Mr. Basu’s at Le Grand Hotel, Paris

The city was shrouded in mist that afternoon we landed in Paris. The cold was not blistering, but you know what happens after a 10-hour flight. Bleary-eyed and shivery, you are properly keyed up for a deep sleep. That’s all. All those plans of showering and taking the city by storm? A big, fat zero.

The flight from JFK had taken us into Frankfurt for a three-hour layover. We discovered a private sleeping pod, but at the tail end of our wait. The irony of it: shattering. There you were desperate for some shut-eye and (huzzah!) you located a comfortable bed in the privacy of a cabin. Ding! went the announcement for boarding. Hardly any time to nod off on the flight from Frankfurt to Paris. So, all you could do was slip into this delicious dream, consumed by the desire for a bed. Soft sheets. Fluffy pillows. Plump duvet to burrow into. Then, oblivion.

A 20-minute cab ride brought me closer to my the object of my dreams.

The InterContinental Paris Le Grand was part of our other anniversary indulgence, in the heart of the 9th arrondissement. Just for two nights, but enough to make the most of a stay conjured by the hoarding of hotel points. When we reached the hotel, I had to crane my neck to take in the view of its old facade. It was the colour of cream, a part of it masked by scaffolding. Neat rows of French windows, slatted louvres, those charming wrought-iron balconies atypical of Paris, and carved stone for a touch of opulence. I was sold. Even the most hardened commie would be — except that he would conceal it beneath a careful veneer of contempt. As if to complete the picture, at the porch stood a vintage motorcycle with a sidecar. Manning it was a guy in khaki with sunnies even on that bleak day. He reminded me of an Indian actor who used to arrive punctually late at press conferences,  concealing a pair of bloodshot eyes and a predilection for cocaine behind large sunglasses.

Inside the hotel, we were checked in with supreme efficiency, and at that point of time all that mattered was the bed. The room turned out to be a cosy affair, in the manner of those little pieds-à-terre that they show in the old movies, yet sumptuous in reds and burgundies, a hint of bordello chic. Beneath heavy old drapes, were gossamer white drapes fluttering in the cold breeze as we peeked out of our teeny-weeny balcony to exult at the somewhat ethereal sight of the Eiffel Tower wreathed in mist. A bottle of Champagne had been deposited in our room at some point of time, but I had long passed out. Delicious was that slumber, and by the time I woke up  I realised we had slept a hefty four hours.

That evening when we dressed up and headed out of the hotel — before which we peeked at the Eiffel Tower again, this time to catch its hourly shimmering aura — it felt like we were in a dream. Not a bubbly-infused dream, but one sparked off by the very air of the city we were in. The kind of city that makes you gush. Such as I did when I uttered repeatedly to Adi, ‘We’re in Paris! We’re in Paris!’

It must have been the air. It was enchanted.


The Grand was a couple of minutes walk from the Palais Garnier, the iconic opera house of Paris, and so we were ambling past the opera, down the cobbled boulevards of Haussman, bedecked in fairy lights and flamboyant shop windows, mannequins in beautiful dresses and shoes, staring at splendid old squares topped off by gigantic columns, senses reeling at the beauty all around us.

No matter how many times you find yourself in Paris, you are dazed by the elegance of it.

Dinner was at a Moroccan restaurant where an old man in his neatly pressed suit served us Moroccan wine along with snacks of olives and carrots braised in turmeric and cumin. The wine was red and mellow, the carrots spicy. There was lamb tagine, a whole lot of kebabs and couscous, along with more red wine on the house, pressed upon us by the old man with the benevolent smile and wicked sense of humour.

Ah, it was a fine evening that, when we sauntered back to the hotel on the wings of red wine and romance. It was as if we could have only more and the hotel was a big part of this experience. The French empress of the day — that would be the year 1862 — while inaugurating it, had exclaimed that it made her think of home. ‘I feel like I am in Compiègne or Fontainebleau,’ she had remarked. That’s the thing about heritage hotels, they are a window into a world that you will never see, just imagine. To me, it was a window into the world of Josephine Baker, Sarah Bernhardt, Marlene Dietrich…, all of whom liked to be seen at the hotel. I could see why. Its old operatic ballroom was a vision in itself.

The Café de la Paix was yet another visual feast, with its large potted plants, as if to recreate a garden within a café, frescoed and gilded to the hilt. There had sat the likes of Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant, and where people were known to be drawn from all around the globe…’Dark diplomats from Martinique, pale Rastas from Peru/An Englishman from Bloomsbury, a Yank from Kalamazoo;/A poet from Montmartre’s heights, a dapper little Jap’ … as Robert Service noted in his poem, ‘The Absinthe Drinkers’.

For has it not been ever said that all the world one day

Will pass in pilgrimage before the Cafe de la Paix?’

(It is a delightful poem, if you are keen to take a gander at it.)

A quick note on the title. A receptionist at the Grand Hotel addressed Adi as Mr. Basu — the room was booked in my name. I startled that man by folding my hands in a ‘namaste’ gesture. And I said, ‘Why that is the best thing I have heard in a long time!’ For a few seconds, he had consternation writ large upon his face. Had he said anything wrong? ‘No, absolutely not,’ I assured him. You see, Basu is my surname. It has cleaved to my person so long that I could not envision being without it. Not to make a defining statement of any sort, just because it is my identity. Naturally, once in a while, when Adi is alluded to as Mr. Basu, fizzy bubbles of joy rise up my chest. 

Flughafen Frankfurt am Main
Le Grand Hotel
Inside our room
A dash of Eiffel Tower 
An excuse of a balcony is welcome too
A cross-section of the 9th arrondissement from our balcon
The ballroom
Café de la Paix


Dark-panelled old bars
Palais Garnier
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Column at Place Vendôme 
Place Vendôme 
Streets of Paris
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Le Maroc
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The Moroccan way to unwind, in Paris



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You know who’s got one of the best quotes on Paris. Victor Hugo. “He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic.
Nothing is more sublime.”


A Cliffhanger of a Cabin on Old Smokey (Beloved of a Mamma Bear)

A band of cicadas serenaded us as we got off our Outback Subaru. Their singing seemed to intensify as we hopped off the car, me casting nervous glances at the cliffs and trees around us, the thought running through my mind that a welcome committee of bears might be awaiting us in the dark.

The drive from North Carolina to this chalet in Tennessee, built into the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, had been one of unimaginable beauty. The sky, riddled with billowing clouds earlier on in the afternoon in Winston-Salem, was suffused now with a crimson glow that continued to intensify till it dissipated in pastel hues. The hills loomed large in front of us in the gathering gloom, clouds rushing in to envelop us at intervals. At others, they rose from the silhouettes of trees in wraiths of wispy white.

And then the spell was broken. We had reached Gatlinburg. Rows of flashy souvenir shops, ‘wine-tasting’ kiosks that doled out free fruity wines guaranteed to give one an unbearable insulin rush, barbecue diners, the crowds …I wanted to think, but I could not. Adi helpfully supplied the words, ‘It’s like Skegness on steroids?’ Skegness is a seaside resort town on the east coast of England – the lesser said about it, the better.

Gatlinburg’s flashiness evaporated as we drove higher and higher up into the mountains. How impenetrable the darkness seems in the hills. It presses in upon the mind. The desolate hairpin bends brought us at the foot of a road that shot up at a 35° incline, and lo and behold, there stood our rented chalet. No curtains inside to draw across the bay windows in the  living room? I was unsettled. But there was nothing to do but stash my paranoia away.

The chalet was a two-bedroom affair built in wood — to withstand the winds that sweep through these mountains. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had rhapsodised about ‘the winds that blow through the wide sky in these mountains, the winds that sweep from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic’ to ‘have always blown on free men’ at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that he declared open for the public in 1940.

Where Nature gives, she takes too. And man, he survives despite the odds. The cabin being proof of this indomitable spirit. The previous chalet had been gutted in wildfires towards the end of 2016. Yet here it stood, well-stocked and utterly homey with its rocking chair, hot tub and wraparound porch, rebuilt after the fires. There were pots and pans and everything we could hope for if we wanted to rustle up our own meals (how cosy it must be to hunker down within its warmth during the cold months).

In the morning, we woke up to views. The windows, which in the dark hours had given me the heebie jeebies, in the early morning hours opened up to a vision of smoky blue mountains and clouds rolling off their peaks (there are photos below to confirm that I do not exaggerate).

We did what any sane person would do — tuck into a huge breakfast and sit staring at the drama of the clouds and the mountains, wondering if mamma bear (previous visitors to the cabin had mentioned her repeated visits in the logbook) would eventually turn up with her cubs. But were we to be so lucky? Naturally, we decided to do what could be done next. We headed out, chasing bears and clouds in the Great Smoky Mountains.






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Into a Norwegian Artist’s Retreat

Here was an artist who did the Charleston jig, all in a bid to tell us how her Pointer got his name. The Pointer is a dog, a hunting hound that gets its name from its inclination to point its muzzle towards the game. Now imagine if you will, this beloved mistress of Charleston the Pointer, a grown-up woman lifting her chin up, arms pointed into the air as if she was about to release an invisible arrow off an equally invisible bow.

On this note of welcome into her home, we knew that we had landed a prize of sorts here — Els and her beloved Pointer, Charleston. I don’t know how well Charleston does the Charleston but he has a name to live up to. He also has a mistress who is quite capable of making him dance.

Now we had Els’ cottage to ourselves for four days. That red cottage with Homlagarden painted on its entrance, as you see in the lead photo, is perched strategically by the fjords of western Norway in a village called Norheimsund.

This was our big Norwegian holiday after our weekend stint in Stavanger when we had hiked our way to Pulpit Rock. My aim was to get our behinds to Trolltunga and sit on the troll’s tongue, legs dangling above the fjords. But that was not to be because just as in Stavanger we struck lucky with the weather even though the forecast had promised thunder and showers, our second Norwegian break was made up of enough mist and clouds, drizzle and downpour to make our hiking shoes hang their heads in shame.

What is life if our best-laid plans are not to be laid aside?

We reached Bergen on a fine day in August last year. Fleecy armies of clouds invaded bright blue skies, and when we got out of the airport to be greeted by this sight, we were injected with fair reserves of delight, natch. Could there be a better natural elixir than blue skies and billowing clouds on any given day?

Soon, in a rented hatchback, we were puttering down tunnels that ruptured lush hills for miles and miles, passed herds of sheep serenely trotting down roads, possibly out for their morning stroll. You will see in this post that the Norwegian sheep exude remarkable self-confidence unlike their English counterparts. We left behind the occasional church nestled in valleys along with a roll-call of black, red and yellow cottages. Some perched upon hills, others tucked in surreptitiously alongside placid lakes.

It made me rather musical. To trill out ‘My Day in the Hills’ ala Julie Andrews and trill I did till Adi asked me to switch to the phone playlist please. There was some harumphing on my part, but how difficult it is to hold on to a sulk in the face of such pristine charm, the lakes glowing emerald in the shadow of the hills and putting me in mind of a mysterious mermaid about to emerge from the waters.

This is how we found ourselves in Norheimsund, bleary-eyed after our early morning flight, but then there was that view of the fjord from our cottage. It drove our cares away in the batting of the eyelid.

We were in a quintessential Norwegian cottage on an organic farm. Chubby hen and monstrously plump turkeys strutted around in a red coop of their own, mini tractors stood like picture-perfect props with the blue hues of the fjord and hills merging into the background, patches of snow gleaming in the distance upon the hills. Inside our red cottage, we found the entrance decorated by Els’ paintings and a bay windows that opened up to the fjords. The ground level of this cottage housed her workshop and a carpentry shop.

Warm wooden interiors, a well-kitted kitchen with all manners of pots and pans that would make a gourmet cook smile like a shark, windows that looked out into the fjords and made us sigh. This was the idyllic start to a Norwegian fjord-hopping holiday, along with the presence of Els, Charleston and his mother, Kaisa.

Hordaland county



Sheep out on a morning stroll






Entering Norheimsund


Els’ farm and cottage


Inside our cottage
Charleston and Els
Undivided adoration 

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The view we woke up to every morning from the bed

To Book the Cottage: Get onto Airbnb and key in Hordaland and Els. However, Els does not always let out her cottage (because it is not quite commercial), so essentially you could take a chance.

How to Get There: Bag tickets for as less as £39 on BA and Norwegian Airlines to Bergen. From the airport, it is best to hire a car for your stay because it is easier and economic to drive around the county of Hordaland.




Grand Dame of the Amstel

Luxury is such a precious word when you dabble in it. But once in a while, maybe? Because who wants to develop a thick skin when it comes to appreciating the good things in life.

Adi and I are cost-conscious travellers. When you are passionate about travel and want to see as much of the world as we do, it is quite impossible to indulge in luxury in the true sense of the word (unless you have trust funds in place).

On that note you will, if you can imagine, feel the thrill we felt when we walked into the InterContinental Amstel. The five-star hotel as you can see on the main featured photograph is a beauty and sits on the river Amstel in Amsterdam. On a dull day when a fine mist hung in the air, we were at the portal of this old-world Dutch hotel. A doorman in a smart livery and top hat ushered us into a warmly lit lobby that was marked by classic white walls, high ceilings, glittering chandeliers and sconces. It radiated a sense of classic grandeur. The interiors were not of behemoth proportions because before it opened doors in 1867 its founder Dr Samuel Sarphati had fallen short of funds. He died during its construction. This man, a Dutch physician of Portuguese Sephardi Jew descent, was key to developing the city of Amsterdam. He was a philanthropist. After he came to understand the poor hygiene of the people while treating them, he set up projects to uplift them and the city at large. He set up a bread factory that would produce affordable but good bread and initiated an effective waste collection system. Let’s put it thus: Amsterdam owes him.

Back into the exalted lobby of the InterContinental Amstel, there is a bust of Sarphati inside to make you look up the unusual name of the gentleman. Though I did chance upon a ‘tabloid’ titled Amstel Times. An interesting way of putting out information about its 150-year-old history. Instead of gadding about it further, I shall let the photographs take you into the hotel.

Rembrandt van Rijn. The Dutch master who lived during the 17th century finds mention in the hotel throughout. It overlooks a piece of land called De Omval that is known to have inspired Rembrandt’s sketches. There is even a Rembrandt suite in his memory.
Rembrandt looks on as you enter the hotel.
An old wooden staircase, high ceilings and pretty chandeliers mark a quietly elegant lobby inside the Dutch hotel. There are about 55 executive rooms and 24 suites, not a vast number, but what it lacks in number, it makes up for in style.
The Amstel InterContinental was envisaged to be grander. With two more wings. But as it happens, the best-laid plans often go awry. Don’t we all know a bit about that?
Guests’ scribblings. Post the year 1867 when it opened its doors to the public.
George Clooney, Audrey Hepburn and Queen Elizabeth are a few personalities to have stayed here. Here you can see a Clooney doodle.
The bar has a stunning view of the river. You can sit here and while away time with a pint of Dutch beer and just that view.
And if you get fidgety after a few drinks at the bar you can always head out to the Jordaan quarter which is a few minutes’ walk away.
The Wellness Suite. I scampered down mostly to dip into the wonderful spicy mix of seeds and nuts they put out with tea (basically, after I had a go, no one else did).
A not-too-unhappy duo inside their suite.
Into the executive suite that we were upgraded to. Look at that gorgeous wallpaper.
An old-world decor can never fail to charm an old soul.
Entry level rooms start around 300-400 quids a night. That is pretty much a standard quote all through the year.


The hotel should not do too badly, says that smile.
Yippeee, says mine.

Lastly, I have to mention the chief concierge, Aad van den Berg, who was lovely with his recommendations. He got us tickets for Anne Frank House which we had failed to book online because they happened to be sold out. Did I mention also that this was an IHG free reward night redemption at the InterContinental Amstel? Well then, let me say this that if you have a free reward night too and you are in this beautiful, vibrant city, you know where to look in. For me, it made me feel nothing less than a pampered princess.

The Little Corner Apartment, Budapest

In Budapest downtown, right in the heart of the action so to say, is a nifty studio accommodation deemed the Little Corner Apartment by its Hungarian owner, Bali. On a frightfully cold day when the sight of frosty fields and bare trees were a forewarning of what was to come our way – namely, hands that could not stray for a few seconds out of well-insulated gloves and feet that froze within the boots, however many layers of insulated socks you had on – we arrived on a quiet street just round the corner from the hip n’ happening Jewish quarter in Pest.

Now, Budapest is bisected by the river Danube into two cities. Buda is the uphill part of the city with its palace and wealthy residential quarters and Pest (the Hungarians pronounce it as Peshth) is the flat part but with a significantly upbeat vibe to it.

Passing by the ivy-laden facade of an antique shop and a couple of cafés, we were soon shivering outside the massive doors of a 100-year-old building. The owner of the apartment, Bali, took us in a fairly old-world elevator to what was going to be our home for the next four days. The doors opened in to an industrial chic space, done up thoughtfully by Bali and his wife, using eco-friendly materials.

Exposed bricks, distressed walls and cupboards were offset by a bright pop of colour in the shape of a red throw on the sofa-bed that stood at one corner of the apartment. My favourite touch along with the distressed look were exposed light bulbs hanging off roughly-looped wires. They made for an artless, and yet, effortlessly stylish look. It is one of my favourite design trends for the season. I hope it is not a fleeting one. Do you like the naked light bulb look as much?

A modest kitchen, loaded with an electric kettle (always makes my heart sing at the thought of getting my cuppa tea), basic cutlery and crockery along with a supply of tea and coffee, made our stay a happy one. The mini fridge had been stocked with a couple of bottles of beer and milk. A welcome note it was alright. We never say no to beer.

When I say thoughtful, I mean it. Beer apart, the apartment came with a small, pocket map that introduced us to the city with recommendations of what to see and where to eat. The way the locals do it, that is. In our wanderings around Pest, it was a useful thing to have on us. The best thing about the apartment is its location. We were located a few minutes’ walk from a major square in the city, Deák Ferenc tér (Deák Ferenc square) and from its famous assortment of ruin pubs in District VII.

The drive from the airport to downtown Budapest. You get the picture. Lots of hot, sweet mulled wine to get us by.
We put up in an apartment in this building which was about 100-odd years old.
The double bed in the studio apartment.
The adjoining relaxing couch with the red throw to brighten things up.
I always loved returning to the apartment and seeing this lit-up window prettily waiting for us, promising us a wonderful time of thawing our cold bodies inside the warm apartment.

After long days of walking all around the city, beat and cold, when we used to return to the apartment, I was the happiest person alive. The temperature button on the heater would be cranked up and we would sit with cups of tea to warm up and make plans. On the last day in Budapest, after an early morning of romping around town, we got back and spent almost an entire delicious noon in there (we were kindly enough allowed a very late check-out). Because, let us admit it, at some times you need a break from the cold and precious lazing time even if you are travelling.

You can book the apartment through Airbnb and give me a thumbs-up after a stay here 🙂