Milan and Lake Como


Prologue:

Weeklong journey of Italy takes us back to summer of 2004; due to various reasons never posted travelogues on time though pictures from the same were published on time. Please hang on as we try to recite detailed vacation from our faithful memory.

We had a night train from Bercy Station, Paris. For us, reaching Bercy was bit far from our Metro Station (Exelmans on M9) as there was no easy interchange; while on street-road map it looks closer from our apartment. This train is not a fast train (TGV) but fast enough to take you to Venice from Paris in one night. We started around 20:30 but due to summer it was still very bright day when we left Paris. We travelled by first class; the cabin was similar to AC 1st class compartment of Indian trains in size. No doubt, the spotless and punctual services are incomparable. Only down side of this night train is missing the beauty of Alps as we cross in the night.


Journey Begins:

Parco Sempione

After checking in pre-booked hotel at business centre of Italy, Milan and having our breakfast we left for Sforza Castle, rebuilt brick fortress and Parco Sempione. There is also “Arco della Pace” resembling Arc-de-Triumph of Paris to hail Napoleon’s entry into Milan. These are in the northern part of Milan and worth visiting.

Santanu had heard a lot about Lake Como from his old colleague Antonio about his home town. Those countless description aroused a curiosity to visit Lake Como. Como and other lakes of Northern Italy are very famous as they border with southern part of Switzerland. They are the tourist destination to relax in tranquillity for rich and famous. Rich bankers, fashion designers or Hollywood movie stars all want to grab a lake side property here. In old time, these lakes also meant reliable mode of transport to higher Alps from southern end.

Lake Como

Just half an hour from noisy, bustling Milan, Lake Como is a magical combination of lush Mediterranean foliage and snowy alpine peaks. We took a classic lakeside promenade, where roads are narrow, bit congested, and lined by old villas (some of which even converted into hotels) and from here we took a ferry ride to Bellagio on the southern shore known as the pearl of the lake.

Ferry ride is very enchanting leading to other small villages along lakeside which are hop away. Bellagio has narrow cobbled streets, breathtaking views, impeccable small homes and glorious villas with winding alleys, flowering balconies and lace-curtained windows which give a feeling of most captivating spot.

Tips: Instead of walking you can take a cab or bus from the train station to the lake front if your legs feel weak.

In recent time, two big ticket movies which I saw were shooted here - “STAR WAR –II” and “Ocean Twelve.”

Although, village is not animated by tourists but still we repented to leave this place as we had already booked hotel at Milan. Train journey from Milan to Como was nice but lost in our memory to the natural beauty of the lake and that magical afternoon on ferry. On returning had dinner at one of the restaurant near Galleria Vittorio Emanuele which was scrumptious.

Tips: As summer days are long, afternoon ferry ride is a better option that way you can use the first part for exploring something else. You may enjoy the afternoon sun on the ferry for a sun-tan. But too late in the afternoon means you might not be able to get an “aller-retour” ferry ride.

Fresh Tomato Soup

carrot-soup

Till far only soup ever tried to make was carrot soup in Paris that too in bleak winter. Big thanks to my French Teacher for sharing the recipe en Fran├žais. Recently, went to local vegetable market; seeing tomato got so tempted that without thinking bought two kilos. Then I brainstormed a bit to think and idea of soup came as an escape. Here is my 2 cents recipe. If craving for something sweet and sour at the same time just have a bowl of creamy tomato soup to satisfy your desire as an appetizer.

  • One kilo Tomato – boiled, peeled and deseeded.
  • Two/three carrots – chopped to tiny pieces.
  • One big Onion finely chopped
  • Few cloves of garlic
  • One red chili
  • One Bay leaf
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • Black pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil / ½ tbsp butter
  • Juice from one fresh Orange
  • Low fat cream or thick yoghurt
  • Dried Basil / Parsley leaves - optional
  • Salt to taste

Heat the oil/ butter and fry cumin seeds, bay leaf, garlic and onion with pinch of salt. When onion turns golden, add carrots and continue frying at low flame. Once carrot is tender add tomato and fry for few minutes

Make puree in a grinder (remove bay leaf before). Add water according to thickness required. Put the blended soup back in the pan. Bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Now add freshly squeezed orange juice and cream after removing from heat. Season it with nutmeg and fresh black pepper. Garnish with a couple of parsley or basil sprigs if any and serve hot with either croutons or bread slice.

bread-talk-dessert

Best news is “Bread-Talk” boutique has recently opened at Vashi. It is a famous bakery chain from Singapore and they do cater good quality of various breads as well as desserts. But sadly, the dessert I got from there was too creamy, spongy and sugary. I will say tasteless to my taste buds as these kinds of pastries are very popular throughout India. After tasting European pastries, I find these one as - concept of western baked goods mixed with Asian ingenuity makes cool looking pastries that are hit-and-miss at certain point. While multi-cereal bread which I got was awesome.

Playing with shutter speed

kharghar fun with  exposere

Love taking pictures with long shutter speed at night - technique is very simple. All I needed was a tripod to secure camera from shaking while leaving the camera shutter open. I know this is not a great picture but that is what I got from my balcony. A better one with Kharghar landmark Utsav Chowk is posted here.

Got G(oogle)-Phone


Well downloaded G-Phone application from Google. on my Blackberry. All I needed was data access enabled phone to download G-phone. The speculation was running high about a new hardware from Google in lots of web sites. Lets see how these applications (Gmail, Google maps, Google news, Google search, Gtalk, Google calender) will work on a normal phone where the display is not as big as Blackberry and you do not have full keyboard or track wheel. Any feedback on that, have you tried already ?

Festival of lights

Decorative paper lanterns

Today as we celebrate India’s grand festival of Light signaling triumph over evil after a protracted fight which is marked by lighting of oil based traditional earthen or clay lamps as they shine brightly in each and every home - Be it lowly or mightily from the hut of the poor to the mansion of the rich when good with all its might, leads us from darkness to light. A day when old and young indulge in royal feast on this festival of snacks and sweet.

For one and all we pray gift of light -
Wherever you travel, may a star lead you
The wind be at your back and road rise to meet you
Let God holds you in hollow of his hand.

Wishing you all a very happy, prosperous and safe Diwali

Sunsets in Mumbai

sunset-train

Sunset with blue sky of late October seems “magnifique” along with open space of Navi Mumbai as viewed from local train (picture taken through window)

sunset-JJ

This one I clicked last Saturday when I was stuck in middle of JJ Flyover - the longest flyover in Mumbai (2.3 KM). It is constructed like a snake, which makes its way through labyrinth of old buildings on either side; basically you bypass the busy, crowded market underneath. Few buildings along the way are almost at a kissing distance from the flyover.

Calamity of Mid life & middle class

It is impossible not to eavesdrop when people are having a loud conversation on phone in Mumbai's life line - local train.


Unlike other days today morning, was special one which is worth describing.


A guy gets in; stands next to me and elbows me to make his room and starts chatting over mobile (so how it goes....).


“Sorry yaar (friend) had to switch off the mobile as train was coming in; you know how much rush is there nowadays.”


As if there was less rush in last 20 years in Mumbai local. Well, from his conversation I figured out on other side will be another mid-life middle class male on the call. After few lines of small chit-chat the big one comes (which inspired me to write this blog).


“Oh he (some friend)! he is still in hospital on dialysis and doctor says it will take another two weeks to recover.”


Oh God! that is alarming that friend can be just like me another middle aged middle class. And now you read and hear everyday about people as young in twenties are getting heart attack. Well, no doubt life is stressful but we Indians make it even harder with our own karma, as we poke our nose in every matter, as well in others matter; worrying about them, giving constant stream of unsolicited advice is part of our nature.


“Not sure what went wrong, Doctor says due to his high blood pressure his kidney is not functioning properly. He is having heavy loss of protein in the urine”


Indeed too sad conversation, but then he admits "what more to say, even we do n't know 2% of our body and how it works; we only go to hospital when sick”.


Not sure how to say how true it is, in India there is no conception of prevention of diseases, people get really sick spends money (according to their capacity) as most don’t even have medical insurance and then one final day all is over. And worst of all, relatives, friends and bystanders never try to take precaution on the same for themselves as all think that it will not happen to them it only happens to others.


Now the sunny side of the conversation.


“I forgot to tell you, I got a Toyota Corolla recently; a good bargain for a perfect second hand, you must come one weekend we will go for a long drive to Pune.”


It is mandatory to announce, you got a good deal to show your acumen as buyer. I love to hear this stuff as I am sure both guys will never make it in their life, as their wives will never allow that bachelor party to happen. Unlike west or even far-east where it is common to have guys having evening-out after work; it virtually doesn't exist in India yet. As Indian guys has too many balls to juggle with. If you think I am making it sound too boring, the reason is very simple as myself I haven't yet met a person like that.


Well then the conversation continued with natural stuff like kid’s education, stock market, weather and boss at work. By that time his stop was coming so he cuts the call quite abruptly. For 90% Indians, phone attic does not require a formal hello or bye, conversation starts and ends – cradles down – thats simple.


May be just like writing no concluding paragraph. Well, this is a good link on our kidney; I will encourage to read the same, may be it increase that 2% knowledge on human body; high time to take care of ourselves with less medication and having more of stressfree life.

Cabbies of Mumbai

Mumbai Taxi

Black and yellow metered taxi’s made famous by Bollywood movies play a major role of public transport in Mumbai other then auto rickshaws, trains and buses. In New York they are yellow, in London they are Black and in Mumbai they’re both yellow and black. They are part of Mumbai heritage. Normally, they move in snail space at peak hours which may depend on the area traversed and the state of the roads. Truly, at times cannot help to mention their weird way of driving.

Few facts:

  • These metered taxis ply throughout Mumbai otherwise only mode of hired transport in proper Mumbai as auto-rickshaws are not allowed. Bandra on western and Sion on central line marks the demarcation point. This is a big bliss as there is not much noise pollution, no mad driving and not much squeezing on road for space.
  • They are quaint vehicles which are quite reasonable in price to hire, even if short on leg room, seat comfort, ceiling height, and window space.
  • They also run in share mode, maximum of four person can share the ride but routes are fixed for this kind. Mostly Mumbai-ans uses them to reach office from station or vice versa.
  • All most 99% black and yellow cabs are Premier Padmini by FIAT
  • FIAT does not produce these car any more so all cars on the road are 20/30 years old.
  • They run on CNG (that is the only reason taxi fair did not got a hike in last few years).
  • Fixing the car is easy, not much electronic like new car. Each driver knows his car’s technical fine points like his palm.
  • Taxi drivers in Mumbai are still OK; not as honest like old times but better off from their counterparts in any other major cities in India.
New TAXI - Mumbai

Though there are new air conditioned taxi on the road which are yet to become mainstream. These will be air conditioned and fitted with GPS, cordless phones, electronic meters with printers. These new taxis will charge a little extra than the traditional black and yellow taxis because of the luxury frills.

Even recently one Cab Company has decided to employ ladies driver catering mainly to ladies passenger and this service will be started by this November.

Remembering Belgium

While categorizing our old travelogs I found there was no post on Belgium which values a lot for me. As I go down the memory lane......year 2003, within 2 ½ months of marriage we have to move to Paris from US which was a big change for me. Apart from the cultural shock, language was immense barrier for day today life as well to mingle up with people around. Not only that, in Indian arrange marriage, it takes time to understand each other with each one's weaknesses and failings. So, quite an adjustment in every way. Somehow, in milieu of all this I lost embedded stone from my wedding ring given from Santanu’s family. Because of which I couldn’t wear for long. And everyone use to consider me Mademoiselle even in presence of Santanu (thinking him to be mon ami) which I use to enjoy a lot.

Well, it triggered Santanu and he asked me to wear something in replacement but since I didn’t had any extra ornament with me that time I couldn’t. So, I asked him casually one day why don’t you gift me one diamond ring which he accepted easily. Very surprising to me in contrary to other married people (men) but I never took that very seriously. And it never came in our conversation. But somehow it got rooted in his sweet heart.

In our very first trip to Amsterdam he came up with this topic on diamond ring seeing diamond shops around but somehow we could not make-up our mind. And it became like “raat gayi baat gayi”.

Belgium

Then one fine morning while checking the accounts I found that some money has been withdrawn for buying rail ticket – bit surprising which I was never told. I gave call to Santanu to figure out for which he hesitated at first. On repenting said “a wife should not be told about bank account no.” and said it was surprise to you for your b’daya trip to Belgium.

And at same evening after returning from his office he said to do research on Antwerp – for diamond. My GOD I was really taken a back for a minute that he took things so seriously. Thus, we planned for one night, two day stay at Belgium.

tgv

Train ticket was too cheap; we left early morning train by Thalys - bullet train and on reaching Brussels checked-in our pre-booked hotel. And immediately after break-fast left for Antwerp which is a hour ride by train. Antwerp’s diamond district is close to the Central Station. It’s said that Antwerp is famous for trading, cutting and polishing diamonds. We strolled from store to store then finally decided to buy one.

Then we walked towards down-town which was quite animated considered as heart of city. Grote Markt is beautifully surrounded by the Town Hall and decorative guild houses dating from the 16th and 17th century. In the middle of the 'Grote Markt' stands the Brabo fountain. One of the most pleasant squares in the city as traffic has been banned in this part. Being small place nothing much to explore. So, by evening we returned to Brussels.

On reaching Brussels, we walked towards magnificent central square, Grand Palace which boasts the country's finest baroque guildhalls, popular pavement cafes and intimate restaurants. Hidden at the core of the old town, it's only revealed as you enter the narrow side alleys surrounding the square. Had dinner in near-by Indian restaurant where food was too blend to make locals happy.

Day: 2

ring

Next day, we were ready to explore Brussels. So first went to Atomium which represents molecules with 9 atoms. This huge 9 balls are interconnected with escalators.

TIP: Worth only if you want a panoramic view of Brussels.

Close to it is Mini Europe with models of main highlights of all European countries like Eiffel tower, acropolis etc which we skipped as we already had a plan to explore other European countries during our stay at Paris.

From here we went to Comic Strip Art museum which houses famous Tintin and Smurfs where we spent quite a time as Santanu being one of the admirer of Tintin. Then we went towards Galeries St Hubert lined with cafes, theatres and luxury stores. It has gorgeous glass roofed arcade worth to see if only this is the first place of trip in Europe. Then we walked towards little boy peeing “Manneken Pis" - one of the Brussels landmark with different stories behind it. It seems it has around 800 costumes displayed at Brussels museum. Town hall (hotel de ville) was our next spot with needle-like crooked spire close to Grand place which is very vibrant.

belgian_chocolate

TIP: If you intend to do any other shopping remember Brussels is known for lace boutiques and chocolates.

For us enough of shopping…now time to pack up. I wish there was some way to show my gratitude to my beloved hubby for this trip and expensive gift on PERFECT event which I cherish even after 4 years.

Festivity begins

Idols of Lord Ganesh

Monsoon is about to end. So begins the celebrations and festivals across India. Any Indian festival is incomplete without the typical Indian festivities, the gatherings, celebrations, exchange of sweets and gifts, lots of noise, singing and dancing. Festivals are the celebration of not only togetherness but also being part of the family.

In India, monsoon follows FIFO (first in first out) model so the festivals. As the fields look brilliant with a bountiful harvest; the beautiful landscape of greenery can be seen in its full radiance at this time. Starting with Onam - the harvest festival of Kerala (the southern most state) where monsoon was first to arrive. Almost in same time, in other parts of India month of Shravan is considered to be the holiest month of the year which begins with festival of Naga-Panchami. When each Monday of this month, known as Shravana Somvar, is devoted to the worship of Shiva as this day is sacred to Lord Shiva and is specially observed with austerity. Thus, it marks the begin of festivals one after another.

Basically, festival for Indians means its time to get new clothes, to get their house painted or everything else they asked for or thought of. Time for family get-together where numerous uncles, aunts and grandmas grace their wishes with delight. It is also a time for homecoming for people staying away from the families. Their arrival multiples the joy of the festival several folds. Observing and following the festivals from childhood gets so much in blood that every Indian tries his best to observe the festival in customary way even if they are settled abroad. Thus, passing it from generation to generation.

People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate their festival with equal joy and verve. Peculiarity of this land is where unity had always coexisted with diversity, especially during festivals when people come together to celebrate life’s unlimited joys.

Despite rejoicing and gaiety, thanks to the string of festivals we celebrate in name of numerous Gods and Goddesses other then those anniversaries (birthday-deathday) of great men of India. Thus, providing us with numerous holidays if not “bundh” without longing much for weekends as yet in India the concept of 5 working days is not there in majority of work-place.

Sweet potato dessert

Sweet potato dessert (Ranga Alur Puli) is an age old Bengali dessert - a sweet lover's delight for sure. Its crispy outer layer mesmerizes gastronomic senses. As for its availability, it is more of a traditional sweet, prepared in households. These days some sweet shops are starting to include this in their repertoire to cater to the time-constrained generation.

Sweet Potato

My hubby being born with a sweet tooth, do enjoy sweet of any kind. So, this recipe is actually initiated and arranged by my mom-in-law for him while I prepared it under her guidance on our short stay at Siliguri this year.

 

Ingredients:
    For Puli Dough:
  • Sweet potatoes: 500 gms
  • Flour: 1 ½ tablespoons if preparing stuffed one (otherwise 100gm for plain one)
    For Stuffing: (optional)
  • Milk: ½ litre
  • Sugar: 1 tablespoon
  • Coconut: ½ (grated)
  • Cardamom (green): 2-3
  • Raisins
    For Syrup:
  • Sugar: 1 cup
  • Water: 1 cup
  • Oil for frying
Method:The Puli Dough:

Wash and boil the s.potatoes until soft. Peel and mash. Add the flour and knead into dough. Keep aside.

The Stuffing: (optional)

Bring the milk to a boil by adding a tablespoon of sugar in it. When the milk starts to thicken, add the coconut and the raisins and condense it to a thick, sticky consistency. Remove from heat and add crushed cardamoms. Let it cool.

The Syrup:

Add a cup of sugar to a cup of water and bring this to a boil. The syrup should be of medium consistency. Let it cool.

pulis are ready
Making the pulis:

Take a small portion of the dough in your hands and shape them accordingly unless it is stuffed. If preparing stuffed pulis then flatten the dough and make a cavity in the centre and fill it with a little of the above stuffing. Seal the edges of the dough and give it the shape of a puli. Heat oil in a wok and deep fry the pulis in batches. Remove from oil as pulis start browning or golden. And dip the pulis into the syrup carefully, one by one. Serve hot or cold.

Frying the pulis

Frying Pullis: We prepared plain puli without stuffing but stuffed one are really mouth-watering and delicious….no doubt! Actually, Ranga alur puli (fried sweet potato dessert) along with other pulis like Muger puli (made of moong dal or yellow moong lentil), Chirer Puli (made of poha -beaten rice), chana dal puli, Chaler puli (made of rice) use the harvest produce—rice, coconut, date palm juice and jaggery etc speciality items of Shankranti.

Finally all ready

36th week as passed by

Ballard Pier at south Bombay

Looking at Ballard Pier at south Bombay from my office window. Bombay port is one of the busiest port in India if not the most. I am sure looking at the picture you can figure out it is a old picture as the weather is still gloomy with dark clouds :D here. It is one of the very first pictures from our Canon G7 camera. I really like the way light and shadow on the tree brunch, it is quite well center balanced shoot to me.

Naah….this is a not a post on my office window nor on camera just wanted to find an short escape from gruelling work for few minutes and update you all. Best part is Pamela has work hard to gain aesthetic (appearances), ergonomics (actual human usage) and accessibility in our blog. She tried to categorize each post; big kudos to her - look out on the sidebar.

I would be going to Bangalore next week for three days on official trip; it is almost certain that we have to move to Bangalore but that should happen next year. Anyways, in meantime I will try to meet relatives and friends at b’glore but that depends on their calender as well. Till next…bonne weekend!!!

O Krishna!!!

Lord krishna

Celebrating the birth anniversary of blue boy with peacock feather in his wreath,
flute in one hand and making efforts to steal pots of butter, butter-milk or dahi (curd); well known for his mischievous acts and playing pranks on gopis (cow herding girls).

Based on his stealing efforts there is a very popular ceremony called dahi-handi celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and glee on this day or on the second day of Janmashtami. It is an enactment of Lord Krishna’s efforts to steal butter from Matka (earthen pot) suspended from the ceiling. It is not the rituals, customs and traditions that change over the time but the celebration styles and perspectives that become contemporary. Now a days this ceremony has taken its shape in form of money making competition participated by various groups “govinda” or “gopalas” of localities. Group which succeds in breaking pot gets hefty rewards.

Dahi Handi is celebrated with fervor, especially in the twin cities of Mathura - Vrindavan, Dwarka and Mumbai. In Mumbai with yelling of ‘Ala re ala, Govinda ala‘ this ceremony cum competition starts. Now, state-government is thinking on projecting this festival in-order to attract tourists. Basically, an earthen pot containing a mixture of milk, dry fruits, ghee is hung around 20-30 feet high in the air with the help of a rope. Enthusiastic young men (now women group), form a human pyramid by standing one on top of the other and tries to break the pot. Onlookers throw waters on the young men in order to prevent them from breaking the pot. Devotees believe that the broken pieces of earthen pot will keep away negative powers from their homes. Thus, rejoicing in lords glory…. Bol Hari !!!