Travel Secrets

Know Before You Go!


travel abroad

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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Take me on a Harry Potter Tour. I’m a fan!

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.


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


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…


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


asking for directions to  The Gallery Hotel Art


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.


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.

Photo: 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.


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!


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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Get all the details on this fun concept here.

Take me to an Irish cafe that the locals love!

Just a few minutes out of Belfast airport, and you have a fiesta of Irish treats laid out for you. Rhubarb pie with homemade ice-cream, to begin with. At a pretty tucked-away place that overlooks the endless sea, and doubles as a local nursery. Called Harrisons, quite simply. Harrisons-Restaurant-201207280453 DSC00590 That pie. It alone is worth a trip to Northern Ireland. The rhubarb is nice and tart, and the pie crust is perfectly crisp. And the ice-cream, it tastes like the cow was milked a few minutes ago and the hens just laid their eggs and all of it was churned quickly together and frozen swiftly up to create this fresh, fantastic dream in cream. Sorry, it’s easy to get carried away when you’re reminiscing about a treat so delicious. DSC00591 Many days after I arrived back in India and Googled it, I was blown away by the story of Harrison’s! It is owned by a family that lives on 90 lush acres of land. The location is called Ards Peninsula, one of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque locations. (But then, I was there for nearly a week and did not see one spot that would not qualify as that! All of Ireland, Northern or not, is an ode to natural beauty.) And I am not the only one determined to go back for that ice cream. Apparently, 30 per cent of its customers drive more than an hour to come and eat at Harrisons. I suspect that statistic will quickly crawl upward soon. I have to admit I wolfed down the entire pie and ice-cream, and those calories were worth lunch and dinner both. And I was too hungry to take photos of the treat! Shubhra Krishan

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

Hair we go!  Inspiration from our Ireland album.DSC00690DSC00708DSC00705DSC00703

What’s socca, the famous French street food?

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



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.



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 more about Ireland’s Short-Stay Visa Waiver Scheme

  • The Short-Stay Visa Waiver Scheme was introduced in July 2011 to encourage tourism to the island of Ireland.
  • The scheme allows visitors from specific Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asian countries who have a valid UK C general visa to visit Ireland without the need for a separate Irish Visa.
  • The visa waiver scheme requires a once validation in the UK for the UK C general visa before it can be used to visit Ireland.
  • Visitors must travel to Ireland within the time remaining on their current UK 180 day leave to remain.image012
  • If it has been more than 180 days since the last visit to the UK you will not be able to travel to Ireland without an Irish visa.
  • Please refer to the official INIS information note on the Visa Waiver Programme for more detailed information. This information can be found on

The best shopping street in Edinburgh, Scotland?

That Edinburgh is one of the world’s most elegant and beautiful cities is no secret.  That it has enough museums and castles to tick off your list is also common knowledge.

What a lot of tourists tend to miss is this: feel-good country-style shopping in the city! And that’s where we come in.

Stockbridge. Call it a street or a self-contained little village inside Edinburgh, this is a secret you need to discover, shopping or not.

After you are done with your morning coffee and scones, head for Stockbridge, a vibrant street with lots of pubs, cafes and yes, shops!

Everyone will point you toward Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile,’ which of course is lovely and lively. But if you’re looking for little treasures for your window-sill or your bookshelf, you need to go to Stockbridge.

A string of stores with vintage and charity goods to pick from.Beautifully packaged Scottish soaps and creams, cute curios, rare books—you never know what you might find, for just a few euros!

Set aside a whole morning for browsing Stockbridge. Read more here.

What’s this I hear about a Whispering Gallery at the Grand Terminal Station in New York?

Hello…hello…hello…that’s the sound of our voice as it echoes in the Whispering Gallery! A romantic secret that sits right under the nose of New Yorkers, the Gallery offers intense communication to lovers, simply by being designed the way it is.


What you do is this: stand diagonally across from each other on the arches, and whisper words of love. Better still, murmur your proposal to your sweetheart. Your whisper will carry through to him or her as if by ‘telegraph,’ husky enough to sound romantic without being spooky!

Lover and proposal or not, do trip down to the Whispering Gallery the next time you cross the Grand Central Station! 

And that is by no means all. The Station houses many more secrets that are sure to give you bragging rights. Go, discover them all!

Q: I’d like to carry tea as a gift from India. What varieties do you recommend?

In India, we love gifts – receiving them, mostly! From sweets and dry fruits to Rajasthani dolls and show-pieces, there is quite a variety to choose from. But let’s go find something uniquely Indian for your hosts abroad.

Mittal Teas

Tea is one such treasure. It defines our country, and we are one of its best producers. To know more about how to use tea as a gift, we took a sip out of Mr. Mittal’s tea pot. On entering Mittal Tea Store, the mixed aroma of different teas enchants your senses. Our expert talks all about teas and their potential as presents- but not before making each customer have a taste of it! When travelling abroad, the ideal gift choice would be Darjeeling and Assam tea- these are of superlative quality and the purest varieties available. While the former has a mellow but strong taste, the latter is more robust.


Although ‘First Flush’ Darjeeling is as good as it gets in teas, the most popular choice to take overseas is the tantalising Earl Grey. Two main categories of teas are- With Added Flavour and Without Added Flavour; it is suggested to bear the unflavoured teas as gifts, as they are more appealing and exotic to those residing outside India. All three teas mentioned above fall under this category. If you wish to gift flavoured teas, then the best options would be- Masala tea, Cardamom tea or Mango tea– as these are indigenous flavours, rarely found elsewhere; unlike chocolate tea or mint tea, which can be found almost everywhere.


Another reason why the unflavoured teas are sought after is that they are a locally produced here and thus offer great value for money — for both foreigners and Indians purchasing and carrying teas abroad.

This advice is affirmed when the foreigners come in and they all wish to purchase Darjeeling tea, Assam tea or other ‘typical Indian’ teas.

Thus, simplicity is the way to go, keep it pure (tea) and keep your friends & family abroad happy!


You can look at over hundred varieties of teas and spices at Mittal Teas Store in Sundernagar Market. Starting from small packets worth Rs.50, the range goes up to Rs.2000 per box, which are ornately hand-crafted and suited to your travelling requirements – in paper mache, wooden boxes, fabric packing, etc.

So what’s your flavour going to be?

– Megha Uppal

Read more on Teas:

How to brew the perfect cup of Tea.


Shop at Mittal Teas Online

Calling card or local SIM? What’s the best way to stay connected when you travel abroad?

calling cards vs local sim

TS Writer Chhavi Doonga spoke to a few globetrotters. And here’s their opinion:

Subani Saxena – Journalist

Places visited recently: Macau, Bangkok and Dubai.

“I admit that international calling cards are very tempting, especially the kind of hassle free service they pretend to offer. But my experience with them has been dreadful! I bought a Matrix card for one of my trips and it never worked. After making a few calls to the customer care I realized that the card I had paid a bomb for, was not supposed to work on my phone at all and apparently I should have known this information myself.

Henceforth, what I always do is to buy a local SIM card from the local market and not from the airport. The markets offer you a lot more options to choose from and one can always end up saving some money. It’s a cheap and efficient choice.”

Debayan Chaudhary – Student

Places visited recently: Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

“I’ve had some really bad experiences with my SIM card. My trip to Singapore was successful till I came back to an unbelievable check for my phone – thanks to the unnecessary credit that roaming had got me into. But since then I have been using international calling cards which are pretty expensive but I prefer them because they have a fixed price and there are no shockers in the end.

The problem with local cards is the hassle they come with, I bought a local SIM for a 4 day trip to Dubai and it was activated on the 3rd day – which was of no use to me.”

Lalit Kapoor – Director, Hospitality Industry.

Places visited recently: Europe, Qatar, Dubai, USA and Nepal.

“Since I travel to mostly the same countries over the year, I usually buy a local SIM of that country and keep it with me for further use. In fact I always stick to a local SIM and have never felt the need to experiment with anything else.

Roaming and international cards both are extremely expensive and not worth the investment. For people who have to travel regularly, I think local cards are the best option,”

Namit Vashishtha – Engineer

Places visited recently: Egypt, Jakarta and Dubai.

“Roaming in Dubai had cost me a credit of more than 5 grand! I bought an international calling card for Macau once and didn’t think the investment was worth it. Local calling cards are usually considered cheaper options but if you are going to go to an expensive country with a huge exchange rate then even local cards aren’t very friendly.

Hence, I have started focusing on a beautiful thing called the internet. Whatever SIM card I buy, I make sure that I use it as less as possible and do all the talking in the hotel room through Wi-Fi, because my experience with everything else has been bad.”

ExpertSpeak: Deepak Narula – Director, Aman Travels Pvt Ltd.

“I’ve seen people having a very bad time with Matrix because it doesn’t’t have plans for each and every country, plus its meter runs really fast. The only good thing about roaming is that you don’t have to let go of your number and it is easily accessible. Otherwise roaming is the most expensive, but it is good if one can afford it. Otherwise, it should be the least preferred option.

Undoubtedly the best way to go is to buy a local SIM as soon as you land at the airport. It has better plans, there is no hassle and can also use internet without any problem. One would end up paying much less through a local SIM card as compared to the other options. “

How To Protect Your Passport

Millions of people report stolen passports every year! Don’t be one of them. Here’s how to keep your passport safe:

  • Buy a leather case for your passport. Looks good and keeps it damage-proof.
  • Memorise your passport’s number, issue and expiration date so that you don’t have to keep pulling it out each time you need to fill a form.
  • How safe is a hotel ‘safe’? Nobody knows. We suggest you keep your passport pouch in a thin ‘money belt’ worn under your shirt or inside your trousers.
  • Pack an extra set of passport photos. Also scan and email yourself the passport’s information page. Keeps you consulate-ready if you lose your passport.
  • If you go to a bar, restaurant or café, be careful to keep your purse, whether or not it has your passport in it, hooked over your knee.

Got a passport tip or experience to share? Email us on

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