Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Postcards from Paris

Paris is often called “a filmmaker’s dream” where at every step is a readymade set. Hundreds of films made all over the world have been set in the City of Lights, such as Paris Je t'aime, From Paris With Love, 2 Days in Paris, Before Sunset and more recently, Midnight in Paris. So, I decided to take you on a ‘filmi’ photographic journey of Paris’ popular tourist spots. Let me know your thoughts.

Eiffel Tower 
Five minutes after I got off the train at the Trocadero station, I saw this magnificent metal structure. Its sheer size is so intimidating, you can’t help but be mesmerised by its presence. The closer I got to the tower, it dawned on me how big a tourist attraction it is. Divided into three levels, it’s flooded with people waiting in endless queues, waiting for the elevators to get inside the tower. On the other hand, there were those who chose to take the stairs, I suppose, till Level One. My patience (that wore thin after waiting for two and half hours in the queue) took me only till Level Two, where the view was rather spectacular. However, the charm of the Eiffel Tower, for me, lies in gazing at it from afar. Irrespective, I wish I had made it to Level Three. Undoubtedly, the Eiffel Tower most definitely is a must-visit.
Click here for current admission fee.

Arc de Triomphe
The colossal Arc de Triomphe was built to commemorate the soldiers who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. It is engraved with the names of all the generals who commanded French troops during Napoleon's regime and prominent French victories on the structure’s inner and outer surfaces, and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Visitors can walk up a spiral staircase for views of the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées and the Sacré Coeur from the observatory, located at the top of the building. There is also a small museum that displays small and large models of the structure and recounts its story from the time of its construction.
Admission fee: €9.50

One of the most interesting neighbourhoods in Paris, Montmartre has been home to many famous artists' studios, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Salvador Dali, as well as the backdrop of films like Amelie and Moulin Rouge. It is also where the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur is located, atop a hill. This quaint area is replete with an intriguing fusion of street artists, boulangeries and of course, the Moulin Rouge (that roughly translates 'red mill').

Cruising on River Seine
A cruise is a laid-back, relaxing way of sightseeing. There are tons of companies offering different types of cruises on the River Seine. You can pick from open-air boats with casual seating to glass-covered ones that you can club with an extravagant dinner and cocktails.The usual hour-long cruises take you on a scenic route that pans over the city's prominent historical and architectural landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral. I took an open-air boat, as I wanted to ensure zero obstruction, which however wasn't possible thanks to an over-enthusiastic man who kept standing in front of me, blocking my view. (you can spot this man in image 3 in the film reel below)
The cruises ply from several points, like the Eiffel Tower and operate all year around.
Admission fee: €11

With doting fans like Blake Lively and Sofia Coppola, you can be sure that Ladurée certainly creates some of the best macarons in the world. And being a crazy dessert lover, I just HAD to try them.
I happen to stumble upon the store, and what happened next is something I’m going to deny if ever asked again. Like a giggly school girl, I stood staring at the store with stars in my eyes and greed dripping down like drool. I couldn’t wait to get inside get my hands on that macaron tower on the display counter. But I can proudly say; I almost behaved myself. Just that I got a tad lost while making a selection and invited some nasty scowls from other customers. But it was a small price to pay :) My favourite was this black macaron with liquorice filling.
Cost of a small macaron: €1.65

Following a suggestion made by Emilie from, I headed to Jean-Paul-Hevin to try their chocolates on my last day in Paris. Here are a few glimpses of their lip-smacking range of chocolates and macarons.

Some random street sightings:

I wish I had more time to tick off all the places on my list of must-visit places in Paris, but who says I’m not going back!

COMING UP: A photo feature on the Louvre

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Sit in a rickshaw or dine in a Kashmiri shikara -

With a dash of Bollywood kitsch, this funky restaurant creates a modern setting, while retaining the authentic road-side dhaba appeal. Vintage movie posters of cult films like Deewar and Mughal-e-Azam, and a patchwork of kites and glass bangles adorn the walls, while old lanterns, irons, charpoys and a funky cut-out of actor Salman Khan define the decor. Firangi Dhaba's semi-al fresco seating area with colorful mosaic flooring is particularly special as it comes with a variety of unique seating options. You can take your pick from low-lying shamiana seats, an old sewing machine, hand-driven carts or rickshaws that double up as one-of-a-kind tables. The cuisine is a fusion of authentic 'dhabe da khana' (authentic Punjabi dhaba fare) and other North Indian options. 

Its USP however lies in the dholwala that plays the dhol drum every half hour, urging people to get on their toes and break into a dance.

Must try:
Murg-dil-e-bahar tandoori chicken cooked in raw mango gravy, Rs 178, sabzi-diwane-khas, which is a dish of vegetables cooked in a special in-house sauce, Rs 148 and lassi (Rs 49) milk served traditionally in a tall brass tumbler.

Firangi Dhaba, 9 Remi Bizcourt, Veera Desai Road, Behind Fun Republic, Andheri (West), Mumbai 400053; tel. +91 (0)22 2674 3232/2674 4444. 12-3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.–12:30 a.m. Meal for 2: Rs 500-1,000

See the complete article here: Dinner in a Kashmiri boat |

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Amsterdam—the not so Sin-ful City

My first impressions of this city were foggy. Literally; the city’s filled with fearless smokers at every nook and corner. It is a city that is known for its legal permissiveness of sex and drugs. A city that attracts millions of travellers every year; a city that lets you unleash that wild side you otherwise keep tamed for the real world. This is the city of freedom.

In Amsterdam, you’re probably considered an outcast if you’re not looking for sex, drugs and crazy partying. I was one such outcast. In a bid to explore beyond the periphery of the usual suspects, I found some intriguing spots in a vast cobweb of canals. Aside from the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, The Heineken Experience, I also discovered Dutch-style fries drowned in mayonnaise, the colourful Dutch tulips, their large, family-size pancakes, the numerous bicycles everywhere, and much, much more.

Rijksmuseum, Jan Luijkenstraat 1 
Considered to be one of the 10 most principal museums in the world, the Rijksmuseum houses the works of notable artists like Rembrandt, who’s De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch) and Het Joodse Bruidje (The Jewish Bride) are on view here. It also contains a vast collection of Netherlandish paintings from the 15th to the late 19th century, together with delft earthenware and a gorgeous, large doll house.

I happened to witness a very intriguing artist at work. The objet d'art of artist Maarten Baas was a huge grandfather clock inside which a man is seated (visible through a translucent white screen), who changes the time every minute. It was so fascinating that most of the crowd would finish the museum tour and then spend several minutes at the exit watching time change minute by minute.
Open daily from 9am-6pm (10pm on Fridays); Admission fee €10.

Van Gogh Museum, Paulus Potterstraat 7
For any Van Gogh fan, this is a must-visit. This three-storied building illustrates Vincent Van Gogh’s development as an artist and captures facets of his personal life through a permanent collection of over 200 paintings and 500 drawings; along with letters and quotes from his family and friends. One of its current biggest attractions is the reproduction of one of his most famous paintings, The Bedroom, through a life-size visual display. It also serves as a visually vibrant educational platform for someone who isn’t familiar with his work. You can also take home some of his works in a miniature avatar at the museum’s souvenir  shop that has everything from magnets to mugs to coasters to button pins to puzzles to chocolates (with wrappers decked with the paintings) to table mats to tea pots to lunch bags.
Open from 10am-6pm (10pm on Fridays); Admission fee €14

The Heineken Experience, Stadhouderskade 78
Amsterdam is the birthplace of one of the world’s finest beers, Heineken. The Heineken Experience comprises the first ever Heineken brewery, opened in 1887, that was transformed into a visitor centre that held informative tours on the brewing process of Heineken beer. Today, The Heineken Experience offers an exciting interactive tour that last for an hour and half spread over 19 different rooms. It includes historic exhibits, the brewing process through interactive videos, their advertising reel starting from 1958, a football section with memorabilia together with foosball tables, a stable with Heineken shire horses, a section where you can create videos, do a karaoke number and click photographs of yourself and send it to your friends, a special simulated movie called Brew Your Ride explaining the brewing process in a lighter vein and a souvenir shop with T-shirts, glasses, etc. My favourite part of this ‘experience’, however, was definitely the tasting room—where you can also learn how to pour beer the right way, how to correctly skim the foam, and more tips from the experts—and the Brew U section, where you can create your very own personalised beer bottle etched with your name on it. This is definitely a must-visit!
Open from Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; Admission fee €14

Anne Frank House, Prinsengracht 267
This was truly an extremely emotional experience, yet an unforgettable one. Having known nothing about her, not only was I enlightened about her story but I also was touched by it. This is the actual house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis for over two years. The house, now a well-laid museum puts together her story, and the history of the eight people in who hid there between 1942 and 1944 and those who helped them during their hiding, the way she recounts it in her diary. It even has actual pages she initially wrote on, as well as medium-sized models of the room she had to stay in hiding. Also on display are several videos by people who knew her expressing her family’s anguish over the perils they had to face.

However, it was her father’s video that really shook me. I didn’t expect to feel so overwhelmed. And I certainly didn’t think that I was going to cry. But they took me by surprise and without invitation just came rolling down when I heard him say (about Anne, after reading her journal), “You never really know who your children really are”.
Open daily from 9am-7pm (9pm from March-Sept); Admission fee €7.50

A canal cruise, Damrak 26 
Enjoy a relaxing evening by taking a canal cruise, as it lets you see the city in the most laid-back way. It’s a great way to see Amsterdam’s most prominent spots and understand its history and architectural influences via the one-hour tour
Tours depart every 15 minutes from 10am-4.30pm/6pm (April to Sept); Tickets start from €10

Sneak peeks
  • Tulips and clogs (wooden shoes) are trademarks of the Dutch capital, so pick some up at the Bloenmarkt (Flower Market) along the ‘Singel’ canal.

  • For large, main-course-plate-sized pancakes, make a stopover at T’ Singeltje, along the Bloenmarkt. It has welcoming wooden furniture with vintage photographs of Amsterdam on the wall. Oddly, it has napkins on the lamps. Never understood that.

  • Walk into The Magic Mushroom gallery—also along the Bloenmarkt—to purchase everything and anything related to drugs: seeds, pipes, bongs, candies, chocolates, cookies and loads more.

  • I didn’t visit any coffee shops, but according to hearsay Bulldog Cafe is supposedly a popular tourist spot. If cheese is your fix, then you must try the wide variety at Henri Willig Cheese. The flavours range from pesto and fenugreek to pepper and herbs and garlic cheese.

The many coffee shops

The Torture Museum
  • If you just want a lazy afternoon sitting by a lake or cycling around a park, Vondelpark—just south of the city centre—is the place to be. Sprawled over one and a half kilometres, it has numerous paths, lakes, wide expanses of green and a restaurant/bar.

  • You must try Dutch-style mayonnaise-drowned fries, available at tons of fast food joints in the city. For a quick satisfying meal, head to any of Amsterdam’s FEBO outlets. They are everywhere! You should be able to get a good burger for around €2.
  • When planning your trip, do your research on all of the above as admission fees and timings are subject to change.
  • During your research, be sure to do a search on ‘Free things to do in Amsterdam’. There are several things to do and places you can visit that are free of cost and it is best to know before you reach so that you can plan your days accordingly. For example, you can catch a free concert at The Boekmanzaal hosts free concerts (performed by either Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of the Netherlands Opera or the Netherlands Ballet Orchestra) every Tuesday afternoon at 12.30pm (from September-May). has a good amount of information on events like these that is very useful.
  •  The Dam Square is often abuzz with activity with some crazy street artists putting up fun attire and tricks to entertain an audience.

    I stayed at the Stayokay Hostel in Stadsdoelen. You can check it out in detail here.
    For more information, go to the official Amsterdam website.

    The Stayokay hostel