www.m1key.me/

Source: http://lugaresdecine.com/

3. The Montague Bookmill, Massachusetts, USA

‘Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.’

The tagline of this bookstore itself is enough to make you want to find it!

The Montague Bookmill is housed in an 1842 gristmill, set on the banks of the Sawmill River, a few miles north of Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts. The interiors of the mill have been revamped but still retain most of the characters of the original building, with scuffed wooden floors, giant windows, and traces of the industrial nature it once had.

It mostly houses used academic book ranging from everything from Austen and anarchy to Zola and zoology and sells them at half the original price. It’s not a conventional bookstore and does not maintain any catalogues. The idea is to browse books personally along the maze like aisles and staircase which make the experience as exciting as reading. However, if you fail to find the book you’re looking for, they claim to find you a better one that you didn’t even knew you wanted.

Source: nancywilt.files.wordpress.com

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcali19/

4. Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini Island, Greece

“From the Caldera, breath-taking views of the volcano and neighboring islands. From the east, miles of dark sandy or pebbled beaches. Everywhere one sees small domed churches and remnants of days gone by.”

Santorini is a place where people read sunsets more often than books. For this reason maybe, this small group of islands lacked a good bookstore until two travelers, Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise decided to open Atlantis Books in 2004.

The story goes that back in the spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on the island of Santorini. They had finished their books and couldn’t find anything they liked in English at the local bookstores, where the selection was limited to detective novels and guidebooks. Intoxicated by Santorini’s beauty, they decided to open a shop modelled on Shakespeare & Company, the English-language bookstore in Paris.

Jeremy Mercer of The Guardian describes Atlantis as a dream of a bookstore. Perched on the cliffs of the volcanic island in a postcard-worthy Greek villa, visitors can spend their afternoons reading a Ryszard Kapuscinski or Jamaica Kincaid title while listening to some jazz playing in the background. The store also hosts food and film festivals, and writers’ readings and is slowly becoming a landmark in Oia. Travelers who are not even reading enthusiasts make it a point to pay this place a visit just to click some pictures worth remembering.

Source: atlantisbooks.org

Source: atlantisbooks.org

5. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Grand theatre turned bookstore, El Ataneo Grand Splendid is the creation of architects Peró and Torres Armengol and makes its place as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Originally built as a theatre for performing arts in 1919, it was converted into a movie theatre in 1929 until poor economic condition forced the theatre to be closed down. It was slated for demolition when the Ilhsa Group, owner of the El Ateneo publishing house bought the building. They subsequently renovated and converted it into a book and music shop while still retaining the original interior architectural details including the brilliant frescoed ceilings painted by the Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, and caryatids sculpted by Troiano Troiani.

While the staggeringly opulent display of books is reason enough to pay El Ateneo Grand Splendid a visit, one can also indulge in coffee and live piano music on the very stage where the Argentinean stars of tango once performed to witness its complete splendor.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Source: https://www.flickr.com/people/47828828@N05/

5 Tips For Solo Women Travellers?

Sure. We have Hetal Doshi, a solo travel expert herself, sharing her tips with you. Hetal runs The Wander Girls, a Mumbai-based company that organises women-only travels and events. Over to her:

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1) Ensure that family & friends back home have a complete copy of your itinerary with the Hotel addresses and contact numbers, your cell number, and know where you’ll be on any given day and can stay in touch with you. This will give them assurance and will also boost your own confidence if you’re a newbie solo traveller.

2) For backup, keep copies of your passport, tickets, and other documents in all pieces of your luggage and carry the originals with you in your handbag which you keep with you at all times.

3) Walk around in flat sensible shoes and keep the heels for an evening out, if you must. You don’t want to be running around the whole day in platforms, heels or wedges. Bellies, slippers or shoes are all good options to keep your feet comfortable.

4) Travel as light as you possibly can. This will allow you to smoothly manage your luggage at airports even if trollies are missing and carry your luggage into local transport if that’s your chosen mode of transport. Also, in places such as Europe where the Hotels often don’t have porters you can easily lug your backpack/bag up and down the stairs.

5) A cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, a small folding umbrella, a bottle of water, something to eat, are essentials that you should have on you whenever you’re out exploring any place. The I.D. and money goes without saying of course! 

Is Cambodian cheese really a cheese?

Confession: We haven’t been to Cambodia yet. But we’d love to go. If you have been to that fascinating land, we’d love to hear your travel tales. Write to us on travelsecretsmag@gmail.com, and we’ll take it forward.

For now, let’s talk about “Cambodian cheese” that isn’t really a cheese!

It’s actually fermented fish paste, with a cheese-like texture, salty taste and distinct odour. Wrapped in banana leaves and served with hot rice, the “cheese” may look  appetising, but that smell isn’t for everyone! Incidentally, it’s called prahok in Cambodia.

Fried_Prahok_meal

(Image: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia: “Prahok is obtained by crushing or grinding fresh fish after de-scaling, gutting and cleaning them. They can be crushed underfoot, like wine grapes, or processed by machine. After the fish is crushed, it is left in the sun for a full day, then salted.”

Prahok-preparation-in-Cambodia

Image: fishconsult.org

The smell of prahok has been described as “stomach turning” and “like your brother’s socks.” If you still want to try it:

3 more things you must know about Prahok:

It’s always eaten fried or steamed, never raw: for fear of spoilage.

Good quality prahok is fermented upto 3 years.

Prahok is also wildly popular in Vietnam.

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prahok

Is the BMW Welt in Munich worth a visit?

If you love cars, yes. If not, then yes again! Munich is home to the only BMW Welt in the world that offers you front row seats to witness the iconic brands production process.  Also feast your eyes on vintage as well as future trends at the BMW Museum.

Inputs from TS intern Arushi Rajput.

Image: www.e-architect.co.uk8
Image: http://www.e-architect.co.uk8

Tour along the BMW Plant, get right up so close to the Press Shop, Paint Shop, Engine Shop or the Assembly. Watch in awe as heavy steel rolls turn into automobile parts and come out as shiny new BMWs. There are experts guiding you at every step – time to ask all those questions you had about your dream ride.

If you like stories, explore the history, background and visions of BMW, as you stroll across the corridors of the BMW Museum. Gaze at about 125 of the brand’s most valuable and attractive automobiles, motorcycles and engines displayed across a 5000 Sq. m area.

Image: www.d-talks.com
Image: http://www.d-talks.com

Can’t get enough of the special treatment? Hop into a convertible, a luxury sedan or a motorcycle and enjoy a unique photo op.

For more, check out the BMW website.

Read more about this unique experience:

The BMW Blog

Destination Munich – BMW Welt

Park Inn Blog – BMW Museum and BMW Welt, Munich

 

 

Point me to Fiji’s 7 Best Resorts.

Beach front accommodation abounds in Fiji. Here is our selection of the 7 best:

Yatule Resort & Spa 
Photo: www.epubbud.com
Photo: http://www.epubbud.com

Choose from pool view, beach front and deluxe beach front suites and rooms, just footsteps away from the gorgeous white sands of Fiji’s Natadola Beach. The resort currently features 36 individual rooms that can accommodate 72 guests. There is plenty to keep you engaged — sip cocktails and enjoy the sunset from the Breaker’s Bar deck; the Na Ua restaurant boasts of a fresh seafood spread directly bought from local fishermen, flavored with local ingredients; and the pool offers a swim-up bar to cool down with a beer after a busy day of surfing.

Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa
Image: www.tripadvisor.com
Image: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Just 1.5 km from the beach, the resort and spa is an ideal summer location to enjoy the pristine white sand, serene blue sea and a cheerful yellow sun. A summer paradise, for both you and your kids — indulge in relaxing massages and refresh yourselves, while the kids stay busy with beach games, treasure hunts and fun activities. At dusk the beachfront restaurant offers stunning views as you enjoy a delicious meal under the stars.

Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Photo: www.myholidaycentre.com.au
Photo: http://www.myholidaycentre.com.au

Apart from the dazzling white beach, the resort helps cool your eyes with turquoise pools and lush tropical landscaped gardens. Versatile in its approach, you can celebrate family togetherness, romance, or have a fun filled adventure experience here. Outrigger is a luxury resort with a tradition of a strongly rooted hospitality culture.

Nanuku Auberge Resort
Image: nanuku.aubergeresorts.com
Image: nanuku.aubergeresorts.com

Beauty, luxury, sophistication, rejuvenation, culture and adventure form an immaculateblend to bring your senses to life. Overlooking the Pacific, the beachfront setting lets guests enjoy home like comfort and exhilarating experiences at the Spa, clubhouse, salon, fitness gyms, and dining. The delicacies made with ingredients handpicked from local farmers and fishermen is not to be missed and so is sipping the signature Wai Pool Bar cocktail.

Cloud 9
hoto: www.fijiairways.com
hoto: http://www.fijiairways.com

With a revamped menu and contemporary delights, Cloud 9 (Fiji’s only two level floating platform) boasts an Italian bar that serves both popular favourites as well as local concoctions like Fiji Gold, Fiji Bitter and Fiji Rum Co. An wood-fired pizzeria dishes out scrumptious pizzas for a relaxed meal on the sun decks, reclining day beds and hanging chairs.

Laucala Resort
Image: www.e-architect.co.uk
Image: http://www.e-architect.co.uk

This paradise-like island resort features creatively designed villas that inculcate various eleents of nature. A perfect hideout away from the hustle-bustle of the world. Beaches, the sea, rain forests and lagoons make it a wonderland to explore at your own leisure.

Malolo
Photo: www.ajtravel.com.au
Photo: http://www.ajtravel.com.au

A rustic resort offering  authentic Fijian hospitality. Local villagers are your hosts here. Simply sway to the rhythm of the place, gaze at the golden beaches, azure sea and abundant coral reefs or have a fun filled day with safaris, boat rides, kayaking , sailing, windsurfing and adventure trips.

How ‘free’ is Duty-Free?

“A bottle of Chanel Allure eau de toilette spray sells for the equivalent of US$102 in Lisbon versus US$147 in Melbourne. That same item goes for US$93 in Heathrow — impressive compared to what you would pay in Australia, but not so much when you consider that Sephora sells it for only $90 in U.S. stores and online.” Source Frommers.com

Chhavi Doonga figures out the real deal.

As if to reward you for the long queues at Immigration and Security, there’s Duty-Free. Gleaming chocolate boxes beckon. Perfumes lead you by the nose. Wine bottles seduce you with come-hither price tags.

Should you go?

Well, you’d have to be a Baba-something to be able to resist the lure of of a delightful offer soaked in tax free alcohol. But before you fall into temptation, there are things you need to know about duty free shopping. You are put under the illusion that you are getting something for nothing, but remember you’re only avoiding taxes.

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                                                                         Image: http://www.gva.ch

 

 

In fact, most of the times the products are not tax ‘free.’ The shops only reduce the imposed import tax. So, it’s important to find out how much tax is on what kind of product and in which country.

Frommers.com reveals that the international airports of New Zealand offer the world’s best duty-free bargains on wine, thanks to relatively cheap dollar and abundant local produce. Everyone’s duty-free favourite Dubai really does offer amazing prices on gold. At Singapore’s Changi airport, you can buy electronics, watches and cameras at upto 30% less than their retail prices.

Image: www.gumot.org
                                                                             Image: http://www.gumot.org

Team Travel Secrets has discovered that in most South Asian countries, chocolates, tobacco and alcohol are often cheaper in city outlets than at the airport.

In an interview to CNN, Yngve Bia, president of the duty-free research company Generation Research,says that price depend on two things: geography and currency exchange rates.

Here’s a comparison of different product prices in duty free shops of Europe to give you an idea:

Untitled

Namit Vashishta, 24, works with a multinational company and travels abroad 10 months a year. He says, “I have a huge collection of good-quality perfumes, thanks to duty free shopping. If you know your currency rates, then duty free shopping can be really profitable for you.”

Yash sood, 26, a former employee of the Delhi Airport Duty free department says “People often worry that duty-free products are inferior quality, but that is not true. The tax in these shops is not removed, it’s only reduced.”

The 3 Commandments of Duty-Free Shopping

1. Know your limits:

Warning: Your duty-free might not remain so once you get home! There are limits your home country imposes on purchases abroad. For example for United States, it’s usually $400-$800. Buying beyond that sum would result in a duty charge.

Image: www.traveldept.com
                                                                             Image: http://www.traveldept.com

In Europe, there’s a bonus perk: Duty-free shops in airports and ports are ‘tax-free shops,’ too, which means you are spared the value added tax (or V.A.T., a type of sales tax) that would otherwise be included in the price of goods sold elsewhere in the European Union.  Again, you need to know if the VAT free price is cheaper than what you get back home.

2. Don’t Impulse-Buy:

While this tip applies to any kind of shopping, it is especially important in duty-free because the price changes with each place. You don’t want to buy something and later realise you get it cheaper at home! For example, Hong Kong International’s DFS Galleria, a duty-free shopping area, sells the Armani Obo Bag for $450 (HK$3,500). But it’s on sale at Armani’s website for just$285.

Image: www.thenational.ae
                                                                                  Image: http://www.thenational.ae

Wait till your trip ends to shop for duty-free. This will keep your baggage light, help you calculate how much you can spare, and allow you time to compare prices across a few cities.

3. Identify Your Buy Before You Fly

Want electronics? Don’t buy them in Australia—they are much cheaper in Asia and the US. Craving a cosmetics fix? The Caribbean has tax havens that can save you between 30 to 50% on topline company products. Consider taking a cruise there. Looking for luxury pewter? Kuala Lumpur Airport—eyes closed! Valuable information like this is sprinkled all over the Internet. Just click ‘Best duty-free deals on cosmetics/electronics/whatever else’ and Go!

 

Everyone likes to come back home with a bag full of goodies, but remember, your bag of memories needs to be chunkier!

So, grab the cheese and avoid the trap.

Happy shopping!

 

 

 

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

 

6 Types of Airline Fares Every Traveller Should Know About

When you book your air ticket, just before pressing the ‘purchase’ button, you are greeted with a fare summary, telling you how much you’re going to pay and why. Fair enough. But airline lingo isn’t known for its simplicity.

Airline fare

Never be confused again! Here are 6 airfare terms you should know about:

Advance Purchase Fare
An airfare which requires the ticket to be purchased a certain number of days before the departure date. If you know your travel plans, you can get yourself a good advance-purchase deal. But take note: cancelling such tickets often invites higher penalty than normal.

Base Fare
This is the amount that you pay before tax has been added, and it goes to the airline you are travelling. On top of it there are taxes and other add-ons. Commissions are calculated on the base fare.

Capacity-Controlled Fares
A limited number of airplane seats to which a special fare has been assigned. This percentage may change depending upon how quickly seats are selling on the flight.

Conditional Fare
A fare which guarantees passage on the next available flight if the flight for which the ticket was purchased is full.

Fare Basis (Code)
This can be confusing, because the same flight can contain many different fare basis codes. The excellent website travelterminal.com solved the puzzle for us very nicely, through this simple example: Take the fare basis code HL7LNR.  The first letter H refer to the class of service for booking (H class).  The L refers to low season, the 7refers to the requirement for 7-day advance booking, the next L refers to long-haul, and the NR means non-refundable.

Unrestricted Fare
An airfare that is usually higher than regular, but comes with some advantages: you don’t need to make an advance purchase, do a Saturday stay or travel only on certain days. Plus, it’s usually fully refundable.

Got more questions about airfares? Ask us in the comments and we will decode the secrets.

I’m a hairdresser. Pl suggest a fun name for my shop!

I’m a hairdresser. Pl suggest a fun name for my shop!.

A good dhaba in Amritsar, Punjab?

Located a short walk from the Golden Temple, in the Town Hall, is Bharawan da Dhaba, where we ate a hearty meal of chana masala, paneer kulcha, sweet lassi, and have never quite forgotten the taste!

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This divine food is reason enough to go to Amritsar, and no, the dhaba hasn’t paid us to write this for them!

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The name literally means “Restaurant of the brothers,” and whoever they are, they deserve a collective pat on their backs for dishing up such amazing food.

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The dhaba is always crowded, and that is a good sign. It only serves vegetarian food, but even if you are a meat lover, it is hard not to fall in love with the hearty Punjabi flavours here. Those lachcha paranthas topped with big dollops of butter…mmm!

Address: Hall Bazar, Golden Temple Out Road, Town Hall, Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar, Punjab 143001

Phone:0183 253 2575

 

Airbus or Boeing: Which one do pilots prefer to fly?

We asked a pilot who flies both machines. Excerpt from the interview:

Travel Secrets: So which planes have you flown so far? 

Captain D’souza: Like any pilot, I trained on various small planes. These are either single or twin-engine, and usually have two seats for the two pilots on board and are hence called 2-Pilot Aircraft. I have commercially flown the Airbus and the Boeing, which are the planes at our company, for about 23 years now.

TS: What’s your favourite plane?

CD: If you ask any pilot, they’ll tell you that they like the Boeing better than the Airbus, and so do I.

TS: Why Boeing?

CD: Well, let me put it this way. The Boeings put the pilot first and the Airbus puts the computer on top. Planes have changed a lot in the past 5-10 years and so have the cockpits.

TS: Details, Captain? Secrets of each of the cockpits!

CD: Okay, so the Boeing 777 has 33 computers that a pilot has to handle. They are not computers with QWERTY keyboards, but specially programmed computers controlling a particular function each. The job of the pilot is to control each of them. Having said that, if we feel that in a particular condition we should deviate from what the computer says, we can do so. In an Airbus, you can’t do that.

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The Airbus looks like a meaner, neater machine because it is technologically quite advanced. It is supposed to make the pilot very happy. But does it? Frankly, not me!

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When you have flown almost half your life, you trust your instincts in an emergency. At least in my opinion that’s what a good pilot always does. And an Airbus puts limitations on you precisely in that respect. Once you are at an altitude, the computers take over. Say, the turbulence is really high at some point, the computer will give you the maximum deviation you can make and under no circumstance can you exceed that limit. You have a joystick-like control in your hand and you basically just follow what the computer says. So, while the Airbus is excellent for a ‘normal’ flight, a good pilot will feel the lack of authority and control in case of some problem!

TS: Are there other differences too between the two?

CD: Boeing aircraft are far more stable during turbulence. The Airbus has stiff wings that are designed for high speed flying and efficient fuel consumption, but they aren’t much help in turbulence.

*Captain D’souza is not authorised to share his photo or the airline he flies.  These are his personal views. TS has no bias toward either aircraft!

Airbus & Boeing:  A Passenger Primer

  • Boeing is American. Airbus is European.
  • Boeings come in the #7 series (747, 777 etc.) Airbus is #3 series (A 330, A 380 etc.)
  • An Airbus has a curved, bulbous nose, while a Boeing has a more pointed nose.
  • Airbus cockpit side windows run in a straight line along the bottom. The side windows of a Boeing run in a ‘V’ shape along the bottom. Also Airbus aircraft cockpit side windows look like one of their corners have been ‘cut’.
  • Only A340s, A380s and B747s have four engines. All other aircraft have twin engines.

Curious to learn more about the two craft? Read up Arun Rajagopal’s superb blog. This Dubai-based social media manager says he’s ‘crazy about planes,’ and it shows! 

 

 

 

What’s socca, the famous French street food?

Team TS first heard about–and tasted–Socca in Nice, France.

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(Image: www.thegoodlifefrance.com)

Made primarily with chickpea flour and olive oil – ingredients plentiful around the Mediterranean – Socca  is a quick, cheap, and delightful snack served along the French part of the coast and all the way into Liguria in Italy, where it goes by the name Farinata.

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Image: www.myfrenchlife.org

To be authentic, socca should be baked over a fire. It is best served piping-hot, and raked as it is baked, which makes the surface extra-crispy. When the giant disk is yanked from the oven, it should arrive at your table or in your hands seconds later. Don’t wait—dive right in! Pair with a chilled rosé.

And now, a little secret of our own: in India, we make something very similar to socca. It is made with chickpea flour, and we call it cheela or poora. To make this, we make a thinnish batter composed of chickpea flour, water, salt, red chilli powder (we’re Indian!), powdered cumin. It’s cooked like a pancake and best enjoyed with mint and cilantro chutney. 

Tell me a Venice, Italy secret few know about.

If you are a book lover, here’s a secret you are going to love!

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy: The translation is “library of high water.” It’s spread out through various rambling rooms; one room with a gondola stacked with books, other rooms are packed with rowing boats & bath tubs full of old second hand atlases, dictionaries, art books, biographies and history books.

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There’s something for every one, you just have to look long enough. In the back room you can look out to one of the channels, which makes this place even more special.

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Location: Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa

Hours: 9.00 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Do Your Shoes Affect Your Knees?

Yes they do! An uncomfortable or ill-fitting pair of shoes can place undue strain on the knee joints. And if you have flat arches and bowed legs, the wrong kind of shoes can affect your stride and aggravate knee problems greatly. A good, knee-friendly pair of shoes feels snug and carries your foot rather than you to drag your body as well as the shoe along.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/7-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-your-knees.html#ixzz39F5KHGHDI’ve written a post on this topic here.

 

What’s the best way to get oriented to a new city?

We at Travel Secrets love city bus tours. The bus-eye view is total value for money, considering how nicely it shows you a city’s hotspots, letting you get off when and where you want. It’s like going around a map, really! Bonus: you get to rub shoulders with the locals. Hop on with team TS for a bus ride across the world’s most stunning cities.

DISCOVER VANCOUVER

vancouver bus tour

The Big Bus lets you discover the best of Vancouver, at just $40 per adult. Buy a pass for the whole family, and you pay only $90. Buses leave every 15 to 20 minutes in peak season, and make 21 stops, including Downtown, Gastown, Yaletown, Stanley Park, Robson Street Shopping Distrcit, Granville Entertainment District, Chinatown and the English Bay Beach. You can hop on and off
for a leisurely two days.

For current deals and updates, visit bigbus.ca.

EXPLORE EDINBURGH

edinburg bus tour
As the merry open-top bus winds its way through the streets, you realise how impossibly good looking Scotland’s capital is. Compare Edinburgh’s Old Town, where families lived in cramped conditions, to the elegant Georgian New Town with its three main streets and a square at either end. Hear about the Horrible Hangings of Grassmarket, and marvel at the impenetrable Castle Rock above you. See the Royal Mile which joins Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood House. Prices from £12.00 for adults and £5.00 for children. Tickets are valid for 24 hours.

Find out more here
MAKE FRIENDS WITH MADRID

Tour bus at Plaza de la Cibeles
With a 21 Euro ticket, you can hop on and off the bus all day along the route of your choice or change to another, admiring the architectural and cultural magnificence of Madrid. Can’t speak Spanish? Relax! The tour offers commentaries through a headphone audio system in 14 different languages You get a map of the city and discount checks for different shops and
restaurants. Depending on the season, buses leave between 8 and 15 minutes, and every route takes about 80 min.

To book, click here

ADMIRE ATHENS

athens bus tour
The City Sightseeing, open top, double deck bus tour of Athens costs £15.00 for adults and £6.50 for children. It takes around 90 minutes and covers central Athens, commencing at Syntagma Square. Tracing the history and culture of Athens from ancient times to the present day, it lets you scout for shopping hotspots, too. Look forward to world-famous museums, with spectacular views of ancient temples, the Acropolis and Parthenon.

More info here
FALL IN LOVE WITH LONDON

Bus ride
Ride around the Thames, soaking in the sights and sounds of lovely London. More than 80 stops, a choice of 3 routes and countless
photo opportunities! Live guided and multilingual commentaries, and a chance to view some of the world’s most famous attractions.

Book tickets here

Want to know more about bus tours? Try these:

http://www.londontoolkit.com/blog/daytrips/tours/golden-tours-3-hour-open-top-bus-tour-of-london/

This article was first published in the Jan-Feb 2013 issue
of Travel Secrets Magazine.

 

How can I use sketching as a medium for recording my travels?

We asked travel writer and sketch artist Candace Rose Rardon and here’s her answer along with some stunning sketches from her travels.

Ever since purchasing my first SLR camera when I was 13 years old, I’ve loved documenting my travels through pictures. But I gradually felt that the more photos I snapped on a trip, the more I wasn’t remembering places as vividly as I would have liked to. In a way, I was letting the machine do all the work, not my mind. And so just about three years ago, I decided to bring something else besides my camera with me on my next trip: A sketchbook and a pack of 12 watercolour pencils. I’ve now sketched my way through nearly 25 countries, and I couldn’t imagine a better medium for recording my travels.

Sketching slows me down, and opens my mind up to a new place. As I sit in the same spot for two or three hours, working on a sketch, my senses are on high alert, and I leave that spot with strong memories of all that I could see, smell, hear, and feel as I sketched.

Candace - Singapore sketch

Here’s how you can start sketching on your next trip:

Choose your gear

I always recommend keeping it simple. Don’t feel like you need to invest in an entire portfolio of painting supplies just to get started. Select a sketchbook with good quality paper – I suggest 140 lb. (300 gsm), so that the pages won’t buckle when you begin applying water and decide on what medium you’ll use, be it watercolour paints, pencils, pens, markers, etc. For paints, I love my Winsor & Newton watercolour field kit, which holds 12 colours and is easy to slip into whatever bag I’m using for a trip. I also use Staedtler pigment liner drawing pens and Derwent watercolour pencils.
Focus on a scene
Choose a scene that inspires you. Find a cafe or bench where you can sketch from, and think about what you’d like to focus on and what details you’ll include. Although you will soon develop your own style, I usually spend about 15 minutes laying out a sketch in pencil, an hour drawing the scene with pen, and then another 45-60 minutes bringing the scene to life with paints and watercolour pencils. During the drawing stage, I also like to write little annotations on the sketch – snippets of overheard dialogue, sensory observations, or even a line or two of how I’m feeling that day – anything that will instantly transport me back to that scene when I look at the sketch in the future.

Be open to serendipity
Although I’m grateful for the way that sketching helps me remember places, what I love most is how it opens the door to serendipitous encounters. When I’m sitting down with my sketchbook open, it’s amazing how often people will come up to me and peer over my shoulder. While sketching in the Bến Thành night market in Saigon, Vietnam, I met two local college students who invited me to draw with them the next day; in Mostar, Bosnia, I was invited into several local families’ homes after they saw me sketching outside; and sketching on-location in Istanbul’s bustling Grand Bazaar was a way to form a unique connection with Turkish carpet sellers. The people I meet through my sketches mean just as much to me as the paintings themselves.

Candace Rose Rardon bio photoCandace is a writer and sketch artist originally from the state of Virginia, although she has also called the UK, New Zealand, and India home. In addition to running her blog, The Great Affair, which was recently featured in the New York Times, she has also released her first book of travel sketches, Beneath the Lantern’s Glow: Sketches and Stories from Southeast Asia and Japan.

Check out more sketches on her blog: www.candaceroserardon.com

You can get a copy of Beneath the Lantern’s glow here

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