Like all mountain people who live in difficult terrains, Ylva Sarri has a perpetual, glowing serenity on her face and her eyes have a twinkle that reflects the purity of nature she is surrounded with. She is very soft spoken but her straight frame beneath the beautiful ethnic Sami clothes tells you that she could be as tough as they come!
Ylva came to meet us at our rustic camp just outside of the mining town of Kiruna in northern Sweden along with her daughter Johanna. They were going to host us for a Sami cultural evening and dinner. Ylva was dressed in her traditional clothes – colourful and beautiful. A large metallic neckpiece hung on her chest which was much like the gypsy pieces worn in India. I must admit i was quite enamoured with it! Over the next two hours between the short documentary they showed us, the volley of questions they both had to answer during dinner and later in their own Teepee Tent (Laavu) in the forests, Ylva and Johanna told us so many interesting stories about the Samis.
Samis, also spelt Sapmis, are indigenous people who archeologists say have been living in the harsh snowy lands above the arctic circle for more than 9000 years! This area is more geographical than political and spreads over northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and even a tiny part of Russia. They all consider themselves as one people and have a common Sami Parliament to decide some of their common issues and rules. There may be regional dialects but usually Sami people from two different areas can understand each other.
In the previous century, some of the Samis felt sidelined from the mainstream population and many gave up their identity, gave up their distinctive second names and merged with the more urban society. Most who have chosen to adopt their identity with pride continue to hold on to their customs and traditions and yet continue to be modern in their upbringing & outlook. For instance, Johanna attended school and then college in the city of Kiruna and works in the Sami Parliament but when the reindeer herding season comes, she will be up there in the mountains with the rest of her clan in harsh weather rounding up the animals and perhaps marking her own cut on their ears. She will need to participate in the slaughtering of the male reindeers before winter and in preserving the meats.
The Samis are semi-nomadic and thrive on reindeer farming by themselves staying in one place but moving their herds in different places as per the weather. In the acute winters, the herds have to all move east and stay there until early summer when they can come down to greener fields and forests. In Sweden, Jokkmokk, a town between the eastern coastal town of Lulea and Kiruna, is the nerve centre of Sami culture. Here, the Samis collect during early February for a traditional animal fair & marketplace (much like #Pushkar i assume). There are furs, meats, animals and other useful things on sale and many ethnic sports are played during the festival.
The Sami people have their own music and their songs are also known as Joiks. These, like so many other folk music songs world over, are more sounds, less lyrics and usually unstructured. The songs could be about any thing that is close to the singer’s heart and this one that Ylva crooned to us was about the “little bells that hang from the reindeers necks and tinkle as the herds run down the mountain slopes”.
The Samis are very passionate about nature and how it has to be preserved. It is evident in their conversation; their eyes mist up when you talk about pollution and adverse effects of progress. There is so much to be learnt from them, from their simplicity and their deep-rooted knowledge of the bounties of this earth. They are very special people and here is wishing them a wonderful Sami National day on this 6th of February 2018.
It served as the premier hospital for the bustling city of Marseilles in the south of France for 800 years! (It is famous for pathbreaking Cataract eye operations). Built in French Baroque style originally and inaugurated by Napoleon the 3rd himself, this historic building is now a beautiful, luxury hotel – the intercontinental Hotel Dieu.
It’s interiors were completely modernised in Art Deco style and marry both the old and the new seamlessly. You arrive at the porch thru a regal driveway and enter the lobby thru the grand facade expecting old palatial interiors but instead you are greeted by a stunningly modern lobby area done up entirely in Black, white and many shades of grey. The fish and mollusc murals on the walls tell you their own story of Marseilles as a port town.
The rooms are spacious, modern and most of them have a beautiful view of the old port – Vieux Port and the Notre Dame Church far away on the Hill. Chef Lionel Levy, a true Marseilles boy at heart runs the one Michelin Star restaurant and his signature Bouillabaisse Soup Milkshake is pretty famous!
My fav part of the hotel was it’s beautiful terrace which would be absolutely great in the summer time when they have bar-be-cue nights, but now, in the winter they had put up these extremely smart bubbles or plastic igloos of sort – heated, lined with sofas covered in fur and boosted by Moet et Chandon Champagnes!
The best part of this hotel is it’s location. It is only a 100 metre walk to the Vieux Port and all other sights of Marseilles making it an excellent choice for a leisure stay in the city.
Panache World works closely with this hotel and our clients get special deals and upgraded stays to say the least.
Thank you Elodie Choquet for the most fabulous stay and your personal recommendations of where to eat Oysters! 😊
#travellermade #Marseilles #intercontinentalHotelDieu
The Swedes love their berries. During the summers – days of endless sun, the forests get laden with a huge variety of berries. These are abundant in anti-oxidants and help to survive the long, dark & cold winters. It is common to head out into the wild during the summers with a basket to collect Bramble blackberries, Wood raspberries, Dewberries, Cloudberries, Arctic Raspberries, Blueberries, Crowberries, Cranberries, Wild strawberries, Alpine currants, Juniper berries and the most prolific Lingonberries. These are then preserved, jammed, marmalade-d, frozen, juiced, brined and generally kept for the winter months.
It is only fitting therefore, that my first breakfast in the Swedish lapland should include a large bowl of wild strawberry yoghurt mixed with assorted Swedish Berries
Last week we had an important conference-call with the Asia head of a luxury brand of hotels. The connection was a bit dodgy. I already knew why. I also knew that this call was important to him and I appreciated that. How did I know? That morning I saw pictures of him holidaying with his family in Bali on my Facebook feed and we had had a light-hearted banter-exchange on some aspect of the holiday.
Rewind to 2007-2008 when we all had just learnt our way wading thru Facebook “posts” and “DP’s” Back then privacy was such a big deal. It was a great way to connect with family and friends (mainly because it meant no more uploading pictures on tedious websites like Picasa and then distributing links to friends who gave up after trying to download 4 pictures) Facebook was way easier!! We found long-lost school friends and there were many happy reunions. Quite a few relatives and cousins who never spoke to you for years suddenly started “liking” your pictures. A warm, general fuzzy bonhomie was created. But along with it came the dreadful feeling that you were exposing the very personal side of you to the world at large and it was a big no-no as a professional in case there were “trade people” out there. So one would never send a friendship request to a professional contact and actually frown upon such requests that you received. I would politely search out such reach-outers on Linked-in and add them there to assuage any hurt sentiments hoping to drive home the point subtly as well.
Then came the phase where the boundary started turning slightly hazy and you had to decide who was a business contact; and if that person also qualified as a friend; one who could be privy to your family photos and hence to what you did in your personal time. Facebook addressed this problem by allowing you to categorise your contacts. I diligently classified contacts into “close friends”, “family” “industry people” (yes, that is what I call some of you), “clients”…. It is a different matter that it was so difficult to keep classifying and then editing the privacy settings of your posts that I gave up on it quite early.
The only way forward then was to mind what you say and express. Some of us continued going berserk but the rest of us started controlling our thoughts and not writing whatever came to our minds. Facebook has this memory feature showing you your old posts. Some of mine are so immature and inconsequential that I’m quite ashamed of the person I was just a few years ago. (I found one that explained the lyrics of a song that I was humming all day – 3 likes to that! – I mean WHO cares!? But there it was!)
Then we turned intellectuals – we could share smart, well-written articles from the Wall Street Journal with a little intro note on why we loved it hoping the choice of the article would reflect on our personality. We became the jokers on the timelines and our humour was appreciated in our circles because “Oh she posts such funny stuff” – never mind that it was a share of jokes already shared a million times on twitter. We also became photographers, punners, politicians, runners, gymmers just by pushing certain kind of material that we put out. In all of this, we forgot how to remain private as people.
The boundaries between friends and business contacts began breaking down further, and we started accepting more and more people from the darker side into our lives while we slowly started controlling most of what we posted. This extended to even clients – I still hesitate to add clients to my list but it has happened.
We have now reached a point where Facebook is one large, beautiful spa pool with everyone in it. Friends, family (more and more of the older generation – now who the *#$@ gave them the iPads?), acquaintances, business contacts, friends of friends, friends of cousins, contacts of contacts – (ah… I have 2 people common with this person, bring it on!) and even clients, all mix in and make Facebook a complete contact list holder for us. Is this good or bad?
Here are some advantages that I can think of:
You don’t need ‘Out of Office’ responses anymore J
If nothing else, all of us meticulously update our travel status, so one knows not only the other’s travel plan but also the time zone they are in.
It brings out the Human in you
Just like the page “Humans of New York” brought people’s personalities closer to us, Facebook brings out our personal facet to our professional contacts – what we like, dislike, our fears, and our passions. I find that this only makes doing business easier. You are now dealing with a person and not just a name and designation.
You can do subtle business promotions
If you use it intelligently, one can turn this platform into a subtle form of promo ads of your entrepreneurial business & work. Remember those “friends of friends?”
Gives you a better global insight
Have you ever had that very good & special feeling when your business contact in Rome or in Istanbul has invited you home and you have a close-encounter of sorts with all things cultural? – this is similar. You see pictures of your global business contacts spending their weekends with their families, going on holidays, eating their food (food pictures abound!!), celebrating their parents and sharing their local community concerns (American friends and Trump – savvy?) and it takes you closer to them and makes you open your mind.
It also surely has its disadvantages too – you can’t be seen partying & wasting time writing about Facebook being the next Linked In when your emails are due for instance but then again, you are human!
After many years of holding back, I have now embraced Facebook wholeheartedly. If it is true that you have a different persona for different circles of your acquaintances, friends, family and colleagues – isn’t your Facebook persona an average of all these personas?
When you drive from the beautiful Polish city of Krakow towards Auschwitz, the countryside is calm, serene and beautiful. It is in total contrast to the innumerable stories of horror that await you when you reach the twin sites of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.
During World War II, approximately 6 million Jews were killed mercilessly by the Nazis. Out of this number, about a million were exterminated in the Auschwitz Camp in the infamous gas chambers.
Today the remains of the camp is maintained as a museum and holds many articles – human hair, shoes, clothes, personal belongings such as spectacles and utensils, photographs, records as a testimony to those horrific times. It is a somber visit but one that is done by millions of people every year – lest we forget!
The original camp was made up of a few barracks and one small gas chamber. This gas chamber survives and you can walk inside of it – it is quite difficult to describe the wave and variety of emotions one feels while doing so. Each of the barracks has a story to tell – of random shootings, of torture cells, of fake hospitals to conduct terrible biological experiments…
You are then transported 2 miles to the second part of the camp – Birkenau. The existence of Birkenau became necessary because there were so many more Jews to kill. They were being brought here from all parts of Europe to be gassed in large numbers. Two large gas chambers were purpose built for this. Both of these don’t survive. One was blown up by a brave group of prisoners (needless to say they were immediately shot dead) and the other was destroyed by the retreating Nazis when the Russians approached at the end of the war. Many of the residential barracks were destroyed as well. The ones that stand wail out the stories of hardships of the prisoners.
Birkenau has an impressive – more in a menacing sense of the word – entrance gate from where the rail-coaches would roll in carrying the next set of prisoners. They stopped at the infamous platform where the SS guards would ‘sort’ them – some were marched straight into the gas chambers towards instant death and the healthier ones were herded into the barracks to live & work as labour until they were of no further use.
Annually, around mid-late April – Israel and the rest of the world marks the anniversary of the uprising of Warsaw Ghetto as the “Holocaust Memorial Day” (The exact date every year changes as it follows the Hebrew Lunar calendar). Thousands of Jewish youth visit Auschwitz in memory of their ancestors and forefathers they lost during the Holocaust.
They gather at the gates of Auschwitz camp – under the sign that still stands “Arbeit Macht Frei”, a horn is blown and then in complete silence the group walks the 2 mile distance to Birkenau. They carry offerings like flowers, letters and little plaques that they offer at the platform where the trains arrived. Every year, holocaust survivors (fewer every year now as many of them have passed away) also attend this march and talk to the youth, the idea being to instil a sense of identity in them.
At the end of the war, when the Nazis knew they were losing, they abandoned the camps and forced the remaining prisoners to march long distances westwards. Many of them died on these marches due to hunger, cold, weakness and starvation. For this reason it was called the Death March
The March of the Living is a symbolic act of having survived this attempt of annihilation and murder; a very heart-rending one at that!!
Practical Tips to visit Auschwitz:
- The campsite is closest from the city of Krakow
- There are many guided tours that operate from the city and include the pick up and drop from the hotels.
- The entire visit lasts approx 5-6 hours.
- The visit inside the camps is handled by qualified museum guides and is accompanied by a very empathetic commentary and explanation
- The first part is the visit of Auschwitz and later the Birkenau part.
- There is a lot of walking involved so wear good walking shoes
- At the gate of Auschwitz where the main tours start – there are some cafes and restaurants
- There is a strict baggage check & X-ray that happens before you enter the camp.
- Most importantly – have a strong heart before you embark on this tour, it can leave you quite emotionally shaken.
As you drive around the Cycladic island of Mykonos, probably intent on looking for the next beach hotspot, and happen to look up at the white houses of the random villages, you will notice unique looking squarish constructions. If you look more closely, you will see that these are not inhabited but are beautifully decorated.
These are Dovecotes – little houses for doves and pigeons to roost in and multiply. They are a beautiful example of vernacular architecture and you will see intricate designs on these structures – zigzag lines, tree like railings and lots of rhombuses.
Mykonos was under the rule of the Venetians for a few years after Greece was part of the Roman Empire – the brother of the Doge ruled this Cycladic island. They found that the droppings of these birds made for very good fertiliser for the fields where they grew wheat. So in order to increase the population of these birds, these small two storey structures were built to give them “privacy” – a place to literally cootchie-coo! The lower part was sometimes used as a store house for grains or such like.
Many Dovecotes are still preserved and stand proudly amidst the white houses and sometimes even next to the windmills.
The region of the Aegean is famous for its winds. Mykonos in particular is known as the Windy Island (as one of the few passengers for a delayed ferry yesterday who nearly froze to death, I certify to that moniker). The Venetians once again, used the power of these strong winds – this time to grind the wheat that they grow.
Mykonos was the only island that had this ‘technology’ and many bakeries sprung up which used the flour these windmills produced. They baked a dry kind of “rusk” which was in great demand with the sailors in the boats that criss-crossed the Aegean Sea.
Some windmills also still exist on the island. One or two have been converted into working model museums of grinding the flour. When you walk in Chora (the Mykonos town) you will also come across some old style bakeries.
Go in and taste some bread baked in wood stove ovens and reflect upon the history of this beautiful island. Mykonos has many interesting facets; once you look past it’s usual reputation of being a party town.
Even the most hardened of frequent fliers get queasy landing at this airport consisting of a narrow runway that is less than 2 kms long flanked by a longish, pagoda roofed, green terminal buildings on one side and a gentle river on the other. The serenity of Bhutan awaits you after you land, but before you do you have to say a little prayer to your God to give the pilot all he needs to get you to the ground.
Only 10 pilots, on last count, are qualified and trained to land at Paro Airport, the only airport in Bhutan that has regular service connecting this tiny mountain kingdom. The airport is not fitted out with the hi-tech gadgets that the western pilots are used to and the ones who land have to be very familiar not only with the procedures to land without this kind of assistance; but they they also need to know the topography of the place well.
The runway lies in the Dupshare valley which is wrapped around tightly by mountains on all sides which are more than 15,000 feet high. This means that when approaching the runway, the pilots don’t have the luxury to straighten up and align with the runway. So you fly low, very close to the valley walls – so much so that you can see the shadows of your aircraft on the ground…..
And then, imagine that slow, gut wrenching, tilted approach and suddenly you lose altitude and are on the runway about to land! You do NOT want to think what will happen if there is a failed attempt to land, because then the aircraft will also need to gain a LOT of altitude to get out of the valley. And as if the challenging topography was not enough, the valley is also lashed by winds many months of the year ( mainly Feb to May) making the landing even more gruelling!
Whilst on its way out, the aircraft needs to gain a lot of altitude immediately on take off. one look at the surrounding mountains and you will be convinced that these pilots deserve respect!
It is not surprising to know therefore, that when Prime Minister Modi from India made his official visit to Bhutan, his aircrafts was captained by one of the trained Druk Air Pilots and not his own.
Panache World designs and operates beautiful itineraries into this magical Land of the Dragon that respect the philosophy of the land and closely resonate with the way of life of the Bhutanese that is deep-rooted in simplicity, in love for the environment, tradition and in respect of all life-forms. Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to experience Bhutan with a Dash of Panache!
I just found out that today, 18th June 2016 is World Sushi Day! Apparently it has been around since 2009 and it has a very simple purpose – to encourage people around the world to eat Sushi. One is supposed to “celebrate” the World Sushi Day by having a plate of Sushi. I likely won’t be able to indulge in that most wonderful pleasure today, but to express my undying love for this simplest but most delicious of foods, the least I can do is pen down a few words of affection.
For a person like me who can eat Sushi by the tons, it is ironic that I do not clearly remember where I had my first piece of this heavenly grub! But I do remember that my first “gourmet” plate of Sushi was in San Diego at Kings Fish House, a restaurant well-known locally for its seafood. I don’t know whether it was the fresh seafood, or if the chef was super-special or if I was just plain starved, but I still cannot forget the 21-piece platter that I had. I clearly remember, there were about 5-6 pieces left that I clutched close to my heart when we left the restaurant, lovingly deposited in the refrigerator, and promptly proceeded to eat for breakfast as soon my eyes opened!
Since then, it has been a swinging, torrid affair –me & Sushi! I have seeked these little mounds of vinegar-ed rice and raw fish in various corners of the world and devoured them. I have read about it extensively and I have dedicated myself enough to sit through documentaries about it. My favorite one has been “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – the story of Jiro, the perfectionist chef who runs a Sushi restaurant in a Tokyo train station, where you cannot get a reservation for the next 6 months because the spots are already filled up! #Goals
I have never cared or thought about whether I like Maki, Nigiri, Sashimi or Californian rolls the best – give me a mixed platter anytime – only more salmon the better! I have tried Sushi in restaurants that cover the entire spectrum. I’ve had the most amazing Sashimi at Chef Matsuhisa Nobu’s well-known Nobu Restaurant which was then at the swanky Shore Club hotel, South Beach Miami (now I hear, it has moved to Hotel Eden Roc) and recently at the passionately run Doraku restaurant, also in Miami. Some local restaurants such as Friend’s Sushi in downtown Chicago, nameless restaurants inside the Sydney Fish Market and, surprisingly, Kylin in Chandigarh do a great job at it. When you cannot necessarily afford the time (and the $$) for a nice sit down meal, the conveyor belt Sushi suffices – London is full of Yo! Sushi and You, Me, Sushi; Dubai airport has a decent enough restaurant that gets you affordable Sushi; and if you can eat Sushi like me – happily substituting it for daal-chaawal; you are sorted! Sometimes, only sometimes, I get put off by bad sushi. But I eat first, and think later. Heck, I even pick up pathetic take-away Sushi from super-markets and I am happy. So far, bad Sushi has only fuelled my desire for a better plate the next time.
For all my friends, who like sushi… I wish you more of it. Those who haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to lovingly mix a bit of that Wasabi – the strange, dry, green sauce into your little pond of soy-sauce. Look endearingly at your piece of Sushi, gently pick it up with the chopsticks and dip it into the sauce; (I always recommend you do this side-ways – not the rice part down– gives you an even soak and just enough) and then put the whole piece into your mouth and chew on the goodness! The crunch of the raw fish and the softness of the rice will transport you to heaven. I personally assure you of this on the World Sushi Day!
Spain’s most renowned dish is obviously the Paella. While the Paella is undoubtedly a delicious dish as long as it’s not the manufactured versions that you get on La Ramblas and other touristy areas, there’s a similar dish that will send your palate into overdrive – the FIDEUA!
Fideua is made of short pasta instead of rice, which goes into Paella. The pasta gives the dish a very interesting texture and the primary ingredients used are different kinds of seafood.
Toasted pasta in saffron laced stock flavored with caramelized onions, tomatoes, garlic…and the show stoppers are the fruto del mar (fruits of the sea)! Immerse yourself into the once humble fideua the next time you’re in Spain!
- 1/2 lb. fish, such as tunny, halibut or shark
- 6 cups of fish or shrimp stock
- 1/2 lb. medium shrimp (20 to a pound)
- 1/2 lb. small clams
- 10 mussels
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 dry red pepper pods
- 1/2 lb. squid
- 1/2 large red pepper
- 1 lb. vermicelli or angel hair pasta
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 4 to 6 oz. virgin olive oil
salt to taste
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Total Time: 60 minutes
Yield: 8 Servings
To prepare this recipe you will need a 17-inch (44cm) paella pan. Due to the size of the pan, we recommend that you cook the fideua on a kettle BBQ or a gas paella burner for even heat distribution. Assemble all the ingredients and kitchen equipment on a table near the BBQ, so that you can stay in the area and monitor the cooking.
Be sure to light the coals about 20 minutes before you will begin cooking.
This allows time for the coals to heat and be covered in white ash.
Rinse shrimp, mussels and clams under cold running water and set aside.
Pour fish or shrimp stock into a medium saucepan and warm for use later.
Rinse fish under cold water and cut into 2-inch cubes. Clean the squid and trim the tentacles. Slice squid into rings.
De-seed and slice red pepper into thin strips. Cut each tomato into 8 pieces. Peel garlic cloves and place in a mortar and mash with the pestle.
Place the paella pan on the BBQ grate or paella burner and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom and allow the pan to heat up. When hot enough, sauté the shrimp and squid in the olive oil.
Add olive oil as needed to prevent sticking. When the shrimp is pink, it is cooked. Remove shrimp and squid from the pan and set aside. Leave the oil in the pan.
Put the diced tomatoes, red pepper and mashed garlic in the olive oil with the two red pepper pods and sauté for two minutes.
Crush saffron threads with finders. Add the fish stock and saffron threads to the pan and stir.
Bring broth to a boil.
When liquid starts to boil, add the vermicelli and fish and stir. Spread the clams, mussels and squid around the pan and arrange the shrimp on top. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the pasta is “al dente.”
Remove the fideua from the barbecue or burner. Cover with aluminum foil and let it “rest” for 5 minutes. Uncover and serve with lemons.