In the end is the beginning

I have always thought that it makes a whole lot of sense. What our good man Eliot wrote. Even though another year is coming to an end, there is always a fresh year to look forward to. Wonder what it holds in store for my husband and me. We have new things creeping around the corner. Moving countries, setting up a new home, a new start. Daunting. Yet we gotta make the best of the hand we are dealt in life, isn’t it?

There is a bagful of nostalgia and wistfulness to go with it. The year for my husband and me has been about travel and the accoutrement that comes with it. You know, good food, fumbling jaunts in the many fairytale nooks and crannies of Europe, rambles in our beloved English countryside, attempts at decoding foreign tongues, sharing kindred moments with strangers we might never have known had we not been in a particular place at a particular time. What a delightful prospect 2016 was… I could not help but capture the year roughly as it has been for us, in photographs.

Ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, Tarragona. In the Catalonia region of Spain.
Bergamo, Italy
Belem Tower at night.jpg
Torre de Belém, Lisbon. Portugal.
Park Güell, Barcelona. Spain.
Castleton, Derbyshire. England.
Girona in Spain
Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire. Wales.
The Pantheon, Rome. Italy.
Anacapri, Italy.
Lake Maggiore, Stresa. Italy.
Malaga, Spain.
Amalfi Coast.jpg
The Amalfi Coast, Italy
Candy colours, Burano. Italy.
Norwegian waterfalls.jpg
Lushness of Norwegian towns marked out by stunning waterfalls
Yachting in Cornwall.jpg
Yachting holiday in Plymouth, Cornwall. UK.
Hofburg Palace, Vienna. Austria.
Cimitero Monumentale, Milan. Italy.
Norwegian fjords.jpg
Fjords of Norway
Jordaan quarter in Amsterdam
Amalfi, Italy.
Ravello, Italy.
Alhambra from El Sacromonte.jpg
Silhouette of the Alhambra in Granada. Spain.
Bergen 3.jpg
Bergen, Norway.
Durga Puja  1.jpg
Durga Puja pandal, Kolkata. India.
durga puja.jpg
Durga Puja that has been celebrated by my family for over 250 years now. Kolkata, India.
Duomo, Florence. Italy.
Barafundle Bay, South West Wales.
Verona 1.jpg
Verona, Italy.
Lake Como.jpg
Lake Como, Italy.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Zaragoza. Spain.
The Hungarian Parliament, Budapest.
Hemingway landmarks, Madrid. Spain.
Sunset upon the Venetian waterfront. Italy.
Heat haze and the El Tajo, Ronda. Spain.

If you have reached the end of this post, have wonderful celebrations for the end of the year. For us, new year’s eve is always a bit of a dampener because the expectations always exceed the actual celebrations. But this year we decided to have a go at it and make a change. We are in Prague and having a gorgeous time. So here’s to changes and new years and new resolutions and new beginnings. Na zdraví!



Bring Out Those Candy Canes and Hop, Hop, Hop

It’s Christmas! Our table at home is all ready to be laden with the goodies. There is mulled wine and chicken roast, roast potatoes and sticky wings, lots of Prosecco and a cheeseboard, the stars of which shall be aged Dutch sheep’s cheese and a garlic and herb Gouda. The quintessential Christmas fruit cake is always the nucleus of our Christmas celebrations – because the goodness of a rum-soaked cake cannot be overlooked – and some pecan-nutella Christmas tree puff pastry and salted-caramel gingerbread men. What is your table going to look like?

Since there is lots to be done, I shall go about it and leave you in the Christmas mood with the Cocteau Twins and these Christmas market shots from Budapest.Merry Christmas folks!

Frosty the Snowman – The Cocteau Twins

That is our tiny glass blown Christmas tree from Murano. It sits on the window ledge and gives us wide, sparkly smiles.
From the Christmas market in Deák Ferenc Square, Budapest. “Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.” Edna Ferber
Hot blueberry teas and green apple teas and mulled wines in plum, strawberry, sour cherry and blueberry flavours. Those hot drinks are key to surviving freezing Hungarian winters.
“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” Dr. Seuss
“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” Charles M. Schultz
Christmas the Gellert Spa and Bath way.
Sausages and hot wine. Aaaaah 🙂
And some Sekler cake. Kürtőskalács if you can speak Hungarian. Crisp, caramelised coated yeasty dough wrapped around a wooden tool.
The Christmas spirit steams off those hot vats.
From the Jewish Quarter in Budapest. Because wouldn’t it be lovely to have such a twinkling cab turn around the corners in beautiful old cities?

Have a wonderful Christmas all you lovely people and let the mulled wine flow. As someone once said, “He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”



Postcard from Budapest

The cold! Oh it’s got to me. The freezing air as soon as it hit my face numbed it. All I could think of was coffee or shots of Pálinka. We had frequent breaks in the kávéház  of Budapest because it was a necessity. We stepped in to Café Gerbeaud in Pest one morning. A Dobos Torte, a Sissi Kave and cappuccino did its job.

The Dobos Torte is a Hungarian delicacy made up of layers of chocolate and buttercream sponge, finished with a glazed caramel top. The torte was not the best order in the café I suppose. I was comparing it to the kind of gorgeousness I had experienced in Demel in Vienna. I see that knowing smile if you have been within the portals of the wonderful Viennese cafe. Yet the Sissi kave was perfect, doused in Grand Marnier liqueur. The orange liqueur married beautifully with hints of cinnamon, cardamom and clove in the coffee that did justice to the beauty of the Austrian empress, Sissi, after which it’s named.

But a warning,  the café is expensive. We paid 20 Euros but once in a while you know you have got to do what you got to do, right? Plus we were paying for the atmosphere of the place. It is old world, alright. The extensive wood panelling, ornate chandeliers derived from the architectural styles typically associated with Austria, wallpapered rooms, the Rococo stuccoed ceilings inspired by Louis XIV of France and tables that were sourced from the world fair in Paris. The style of the café is Gründerzeit, an architectural style that belonged to a 19th-century economic phase in Germany and Austria that preceded a great stock market crash.

The guy who started Gerbeaud in 1858 was Henrik Kugler who had confectionery in his blood you could say.  He travelled through 11 European cities that included Paris where he met Emil Gerbeaud, a Swiss confectioner who was born in Budapest. Kugler invited Gerbeaud to Budapest to make him his associate and Gerbeaud took over the store.

There you go, a peek into a Budapest coffeehouse.

Dobos Torte
Sissi kave




Of Gondolas, Gelatos and Cicchetti

Where else would you have the three things mentioned above? But in Venice. That wonderful city on the waters, where water permeates every aspect of life. We met a man from Germany during our lost-in-the-city moments. The German from Frankfurt went out of his way to walk us to our destination, and mentioned that he had been to Venice 20 times. Now that is the kind of charm Venice exudes.

Serenading Gondoliers 

First, let me take you to a squero. The word is Venetian for a boatyard, where the traditional boats of the city are hand made. Seven of them are still functioning in the city. We made our way to Squero di San Trovaso where they make gondolas and you can take a look from across the river flowing through the quarter. It is in the Dorsoduro sestiere. You cannot enter unless you have a group of 30 and make a booking ahead of time or you’re part of a walking tour which is eye-poppingly expensive (above 500$). Rest assured, just watching from across the river is a good enough prospect. This photograph was taken on a Sunday when the squero remains shut.

The boatyard, adjacent to the Church of San Trovaso, dates back to the 17th century. Those Tyrolean-style buildings (Tyrolean architecture is typically characterised by houses made of wood with balconies and sloping roofs. You would think they belonged in an alpine locale but these were made by workers from the Dolomites.
Church of San Trovaso in Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.
From 10,000 gondoliers, the numbers have dwindled to 350.
The traditional, flat-bottomed boat, the gondola that is, required by something called a sumptuary law to be painted black. Because they were growing too gaudy in the old times. “The gondola is painted black because in the zenith of Venetian magnificence the gondolas became too gorgeous altogether, and the Senate decreed that all such display must cease, and a solemn, unembellished black be substituted. If the truth were known, it would doubtless appear that rich plebeians grew too prominent in their affectation of patrician show on the Grand Canal, and required a wholesome snubbing,” Mark Twain had observed in his travel book, Innocents Abroad.
‘I am afraid I study the gondolier’s marvelous skill more than I do the sculptured palaces we glide among. He cuts a corner so closely, now and then, or misses another gondola by such an imperceptible hair-breadth that I feel myself “scrooching,” as the children say, just as one does when a buggy wheel grazes his elbow. But he makes all his calculations with the nicest precision, and goes darting in and out among a Broadway confusion of busy craft with the easy confidence of the educated hackman. He never makes a mistake,’ noted Twain.
Gondoliers and the traveller.
Those two chatty men actually jumped from one side of the bridge to the other to chat with their fellow gondolier who was rowing through the canal, a couple seated behind him. There was plenty of rapid, animated Italian words flying to and fro.
Rows of gondolas bob on the waterfront of San Marco.
Atmospheric gates in the Castello sestiere.
A typical scene from the Castello sestiere.
Victor Emmanuel II statue on the waterfront
A pair of gondoliers have a quick interchange of words before parting ways.
“The gondolier is a picturesque rascal for all he wears no satin harness, no plumed bonnet, no silken tights. His attitude is stately; he is lithe and supple; all his movements are full of grace. When his long canoe, and his fine figure, towering from its high perch on the stern, are cut against the evening sky, they make a picture that is very novel and striking to a foreign eye,” said Mark Twain.
There are so many other modes of transport on the waters. Like this boat.


Othello the moor?
The most popular mode of transport in the city in all its avataars.
The delivery barge is a common sight on the canals. The Italian postal service, for example, has its own. We saw a boat ambulance too.
“In Venice, things not always as they first appear. I contemplate this observation from my post on the aft deck of one of Master Fumagalli’s gondolas, taking in the panorama of bridges, domes, bell towers, and quaysides of my native city. I row into the neck of the Grand Canal, and, one by one, the reflection of each colorful façade appears, only to dissipate into wavering, shimmering shards under my oar.” Laura Morelli
The quietest of alleys reward you with a peek into quaint trattorias.
Modes of transport. Other than a gondola that is.
The gondolier and the golden horses

“The experts are right, he thought. Venice is sinking. The whole city is slowly dying. One day the tourists will travel here by boat to peer down into the waters, and they will see pillars and columns and marble far, far beneath them, slime and mud uncovering for brief moments a lost underworld of stone,” wrote Daphne du Maurier in Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories.

I really hope it remains a macabre part of the imagination.

P.S.: Why not take a traghetto for 2 Euros than splurge 80-100 Euros on a gondola? In this off-peak season, gondoliers would deign to lower their price by 20 bucks bringing it down to 60 Euros. Have a think.

Noshing Away

The best meal I have had in Venice lay in two trattorias. Trattoria Ai Cugnai in the Dorsoduro sestiere is one of them. It is run by three Italian women who are sisters-in-law. The food is downright unputdownable. One of my favourite spaghetti dishes, which is basically just pasta cooked with olive oil and pesto, had been given a twist in this trattoria. It came with a dash of saffron. I had never thought of saffron marrying well with pesto.


The trattoria is in this alley off Ponte dell’accademia
Pesto-flavoured spaghetti with saffron.
Grilled vegetables are my go-to dish along with a helping of spaghetti. This plate here came with smoky charred rounds of aubergines, diced aubergines and spinach along with slices of peppers.
That is how easy it is to wipe a plate clean in a trattoria.
In San Marco sestiere
A coffee break in an old cafe is not without its dangers. First, you dig into sinful pastries and then you pay the earth for them. This cafe charged us a hefty 15 Euros for a cup of tea and cappuccino, with a piece of chocolate pastry.
Chocolate yule log, permeated by the intense flavour of rum and dried fruits.
A cuppa a day keeps the tiredness at bay. Then you have the bill to wake you up.
Mouthwatering olive oil, garlic and pepper pasta with piccante thrown in.
“Venice appeared to me as in a recurring dream, a place once visited and now fixed in memory like images on a photographer’s plates so that my return was akin to turning the leaves of a portfolio: a scene of the gondolas moored by the railway station; the Grand Canal in twilight; the Rialto bridge; the Piazza San Marco; the shimmering, rippling wonderland;” Gary Inbinder
Bangladeshis abound in the city, mostly trying to put roses into your arms, or, selling vegetables and fruits. The man here is selling  chestnuts.
Red hot piccante
At a quiet trattoria in Ferrovia
Spicy salami pizza on a freezing noon cut it just right.
Our days were filled with pizza & Prosecco. What is winter for but tucking in.

Masks, Meringues and Gelatos

A highly rated gelateria in Ferrovia 
It is loony but you have got to stand on a bridge with a view like this before you to truly savour your gelato. However freezing it is (as it was that day) and however many incredulous looks you might get.
Those Murano glass balloons had me.
There is something tantalising about roaming the night streets of a beautiful city like Venice when it is so cold that your nose has a life of its own.
The city of masks has enough masks to keep you gaping every time you pass a display window. The tradition of carnivals and hand making masks goes back a 1000 years in time in Venice. Each of those masks are worn for a particular occasion or purpose.
Gelatos off a gelateria near Rialto Bridge. During the walk back across the bridge, we came across the oddest and most heartwarming sight. A fat labrador hugging his drunk master who seated on the stairs of the bridge. Was he cold or just affectionate?
Pretty shop windows
Creamy gelatos in the Cannaregio sestiere
Hmmm coffee and lemon, an odd combination, but delicious. The sweet tangy taste of lemon complemented bitter coffee.
Meringues and all things sweet
Not underestimating the power of sugar.





Bacari, Cicchetti and Frulala

You want to liven up an evening while in Venice? Head to the local bàcaro (bar). Grab a glass of campari or wine and a few snacks. Cicchetti is Venice’s answer to the Spanish tapas and the Milanese aperitivo. It is a pleasurable affair.

Apparently, King Henry III of France in his day had been presented with 1200 dishes and 200 bonbons in Venice. He might have taken to the cicchetti. Less pressure on the stomach acids and more glee at the thought of trying out a medley of dishes.

And, just when we thought that the night could not get better, we got out of the local bars and made turns in various street corners to spot Frulalas. These are fuchsia/red-lit cocktail bars set up in kiosks and pepped up with cheery music and jiving girls who offer you free shots of fruity cocktails. The night turns headier.

A bàcaro


Canopy of lights at Piazza San Marco
A night walk at Piazza San Marco by moonlight is nothing less than magic and romance intertwined.
Venice by night. Piazza San Marco.
Downing shots at a Frulala.
Good grub is easy to come by in the city.
Basilica San Marco on a moonlit night. It is a good idea to return to the piazza when it becomes empty post sunset. It makes you agree with Shelley: “Venice, it’s temples and palaces did seem like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven”.
After a few tipples that is how my husband glows.
Glittering theatres
Crowds outside the local bàcaro on Rio Terà de la Maddalena. It gets pretty crowded on weekend evenings inside Cantina Vecia Carbonera.
Plenty of nibbles (you buy them individually), red wines and Prosecco for just 3 Euros each at Cantina Vecia Carbonera.
Inside the Cantina with its traditional wooden beamed ceilings and community tables.
Life should be quite about something bubbly and light and a loving husband.
Funghi/truffle pate on bread and shrimp skewer, washed down with Prosecco.
Another Frulala
“I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. What news on the Rialto?” Shylock. The Merchant of Venice.
“But at night, especially when the moon is full and the soft illumination reflects off the water and onto the palaces – I don’t know how to describe it so I won’t, but if you died and in your will you asked for your ashes to be spread gently on the Grand Canal at midnight with a full moon, everyone would know this about you – you loved and understood beauty.” William Goldman




A Spell Called Venice

A thick fog lay over Venice. We were bemused. Was our time in the city of the ancient Veneti people going to be all about climactic doom n’ gloom? But may I confess this that I was a bit thrilled. I am enchanted by fog. I find my imagination stoked by the very suggestion of mysteriousness and romance that it exudes. As the London lover and English biographer Peter Ackryod captures the phenomenon, “Once more it is a primeval landscape, the landscape of origin, one which arouses a native inspiration.”

Also, if you love the Gothic, dark romance of Anne Radcliffe novels, you would get my fascination with fog. Venice, to my romance-ridden faculties, was a magician bent on pulling off all kinds of tricks under the veil of the white haze. Churches made of marble and limestone arose out of it, alleys petered off into the blank wall of fog, ornate bridges showed up round the bends of alleys and unfazed gondoliers plowed into the gathering gloom. Masks flamboyantly broke through the whiteness and added an instant touch of glamour and a heritage that goes back over a thousand years in time.

We walked all around the city, through its network of alleys, getting to know it by losing our way. There is no better way into the heart of Venice. Though you cannot presume to know a city inside out within a few days, at least you can make an attempt to peel its layers.

Foggy Starts Ain’t Filled With Gloom

Scene from a Venetian train journey. The husband fixes the fog with a gimlet eye.
The marshy, reclaimed land that is Venice. Where land is incidental to water. Fog hangs heavy upon the scene.
Santa Maria della Salute, dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is considered to be the protector of the Republic of Venice. The dreaminess of the day took off from the moment we got out of the Santa Lucia train station and saw the turquoise dome of Santa Maria della Salute rear its head up through the blanket of white haze. The English name for the church is Saint Mary of Health, a reminder of the devastating 1630 outbreak of plague in the city. For deliverance, the Republic of Venice had this baroque church erected in the 17th century.
Palladian classicism of Santa Maria della Salute. Beyond which you can see mostly nothing except for a street lamp and a few wooden poles sticking out of the canal.
The church is home to canvases by the Italian masters, Tintoretto and Titian.
Fog may come and fog may go but the gondola goes on forever.
Life goes on, on the canals of Venice. E’en though you could cut through the fog with a knife and the cold itself could and did cut through your bones.
Red boats and fog are good chums. They balance each other out, eh?
Giardini Papadopoli in the Santa Croce sestiere – where the fog and a gravel path swirled around cypress and cedar trees,  elms and oleander, mulberries and laurel. The garden got its name from the Corfu-born owners of the land upon which it was built.
The kind of scene that reminds me of the gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe.

The Serene Republic

We were in Venice at a time when tourists hardly besiege the city as they are wont to do in summer. Winter was a reprieve from the hordes for us as well as I believe it would be for the locals. That intimate look at the city, without having to negotiate crowds in its narrow alleys and upon its small bridges, possibly made us fall in love with Venice thoroughly.Venice got into our skin.

The former capital of an important maritime and financial powerhouse called the Republic of Venice or La Serenissima (The Serene Republic) holds on to traces of its trading heritage and immense wealth. Spices are sold everywhere, grand palazzos catch the eye, tall, brooding campaniles tower over the city and old mansions straddle the canals in all their fading beauty like aged dames who might have wrinkles on their faces, for who can escape the ravages of time, but still manage to give you a sense of their timeless grace.

Now, Venice is ripe for flooding during winters. I was a bit alarmed (yes, I am a complete water wuss) but I have to say I did not have to wade around in knee-deep water or worry that I have to revive my forgotten skill of swimming in freezing climes. You see, Venice is a collection of over a hundred islands in the Venetian lagoon.

The story goes that in the 5th century, a Celtic group of people who were known as the Veneti, fled from the mainland to Venice when they were attacked by the Huns. In time, Venice was protected and controlled by the Byzantine Empire which was essentially the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. When the empire had its day in Venice, in came a long line of doges. The doge was the head of state and ruled the Republic from the 8th century to the 18th. The best and obvious of their legacies is Palazzo Ducale or the Doge’s Palace with its massive rectangle of Gothic architecture, 14th century sculptures adorning its corners and stone-lace like loggia adding to its resplendence.

Palazzo Ducale
The erstwhile Palazzo Dandolo, home to the noble Dandolo family, is now a luxury hotel called Danieli in the Castello sestiere.
Grand buildings stand proud, shoulder-to-shoulder along the canal.
I loved looking at the balustrades on the balconies, the shutters painted in various shades and the lace-like wrought iron windows.
Looks like it might have belonged to an important family of Venice.
“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.” Italo Calvino
“I cannot write about Venice; I can only write about me, and the sleeping parts of myself that Venice has shocked into wakefulness.” Jessica Zafra
“There is no better backdrop for rapture to fade into; whether right or wrong, no egoist can star for long in this porcelain setting by crystal water, for it steals the show.” Joseph Brodsky

Stolen Saints and Lions with Wings

A famous theft took place in the year 828 in Alexandria. Venetian merchants nicked a whole corpse there.

Did you roll your eyes in disbelief? Give them some leeway. They were a product of their times when stealing bones of saints was the thing to do.

These merchants are said to have dug up the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist and put them into a barrel containing pickled pig which ensured that the Muslim inspectors would not touch it. Those clever ‘uns then built an elaborate church to put up St. Mark or what remained of him. That is the story behind the symbol of the city which is the winged lion and that of Basilica San Marco where the remains of the saint are supposed to be.

These Venetian merchants were trendsetters. After that there was no barring other Italian states from nicking saints. Bari and Amalfi followed suit.

The book-wielding winged creature might be my favourite kinda lion. He is actually holding the gospel of St Mark.
If you look carefully, bathed golden in the rays of the setting sun, are two lions flanking the Christmas tree. Piazza San Marco.
There he stands tall and proud above Piazza of San Marco.
A live official state lion once was kept in a cage on Piazza San Marco, till he died in that cage.
The winged lion atop one of the columns on Piazza San Marco. On his right, the column is topped by the Greek warrior saint, St. Theodore, who was patron saint of the city before he was supplanted in its books by St. Mark.

Sestieri Decoded

One of the words which will pop up frequently when you start to fumble your way around Venice is ‘sestiere’. It is the Italian equivalent for what we know as a district. Towns which are divided into six districts have ‘sestieri’, plural for ‘sestiere’. The sestieri of Venice are Castello, Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo and Santa Croce. Let me show you a slice of each below.

Up and Down, Up and Down We Go O’er the Bridges of Venice

Four hundred-odd bridges span the length and breadth of Venice. They are unusual, not only because they come in all shapes and sizes but because they have such innovative names. Most are unnamed because well there are just so many of them. But there are stories behind them that set off the imagination. The Ponte delle Tette is a small bridge in Venice which translated means Bridge of the Tits. In the 15th and 16th centuries, prostitutes are said to have stood topless upon the bridge, all as part of a clever ploy of the Republic to stem homosexuality. Then you have a bridge dedicated to fisticuffs. Ponte dei Pugni which celebrates a popular Venetian tradition of fist fights atop small bridges.

That footbridge is the Bridge of Sighs. It links up the Doge’s Palace with the Prigioni or the prisons. The Italians call the bridge Ponte de Sospiri. The Romantics associated it with the prisoners of the Venetian Republic who sighed as they had a final view of the city before they were incarcerated or executed. It was Byron who had observed: “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand.” Beneath the bridge, gondoliers often position their gondolas strategically so that their passengers may kiss and fulfil the legend that they shall have eternal love.
Ponte degli Scalzi. The Bridge of the Barefoot Monks is one of the four bridges in Venice that runs athwart the Grand Canal. It links up the sestieri of Santa Croce and Cannaregio.
In this bridge-some scene, you shall spot Ponte della Costituzione on the right hand side of the photograph. It is also called Ponte di Calatrava after its architect. I found it modern and jarring and quite slippery. Parts of its walkway is made of glass which tends to be slippery during wet weather.
I wondered if fights took place on this bridge here. Those fights might have been known as fist fights but they were fought with whatever weapon was handy.
They fought with either a long slender blade called stiletto or pistolese which happened to be a hefty dagger.
The fights even took place using sharp sticks/canes referred to as canne d’India or spiked boat poles (now isn’t that handy for a city of gondolas) called spontoni.
Dorsoduro bridges
Seen in Dorsoduro sestiere



When I seek another word for ‘music’, I never find any other word than ‘Venice’ – Nietzsche
“It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.” Erica Jong
The husband on one of the small bridges of Venice. How he would have dealt with a fist fight I wonder 😉
The bridge linking Hotel Danieli with an adjoining palace. People who put up at the luxury hotel get their personal boats to take them on the canals all the days of their stay.
A quick click in front of the iconic Rialto Bridge spanning the Grand Canal.
The 16th cenutry Ponte de Rialto or Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal. It is the dividing point of the sestieri of San Marco and San Polo. Robert Browning mentioned the bridge in his poem, A Toccata of Galuppi’s: “Ay, because the sea’s the street there; and ’tis arched by . . . what you call/ . . . Shylock’s bridge with houses on it”. He refers to Rialto Bridge as Shylock’s bridge. Before you start wondering what the strange title means, a toccata is a musical composition and Baldassare Galuppi was an 18th-century  Venetian composer. Browning was trained in music and through this poem makes his English narrator wonder about 18th century Venice from the bosom of his own land.

Tall, Tall, Tall Campaniles and Churches

They have a church pass in Venice for a reason. Every corner we turned there was a campanile or a spire at the end of the alley. There are more than a hundred churches on Venice and I never got tired of the effect that the grandiose design of each had on us. The grandest of them all was the Basilica San Marco. We attended the 6.45 pm Sunday evening mass at the basilica because that is when it is lit up inside and the mosaic designs come to life with alacrity. The bummer is that they do not allow photographs inside – a blooming shame because the finger itches when you see the sparkling mosaics, some of which are wrought in 24-karat gold. It was a long service in the course of which I noticed two people snoozing. One was next to me – my husband. The other person was a big, old Italian man in a green felt hat and a green greatcoat who nodded off frequently in everyone’s plain sight.

“I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the … shape of a crown,” observed the architect, Baldassare Longhena.
The protector of La Serenissima.
Campaniles of Venice
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta, or I Gesuiti, in the sestiere of Cannaregio near Fondamenta Nuove.
Basilica San Marco. It makes your jaws drop. And makes you ignore the annoying flower sellers who try and tuck a rose into your arms.
St. Mark arrives in Venice.
Bronze winged lions and angels at the campanile and the basilica in the backdrop.
A 15-century former monastic church, Chiesa di San Zaccaria on Campo San Zaccaria off the waterfront. To the convent adjoining the church, girls used to be carted off in the 15th century if they showed a penchant for sailors. So this was a wealthy church marked by canvases by the Italian masters of art such as Titian, Bellini and Tintoretto.



The beautifully carved entrance to Campanile di San Marco.
Bell tower of the Chiesa di San Vidal which was built as a church in 1084 but today is a concert hall in the sestiere of San Marco.
Torre dell’Orologio. An early Renaissance clock tower on Piazza San Marco.
Chiesa dei Carmini in Dorsoduro sestiere
Santa Maria della Salute from the sestiere of San Marco

I shall take my leave here because I do really suspect you might have dozed off.

There’s a follow-up post about more things Venetian. You know, of gondolas, gelatos and cicchetti. Because the city that enchants at every turn and corner cannot be left alone just yet, can it?



Postcard from Venice

This is the day we got married and we are spending the day recollecting the crazy happiness of the day while roaming the foggy, shivery streets of Venice. In the photo, behind us stood a gondolier on his beautiful, black shining gondola.

Now five years ago we were preparing ourselves up for our big Indian marriage. Tons of our loved ones around us, we did the wedding march around the fire seven times with my family’s grinning priest who has seen me grow up. He peppered up the wedding rites with cute wisecracks and made it informal and really very happy.

Us from the wedding night

From immature years of dating to getting married, we have grown so much in these five years that it is a pleasure to look back and count our blessings. Especially when you have a partner who becomes your family. Your everything really. Can it get better than when you do it in a romantic and charming city?

We are in its spell. Once night creeps in, the magic doubles itself. What are your thoughts about the city?

Brixton Village

The taco man is a forerunner of the alternative scene in Brixton.

In South London is this gem of a food market that gets you the moment you walk in through its portals. Now Brixton Village Market ain’t your corner if you are looking for posh dining and drinks. It has a homey vibe. It is the kind of place where you where you relax with friends, browse in boutiques, eat, walk, browse some more and nosh to your heart’s content from a potpourri of cuisines. It ticks off the essential ingredients that make a food market piquant. Cornucopia of colours, kiosks and eateries enticing you with edible goodies and just enough street fashion to keep the style diva in you hooked.

It is a sensory experience in every sense of the term.

On the first sunny Saturday of December, we went into this neighbourhood in the southern borough of Lambeth with a friend. It is after all the happy month when everyone seems to be in the mood for some Christmas lovin’. Warm coats, boots and snoods, steaming cups of hot chocolate, spiced up coffees, red noses and carefree laughs – life is rosy in December. Nothing sits better in this frame of mind than a saunter through a food market. All you have to do is worry about which stall got a miss – then make a mental note that you’ve got to get back to it the very next weekend.

Brixton is a story of revival and survival. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was rife with racial tensions and economic problems and hardly anyone would think of venturing into the area for the day, like we were doing now. But it has been turned around and the proof of it is in the popularity of the market with foodies on a budget day out.

As you get out of Brixton Tube, you turn right and walk straight till you hit the railway bridge. Take a right into Brixton Road Market and another right into Pope’s Rode Market. Or, like us, you do it the short way. Just turn right into Atlantic Street once you get out of the tube.

You will find this small arcade entrance.


Bright eyes, bright gills, firm flesh. Check. The fishermongers of Brixton.
The arcade was rundown till it was transformed to make way for modern boutiques and shops alongside old timers such as wig sellers, grocers and the like.
Spotted. Miles nerds in Brixton.
Brixton is home to the Caribbean community 


The owner of this store, a bit of who you can see in this frame, is Aradhana. She took the name given her by her yoga teacher because she liked the sound of it on her tongue.
Aradhana makes chocolates that hit the spot. They are not too sweet and she uses quality cacao. The 85% cocoa bar at her store was a jolly good nibble.
Waiting for jerk chicken 
A nice place for jerk chicken and conversation. The sauces are riddled with the fierceness of scotch bonnet pepper. From the shop next door, we had a portion of fried plantains, the sweetness of which went exceedingly well with the hot sauces.
Jerk chicken and rice at Fish, Wings & Tings
Sweet plaintains
Prawns ready to be devoured with fiery hot sauce




Because Blake lived in Lambeth for a few years of his creative life.


Sake at Okan
Fried aubergines in miso at Okan
Yaki Onigiri. Japanese grilled rice balls served with sea weed.
Squid and prawn noodles topped up with fish flakes at Okan.



Butterfish or white tuna (the pretty ones in orange)



Pop Brixton

Then we turned into Electric Avenue — one of the first streets to get electric light. We walked past the street market that goes back to the year 1880 and came across a rectangular structure, iridiscent with neon hues. Pop Brixton.


Pop Brixton is constructed out of shipping containers, festooned up with fairy lights for the festive touch.
Vintage kilo sale where winter furs and vintage clothing can be bought in half kilo sacks








Now, why should you go to Brixton, right?

Just let the informality of the affair do the works because Brixton cuts through pretentiousness and gets right down to business. The business of good food and fun.

Vienna – II

The city on the Danube just swept us off our feet. How could I just compress all of her beauty in one post? Here’s a follow-up pictorial journey through the city during this year’s very hot summer.

It was so sultry the morning on which we went to Schönbrunn Palace that we sank into a deep torpor once we got back to the hotel room. Now the last time I ever remember sleeping in the afternoon is in Calcutta where siestas are a given every day. As a result when we woke up in the evening, we felt discombobulated. But ah, the wonders of the night romps after. It was almost magical. That gusty night of walking around the city hand in hand and discovering what classical enchantment is.

Oh yes, our Viennese holiday was special. We met up a pair of my close friends one evening and we drank into the wee hours, chatting with buskers and demanding songs of them in the middle of the night, like it was just the thing to do and like there was no tomorrow, even though they had to catch the bus to Budapest the next morning. Here’s to you, N and S, for making our time in Vienna that much special.

A shot from our last day in Vienna when we felt quite wistful and loath to leave it. In the backdrop are horse carriages and the grandness of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I loved the way those richly coloured tiles form such a contrast to the limestone exteriors of the cathedral. The 12th century cathedral is a symbol of the importance of Vienna in the religious scheme of affairs in German civilisation.
The pretty, canopied rickshaws of Vienna
Bumping into one of my best friends in Vienna is a happy, nostalgic memory from the trip.
Empress Sisi. Did I not mention in the earlier post on how she is everywhere in the city?
Sisi promotes everything from chocolates to bags.
My beloved and a tall glass of beer to recover from the stuffiness of that sultry day.
Schnitzel accompanied by the Austrian bread dumpling that is called Semmelknödel
That is a Chicken Schnitzel because I love birds
“Vienna wasn’t just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one’s soul or one does not. It was the most beautiful thing in my life.” Sándor Márai
Hofburg Palace. The former imperial residence in the heart of the city.
The ‘People’s Garden’ as it is known in Vienna. The Viennese name for it is Volksgarten and it is located within the Innere Stadt. It was once a part of the Hofburg Palace and was built over the fortifications of the city that were destroyed by Napoleon in 1809.
In the 19th century Volksgarten stands a temple dedicated to Theseus, the mythical king of Athens.  It replicates the 2500 year old Temple of Hephaestus in Athens which was originally believed to have housed the remains of Theseus.
The rose garden in Volksgarten
Anyone for meringues?
Schönbrunn Palace. The imperial summer residence of the House of Habsburgs. Sisi lived here for a fair part of her short life.
The stunning grounds where Sisi loved to go on her regular walks. At the end you can see a Gloriette (a word derived from the French word ‘loire’ which means ‘little room’ and is typically an elevated structure). Emperor Franz Joseph I sat here when he has his breakfast, dined and watched festivities. Certainly quite a view he had everyday.
Heritage in the house. Rozet & Fischmeister on Kohlmarkt is a former imperial and royal purveyor of silverware and historic jewellery.  It was founded in the 18th century by a Huguenot called Nikolaus Rozet who had arrived in Vienna from France. In the mid 20th century, it was taken over by Georg Fischmeister and it has been in the family since.
The gilded turquoise dome of the Hofburg peeks from the background.
Atmospheric dining
Where we sat for a pint and a Euro match
It was quite a lovely pub with a traditional touch
Austrian beers in Pfiff & Co.
Alleys with traditional eateries
“Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true/ When will you realize, Vienna waits for you.” Billy Joel
In Bäckerstrasse, where we came across one of the oldest beisls in Vienna. A beisl is a typical Viennese feature. It is an 18th century inn that offers local dishes within its wood-panelled walls, interspersed with wooden furniture and chequered tablecloths along with blackboards displaying what is available for your meal.
“And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moths.” Leonard Cohen
Johann Figlmüller opened this beisl which became a symbol of the Viennese way of life, where you can always drop in for a lovely local meal and leisurely chats over some nice wines. Their schnitzels are purportedly the best.
Husband and the horse in Hofburg square.
The night my friends and I, along with the husband, took over the streets of Vienna in the most raucous way possible.
Inside the iconic Demel. “The coffee shop played a big role in Vienna of 1900. Rents were sky high, housing was difficult to come by, your apartment probably wasn’t heated, and so you went to the coffee shop. You went to the coffee shop because it was warm, because it was great Viennese coffee, and you went for the conversation and the company.” Eric Weiner
Viennese sights and spires
“The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt.” Karl Kraus
“When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Napoleon Bonaparte
The Plague Column. A 69-foot Holy Trinity Column in a Baroque style that commemorates the worst plague in Vienna, during the year 1679. Thousands died. Roughly about 75,000. On it various figures, religious and angelical, and then one of a praying Emperor Leopold I.
Neue Burg, from the balcony of which, in 1938, Adolf Hitler proclaimed the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria by the Third Reich.
Charming shop windows
A convent resident
“You need some reason why Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn in the 18th century all flocked to Vienna. What was it about Vienna? They must have known on some level that that is where they would flourish. It’s what biologists call “selective migration.” Eric Weiner
“And I’ll dance with you in Vienna, I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise. The hyacinth wild on my shoulder my mouth on the dew of your thighs. And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss. And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty, my cheap violin and my cross.” Leonard Cohen
Albertinaplatz. “Vienna is a handsome, lively city, and pleases me exceedingly.” Frederic Chopin
Here’s looking up at the baroque facade of Schönbrunn, which was built on a floodplain of the Wien, the river that flows through Vienna. The land was acquired by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II in 1569. It started off pretty much like Versailles, as a hunting and recreation lodge.
The palace was requisitioned after WW II and during the Allied Occupation of Austria, between 1945—1955, to serve as the offices of the British Delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria. It was also the headquarters of the British Military Garrison.
Privy Garden, Schönbrunn Palace.
Privy Garden, Schönbrunn Palace
“White as a winding sheet, Masks blowing down the street: Moscow, Paris London, Vienna all are undone. The drums of death are mumbling, rumbling, and tumbling, Mumbling, rumbling, and tumbling, The world’s floors are quaking, crumbling and breaking.” Edith Sitwell
Mozart’s apartments in Vienna. “Someone like Mozart moves from Salzburg to Vienna, where all of the sudden he finds this musical city that is not only asking for music, it’s demanding music of him.” Eric Weiner
Inside Mozart’s apartments. “Music was literally in the air at the time, the Vienna of 1780. Everybody played music, classical music. There were in fact so many musicians that in apartment buildings people had to come up with a schedule – you practice at 5 p.m., I’ll practice at 6 p.m. That way the music didn’t collide with one another.” Eric Weiner
Hercules fights the Hydra at the Hofburg. Those people in the horse trap seem awfully calm about a mythic figure coming down with a club above them though.
“Lord, if there is a heartache Vienna cannot cure I hope never to feel it. I came home cured of everything except Vienna.” Storm Jameson

If you liked browsing this, there is a post you might like Vienna – I.


How We Fell in Love with Vienna

Vienna stole in upon us on a gusty summer’s night and caught us unawares after a subdued start to our weekend break. The day we caught the early morning flight to Vienna from Heathrow, the results of the monumental Brexit referendum had just been announced. The elderly cab driver in Northampton quizzed us on our reactions, co-travellers opined ‘Now, if the Scottish want to leave us, bollocks to them’, and stewards gabbed about it. Brexit travelled with us to Vienna.

From cool English climes we were driven straight into the arms of a suffocating heat wave in the Austrian capital. My hair frizzed up promptly and my peace of mind ebbed in directly proportional measures. The Turkish doorman at the hotel announced, “Everyone who comes in through the doors says, ‘Aaaah the air conditioning, I think we shall spend the holiday inside the hotel.” Right, as tempting as that was we pushed ourselves out of the hotel plonked helpfully on the Ringstraße, Vienna’s ring road that wraps itself around its old town. In front of the iconic Vienna State Opera, we were accosted by a man in a white wig, yellow brocade waistcoat and breeches to buy hideously expensive opera tickets that would make you scream something obscene. We wound up watching Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) instead at the Vienna State Opera after laying our hands on a couple of standing tickets. There we stood transfixed by the beauty of it – you can never underplay the emotions of good opera.

In its aftermath, enveloped in a haze of operatic enchantment, we armed ourselves with cans of chilled beer and fortified by Käsekrainer, those scrumptious Austrian sausages filled with cubes of cheese sold at street carts and spicy noodles rustled up by Afghan migrants, we explored the baroque beauty of Vienna. Everything was magnificent, and those palaces, fountain nymphs, gods and goddesses, churches, they cast an imperial aura over the city. Horse carriages clip-clopped by.

History lurked around every corner we turned. Hitler had addressed an Austrian German crowd in 1938 from the balcony of the Neue Burg, a branch of the Hofburg Palace which was the stronghold of the Habsburg monarchy. The way to the palace was through a massive gate, Michaelertor, and it housed a museum dedicated to the Austrian cult figure of Sisi. The beautiful empress of Kaiser Franz Joseph I, formally known as Elisabeth of Austria, stared back at me from shop windows and palace banners. She was known for indulging in fripperies such as washing her hair with essence extracted from eggs and cognac and tightly lacing herself – which is how she maintained a slender figure, an enviable sense of fashion and lush long hair. Sisi was a woman oppressed by her mother-in-law and the rigidity of courtly life. So she championed independence, penning poetry and indulging her passion for wanderlust.

“If I arrived at a place and knew that I could never leave it again, the whole stay would become hell despite being paradise,” said Sisi. She was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in 1868.

In front of the stunning Rathaus, we watched a Euro football match with a passionate crowd. How every experience adds to the memories of a place.

We met up with a couple of my friends in Vienna who were bound the next morning for Budapest. We spent an evening near the impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its richly tile-glazed roof, talked politics and travel, drinking copious amounts of beer till the pubs shut down, and then gave in to late-night grub from food stalls while buskers played sweet music to us.

Vienna by night is truly unmissable.

The Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) upon the Ringstrasse
The muse of poetry, Erato, sits astride a winged horse atop the opera building
The Mozart costume sits askew upon that paunch
Twenty-two-carat gold leaf ceilings inside the Vienna State Opera
Schwind Foyer where there are 16 sketched oil paintings by Austrian artist, Moritz von Schwind
Allegorical statues stand all around the beautiful, old staircase inside the opera
Views from Schwind Foyer
Before the opera commences…
Lest you cannot catch the opera inside the hall, it is screened for the public outside the opera
Outside the Vienna State Opera
Where the streets wind off into classical beauty on a gusty summer’s night
The lady, she peers, inside Hofburg Palace
Sausage fest


The 19th-century Neue Burg
Empress Maria Theresa on Maria-Theresien-Platz
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 Euro match on a giant screen at the Rathaus
Football passion at the Rathaus


Neo-Gothic Votive Church by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian




Albertina Platz

Ye Old Cafés and Horse Traps

An inevitable part of being in Vienna is setting out on the museum route and making pit stops at coffee houses. We absorbed Vienna’s Habsburg history in the Schönbrunn Palace and could not but miss out on Mozart’s birthplace. Warned by a friend, I skipped the museum dedicated to Sigmund Freud. He had fled to London with everything he owned to escape the Nazis. The museum in Vienna has barely nothing to show.

My wish of meeting the Lippizaner Horses at the Spanish Riding School was in vain. “They are on holiday,” beamed the blonde girl behind the till. I dismissed it. What a joke! The girl reiterated, “They actually go on holiday during this period and return in August.”

I drowned my sorrows in cake.

We sat in the luxurious café of Hotel Sacher and sliced into Sacher Tortes, with dollops of whipped cream. We tried tortes at cafés which are institutions in Vienna. If I shut my eyes, I can almost taste the goodness of the Cleopatra Torte at Demel and the intimidating mound of shredded pancake known as Kaiserschmarrn at Central Café where the family at the table next to ours snickered at the monstrosity of it.

A cup of Viennese coffee and a slice of cake go hand-in-hand at these traditional coffee houses which the UNESCO has listed as pieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage”.

In the late 19th & 20th centuries, Freud, Hitler, Lenin and Soviet politician Leon Trotsky were patrons of Café Central. Not to forget the chess players who met there regularly, lending it the nickname, Die Schachhochschule, or the Chess School. These old cafés, they continue to be sticklers for tradition with their marble table tops, bentwood chairs and gilded columns. There time stands still as you spend hours at leisure but pay just the price of coffee.


The Lipizzaners were on holiday, so I came back with a magnet
Hotel Sacher
Original Sacher-Torte at Hotel Sacher. The Sacher Torte was invented by an Austrian patissiere, Franz Sacher, in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna. The Prince was throwing a party and is said to have declared, “Let there be no shame on me tonight!” But there is a legendary tiff between Hotel Sacher and Demel because both claim precedence over each other for the cake. Give both a go.
Post Sacher Torte
Demel is an absolute visit in Vienna. The pastry shop goes back to the year 1786 in Vienna and still bears the title of Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court.
Pastry-making at Demel
Inside Demel
 Cleopatra Torte at Demel
Café Central
Café Central 
Café Central 
The Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s Mess) was a favourite with the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I. The Kaiser’s table was never without it. 
The why and wherefore of the Kaiser’s girth 
Viennese Goulash at Central Café 
Central Café