Epernay – Champagne.

We drove down to the Champagne region, from Frankfurt. It was an easy, comfortable and FAST (180 km per hour average!) drive.

As we neared Epernay, we saw lush and perfect fields. So perfect – that they looked cloned. Huge rolling lands of green and yellow. Small thatched roof homes, stashed at the corner of these fields, flanked by what were definitely light forests.

I took in mighty breaths and have stored it inside me for times to come, when I faced my polluted smoky city once more.

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We stayed in the Jean Moet hotel. Very central, and bang on the Avenue De Champagne, where all the action was to take place the next day.

Epernay is one of the major towns of Champagne. There are three more. Reims, being the second most famous and the Capital. I think people flock to Epernay, because it has Moet and Chandon and Dom Perignon, which are perhaps the most famous of them all.

Epernay has, what is called Caves (pronounced as CAAVES) and that is where all the champagne is stored, after the first and second bottling. No producer shows the crushing and bottling process. All that takes place in the fields, which were close by but not open to public.

 

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Champagne stored one over the other in caves.

 

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28 km – 30 feet deep, 90 % humidity – MERCIER caves

 

The caves, have bottles of champagne – the ones which are first bottles. And the final bottles lot too. The first bottles are juice of various blends of grapes, and infused with yeast. These are then stored like this.

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Stored at an angle, and quater turn twisted intermittenly!
Stored at an angle, and quater turn twisted intermittenly!

Then they are twisted a quarter turn intermittently and also tilted to a certain angle. After the deemed period, when the yeast settles at the side of the bottle, the cap is opened. Approximately 6 kg of pressure has developed inside the bottle by now. The bottle is now fully upturned so the yeast settles on the neck and the bottle is frozen, just around the neck. When the crown is opened, 3 kgs of pressure expels the yeast mixture out. The bottle is then quickly and firmly corked before the precious champagne is oozed out.

The three varieties of grapes used are – the best – Chardonnay, the Second best Pinot Noir and the one used in least quantity – Pinot Meunier. While Chardonnay is white grape with white juice, the other two are black grapes with white juice.

Vintages and non vintages are defined, by the quality of grapes, seasons, fermenting process!

It’s a hugely complicated, scientific and intriguing process. Lot of delicate balances, and defined palates go on to make a good champagne.

Ofcourse you know that Champagne comes only from the Champagne region. The rest are NOT CHAMPAGNE as we were very fiercely told by the producers.

BTW Champagne was first produced by Dom Perignon – a monk!

The Caves we visited were – George Cartier. And Mercier.

 

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Please see it in that order. George Cartier is a small (if 3 million bottles is small) producer. The tour was very, very informative. Small and personal, and all the knowledge I gained, was from there. Do reserve through your hotel or tourism office.

Mercier all show. How great Mercier was, all that he did. Its like a drum which goes Mercier, Hail Mercier!! Jai Ho Mercier!! But having said that, its also very interesting. Their caves are way huger, and they have a train running through it.

The massive Mercier Barrel
The massive Mercier Barrel

 

But you cannot stop and take pictures, ask questions, peer at the bottles, feel the moisture on the walks of the cave, jump through water puddles, and basically inhale the entire history that cave has made, during the second world war and when men actually did by hand, for days, what machines now accomplish within seconds.

FOOD

Ever so often, I get an order, which moves me to anguish. When a customer wants a dish, known and relished for its high potency in garlic, to be made Jain – aka – no onion, no garlic, sometimes no ginger!! At these times I go completely silent on the phone. My brain leaks out and I break out into sweat. Sometimes I even start blubbering and tear out clutches of my hair!!

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ORDER VEGETARIAN IN EPERNAY!!!

So unless you all are non-vegetarians, I recommend only one day in Epernay.

Its enough actually.

DRINKING Each tour, offers you tastings. Its awesome. And there are lots of Champagne Bars around.

The silly grin and crooked smile is a result of drinking champagne - 11 am to 11 pm!
The silly grin and crooked smile is a result of drinking champagne – 11 am to 11 pm!

We went to Jannison Baradon, close to the hotel. It was Excellent. The George Cartier cave also has a bar with small eats.

And that’s Champagne for you!!

Hail them grapes!!

Limburg – Whisky Fest

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Limburg is a small village in Germany. Picturesque as villages go.

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The Mad Drinking Fest
The Mad Drinking Fest

The two-day whisky fair, takes place every year.

We headed there at 11 am. And I was drunk by 11.30 am.

It’s complete and utter madness.

so much daaru
so much daaru

One is handed a glass, which you have to hold on to. Then you make your way to the various stalls. Some of them have the normal 18 year olds, but some stalls have fantastic older bottles, (and at a good wholesome, pocket breaking cost, I might add!) and every sip penetrates your skin and blood.

One day is enough. Actually for me one hour was enough!!

Daru!!??
Daru!!??

Cons

It’s very, very crowded as it’s held in a building. Though the weather was nippy, it quickly got very claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Proper food and water was not available. Well it was – but no one knew where!

So go with a huge bottle of water and after a even huger breakfast! Ummm! Taking a party smart is also a good idea!

Places to stay are not great. Very average!

Food for a vegetarians = bull shit!

One day is enough!

But definitely an experience. Must do it once. Whats not to like about one day of extreme drinking!

 

Vancouver

One of those places where you sit back, watch your heart rate drop, your shoulders de stress and your breath go into deep meditation phase.

The minute we landed we saw this…

Take a deep breath, when hit by this kind of beauty!
Take a deep breath, when hit by this kind of beauty!

This was a very short trip and the hub and me are a bit laid back. We don’t wake up, have a shower and breakfast and hit the city by 8 am. So the short trip made it even more tight and Vancouver will have to be done once more.

Places to go to.

Stanley Park. Near the park are cycle hire shops, with great variety to choose from. Before that, pick up some food and water. Head to the park. Its massive, Huge. We cycled around for a good two hours, but I think one can spend the day there.

English Bay Beach. We went there for a view of the Sunset. But what we saw was the mist take over the city. A cloud of mist, over a deeply rich setting sun, with sea gulls and eagles flying all over the place. I think my hub wanted to propose once more. I know I wanted him to.

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The mist taking over the city
The mist taking over the city
gathering mist, then scattering all over the city
gathering mist, then scattering all over the city

We did not end up going but Granville Park is also well recommended.

There are many other places in and around Vancouver. Victoria, is across the bridge. Banff is close by. As is Jasper.

Shopping

We stayed in Grenville area, so mostly shopped around there.

Yale town has great reviews, but I was not much awed by it.

Vancouver is full of local designers. Mac (the make up thingy) and some other products are local. So expect great prices on them.

Food

Vancouver has surprisingly a big foodie population. Again, a place of high sustainability and locally grown produce.

Some fabulous places we ate in :-

The Whiskey Kitchen. Sure it’s about whiskey. Every dish has a dash of it (or more!). And its tasty and different and perfectly amazing.

Lupo. Forage and The Grill and Casa Nova were some of the restaurants we ate in. I recommend them all very fervently!

http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2011/08/15/top-20-vancouver-restaurants/

Carmel By the Sea and Big Sur

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The most charming, pretty coast you can cast your eyes on.

It starts in San Francisco and goes all the way to Los Angeles – this coast. Carmel is south of San Jose.

Blue Sea
Blue Sea

 

Things to do

Drive around the 19 mile drive.

This is a residential area, but set in a huge huge biological eco conserving forest and coast area. One has to pay a 10$ per car.

Just drive around, stopping at various points. You will get a brochure of the points of interest.

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Bonfire – If you catch good weather – and for this experience you must try and go when it’s a wee bit chilly.

Go to the super market. Pick up glasses, and poison of your choice.

Pick up a fire making kit – which includes a huge box of wood, 2 pieces of fire starter and matches and some old paper to start the fire.

Good food from the many, many fabulous delis and restaurants in Carmel, and head to SCENIC and 13th. (Please tell the Taxi driver to take you there – you cannot drive – u will be drinking!)

Do not head to any other beach. This is dedicated for bonfires.

Dive in make a bonfire and enjoy your evening.

Try and make it a little before sunset. I can guarantee you an evening very well spent.

sunset in carmel
sunset in carmel

If in Carmel / San Francisco / San Jose do not miss this one.

Stay

We stayed in Carmel at the Quail Lodge and Golf Course. It was fabulous. But it’s not on the coast. It’s in Carmel Valley.

Some of other places, which I was looking up, to stay, was the Tickle Pink Inn. It’s set high on a cliff. Comes highly recommended.

Restaurants in Carmel – are a plenty and fantastic.

BIG SUR

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That’s off Carmel, towards touching Highway No 1, going to LA. The view from Big Sur – is well for a lack of better word – BIG.

It’s all crashing waves, frothy blue sea, rocks, waves, and mesmerizing beauty.

We went for a meal at the bakery – Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant.  Quite a place. Bang in the middle of a highway, and good hearty food.

Another meal we had with stunning views was – Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn, in Big Sur. It’s also a place worth staying. Just unbelievable amazing views from each room.

View from Sierra Mar
View from Sierra Mar

Do book way in advance.

 

Restaurants

There are many restaurants all over Carmel and Big Sur. Each, better than the other. This area is big on locally foraged food. And even bigger, on sustainability.

Just ask around, look around or look up the internet. You cannot go wrong with food here.

For the progeny, nieces and nephews!

I recently heard a tale of horror.

A family goes to a beach resort. Their 21 years old boy, decides to go out with some friends. When he doesn’t arrive on time the father calls, and a friend picks up. Says he is asleep, not to worry he will come in on time for the flight back home. Come morning, again a friend picks up and says he is a bit unwell, will take the next flight home. The father leaves for hometown. Lands, calls once again and friend says, “ Sorry uncle, your son is dead!!”

Overdose? I don’t know!

Every body has a different physical and internal structure. The same dose, which relaxes your friend, could be lethal for you!

When I heard this I was shocked. But soon got over it and went to bed. The story shot through my head once more and I got up panicking. My kids were 24 hours away. Alone. Left to their own devices – with pot and molly taking acquaintances all around them.

My niece and nephew are at a vulnerable phase of life. The younger ones, are too cute for their own good!

I wanted to immediately, wrap them all up in cotton wool. Then – in a layer of bubble paper. And finally corset them in a blanket and dump them in my largest closet.

I want to keep them safe. Hidden and away from the forbidden.

Distanced from trauma. Safe from harm.

I don’t want their hearts breaking, or their legs for that matter.

I would like them cocooned and nestled, in a comforting loving atmosphere.

Fear should never touch them.

 

But that’s not possible. And that’s not what I really want!

I want broken legs and hearts. I want thorns in their feet and thorns by their side when they get out of the protective shadows of their parents. They need fears and scares. They need to be tempted and learn to resist it. They need to go hungry once in a while. They need to live.

They have to face life. With all it’s little jagged ends.

Fear should produce fight and not flight.

Sweat will build their personality, and scars – character.

Heartbreaks will make them softer and choosier.

Hunger will teach them to be frugal. It might even teach them to cook !!

Overcoming trauma will help strengthen them.

A broken leg will teach my babies a lesson.

Failures will beget success and arrogance will beget failure.

Pride will come before fall, and happiness after sadness.

Some temptations will be yielded to, while some will be rejected. Each choice will teach them something.

And while they go through their turmoil and triumphs, they need to know they have parents (and uncles and aunts) who will hold their hands as well as cheer for them.

 

 

 

 

Pangkaur Laut – Malaysia

I swear the babies were small, alien looking, fetus’ swimming in my uterus, not more than 2 years ago! Or so it seems. They are actually now, young competent adults and the hub and me just celebrated out 25th anniversary.

It had to be a very special get away, and we were highly recommended Pangkaur Laut, in Malaysia.

Its a 3/ 4 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. We got a local holiday, so the roads were clear and we were there within 3 hours.

Once the hotel is booked, they have additional (chargeable) services, and book you a taxi too. And a great taxi service it was. We had good comfortable seats, chilled atmosphere even before we sat in the car, a free wifi password, and a nice competent driver.

We reached the docks, where they had their check in and then ferry to the resort.

The resort itself is an island. Its not easy to go back to the main land very often. Two reasons :- 1) They charge each time you have to take a ferry. (Yup! even for your first time into the island!) 2) There is not much to do in the mainland. One has to travel all the way for an hour or so to reach some sort of non village area.

But fact is – unless you are there writing a novel, and intend to stay for a few months, you dont need to get out.

They have fabulous restaurants. All types of cuisines. The breakfast spread is crazy.

The cuisine supervisor, will guide to through the restaurants and make your booking as well. Most restaurants need a booking in advance. Not way in advance, but its advisable to go through the cuisines and book as soon as you reach.

The rooms- Amazing rooms. We stayed in the Sea Villas. All rooms are independent. they have mountain villas (I found it very tedious to go all the way up the mountain 3 or 4 times a day, but thats my opinion.)

The spa villas are towards the end of the property and great for someone taking spa treatments. They also have some garden villas. We loved our rooms. They were sea facing, with a small private balcony, and bang in the middle of the property. PS – No wifi in the rooms. You are supposed to chill!!

Spa- and what a spa!! I cannot wax eloquent enough. They have a knowledgeable doctor on board, who suggests treatments for you. The pre spa itself sends you into a stupor. We also had a couple’s spa. Really speaking, all the spas were amazing. One of the best I have been to.

Service – was unbelievable! I was getting ready for a dinner, and my earring bounced off and slipped out of the room door, and straight into the sea. I went to the reception and asked if it can be retrieved and left it at that. The tide was coming in, and frankly I thought its gone. Within an hour, I was sitting next to the diver, who had gone in and fished it out from the moving sand, and clicking a picture with him. I mean – who would do that?? Fabulous service, great customer relations and they have in me a fan for life.

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The beach (Emerald Bay,  is on the other end of the island. If you are the trekking variety, you can go via the forest area. We just sat in the shuttle car, and went and spent a day there. They have a decent bar, food and service by the day. The water is protected by nets, a few kilometers down, so sea life like iguanas etc dont come in.

The island is spectacular. The have the sea on one side, and the tropical forest on the other. Great bird species, iguanas swim from across another island and bathe in the massive rocks. Great fauna and flora. I saw hornbills and god knows how many different varieties of kites and other larger birds. I also saw an otter, rolling in the sand.

Special dinners can be arranged. We had one by the sea, on the day of our anniversary. It was outstanding. The service, the food and the ambience. Something I will always remember and cherish. A dinner that will always make me smile.

Specially for our anniversary
Specially for our anniversary

Be water my friend!

I have known this for a while. I just could not explain it to anyone. Actually not even to myself. It was just an emotion I had learnt one fine day. Like a Satori. When it arrives – it arrives.

I was struggling with my work. Everyday was fraught with tension. My nose was permanently buried in paper work and accounts. Money had become the main focus of my day.

One day I just gave up. I bent my shoulders and said “To hell with it”.

Dad had always said two things – Maintain quality. If you do that you can never go wrong. And – his other conviction was – whatever happens – happens for the best.

I could identify with the first. It somehow made logical sense to me. So even when I lost hope in my food business, ever taking off, I still maintained very high standards of quality.

I could not accept the second belief, about things being really shitty, but for our own benefit.

Because I was no longer stressing all day about money, and there was time in hand, I started getting creative once again. My mind left the by lanes of accounts and traveled the misty forest paths of new food textures, novel recipes and more research. I was suddenly free and my clients could communicate with me. There was more easy time and especially, more easy happy times with the kids. Friends were more in touch with me. The hub once more realized he had a wife!

And Bingo! One day when I dipped into the drawer to pull out some money for a bigger purchase, I suddenly had notes strewn haphazardly. I was making money and I did not even know about it.

That was my Satori – the Buddhist word for “Sudden Enlightenment”. I mean there was no flashing lights and cello music. Just a ping, somewhere in the recess of the brains, which said, “Let go! Don’t struggle. And that’s the key to your success and happiness”.

I have known this a while, and used it very often. Most of the times, without realizing.

When my main oven just died in front of our eyes, my men panicked. I just cancelled all orders, called in favors and had a new one installed within two days. What happened in those two days without orders? Nothing! Heavens did not fall. Clients did not write us off. We cleaned out long due clutter, and my men got a day off.

Recently my son fell and hurt his legs. He is a tedious, twenty-four hours journey away from us. Once he went to the hospital, we just settled down and waited for the news. Of course, there were mild palpitations and episodes of the heart about to squeeze out it’s last drop of blood, but there was this resigned attitude of just accepting the fact that – Yes! The kid is injured. And he will have to learn to deal with it. And deal with it he did!

I love, admire and adore Bruce Lee. When I realized, that his form of martial art is not all about physical strength, but in fact a philosophy of living, I started reading about him. Only then was I able to put into words, the theory I have been trying to live by.

He quotes :

Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water.

When you put water into a cup, it becomes a cup;

When you put water into a bottle, it becomes a bottle;

When you put water into a teapot, it becomes a teapot.

Now water can flow – or it can crash.

Be water, my friend.

(Bruce Lee)

The nature of water is to adapt itself instantly to any obstacle in its path, and by moving at its own pace, begin a natural process of surmounting it. Basically it means, to flow with the adversity in our lives till we can find a way to overcome it.

It’s so convoluted. But so simple.

 

(The Warrior Within – John Little)

Skill Sets.

I have recently taken up food photography. I read about it. Studied it. I admit to being a bookworm.

The first time I picked up this badly designed instrument from hell, I was looking at it like it’s the inside of blue blooded alien with lemons as eyes. I was turning it around, looking at it and looking like a fool. Had anyone clicked a picture (irony!!) I would have been mistaken as a returnee from the loony bin! I mean, why does a small focal point have a big number? Why play around with the universe? It can strike you down, you know?

So I’m still learning, still struggling and still wondering why tongue – twisting words like shutter speed (say it fast – see what happens!) exist.

I’m on my – so to speak – bucket list. Last year and the year before that I took up DJing (I’ll look up the dictionary. I’m sure it’s a real word). I was the only “aunty” in the group. Till such time I threatened to wash their mouths with Dettol. Then they started calling me Appu. It’s a cool thing I’m doing right? So lets be cool –Call me Appu.

So Appu started learning how to DJ. The kids in my group, picked up really fast. They knew the music, they knew the beats and their young ears accurately picked up the tempo. I only picked up the lingo.

But since it was a childhood dream, I learnt it, through hard work and, a lot of cheating. Let me tell you – I am in love with the person who came up with a digital software for music. It makes all those nuances I missed out, very easy to follow. Now I wow my friends and make a “cool” parent.

I still cheat.

Next I want to take up drumming. This time I am sure I will be the only female in the group. I can just imagine the scene. Ten men, all ducking and running for cover because I tried whirling the drumsticks and its now flying all over the place, threatening to lodge itself into someone’s eye.

I should have studied all this when I was younger. Skills learnt at a younger age is something learnt forever. The photography would be as automatic as brushing my teeth,(though my dentist says I don’t do a good job there), and Djing would feel as comfortable as the commode I pee in. I would have been alternating my happening party nights drumming and playing gigs on the DJ console.

All ye kids, kind enough read my blog, go out there and learn a set of skills a year. Trust me – especially the complicated stuff like cameras. It’s easier for you to believe in an alternate universe.

 

 

Scent of a man.

I was in the mall, when the scent drifted towards me. Soft, sensual and all male. A scent I knew as well as I knew myself! I was rooted to the ground, unable to move, unable to think. Someone bumped pass me, and only then did I shake out of the past. I quickly went and hid behind a pillar.

I realized that his smell still held me enthralled. The scent of powder and all male sweat, which always clung to his back. It took me back to the many times we sat holding hands, sitting by the sea, walking on the road, or just lying in bed and watching the birds chirp at the window.

I continued to peek at him. He was busy sorting out some clothes (ties I think) from a huge table. The lower lips pursed up in that typical manner I remembered, when he needed to concentrate. Those thin lips still held that mildly mean look, which when snarled at someone, meant business. I could imagine his tongue. How could this small piece of flesh, with no bone, part my lips and then dive directly into my soul? How could those long lean fingers, gently glide up and down my back and melt my knees? How could another human being hold so much power over me?

It must have been only a few minutes, but all the years came rushing back to me. Unabated memories, swirling in my mind, making me dizzy, making me sweat. For the mind knew now, that these are only memories. And that even when they were a reality, they were also dreams. For we knew each other, but no one knew of us.

Suddenly he moved towards my pillar and I hastily moved to the other side. I could still see him.

His head went up, and he seemed to smell the air. He too had caught a scent.

Was it me? Or the woman he had betrayed me for?

 

I hear music.

I hear music everywhere.

In spas,

In bars,

And in the valley, very far.

 

I hear music in my brain.

And the  hum of beats through that beat boxer in the train.

I hear it in the delighted squeals of my nieces and nephews,

It sounds grand when I hear a music review.

 

I hear music when the kids are back home,

And their feet go tap tap on the stairs.

When their friends call out Kanky!

And in the next breath “Hello aunty!”

 

When my son makes the dog run

and go crazy,

And apologizes to him,

Because normally he is so lazy.

I hear music every where,

In my friends soothing voice,

And that particular friend,

Whose “hello” sets me in peals of laughter.

 

I even hear it in grins,

and hugs,

In happiness,

and in love.

 

I hear it when the sisters and sisters in law chat,

and when the husband calls me fat!

I hear it in the brothers breath.

I listen to it for the benefit of my health.

 

I hear music everywhere.

In this that and the other,

I hear music always,

Because I can!!

 

 

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